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November 2018

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] Looking beyond the optics


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mekong Ganga Cooperation

Mains level: Vietnam’s importance in India’s Act East policy


India’s relationship with Vietnam

  1. President Ram Nath Kovind’s choice of Vietnam as the first Southeast Asian country to visit in his capacity as the President is not surprising
  2. A close ‘ally’ of India for over 70 years, and not limited to official diplomatic ties, Vietnam is critical for India’s foreign policy at the regional and systemic levels

How is Vietnam’s foreign policy shaped?

  1. Domestically, since the start of its Doi Moi policy — its political and economic renewal campaign —in 1986, Vietnam has made dramatic strides
  2. Today it is a rapidly growing, regional economic giant, showing both dynamism and pragmatism in its calculations
  3. While earlier it imported agricultural products, today it is a major exporter
  4. Agricultural competence has furthered Vietnam’s entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)
  5. Internationally, Vietnam’s foreign policy is characterised by ‘multidirectionalism’, which addresses regional asymmetries of the power balance by engaging across a broad spectrum of states to achieve its interests
  6. Increasingly, this asymmetrical power structure in the region, offset by the rise of China, is bringing regional and extra-regional states together to address the shifts in the normative order
  7. Within this context, Vietnam even normalised relations with the U.S., its former opponent

Common grounds for increasing bilateral ties

  1. An area of potential convergence for both Vietnam and India is health care
  2. The 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in 2016, highlighted the importance of linking economic growth to universal health care, whereby 80% population would be covered by health insurance
  3. India too, since 2011, has been focussing on the need to deliver accessible and affordable health insurance to weaker sections of society
  4. With Indonesia ratifying the India-ASEAN Services agreement on November 13, New Delhi is a step closer to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, bringing India to the forefront of the services sector globally
  5. A potential area of convergence in the realm of health care through joint public-private partnership agreements can be explored by the two countries
  6. There is increasing commonality of security concerns between Vietnam and its ASEAN partners — as well as with Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., particularly in the areas of maritime security and adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
  7. Finding compatibility between the ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ and the U.S. driven ‘Indo-Pacific’ necessitates a more nuanced approach whereby regional concerns of ASEAN centrality can be assuaged while accounting for diverse approaches to maintaining regional stability
  8. In pursuance of this, the two countries have planned a bilateral level maritime security dialogue in early 2019

Promoting Sub-regionalism

  1. As ASEAN continues to focus on its centrality in the region, there will undoubtedly be shifts in how smaller members of ASEAN perceive the centrifugal forces of China’s rise
  2. Vietnam has helped to mitigate these by focussing on both sub-regionalism and regionalism as the core of its priorities. India too looks at both sub-regionalism and regionalism as priority avenues to pursue its foreign policy
  3. The India-Vietnam Joint Statement of March 2018 reiterates the focus given to sub-regionalism and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation framework
  4. Another area is emerging in the CLV, or Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam growth triangle sub-regional cooperation, bringing these three countries together
  5. India and Vietnam can jointly explore the potential for enhancing capacity building and providing technical assistance and training within this sub-regional grouping

India’s cooperation model

  1. The major takeaway from Mr. Kovind’s visit is the reference to the ‘cooperation model’ India offers, providing choices and opportunities for its friends
  2. This reference highlights India’s willingness to address issues on which increasing synergies need to evolve
  3. One such area where convergence is likely but has been held back due to individual preference is the $500 million line of credit offered to Vietnam
  4. Both India and Vietnam possess the capacity to find compatibility in areas promoting defence cooperation and infrastructure simultaneously

Way forward

  1. Vietnam’s role as country coordinator for India in ASEAN will come to a close in 2018
  2. While the ties have progressed under the Look East and Act East Policies, going forward they need to factor in pragmatism, helping relations to move forward
  3. India’s ability to look beyond the prism of optics will remain a core challenge
  4. Vietnam is crucial to India’s Look East Policy — bilateral ties must build on common concerns

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

[op-ed snap] Corridor of hope: On the Kartarpur proposal


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations.

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Ray of hope in India-Pakistan ties through the kartarpur corridor


Green signal to kartarpur corridor

  1. The announcement by India and Pakistan of plans to operationalise a visa-free corridor between Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab and Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab heeds a longstanding plea of Sikh pilgrims
  2. That demand had gathered pace in 1995 when Pakistan renovated the Kartarpur gurdwara, situated on the site on the bank of the Ravi
  3. It is a shrine built at the place where the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev, is believed to spent his last 18 years and died

Why is this a positive development?

  1. Given its easy logistics, the 4-km-long Kartarpur corridor is a low-hanging fruit as a meaningful confidence-building measure
  2. The initiative can also become a template for cross-border exchanges based on faith, which could provide a balm for many communities
  3. Kashmiri Pandits have long asked for access to visit the Sharda Peeth in the Neelum Valley in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir
  4. Sufis in Pakistan wish to visit the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Rajasthan
  5. Sikhs in India and Pakistan want to visit important shrines on both sides of the border

Implementation of the announcement crucial

  1. Much will depend on how quickly India and Pakistan act on their commitment
  2. Even more will depend on how the two governments manage their relationship in a way that avoids making pilgrims a pawn in bilateral tensions
  3. It is important that issues related to the corridor are managed in a non-political manner and details left to diplomats and officials to sort out
  4. India and Pakistan entered into an agreement on pilgrimages in 1974 under which both sides issue visitor visas for a handful of shrines on either side
  5. The visa-free corridor is only for Indians
  6. But it will require a separate agreement for operationalisation, which will involve complex negotiations given the security ramifications

A renewed opportunity for both the sides

  1. The proposed corridor holds great potential for a wider thaw in India-Pakistan relations, which have languished in sub-zero temperatures for a full decade now since the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks
  2. This is probably the first instance of the two sides setting aside mutual hostility to bend to the will of the people
  3. A large part of the failure of the two countries to come out of the holes into which they have dug themselves owes to the vacuum created in citizen interaction

Way forward

  1. Given the bilateral freeze, the Kartarpur project will compel India and Pakistan to engage in a positive and purposeful manner, at a time when few other avenues for engagement exist
  2. It is a reminder that dialogue and search for areas of concord are the only way forward for both countries
  3. India should build on the leap of faith that it took on the Kartarpur corridor

With inputs from the editorial: Kartarpur opening

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] Why India wants to study human microbiome


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: Everything about human microbiome

Mains level: Read the attached story



  1. From November 19 to 22, Pune hosted an international conference on microbiome research- a field of study that is still in its infancy in India.
  2. That could be set to change, with a proposed project that would study and map the human microbiome across the country.

What is human microbiome?

  1. The human body carries diverse communities of microorganisms, which are mainly bacterial. These are referred to as “human microbiome”.
  2. These organisms play a key role in many aspects of host physiology, ranging from metabolism of otherwise complex indigestible carbohydrates and fats to producing essential vitamins.
  3. Not all microbiomes are harmful. They help maintaining immune systems and acts as a first line of defense against pathogens.

Scope for Research

  1. Research on the human microbiome has thrown light on various aspects how different parts of the human body are occupied by characteristic microbial communities.
  2. It throws light on how various factors contribute in shaping the composition of the microbiome, including the genetics, dietary habits, age, geographic location and ethnicity.
  3. These studies laid a strong foundation to decipher the microbiome’s implications on health and a wide range of diseases.

Indian Microbiomes are Unique

  1. Scientists at NCSS have conducted a meta-analysis on intestinal microbiota (community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms) of healthy Indian individuals and compared it with that of individuals from other parts of the world.
  2. It shows that the Indian population harbours a distinct gut microbial community, which, scientists calls for an in-depth investigation of the Indian microbiome.

Need for Research

  1. India has a large number of tribal populations largely unaffected by “modern” diet and lifestyle.
  2. India provides for a wide range of research with more than 4,500 ethnic groups and presence of two global biodiversity hotspots (Himalayan range and Western Ghats).
  3. The prevalence of lifestyle-related disorders such as obesity and diabetes has been known to be significantly lower compared to the non-tribal (urbanized) populations across the globe.
  4. Hence, scientists say, a study on the tribal population would help improve knowledge of evolution of the mutualism between gut microbiota and the host.

A country-wide project in making

  1. Various research groups in the country are working on the human microbiome.
  2. What India lacks is a national microbiome initiative similar to those in other countries.
  3. Now, a high-level committee at the Department of Biotechnology has shown a keen interest in the proposed project.
  4. The project will include collection of saliva, stool and skin swabs of 20,000 Indians across various ethnic groups from different geographical regions.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Lunar lander faces crucial test


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Chandrayaan-2

Mains level: Very important mission of the ISRO


  • The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter carrying the lander and a rover is scheduled to be sent to the Moon from Sriharikota on January 31 and expected to reach on lunar surface in February 2019.
  • For that, last phase testing of various sensors on board are being carried on.

Litmus test for Chandrayaan-2

  1. The ISRO has planned to fly the sensors on an aircraft over its artificial lunar site at Challakere to see how they will function and guide the Chandrayaan-2 landing craft while descending on the lunar terrain.
  2. Among the Sensors are those that help the lander to precisely assess its height from the landing spot; decide its speed and help it to steer clear of any boulders or uneven surface.
  3. For the test, a prototype module carrying the sensors will be flown on one of ISRO’s two small aircraft.
  4. As the plane descends from around 7 km to about 1 km over the artificial terrain, the sensors must show how they will guide the soft landing of the lunar craft at the right spot, speed and position.

About Chandrayaan-2

  1. The Chandrayaan-2 weighing around 3290 kg and would orbit around the moon and perform the objectives of remote sensing the moon.
  2. India’s second mission to the Moon is a totally indigenous mission comprising of an Orbiter, Lander and Rover.
  3. The payloads will collect scientific information on lunar topography, mineralogy, elemental abundance, lunar exosphere and signatures of hydroxyl and water-ice.
  4. After reaching the 100 km lunar orbit, the Lander housing the Rover will separate from the Orbiter.
  5. After a controlled descent, the Lander will soft land on the lunar surface at a specified site and deploy a Rover.
  6. The mission will carry a six-wheeled Rover which will move around the landing site in semi-autonomous mode as decided by the ground commands.
  7. The instruments on the rover will observe the lunar surface and send back data, which will be useful for analysis of the lunar soil.

Electric and Hybrid Cars – FAME, National Electric Mobility Mission, etc.

Quadricycles for personal use get government’s green signal


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: Not Much

Mains level: Utility of Quadricycle and Road Safety


  • Quadricycles can now be bought for personal usage, with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways notifying insertion of the item ‘Quadricycle’ as a ‘non-transport’ vehicle under the Motor Vehicles Act 1988.

What is Quadricycle?

  1. A quadricycle is a vehicle of the size of a three-wheeler but with four-tyres and is fully covered like a car.
  2. It has an engine like that of a three-wheeler.
  3. This makes it a cheap and safe mode of transport for last-mile connectivity.

Open for Personal Use

  1. Though the government permitted the use of quadricycles for commercial purpose in June, the latest notification opens the door for their use for personal purpose.
  2. Bajaj Auto is the only company that makes the vehicle named ‘Qute’, which it exports to countries like Turkey.
  3. Quadricycles may signal the beginning of a new era in public transportation as currently three-wheelers remain a highly unsafe mode for commuting.

Conflicting stance on Road Safety

  1. The introduction of such category also raises a lot of questions about the government’s thought process.
  2. On the one hand, it is talking about road safety and the need for environment-friendly vehicles and therefore stressing on features such as ABS and airbags.
  3. On the other, it is promoting vehicles like quadricycles which do not have such safety mechanisms.
  4. There is a strong possibility that the shift to quadricycles may happen if the vehicles get preferential tax treatment or if the rules are relaxed, particularly for the electric/hybrid variants.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

SHe-Box to be linked to all Central, State departments


Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Women Empowerment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Details of the SHWW Act

Mains level: Preventing Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace


  • Against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, the Ministry of WCD has linked SHe-Box to all Central and State Departments in 653 districts across the country.


  1. SHe-Box is an online portal to report complaints of sexual harassment at workplaces under the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013.
  2. For prompt disposal of complaints on SHe-Box, each case goes directly to the Central or State authority concerned having powers to take action in the matter.
  3. SHe-Box cases can be monitored by the complainants and the WCD Ministry, thereby reducing the time taken for their disposal.
  4. As many as 321 complaints were registered with SHe-Box, out of which 120 are related to Union Ministries/ departments, 58 from State governments, and 143 from private companies till November 20.
  5. Those who have already filed written complaints with the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) or Local Complaint Committee (LCC) are also eligible to file complaints through the SHe-Box portal.

Quick Recap of SHWWA Act

  1. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 mandates all workplaces with more than 10 workers to constitute the ICC to receive complaints of sexual harassment.
  2. These workplaces include any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled, or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate government, local authority, corporation or cooperative society.
  3. To ensure security of women at workplaces, the WCD Ministry has empanelled institutions/ organisations to organise awareness sessions on the SHWWA Act, 2013.

Assist this newscard with:

Explained: When a woman is harassed at work

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

OBC sub-categorization panel gets 4th extension


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Article 340, Mandal Commission, Indra Sawhney Case

Mains level:  Storm over reservations demand in India.


  • The panel constituted by the Union government to look into the sub-categorization of OBCs has been given another extension by the Cabinet till May 31, 2019.


  1. The Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney and others vs. Union of India case (1992) had observed that there is no constitutional or legal bar on states for categorizing OBCs as backward or more backward.
  2. It had also observed that it is not impermissible in law if state chooses to do sub-categorization.
  3. So far, 9 states/UTs viz. Karnataka, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Puducherry, Telangana, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have carried out sub-categorization of OBCs.
  4. However there was no sub categorization in central list of OBCs so far.

Panel for Sub-categorization of OBCs

  1. The panel under G. Rohini was constituted in October 2017 and was supposed to file its report within three months.
  2. It is mandated to divide 5,000-odd castes in the central OBC list into sub-categories for more equitable distribution of opportunities in central government jobs and educational institutions.
  3. The commission has been established under Article 340 of Constitution under which Mandal commission had recommended 27% reservation for socially and educationally backward classes, was appointed.

Task of the Panel

  1. The commission will examine extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among castes included in broad category of OBCs, especially with reference to OBCs included in the Central list.
  2. It will also take up exercise of identifying respective castes/sub-castes/communities synonyms in Central List of OBCs and classify them into their respective sub-categories.
  3. It will work out mechanism, norms, criteria and parameters, in scientific approach, for sub-categorization within such OBCs.