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December 2018

Swachh Bharat Mission

[op-ed snap] Why Swachh Bharat Abhiyan matters for India’s children


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS)

Mains level: Link between Swacch Bharat Abhiyan and Child health


Low height of children in India

  1. India, which has moved up in income and several development indicators, has made very little progress in the decade between 2006 and 2016 in one key aspect: the height of children
  2. One major reason for this is the lack of improvement in sanitation over the past decade, new research suggests
  3. Indian children and adults, especially female and from marginalized groups, are among the shortest in the world, data from the International Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) system show
  4. India accounts for nearly a third of the world’s stunted children, and this proportion has not changed much since 2005-06

Factors behind this

  1. Inter-country differences in height are often commonly believed to be on account of genetics and ethnicity, but the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that “the effect of ethnic differences on the growth of infants and young children in populations is small compared with the effects of the environment
  2. A population’s height is measured in relation to what that population’s height could be in optimal conditions—optimal family health, food and sanitation

India’s growth not reflecting on child heights

  1. Despite its economic and other successes over the last decade, India has not done well on some of the key determinants of child height
  2. Maternal nutrition, which plays a big role in the birth weight and height of the child, has a lifelong impact on the child’s health and other life outcomes
  3. Despite improvements, three out of 10 Indian women still begin their pregnancies underweight, and half of all pregnant women in 2015-16 were anaemic
  4. While there have been improvements in breastfeeding rates, the dietary diversity for infants has actually worsened

Role of sanitation

  1. The lack of sanitation and the practice of open defecation is another big driver of childhood undernutrition
  2. Faecal germs spread by open defecation cause debilitating diarrhoeal diseases among children, which hamper their ability to absorb nutrients and grow
  3. Indian districts with low levels of access to toilets have much higher rates of child undernourishment compared with districts with relatively high levels of access to toilets
  4. If India had halved its 2005-06 rates of open defecation by 2015-16, child heights would be one-tenth of a standard deviation better than they are, and if it had eliminated open defecation, the effect would have been more than doubled

Way forward

  1. Across the world, people are taller than they have ever been, propelled by economic growth and better health outcomes
  2. India is getting taller too, but not at the rate that its economic progress would predict

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

[op-ed snap] End this long trauma


Mains Paper 2: Governance | mechanisms, laws, institutions & Bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: De-notified and Nomadic Tribes

Mains level: Need of amending Habitual Offenders Act (HOA)


Denotified Tribes in India

  1. The term, ‘De-notified and Nomadic Tribes’, can be traced to the Criminal Tribes Act (CTA) of 1871
  2. The colonial government notified nearly 200 tribal communities to be hereditary criminals, cementing their social identity as outcasts and subjecting them to constant harassment by the administration
  3. After India gained Independence, these tribes were ‘de-notified’ from the list of Criminal Tribes, and, hence, the term
  4. Fifteen crore individuals, better known as the Denotified Tribes (DNT) of India, continue to be considered ‘criminal by birth’

Name changed to Habitual Offenders Act (HOA) 

  1. The CTA allowed for close supervision and control over the mobility of the tribes which were notified by the provincial governments
  2. The Act was amended in 1897, 1908 and 1911 to give sweeping powers to the authorities, some as draconian as allowing the state to remove any child of the age of six and above from its ‘criminal’ parents
  3. Along with the introduction of laws such as the Forest Acts and the Salt Tax Act, the British threw a noose around the the lives of DNTs using stringent regulations
  4. It is only in independent India that the need was felt to shift the collective burden of criminality to the individual, which led to the CTA being repealed and the Habitual Offenders Act (HOA) being enacted in various States
  5. Not all States enacted it, Currently, a variant of the HOA Model Bill as proposed by the Union Government then stands enforced in 10 States across the country, having been enacted in many more
  6. However, the HOA functioned as a mere extension of the CTA

No change in sufferings

  1. Nomadic and semi-nomadic communities continued to face harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies
  2. Certainly, the mere repeal of the CTA could not change the mindset of government officials or members of society
  3. The fact is that even in the 21st century, DNTs continue to face ostracisation by society at large
  4. Given their centuries-old tradition of constant movement, they often do not possess any residential proof, which leaves them out of the majority of the government’s developmental schemes
  5. Those deemed eligible for such schemes were randomly grouped under the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Other Backward Classes categories
  6. As a result, most members of the DNTs continue to be out of the orbit of steps being taken to end discrimination

Steps taken to end discrimination

  1. The first National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic Tribes (NCDNT) was constituted in 2003 and reconstituted two years later under the chairpersonship of Balkrishna Renke, which submitted its report in 2008
  2. The recommendations found an echo in the Idate Commission, constituted with the similar mandate in 2015, and currently withholding public release of its report
  3. The NCDNT report clearly recommends repealing the various HOAs

Way forward

  1.  A mere repeal of the law will not address their need for establishing society-wide changes to gain access to political-social-economic welfare
  2. Thus, the repeal of the HOA has to be accompanied by a slew of legal reforms to address the multitude of issues DNT communities face
  3. Their unique lifestyle requires positive affirmation and development policies that cater to their long-standing and overlooked needs
  4. It should be the duty of the government to be proactive and reach out to the DNTs since the latter would understandably refrain from seeking state help

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] An invitation to corruption?


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Electoral Bond Scheme

Mains level: Various flaws in the structure of EBS and the need for a transparent mode of electoral financing


Electoral bonds scheme

  1. Early this year the government introduced an Electoral Bond Scheme purportedly with a view to cleansing the prevailing culture of political sponsorship
  2. But there are many grey areas in this because when there is no ceiling on party expenditure and the EC (Election Commission) cannot monitor it, how can one be sure that what is coming in is not black money as there is a secrecy of the donor

Working of the scheme

  1. In its present form, the scheme permits not only individuals and body corporates but also “every artificial juridical person,” to purchase bonds, issued by the State Bank of India, in denominations of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹lakh, ₹10 lakh and ₹1 crore, during specified periods of the year
  2. Issued in the form of promissory notes, once a bond is purchased the buyer can donate it to any political party, which can then encash it on demand

Flaws in the functioning

  1. The government claims that since these bonds are purchased through banking channels the scheme will eliminate the infusion of black money into electoral funding
  2. But this argument palpably false, as a simple reading of the scheme’s terms shows us that the programme also virtually endorses corruption in political funding
  3. The scheme allows for complete anonymity of the donor
  4. Neither the purchaser of the bond nor the political party receiving the donation is mandated to disclose the donor’s identity
  5. Therefore, not only will the shareholders of a corporation be unaware of the company’s contributions, but the voters too will have no idea of how, and through whom, a political party has been funded
  6. The programme removes an existing condition that had prohibited companies from donating anything more than 7.5% of their average net-profit over the previous three years
  7. This now means that even loss-making entities can make unlimited contributions
  8. Additionally, the requirement that a corporation ought to have been in existence for at least three years before it could make donations — a system that was meant to stop shell concerns from being created with a view purely to syphoning money into politics — has also been removed

Petition in SC highlighting problems of the scheme

  1. As petitions filed in the Supreme Court point out, the scheme suffers from at least two foundational defects
  2. One, that it was incorporated on the back of a series of amendments made to legislation, including the Representation of the People Act, the Income Tax Act and the Companies Act, which were introduced in the form of a money bill
  3. And two, that the scheme flouts a number of fundamental rights

Not a money bill

  1. Article 110 of the Constitution allows the Speaker to classify a proposed legislation as a money bill, only when the draft law deals with all or any of the subjects enlisted in the provision
  2. These subjects comprise a set of seven features, including items such as the imposition of a tax, the regulation of the borrowing of money by the government, the custody of the Consolidated Fund of India, the appropriation of money out of the consolidated fund, and any matter incidental to the subjects explicitly mentioned in Article 110
  3. It’s impossible to see how the provisions pertaining to the electoral bond scheme could possibly fall within any of these categories
  4. The Finance Act, through which these amendments were introduced, therefore did not deal with only those matters contained in Article 110

Violation of Fundamental Rights

  1. The scheme is equally destructive in its subversion of the fundamental rights to equality and freedom of expression
  2. There’s no doubt that the Constitution does not contain an explicitly enforceable right to vote
  3. But implicit in its guarantees of equality and free speech is a right to knowledge and information
  4. Our courts have nearly consistently seen “freedom of voting” as distinct from the right to vote, as a facet of the right to freedom of expression and as an essential condition of political equality
  5. In the absence of complete knowledge about the identities of those funding the various different parties, it’s difficult to conceive how a citizen can meaningfully participate in political and public life

Impact on democracy

  1. The institutionalising of equality through the principle of one person one vote, and through the creation of the universal adult franchise, was critical to building India’s republican structure
  2. When the power of that vote is diluted through opacity in political funding, democracy as a whole loses its intrinsic value

Way forward

  1. Prima facie it appears the scheme cannot really deliver whatever it was intended to
  2. The Electoral Bond Scheme inhibits the citizen’s capacity to meaningfully participate in political and public life

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

M.S. Swaminathan calls GM crops a failure


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Biotechnology

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level:  BT Cotton

Mains Level: Limitations of GM crops


  • A research paper co-authored by leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, which describes Bt cotton as a ‘failure,’ was criticised by India’s Principal Scientific Adviser as ‘deeply flawed’.

BT crops: A big Failure

  1. The article ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security’ was recently published.
  2. It is authored by P.C. Kesavan and Prof. Swaminathan, senior functionaries of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).

  1. The article is a review of crop development in India and transgenic crops — particularly Bt cotton, the stalled Bt brinjal as well as DMH-11, a transgenic mustard hybrid.
  2. The latter two have been cleared by scientific regulators but not by the Centre.
  3. It states that the precautionary principle (PP) has been done away with and no science-based and rigorous biosafety protocols and evaluation of GM crops are in place.
  4. BT crops have failed as a sustainable agriculture technology and have, therefore, also failed to provide livelihood security for cotton farmers who are mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.

Why opt GM?

  1. Conventional GE technology uses genes from soil bacterium to either protect them from specific pests or— as in the case of GE mustard — facilitate hybridization.
  2. This means making the plant more amenable to developing higher-yielding varieties.
  3. Swaminathan, credited with leading India’s Green Revolution, has said the government should only use genetic engineering as a last resort.
  4. He has emphasized that genetic engineering is supplementary and must be need based.
  5. Only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology.

GM for Abiotic stresses

  1. Abiotic stresses refer to environmental factors that could meddle with plant yield, as opposed to ‘biotic’ stressors such as insects.
  2. GE may be deployed to manage against Abiotic stresses.


BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis)

  1. BT is a soil dwelling bacterium generally used in biopesticide.
  2. Bt cotton was created through the addition of genes encoding toxin crystals in the Cry group of endotoxin.
  3. When insects attack and eat the cotton plant the Cry toxins are dissolved due to the high pH level of the insect’s stomach.
  4. In 2002, a joint venture between Monsanto and Mahyco introduced Bt cotton to India.
  5. Genetic Engineering appraisal committee (GEAC) is the central agency to allow field trials of BT/GM crops.

Rural Infrastructure Schemes

SMART project in Maharashtra villages


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Food processing & related industries in India- scope & significance, location, upstream & downstream requirements, supply chain management

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SMART Project

Mains level: Facilitating agri-business in India


  • The state government launched an ambitious project – State of Maharashtra Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) – in 10,000 villages with an objective to achieve sustainable farming within the next three years.


  1. The SMART project is being undertaken will cover almost one-fourth of Maharashtra.
  2. The project SMART will be assisted by the World Bank.
  3. The focus is clearly on villages which are reeling under the worst agriculture crisis compounded by lack of infrastructure and assured value chains to channelize the farm produce.
  4. The objective of the project is to:
  • create and support the value chains in post-harvest segments of agriculture,
  • facilitate agribusiness investment,
  • stimulate SMEs within the value chain,
  • support resilient agriculture production systems,
  • expand access to new and organised markets for producers and
  • enhance private sector participation in the agribusiness.

A farmer friendly project

  1. This project unites agriculture-oriented corporates and farmers by providing them a common platform.
  2. Through this meaningful partnership change will emerge across rural as well as livelihood of farmers across the state.

Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

IISER team develops method to simulate Sunspot Cycle


Mains Paper 1: Geography | Salient features of World’s Physical Geography

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Sunspots, Maunder minimum

Mains level: Impact of Sunspots on mankind as a whole


  • IISER Kolkata have developed a way of predicting the intensity of activity in the next solar cycle (approximately from 2020 to 2031) using data spread over the last 100 years.

What are Sunspots?

  1. Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the Sun’s photosphere that appear as spots darker than the surrounding areas.
  2. They are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field flux that inhibit convection.
  3. Sunspots usually appear in pairs of opposite magnetic polarity

Observing Sunspots

  1. Astronomers have observed sunspots on the surface of the sun for nearly 400 years.
  2. It is known that sunspots follow a cyclic pattern of growing in number and disappearing in approximately 11 years, known as the sunspot cycle or the sun’s activity cycle.
  3. We are currently in the 24th sunspot cycle since the observation began in 1755.

IISER Model of Sunspot

  1. The researchers has simulated the behaviour of the sun using magnetic field evolution models and observational data.
  2. They simulate solar activity, and using inputs from observed data from one cycle, predict the behaviour of the sun over the next cycle, about ten years in advance.
  3. Comparing their simulations with recorded data from 1913 to present, they show a remarkable agreement in most cases.
  4. Using the same method, they predict solar activity over the next cycle, about ten years into the future.
  5. IISER’s sunspot simulation states that the sun’s activity would not dip during the next cycle, but it would be similar to the current cycle, perhaps even stronger.
  6. They expect the cycle to peak around 2024.

Impact of Sunspots

I. Solar missions

  1. This kind of work will be very important for the understanding of the long-term variations of the sun and its impact on our climate which is one of the science objectives of Aditya mission.
  2. The forecast will be also useful for scientific operational planning of the Aditya mission.

II. Space Weather

  1. This refers to the effect of radiation, particle flux and magnetic flux in the region around the sun.
  2. During extreme events, space weather can affect electronics-driven satellite controls, communications systems, air traffic over polar routes and even power grids.

III. Earth’s Climate

  1. The other reason sunspots are interesting is the belief that they are correlated with climate on earth.
  2. A lot of the research in this area focuses on predicting the way the next sunspot cycle will shape up – whether the sun will be extremely active and produce many sunspots or not.

IV. El-Nino

  1. ENSO occurs at irregular interval between 3 and 7 years causing global climate system variation.
  2. Considering this event occurs periodically, it might be triggered by the 11-years of solar cycle as an energy source.
  3. In this case, the solar activity is represented by the variability of the periodical Sunspot.
  4. Changes in the rate of heating and the amount of solar energy package is presumed to be the cause of the ENSO phenomenon.

Upcoming Sunspot  and expected impacts

  1. There have been predictions that the next cycle (cycle 25) will show reduced sunspot activity.
  2. There have even been speculations that the sun may be heading towards a period of prolonged low activity – what solar physicists describe as a ‘Maunder-like minimum’.
  3. The Maunder minimum refers to a period from 1645 to 1715 where observers reported minimal Sunspot activity — the number of sunspots reduced by a factor of nearly 1,000, over a period of 28 years.
  4. This has led to speculation of an imminent Maunder-like grand minimum and cooling global climate.
  5. During this and other such periods of low activity, some parts of Europe and North America experienced lower-than-average temperatures.

Govt approves freight village in Varanasi


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Varanasi Freight Village

Mains level: Enhancing cargo transport with the help of Inland Waterways


  • The Ministry of Shipping has given its nod to develop Rs 156 crore freight village in Varanasi adjoining the inland waterways terminal on river Ganga that will boost the logistics industry in the holy city.

What is freight village?

  1. A freight village is a designated area where facilities for various modes of transportation, distribution of goods and other logistics are available in a synchronised manner on a large scale.
  2. It links and brings together different transport modes (road, rail), transport companies (forwarders, warehousing), supplementary transport service (vehicle services, consultancy services) as well as industrial and trading companies.

Varanasi Freight Village

  1. Varanasi freight village is proposed to be developed over a land area of about 100 acres.
  2. A World Bank pre-feasibility study has found Varanasi to be a suitable site for the freight village.
  3. It will be developed by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).
  4. It will serve as a cargo hub, and a centre for aggregation and value addition.
  5. It will also provide support to stimulate development of a professional logistics industry in Varanasi.

Why Varanasi?

  1. The city is located strategically and is a focal point in the logistics chain of Eastern Transport Corridor of the country.
  2. It is point from where the National Waterways-1, Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC), National Highway-7 and National Highway-2 pass through.
  3. The volume of traffic on inland waterway to Varanasi is also expected to increase with the commissioning of the multi-modal terminal being built under the Jal Marg Vikas project.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

[pib] FAO Council approves India’s proposal to observe International Year of Millets in 2023


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Importance of Millets, FAO

Mains level: Agronomics of Millets


  • The 160th session of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Council, currently underway in Rome, approved India’s proposal to observe an International Year of Millets in 2023.

What are Millets?

  1. Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food.
  2. They are important crops in the semiarid tropics of Asia and Africa.
  3. The crop is favored due to its productivity and short growing season under dry, high-temperature conditions.
  4. They are highly tolerant of drought and other extreme weather conditions and have a similar nutrient content to other major cereals.

Benefits of Millets consumption

  1. Millets are nutritionally superior to wheat and rice owing to their higher levels of protein with more balanced amino acid profile, crude fibre and minerals such as Iron, Zinc, and Phosphorous.
  2. It provides nutritional security and act as shield against nutritional deficiency, especially among children and women.
  3. Pellagra (niacin deficiency), Anaemia (iron deficiency), B-complex vitamin deficiency can be effectively tackled with intake of less expensive but nutritionally rich food grains like millets.
  4. It can also help tackle health challenges such as obesity, diabetes and lifestyle problems as they are gluten free and also have low glycemic index and are high in dietary fibre and antioxidants.

International Year of Millets in 2023

  • This will enhance global awareness to bring back these nutri-cereals to the plate, for food and nutrition security and hence increase production for resilience to challenges posed globally by climate change.
  • This international endorsement comes in the backdrop of India celebrating 2018 as the National Year of Millets for promoting cultivation and consumption of these nutri-cereals.
  • This is further supported by increase in Minimum Support Prices (MSP) of millets.

Other approvals by FAO

  1. The FAO Council also approved India’s membership to the Executive Board of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for 2020 and 2021.
  2. The World Food Programme is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security.
  3. According to the WFP, it provides food assistance to an average of 91.4 million people in 83 countries each year

With inputs from:

[pib] India proposes UNs FAO to declare an upcoming year as “International Year of Millets”

[pib] NITI Aayog Launches Global Hackathon On Artificial Intelligence


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AI , details of the hackathon

Mains level: Applications of AI & its future in India


AI 4 All Global Hackathon

  1. With the vision to further expand the idea of’ Artificial Intelligence, AI for All articulated in the National AI Strategy, NITI Aayog has organized hackathons.
  2. The Hackathon was announced at the AI conference organized by NITI Aayog, in partnership with the ORF, held in Mumbai in November 2018.
  3. It aims to source sustainable, innovative and technologically-enabled solutions to address various challenges in the development space.
  4. NITI Aayog has partnered with Perlin – a Singapore-based AI start up – to launch the Hackathon.
  5. It is inviting developers, students, start-ups and companies to develop AI applications to make significant positive social and economic impact for India.

Objective of the Hackathon

  1. The challenge question seeks to develop solutions in Distributed Computing and Privacy Preserving techniques, such as multi-party computation, in AI.
  2. The objective of this hackathon is to promote awareness and subsequently develop solutions that deliver the twin benefit of efficient computing to address the infrastructure challenges, while also not compromising on privacy of data for training AI algorithms.

Phases of Hackathon

  1. The hackathon will be run two stages with Stage One ending 15 January 2019 and Stage Two, which will only include shortlisted participants from the previous stage, will conclude on 15 March 2019
  2. The first stage will invite ideas for use cases of multi-party computation in areas such as Healthcare, Education, Agriculture, Urbanization, Financial Inclusion.
  3. The second stage will call for these ideas to be matured and developed, with a focus on privacy preserving AI and distributed computing.
  4. Winners will share in a prize pool worth USD $50,000 in both cash and non-cash rewards.
  5. Participants will also get mentorship and support from the hackathon co-sponsors, including the opportunity to scale and implement their AI applications.

Other initiatives by NITI Aayog

  1. NITI Aayog organized its first hackathon, ‘MoveHack’ in August, on the sidelines of the Global Mobility Summit 2018.
  2. It was aimed to garnering cutting-edge mobility applications.