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December 2018

Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Time for Techplomacy


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: International Telecommunication Union

Mains level: The trend of techplomacy and changes required in India’s foreign policy


Technology usage in diplomacy

  1. As a far more sweeping technological revolution envelops the world today, governments are finding new ways to adapt
  2. Whether it is in using social media to influence public opinion at home and abroad, conducting espionage on other states, securing one’s critical infrastructure against foreign interference, setting terms for cross-border data flows, governing the internet, countering terrorism, or preventing the militarization of Artificial Intelligence, all major governments are reorganising their diplomatic mechanisms
  3. To enhance the effectiveness of its voice in the new domain, France appointed a full time “digital ambassador” in 2017
  4. Denmark has set up offices of “TechPlomacy” in Silicon Valley, Copenhagen and Beijing
  5. A major part of their mandate is to deal with technology giants like Google, Facebook and Alibaba and Huawei
  6. India too needs to review and reorganise its technology diplomacy

History of technology usage in foreign policy

  1. The slow pace of long-distance communication until the 19th century meant that ambassadors acted on their own
  2. Because they had no way to get frequent instructions from the sovereign, they were conferred with the title “ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary” and given the full authority to negotiate with the sovereigns to whom they were accredited
  3. The communications revolution ended the age of the aristocrat diplomat and turned the envoy and his staff into professional bureaucracies run from the governments at home
  4. Beyond the process of diplomacy, the envoys had to deal with the substantive impact of new communications technologies on international affairs
  5. In finding ways to facilitate wireless communication across territorial borders, major nations negotiated the establishment of the International Telegraph Union in 1865 that would later become the International Telecommunication Union
  6. The ITU is one of the oldest international organisations

Changing roles 

  1. As the impact of science and technology on the world expanded, diplomats had to go beyond their traditional focus on negotiating peace pacts and territorial settlements
  2. Over the last century, the diplomatic mandate on science and technology has ranged from chemical weapons to climate change and naval arms limitation to nuclear proliferation

India’s journey in technological adoption

  1. Due to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s deep commitment to the creation of national technical capabilities through international cooperation, technology diplomacy became an important priority for independent India’s foreign policy
  2. But Delhi’s so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 resulted in an expanding regime of technology sanctions against India
  3. As Delhi reconnected to the world and embarked on a high growth path in the 1990s, options opened up for ending the international technology blockade against India
  4. In two decades of productive diplomacy, built around the historic civil nuclear initiative with the US, Delhi has largely completed India’s integration with the international non-proliferation regime
  5. From being a major target of technology sanctions, it is now part of the community that sets the rules for international transfers of sensitive technologies

Way forward

  1. The nuclear problem that Delhi had to address through the second half of the 20th century might pale into insignificance with the kind of challenges that the new technological revolution presents
  2. The nuclear revolution affected only a small fraction of India’s economy and security
  3. The current technological transformations, especially in the digital and genetic domains, will have far-reaching consequences for India’s economy, society, politics and international relations
  4. The challenges and opportunities presented by the unfolding technological revolution are too important to be left to individual departments and ministries
  5. What India needs is a “whole-of-government” approach to technology diplomacy led by the Prime Minister’s Office


[op-ed snap] Making every citizen an auditor


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Importance of social audits


Social audits in India

  1. Social audits show how people’s participation in the planning, execution and monitoring of public programmes leads to better outcomes
  2. They have strengthened the role of the gram sabha
  3. Social audits were first mandated by law in 2005 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)
  4. Subsequently, Parliament, the Supreme Court and many Central ministries mandated them in other areas as well
  5. Following a sustained push from the Rural Development Ministry, the CAG and civil society organisations, social audit units (SAUs) have been established in 26 States (Rajasthan, Haryana and Goa are yet to establish them)

Shortcomings in implementation

  1. The governing bodies of most SAUs are not independent
  2. Some SAUs have to obtain sanction from the implementation agency before spending funds
  3. More than half the States have not followed the open process specified in the standards for the appointment of the SAU’s director
  4. Some States have conducted very few audits and a few have not conducted any
  5. Several do not have adequate staff to cover all the panchayats even once a year
  6. The action taken by the State governments in response to the social audit findings has been extremely poor

What needs to be done?

  1. In 2017, the Supreme Court mandated social audits under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to be conducted using the machinery that facilitates the social audits of MGNREGA
  2. Social audits of the NFSA have failed to take off due to lack of funds
  3. Like the Rural Development Ministry, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution should give funds to the SAUs and ask them to facilitate the social audits of the NFSA
  4. Social audit units should have an independent governing body and adequate staff
  5. Rules must be framed so that implementation agencies are mandated to play a supportive role in the social audit process and take prompt action on the findings
  6. Also, a real-time management information system should track the calendar, the social audit findings and the action taken, and reports on these should be made publicly available
  7. The CAG as an institution could partner with local citizens and state audit societies to train them, build capacities and issue advisories on framing of guidelines, developing criteria, methodology and reporting for audit

Way forward

  1. Social audit processes need mentoring and support as they expand into newer programmes
  2. Social audits in India need to become an integral and robust part of the formal audit process

Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

[op-ed snap] Right prescription: the ban on retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Oxytocin

Mains level: Flaws in the framing of health policies in India and the need of making the system better


HC lifts the ban on the sale of oxytocin

  1. In a crucial development that exposes the flaws in health policy-making in the country, the Delhi High Court quashed a government ban on the retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin
  2. Notified by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in April, the ban referred to a 2016 Himachal Pradesh High Court judgment, which discussed oxytocin’s misuse in dairy cattle, fruits and vegetables

Importance of Oxytocin

  1. Oxytocin is a life-saving drug used to stem post-partum bleeding among new mothers
  2. Because of this, it had been listed by both the World Health Organization and the Health Ministry as an essential medicine
  3. Around 45,000 women die from post-partum complications in India each year, and in 38% of the cases the reason is haemorrhaging
  4. Without the easy availability of inexpensive oxytocin, efforts to stem the maternal mortality epidemic could have suffered a costly setback

HC observations

  1. The court found that the government had failed to weigh the danger the ban posed to thousands of young mothers
  2. What is more, it had failed to show that the drug was widely misused for veterinary purposes, the purported reason behind the order
  3. The most damning observation in the judgment is that the Centre focussed on the health of milch animals, without considering the well-being of women
  4. This was despite the fact that all statutory bodies, including the Drugs Technical Advisory Board, had advised against a ban

Way forward

  1. It is time for a post-mortem of how health policy is made, because that is the only way to safeguard the right to health of Indian citizens

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[pib] Bhasha Sangam Programme


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: Bhasha Sangam

Mains level:  Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat Programme


  • The Department of School Education & Literacy has initiated Bhasha Sangam Programme to provide multilingual exposure to students in Indian Languages

Bhasha Sangam Programme

  1. The Bhasha Sangam is an initiative under the ‘Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat’ which aims to make the students aware about the unique cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity of our country.
  2. In order to celebrate the unique characteristic of our country, Bhasha Sangam provides an opportunity to schools and educational institution to provide multilingual exposure to students in Indian Languages.
  3. The objective is to familiarize every child with simple dialogues in all the 22 languages under Schedule VIII of the Constitution of India.
  4. They will be taking up one language on each working day, to enhance linguistic tolerance and promote national integration.
  5. The initiative has been widely received and accepted by States and UTs in very positive manner and schools are introducing five simple and commonly used sentences as per the convenience of students.

Lingual provisions

  1. Section 29(2)(F) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 states that “medium of instruction shall, as far as practicable, be in child’s mother tongue”.
  2. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF), 2005 emphasises the importance of imparting primary education in the mother tongue of the child.
  3. Since education is in the Concurrent List, States have the liberty to decide the medium of instruction in schools.

Three Language Formula

  1. The NCF also states that the ‘Three Language Formula’ is an attempt to address the challenges and opportunities of the linguistic situation in India.
  2. As per the ‘Three Language Formula’ the first language to be studied, must be the mother tongue or the regional language.
  3. In the case of Hindi speaking States, children learn a language not spoken in their area.
  4. Sanskrit may also be studied as a modern Indian language in addition to these languages.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

[pib] Expansion of beneficiaries list under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre & States & the performance of these schemes

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana

Mains level: Success of Ujjwala Yojana


  • The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has cleared the proposal to release deposit free LPG connections to poor families, who have not been considered earlier under PMUY on account of their names not been covered in Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC).
  • Poor families who could not get LPG connection under PMUY are now eligible to get a connection subject to fulfilling the eligibility norms and furnishing required documents.

New beneficiaries will include:

  • SC/STs households
  • Beneficiaries of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin),
  • Beneficiaries of Antyodaya Anna Yojana(AAY),
  • Forest dwellers,
  • Most Backward Classes (MBC),
  • Tea & Ex-Tea Garden Tribes,
  • People residing in Islands / river islands


Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana

  1. PMUY is a welfare scheme being implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to provide LPG connections to families below the poverty line, guided by the strong commitment to bring about changes in the life of poor women and also protect their health
  2. Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) is used to identify the beneficiaries (adult woman of a BPL family) and is given a deposit free LPG connection with a financial assistance of Rs.1600 per connection by the centre
  3. This scheme will help prevent pollution and facilitate the healthy atmosphere in the families of poor people.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[pib] IMPRESS scheme launched to promote Social Science Research in the 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: IMPRESS, RISE 2022

Mains level:  Facilitating research in India through various mechanisms


Impactful Policy Research in Social Sciences (IMPRESS)

  1. The Government of India, in August 2018, had sanctioned the scheme IMPRESS at a total cost of Rs. 414 Cr for implementation up to 2021.
  2. Under the Scheme, 1500 research projects will be awarded for 2 years to support the social science research in the higher educational institutions and to enable research to guide policy making.
  3. The Indian Council of Social Science and Research (ICSSR) will be the project implementing agency.
  4. The broad objectives of the scheme are:
  • To identify and fund research proposals in social sciences with maximum impact on the governance and society.
  • To focus research on (11) broad thematic areas such as : State and Democracy, Urban transformation, Media, Culture and Society, Employment, Skills and Rural transformation , Governance, Innovation and Public Policy, Growth, etc.
  • To ensure selection of projects through a transparent, competitive process on online mode.
  • To provide opportunity for social science researchers in any institution in the country, including all Universities (Central and State), private institutions with 12(B) status conferred by UGC.
  • ICSSR funded/ recognized research institutes will also be eligible to submit research proposals on the given themes and sub-themes.

Recent developments for Credit Facilitation

  1. The Government has approved Revitalizing Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE), as per which the scope of institutions to be funded through Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) has been enlarged.
  2. These will encompass School Education and Medical Education institutions, apart from Higher Education.
  3. There is an window of financing for school and medical education institutions where the sponsoring Department would undertake to repay the principal and interest to HEFA.
  4. All funds for educational infrastructure in centrally funded educational institutions will henceforth be in the form of ten year loans through HEFA to the institution.
  5. The interest liability of which would be borne by the Government.
  6. The principal repayment would be undertaken by the institutions in part or full depending on their age profile and financial capability.
  7. For new institutions and those which have limited internal fund generating capacity, the entire principal and interest repayment would be undertaken by the Government.

e-Commerce: The New Boom

India Post’s e-commerce portal aims to boost parcel business network


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: E-commerce Regulation in India

Mains level: Providing e-market place for various groups of entrepreneurs.


  • Leveraging its parcel business network, India Post has announced the soft launch of its e-commerce portal.

Particulars of the Portal

  1. The primary objective is to provide a medium to sell products for small artisans and anyone who wants to sell their product can sell on the site.
  2. Unlike other e-commerce players, the India Post service will be able to pick up and deliver products in over 1.5 lakh places through its well spread out network.
  3. The products will be shipped through the postal department’s Speed Post service.
  4. A separate parcel directorate has been formed which is empowered to decide on the rates of parcel and other related issues.
  5. The Portal will provide an e-market place to sellers especially to rural artisans, self-help groups, women entrepreneurs, state and central PSUs, autonomous bodies to sell their products to buyers across the country.

Other initiatives

  1. The Minister also launched the internet banking facility for Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) customers who are under Core Banking Solution.
  2. Around 17 crore POSB accounts will be intra-operable and customers can also transfer funds online to RD (Recurring Deposit) and PPF (Public Provident Fund) accounts of post offices/

Why such move?

  1. The Department of Posts has been focussing on the e-commerce sector to increase its revenue receipts.
  2. The Department facilitates has collected and remitted more than Rs 27 billion under cash on-delivery till January 2018 since its introduction in December 2013.
  3. The ongoing e-commerce business segment has resulted in an increase of 13 per cent revenue of India Post in the 2017-18.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

NASA’s HiRISE photographs Mars InSight lander from space


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: HiRISE

Mains level: Importance of the Mars mission


  • NASA has pinpointed the exact landing location of its newly launched InSight lander, using a powerful camera onboard another of the agency’s spacecraft, hovering around the Red Planet.

After InSight’s landing

  1. On November 26, InSight landed within a 130 km ellipse at Elysium Planitia on Mars.
  2. However, there was no way to determine exactly where it touched down within this region.
  3. InSight was set to study the interior of Mars, and will explore valuable science as NASA prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars.
  4. The spacecraft will operate on the surface for one Martian year, plus 40 Martian days, or sols, until November 24, 2020.


  1. The HiRISE (which stands for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted Martian landscape and ground around the lander.
  2. It released three new features on the Martian landscape, which appear to be teal.
  3. However, it is not their actual colour, but light reflected off their surfaces caused the colour to be saturated.
  4. The ground around the lander appears dark, having been blasted by its retro-rockets during descent.


InSight Mars Mission

  • Please navigate to the page:

Nasa Mars InSight blasts off from California Air Base to check on ‘Marsquakes’

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

India, Nepal, Bhutan plan joint task force to protect wildlife


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Kanchenjunga Landscape

Mains level: Regional collaboration for Wildlife Conservation


  • The governments of India, Nepal and Bhutan are actively considering having a joint task force for allowing free movement of wildlife across political boundaries and checking smuggling of wildlife across the Kanchenjunga Landscape.

About Kanchenjunga Landscape

  1. The Kanchenjunga Landscape is a trans-boundary region spread across Nepal, India and Bhutan.
  2. The landscape stretches along the southern side of Mount Kanchenjunga covers an area of 25,080 sq km spread across parts of eastern Nepal (21%), Sikkim and West Bengal (56%) and western and south-western parts of Bhutan (23%).
  3. Other than seven million people, the Kanchenjunga Landscape is also home to 169 species of mammals and 713 species of birds.
  4. The trio is setting up a joint task force in the road map on achieving the objectives of free movement of wildlife and checking smuggling of wildlife.

Why such move?

  1. According to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) 1,118 sq km of riverine grassland and tree cover were lost in the landscape between 2000 and 2010.
  2. 74 % of the area was converted into rangeland and 26% to agricultural land.
  3. Studies by the ICIMOD suggest that between 1986 and 2015, as many as 425 people were killed by elephants and 144 elephants were killed between 1958 and 2013.
  4. Every few months there are cases of elephants, rhino and gaurs and other mammals crossing over political boundaries, triggering panic among locals across the border and also posing danger to the wildlife.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

Lok Sabha passes Transgender Persons Bill with 27 changes


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Definition of Trans-gender

Mains level: Upholding fundamental as well as human rights of transgender community


  • The Lok Sabha has passed the Bill to give transgender persons equal rights and protection under law through a voice vote.


  1. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, was passed with 27 amendments introduced by the government.
  2. Work on the Bill has been going on since 2015.
  3. The Bill had gone to the standing committee, and as many as 27 amendments have been accepted by the government.
  4. Whatever other suggestions are there will be incorporated in the rules of the Act.
  5. The Supreme Court, in the landmark April 2014 NALSA judgment, had issued a directive “to extend all kinds of reservations in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments” by treating transgender persons as socially and educationally backward classes.
  6. They were to be given reservations under the 27 per cent OBC quota, a suggestion that was also endorsed by the National Commission for Backward Classes in its recommendations to the Social Justice Ministry in 2014.

Re-definition of Trans-persons

  1. The amendments passed include a change in the previous definition of transgender persons as “neither wholly female nor wholly male”, which was criticised as being insensitive.
  2. The new definition terms a transgender person as one “whose gender does not match the gender assigned to that person at birth and includes trans-men or trans-women, persons with intersex variations, gender-queers, and persons having socio-cultural identities such as kinnar, hijras, aravani and jogta”.

Gender Certificate

  1. The Bill states that a person will be recognised as transgender on the basis of a certificate of identity issued through the district screening committee.
  2. This certificate will be a proof of identity as transgender and confer rights under this Bill.
  3. It is very unclear what the term ‘self-perceived gender identity’ entails and how it will be enforced.

Issues surrounding the Bill

  1. Several civil society groups have been vocal about their opposition to the Bill.
  2. The Bill disregards many of their suggestions as also some of the crucial points raised by the standing committee report of July 2017.
  3. This includes the right of transgender persons to self-identification, instead of being certified by a district screening committee.
  4. The panel had also pointed out that the Bill is silent on granting reservations to transgender persons.

A liberal perspective on Trans People

  1. The Bill must recognise that gender identity must go beyond biological; gender identity is an individual’s deep and personal experience.
  2. It need not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.
  3. It includes the personal sense of the body and other expressions such as one’s own personal inducing proceeds.

Criticisms of the Bill

  1. The Bill so passed has prescribed punishments for organised begging.
  2. Trans youth who don’t find jobs join their gurus in begging due to systematic discrimination in education, job, and healthcare.
  3. This Bill doesn’t provide anything to better to condition in those areas, it doesn’t provide for reservation.
  4. It upholds lighter consequences for discrimination and assault on trans people compared to cis-gender people.