[op-ed snap] Power in space: on Mission Shakti


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: Mission Shakti, ASAT

Mains level: Strategic significance of the Mission Shakti and it impacts on domestic politics and neighbourhood



India has entered an elite space club with the Defence Research and Development Organisation blowing up a satellite in a Low Earth Orbit into smithereens.


  • Such Indian capability to take out moving objects has never really been in doubt.
  • the DRDO announced it as early as in 2011.
  • Indeed, India has been in the business of testing long-range missiles for years, although public attention on the space programme has been mostly on its civilian and scientific aspects.
  • The military dimension, though always latent, had not seen a verifiable demonstration as in the case of Mission Shakti, the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test.

The relevance of the test

  • Ministry of External Affairs describes it as a ‘credible deterrence’ against attacks on India’s growing number of space assets.
  • Although only three other countries, the U.S., Russia, and China, have previously demonstrated this capability, it is possible to surmise that countries with long-range missiles could do the same with equal effectiveness.
  • But India, surely, is staking a forward claim as a space weapons power.

It might propel Arms Race in the neighbourhood

  • This might lead to its none-too-friendly neighbour Pakistan into a competitive frenzy.
  • Also, in the absence of a credible threat to India’s space assets from China or any other country with Anti-Satellite missile capabilities, whether the ‘deterrence’ sought to be achieved by this test would lead to a more stable strategic security environment is not certain.

Intentions of India with regards to ASAT

  • While announcing the success of the test, was clear that India wanted to maintain peace rather than indulge in warmongering.
  • And, by targeting a low-orbit satellite, the missile test did the utmost possible to minimise space debris, which is an issue of international concern.

Concerns with the timing of test and elections

  • But, within India, the timing of the test, when the country is already in election mode, does raise concerns whether this was aimed at the domestic constituency.
  • The Election Commission is now seized of the question whether the Prime Minister might have violated the Model Code of Conduct.
  • If it does find the timing amiss, the government could be in for some serious embarrassment.


  • Ideally, the test should not have been a matter for a partisan political debate, but given the hypernationalist political plank of the ruling Party, Mission Shakti might have more reverberations on the ground than it has had in space.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[op-ed snap] The shape of an urban employment guarantee


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Development & employment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), NSSO

Mains level: Focusing on urban employment to deal with present employment crisis.



The unemployment rate has reached a 45-year high (6.1%) in 2017-18 as per leaked data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO).

Severe Crisis regarding employment situation

  • According to the PLFS report, the unemployment problem is especially aggravated in India’s cities and towns. Aside from unemployment, low wages and precarity continue to be widespread.
  • In urban India the majority of the population continues to work in the informal sector.
  • Hence, India cannot ignore the crisis of urban employment.

Importance of towns in growth

  • Both State and Central governments tend to treat towns as “engines of growth” for the economy rather than spaces where thousands toil to make a living.
  • Programmes such as the Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (1997) that included an urban wage employment component have made way for those focussed on skilling and entrepreneurship.

Policy ignorance of urban bodies in growth and employment Context

  • India’s small and medium towns are particularly ignored in the State’s urban imagination.
  • As per Census 2011, India has 4,041 cities and towns with an urban local body (ULB) in the form of a Municipal Corporation, Municipal Council or Nagar Panchayat.
  • However, national-level urban programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) only benefit a fraction of them.
  • Most ULBs are struggling to carry out basic functions because of a lack of financial and human capacity.
  • Further, with untrammelled urbanisation, they are facing more challenges due to the degradation of urban ecological commons.
  • Hence, we need new ways to promote the sustainable development of India’s small and medium towns.

Promoting Urban  Employment

  • In the context of the present employment crises, it is worthwhile considering to introduce an employment guarantee programme in urban areas.
  • Along with addressing the concerns of underemployment and unemployment, such a programme can bring in much-needed public investment in towns to improve the quality of urban infrastructure and services, restoring urban commons, skilling urban youth and increasing the capacity of ULBs.

1.Urban employment programme

  • The idea of an urban employment programme is gaining traction in political and policy debates.
  • According to multiple reports, it could be a key agenda of a possible Common Minimum Programme of the Opposition parties for the 2019 general election.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, the new State government has launched the “Yuva Swabhiman Yojana” which provides employment for both skilled and unskilled workers among urban youth.

A.Pros of the urban employment programme

  • Such a programme would give urban residents a statutory right to work and thereby ensure the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • To make it truly demand-driven, we have proposed that the ULB receives funds from the Centre and the State at the beginning of each financial year so that funds are available locally.
  • Wages would be disbursed in a decentralised manner at the local ULB.
  • Given the State’s relative neglect of small and medium towns and to avoid migration to big cities, such a programme can cover all ULBs with a population less than 1 million.
  • Since it is an urban programme, it should have a wider scope than the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA); this would provide employment for a variety of works for people with a range of skills and education levels
  • It would not come at the expense of MGNREGA but rather the two would go hand-in-hand.
  • Urban informal workers with limited formal education would benefit from this programme.
  • They can undertake standard public works such as building and maintenance of roads, footpaths and bridges for a guaranteed 100 days in a year, at ₹500 a day.
  • a new set of “green jobs” which include the creation, restoration/rejuvenation, and maintenance of urban commons such as green spaces and parks, forested or woody areas, degraded or waste land, and water bodies.
  • Further, a set of jobs that will cater to the “care deficit” in towns by providing child-care as well as care for the elderly and the disabled to the urban working class have been included.

2.Skilling and apprenticeship

  • Another novel aspect is the creation of a skilling and apprenticeship programme for unemployed youth with higher education
  • Who can sign up for a contiguous period of 150 days (five months), at ₹13,000 a month for five months to assist with administrative functions in municipal offices, government schools, or public health centres, and for the monitoring, measurement, or evaluation of environmental parameters.
  • While the first category of work is aimed at providing additional employment opportunities and raising incomes for those in low-wage informal work, the second category is to provide educated youth experience and skills that they can build-on further.
  • Such a programme will cost between 1.7-2.7% of GDP per year depending on design, and can provide work opportunities to around 30-50 million workers.
  • In light of the 74th Amendment, this programme should be administered by the ULB in a participatory manner by involving ward committees.

Checks and balances to enhance accountability

  • Strong transparency and accountability structures — proactive disclosure of information based on Section 4 of the RTI Act, proactive measures through mandatory periodic social audits, public hearing and reactive measures through a “Right to Timely Grievance Redressal” for workers.

Way Forward

  • An urban employment guarantee programme not only improves incomes of workers but also has multiplier effects on the economy.
  • It will boost local demand in small towns, improve public infrastructure and services, spur entrepreneurship, build skills of workers and create a shared sense of public goods.
  • Hence, the time is ripe for an employment guarantee programme in urban India.


Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Arctic warming may lead to prolonged droughts: Study


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Global warming and its impact on precipitation


Impact of arctic warming

  • Arctic warming weakens the temperature difference between the tropics and the poles, resulting in less precipitation, weaker cyclones and mid-latitude westerly wind flow.
  • This result in prolonged droughts, a study has found.
  • When those opposite temperatures are wider, the result is more precipitation, stronger cyclones and more robust wind flow.
  • However, due to the Arctic ice melting and warming up the poles, those disparate temperatures are becoming closer.

What happens when Arctic is warmer?

  • Analysis shows that, when the Arctic is warmer, the jet stream and other wind patterns tend to be weaker.
  • The temperature difference in the Arctic and the tropics is less steep.
  • The change brings less precipitation to the mid-latitudes.

What is happening right now?

  • The northern high latitudes are warming at rates that are double the global average.
  • This will decrease the equator-to-pole temperature gradient to values comparable with the early to middle Holocene Period that began 12,000 to 11,500 years ago.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Time to have institutional mechanism like Fiscal Council to enforce rules: NK Singh


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fiscal Council

Mains level: Mandate of the finance commission


  • Stressing on the need to have uniform rules for fiscal consolidation of States and Centre 15th Finance Commission’s Chairman NK Singh called for institutional mechanism like a ‘Fiscal Council’ to enforce fiscal rules and keep a check on Centre’s fiscal consolidation.

A check over borrowings

  • For state government liabilities, Article 293 (3) provides a constitutional check over borrowings.
  • But there is no such restriction on the Centre.
  • It is time we have an alternative institutional mechanism like Fiscal Council to enforce fiscal rules and keep a check on Centre’s fiscal consolidation.
  • Singh had earlier proposed creation of an autonomous Fiscal Council with representatives from both states and Centre, but the recommendation was not implemented.

Why need Fiscal Council?

  • Various cesses and surcharges are becoming disproportionate proportion of overall divisible revenue.
  • There should be some mechanism to ensure that the basic spirit of the devolution process should not be undercut by clever financial engineering or taking recourse to traditions.
  • There is a need for coordination between the finance commission as well as the GST Council, which he termed as the only federal institution in the country.
  • There’s need for coordination between Finance Commission and GST council.
  • GST Council has no clue of what the Finance Commission is doing and Finance Commission has even lesser clue of what the GST Council is doing.

The municipal example

  • It is very clear that successful economic growth, successful good quality employment depends on agglomerations that work.
  • That in turn is going to depend on whether municipalities have enough revenue.
  • What the municipalities get today in terms of revenue is one per cent of GDP whereas on comparative basis, looking at other emerging market countries, it really ought to be 5 per cent of GDP.
Finance Commission – Issues related to devolution of resources

Humans can detect the earth’s magnetic fields


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Magneto-reception in Human beings

Mains level: Not Much


  • Now a team of researchers has shown that humans do indeed unconsciously respond to the changes in the earth’s magnetic fields.
  • Scientists have long known that turtles, birds, honeybees and even bacteria can sense the earth’s magnetic field and use them for navigation.

Magneto-reception in Human Beings

  • Magneto-reception has hardly been tested in humans and many studies have been inconclusive.
  • The researchers wrapped with electrical coils, which helped simulate the earth’s natural magnetic field.
  • The participants were connected to an EEG set-up and their brain activity was monitored.
  • In the one-hour session, for a few minutes, the magnetic field around the chamber was shifted. They noticed that during this period, the alpha power of the brain began to drop.
  • When a human brain is unengaged, the alpha power is high.
  • When something catches its attention, consciously or unconsciously, its alpha power drops.
Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

Centre should address States’ concern on GST transfers


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: GST Transfers

Mains level: Read the attached story


  • The GST Council was designed as a federal body between the States and the Centre.
  • The States have been complaining that the Centre is taking advantage of the arrangement and is delaying the dues to be paid to the States.

Concern of the states

  • The States have a feeling that the Centre is taking advantage of the current arrangement.
  • The Centre is supposed to give money to the States, but that distribution is taking time and accounts are not being finalised.
  • There is a feeling that the Centre is trying to keep the money longer than required.
  • The Finance Commission (FC) awards are more in favour of the poorer States, while the non-FC expenditures actually don’t go to poorer States.
  • The empirical evidence showed that, while the transfers mandated by the Finance Commission from the Centre to the States had been to the benefit of the poorer States, the discretionary spending allowed by the Centre had, in fact, only been to the benefit of the richer States.
  • The explanation is possibly that political bargaining is better for the forward States, or their absorption capacity is better.

Recasting NITI Aayog

  • On the future roles of the FCs and the NITI Aayog, there was a need for a body such as the FCs to make sure that there was a stable formula for transfers to the States.
  • There is a need for a federal body, which is trusted by both the States and the Centre that would provide a forum for the political bargaining that was behind the allocation of other funds to the States, such as grants in aid.
  • The right way of going about it is that there should be a political forum and expertise also, which will arrive at the criteria for such transfers.
  • That body should come under the confidence of both the States and the Centre, and not just identify with the Centre.
  • If the NITI Aayog were to occupy this role, then the first thing is for it to get the trust of the States.
Goods and Services Tax (GST)