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May 2019

Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Platforms of our own


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : nothing much

Mains level : India's interest needs to be protected from unwanted social media influence.


Social media platforms allow political parties to reach millions of prospective voters and are therefore an integral part of elections.

Misuse of Social Media

  • However, some authoritarian regimes across the world have used social media to manufacture positive public opinion.
  • Worse, some established democracies have had to deal with propaganda, fake news and foreign interference in domestic elections.
  • These developments point to the capacity of social media platforms to seriously undermine democratic practices worldwide.

Steps after the Cambridge Analytica scandal

  • Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where the company illegally harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent and used that to influence their voting preferences, Facebook has been in the forefront in creating various checks and balances in cyberspace to create an environment for free and fair elections.
  • It has created specialised global centres with the sole aim of promoting election integrity.

Use of Artificial Intelligence –

  • As a platform that sees billions of posts each day, Facebook has identified Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AIML)-powered pattern recognition tools to be the most effective line of defence against “unnatural interference”.
  • Whenever accounts are found that are similar to ones flagged in the past, and that are inaccurate, abusive, or violating the platforms’ terms of service, they are systematically removed.
  • At present, AIML tools assist the platform block or remove over a million accounts a day.

Case study of India

According to a recent survey, one in two Indian voters has received some kind of fake news in the month leading to the elections. AIML tools also work to minimise the spread of such disinformation.

Inefficiencies in model with regard to India
  • Some of the actions taken by these platforms, however, have not been that well received, especially by those who say that these platforms should not be deciding what is proper and improper in the Indian online space.
  • For instance, Twitter’s top officials, including global CEO Jack Dorsey, were summoned to appear before the Parliamentary Panel on Information Technology for alleged bias against right-wing voices on the platform.
  • With almost all the popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, being foreign-owned, and with India having neither insights into their internal algorithms and functioning nor any viable homegrown equivalents, its population will always be susceptible to interference beyond its control.

Way Forward

India’s ability to create its own mass collaborative technology and independent institutions with technical expertise that can monitor and counter actions of the government, is paramount in ensuring that social media evolves into an enabler of transparency and democracy, rather than a cause of democratic recession.

Terrorism and Challenges Related To It

[op-ed snap] Taking stock of Islamic State 2.0


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : isis

Mains level : Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka suggest challenges for indian security.


On Easter Sunday this year, April 21, Sri Lanka witnessed a series of coordinated bomb blasts, killing over 250 people. It was the heaviest toll in Sri Lanka in terms of lives lost since the civil war ended in 2009, thus ending a decade of peace.

Attack by IS

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was to announce subsequently that the attacks in Sri Lanka were revenge for the fall of the Syrian town of Baghuz, the last IS-ruled village overrun by Syrian forces in March this year.

Reason for South Asia As a target

  •  South Asia today is a virtual cauldron of radical Islamist extremist activity. From Afghanistan through Pakistan to the Maldives to Bangladesh, radical Islamist extremism is an ever present reality.
  • Both India and Sri Lanka, however, prefer to believe that they are shielded from such tendencies, but this needs a relook.


Radicalisation of youth

  • In the case of Sri Lanka, it is by now evident that officials had turned a blind eye to the fact that areas such as Kattankudy and its environs in the northeast have become hotbeds of Wahabi-Salafi attitudes and practices.
  • Muslim youth here have been radicalised to such an extent that it should have set alarm bells ringing.
  • The advent of the IS occurred at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, at a time when a new breed of terrorists had emerged, inspired by the Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb, and the Palestinian, Abdullah Azzam.
  • Combining this with the practical theology of Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani made for a potent mixture.
  • In addition to this, the IS introduced the concept of a new Caliphate — especially al-Baghdadi’s vision of a Caliphate based on Islamic history.
  • This further ignited the imagination of Muslim youth across the globe and became a powerful magnet to attract volunteers to their cause.

Pivotal role of the Net

  •  It retains its ability to proselytise over the Internet, making a special virtue of ‘direct-to-home’ jihad.
  • In Sri Lanka, a close knit web of family relationships has ensured secrecy and prevented leakage of information, thereby opting for methods of old-time anarchists.

 Idea as the moving force

  • The real threat that the IS, however, poses is that it is able to convince the Muslim extremist fringe that their time has come.
  •  Radicalization, in any event, has less to do with numbers than with the intensity of beliefs. The struggle is not against presumed disparities or injustices meted out to Muslim minorities.
  • Rather, it reflects the quest for a new militant Islamist identity.

Lessons for India

  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) during its investigations has since come across links connecting IS units in Kerala and Tamil Nadu with the NTJ in Sri Lanka. T
  • IS 2.0 is likely to nurture two types: the less informed rabid supporters and a band of highly radical ideologues who can entice Muslim youth to their cause.
  • The path to radicalisation of both segments is through the Internet.
  • Time spent alone online listening to propaganda can produce fanaticism of the most extreme variety.
  • It could promote a binary world view of a conflict between ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’, allowing radical Islamists to set the agenda.

Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

[op-ed snap] The Salt Example


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Food fortification

Mains level : Food fortification may address widespread deficiencies like anaemia.


India has been able to dramatically reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty from 306 million people living on less than $1.90 (on a PPP basis) a day in 2011 to 48 million today. However, it is puzzling as to why the country has been unable to show a similar dynamism in its record against malnutrition.

The situation regarding malnutrition in the country

  • Despite major government interventions — including providing highly subsidised foodgrains to the poorest 67 per cent of the population under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), a free Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDM) that targets around 100 million students in government schools and a supplementary nutrition programme through the ICDS network — the country is home to the largest number of malnourished children in the world.
  • In the decade between 2005-06 and 2015-16, stunting declined at the rate of 0.9 per cent per annum.

Anaemia is widespread

  • Though anaemia among children has declined, it affects every second child in the country.
  • There has been no perceptible decline in anaemia among 15 to 49-year old women; it affects around 60 per cent of them. This public health emergency needs to be addressed immediately.

Reasons for widespread anaemia

  • Poverty, gender disparity, poor sanitation, low health and nutrition service coverage and poor nutritional intake — particularly an iron-deficient diet — continue to impede our fight against anaemia.
  • The daily consumption of iron rich dark green leafy vegetables has reduced from 64 per cent to 48 per cent of the population in the last decade.
  • Many, in fact, argue that the NFSA’s focus on wheat and rice has forced millets — traditional source for iron and minerals — out of the market.
  • The government’s iron supplementation programme to overcome IDA has led to only 30 per cent of pregnant women consuming iron and folic acid tablets.
  • This compels us to think of simpler and effective strategies like fortification of food staples with essential micronutrients like iron and vitamin.

Food fortification as a solution

  • Food fortification is a largely-ignored, yet critical, strategy which has proved an effective, affordable, scalable and sustainable intervention in many countries.
  • India too has tested this idea when it successfully tackled the widespread problem of goitre by mandating iodised salt in 1962.
  • As there are numerous programmes to address malnutriton, this simple idea of fortifying meals has the potential to reach every segment of the population.
  • The Women and Child Development and Human Resource Development ministries have issued advisories to the states to mandatorily use fortified wheat flour and edible oil in ICDS and MDM. 

Fortification of Rice

  • Supply of fortified rice through a network of fair price shops is a cost-effective intervention to address anaemia across all sections of the population.
  • Evaluations in Odisha’s Gajapati district, which experimented with fortified rice in MDM, found that the incidence of anaemia has reduced by 20 per cent between 2012 and 2015, of which 6 per cent reduction can be directly attributable to fortification.
  • The Department of Food and Public Distribution, facilitated by the NITI Aayog, has recently launched a centrally-sponsored scheme on rice fortification in PDS.


Dependence on political will – A successful pan-India scale up of fortification will depend on many factors — the political will of state governments, flexibility to allow states to adapt the fortification model to their procurement and distribution systems and capacity building of different stakeholders.

 Strengthening role of FSSAI – The FSSAI’s role, its enforcement machinery and the quality control labs needs to be strengthened.

Generation of awareness among people -Lastly and most crucially, sustainability of fortification depends on the regular consumption of fortified food by the consumers and thus a comprehensive state specific strategy should be developed to generate awareness among the consumers.

Electoral Reforms In India

Explained: Exit Polls


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Exit Polls

Mains level : Ensuring free and fair elections

  • With the long and vitriolic-filled General Elections, spanning over seven phases, coming to a close, the embargo on the broadcast of exit polls was lifted.

Exit Polls in India

  • An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken soon after a voter walks out after casting his or her vote.
  • It is considered as an indicator to which party forms the government.
  • Unlike an opinion poll, which asks for whom the voter plans to vote, an exit poll asks for whom the voter actually voted.
  • Exit polls are conducted by a number of organisations.
  • This method is not new; it began back in 1957 during the second Lok Sabha elections when the Indian Institute of Public Opinion conducted a poll.

Regulating exit polls

  • Seeking an amendment to the RP Act to provide for a ban on both exit and opinion polls during a period specified by the EC in 2004 had approached the Law Ministry along with the endorsement of six national parties and 18 state parties.
  • The recommendation was accepted in part, and in February 2010, restrictions were imposed only on exit polls through the introduction of Section 126(A) in the Act.
  • The EC advises electronic and print media not to publish or publicise any article or programme related to the dissemination of results of exit polls during the prohibited period.

What does ECI advisory say about rules for predicting results?

  • The ECI is of the view that prediction of results of elections in any form or manner by way of predictions etc by astrologers, political analysts or by any persons during the prohibited period is violation of the spirit of Section 126A (of the RP Act).
  • It aims to prevent the electors of constituencies still going to polls from being influenced in their voting by such predictions about the prospects of the various political parties.
  • ECI, in exercise of the powers under sub-section (1) of Section 126A of the RP Act, 1951 has notifies the period during which conducting any exit poll is prohibited

Issue with exit polls

  • Both exit and opinion polls can be controversial if the agency conducting them is perceived to be biased.
  • As per critics, the projections of these surveys can be influenced by the choice, wording and timing of the questions, and by the nature of the sample drawn.
  • Political parties often allege that many opinion and exit polls are motivated and sponsored by their rivals.
  • They could have a distorting effect on the choices voters make in a protracted election, rather than simply reflecting public sentiment or views.

Delhi’s Mohalla Clinics set to become a model for states


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mohalla Clinics

Mains level : Healthcare models in India

  • Started in 2015, Delhi’s Mohalla clinic initiative is set to be extended to several states, with Telangana, Karnataka, Jharkhand and J&K expressing interest in adopting the flagship project.
  • Sticking to the ‘Mohalla clinic’ name, state authorities are going to provide free treatment and diagnostic services at the centres.

Mohalla Clinics

  • They are primary health centres in the state of New Delhi, that offer a basic package of essential health services including medicines, diagnostics, and consultation free of cost.
  • Mohalla in Hindi means neighborhood or community.
  • These clinics serve as the first point of contact for the population, offer timely services, and reduce the load of referrals to secondary and tertiary health facilities in the state.

Health coverage

  • Every such clinic has a doctor, a technician for uploading patients’ Aadhaar card details and a lab assistant for collecting blood samples and disbursing medicines.
  • The clinics run from 8 am to 2 pm and doctors are paid on the basis of the number of patients they treat — each doctor gets Rs 30 per patient per day.
  • Around 100-200 patients visit these clinics on a daily basis. Each clinic is ideally supposed to cater to a 5-km radius with a population of 10,000-15,000.
  • New Delhi is soon going to add antenatal tests and immunisation at all these clinics. Our model is incentive-based in which remuneration is given to doctors on a per-patient basis.

An innovation for people

  • Delhi’s concept of providing free-of-cost diagnosis and medical services is encouraging patients to visit these clinics.
  • Last year, former secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, in his visit to mohalla clinics and polyclinics in the capital, had praised the systematic way in which primary healthcare services were provided to the poor.
  • The model is economically sound and offers basic services with no waiting period.
  • The Mohalla clinic is not just providing treatment but also redefining the doctor-patient relationship.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

RISAT-2B: An all-seeing radar imaging satellite


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RISAT Constellation

Mains level : Utility of the all weather imaging satellite

  • The PSLV-C46 is set to launch RISAT-2B from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

RISAT Constellation

  • RISAT-2B, short for “Radar Imaging Satellite-2B”, is the second in a series of satellites used to observe weather conditions on Earth using radar imagery.
  • RISAT-2 was the first satellite in the series, launched for the purpose of surveillance. RISAT-1 was launched later, to become India’s first all-weather radar imaging satellite.
  • RISAT-2B is to be followed by RISAT-2BR1, 2BR2, RISAT-1A, 1B, 2A and so on.
  • ISRO orbited its first two radar satellites in 2009 & 2012 and it plans to deploy four or five of them in 2019 alone.
  • A constellation of such space-based radars means a comprehensive vigil over the country.
  • Once operational, the satellite will be capable of monitoring weather day and night, in all weather conditions.

About PSLV-C46

  • The PSLV-C46 mission is ISRO’s 48 PSLV launch, and the 14th PSLV Core-Alone (CA) mission.
  • The PSLV was the first of ISRO’s rockets to be equipped with liquid rocket stages.
  • In the PSLV-CA version, the rocket doesn’t have the six strap-on boosters that larger rockets do, and only uses the four core stages of the PSLV to launch its payload.

Utility of this constellation

  • When it is cloudy or dark, ‘regular’ remote-sensing or optical imaging satellites — which work like a light-dependent camera — cannot perceive hidden or surreptitious objects on the ground.
  • Satellites that are equipped with an active sensor, the synthetic aperture radar (SAR), can sense or ‘observe’ Earth in a special way from space day and night, rain or cloud.
  • This all-weather seeing feature is what makes them special for security forces and disaster relief agencies.
  • In India we also use radar imaging for crop estimation because our main crop growing season of kharif is in May-September when it rains and gets cloudy.
  • We have used this data extensively for forestry, soil, land use, geology and during floods and cyclone.
  • Radar imaging satellites pick up structures, new bunkers very well, and sometimes help to count them, too.

NPA Crisis

RBI uses divergence to compel banks to improve their loan-loss ratios


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NPA Divergence

Mains level : NPA Crisis

  • Few public sector banks that have reported earnings for the January-March quarter have mentioned ‘divergence’ in bad loan recognition and have made provisions for such loans.

What is NPA Divergence?

  • Divergence is the difference between central bank and RBI’s assessment and that reported by the lender.
  • Divergence takes place when the RBI finds that a lender has under-reported (or not reported at all) bad loans in a particular year and hence asks the lender to make disclosures if under-reporting is more than 10% of bad loans or the provisioning.
  • Higher provisioning for divergence was one of the reasons for them to report losses for the quarter.
  • Interestingly, divergence was identified not because these banks hadn’t classified the loan as non-performing assets (NPA) but because they were late in classifying them.

Classifying NPA’s

  • Since the date of classification as NPA had been pushed back, the banks had to make higher provisioning due to the ageing factor.
  • In the first stage of NPA, which is the ‘sub-standard’ category, 15-20% provision is required and for next category, which is ‘doubtful’, a 40% provision is required.
  • RBI has now made it mandatory that when one bank declares an account as NPAs, all other banks need to classify it as an NPA, so the sources of funds are blocked to the errant borrowers.