[op-ed of the day] The makings of a digital kleptocracy

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Data monetisation aspects


Note- Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. Aspirants should try to cover at least this editorial on a daily basis to have command over most important issues in news. It will help in enhancing and enriching the content in mains answers. Please do not miss at any cost.

CONTEXT

  • There has been public furore over the delay in the release of data, for example farmer suicides, suppression of data such as on employment, bungled migration data in the Census, and controversy over the methodology used to calculate GDP growth rates.
  • These data are the backbone of policy making in India.

Suggested Use of data

  • These three — information obtained through the RTI Act, administrative data and data collected by the statistical machinery of government — are examples of “data as a public good”.
  • But these are scarcely mentioned in a chapter so-titled in this year’s Economic Survey.
  • Instead, its focus is on the expanding digital footprint of people, falling costs of data generation and storage and the growing data mining industry.
  • The thrust is on how to monetise these data, for example by selling data that we share with the government in trust.
  • Another worrying suggestion is consolidation of our data across various ministries.

Problems with Data usage

1.Toxicity – 

  • Somewhere along the line, your mobile number and/or email ID got sold in the data market.
  • Even as most of us delete these, others get trapped.
  • A former Chief Justice of India was duped of ₹1 lakh recently as a result of a fraudulent email.
  • In Mumbai, identity fraud was perpetrated by accessing personal data (address, phone number and Aadhaar).
  • In phishing attacks in Rourkela, Odisha, fraudsters called bank customers asking for Aadhaar details to update their account, but used it to siphon off money.

2. Similar treatment like public services –

  • The Survey treats personal data (such as date of birth, mobile numbers and addresses) the same way as data on rainfall, temperatures and road networks.
  • In the examples above, the fraudsters had to get access to people’s data. The Survey is proposing that these be sold for a price.
  • In early July, the Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, informed Parliament that the department had earned ₹65 crore from the sale of vehicle registration and licence data.
  • Imagine the consequences of your health data being sold to private health insurance companies; or your data on your earnings being sold, or data being used in the way Cambridge Analytica did.

Other faultlines

If data can be toxic, centralising and consolidating it, as advocated by the Survey, increases its toxicity exponentially.

1.Centralising the data –

  • Contrary to the widely advocated principle of decentralised/disaggregated data silos as a first line of defence by data security experts, the Survey portrays decentralisation as an obstacle.
  • With decentralised data, data mining companies employ sophisticated tools to combine distinct data silos to create profiles of individuals.
  • Consolidating it, for example if a unique number such as Aadhaar links them, reduces the company costs for profiling and targeting.
  • Centralising it (in one data silo) means that a single data breach can compromise all aspects of your life.

2. Without Consent –

  • Often they are collected and shared without our consent or knowledge, for example, CCTVs or web browsing histories.
  • When our data are used by opaque algorithms to make crucial decisions about our lives, such as shortlisting for jobs, getting health insurance or whether you were speeding, we cannot question them.

Case study of Aadhar –

  • Given the government’s track record on Aadhaar, these laws are unlikely to protect citizen’s rights adequately.
  • Further, privacy and data protection laws will face unique implementation challenges in India.
  • This is on account of low levels of tech-digital and legal literacy combined with pre-existing social inequalities which directly bear upon power relations between us (as citizens/consumers) and them (government/corporations).

Conclusion

  • Even where such laws have been put in place, those societies/economies are grappling with the fallout of corporations whose practices can best be described as “digital kleptocracy”.
  • To understand this, take the example of lending and credit scores.
  • The literature documents unscrupulous use of algorithms to identify vulnerable targets such as search histories of single African American mothers in the United States that are used to sell them home or education loans which it is clear they are unlikely to be able to repay.
  • Thus, digital kleptocracy is a means by which rich tech companies mine poor people’s data,in fact, steal; in most cases the person is unaware of their data being harvested and used for profit.
  • What the Economic Survey advocates is not only for the government to facilitate such practices but also climb aboard this bandwagon of digital kleptocrats.
Right To Privacy

[op-ed snap] Flee Market

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Falling stock market and slowng growth are causes of worry


CONTEXT

The wheels of India’s multi-year stock market rally are slowly beginning to come off. Since the Union Budget was presented this month, there has been a palpable change in mood among investors, who in June led a mini-rally in the market as signs emerged one after another that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be returning to power at the Centre.

Background

  • The Nifty and the Sensex are down roughly by about 5% since the Budget was presented.
  • Foreign portfolio investors have pulled out over ₹2,500 crore in July, in contrast to June when FPIs made a net investment of close to ₹10,400 crore. 
  • Investors who were quite enthusiastic about the prospects of structural reforms that could boost India’s economic growth under the second Modi government, have been quite disappointed by the Budget proposals.
  • Among other things, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman imposed new taxes on the “super rich” and on companies that buy back their own shares, and raised the mandatory minimum public shareholding in listed companies (a move that is seen to be against the interests of promoters).
  • Not surprisingly, investors have been taken aback by these measures, which are seen as increasing the burden on businesses.

Falling stock market

  • Even more worrying is the signal that is sent across by the falling stock market.
  • As stock prices discount the future, lacklustre market performance could well be a prelude to the further worsening of general economic conditions in the near term.
  • There is already a significant downturn in sectors such as automobile with major companies reporting falling sales and earnings, and automobile dealers closing down showrooms and slashing jobs.

Slowing growth

  • The overall gross domestic product growth, which slipped below 6% to hit 5.8% in the fourth quarter, has also been slowly catching up with the bleak picture painted by high-frequency economic indicators for quite some time.
  • The underlying turmoil in Indian markets becomes evident when one looks beyond the Sensex and the Nifty at the mid-cap and small-cap space that has witnessed significant value erosion since the start of 2018.
  • The small-cap index has lost almost a third of its value since January 2018 while the mid-cap index has lost about a fifth of its value.

Conclusion

Interestingly, many industrialists who were previously enthusiastic cheerleaders for the Narendra Modi government have turned vocal about their disappointment at the government not being bold enough in pushing through structural reforms needed to boost economic growth despite the majority it enjoys in Parliament. This suggests the deep sell-off in stocks over the last 18 months may well be a sign of disappointed investors voting with their feet.

Issues related to Economic growth

[op-ed snap] Burning bright: on India’s tiger census

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Aunthenticity of tiger census


CONTEXT

If India has increased its population of tigers to an estimated 2,967 individuals in 2018-19, putting behind fiascos such as the Sariska wipeout 15 years ago, it adds to its global standing as a conservation marvel: a populous country that has preserved a lot of its natural heritage even amid fast-paced economic growth.

Background

  • Since the majority of the world’s wild tigers live in India, there is global attention on the counting exercise and the gaps the assessment exposes.
  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has asserted in its report, ‘Status of Tigers in India 2018’, that 83% of the big cats censused were individually photographed using camera traps, 87% were confirmed through a camera trap-based capture-recapture technique, and other estimation methods were used to establish the total number.
  • Previous estimates for periods between 2006 and 2010 and then up to 2014 indicated a steady increase in tiger abundance.

The debate regarding the numbers

  • Such numbers, however, are the subject of debate among sections of the scientific community, mainly on methodological grounds, since independent studies of even well-protected reserves showed a lower increase.
  • It is important to put all the latest data, which are no doubt encouraging, through rigorous peer review.
  • Conservation achievements — and some failures — can then be the subject of scientific scrutiny and find a place in scientific literature to aid efforts to save tigers.
Present time situation
  • There are several aspects to the latest counting operation — a staggering exercise spread over 3,81,400 sq km and 26,838 camera trap locations — that are of international interest, because some tiger range countries are beginning their own census of the cats.
  • Moreover, even developed countries are trying to revive populations of charismatic wild creatures such as wolves and bears through a more accurate outcome measurement.
  • For India’s tigers, not every landscape is welcoming, as the official report makes clear.
Divergences in population
  • The less accessible Western Ghats has witnessed a steady increase in numbers from 2006, notably in Karnataka, and Central India has an abundance, but there is a marked drop in Chhattisgarh and Odisha; in Buxa, Dampa and Palamau, which are tiger reserves, no trace of the animal was found.
  • It is imperative for the NTCA to analyse why some landscapes have lost tigers, when the entire programme has been receiving high priority and funding for years now at ₹10 lakh per family that is ready to move out of critical habitat.
Conclusion
  • Ultimately, saving tigers depends most on the health of source populations of the species that are estimated to occupy a mere 10% of the habitat.
  • The conflict in opening up reserves to road-building has to end, and identified movement corridors should be cleared of commercial pressures.
  • Hunting of prey animals, such as deer and pig, needs to stop as they form the base for growth of tiger and other carnivore populations.
  • As some scientists caution, faulty numbers may hide the real story.
  • They may only represent a ‘political population’ of a favoured animal, not quite reflective of reality.
Tiger Conservation Efforts – Project Tiger, etc.

TOI 270: new planetary system

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TOI 270

Mains level : Exoplanets and thier habitability



News

TOI 270

  • It is the name of the dwarf star and the planetary system recently discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
  • TOI 270 is about 73 light years away from Earth, and is located in the constellation Pictor.
  • Its members include the dwarf star, which is 40 per cent smaller than the Sun in size and mass, and the three planets or exoplanets (planets outside the solar system) that have been named TOI 270 b, TOI 270 c, and TOI 270 d.
  • These three planets orbit the star every 3.4 days, 5.7 days, and 11.4 days respectively. In this system, TOI 270 b is the innermost planet.

Nature of the planets

  • Researchers expect it to be a rocky world about 25 per cent bigger than Earth.
  • It is not habitable since it is located too close to the star — about 13 times closer than our Solar System’s Mercury is from the Sun.
  • On the other hand, TOI 270 c and TOI 270 d are Neptune-like planets because their compositions are dominated by gases rather than rock.
  • Planet d, which is suspected to have a rocky core covered by a thick atmosphere, offers a surface unfavorably warm for the existence of liquid water, thereby rendering the planet potentially uninhabitable.

About Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

  • TESS is NASA’s latest satellite to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets.
  • The mission will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest and brightest stars for periodic dips in their light.
  • TESS is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth in August, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth.
  • These events, called transits, suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star.
  • TESS is expected to find thousands of planets using this method, some of which could potentially support life.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Dholera Special Investment Region

Mains Paper 3 : Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : DMIC, SIR

Mains level : Smart Cities in India


News

  • Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant pushed the idea of Dholera as the first “green city in the world”.

Dholera Special Investment Region

  • The Dholera Special Investment Region is one of the several Greenfield cities that have been planned on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).
  • Located about 100 kilometres south-west of Ahmedabad, Dholera will be connected to the city by a six-lane Expressway with a metrorail running through its centre.
  • A greenfield international airport is also being developed in the vicinity which will unburden the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International airport of some of its traffic.
  • Six of the 24 nodes identified on the DMIC are in Gujarat.
  • The government had set up the Gujarat Industrial Corridor Corporation (GICC), an SPV to oversee development on the DMIC, a decade ago.

What’s so special ?

  • The Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR) is slated to be bigger than Singapore.
  • It covers an estimated 920 square kilometers, encompassing 22 villages of Dholera taluka of Ahmedabad district and is strategically located between Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Bhavnagar.
  • The Dholera SIR entails development of total 9225 hectares of land up to 2040 and will employ an estimated 8 lakh persons and will house 20 lakh inhabitants.
  • Phase-I of the project which entails developing basic infrastructure in 22.5 square kilometres of activation area will cost roughly Rs 4,400 crore.
  • In Phase-I, 52 per cent will be industrial and 28 per cent will be residential.

Back2Basics

Special Investment Region (SIR)

  • Special Investment Region (SIR) is a concept similar to Special Economic Zone.
  • However, this is a unique term applied in the territory of the state of Gujarat.
  • The Gujarat government has enacted a legal framework for the SIR – The Gujarat Special Investment Region Act – 2009(GSIR -2009) which has come into effect from 6th January, 2009.
  • SIR refers to an existing or proposed Investment Region with an area of more than 100 sq. Kms or Industrial Area with an area of 50-100 sq. Kms declared so by the state under Section 3 of the Gujarat Special Investment Region Act – 2009.
  • By giving SIR status, Gujarat govt. proposes to develop the investment region /industrial area as global hubs of economic activity supported by world class infrastructure, premium civic amenities, centers of excellence and proactive policy framework.

Delhi–Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project

  • The DMIC Project is a planned industrial development project between India’s capital, Delhi and its financial hub, Mumbai.
  • It is one of the world’s largest infrastructure projects with an estimated investment of US$90 billion and is planned as a high-tech industrial zone spread across six states as well as Delhi.
  • The investments will be spread across the 1,500 km long Western Dedicated Freight Corridor which will serve as the industrial corridor’s transportation backbone.
  • It includes 24 industrial regions, eight smart cities, two international airports, five power projects, two mass rapid transit systems, and two logistical hubs.
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Too much quota may impact right to equal opportunity: Supreme Court

Mains Paper 2 : Executive & Judiciary |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Deabte over quotas


News

  • The Bench is examining whether to refer to a Constitution Bench a batch of petitions challenging the validity of a constitutional amendment providing 10% economic quota in government jobs and educational institutions.

Why issue over Quota?

  • The Supreme Court orally remarked that excessive quota may impact the right to equal opportunity guaranteed under the Constitution.
  • The court said quota benefits given to the most “forward” classes, especially to those who had no qualification whatsoever, would result in “excess” reservation and breach equality.
  • Reservation itself is an exception. Reservation is intended to achieve equality of opportunity.

Referring Indra Sawhney case

  • The economic reservation violated the 50% reservation ceiling limit fixed by a nine-judge Bench in the Indra Sawhney case.
  • Further, the 1992 judgment had barred reservation solely on economic criterion.
  • In a 6:3 majority verdict, the apex court, in the Indra Sawhney case, had held that “a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion.
  • It may be a consideration or basis along with and in addition to social backwardness, but it can never be the sole criterion.

Issue over economically backward quota

  • After a gap of 27 years, the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act of 2019 has provided 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the “economically backward” in the unreserved category.
  • The Act amends Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution by adding clauses empowering the government to provide reservation on the basis of economic backwardness.
  • This 10% economic reservation is over and above the 50% reservation cap.
  • The government however has justified to the apex court that the 10% economic quota law was a move towards a classless and casteless society.
  • It said the law was meant to benefit a “large section of the population of 135 crore people” who are mostly lower middle class and below poverty line.
Minority Issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Start-Up India Scheme

Mains Paper 3 : Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Start-up India scheme

Mains level : Startup ecosystem in India



News

  • Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Delhi have seen the highest number of start-ups recognised under the government’s flagship Start-Up India Scheme in the period from 2016 to 2019.
  • These three states also attracted the highest investments from Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) in start-ups.

About Start-Up India Scheme

  • Startup India Scheme is an initiative of the Indian government, the primary objective of which is the promotion of startups, generation of employment, and wealth creation.
  • It was launched on the 16th of January, 2016.
  • A startup defined as an entity that is headquartered in India, which was opened less than 10 years ago, and has an annual turnover less than ₹100 crore (US$14 million).
  • The action plan of this initiative is based on the following three pillars:
  1. Simplification and Handholding
  2. Funding Support and Incentives
  3. Industry-Academia Partnership and Incubation
  • An additional area of focus is to discard restrictive States Government policies within this domain, such as License Raj, Land Permissions, Foreign Investment Proposals, and Environmental Clearances.
  • It was organized by The Department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPI&IT).

Back2Basics

Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs)

  • An alternative investment is a financial asset that does not fall into one of the conventional investment categories. Conventional categories include stocks, bonds, and cash.
  • Most alternative investment assets are held by institutional investors or accredited, high-net-worth individuals because of their complex nature, lack of regulation, and degree of risk.
  • Alternative investments include private equity or venture capital, hedge funds, managed futures, art and antiques, commodities, and derivatives contracts.
  • Real estate is also often classified as an alternative investment.
Start-up Ecosystem In India

Regulatory Sandbox

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Regulatory Sandbox

Mains level : Functions of a regulatory sandbox


News

  • The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) will soon allow the use of regulatory sandbox (RS) to promote new, innovative products and processes in the industry.

Regulatory Sandbox

  • A sandbox approach provides a secure environment for fintech firms to experiment with products under supervision of a regulator.
  • It is an infrastructure that helps fintech players live test their products or solutions, before getting the necessary regulatory approvals for a mass launch, saving start-ups time and cost.
  • The concept of a regulatory sandbox or innovation hub for fintech firms was mooted by a committee headed by then RBI executive director Sudarshan Sen.
  • The panel submitted its report in Nov 2017 has called for a regulatory sandbox to help firms experiment with fintech solutions, where the consequences of failure can be contained and reasons for failure analysed.
  • If the product appears to have the potential to be successful, it might be authorised and brought to the broader market more quickly.
  • The sandbox will enable fintech companies to conduct live or virtual testing of their new products and services.

About IRDAI sandbox

  • For the IRDAI sandbox, an applicant should have a net worth of Rs 10 lakh and a proven financial record of at least one year.
  • Companies will be allowed to test products for up to 12 months in five categories.
  • It has said applicants can test products for up to a period of one year in five categories – insurance solicitation or distribution, insurance products, underwriting, policy and claims servicing.

Why sandbox is necessary?

  • The RS allows the regulator, the innovators, the financial service providers (as potential deployers of the technology) and the customers (as final users) to conduct field tests to collect evidence on the benefits and risks of new financial innovations, while carefully monitoring and containing their risks.
  • India accounts for approximately 6 per cent of insurance premium in Asia and around 2 per cent of the global premium volume.
RBI Notifications