[op-ed snap] Rooting AI in ethicsop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Ethics of AI

Most commercially available AI systems are optimized using the teleological perspectives and not the deontological perspective. 

Ethical issues – a case study

An AI system introduced in 2015 in the U.S. failed to recognize the faces of African Americans with the same accuracy as those of Caucasian Americans.

  1. From a teleological perspective, this flawed AI system gets a go-ahead because Caucasian Americans constitute 72.4% of the country’s population
  2. From a deontological perspective, it can be rejected as its intention was not to identify people from all races. 
  3. Digital platform companies, whose markets span many countries should aim to identify faces of all races with equal accuracy.
  4. AI facial recognition systems are used for law enforcement. Someone can be labeled a threat to public safety just because of limited data based on one’s skin color was used to train the AI system.
  5. The bias in the data used to train the algorithm stems from flawed historical and cultural perspectives and they contaminate the data.

NITI Aayog has a ₹7,500 crore plan to build national capability and infrastructure. The transformative capability of AI must be rooted in an egalitarian ethical basis. 

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

[op-ed snap] Go easy on the public float ruleop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Budget decision on public shareholding and its impact

The government’s budget decision to raise the minimum public shareholding in listed companies to 35% from 25% has worried the markets.


  1. The number of companies that would be affected by this proposal is quite large. As many as 1,100 listed companies currently have a promoter stake of more than 65% – reduction to the prescribed limit could entail as much as a trillion rupees worth of share sales.
  2. This may lead the promoters to rush through the sales at low prices since share prices are mostly in a slump. 
  3. A slowdown in the economy and a pullout by foreign investors are also pressuring markets.

Way ahead

  1. Defer the implementation of the proposal to a day when the economy is in better shape
  2. Companies should be allowed a few years to comply so that fire sales are avoided. This way, promoters would get the best value for their shares. It will ensure markets face the least disruption.
Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

[op-ed snap] Rupee mattersop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Offshore trading

Mains level : Impact of offshore trading on rupee


Over the past few years, there has been a concern over the sharp rise in offshore rupee trading volumes. 


  1. Data from the Bank of International Settlements pegs daily offshore rupee trading at around $16 billion in 2016, almost equal to onshore trading. 
  2. Recent data from the Bank of England pegs offshore rupee trades at $23 billion in 2018.


  1. This indicates greater investor interest in the rupee


  1. Which forces determine the rupee’s value?
  2. What is the ability of the central bank to ensure “currency stability”?
  3. Offshore markets allow participants to trade in non-convertible currency. These markets have evolved for currencies where restrictions are imposed in domestic markets on foreign exchange convertibility.
  4. The constraints on foreign participation in domestic currency markets stem from cumbersome documentation and KYC requirements, restrictions on products, inconvenient trading hours. These restrictions push investors into the trade offshore markets to hedge their currency risks.
  5. These markets have begun to play a critical role in “price discovery”, more so during “periods of uncertainty” like the taper tantrum in 2013 and 2018 emerging market crises — when the offshore market was driving the onshore exchange rate. This has reduced the efficacy of foreign currency intervention by the central bank.


  1. Incentivize market participants to shift to onshore markets, like extending onshore market hours, examining issues of taxation.
  2. Allowing market participants to take exposure up to $100 million, without any need to establish the existence of an underlying risk 
  3. Incentivize greater participation in rupee-denominated bonds
  4. As the economy grows, expand onshore currency markets in a calibrated manner
  5. The ability to hedge currency risks will increase the rupee’s attractiveness for trade invoicing and portfolio diversification

This can lead to the gradual internationalization of the currency.

Digital India Initiatives

Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas CampaignPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the campaign

Mains level : Read the attached story

About the Campaign

  • The Union government has decided to roll out its People’s Plan Campaign, also known as Sabki Yojana Sabka Vikas.
  • It aims to draw up a development plan for each Gram Panchayat (GP) in the country and place it on a website where anyone can see the status of the government’s flagship schemes such as SBM and PM Awas Yojana, etc.

Creating GP Development Plans

  • Gram Panchayats have been mandated for the preparation of GPDP for economic development and social justice utilizing the resources available to them.
  • The GPDP planning process will be comprehensive and participatory by involving full convergence with the schemes of all related Central Ministries / Line Departments.

How will GPDP work?

  • The process of creating Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDPs) requires each GP being scored on an array of 48 indicators.
  • It will cover various aspects such as health and sanitation, education, agriculture, housing, roads, drinking water, electrification, poverty alleviation programmes, social welfare etc.
  • After each GP is scored out of 100 — with 30 marks for infrastructure, 30 marks for human development, and 40 marks for economic activity — the GPs will be ranked.
  • The data on the 48 indicators would come from Census 2011 (for physical infrastructure), Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 (for Household-level deprivation data), and fresh survey starting September that will be carried out by local facilitators.

Defining priorities

  • The score for each GP will reflect the local needs and priorities. For instance, for a drought-prone area, water conservation would be accorded the highest priority.
  • Within this ranking, households suffering the worst deprivations would be prioritised further.
  • This entire ranking exercise is meant to identify the gaps at the GP level, make an assessment of where it stands, and accordingly plan the interventions.
Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

No harmful chemicals in PET bottles, finds CSIR studyPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PET

Mains level : Plastic waste issue

  • PET bottles are safe, a comprehensive evaluation by the CSIR-Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore has determined.
  • For years there’s been a swirling debate internationally on whether PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles, which are the mainstay of plastic bottles, leach harmful chemicals when exposed to high temperatures.

About PET

  • PET is short for polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester.
  • PET is a clear, strong, and lightweight plastic that is widely used for packaging foods and beverages, especially convenience-sized soft drinks, juices and water.
  • It is also popular for packaging salad dressings, peanut butter, cooking oils, mouthwash, shampoo, liquid hand soap, window cleaner, even tennis balls.
  • Special grades of PET are used for carry-home food containers and prepared food trays that can be warmed in the oven or microwave.
  • The basic building blocks of PET are ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid, which are combined to form a polymer chain.

Toxins are below detection limits (BDL)

  • The CFRTI analysis, commissioned by an industry body, concluded that antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury, selenium and zinc “were below” their detection limits (BDL) of 0.001 mg/kg.
  • Along with metals, the scientists also measured terephthalic acid, Isophthalic acid, Ethylene Glycol, BPA (bis-phenol A) and phthalates.
  • Bisphenol-A (a synthetic organic compound and used in the manufacture of PET bottles) was below its detection limit of 0.02 mg/kg.
  • BPA is now phased out after research found a link between the presence of BPA and the disruption of hormone regulation, as well as breast cancer.
  • The CFTRI scientists found that the presence of metals, BPA and pthalates were “below detection limit”.

Compliant with global standards

  • The analysis found that no chemcials breached the EU-specified norms.
  • The reports were also below the EU regulation norms of the “specific migration limit”, which is the maximum amount of a substance that can migrate from a food packaging material or food container into food.
  • In most cases the EU standards are similar to the ones specified by the FSSAI, except for BPA for which FSSAI has not specified standards and zinc, where FSSAI permits 25mg/kg as opposed to the EU’s 5 mg/kg.

Safe for packaged water

  • The studies further confirmed that antimony does not leach out of PET bottles.
  • These findings further establish that no endocrine disruption happens from the use of PET bottles.
  • The scientists also studied water stored in PET bottles and checked whether it affected the hormone levels of rats and mice.
  • The evaluation found that the experimental male and female rats exhibited comparable blood hormone levels in both cases.
  • This conclusively proved that PET bottles did not cause any Endocrine Disruption activity if used to package water.
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Explained: Why Gujarat and MP are arguing over Narmada water and hydro powerExplained


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sardar Sarovar Project

Mains level : Inter-state water disputes

  • Over few weeks, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have engaged in war of words over the sharing of Narmada river waters.
  • MP has threatened to restrict the flow of water into the Sardar Sarovar Dam, located in Gujarat.
  • This was after Gujarat had requested the Narmada Control Authority for permission — which was granted — not to start generation at a power house until the dam fills to its full level.

Issue over water release

  • The Sardar Sarovar Project includes two power houses, the River Bed Power House (RBPH; 1,200 MW) and the Canal Head Power House (250 MW).
  • The RBPH has been shut since 2017, when the gates were closed and the reservoir height was raised to 138.63 m.
  • Gujarat has sought that generation should not start until the water reaches the full reservoir level (FRL).
  • The protocol is that once the dam crosses 131 m, dam authority is ought to release some water as it fills to its FRL.
  • For this power generation has to be resumed in the RBPH, where the turbines release the water downstream into the river.
  • If the inflow exceeds the capacity of the water released by the turbines after power generation, then too gates have to be opened.
  • The dam cannot just be filled to 138.63 metres without balancing the outflow.

What Gujarat wants

  • Gujarat has been facing a rain deficit in 2017 and 2018, when the reservoir reached levels of 130.75 m and 129 m.
  • Engineers in Gujarat say reaching the FRL is necessary for testing whether the concrete can withstand the thrust at that level.
  • The construction has lasted close to five decades with gaps of several years.
  • Filling the reservoir is possible only when the RBPH is closed because the water used for generating hydro power cannot be reused — it is drained into the sea.
  • Once a weir is ready, the water can be stored and pumped back using reversible turbines during non-peak hours of the grid.


Sardar Sarovar Project

  • The Sardar Sarovar Dam is a gravity dam on the Narmada river near Navagam, Gujarat.
  • It includes two power houses, the River Bed Power House (RBPH; 1,200 MW) and the Canal Head Power House (250 MW).
  • Power is shared among Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat in a 57:27:16 ratio.
Judicial Reforms

Haryana Administrative TribunalPrelims Only


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the tribunal

Mains level : Need for administrative tribunals

  • The Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association has suspended work indefinitely since a notification came out on July 24 for setting-up the Haryana Administrative Tribunal.
  • The Tribunal is meant to adjudicate over the service matters of the state employees that earlier would be directly heard by the High Court.

What is Haryana Administrative Tribunal?

  • Following a recommendation from the Haryana government, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions on July 24 issued a notification for establishing the Haryana Administrative Tribunal.
  • This tribunal is a quasi-judicial body on the lines of Central Administrative Tribunal for redressal of the grievance of state employees concerning their employment.
  • In the absence of the Tribunal, the employees have no other option but to directly approach the High Court.
  • The government’s decision to establish the Tribunal had been pending since 2015 and is aimed at reducing a large number of pending cases before the High Court and quick disposal of the grievances of employees, as per the state.
  • Tribunal orders can be challenged before the High Court.

Under which law is the Tribunals setup?

  • Article 323-A, which came by way of 42nd constitutional amendment in 1976, enabled the Centre to enact The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 for setting-up the Tribunals.
  • These tribunals are set for adjudication over disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons.
  • The Centre under the Act can establish the Tribunal for its own employees and also has the power to establish one for a state after receiving a request from the state government.
  • Two or more states can also agree for a single tribunal. The Tribunal is to be headed by a Chairman or Chairperson – a retired High Court Judge, and a number of Judicial and Administrative Members.
  • The Chairperson can be removed only by the President of India. The Tribunal can also have benches at different locations.

Do any other states have the Tribunal?

  • The Union Government last month also issued another notification – the one abolishing the Himachal Pradesh Administrative Tribunal which had been in existence since 2015.
  • The request for it came from the state cabinet. Established first in 1986, the Himachal Tribunal was earlier also abolished in 2008 but re-established in 2015.
  • When Haryana government took the decision to establish its own Administrative Tribunal, it had also cited the “encouraging” results of the Himachal Tribunal.
  • Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal and Maharashtra with their own tribunals for service matters.
  • On August 2, Odisha also got abolished its Administrative Tribunal through a notification issued by the Centre.
Global Geological And Climatic Events

Perseid Meteor ShowerPrelims Only


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Not Much

What is Meteoric Shower?

  • On its journey around the Sun, the Earth passes through large swathes of cosmic debris.
  • The debris is essentially the remnants of comets — great frigid chunks of matter that leave behind dirty trails of rocks and ice that linger long after the comets themselves have passed.
  • As the Earth wades through this cloud of comet waste, the bits of debris create what appears from the ground to be a fireworks display in the sky — known as a meteor shower.

When does Perseid Meteor Shower occur?

  • Several meteor showers can be seen around the year.
  • Among the brightest and best known of them is the Perseid Meteor Shower, which has been active from July 17 onward, and can be seen until August 26.
  • The showers peaked on the night of Monday-Tuesday.
  • The Perseids occur as the Earth runs into pieces of cosmic debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle.
  • The cloud of debris is about 27 km wide — and at the peak of the display, between 160 and 200 meteors streak through the Earth’s atmosphere every hour as the pieces of debris, travelling at some 2.14 lakh kph.

When to see them?

  • Meteors are best seen on a cloudless night, when the entire sky is visible, and when the Moon is not extremely bright.
  • Chances of a successful viewing are higher from locations far away from the lights of cities. Pollution and monsoon clouds make the Perseids difficult to view from India.
  • The showers peak when the Earth passes through the most dense part of the debris cloud.
  • Peaks can last for a few hours or several nights. They tend to be most visible after midnight and before dawn.
  • The showers should be seen with naked eyes; binoculars and telescopes narrow the field of vision.

The Swift-Tuttle Comet

  • The Perseids currently visible in the night sky are not due to the debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle during its most recent pass, which happened in 1992.
  • This particular comet goes around the Sun once in 133 years, and the meteors now visible were left behind by the pass before the last one — or perhaps even earlier.