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October 2019

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] ISIS after Baghdadi


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : ISIS fall


On October 26, the top leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi blew himself in a dead-end tunnel. As a “leader on the run” for more than five years, Baghdadi was more of a symbol for a Caliphate. His killing will only be a short-term setback for the network.

ISIS – brief history

    • Formation of ISIS – Within 18 months of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011, the al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) captured large territories across Iraq and Syria and morphed itself into ISIS. 
    • Caliphate – In 2014, the group declared a Caliphate and anointed a “descendant” of the Prophet, Abu Bakr Baghdadi as the Caliph. 
    • Propaganda – Using propaganda on social media, the Caliphate attracted thousands of foreign fighters, including over 5,000 from the West.
    • Decentralised wilayas(branches) – Riding high on extremists and terrorists from across the globe, ISIS announced “decentralised” wilayas and asked their supporters to join them if they could not travel to the Caliphate. 
    • Unique modus operandi – This modus operandi paid rich dividends and has continued to keep the network going despite their losses. 
    • Operation Inherent Resolve – The US-led coalition launched Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014 and cleared the last pocket of the Caliphate in Baghouz, Syria in March.

Only a temporary setback

    • Prepared for the eventuality – the ISIS core had been preparing for this eventuality even while fighting to save the Caliphate. Soon enough, the ISIS core will anoint a new Caliph, to whom all the wilayas and extremists and supporters will readily offer allegiance to. 
    • More ready to prove resilience – The ISIS network will also make serious efforts to mount “signature” attacks on chosen targets to prove its resilience, while local networks may mount lone-wolf attacks.
    • Attacks after victory – the ISIS-claimed attacks in Sri Lanka. It released the second video of Baghdadi. He hailed the revenge for Baghouz by “brothers in Sri Lanka”. The rare video of Baghdadi was released to assure the cadres that it could hit their enemies anywhere at will.
    • Huge cadres
      • Over 25-30,000 ISIS cadres have survived and many foreign fighters have escaped the Iraq-Syria theatre. 
      • Thousands of fighters and family members are being held in the Kurdish areas of Syria.
      • ISIS sleeper cells across Syria and Iraq have mounted hundreds of attacks this year. 
      • The decentralised wilayas in West Africa, the Philippines, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Libya have become more active and are showcasing successes on social media daily. 
      • The open propaganda forums have been replaced by “invitation only” links on social media, making detection much harder.
    • Complicated situation in Syria
      • The situation in Syria has become far more complicated as the US is only “guarding” oil fields from ISIS and chasing its counter-terror targets in Syria. 
      • The weakening of the Syrian Democratic Force’s position vis a vis Turkey and the Assad regime will deplete its resources and hinder the capability to defeat ISIS. 
      • Sectarian fault lines and public protests in Iraq and Lebanon, US/Saudi-Iran tensions, the region offers a fresh opportunity for recruitment to both the ISIS and al Qaeda networks.
    • Foreign networks: South AsiaISIS has attracted foreign fighters from South Asia, mainly Pakistanis, Afghans, Maldivians, and Bangladeshis.
      • The Easter attacks showed the potential of violence even by a small group of committed cadres with support of the ISIS network. 
      • In Bangladesh three years ago, ISIS did create an effective but small network, with the active support of western nationals of Bangladeshi origin. Bangladesh remains vulnerable.
    • India
      • Less than 100-200 Indians are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan to join ISIS. This creates the potential for more recruitment as well as aiding attacks on Indian soil or interests.
      • A few weeks ago, ISIS propaganda has called for jihad pegged on sentiments around Kashmir and has specifically called for attacks on Indian interests in the Arabian Peninsula.
    • New radicalism – The fresh round of radicalisation and recruitment that ISIS will embark on under its new leader, will pose further threats to India as well as to South Asia.

India’s Bid to a Permanent Seat at United Nations

[op-ed snap] About time India got a seat at the high table


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India's entry to UNSC


Prime Minister called upon all like-minded nations to push for an overhaul of the United Nations (UN) structure. 

Need for reforms

    • Misused by some members – The UN is being used by some members as a tool rather than an institution to resolve global conflicts. 
    • Losing relevance – It formed in 1945 after World War II with that war’s victors, the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China, as permanent members of its Security Council. For decades afterward, the Big Five exercised disproportionate clout in world affairs due to their nuclear arsenals. This is no longer so. 
    • Need other veto holders – If contemporary geopolitical realities are to be taken into account, then the Council needs to induct other countries as veto holders as well. 
    • The power matrix remains the same – the UN’s apex decision-making unit has remained stuck in time. Such structural deficiencies have rendered the UN largely ineffective on matters of war and peace. 

Signs of losing authority

    • 2003 Iraq war – The most glaring sign of the UN’s lost authority was the US’s 2003 offensive against Iraq in response to the 9/11 attacks. This campaign did not have any UN sanctions, nor was it sought, unlike America’s previous strikes. 
    • Unilateral powers – Since then, unilateral military actions by major world powers gained a measure of legitimacy. The idea of the Council working out solutions to international problems has turned anachronistic.
    • Reduced multilateralism – open disregard for multilateral deliberations has reduced the UN to a talk shop. 
    • Asian century – As the American century gives way to an Asian one, it’s more crucial that the UN regains the stature needed to act as a force for peace.

A strong case for India

    • Economy – India is a rapidly emerging economy. It provides large numbers of soldiers to the UN for peacekeeping missions and is armed with nuclear weapons, for which it has a clear no-first-use policy stated upfront. 
    • Population – India accounts for almost one-fifth of all humanity. 

Challenges to entry

    • Nuclear power – Nuclear hyphenation with Pakistan has been a stumbling block. Pakistan’s ties with Beijing make this hyphenation hard to remove. 

Way ahead

    • India’s market potential could change how strongly other nations rally to India’s cause. 
    • Realpolitik may determine the eventual outcome of structural reform.
    • India could do with a better record of conflict resolution.
    • A country of our strength and diversity simply cannot be left out of the power matrix for much longer.

J&K – The issues around the state

[op-ed snap] Task in the Valley


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : The road ahead for JnK


After the decision to divide Jammu & Kashmir into two Union Territories, much remains to be done. 

Abrogation of 370

  • Government and its functionaries have described and defended the decisions as necessitated by the need to “develop” a state that had lagged behind the rest of the country on economic and social fronts due to its special status. 

Jobs pending

  • Dividing the manpower and material resources of the state is not over.
  • The government is yet to allow the people of the Valley to speak out, and be heard on decisions that affect them the most. 
  • The government’s plans to bring J&K up to speed are not yet known.

Recent Elections

  • The Block Development Council election has shown that creating a new leadership is difficult in situations as fraught as in the Valley. 
  • The BDC is elected indirectly; elected panchs and sarpanchs of a particular block of villages vote to elect one among them as the head of that block council. 
  • Almost a year after the last round of J&K panchayat polls, many of these representatives of the people at the bottom-most tier of electoral democracy continue to seek refuge, away from their villages. 
  • The persistence of fear underlines the questions of legitimacy about an electoral exercise at the end of which many seats lay vacant and most of those elected were elected unopposed.

What lies ahead

  • How the conversion of a state into two UTs resolves the 70-year-long troubled relationship between Kashmir and the rest of India, and between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. 
  • The recent killing of five migrant workers in Kulgam, on the heels of other deadly attacks on non-residents, shows that peace may remain elusive. 
  • Any efforts in the direction of development would need the participation of the people for whom this development is meant. 
  • The government needs to free the political leaders and workers who have been detained and allow people to freely express their views in the Valley.


The first step towards resolving a problem is to acknowledge it. Political alienation that has spread and deepened over generations is a large part of the crisis in Kashmir. Unless it is addressed politically, it will persist and continue to impose a heavy toll in the Valley, and the country.

History- Important places, persons in news

Explained: How to read Tipu Sultan’s place in history


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anglo Mysore Wars

Mains level : Read the attached story


  • Karnataka CM has announced that his government is trying to remove Tipu Sultan’s history lessons from textbooks in the state.
  • It is held that Tipu used tyranny and cruelty against Hindus & Kannada rulers.
  • However the removal of Tipu from textbooks will fundamentally alter the history of early modern India.

Who was Tipu Sultan?

  • Tipu was the son of Haider Ali, a professional soldier who climbed the ranks in the army of the Wodeyar king of Mysore, and ultimately took power in 1761.
  • Tipu was born in 1750 and, as a 17-year-old, fought in the first Anglo-Mysore War (1767-69) and subsequently, against the Marathas and in the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-84).
  • Haider died while this war was on, and Tipu succeeded him in 1782.

Why remove his name?

  • The right wing activists has long underlined Tipu’s cruel treatment including torture, forced conversions, and the razing of temples in the course of his conquests, as the central feature of his personality.
  • In the hills and jungles of Kodagu on the Kerala-Karnataka border, as well as in Kerala, Tipu is not seen as a hero.

Reason lies in history

  • Both Tipu and his father Haider Ali had strong territorial ambitions, and invaded and annexed territories outside Mysore.
  • Haider annexed Malabar and Kozhikode, and conquered Kodagu, Thrissur and Kochi.Tipu raided Kodagu, Mangaluru, and Kochi.
  • Tipu’s keenness to subjugate Kodagu was linked directly to his desire to control the port of Mangaluru, on whose path Kodagu fell.
  • In all these places, he is seen as a bloodthirsty tyrant who burnt down entire towns and villages, razed hundreds of temples and churches, and forcibly converted Hindus.
  • The historical record has Tipu boasting about having forced “infidels” to convert, and of having destroyed their places of worship.

What is the counternarrative to this understanding of Tipu Sultan?

  • In this narrative, Tipu Sultan is the fearless “Tiger of Mysore”, a powerful bulwark against colonialism, and a great son of Karnataka.
  • He has been seen as a man of imagination and courage, a brilliant military strategist who, in a short reign of 17 years, mounted the most serious challenge the East India Company faced in India.
  • He fought the forces of the Company four times during 1767-99, and gave Cornwallis and Wellesley bloody noses before he was killed heroically defending his capital Srirangapatnam in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War.
  • With Tipu gone, Wellesley imposed the Subsidiary Alliance on the reinstated Wodeyar king, and Mysore became a client state of the East India Company.

Tipu’s pioneering work

  • Tipu reorganized his army along European lines, using new technology, including what is considered the first war rocket.
  • He devised a land revenue system based on detailed surveys and classification, in which the tax was imposed directly on the peasant, and collected through salaried agents in cash, widening the state’s resource base.
  • He modernized agriculture, gave tax breaks for developing wasteland, built irrigation infrastructure and repaired old dams, and promoted agricultural manufacturing and sericulture.
  • He built a navy to support trade, and commissioned a “state commercial corporation” to set up factories.
  • Tipu battled nearly all powers in the region, irrespective of the faith of his opponents.

Secular Tipu

  • His army had both Hindus and Muslims, and among the populations that he slaughtered in Kerala, there were sizeable numbers of Muslims.
  • Just as there is evidence that Tipu persecuted Hindus and Christians, there is also evidence that he patronised Hindu temples and priests, and gave them grants and gifts.
  • He donated to temples at Nanjangud, Kanchi and Kalale, and patronised the Sringeri mutt.

Assessing Tipu’s reign

  • The existing narrative does not seek to whitewash or deny the accounts of Tipu’s brutality, but it does seek to understand these specific incidents within the larger historical context of late medieval and early modern India.
  • Tipu is only one of several historical figures about whom sharply differing perspectives exist.
  • This is because in much of India, history is frequently seen through ethnic, communal, regional, or religious lenses.
  • On the other hand, his destruction of temples and forced conversions of Hindus and Christians feeds into the right wing narrative of the tyrannical and fanatical ruler.
  • It is misleading to argue that if Tipu fought the British, it was “only to save his kingdom” — because so did every other pre-modern ruler, in India and elsewhere.


  • It is important to be aware that much of the criticism of Tipu is rooted in the accounts of those whom he vanquished — and of colonial historians who had powerful reasons to demonize him.
  • It serves no purpose to view Tipu’s multilayered personality through the prism of morality or religion.
  • It is not necessary that he be judged only in terms of either a hero or a tyrant.

J&K – The issues around the state

Bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Minutes of the bifurcation

Mains level : Administrative changes in J&K


  • The state of Jammu and Kashmir will be officially bifurcated into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh from today.
  • Beyond the symbolic importance October 31 is the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel — the day will mark the beginning of the functioning of the two UTs at a bureaucratic level.
  • The period between August 5 and October 31 has been used by the state administration and the Home Ministry to put a basic bureaucratic structure in place to implement the J&K Reorganization Act.

Changes after Bifurcation

What happens on October 31?

  • In terms of events, the Lt. Governors of the two UTs will take oath of office along with the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
  • Last week, the Union government appointed serving IAS officer of Gujarat cadre G.C. Murmu as the LG of Jammu and Kashmir, and retired bureaucrat of Tripura cadre Radha Krishna Mathur as LG of Ladakh.
  • On the ground, the two UTs will get their own Chief Secretaries and other top bureaucrats, their own police chiefs and key supervisory officers.
  • While Dilbagh Singh will continue to be DG of J&K police, an IG-level officer will head the police in Ladakh. Both forces will remain part of the J&K cadre which will eventually merge with the UT cadre.
  • For full-fledged bifurcation, the Reorganization Act gives a period of one year.
  • Reorganization of states is a slow process that at times can take years; issues relating to reorganization of erstwhile Andhra which was bifurcated into Andhra and Telangana in 2013, are still being brought to the Union Home Ministry for resolution.

What will happen to other officers already posted in the undivided state?

  • An apportionment of posts in both UTs has been done. While the bureaucratic structures are in place, the staffs of the state administration are yet to be divided.
  • The government had asked all staff to send in applications for their preferred posting between the two UTs. This process is still on.
  • The basic idea is to have minimum shifting between the two UTs, sources in the state administration said, with preference being given to regional affinities.
  • Those from Ladakh prefer being posted in the region and those from Kashmir and Jammu want to stay put.
  • The only issue is there aren’t enough Ladakhi staff to fill in all posts there. So some people from Jammu and Kashmir may have to go there.

What happens to the laws that governed the state of J&K?

  • Legislative restructuring is a work in progress, with a lot remaining to be done. While 153 state laws are to be repealed, 166 have been retained.
  • Then there is the cosmetic exercise of repealing Acts that mention “applicable to all of India but not the state of Jammu and Kashmir”.
  • As of now, the state administration has implemented all that is mentioned in the Reorganization Act as it is.
  • But it is also saddled with the massive legislative exercise of arriving at and making state-specific insertions into the 108 central laws that would now be applicable to the two UTs.

New laws

  • For example, the state used to have its own Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which would now be replaced by the central CrPC.
  • Unlike the Ranbir Penal Code, which is practically a replica of the Indian Penal Code, Kashmir’s CrPC has many provisions different from the Central CrPC.
  • It will have to be seen if any modification needs to be done to suit the state. But a final decision in all these aspects would be taken by Delhi.
  • Similarly, there are state-specific insertions that may be done in laws relating to the protection of women and children that have been replaced by the POCSO Act of the Centre.
  • While the quota for economically weaker sections has already been added through an amendment, the Centre may want to make some insertions drawing from central Acts.

Which are the laws that may require state-specific insertions?

  • A major bone of contention with regard to the Juvenile Justice Acts of the Centre and the state is the age limit.
  • While the central Act takes those above the age of 16 as adults, the state Act’s age limit is 18.
  • The argument has been that given the special situation in Kashmir where teenagers are often found to be part of violent protests, the central Act could jeopardize the future of many.
  • As far as the state’s reservation laws are concerned, they do not recognise reservation according to caste.
  • The state has provided for region-wise reservation such as quota for those living near the LoC and the International Border and a quota for backward regions.
  • While the state population includes 8% SCs and 10% STs, there are regional differences such as Ladakh having no SC population but a high tribal population.

How will assets be shared?

  • A far more complicated task than sharing of assets is financial restructuring.
  • Because of the decision coming in August, the administration is saddled with a middle-of-the-year financial restructuring which is proving to be a massive bureaucratic exercise.
  • The government constituted a three-member advisory committee under the chairmanship of former Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra to divide the assets and liabilities of the state between the two UTs. The committee is yet to submit its report.
  • Three more committees — on personnel, finance and administrative matters — were constituted at the state level for the purpose of reorganization.
  • The three committees are learnt to have completed their work but their recommendations have not been made public yet.
  • Notably, while the total budget for Union Territories is Rs 7,500 crore, the budget for Jammu and Kashmir is in excess of Rs 90,000 crore.
  • This could also necessitate continuance of the Kashmir division in the Home Ministry.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AIP system

Mains level : Indigenization of defense production

  • DRDO is a step closer to boosting endurance of submarines with the indigenous Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System.
  • It has successfully tested the operation of the indigenous land-based prototype.

Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) System

  • Air-independent propulsion (AIP) is any marine propulsion technology that allows a non-nuclear submarine to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen (by surfacing).
  • AIP is usually implemented as an auxiliary source, with the traditional diesel engine handling surface propulsion.
  • Most such systems generate electricity which in turn drives an electric motor for propulsion or recharges the boat’s batteries.
  • AIP can augment or replace the diesel-electric propulsion system of non-nuclear vessels.
  • It enables conventional submarines to remain submerged for longer duration.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Gill-Oxygen Limitation Theory


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gill-Oxygen Limitation Theory (GOLT)

Mains level : Impacts of oceanic warming

  • Warming waters have less oxygen. Therefore, fish have difficulties breathing in such environments says a new study.

 Gill-Oxygen Limitation Theory

  • Among various ways in which climate change is impacting life on Earth, one has been to change the distribution of fish species in the oceans.
  • Scientists have predicted that the shift will be towards the poles. They have explained the biological reasons why fish species will follow that direction.
  • It stems from the way fish breathe which is described as the Gill-Oxygen Limitation Theory, or GOLT.

How does it work?

  • Warming waters have less oxygen. Therefore, fish have difficulties breathing in such environments.
  • Additionally, such warming, low-oxygen waters also increase fish’s oxygen demands because their metabolism speeds up.
  • This is because, as fish grow, their demand for oxygen increases.
  • However, the surface area of the gills (two-dimensional) does not grow at the same pace as the rest of the body (three-dimensional).
  • The larger the fish, the smaller it’s surface area relative to the volume of its body.
  • So, the fish move to waters whose temperatures resemble those of their original habitats and that satisfy their oxygen needs.


  • As the global sea surface temperature has increased by approximately 0.13°C per decade over the past 100 years, “suitable” waters are more and more found towards the poles and at greater depths.
  • This will cause some fish species to shift their distribution by more than 50 km per decade.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Indian Human Brain Atlas


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IBA100

Mains level : Brain Atlas

  • The International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Hyderabad has built the first-ever Indian brain atlas.


  • This brain atlas was based on the Caucasian brain template. It is named as IBA100. Other brain atlases include Chinese, Korean and Caucasian.
  • The India-specific brain atlas was created by using the MRI scans of 50 individuals of different genders.
  • The Indian atlas was validated against other atlases for various populations.
  • The first digital human brain atlas was created by the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI).

Indian brain is smaller

  • The researchers in IIIT have also revealed that the Indian brain is smaller compared to others.
  • It is smaller in height, width, and volume compared to the western and eastern populations.

Utility of the atlas

  • This study will help in the early diagnosis of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

[pib] National Pension Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Pension Scheme (NPS)

Mains level : Benefits and coverage of Pension Schemes in India

  • Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) has now permitted Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) to enroll in National Pension Scheme (NPS) at par with Non-Resident Indians.

National Pension Scheme (NPS)

  • NPS is a government-sponsored pension scheme. It was launched in January 2004 for government employees.
  • It was extended to all citizens of Indian on voluntary basis from May 2009 and to corporates in December 2011 and to Non-Resident Indians in October 2015.
  • PFRDA is the statutory Authority established by an enactment of the Parliament, to regulate, promote and ensure orderly growth of the NPS and pension schemes to which this Act applies.
  • The scheme allows subscribers to contribute regularly in a pension account during their working life.
  • On retirement, subscribers can withdraw a part of the corpus in a lumpsum and use the remaining corpus to buy an annuity to secure a regular income after retirement.

Who can join NPS?

  • Any Indian citizen between 18 and 60 years can join NPS.
  • The only condition is that the person must comply with know your customer (KYC) norms.
  • An NRI can join NPS. However, the account will be closed if there is a change in the citizenship status of the NRI.
  • Now, any Indian citizen, resident or non-resident and OCIs are eligible to join NPS till the age of 65 years.


Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)

  • After multiple efforts by leaders across the Indian political spectrum, a pseudo-citizenship scheme was established, the “Overseas Citizenship of India”, commonly referred to as the OCI card.
  • The Constitution of India does not permit full dual citizenship.
  • The OCI card is effectively a long-term visa, with restrictions on voting rights and government jobs.
  • An OCI is however entitled to some benefits such as a multiple-entry, multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India.
  • They are exempted from police reporting for any length of stay in the country.
  • They are also granted all rights in parity with NRIs except, the right to acquisition of agricultural or plantation properties.

Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

[oped of the day] The new gold standard in development economics?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : RCT application


Development economics has changed a lot during the last two decades mostly due to the extensive use of ‘randomised control trials’ (RCT). 


    • Used in developing economies – RCTs are used to assess long-run economic productivity and living standards in poor countries.
    • Evolution of RCT – The concept of RCT is quite old; instances of RCTs can be traced back in the 16th century. 
    • The statistical foundation of RCT was developed by British statistician Sir Ronald Fisher, about 100 years ago, mostly in the context of the design of experiments.


    • Prof. Banerjee thinks RCTs “are the simplest and best way of assessing the impact of a program”.
    • Prof. Duflo refers to RCTs as the “tool of choice”.

Use in clinical trials

    • Evaluation of performance – For an unbiased evaluation of the treatment, its performance needs to be compared with some ‘control’, which may be ‘no treatment’ at all or an ‘existing treatment’ other than the treatment under study.
    • Allocating patients – The next task is to allocate the patients among two treatments/interventions at hand. Patients might prefer some treatment to the other. 
    • No prior knowledge – Prior knowledge of the treatments to be applied to them might induce a ‘selection bias’ due to unequal proportions of patients opting-out from the study. 
    • ‘Randomisation’ – it is a procedure used to prevent this by allocating patients using a random mechanism — neither the patient nor the doctor would know the allocation.
    • ‘Control’ and ‘randomisation’ together constitute an RCT. 

Application in early trials: ART

    • In 1995, statisticians Marvin Zelen and Lee-Jen Wei illustrated a clinical trial to evaluate the hypothesis that the antiretroviral therapy AZT reduces the risk of maternal-to-infant HIV transmission. 
    • A standard randomisation scheme was used resulting in 238 pregnant women receiving AZT and 238 receiving standard therapy (placebo). 
    • It is observed that 60 newborns were HIV-positive in the placebo-group and 20 newborns were HIV-positive in the AZT-group. 
    • Thus, the failure rate of the placebo was 60/238, whereas that of AZT was only 20/238, indicating that AZT was much more effective than the placebo.

Benefits of RCT

    • Overcoming heterogeneity – Drawing such an inference, despite heterogeneity among the patients, was possible only due to randomisation.
    • Easy comparability – Randomisation makes different treatment groups comparable and also helps to estimate the error associated with the inference.
    • Anonymity – It ensures that allocation to any particular treatment remains unknown to both patient and doctor. Such ‘blinding’ is central to the philosophy of clinical trials and it helps to reduce certain kinds of bias in the trial.

Applications of RCT

    • Agriculture – The early applications of RCTs were mostly within the agricultural field. 
    • RCT got its importance in clinical trials since the 1960s. Almost any clinical trials nowadays without RCT were being considered almost useless.

Use for social causes

    • Social scientists slowly found RCT to be interesting, doable, and effective. 
    • Social policies – Numerous interesting applications of RCTs took place in social policy-making during the 1960-90s. Eventually, RCTs took control of development economics since the mid-1990s. 
    • About 1,000 RCTs were conducted by the three Nobel Laureates in 83 countries such as India, Kenya, and Indonesia to study various dimensions of poverty, including microfinance, access to credit, behavior, health care, immunisation programs, and gender inequality. 

Success stories

    • Finland’s Basic Income experiment (2017-18) – 2000 unemployed Finns between ages 25-58 were randomly selected across the country and were paid €560 a month instead of basic unemployment benefits. 
    • Results from the first year data didn’t have any significant effect on the subjects’ employment in comparison with individuals who were not selected for the experimental group. 

Criticism of RCT

    • Chances of dilution – In order to conduct RCTs, the broader problem is being sliced into smaller ones. Any dilution of the scientific method leaves the conclusions questionable. 
    • Economists such as Martin Ravallion, Dani Rodrik, William Easterly, and Angus Deaton are very critical of using RCTs in economic experiments.
    • Limitations of blinding – such kind of ‘blinding’ are almost impossible to implement in economic experiments as participants would definitely know if they get any financial aid or training. Thus, randomisation must have much less impact there.

Importance of randomisation

    • Unless randomisation is done, most of the standard statistical analyses and inference procedures become meaningless.
    • Earlier social experiments lacked randomisation and that might be one reason that statisticians such as Sir Ronald Fisher were unwilling to employ statistics in social experiments. 
    • “RCT or no RCT” may not be just a policy decision to economics; it is the question of shifting the paradigm. 
    • As randomisation dominates development economics, economic experiments are becoming more and more statistical.


Harvard economist Lant Pritchett criticises RCTs on a number of counts but still agrees that it “is superior to other evaluation methods”.

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

[op-ed snap] Use of single-use plastic needs to be minimised, but the larger problem also needs to be attended to


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Single Use plastics


Prime Minister Narendra made an announcement that India would eliminate single-use plastics by 2022. In another statement on October 2, PM announced that single-use plastics (SUPs) will be phased out by 2022.

Single-Use Plastics

  • SUPs refer to plastics that are used just once – in disposable packaging and also in items such as plates, cutlery, straws, etc. 
  • A FICCI study estimates that 43% of India’s plastics are used in packaging and much of it is single-use plastic. 
  • We also have completely unnecessary single-use plastic entering our homes in the form of covers for invitation cards, magazines, bread wrappers, and advertisements.

Further challenge

  • Single-use plastic is part of a massive challenge of management of all kinds of plastic waste. 
  • SUP’s large and growing volume adds enormously to the total plastic waste. 
  • The growing volume is mostly because of rising e-commerce in India with people buying from companies like Amazon and Flipkart that use single-use plastic for disposable packaging. 


  • Plastic was invented by John W Hyatt in 1869. It has been an integral part of our lives and contributed much to the convenience of modern living. 
  • Its significance comes from the flexibility, durability, and lightness of this material. 
  • Plastics are used not only in airplanes, computers, cars, trucks and other vehicles, but also in our everyday-use items such as refrigerators, air-conditioners, furniture, and casings for electric wires, etc.,

Problems with plastic

  • Plastic does not decompose naturally and sticks around in the environment for thousands of years. 
  • Safe disposal of plastic waste is a huge challenge worldwide.
  • A Texas-sized great garbage patch of floating plastics swirling in the Pacific first attracted attention in the 1960s. 
  • A similar or even greater quantity of sunken plastic, especially discarded fishing gear, called ghost nets, blankets our ocean floors. 
  • Both floating and sunken plastics kill riverine and marine life.
  • A study by FICCI points out that fast-growing consumption has brought us to a point where consumption has clearly outstripped India’s current capacity to recycle plastics.

Plastic carry-bags 

  • They pose a special problem. Although they are strong, lightweight and useful — and can be saved, cleaned and reused many times — this is mostly not done because they are available very cheap and are not valued. They become single-use plastics.
  • A compulsory charge by retail stores on carry-bags has proven most effective in reducing their use without a ban. 
  • In Ireland, a minor charge added to every bill saw a 95% reduction in demand for such carry-bags, as most shoppers began bringing in their own reusable grocery bags.
  • Discarded plastic bags are blown by the wind into drains and flood urban areas. They are used as waste-bin liners to dispose of daily food scraps and find their way into the stomachs of roaming livestock because the animals ingest them to get at the food inside.
  • All plastic waste is eventually carried by rain, streams and rivers into the oceans.


  • Close to 20 states in India have imposed a partial or total ban on single-use plastics at one time or another.
  • Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh opted for complete bans, while others including Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha have tried partial bans. 
  • The bans have not been successful because of poor state capacity to enforce.
  • In India, the Plastics Waste Management Rules 2016 included a clause in Rule 15 which called for explicit pricing of carry-bags. This required vendors to register and pay an annual fee to the urban local bodies. Lobbying by the producers of plastics ensured that this clause was removed by an amendment in 2018.
  • The Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016 require creators of such packaging waste to take it back at their cost or pay cities for its management under Extended Manufacturer Responsibility. But there is little compliance.

Other issues to a ban

  • In India, plastic producers have been advocating thicker and thicker micron sizes for carry-bags. 
  • When there is a ban on carry-bags, it leads to the use of non-woven polypropylene (PP) bags. They feel like cloth and are now even being printed to look like cloth: These are more dangerous for the environment as their fine fibers rub off and enter global waters as microplastics.

Way ahead

  • Build awareness of the damage caused by SUPs and develop consumer consciousness to minimise their use. 
  • SUPs can potentially be converted by thermo-mechanical recycling into plastic granules for blending into other plastic products, usually irrigation piping for agriculture. 
  • The collection of post-consumer waste and recycling poses a major challenge. The multi-layer flexible packaging, which is used for chips and other snacks, cannot be made into granules because it contains layers of plastic with different melting points. 
  • India recycles much more than the industrialised countries through an informal network of waste collectors and segregators. 
  • Recycled plastic can be used to strengthen roads. Use of plastics more than doubles or triples road life — it has been approved by the Indian Road Congress and mandated by NHAI for up to 50 km around every city with a population of over 5,00,000. 
  • Replace the use of thermocol with totally biodegradable pith from the shola/sola plant.


We need many more such innovative ideas and a fundamental change in mindsets to minimise the use of single-use plastic.

Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

[op-ed snap] Deep traps


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Borewell deaths


The intensive operation in Tamil Nadu to rescue a child who slipped into an abandoned borewell in Trichy district ended in failure. 

Issues in the event

    • No technology or protocols – No breakthrough method has emerged, in terms of technology or protocols to rescue small children who have fallen into deep holes that are less than a foot wide. 
    • Repeat of similar events in the past – The disaster is no different from the one that took the life of another two-year-old in Punjab’s Sangrur district earlier this year. 
    • Huge cost to NDRF – the agency deployed its teams no less than 37 times until 2018, mostly in Maharashtra, but also in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Karnataka. 
    • Increase in the number – More such disasters are bound to occur, since there are many disused and uncovered well holes scattered in farms in several States. 
    • Lack of rules – No time can be lost in implementing the safety rules relating to wells issued in the past.

Laws/ existing mechanisms

    • Tamil Nadu Act – Tamil Nadu issued the Regulation of Sinking of Wells and Safety Measures Rules 2015, incorporating measures ordered by the Supreme Court in 2010. 
    • Provisions of TN law – There is a provision requiring the holder of a permit or well to fill up an abandoned hole up to the ground level using clay, sand or boulders.

Way ahead

    • Onus on the local body – Meaningful implementation of this provision requires that the onus should rest with the local body, and not the owner of the borewell who is often a farmer of poor means. 
    • Closing an abandoned well would not be seen as a wasteful expenditure by farmers as they would not be charged for it. Also, panchayat personnel would execute the closure rather than merely certify that action has been taken.
    • Time-bound capping of open wells will eliminate the intensive, high-cost rescues that the NDRF has to attempt. 
    • Urban areas – Deep borewell accidents have also occurred in cities that rely heavily on groundwater. Supreme Court pointed out that it should be the task of the municipal and public health authorities to eliminate the issue.


It is time the State governments took safety seriously, came up with a census of well structures in need of attention, and capped the problem forever.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Explained: Edge Computing


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Edge Computing

Mains level : Applications of Edge Computing

  • Cloud computing — by which remote servers hosted on the Internet store and process data, rather than local servers or personal computers — is ready to move to the next level i.e. ‘Edge Computing’.

Cloud Computing

  • Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power, without direct active management by the user.
  • The term is generally used to describe data centres available to many users over the Internet.

Why need an upgrade?

  • Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet, the parent company of Google — the technology giants that provide cloud computing infrastructure to major corporates and governments.
  • They want to leverage 5G wireless technology and artificial intelligence to enable faster response times, lower latency (ability to process very high volumes of data with minimal delay), and simplified maintenance in computing.
  • This is where Edge Computing comes in — which many see as an extension to the cloud, but which is, in fact, different in several basic ways.
  • By 2025 companies will generate and process more than 75% of their data outside of traditional centralised data centres — that is, at the “edge” of the cloud.

So, what is Edge Computing?

  • Edge computing enables data to be analysed, processed and transferred at the edge of a network.
  • The idea is to analyse data locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without latency, rather than send it far away to a centralised data centre.
  • So whether you are streaming a video or accessing a library of video games in the cloud, edge computing allows for quicker data processing and content delivery.

How is edge computing different from cloud computing?

  • The basic difference between edge computing and cloud computing lies in the place where the data processing takes place.
  • At the moment, the existing Internet of Things (IoT) systems performs all of their computations in the cloud using data centres.
  • Edge computing, on the other hand, essentially manages the massive amounts of data generated by IoT devices by storing and processing data locally.
  • That data doesn’t need to be sent over a network as soon as it processed; only important data is sent — therefore, an edge computing network reduces the amount of data that travels over the network.

And how soon can edge computing becomes part of our lives?

  • Experts believe the true potential of edge computing will become apparent when 5G networks go mainstream in a year from now.
  • Users will be able to enjoy consistent connectivity without even realizing it.
  • Nvidia, one of the biggest players in the design and manufacture of graphics and AI acceleration hardware, has just announced its EGX edge computing platform.
  • This will help telecom operators adopt 5G networks capable of supporting edge workloads.

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

Tracking employment in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Categorisation of Employment, NSSO

Mains level : Unemployment in India


  • Ever since the results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 became public — they showed that unemployment in India was at a 45-year high.
  • Since then there has been a vigorous public debate about the true state of unemployment in the country.

A testimony on Unemployment

  • A new study by JNU professors has highlighted the broad trends for employment in India between 2004 and 2018.
  • A key feature of this study is that instead of focusing on unemployment, it focuses only on the “employment” data.
  • It does so by looking at three comparable surveys conducted by the NSSO the Employment-Unemployment Surveys (EUS) of 2004-05 and 2011-12, and the PLFS of 2017-18.

Categorization of Employment

  • The NSSO surveys divide the entire population into three categories.
  • Category 1 consists of people who were involved in economic activity (or work) during the reference period of the survey.
  • These individuals are labelled as “Employed” — and Category 1 can be subdivided into categories such as self-employed, salaried employees, and casual labourers.
  • Category 2 consists of people who were not engaged in any economic activity during the reference period of the survey, but were looking for work if work was available. These individuals are labelled as “Unemployed”.
  • Taken together, categories 1 and 2 form the country’s “labour force”.
  • Category 3 constitutes people who are neither engaged in work nor available for it.
  • This category — labelled as “Not in the labour force” — would have a large number of people, including those who have retired, those studying, those unable to work due to disability, and those attending “only” to domestic duties.
  • The new study focused on the level and trends of the ‘Employed’ — that is, Category 1.

Key Findings of the Study

  • On the whole, the study found that the total employment in the country grew by 4.5 crore in the 13 years between EUS 2004-05 and PLFS 2017-18.
  • It represents a growth of just 0.8 per cent — less than half the rate at which the overall population grew, which was 1.7 per cent.

Urban-rural spread of employment

  • Of the 4.5 crore increase in employment, 4.2 crore happened in the urban areas while rural employment either contracted or was stagnant between 2011 and 2017.

Male-female spread of employment

  • Over the 13 years, male employment grew by 6 crore but female employment fell by 1.5 crore.
  • In other words, while there were 11.15 crore women with jobs in 2004, only 9.67 crores were employed 13 years later.
  • Women’s share in employment has fallen from an already low level of 27.08% in 2004 to 21.17 per cent in 2017.

Youth Employment

  • India is one of the world’s youngest nations, but employment data according to age groups shows that youth employment (those between the ages of 15 and 24) has fallen from 8.14 crore in 2004 to 5.34 crore in 2017.
  • However, employment in the 25-59 age group and the 60 years and above group has gone up.
  • The sustained schooling reforms seem to have shown their impact in the employment of children below 14 years of age reducing from 61 lakh in 2004 to 27 lakh in 2011, and just 11 lakh in 2017.

Employment by education level

  • The emerging economy appears to be leaving behind the illiterates and those with incomplete primary education.
  • Employment in this category has gone down from 20.08 crore in 2004 to 14.2 crore in 2017, and their share in those employed has gone down from 48.77 per cent in 2004 to 31.09 per cent in 2017.
  • Employment has risen for all other categories of education from primary, secondary, to postgraduate and above.

Organised sector

  • The organised sector represents firms that are registered with regulatory authorities and are bound by a variety of labour laws
  • Here the rate of employment growth has been the fastest, and its share in the total employed has risen from 8.9 per cent in 2004 to 14 per cent in 2017.The sector, too, has grown.
  • In fact, while its rate of growth has been slower, its overall share in the economy has gone up from 37.1 per cent in 2004 to 47.7 per cent in 2017.
  • However, the pace of growth of the unorganised sector has moderated since 2011.
  • Both these sectors have grown at the expense of the agri-cropping sector, where employment has fallen from 21.9 per cent in 2004 to 17.4 per cent in 2017.
  • In essence, the results show that those who are poor, illiterate, and unskilled are increasingly losing out on jobs.

Monsoon Updates

Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)

Mains level : Role of IOD in Indian Monsoon

Record-breaking rainfall this year

  • The record-breaking rainfall this monsoon season, particularly during August and September, has left weather scientists confounded.
  • After a more than 30% shortfall in June, the season ended with 10% excess rainfall, the first time such a thing has happened since 1931.
  • The September rainfall (152% of long period average, or LPA) was the highest since 1917, the August rainfall was the highest since 1996, and the overall seasonal rainfall was the highest since 1994.

Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)

  • With an influencer like El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific remaining largely neutral this year, scientists are trying to pin down the exact reason for the unusual rainfall.
  • In the search for answers, one phenomenon attracting some attention is the Indian Ocean Dipole or IOD, an ocean-atmosphere interaction similar to El Niño, but in the Indian Ocean.
  • IOD is a measure of the difference in the sea-surface temperatures of the western Indian Ocean (Arabian Sea) and the eastern Indian Ocean, south of the Indonesian coast.
  • When the western waters are warmer than the eastern, IOD is said to be positive; in the opposite state, IOD is negative.
  • Like ENSO in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, IOD too influences weather and climate events, though its impact is weaker because the Indian Ocean is considerably smaller, and shallower, than the Pacific.
  • The IOD has an impact on the Indian monsoon: a positive IOD is understood to aid monsoon rainfall while negative IOD is known to suppress it.

Strongest ever IOD

  • This year’s IOD, which began developing around June and grew strong after August, has been one of the strongest on record.
  • IOD records are not very old. Accurate measurements are available only since 1960, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (ACB).
  • The current positive Indian Ocean Dipole event has strengthened significantly over the past month.
  • This has led to scientists looking at IOD for possible clues to this year’s bumper rainfall, especially since such strong IOD events in previous years, too, were associated with high monsoon rainfall.

Earlier records

  • In previous years, we have had very strong IOD events in 1997 and 2006. In both those years, the southwest monsoon rainfall over India was around 100% of normal.
  • 1997 also happened to be a strong El Niño year (El Niño suppresses monsoon rainfall) but due to positive IOD the monsoon rainfall was normal that year.
  • This year the positive IOD started strengthening from July, and by September it evolved into the strongest positive IOD ever recorded in the history of Indian summer monsoon.

Tenuous link

  • Beyond the correlation, scientists are careful not to directly blame the IOD for this year’s rains.
  • That is because IOD’s link with the Indian summer monsoon is tenuous at best. It is only one of several factors that impact the monsoon, and not the most dominant.
  • In fact, the IOD’s influence on the monsoon is not fully understood. It is known to have a much weaker influence than ENSO, though.
  • IOD’s relationship with the Indian summer monsoon is also much less studied compared to that of ENSO.
  • Besides, it is not clear if the IOD influences the monsoon or if it is the other way round
  • The IOD generally takes shape towards the latter half of the summer monsoon, in August and September, and scientists do not rule out the possibility that the monsoon could play some role in its emergence.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Coastal Digital Elevation Model (CoastalDEM)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Coastal DEM

Mains level : Flood control and management in India

  • The number of Indians who stand to be affected by rising sea levels may have been underestimated by as much as 88%, according to a study.


  • CoastalDEM is a new software which uses more variables — vegetation cover, population indices — to estimate the actual land surface affected by floods.
  • Estimates on the risks posed by flooding rely on detailed maps of the globe taken by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) of NASA.
  • It was a radar mapping system that travelled aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 2000.
  • The maps so prepared form the basis for determining the elevation of the earth’s topography.

Flood risk in India

  • In India, 36 million people would face annual flooding by 2050 and 44 million by 2100 if emissions continue to rise unabated.
  • Nearly 21 million — and not 2.8 million — are expected to be living below the High Tide Line, the boundary that marks the farthest to which the sea reaches into the land at high tide.

Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

[pib] Open General Export Licenses (OGEL)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Open General Export Licences

Mains level : Defence procurement in India

  • Raksha Mantri has approved issuance of two Open General Export Licences (OGELs) to boost defence exports and enhance ease of doing business.

Open General Export Licences

  • The OGEL is a one-time export licence to be granted to a company for a specific period (two years initially).
  • The application for grant of OGEL will be considered by Department of Defence Production (DPP) on a case-to-case basis.
  • The countries allowed under the OGELs are: Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA, Canada, Italy, Poland and Mexico.
  • Export of items to a ‘Special Economic Zone’ is not permitted.
  • For acquiring the licences, the applicant is mandatory to have Import-Export certificate.
  • The quarterly & end of the year reports on all the transactions done under OGELs should be submitted to DPP for examination and post-export verification.

Why such licensing?

  • India has made significant strides in improving its defence exports.
  • These have grown seven-fold over the last two years and reached to Rs 10,500 crore in 2018-19.

Items to be exported

  • The items permitted under OGEL includes components of ammunition & fuse setting device without energetic and explosive material; firing control & related alerting and warning equipment & related system; and body protective items.
  • Complete aircraft or complete unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and any components specially designed or modified for UAVs are excluded under this licence.

History- Important places, persons in news

[pib] Paramahansa Yogananda


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paramahansa Yogananda

Mains level : Significance of Yoga

  • The Union Minister for Finance released a special commemorative coin on Paramahansa Yogananda to mark his 125th birth anniversary.

Paramahansa Yogananda

  • Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) is considered one of the preeminent spiritual figures of modern times.
  • Author of the best-selling spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi, this world teacher came to America in 1920 from his native India and was the first great master of yoga to live and teach in the West.
  • He is now widely recognized as the Father of Yoga in the West.
  • He founded Self-Realization Fellowship (1920) and Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (1917), which continue to carry on his spiritual legacy worldwide.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] Raja Mandala: Prince and the PM


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Saudi Arabia relations


Prime Minister is in Saudi Arabia for business. But he should also be interested in the wide-ranging social and religious reform initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the last few years. 

Davos in the Desert

    • PM is attending the annual international forum popularly known as “Davos in the Desert”.
    • The forum is formally called the Future Investment Initiative and seeks to elevate Saudi Arabia’s international economic engagement. 
    • It is part of Prince Mohammed’s efforts to rapidly transform Saudi economy under the “Vision 2030” that he unveiled in 2016.

Saudi – MBS

    • Economic reforms – Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation envisaged by MbS opens up huge new opportunities for India’s economic cooperation with the kingdom.
    • Beyond oil – Saudi has been limited for far too long to the import of oil and export of manpower.
    • Modernising society – Prince Mohammed has set an ambitious agenda to modernise the Saudi society that has come under the domination of religious conservatism since 1979, when Islamic radicals came close to destabilising the kingdom.
    • The drift towards conservatism in the Arabian peninsula had multiple negative effects on India and its neighbors. The reform of Saudi society will hopefully help to reverse some of these negative effects.
    • Reaction to reforms – Western liberals are dismissing the MbS agenda as cosmetic. Some religious conservatives in the Middle East are denouncing it as radical. Regional rivals of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, are mounting relentless pressures against MbS.

Economic reforms

    • Moving away from oil – The aim is to diversify the Saudi economy from its historical reliance on the oil business and develop manufacturing and service sectors through liberalisation and integration with the world. 
    • 3 basic foundations – It is founded on a tripod — the kingdom’s special status in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its strategic location at the trijunction of Africa, Europe, and Asia, and its expansive investment capability.
    • Initiatives made 
      • attempt to turn Saudi Aramco, the national oil producing company, into a global conglomerate
      • easing the restrictions on foreign direct investment
      • promoting tourism and the entertainment industry
      • development of the debt market
      • a bankruptcy law
      • introduction of VAT to enhance non-oil revenue generation
      • cuts in water and power subsidies
      • cash handouts to the needy
      • massive anti-corruption campaign
    • The result – The World Bank’s ease of doing business named the kingdom one of the top ten “global business climate improvers” in 2019.

India – Saudi

    • India has a huge stake in the successful economic and social modernisation of Saudi Arabia. 
    • Reinforce change – A modern and moderate Arabia will reinforce similar trends in the Subcontinent. 
    • Partnerships – An important element of Vision 2030 is the idea of strategic partnerships with select countries like the US, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Germany, France and the UK.
    • Investing capital – growing Saudi interest to deploy massive capital into India. Aramco’s decision to take a large stake in the oil business of Reliance could be the beginning of a new economic era in bilateral relations.
    • Moderate Islam – MbS’s commitment to strengthen the moderate trends in Islam is positive news for the subcontinent. Some of the social reforms of the last three years include limiting the power of the religious police in public places, granting more rights to women, lifting the 35-year-old ban on cinema halls, letting restaurants play music and permitting large music concerts. Yoga schools are now flourishing in Saudi cities. 
    • Strengthening nationalism – the “nationalist” themes of the kingdom’s narrative about itself are given strength. Nationalism is not seen as a counter to the deep religiosity of the people, but is seen as important to bring a much-needed balance into the Saudi worldview.


Developing stronger ties with Saudi Arabia has been an important diplomatic achievement in Modi’s first term. The reform agenda of Prince offers an opportunity for the PM to lend the relationship a durable strategic dimension.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] Pills within reach


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Medicines use in India


The Indian government is planning to allow local retail outlets to sell common drugs. 

Other features

    • As per the proposal, the Centre would let regular shops retail over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol. 
    • These drugs would contain key information on side effects and the appropriate dosage in local languages.


    • Geographical reach – The wide availability of these medicines would offer relief to people living in far-flung areas where pharmacies are few and far between.
    • Issue of self-medication – In India, self-medication is highly prevalent, particularly in rural areas.  If non-prescription drugs can be bought at a local corner shop, it could help lower treatment costs for millions of people who have no chemist closeby.
    • Doctor availability – There aren’t enough qualified doctors in the country. Reports suggest that about two-thirds of all doctors in India cater to urban areas. Going to a doctor proves to be time-consuming and expensive for rural folks.


    • Regulation – It is alarming for those who insist on strict regulation of who is allowed to dispense medicines. 
    • Health hazard – The popping of pills without any medical authorization or knowledge could pose an immediate health risk. 
    • Overuse – Easy availability could also result in an overuse of some over-the-counter drugs, compromising people’s health over a longer span of time. This has already happened in the case of antibiotics, whose rampant overuse has turned several strains of disease-causing bacteria resistant to these drugs.
    • Greater concerns – Given the ground conditions in India, the benefits could outweigh those worries.