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October 2019

Nobel and other Prizes

[op-ed snap] How things work


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Prize winners and discoveries

Mains level : Frontiers of science


The first Nobel prizes of this year are announced.

The prize

  • The prize honors fundamental discoveries of the processes which run the universe and living things in it. 
  • The prizes also look ahead to a better and more interesting future


  • William G Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter J Ratcliffe, and Gregg L Semenza have won the prize for physiology or medicine for discovering the pathways by which cells adapt to oxygen availability.
  • It is of considerable medical use towards understanding cellular respiration.
  • It is the most significant step since 1937 when Hans Adolf Krebs and William Arthur Johnson discovered the cycle mediated by ATP, which powers life.


  • Half of the prize in physics went to James Peebles, whose theoretical framework describing the universe from the Big Bang to the present underpins all of physical cosmology. 
  • He concluded that we can sense only 5% of the universe. The rest is dark matter and dark energy, whose presence can only be inferred by their influence on phenomena. 
  • The other half of the physics Nobel prize is shared by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, for the discovery in 1995 of the first exoplanet, orbiting the star 51 Pegasi
  • Their technique, using Doppler spectroscopy, supplemented the traditional transit method and has led to the discovery of 4,000 planets circling distant suns.


Is there life on exoplanets? Peebles appears to be convinced that even if there is, we may not recognise it, because it may not use Hans Krebs’ cycle at all.


[op-ed snap] The minimum wage solution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Minimum wage & Inequalities


The government made two recent announcements to mitigate the economic crisis. 


  • One is a new indexation of NREGA wages to increase rural incomes. 
  • Second is a reduction in the corporate tax rate.

Indexation of wages

  • Prices of commodities increase each year.
  • So it’s important to accurately estimate how much NREGA labourers should earn in 2020 if she earned ₹179 (national daily average NREGA wage) in 2019.
  • This needs a good index to benchmark and revises the wages. 
  • The index must be based on the main items of consumption for rural households
  • NREGA daily wages are to be indexed with an updated inflation index called the Consumer Price Index-Rural (CPI-R) instead of the older Consumer Price Index-Agricultural Labourers(CPI-AL). 
  • The calculation of CPI-AL involved more food items in the consumption basket. Calculation of CPI-R involves more non-food items such as healthcare and education. 
  • CPI-R better reflects the rural consumption basket compared to CPI-AL.

Challenge with the indexation

  • This new indexation will have a sizeable impact on the increase in rural incomes only if the base NREGA wages are high. 
  • If we assume a 10% increase in wages due to the new indexation, then NREGA wages in Kerala at ₹271 per day would become ₹298. If NREGA wages were equal to the State minimum wages, the wages in Kerala would increase from ₹490 to about ₹540. 
  • A substantial increase in NREGA wages and subsequent indexation with CPI-R would be meaningful for the workers and the economy. 

Minimum wages

  • Barring three States/UTs, NREGA wages are still lower than the State minimum wages in violation of the law.
  • Minimum wages are neither a dole nor an act of charity. They are  arrived at by calculating the minimal nutritional requirement and basic needs of an individual. 
  • The Fair Wages Committee of the Ministry of Labour noted in a report that a “living wage” should also include education, healthcare and insurance besides the bare essentials. 
  • In Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan (1983), the Supreme Court held that paying less than minimum wages is akin to “forced labour”
  • In Workmen v. Management of Raptakos Brett (1991), it said that the aforementioned provisions must be added to arrive at a moral “living wage” to ensure basic dignity of life. 
  • The current daily NREGA wages are just a quarter of the minimum daily living wage of ₹692 as outlined in the 7th Pay Commission.
  • The last annual NREGA budget is ₹60,000 crore. The budget allocation for NREGA gets exhausted by October of each financial year, leading to delays in payment of wages. These are all legal violations.
  • In circumstances of unsustainable wages, the poor would be forced to become part of the migrant labour force. 

Corporate tax cuts & Inequalities

  • The current corporate tax cut will only widen economic inequality
  • According to the Oxfam Inequality Report 2018, in one year, the wealth of the richest 1% in India grew by ₹20.91 lakh crore, which is equivalent to the 2017-18 Budget. 
  • According to estimates by CRISIL, due to the recent tax cut, 1,000 companies would have annual savings of around ₹37,000 crore
  • According to a 2015 IMF report, “if the income share of the top 20% increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, while an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% is associated with higher GDP growth.

Challenges if not matched with rural needs

  •  Corporate tax cuts and lower interest rates would give corporations some liquidity, it is unlikely that rural demand will increase.
  • Without a substantial increase in NREGA wages, the wages would barely match inflation levels leading to wage stagnation in real terms. 

Way ahead

  • It is economically prudent to substantially increase the budget for public programmes such as NREGA.  This would lead to higher disposable income for the poor and have positive multiplier effects in the economy.
  • Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen’s poignant imagery of India having pockets of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa is still eerily true.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[oped of the day] Techno-Politics: Focus on China’s facial recognition technologies


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Chinese state surveillance

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.


The new round of US sanctions against China have turned the light on surveillance technologies including facial recognition that gained much traction in recent years.

US sanctions on Chinese tech companies

    •  US announced measures against around two-dozen entities.
    • Some of them are leading companies in China’s artificial intelligence industry. 
    • They manufacture surveillance cameras as well as work on facial recognition.
    • The rest are public security agencies in China. 
    • These entities will no longer be able to access US technology products without a license. 
    • China’s top technology company, Huawei, is already under US sanctions.

New centers of tensions

    • Over the last couple of years, technology issues have emerged at the front and centre of the deepening Sino-US trade tensions. 
    • There is an additional dimension to the trade war— human rights and the treatment of China’s Muslim minorities.
    • So far the US administration has been criticised for downplaying human rights considerations in America’s external relations. But, now, bringing human rights into the arguments on technology could mark a decisive moment in the unfolding conflict.

The misuse of technology by China – Within China

    • Beijing has used facial recognition technologies to establish a surveillance state beyond Xinjiang to stamp out any potential dissent across China. 
    • These entities have been accused of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.

The misuse of technology by China – outside China

    • A growing facial recognition industry has also created the basis for China’s export of surveillance systems around the world.
    • According to a recent report of Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Chinese companies have exported surveillance technologies based on AI to 63 countries. 36 of these countries are participants in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
    • China’s exports come with soft loans and the promise of better law and order. When Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena visited Beijing, weeks after the Easter bombings, China reportedly offered to share surveillance technologies to strengthen Colombo’s war on terror.
    • Many developed countries have allowed Chinese companies to set up surveillance systems as part of ‘smart city’ projects, improve border controls and control illegal immigration

Apprehensions about the technologies

    • It has implications for privacy and freedom.
    • There is a genuine apprehension in North America and Europe that China’s surveillance companies are sucking up data on Western populations and might weaponise it in the future. 
    • There is also the question of democratic rights including privacy and freedom.
    • California approved a law banning the police departments in the state from using facial recognition software on surveillance cameras. It highlighted the fact that facial recognition technology is prone to significant errors
    • The European Union too is considering regulations that impose strict limitations on the use of facial recognition technologies.

Two sides of technology

    • Like all technologies, facial recognition too can be deployed for either good and bad. 
    • It can be used for better law enforcement or promote political repression. 
    • It can be deployed to prevent terrorism or curb political protest
    • Many technology companies already use facial recognition for commercial use. Some brands of smartphones and laptops now use facial recognition technology for logging you in. 

Way ahead

    • The challenge in democracies is about defining appropriate norms for their use and finding a balance between multiple imperatives.
    • China’s expansive use of surveillance technologies and the US challenge to it mark the beginning a wider global debate on the use of facial recognition as a political, security and commercial tool.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

GEMINI system to aid fishermen


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GEMINI System

Mains level : Tropical Cyclones in India and thier aftermath

  • To avoid communication blackouts that led to 20 fishermen going missing in the aftermath of Cyclone Okchi in 2017, a slew of government departments, research agencies and private companies have developed GEMINI.


  • GEMINI is a portable receiver linked to ISRO-satellites, that is “fail-proof” and warn fishermen of danger.
  • The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), a Hyderabad institute collaborated with Accord, a private company, to develop a box-shaped receiver.
  • It has an antenna and in-built battery that can last three to four days, according to a brochure describing the device.
  • GEMINI works on GAGAN developed by ISRO and the Airports Authority of India and is an India-made global positioning system and relies on the positioning system by ISRO’s GSAT satellites.

Why need GEMINI?

  • The satellite-based communication is the only suitable solution for the dissemination of such emergency information.
  • And affordable satellite based communication system should be made part of the dissemination chain to deal with cyclones, high waves and tsunamis.

App interface

  • When GEMINI is connected to an app, it also lets fishermen know the probability of fish-catch in the surrounding seas.
  • Even now it provides services such as storm alerts and advisories of potential fish-catch however it’s dependent on the mobile services provided.

Utility of the device

  • With this device, fishermen outside the signal range of their phone companies can also access warnings and alerts.
  • Mobile phone frequencies cannot be accessed 10-12 km beyond the coast and with GEMINI this range can increase to 300 nautical miles.


  • The device allows only one-way communication — it can’t be used by fishermen to make calls, for instance.
  • At ₹9,000 a device, it’s also relatively expensive for the average fisherman, say officials, but attempts are on to subsidise it by as much as 90%.
  • The device could be more easily accessible to India’s 900,000 fishermen if the chips powering mobile phones were able to receive signals from the GAGAN system.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

82 Moons orbiting Saturn


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Natural satellites of various planets

Mains level : Not Much

  • The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center confirmed 20 new moons orbiting Saturn, making it the planet with the most moons in our Solar System, at 82.

Moons count for various planets

  • A count of the moons listed on the NASA website shows that our Solar System’s planets together have 205 confirmed moons now.
  • Saturn and Jupiter, with 161 between them, account for nearly 80% of these.
  • Another 20% are orbiting Uranus (27) and Neptune (14).
  • Of the remaining three moons, one is Earth’s own while the other two are with Mars.

What’s so special about Saturn?

  • The newly discovered moons of Saturn are about 5 km each in diameter.
  • Seventeen orbit Saturn opposite to the planet’s rotation, and three in the same direction as Saturn’s rotation.

No moon for Mercury and Venus

  • Mercury is so close to the Sun and its gravity that it wouldn’t be able to hold on to its own moon, NASA explains.
  • Any moon would most likely crash into Mercury or maybe go into orbit around the Sun and eventually get pulled into it.
  • It is not yet clear, however, why Venus does not have a moon.

About International Astronomical Union (IAU)

  • The IAU is an international association of professional astronomers, at the PhD level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy.
  • Among other activities, it acts as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations and names to celestial bodies (stars, planets, asteroids, etc.) and any surface features on them.
  • To standardize planetary nomenclature, the IAU was assigned in 1919 the task of selecting official names for features on Solar System bodies.
  • Planetary nomenclature, like terrestrial nomenclature, is a system of uniquely identifying features on the surface of a planet or natural satellite so that the features can be easily located, described, and discussed.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Nobel Prize in Chemistry: for Lithium ion battery


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lithium ion battery

Mains level : Significance of Li-ion batteries in FAME schemes

  • This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power most of the portable devices that we use, such as mobile phones and more recently the e-vehicles.
  • The prize has been given jointly to Stanley Whittingham, John B Goodenough and Akira Yoshino.

Li-Ion battery

  • Whittingham developed the first functional lithium-ion battery in 1976, Goodenough brought in a major improvement in 1980, while Yoshino made the first practical-use lithium-ion battery in 1985.
  • Commercially manufactured lithium-ion batteries, based on what Yoshino had developed, made their first appearance in 1991.


  • Batteries convert chemical energy into electricity.
  • A battery comprises two electrodes, a positive cathode and a negative anode, which is separated by a liquid chemical, called electrolyte, which is capable of carrying charged particles.
  • The two electrodes are connected through an electrical circuit.
  • When the circuit is on, electrons travel from the negative anode towards the positive cathode, thus generating electric current, while positively charged ions move through the electrolyte.

Why Li-Ion battery is the best?

  • Researchers have continued to look for other materials to make more efficient batteries, but so far none of these has succeeded in outperforming lithium-ion battery’s high capacity and voltage.
  • The lithium-ion battery itself has, however, gone several modifications and improvements so that it is much more environment friendly than when it was first developed.

How it is different from conventional batteries?

  • Single-use batteries stop working once a balance is established between the electrical charges.
  • In rechargeable batteries, an external power supply reverses the flow of electric charges, so that the battery can be used again.

History- Important places, persons in news

Mahabalipuram’s China connection


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mamallapuram and its history

Mains level : India-China Relations since ancient times

  • Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram where PM Modi will meet China’s President Xi Jinping on October 11 & 12 in an informal Wuhan-style summit, had ancient links with Buddhism and China through the maritime outreach of the Pallava dynasty.

When the Pallavas ruled

  • The name Mamallapuram derives from Mamallan, or “great warrior”, a title by which the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630-668 AD) was known.
  • It was during his reign that Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese Buddhist monk-traveller, visited the Pallava capital at Kanchipuram.
  • Narasimhavarman II (c.700-728 AD) aka Rajasimhan built on the work of earlier Pallava kings to consolidate maritime mercantile links with Southeast Asia.
  • The Descent of the Ganga/Arjuna’s Penance, a rock carving commissioned by Narasimhavarman I, with its depiction of the Bhagirathi flowing from the Himalayas, may serve as a reminder of the geography of India-China relations, and their shared resources.
  • Tamil-Chinese links continued after the Pallavas, flourishing under the Cholas as the Coromandel coast became the entrepot between China and the Middle East.

Overseas mission

  • He sent a mission to the Tang court in 720 with a request that would seem unusual in the context of India-China relations today.
  • The emissaries of the Pallava king sought the permission of Emperor Xuangzong to fight back Arab and Tibetan intrusions in South Asia.
  • Pleased with the Indian king’s offer to form a coalition against the Arabs and Tibetans, the Chinese emperor bestowed the title of ‘huaide jun’ (the Army that Cherishes Virtue) to Narayansimha II’s troops.
  • The offer of help by the Pallava ruler, Sen noted, may have had more to do with furthering trade and for the prestige of association with the Chinese emperor, rather than any real prospect of helping him to fight off enemies in the faraway north.

Continuing connections

  • In later centuries, the Coromandel coast retained its importance for trade between China and the west.
  • In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a staging post for the Dutch, French and British for control of the seas between South Asia and SE Asia, as the Europeans fought to protect their trade routes with China and other countries in the region.
  • The ancient port city of Pondicherry, 80 km south of Mahabalipuram, was a French colony famous for its Chinese exports known as “Coromandel goods”, including crepe de chine.
  • Today the UT, with its French legacy, Tamil residents, Bengali and international devotees of Sri Aurobindo, is among the most diverse and cosmopolitan of cities in South India.

Skilling India – Skill India Mission,PMKVY, NSDC, etc.

[pib] Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship Programme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SANKALP, MGNF

Mains level : Promoting skillful research in India

  • To boost skill development at the district level, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) signed a contract with the IIM Bangalore for introducing a two-year fellowship programme Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNF) programme.


  • Designed under SANKALP the fellowship aims to address the challenge of non-availability of personnel for implementation of various programmes at national, state and district levels.
  • The MGNF programme has an in-built component of on-ground practical experience with the district administration.


  • It is launched on a pilot basis in 75 districts across Gujarat, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
  • Eligible fellows for the programme have to be in 21-30 years age-group, have a graduation degree from a recognized university and be citizens of India.
  • Proficiency in official language of state of fieldwork will be mandatory.
  • Its unique design will allow the Fellows to take academic learning at IIM Bangalore and use it in the field under faculty mentorship with the goal of understanding challenges and barriers that district ecosystem faces in fostering growth and development.

Aim and Objectives

  • MGNF seeks to create a cadre of young individuals and train them in a blended academic programme that provides both academic inputs and a component of field immersion at the district level.
  • Besides allowing for an immersive experience to fellows under the programme, MGNF will also be an attractive proposition for those who wish to eke a career in public policy.


  • Fellows in the two-year blended programme with academic module at IIM-B & district emersion program will train with district administration officials
  • They are expected to enrich skilling programmes by bringing in fresh thinking to local planning, execution, community interaction and outcome management.
  • Fellows will receive a stipend of Rs. 50,000 in the first year and Rs. 60,000 in the second year.
  • On completion of their engagement, they will be awarded a Certificate in Public Policy and Management from IIM Bangalore.



  • SANKALP stands for Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion.
  • Launched by the Government in January 2018, it is a World Bank loan assisted project that aims to strengthen institutional mechanisms for skill development and increase access to quality and market-relevant training for youth across the country.
  • Four key result areas have been identified under SANKALP viz: (i) Institutional Strengthening; (ii) Quality Assurance; (iii) Inclusion; and (iv) Expanding Skills through PPPs.

Skilling India – Skill India Mission,PMKVY, NSDC, etc.

[pib] Pradhan Mantri Innovative Learning Programme (PMILP) – ‘DHRUV’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : DHRUV initiative

Mains level : Various initiatives for skill education

  • Union HRD Ministry Shri will launch the Pradhan Mantri Innovative Learning Programme- ‘DHRUV’ from ISRO Headquarters at Bengaluru.

Pradhan Mantri Innovative Learning Programme (PMILP)

  • PMILP is being started to identify and encourage talented children to enrich their skills and knowledge.
  • The objective of the PMILP would be to allow talented students to realize their full potential and contribute to society.
  • In centres of excellence across the country, gifted children will be mentored and nurtured by renowned experts in different areas, so that they can reach their full potential.
  • It is expected that many of the students selected will reach the highest levels in their chosen fields and bring laurels to their community, State and Nation.

Details of the programme

  • The programme will be called DHRUV (after the Pole Star) and every student to be called ‘DHRUV TARA’.
  • It will cover two areas i.e. Science and Performing Arts. There will be 60 students in all, 30 from each area. The 60 students come from across the country
  • The students will be broadly from classes 9 to 12, from all schools including government and private.
  • This is only the first phase of the programme which will be expanded gradually to other fields like creative writing etc.

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

[pib] WHO India Country Cooperation Strategy 2019–2023


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Country Cooperation Strategy

Mains level : Strengthening India's healthcare in line with WHO

  • The Union Ministry for Health & Family Welfare has launched ‘The WHO India Country Cooperation Strategy 2019–2023: A Time of Transition’..

Country Cooperation Strategy

  • The Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS) provides a strategic roadmap for WHO to work with the Government of India towards achieving its health sector goals.
  • It aims in improving the health of its population and bringing in transformative changes in the health sector.
  • The four areas identified for strategic cooperation of WHO with the country encompass:
  1. to accelerate progress on UHC;
  2. to promote health and wellness by addressing determinants of health;
  3. to protect the population better against health emergencies; and
  4. to enhance India’s global leadership in health.

Why need CCS?

  • The CCS builds upon the work that WHO has been carrying out in the last several years.
  • In addition, it identifies current and emerging health needs and challenges such as non-communicable diseases, antimicrobial resistance and air pollution.
  • The implementation of this CCS will build on the remarkable successes in public health that India has demonstrated to the world.
  • It’s a great opportunity to showcase India as a model to the world in initiatives such as digital health, access to quality medicines and medical products, comprehensive hepatitis control program and Ayushman Bharat.


  • The India CCS is one of the first that fully aligns itself with the newly adopted WHO 13th General Programme of Work and its ‘triple billion’ targets.
  • It captures the work of the United Nations Sustainable Development Framework for 2018–2022.
  • The CCS outlines how WHO can support the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and other allied Ministries to drive impact at the country level.
  • The strategy document builds on other key strategic policy documents including India’s National Health Policy 2017, the many pathbreaking initiatives India has introduced — from Ayushman Bharat to its National Viral Hepatitis programme and promotion of digital health amongst others.