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[oped of the day] On AI, various government agencies have conflicting and confusing strategies

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : National AI strategy and action


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.

Context

To be a $5-trillion economy by 2025, India needs to build a cohesive national strategy around artificial intelligence. 

Status of AI application

  • The government is vocal about its intention to mainstream AI applications for social good, and ensure that AI research in India keeps pace with global developments.
  • There is little evidence to show that even the basic building blocks to achieve this have been put in place.
  • Multiple calls taken by various governmental agencies have led to confusing strategies, resulting in a very real danger of ineffective execution. 
  • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy), the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), and the Niti Aayog have all released national strategy documents on governing structures, policy, and creation of new agencies. 
  • There is no mention of how these structures will co-exist towards the goal of a unified AI strategy for the country.

Work done so far – NITI

  • Niti Aayog’s “National Strategy for AI” report allocates a budget of Rs 7,500 crore.
  • It recommends setting up Centers for Research Excellence (COREs) in conjunction with academic institutions. 
  • It also recommends setting up International Centers for Transformational AI (ICTAIs) in association with leading industry players. 
  • Limitation – It falls short of clearly recommending the governance framework under which this should happen. 

DIPP

  • With a budget of Rs 1,200 crore towards setting up the National AI Mission (N-AIM). 
  • The N-AIM is supposed to be the nodal agency for all “AI related activities” in India which will also set up their own “centers of excellence” to promote interdisciplinary research, and assess the performance of various AI-based products in India.

MEITy

  • It plans to allocate a Rs 400-crore budget for new technology initiatives as part of the Digital India Programme, including working with the Digital India Corporation to set up yet another apex body for AI called the National Center for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI). 

Sector-specific AI

  • Sector-specific AI applications such as facial recognition and crop classification are being supervised by different state and central-level ministries with no consolidation around the strategies. 
  • This can lead to fragmented adoption of technology, duplication of effort, and a wasteful use of financial resources.

Indian AI policy – Limitations

  • India is heading in a direction where both the private and public sectors are unified in their commitment to promote and upscale AI.
  • Most of these commitments have been made on paper, in budget speeches, proposals and heavily researched reports
  • None of the recommendations highlighted earlier have yet been implemented in any useful form.
  • Countries like Taiwan went from announcing a $36-million project to build a supercomputing platform to boost AI research in June 2018, to launching the National Public Cloud Computing platform, based on the Taiwania 2 supercomputer, in June 2019.

Way ahead

  • Policy-makers and agencies should converge their ideas around the groundwork that has been laid. 
  • There is also a need for greater transparency in the timelines and roadmaps associated with these announcements.
  • India’s AI strategy narrative needs to change from being a reactionary step to “counter the charge” of countries like China, to a proactive one where policies and infrastructure serve as “a beacon of inspiration” to other countries. 

Conclusion

As the DIPP policy recognises, “people, process and technology” are non-negotiable for AI to proliferate in India, but in the absence of the first two, much will still left to be achieved in the third.

[op-ed snap] What PMC means

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Regulatory supervision over banking


Context

In at least three of the major financial sector scams in the last couple of months in India, featuring Punjab National Bank, IL&FS, Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank, apart from poor governance and fraudulent practices, a common thread has been a supervisory failure

Supervision

  • The country’s leading financial sector regulator, RBI, has been responding only after the event
  • As in IL&FS, in the PMC case too, there appears to be culpability on the part of the management and the board of the bank. 
  • Bank’s loan exposure to a single firm, HDIL, alone constituted 73% of its assets and several dummy accounts were created to camouflage this. 
  • The issue of dual control by the RBI and state governments has been cited as a hurdle by the regulator for its inability to effectively supervise cooperative banks.
  • Limitations in superseding the board of directors or removing directors of these banks, unlike in commercial banks. 

Cooperative banks & Credit delivery

  • The role of co-operative banks in ensuring credit delivery to the unorganised sector and last-mile access, to small businesses, is huge, as the large banks continue to focus on bigger cities and towns. 
  • A recent RBI report shows that fund flows to the commercial sector have declined by 88% in the first six months of this current fiscal. That would have hurt small businessmen, traders, and the farm sector.
  • Since liberalisation, the resilience of India’s financial sector is seen many times. This may have to do with the dominance of government-owned institutions or lenders and a strong central bank. 

Regulation – RBI

  • The central bank has already started building an internal cadre for the supervision of banks and other entities aimed at enhancing its oversight capabilities. 
  • This should be complemented by legislative changes which could lead to greater regulatory control and powers for the RBI. 
  • An insolvency regime for financial firms is the need of the hour. 
  • India needs not just a few large banks and lenders with a national or regional presence but also other players such as cooperative banks, small finance, and payment banks. 
  • There is a need for greater accountability on the part of India’s financial regulators.
  • Carving out a separate authority for supervision may only lead to regulators working in silos.
RBI Notifications

[op-ed snap] The policy way out

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Structural slowdown; Regulatory supervision


Context

India is in the middle of a sharp growth slowdown. The debate surrounding the slowdown is whether it is a cyclical downturn or a structural correction. Diagnosing the problem is key for devising policy responses. 

Slowdown

  • Cyclical slowdowns can be dealt with using temporary fiscal and monetary stimulus. 
  • Structural problems require long-run policy responses.

The slowdown is structuralOil imports

  • Most of the growth between 2014 and 2017 was sparked by a sharp increase in government spending
  • Given India’s oil imports, the decline in the world price of oil by almost $50 a barrel between 2014 and 2016 represented a windfall revenue gain of 3% of GDP. 
  • Since the fiscal deficit barely moved, the government effectively used the windfall to finance various government schemes
  • Now that oil prices have reverted towards their previous levels, a stable fiscal deficit demanded a reduction in government expenditures.
  • If there is no oil windfall, Indian growth over this period would have been 2-3% lower annually. The economic slowdown has been ongoing for almost four years now. 
  • Cyclical downturns last a few quarters, maybe a year. Negative growth pressures for four years indicate structural problems.

Structural slowdown – investment demand

  • Throughout the period 2016-2018, there was a criticism of the Monetary Policy Committee’s refusal to cut rates. 
  • It was argued that high real interest rates, along with the restrictions by RBI on banks’ lending to deal with the NPA problem, were jointly responsible for low investment demand. 
  • Since the beginning of 2019, both the monetary policy stance, as well as PCA norms, have been relaxed by the RBI
  • However, investment demand has barely moved in response.

Dealing with structural slowdown – 

  • Dealing with structural problems doesn’t require fiscal spending. It involves non-pecuniary costs. 
  • The government has to expend some of its considerable political capital in order to usher in long-term labor and land reforms
  • For these, the state governments have to be roped in to get these reforms going.

Corporate tax reduction

  • The move to lower the corporate tax rate is a good one. It is like a capital market structural reform as long as it is not used as a temporary fiscal measure. 
  • The government needs to signal unambiguously to markets that this is a permanent reduction of the base rate.

Financial Infrastructure

  • The public sector banking network accounts for 75% of India’s banking assets. 
  • Public sector banks introduce two complications to the financial system.
    • They allow for the capture of the credit allocation system by non-market forces. 
    • Regulatory capture – Since the regulator of banks is the RBI which is itself owned by the government, this amounts to the regulator regulating the entity that it itself is reporting to. 
  • The government can induce regulatory changes by just changing the personnel it appoints to the upper management of the RBI or to its board.
  • India needs to urgently begin reducing the importance of public sector banks in the economy. 
  • This can be done either through privatisation of existing public sector banks or through the granting of banking licenses to private operators
  • On-tap banking licenses have attracted little interest so far suggests that the privatisation of public sector banks needs to be prioritised.

Sovereign bonds

  • The idea needs to be pursued for multiple reasons.
  • Sovereign bonds would force government debt to be priced in a more competitive setting. Currently, it is priced in a sheltered domestic bond market.
  • Issuing sovereign bonds will force greater clarity and transparency of macroeconomic data since international creditors will demand that.
  • Things like failure to achieve policy targets or reticence in releasing data will attract rapid punishment by markets. This will provide greater discipline for policymaking.

Way ahead

  • The government should revisit the appointments process to key technical and regulatory bodies. 
  • Functions like monetary policy, banking supervision, data collection and dissemination, the audit of government financial accounts need to be independent of government direction.
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

Explained: Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Significance of such informal summits



News

  • PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are meeting in the ancient coastal town of Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram in TN.
  • The two countries convened their first Informal Summit in central China’s Wuhan in April 2018, where they exchanged views on issues of global and bilateral significance.

Informal Summits, why we need them?

  • Informal Summits act as supplementary exchanges to annual Summits and other formal exchanges such as the G20 Summit, EU-India Summit and the BRICS Summit among others.
  • It allows for direct, free and candid exchange of views between countries, something that may not be possible to do through formal bilateral and multilateral meetings that are agenda driven.
  • Informal Summits may not take place on a fixed annual or biennial schedule; they are impromptu in the sense that they take place when a need for them is perceived by the concerned nations.
  • Since Informal Summits allow discussion on wide-ranging issues, they are not particularly purpose-specific, and are sometimes considered to play bigger roles in diplomatic dialogue than formal exchanges.
  • This is the reason is that they tend to be more in-depth, and relatively flexible in intent and the scope of discussion.
  • The “institutionalization” of such Summits would help in strengthening the “strategic communication” between the countries, irrespective of the political party in power.

Continuing the Wuhan Spirit

  • For instance, in Wuhan, both premiers discussed a range of subjects, including the India-China boundary question, bilateral trade and investment, terrorism, economic development and global peace.
  • They succeeded in reaching a “broad consensus”.
  • China is not the only country with which India has had an Informal Summit.
  • The two leaders discussed their countries’ responsibilities towards maintaining global peace and stability, military and nuclear energy cooperation, and the movement towards an equitable world order.

Achievements of Wuhan Spirit

  • At the first Informal Summit between India and China held in Wuhan on April 27-18, 2018, Modi and Xi met “to exchange views on overarching issues of bilateral and global importance.
  • It aimed to elaborate their respective visions and priorities for national development in the context of the current and future international situation.
  • The Wuhan Summit achieved a “re-set” of the Sino-Indian relationship after the two-month long border standoff at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction in Doklam.
  • Significantly, at Wuhan, the two leaders decided to give “strategic guidance” to their military, so that issues did not escalate as in the case of the Doklam standoff.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Ionospheric Connection Explorer

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ICON explorer

Mains level : Significance of the mission



News

  • NASA has launched a satellite to explore the mysterious, dynamic region where air meets space.

Ionospheric Connection Explorer

  • The satellite — called ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer — rocketed into orbit following a two-year delay.
  • The refrigerator-size ICON satellite will study the airglow formed from gases in the ionosphere and also measure the charged environment right around the spacecraft which is at a level of 580 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
  • The ionosphere is the charged part of the upper atmosphere extending several hundred miles (kilometers) up.
  • It’s in constant flux as space weather bombards it from above and Earth weather from below, sometimes disrupting radio communications.

Why study Ionosphere?

  • There’s too much going on in this region to be caused by just the sun.
  • Hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather conditions on Earth are also adding energy.
  • The more scientists know the better spacecraft and astronauts can be protected in orbit through improved forecasting.
  • A NASA satellite launched last year, Gold, is also studying the upper atmosphere, but from much higher up.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI)

Mains Paper 3 : Disaster Management |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CDRI

Mains level : Need for Disaster resilient infrastructure



News

  • While speaking at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit PM Modi had announced the launch of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).

CDRI

  • CDRI is envisaged as an international knowledge platform where countries can collaborate to make their existing and new infrastructure strong enough to withstand natural disasters.
  • It is the fruition of at least three years of discussions that India has had with more than 40 countries on this subject.
  • In simple terms, CDRI is an attempt to bring countries together to share and learn from the experiences of one another to protect their key infrastructure — highways, railways, power stations, communication lines, water channels, even housing — against disasters.

Need to protect infrastructure

  • Many countries, including India, have over the years developed robust disaster management practices that have helped in sharply reducing human casualties in a disaster.
  • However, the economic costs of a disaster remain huge, mainly due to the damage caused to big infrastructure.
  • According to a recent estimate by the World Bank, Cyclone Fani, which hit Odisha in May this year, caused damage to the tune of $4 billion.
  • The losses in the Kerala floods last year could be in excess of $4.4 billion, according to a post-disaster needs assessment report by the state government.

Purpose

  • The platform is not meant to plan or execute infrastructure projects. Nor is it an agency that will finance infrastructure projects in member countries.
  • Instead, CDRI will seek to identify and promote best practices, provide access to capacity building, and work towards standardization of designs, processes and regulations relating to infrastructure creation and management.
  • It would also attempt to identify and estimate the risks to, and from, large infrastructure in the event of different kinds of disasters in member countries.
  • CDRI hopes to have as its member’s not just countries, but organisations like UN bodies, financial institutions, and other groups working on disaster management.

Moving away with basic infrastructure

  • Much of the developing world is still building its basic infrastructure.
  • Many developed countries are also in the process of replacing old infrastructure that has completed their lifetimes.
  • Future infrastructure needs to take into account the heightened risks arising out of the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and other adverse impacts of climate change.
  • Even existing infrastructure would need to be retrofitted to make them more resilient.
  • Disaster-proofing a project would involve changes in design, and use of newer technologies.
  • These involve additional costs which, however, are only a fraction of the losses that a disaster can bring.

An international forum

  • Disaster preparedness and infrastructure creation are largely national endeavors.
  • However, modern infrastructure is also a web of networked systems, not always confined to national boundaries.
  • There are increasing numbers of trans-national and trans-continental highways and railways; transmission lines carry electricity across countries; assets on a river are shared.
  • Damage to any one node can have cascading impacts on the entire network, resulting in loss of livelihoods and disruption in economic activity in places far away from the site of a disaster.
  • To make entire networks resilient is the main thought behind the Indian initiative of CDRI.

Comparison

I. CDRI and Belt Road Initiative

  • CDRI has sometimes been seen as India’s response to the Belt Road Initiative, China’s ongoing multi-billion-dollar programme to recreate the ancient Silk Route trading links.
  • China is building massive new land and maritime infrastructure in several countries.
  • India and some other nations view this as an attempt by China to use its economic and military heft to usurp strategic assets in other countries.
  • Though the comparisons are not surprising given the competing strategic interests of the two neighbours, the magnitude and purpose of the two initiatives are starkly different.
  • Unlike BRI, CDRI is not an attempt by India to create or fund infrastructure projects in other countries.
  • Having said that, international initiatives like these are not without any strategic or diplomatic objective.

II. CDRI and Solar Alliance

  • A more relevant comparison of CDRI can, however be made with the International Solar Alliance (ISA) that India launched at the climate meeting in Paris in 2015.
  • ISA, which has evolved into a treaty-based organisation with more than 50 countries already signed up, aims at a collective effort to promote the deployment of solar energy across the world.
  • Its objective is to mobilise more than $1 trillion into solar power by 2030, and to deploy over 1,000 GW of solar generation capacity in member countries by that time.
  • India hosts ISA, with its headquarters in Gurgaon. The CDRI secretariat too would be based in New Delhi.
  • While it is not envisioned to take the shape of a treaty-based organisation, CDRI can be seen as complementing ISA’s efforts.
  • ISA is about climate change mitigation — deployment of more solar energy would bring down the reliance on fossil fuels, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • With these two initiatives, India is seeking to obtain a leadership role, globally, in matters related to climate change.
Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Elastocaloric effect

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Elastocaloric effect

Mains level : Elastocaloric effect and its applications



News

Elastocaloric effect

  • When rubbers bands are twisted and untwisted, it produces a cooling effect.
  • This is called the “elastocaloric” effect, and researchers have suggested that it can be used in a very relevant context today.
  • Researchers have found that the elastocaloric effect, if harnessed, may be able to do away with the need of fluid refrigerants used in fridges and air-conditioners.
  • These fluids are susceptible to leakages, and can contribute to global warming.

How it works?

  • In the elastocaloric effect, the transfer of heat works much the same way as when fluid refrigerants are compressed and expanded.
  • When a rubber band is stretched, it absorbs heat from its environment, and when it is released, it gradually cools down.
  • In order to figure out how the twisting mechanism might be able to enable a fridge, the researchers compared the cooling power of rubber fibres, nylon and polyethylene fishing lines and nickel-titanium wires.
  • They observed high cooling from twist changes in twisted, coiled and supercoiled fibres.

Efficiency

  • The level of efficiency of the heat exchange in rubber bands “is comparable to that of standard refrigerants and twice as high as stretching the same materials without twisting”.
  • To demonstrate this setup, the researchers developed a fridge the size of a ballpoint pen cartridge that was able to bring down the temperature of a small volume of water by 8°C in a few seconds.
  • They suggested that their findings may lead to the development of greener, higher-efficiency and low-cost cooling technology.
Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] mHariyali

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : mHariyali

Mains level : Not Much


News

  • Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs has launched the mobile app, “mHariyali,”.

mHariyali

  • The app is aimed to encourage Public engagement in planting trees and other such Green drives.
  • People can now upload information/photos of any plantation done by them, which is linked to app and will be displayed on the website epgc.gov.in.
  • The App provides for automatic geo-tagging of plants. This app will also enable nodal officers to periodically monitor the plantation.
  • The App is user friendly and works on any android mobile phone.

[pib] Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) 2019

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CORPAT

Mains level : India's engagement with Bay of Bengal neighbors


News

  • The second edition of Indian Navy (IN) –Bangladesh Navy(BN) Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) has commenced in Northern Bay of Bengal.

IN-BN CORPAT

  • It is aimed at upgrading to a bilateral exercise with the navies engaging in seamanship evolutions, flying exercises with integral helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft at sea.
  • Additionally, exercises entailing the development of mutual communication and sharing of best practices would also be undertaken, adding a new dimension to the Indo – Bangladesh maritime relations.
  • Both navies hone their mutual cooperation whilst patrolling near the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) during the current edition of CORPAT.

 Background

  • CORPAT is an Indian Navy tactical procedure on behalf of Indian “Wannabe” diplomatic ambitions rather than a Multi National Treaty.
  • CORPAT has been carried out with Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Thailand.
  • It is a naval procedure that India carries out with any other country that is willing in an attempt at showing the flag as a diplomatic maneuver.
Indian Navy Updates