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October 2019

[oped of the day] For a wider food menu


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hunger Index

Mains level : India - Malnutrition

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 Prime Minister announced in Mann Ki Baat address that September is to be observed as ‘Rashtriya Poshan Maah’. He urged people to support the government’s nutrition campaign to ensure a healthier future for women and children. 

State of malnutrition

    • Across income strata – Both poor and affluent families are affected by malnutrition due to lack of awareness.
    • Decline – Efforts by the government have led to a decline in malnutrition by 2% per annum. 
    • Leading cause of death – According to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study by the University of Washington, malnutrition is among the leading causes of death and disability in India, followed by dietary risks including poor diet choices. 
    • Large no of undernourished – FAO estimates that 194.4 million people in India, about 14.5% of the total population, are undernourished. 
    • Global Hunger Index 2018 – it ranks India 103 out of 119 countries on the basis of three leading indicators: 
      • the prevalence of wasting and stunting in children under five years of age
      • child mortality rate under five years of age
      • the proportion of undernourished in the population

Poshan Abhiyaan

    • Flagship program – aims to improve nutritional outcomes for children, adolescents, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.
    • An integrated approach – It is an amalgamation of scientific principles, political fortitude, and technical ingenuity. 
    • Zero Hunger – The key nutrition interventions and strategies contribute to the targets of the World Health Assembly for nutrition and the SDGs on “zero hunger”.

Zero Hunger – challenges

    • Dimensions of malnutrition – Achieving zero hunger requires not only addressing hunger, but also the associated aspect of malnutrition. 
    • Healthy diet – Healthy diets are an integral element of food and nutrition security. Food consumption patterns have changed and resulted in the disappearance of many nutritious native foods such as millets. 
    • Foodgrain productionWhile foodgrain production has increased over five times since Independence, it has not sufficiently addressed the issue of malnutrition. 
    • The focus of agriculture on staplesAgriculture sector focused on increasing food production, particularly staples, which led to lower production and consumption of indigenous traditional crops/grains, fruits, and other vegetables.  
    • Food monotony – FAO’s work has demonstrated that dependence on a few crops has negative consequences for ecosystems, food diversity and health. Food monotony increases the risk of micronutrient deficiency. 
    • Overreliance on a few staple crops coupled with low dietary diversity is a leading cause of persistent malnutrition. 
    • Intensive monoculture agricultural practices can perpetuate the food and nutrition security problem by degrading the quality of land, water and the food derived through them.
    • Lifestyles in cities pose other dietary problems. 
    • Urban food planning needs to incorporate nutritional security and climate resilience.

Agricultural biodiversity 

    • It ensures a wider food menu to choose from. 
    • Small farmers, livestock and seed keepers in India are on the front-line of conserving the unique agrobiodiversity of the country. 
    • The loss of globally significant species and genetic diversity has an adverse impact on diets.

[op-ed snap] Let’s focus on demand for education


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : A new approach to Education


The work, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty draws insights from various ground-level experiments that involve field trials in poverty-stricken areas. They offer policy advice based on their learnings. 

Applying to education in India

    • India should go beyond the mere supply of schools, getting children into classrooms and focus on the demand for education.
    • The generation of demand is not always easy, especially in remote areas that aren’t exposed to the modern economy. 
    • School enrolment depends on the returns that families foresee on their investment. 
    • A study was conducted in three randomly selected villages in northern India. 
    • Exposed to job opportunities for women at business process outsourcing (BPO) centers, families began to re-evaluate their returns and the school enrolment of girls went up significantly.

Quality of education

    • Education quality is essential for demand to rise, and supply lacunae act as a hindrance. 
    • Due to the exposure via the internet, demand appears to be increasing, but the government’s supply of education is at odds with new patterns of demand. 
    • Very few state-run schools in India are English medium while education in English is what the country’s have-nots are increasingly looking for. 


India needs to work on both demand and supply. And the latter may still be what it’s best equipped to reform.

Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

Explained: Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)

Mains level : Applications of RCT in poverty alleviation

  • The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to three economists for their pioneering research into the use of experimental approaches to fight global poverty.
  • The new Nobel laureates are considered to be instrumental in using randomized controlled trials to test the effectiveness of various policy interventions to alleviate poverty.

Randomized Controlled Trial

  • A RCT is an experiment that is designed to isolate the influence that a certain intervention or variable has on an outcome or event.
  • A social science researcher who wants to find the effect that employing more teachers in schools has on children’s learning outcomes, for instance, can conduct a randomized controlled trial to find the answer.
  • The use of randomized controlled trials as a research tool was largely limited to fields such as biomedical sciences where the effectiveness of various drugs was gauged using this technique.
  • The Nobel laureates’ trio applied RCT to the field of economics beginning in the 1990s.
  • Kremer first used the technique to study the impact that free meals and books had on learning in Kenyan schools.
  • Banerjee and Ms. Duflo later conducted similar experiments in India and further popularised RCTs through their book Poor Economics, published in 2011.

Why is RCT so popular?

  • At any point in time, there are multiple factors that work in tandem to influence various social events.
  • RCTs allow economists and other social science researchers to isolate the individual impact that a certain factor alone has on the overall event.
  • For instance, to measure the impact that hiring more teachers can have on children’s learning, researchers must control for the effect that other factor such as intelligence, nutrition, climate, economic and social status etc.
  • RCTs promise to overcome this problem through the use of randomly picked samples.
  • Using these random samples, they believe, researchers can then conduct experiments by carefully varying appropriate variables to find out the impact of these individual variables on the final event.

Criticisms of RCT

  • A popular critic of randomized controlled trials is economist Angus Deaton, who won the economics Nobel Prize in 2015.
  • He has contended in his works that simply choosing samples for an RCT experiment in a random manner does not really make these samples identical in their many characteristics.
  • While two randomly chosen samples might turn out to be similar in some cases, he argued, there are greater chances that most samples are not really similar to each other.
  • RCTs are more suited for research in the physical sciences where it may be easier to carry out controlled experiments.

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

World Economic Outlook, 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WEO report

Mains level : Economic slowdown in India

  • In the gloomy global economic picture painted by the IMF, India retains its rank as the world’s fastest-growing major economy, tying with China.

Growth projections for India

  • IMF has projected growth rate of 6.1 per cent for the current fiscal year, despite an almost one per cent cut in the forecast.
  • The report projected India’s economy to pick up and grow by 7 per cent in the 2020 fiscal year.
  • The world economy is projected to grow only 3 per cent this year and 3.4 per cent next year amid a “synchronised slowdown”.
  • IMF’s projected growth rate of 6.1 per cent for 2019-20 is consistent with the Indian Monetary Policy Committee’s forecast.

Mapping the slowdown

  • India’s economy decelerated due to sector-specific weaknesses in the automobile sector and real estate as well as lingering uncertainty about the health of non-bank financial companies.
  • It added that corporate and environmental regulatory uncertainty was other factor that weighed on demand.
  • The global slowdown is due to rising trade barriers, uncertainty surrounding trade and geopolitics, and structural factors, such as low productivity growth and an aging population in developed countries.

Suggestions for India

  • The IMF suggested that India should use monetary policy and broad-based structural reforms to address cyclical weakness and strengthen confidence.
  • A credible fiscal consolidation path is needed to bring down India’s elevated public debt over the medium term.
  • This should be supported by subsidy-spending rationalization and tax-base enhancing measures, said the report.
  • Other measures it suggested included reducing the public sector’s role in the financial system, reforming the hiring and dismissal regulations that would help incentivise job creation and absorb the country’s large demographic dividend”, and land reforms to expedite infrastructure development.

Crisis looming on Auto Sector

  • The auto sector is one of the areas seriously affected globally.
  • Global car sales fell by three per cent last year, while the number of automobile units manufactured declined by 1.7 per cent, in value terms it fell by 2.4 per cent.
  • The number of auto units produced by China fell by four per cent, its first decline in more than two decades, according to the WEO.
  • It said the two main reasons for the decline of the auto sector were the removal of tax breaks in China and the rollout of new carbon emission tests in Europe.
  • The auto industry had a large global footprint and vehicles and related parts are the world’s fifth largest export product, accounting for about 8 percent of global goods exports in 2018.

Roads, Highways, Cargo, Air-Cargo and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

One Nation One FASTag Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RFID technology

Mains level : One Nation One FASTag Scheme

  • Minister of Road Transport and Highways inaugurated the scheme.

One Nation One FASTag scheme

  • The ‘One Nation One FASTag’ scheme will be implemented from December 1.
  • The plan aims to integrate the collection of toll digitally and ensure seamless mobility of vehicles across India.
  • It can be availed upon activation by new cars having Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on national and state highways throughout the country.

Why such scheme?

  • At present, 60 lakh vehicles in India have FASTags.
  • According to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), these devices will make passing through tolls considerably smoother since drivers will no longer have to carry cash or stop to make a transaction.

What is ‘FASTag’?

  • FASTags are stickers that are affixed to the windscreen of vehicles and use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to enable digital, contactless payment of tolls without having to stop at toll gates.
  • The tags are linked to bank accounts and other payment methods.
  • As a car crosses a toll plaza, the amount is automatically deducted, and a notification is sent to the registered mobile phone number.
  • Sensors are placed on toll barriers, and the barriers open for vehicles having valid FASTags.
  • A FASTag is valid for five years and needs to be recharged only as per requirement.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Microbial fuel cells


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Microbial fuel cells

Mains level : Microbial fuel cells and its applications

  • The London Zoo has used plants to power camera traps and sensors in the wild. This they achieved by installing microbial fuel cells in Pete, a fern.

Microbial fuel cells

  • They are devices that use bacteria as the catalysts to oxidize organic and inorganic matter and generate current.
  • Electrons produced by the bacteria are transferred to the negative terminal and flow to the positive terminal.
  • Plants naturally deposit biomaterial as they grow which in turn feeds the natural bacteria present in the soil.
  • This creates energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of vital conservation tools remotely, including sensors, monitoring platforms and camera traps.

Benefits over other power sources

  • Among conventional power sources, batteries must be replaced while solar panels rely on a source of sunlight.
  • On the other hand, plants can survive in the shade, naturally moving into position to maximise the potential of absorbing sunlight.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Deemed Forests


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Deemed Forests

Mains level : Forest management in India

  • It has been 23 years since the Supreme Court asked all states in the country to identify deemed forests, but their status in several states is still unclear.

Deemed Forests

  • The SC, in a Dec 12, 1996 judgement, had broadened the definition of forest to include not just land classified as forest under forest or revenue departments, but also those that are forests according to the definition of a forest.
  • It had then also asked states to form committees to identify forests, irrespective of the nature of land ownership or whether they are notified, recognised or classified in a time-bound manner.
  • There are forests that are notified either with the forest department or revenue department.
  • Then there are those areas that are like forests but are neither recorded, nor notified. The Supreme Court had ordered that the states identify and classify these as deemed forests.
  • Deemed forests are already a legal category of forests in some states and they are not defined according to the dictionary definition.