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Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : RCT application

Context

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

RCTs

    • 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.

Quotes

    • 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.

Conclusion

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Single Use plastics

Context

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

  • 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.

Regulations

  • 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.

Conclusion

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Borewell deaths

Context

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.

Conclusion

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

Note4Students

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Categorisation of Employment, NSSO

Mains level : Unemployment in India


Context

  • 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)

Note4Students

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)

Note4Students

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

  • 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)

Note4Students

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

Note4Students

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.