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November 2019

Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

[op-ed snap] Along came spyware


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Cybersecurity and surveillance


WhatsApp has revealed that Indian journalists and human rights activists have been under the surveillance of Israeli spyware Pegasus. 


  • This disclosure was made after WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in a US federal court against NSO.
  • NSO, the bug’s maker has allegedly been helping governments around the world hack smartphones and place their on-screen activity under watch. 
  • Pegasus can reportedly gain access to mobile devices simply by making missed calls via WhatsApp to identified targets.
  • Reports say that, by WhatApp’s count, over 20 Indians were under the scanner for about a fortnight in May.

Not the first time

  • This is not the first time NSO has been sued. 
  • Victims of hacking had taken it to Israeli courts on earlier occasions. 
  • The spyware doesn’t just intercept network communication, it has the ability to steal your data, track your location, and much more.


  • Intelligence agencies use whatever means they can to zoom into the lives of people who arouse suspicion. 
  • Most often, it reveals a pattern that suggests a state paranoid about dissent. 

Way ahead

Each individual should take precautionary measures to protect from spy agencies and cybercriminals.

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Most marginalised of them all


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Socio economic status of Muslims in India


The 2019 Lok Sabha elections show the political marginalisation of Muslims. There is also the socio-economic marginalisation of the community. Muslims have been losing out to Dalits and Hindu OBCs since the Sachar committee submitted its report in 2005.

Socioeconomic status of Muslims

    • Reports – this is based on the NSSO report (PLFS-2018) and the NSS-EUS (2011-12). 
    • Educational attainment – The proportion of the youth who have completed graduation among Muslims in 2017-18 is 14% as against 18% among the Dalits, 25% among the Hindu OBCs, and 37% among the Hindu upper castes. 
    • Gap in education
      • The gap between the SCs and Muslims is 4% in 2017-18. Six years earlier (2011-12), the SC youth were just 1% above Muslims in educational attainment. 
      • The gap between the Muslims and Hindu OBCs was 7% in 2011-12 and has gone up to 11% now. 
      • The gap between all Hindus and Muslims widened from 9% in 2011-12 to 11% in 2017-18.
    • Muslims in Hindi heartlandMuslim youth in the Hindi heartland fare the worst. Their educational attainment is the lowest in Haryana, 3% in 2017-18; in Rajasthan, this figure is 7%; it is 11% in Uttar Pradesh. 
    • In all these states, except MP, SCs fare better than Muslims. 
    • Eastern India the educational attainment among the Muslim youth in Bihar is 8%, as against 7% among SCs, in West Bengal it is 8%, as against 9% for SCs, and in Assam, it is 7%as against 8% for SCs. 
    • Western India the educational attainment figures for Muslims are better compared to 2011-12. In Gujarat, the gap in educational attainment between the Muslims and SCs is14%. In Maharashtra, the Muslims were 2% better off than SCs in 2011-12, they have now not only lost to SCs but the latter has now overtaken them by 8%. 
    • SouthWith 36% of graduate Muslim youth, Tamil Nadu tops the educational attainment parameter. In Kerala, this figure is 28%, in Andhra Pradesh, it is 21% and in Karnataka, 18% of the Muslim youth are graduates. While the community is giving a close competition to SCs in Tamil Nadu and AP, it is losing out in Kerala. 
    • Reasons for better outcomes in South – The developments in South India have more to do with the relatively faster mobility of SCs than the marginalisation of Muslims. Muslims enjoy positive discrimination in these states – Dalit and OBC Muslims are given reservations under the OBC quota.
    • In educational institutions  – Only 39% of the community in the age group of 15-24 are in educational institutions as against 44% for SCs, 51 % for Hindu OBCs and 59% for Hindu upper castes.


    • The marginalisation of Muslims began several years ago, the phenomenon seems to have gathered pace in recent years. 
    • Sam Asher et al point out in their recent study, ‘Intergenerational Mobility in India: Estimates from New Methods and Administrative Data’, that Muslims are being left out from educational mobility in India while the SCs are getting integrated into it.


More studies are needed to link this process to the political marginalisation of Muslims.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Beyond Pakistan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Saudi Arabia relations


The expansion and institutionalisation of strategic cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia mark the consolidation of a partnership that has long struggled to realise its full potential. 

Efforts in the past

    • Early efforts under Vajpayee – Efforts to end the mutual indifference began during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee when his foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, traveled to the Kingdom in early 2001. 
    • King Abdullah – Five years later, King Abdullah visited Delhi, the first visit to India by a Saudi monarch in half a century, to announce a new phase in bilateral relations. 
    • Slowed down – Progress in building the partnership remained elusive. It seemed confined to India buying oil from the Kingdom and exporting manpower. 
    • Expanding, limited by Pakistan – There were the beginnings of counter-terror cooperation but the Pakistan factor continued to cast a shadow over the relationship — until recently.

Pakistan factor

    • Balance – The Saudis sought to maintain a balance in their relations with India and Pakistan.
    • Religion + finances – Pakistan has demanded religious solidarity and unending financial support from Riyadh. 
    • Hesitations of India – India was hesitant to adopt a bolder friendship towards Saudi Arabia amidst the obsession with the Pakistan question. 
    • Even in recent visit – when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, visited Delhi, the question of India’s tensions with Pakistan figured quite prominently. 
    • No reference now – This time, the joint statement issued at the end of PM Modi’s visit made no reference to Pakistan. India appreciated that Saudi Arabia has a lot more on its mind than protecting Pakistan in the name of religious solidarity.
    • It is possible to build a solid partnership with Saudi Arabia on the basis of shared interests.

Saudi interests

    • Neighbor issues – Within its immediate neighborhood, Saudi Arabia has been struggling to cope with an assertive Iran and Turkey. Both of them seek to undermine the authority of the Saudi monarchy within the Kingdom and the region. 
    • If Iran mobilises the Shia militancy against the Kingdom, Turkey chips in with its support to Sunni radicals threatening the House of Saud. 
    • US – increasingly looks unreliable. 
    • Limits to religion – The rapidly growing Saudi population can no longer be kept with a diet of religious orthodoxy.
    • Oil revenues – the generous subsidies from oil revenues are no longer a source of comfort. 
    • Reforms initiated – Saudi Arabia has begun serious social and economic reforms at home and diversification of its security and commercial partnerships abroad. 


    • India has recognised the urgency of seizing this moment and building strong security and economic partnership. 
    • The agreements signed during the PM’s visit include the establishment of a strategic partnership council, deepening energy interdependence, and expanding defense and security cooperation bilaterally as well as in the Indian Ocean region. 


The challenge for India now is to translate this bold new agenda with Saudi Arabia into quick and tangible results.

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

National Health Profile 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Health Profile 2019

Mains level : Highlights of the study

  • Union Health Minister has released the 14th edition of the National Health Profile 2019.

What is National Health Profile (NHP)?

  • The NHP is an annual stocktaking exercise on the health of the health sector.
  • It provides a comprehensive framework on the socio-economic health status and the status of demographic and health resources in the country.
  • It is prepared by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI).
  • The NHP was first published in 2005. Ever since the profile has been released every year and this year, is its 14th edition.

Utility of NHP

  • The NHP helps the government navigate health needs and issues of the population and devise area-specific program strategies.
  • Good-quality data can enable policymakers to make evidence-based policies and aid the effective implementation of various schemes.

Highlights of the 14th edition of the NHP

Per capita health expenditure

  • In 2016, India’s Domestic general government health expenditure stood at $16 per capita.
  • This is lower than Norway ($6,366), Canada ($3,274), Japan ($3,538), Republic of Korea ($1,209) and Brunei Darussalam ($599).
  • The American system, though, is considered neither ideal nor economical. This data has been sourced from the Global Health Expenditure Database of the World Health Organisation.

Disease profile

  • The NHP also notes the change in disease profile of the country with a shift towards the non-communicable disease from communicable ones.
  • It has been observed that the non-communicable diseases dominate over communicable in the total disease burden of the country.
  • Dengue and Chikungunya, transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, are a cause of great concern to public health in India.
  • In the same period, disease burden from non-communicable diseases increased from 30 per cent to 55 per cent.
  • DALYs are an international standard of disease burden that measures how much of a normal life span of an individual is taken away by a disease related morbidity of mortality.

Life expectancy

  • Life expectancy in India has increased from 49.7 years in 1970-75 to 68.7 years in 2012-16.
  • For the same period, the life expectancy for females is 70.2 years and 67.4 years for males.
  • For comparison, in last year’s survey, the life expectancy had increased from 49.7 years in 1970-75 to 68.3 years in 2011-15.
  • For the same period, the life expectancy for females is 70 years and 66.9 years for males.

Economically active population

  • On demographics, the survey found the high incidence of the young and economically active population.
  • The survey notes that 27% of the total estimated population of 2016 was below the age of 14 years.
  • Majority (64.7%) of the population were in the age group of 15-59 years i.e. economically active, and 8.5% population were in the age group of 60-85 plus years.

Birth/Death rates

  • There has been a consistent decrease in the birth rate, death rate and natural growth rate in India since 1991 to 2017.
  • As on 2017, India has registered birth rate of 20.2 per population of 1,000 and death rate of 6.3 while the natural growth rate was 13.9 per population of 1,000.
  • The birth rate in rural areas was higher than in the urban.
  • Similarly, the death rate and natural growth rate were also higher in rural areas as compared to the urban.

Sex Ratio

  • As per the NHP, sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males) in the country has improved from 933 in 2001 to 943 in 2011.
  • In rural areas the sex ratio has increased from 946 to 949.
  • The corresponding increase in urban areas has been of 29 points from 900 to 929.
  • Kerala has recorded the highest sex ratio in respect of total population (1,084), rural population (1,078) and urban (1,091).
  • The lowest sex ratio in rural areas has been recorded in Chandigarh (690).

Dip in IMR

  • The infant mortality rate (IMR) has declined considerably (33 per 1,000 live births in 2016), however differentials of rural (37) and urban (23) are still high.

Various causes of death

  • During the year 2015, 4.13 lakh people lost their life due to accidental injuries and 1.33 lakh people died because of suicide.
  • Suicide rates are increasing significantly among young adults and the maximum number of suicide cases (44,593) is reported between the age group 30-45 years.
  • The total number of cases and deaths due to snake bite are 1.64 lakh and 885, respectively, in 2018.
  • The total number of disabled persons in India is 2.68 crore.

Pollution related illness

  • Air pollution-linked acute respiratory infections contributed 68.47 per cent to the morbidity burden in the country and also to highest mortality rate after pneumonia.
  • Acute diarrhoeal diseases, caused due to drinking contaminated water, caused the second highest morbidity at 21.83 per cent.
  • Cholera cases went up to 651 in 2018 from 508 in 2017, the report showed. Uttar Pradesh followed by Delhi and West Bengal had the highest cases.

Medical education infrastructure

  • The NHP has noted that medical education infrastructure has shown rapid growth over the past few years.
  • The country has 529 medical colleges, 313 Dental Colleges for BDS & 253 Dental Colleges for MDS.
  • The total number of admissions for the academic year 2018-19 in Medical Colleges is 58756.

Air Pollution

Carbon emission from tropical forests


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Forgone carbon removal

Mains level : Carbon emission from tropical forests

  • A new study says that carbon impacts from the loss of intact tropical forests have been grossly underreported.

About the study

  • The study has calculated new figures relating to intact forest lost between 2000-2013.
  • It has found that the long-term net carbon impacts, through 2050, are six times the current estimates.
  • Conventionally, only carbon emissions from readily observed forest clearance are considered.
  • This study accounted for less readily observed degradation processes that follow forest clearance – selective logging, edge effects, and defaunation.

Forgone carbon removal

  • Another metric used in the new study is “forgone carbon removal”.
  • Forgone removals are an estimate of the amount of carbon that cleared or degraded forests could have sequestered had they remained intact beyond 2000.
  • Full accounting of these additional factors led to a 626% increase in cumulative net carbon impact from intact forest loss, the study says.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Mitochondrial DNA


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mitochondrial DNA

Mains level : Evolution of modern man

  • A recent paper in the prestigious journal Nature claims to show that modern humans originated about 200,000 years ago in the region around northern Botswana.

About the study

  • The scientists studied genetic data from many individuals from the KhoeSan peoples of southern Africa, who are thought to live where their ancestors have lived for hundreds of thousands of years.
  • The researchers used their new data together with existing information about people all around the world to reconstruct in detail the branching of the human family tree.

Mitochondrial DNA

  • Mitochondrial DNA is the small circular chromosome found inside mitochondria.
  • These organelles found in cells have often been called the powerhouse of the cell.
  • The mitochondria, and thus mitochondrial DNA, are passed almost exclusively from mother to offspring through the egg cell.
  • The study focused just on mitochondrial DNA. This means it isn’t mixed up with DNA from fathers and so is easier to track across the generations.
  • The new study doesn’t tell about the origin of the human genome but the place and time where our mitochondrial DNA appeared.

Why Mitochondrial DNA was studied?

  • The fact that mitochondrial DNA comes almost only ever from mothers also means the story of its inheritance is much simpler than the histories of other genes.
  • This implies that every bit of our genetic material may have a different origin, and have followed a different path to get to us.

Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

Spyware Pegasus


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pegasus

Mains level : Cyber Security

  • The popular messaging platform WhatsApp was used to spy on journalists and human rights activists in India earlier this year.
  • The surveillance was carried out using a spyware tool called Pegasus, which has been developed by an Israeli firm, the NSO Group.
  • WhatsApp sued the NSO Group in a federal court in US accusing it of using WhatsApp servers in the United States and elsewhere to send malware to approximately 1,400 mobile phones and devices.


  • All spyware do what the name suggests — they spy on people through their phones.
  • Pegasus works by sending an exploit link, and if the target user clicks on the link, the malware or the code that allows the surveillance is installed on the user’s phone.
  • A presumably newer version of the malware does not even require a target user to click a link.
  • Once Pegasus is installed, the attacker has complete access to the target user’s phone.
  • The first reports on Pegasus’s spyware operations emerged in 2016, when Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist in the UAE, was targeted with an SMS link on his iPhone 6.

Method of working

  • A Pegasus operator must convince a target to click on a specially crafted ‘exploit link’ which allows the operator to penetrate security features on the phone.
  • This automatically installs Pegasus without the user’s knowledge or permission.
  • Once the phone is exploited and Pegasus installed, it begins contacting the operator’s command and control and send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, events, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps.
  • The operator can even turn on the phone’s camera and microphone to capture activity in the phone’s vicinity.

Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

[pib] Excavation by ASI in Gottiprolu, Andhra Pradesh


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Minutes of the excavations

Mains level : Pre-historic trade activities in India

  • The 1st phase of excavation by a team of ASI at Gottiprolu near Naidupeta in Nellore (now renamed as Sri Potti Sri Ramulu) district, AP has discovered the remains of a huge settlement surrounded by a massive brick enclosure.

About the Site

  • The site of Gottiprolu lies on the right bank of a distributary of river Swarnamukhi about seventeen kilometers east of Naidupet and eighty kilometers from Tirupati and Nellore.
  • Detailed topographical study and drone images have helped in identifying an early historic settlement surrounded by a fortification and the possibility of a moat encircling it.
  • The fortification is very much clear on the eastern and southern sides of the mound while its other arm seems to have been leveled as a result of modern settlements.
  • The excavation revealed the presence of brick-built structures in different sizes and forms.
  • Other major retrieved antiquities unearthed are copper and lead coins, iron spearhead, stone celts, terracotta beads, ear stud in semi precious stone and hopscotches.

How old is the site?

  • The available brick sizes (43 – 48 cms) are comparable with the Satavahana / Ikshvaku period structures in Krishna valley i.e. Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda.
  • On the basis of the brick size and associated findings they can be placed anywhere between 2nd – 1st century BCE or little later (nearly 2000 years old).

Various discoveries

Brick enclosure wall

  • The most outstanding discovery is of massive sized brick enclosure wall at the southern part of the mound.

  • This structure is of baked bricks and exposed to a length of more than 75 meters with an average width of about 3.40 meters, which rise to a height of nearly 2 meters and runs in a curvilinear pattern towards the northern end of the mound.
  • Another interesting find is the small rectangular brick tank exposed near the inner lining of the curved brick structure.

Stone Vishnu Idol

  • Subsequent excavations conducted around the image revealed it to be a life size image of Vishnu measuring about 2 meters in height.
  • It displays a four-armed Vishnu standing over a pedestal carrying chakra and conch in his upper right and left hands respectively.
  • The lower right is in bestowing boon and the left hand in katihastha (resting on the hip) posture.
  • The iconographical feature like the elaborate headgear, thick holy thread and decorative drapery dates it to Pallava period (circa 8th CE).

Female terracotta figurine

  • Other interesting antiquity retrieved is the molded female terracotta figurine with two hands lifted upwards.

Conical Jars

  • Interesting pottery finds are the base of conical jars placed at the eastern side of the structure.
  • Such conical jars are widely distributed in Tamil Nadu and considered to be imitated variety of Roman Amphorae jars.
  • A series of broken terracotta pipes fitted into one another revealed about the civic amenities maintained by the occupants of this site.

Drainage system

  • The drainage system pattern is understood by the exposed remains of the drainage at the site.
  • The findings of assorted stone tools of Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods from secondary contexts suggest that prehistoric people also occupied this area.

Significance of the site

  • These settlements could have been an important trade centre as indicated by the presence of imitated amphorae wares that were mostly used to transport liquid commodities.
  • The proximity of the site to the seacoast suggests that the site could have served as a strategic settlement involved in maritime trade. Further research will reveal interesting facts about the site as trade centre.
  • Explorations conducted in and around Gottiprolu within a radius of 15 kilometers revealed important vestiges viz., fortified early historic settlement at Puduru, Sunbrahmanya temple at Mallam, unique rock-cut laterite stepped well at Yakasiri, Vishnu temple at Tirumuru.
  • Further the entire seacoast on the east is dotted with various forms of antiquarian remains extending from Tamil Nadu and culturally linked with each other.
  • The two fortified townships within the gap of 15kms during early historic times indicates the significant strategic location was preferred by the early historic people for trade in the region keeping in view of proximity of the sea, River and Lake Pulicat.