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November 2019

Air Pollution

[oped of the day] To mitigate air pollution, look beyond tokenism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Odd-Even scheme; Delhi’s air pollution - reasons


The odd-even scheme for automobiles plying in Delhi will kick in. Due to a steep deterioration in the air quality index or AQI in the city, the Environmental Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) had to declare a public health emergency as a desperate measure to contain the silent killer.

Odd-Even scheme

  • Innovative idea – The odd-even scheme was first introduced three years ago. It is an out-of-the-box idea with unproven claims on containing AQI levels. 
  • Limited to 4 wheelers – It is terrific to focus attention on air pollution caused by automobiles. It exempts two-wheelers and does not allow privately-owned hybrids and CNG vehicles. 
  • Need for rains – Unless the rains turn up, and the cross winds regain momentum, Odd-Even is unlikely to bring down AQI below the prevailing hazardous levels.

It’s high time

  • Annual event – For three years now, NCR has seen the pollution saga every winter.
  • Beyond one cause – There is a need to take the debate beyond the single causes like stubble burning.

Understanding the problem

  • Topography – NCR pollution problem is partly because of the nature of its topography. 
    • It is shaped like a saucer and hence is hugely dependent on a cross breeze.
    • This breeze serves it for most of the year, except in winter—to keep its AQI under control.
    • This is the reason why the stubble burning that happens in the early part of the year does not harm Delhi as much.
  • Growing vehicles
    • Vehicular pollution has been growing very sharply. 
    • The emissions of PM by automobiles have surged by 40% in the eight years that ended 2018.
    • According to the Economic Survey put out by the Delhi government, there were 10.9 million vehicles in NCR at the end of 2018.
    • In the absence of winds, stubble burning and bursting of crackers send the pollution problem over the tipping point.

Need for a comprehensive solution

  • Public transport – Metro Rail has been critical in addressing transport woes of NCR’s working population. This has to be dovetailed with a robust public bus network.
  • Road design – government should focus on building and maintaining good roads and implementing laws to ensure only road-worthy vehicles ply.
  • Need for a public movement – the residents of Delhi have to force a public debate.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

[op-ed snap] No pact for India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : RCEP - India


After seven years, RCEP negotiations, started in 2012, have concluded in Bangkok. 

Indian stand

  • India still has some unresolved issues, and this has resulted in it holding back its decision to join the RCEP. 
  • India has decided to maintain a consistent stand throughout the negotiations. It has decided to keep its self-interest at the forefront.

Importance of RCEP

  • After the global financial crisis in 2008, many mature economies are struggling to regain ground lost. Emerging economies are in focus for growth opportunities. 
  • The international trade focus has clearly shifted from the West towards developing economies in Asia and other regions. 
  • The developing markets’ share of global trade has doubled from 16% in 1991 to 32% in 2011 – which is an average increase of 0.8% a year. Since 2008, the rise has been almost twice as fast, at 1.5% a year. 
  • This significant increase in South-South trade is turning established trade patterns and practices on their head. 

India – RCEP concerns

  • India has been vigorously pushing for South-South trade through policies like “Look East” unveiled in recent times.
  • India ran a merchandise trade deficit with 11 out of the 15 other members of RCEP in 2018-19, totaling $107.28 billion. 
  • In 2018-19, 34% of India’s imports were from this region, while only 21% of India’s exports went to this region. 


  • China is the biggest trade partner amongst these countries and the major concerns that India had throughout the negotiations were with regard to China.
  • Cheaper goods – There is a fear that the imports of cheaper electronic and engineering goods from China could increase further with RCEP. This could have a negative impact on the manufacturing sector. 
  • Therefore, Indian negotiators have taken steps to ensure that domestic manufacturing is effectively protected from unfair competition.


  • The move towards 2014 as the base year for tariff reduction, an automatic trigger mechanism to curb sudden surges in imports and the decision on which products it doesn’t want to offer the same tariff concessions to all countries, need to be sorted out. 
  • India’s electronics and mobile industry are moving towards self-sufficiency, and a move towards 2014 rates could mean a huge step backward.

Ratchet agreement 

  • Another area of concern for India is our unfulfilled want for exemptions from the Ratchet obligations. 
  • As per the Ratchet mechanism, if a country signs a trade agreement with another country where it relaxes tariffs and quotas on merchandise exports and imports, it cannot go back on them and bring in measures that are more restrictive. 
  • India wants a clear exemption from the Ratchet obligations, so that it can bring restrictive measures to protect the interests of exporters and importers, if needed.

Local industries

  • Many farmers and milk cooperatives have raised their concern on RCEP. 
  • In India, several small and marginal farmers are dependent on milk for their daily expenses as income from crops is seasonal. 
  • If India signs the RCEP, without exemptions for dairy and its products, it would allow the dairy industry of Australia and New Zealand to unfairly target its huge market. 
  • New Zealand exports 93.4% of its milk powder, 94.5% of its butter and 83.6% of its cheese produce. However, the government has given its assurance that it would protect the interests of homegrown milk cooperatives through adequate safeguards.

India’s stand – on FTAs and Service trade

  • FTAs – So far, India has proceeded with extreme caution. Just entering into agreements and focusing on tariff reduction has not helped the country as it has seen in the mixed experience of its FTAs. 
  • The merchandise trade data shows that over the years, the merchandise trade deficit has widened with the ASEAN countries.
  • India’s main requirement is that of a balanced outlook which is a win-win for all. 
  • Service trade – India is running a services trade surplus with the world. 
  • Therefore, it is trying to push for a strong agreement on the services trade, including a deal on easier movement of skilled manpower. 
  • Even the IMF has said that services trade could be a substantial engine of growth for India and other south Asian economies. 
  • As per ILO data, around 58% of India’s workforce is medium-skilled and 16% is high skilled, and to protect their interest is of paramount importance.
  • Trade – India commands around 1.7% share of the world’s total goods exports ranking 20th as per the WTO 2018 data. 

Way ahead

  • For achieving a 5% share in world exports, India must build its manufacturing capabilities. 
  • How India manoeuvres the geo-political space will determine how successful it is in becoming an export behemoth.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

[op-ed snap] Dimapur deadlock


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Naga peace process


The ceasefire in Nagaland continues to hold. Centre had set October 31 as the deadline to conclude a peace deal with the NSCN-IM. It has passed and there is no clarity yet on an accord. 

The talks

  • The talks between the Centre and Naga rebels, primarily the NSCN-IM, have been held for 22 years.
  • The Naga civil society has participated in the peace process and prepared the ground for a negotiated settlement to the insurgency.

Reasons for the deadlock

  • Reports suggest that the deadlock is over the rebels’ demand for a separate flag and constitution for Nagaland. 
  • They hint at the concept of “shared sovereignty”. NSCN-IM leadership has talked about it soon after it signed the Indo-Naga Framework Agreement in 2015.
  • The details of that agreement have not been revealed, but the leeway for such innovations may have reduced after the Centre’s actions in J&K. 
  • The government has ended the special status and has its own flag, accorded to J&K.
  • Naga rebels have climbed down from their demand for full independence. But they persisted with the demand for Nagalim.
  • Nagalim is a territorial entity much larger than the present state of Nagaland and includes Naga inhabited areas that fall in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This can trigger unrest in Nagaland’s neighbourhood. 
  • Non-Naga populations in the region have warned of action if any attempt is made to redraw the existing state boundaries.

Way ahead

  • The rebels need to respect the sentiment for peace.
  • The Centre must provide the negotiating space for the civil society to satisfy its constituency.
  • The rebels will have to re-imagine the idea of a Naga nation and de-link it from the territory. 
  • The Centre should respect the sentiments of political groups founded on notions of ethnic exclusivity and desist from imposing unitarian notions of nationhood.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

India drops out of RCEP


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RCEP

Mains level : Implications of India's drop-out from RCEP

  • India decided to drop out of the RCEP agreement, citing its negative effects on “farmers, MSMEs and dairy sector”.

What is the RCEP?

  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a trade deal that was being negotiated between 16 countries.
  • They include the 10 ASEAN members and the six countries with which the bloc has free trade agreements (FTAs) — India, Australia, China, Korea, Japan, and New Zealand.
  • The purpose of the deal is to create an “integrated market” spanning all 16 countries.
  • This means that it would be easier for the products and services of each of these countries to be available across the entire region.

What makes RCEP special?

  • The RCEP is billed to be the “largest” regional trading agreement as the countries involved account for almost half of the world’s population, contribute over a quarter of world exports, and make up around 30% of the global GDP.
  • Negotiations to chart out the details of this deal have been on since 2013, and all participating countries had earlier aimed to finalise it by November 2019.

Outstanding issues where India contradicts

Chinese imports

  • Key issues that have prevented India from coming on board include “inadequate” protection against surges in imports.
  • This is a major concern for India, as its industry has voiced fears that cheaper products from China would “flood” the market.
  • India had been seeking an auto-trigger mechanism that would allow it to raise tariffs on products in instances where imports cross a certain threshold.
  • India has also not received any credible assurances on its demand for more market access, and its concerns over non-tariff barriers.

Rules of origin criteria

  • Its concerns on a “possible circumvention” of rules of origin — the criteria used to determine the national source of a product — were also not addressed.
  • Current provisions in the deal reportedly do not prevent countries from routing, through other countries, products on which India would maintain higher tariffs.
  • This is anticipated to allow countries like China to pump in more products.

Trade deficit

  • Despite India already having separate, bilateral FTAs with most RCEP nations, it has recorded trade deficits with these countries.
  • China India has an over $50 billion trade deficit is one of the major reasons for New Delhi not joining in at this stage.
  • During negotiations, it was also not able to get a favourable outcome on its demands on the base year that would be used to reduce the tariffs on the products that would be traded as part of the pact.

Protecting domestic industries

  • Throughout the RCEP negotiations, several sections of the Indian industry have raised concerns over India signing the deal.
  • They have argued that some domestic sectors may take a hit due to cheaper alternatives from other participant countries.
  • For instance, the dairy industry was expected to face stiff competition from Australia and New Zealand.
  • Similarly, steel and textiles sectors have also demanded protection.

Way ahead

  • As all other RCEP nations have agreed to sign the treaty on the terms negotiated, they will likely try to persuade India to agree to the same.
  • It remains to be seen whether those efforts ultimately lead.
  • All RCEP Participating Countries will work together to resolve these outstanding issues in a mutually satisfactory way.
  • India’s final decision will depend on the satisfactory resolution of these issues.

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

National Health Stack (NHS) and National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Health Stack (NHS) and National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB)

Mains level : Need for digital health record

  • The challenge of making quality and affordable healthcare accessible to every one of India’s 135 crore citizens has acquired an altogether new dimension.
  • The report charting out the process for implementing the National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB) has been completed.

What is the National Health Stack (NHS)?

  • Unveiled by the NITI Aayog last year, NHS is digital infrastructure built with the aim of making the health insurance system more transparent and robust.
  • There are five components of NHS:
  1. Electronic national health registry that would serve as a single source of health data for the nation;
  2. Coverage and claims platform that would serve as the building blocks for large health protection schemes, allow for the horizontal and vertical expansion of schemes like Ayushman Bharat by states, and enable a robust system of fraud detection;
  3. Federated personal health records (PHR) framework that would serve the twin purposes of access to their own health data by patients, and the availability of health data for medical research, which is critical for advancing the understanding of human health;
  4. National health analytics platform that would provide a holistic view combining information on multiple health initiatives, and feed into smart policymaking, for instance, through improved predictive analytics; and
  5. Other horizontal components including a unique digital health ID, health data dictionaries and supply chain management for drugs, payment gateways, etc., shared across all health programmes.

What is the National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB)?

  • The NDHB is the architectural document for the implementation of the NHS.
  • Its vision is to create a national digital health ecosystem that supports universal health coverage in an efficient, accessible, inclusive, affordable, timely and safe manner, through provision of a wide range of data, information, and infrastructure services.
  • NDHB recognizes the need to establish a specialised organisation, called the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) that can drive the implementation of the blueprint, and promote and facilitate the evolution of a national digital health ecosystem.


  • The key features of the blueprint include a federated architecture, a set of architectural principles, a five-layered system of architectural building blocks, a unique health ID (UHID), privacy and consent management, national portability, electronic health records, applicable standards and regulations, health analytics.
  • A total of 23 such building blocks have been identified in the blueprint for the NHS to become a viable reality.

Why is the NHS necessary?

  • Currently apart from Ayushman Bharat there are many secondary and tertiary care schemes running in various states.
  • West Bengal has opted out of Ayushman Bharat, and Telangana and Odisha have never been a part of the scheme.
  • Also, there is an urgent need for integration of the two arms of Ayushman Bharat — health and wellness centres which constitute the primary care arm, and PMJAY.
  • This is the secondary and tertiary care arm under which the target is to provide 10.74 crore families with an annual health cover of Rs 5 lakh each.
  • Without integration, the goal of continuum of care cannot be met — and that would mean PMJAY might end up becoming a perpetual drain on resources.
  • Hence, the need for a common digital language for the operationalization and inter-operability of various health schemes, which the NHS seeks to provide.

Is all the data going to be safe/secure?

  • One of the biggest concerns following the high-profile rollout of Ayushman Bharat has been regarding data security and privacy of patients.
  • More than a year after the Justice Srikrishna Committee prepared a draft data privacy law, there has been little meaningful movement on it.
  • Critics have argued that in the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment, the data privacy law should ideally have preceded the implementation of Ayushman Bharat.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Registration mandatory for non-resident visitors to Meghalaya


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act (MRSSA)

Mains level : Citizenship issues in NE India

  • In a bid to protect the interest of tribal citizens, the Meghalaya cabinet approved the amendment to an act that seeks mandatory registration of outsiders for entering the State.

Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act (MRSSA)

  • The State cabinet approved the amended Meghalaya Residents, Safety and Security Act, 2016.
  • Any person who is not a resident of Meghalaya and intend to stay more than 24 hours in the State will have to furnish document to the government.
  • Employees of the Centre, State and District Councils are exempted from the purview of the Act.
  • Any person, who willfully fails to furnish the information or provide false document will be liable to be punished under various sections of the IPC.
  • The original act was passed as part of comprehensive mechanisms to check illegal immigration, instead of the Inner Line Permit (ILP).

Why such a move?

  • There was an increasing demand to enhance vigil against influx of non-indigenous people in the hill state, following the implementation of the NRC in Assam.
  • The updated final NRC, which validates bonafide Indian citizens of Assam, was released in August this year.

History- Important places, persons in news

[pib] Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa Order


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa Order

Mains level : Ladakh and its spiritual importance

  • Union Minister of State for Tourism and Culture met the Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa Order.
  • The Kung Fu Nuns recently received the Asia Society’s prestigious Game Changer Award in New York for their path-breaking work to empower women and dismantle gender stereotypes in the Himalayas.

Who are the Kung Fu Nuns?

  • The Kung Fu Nuns are a strong community of 700 nuns and growing, with a thousand-year-old Drukpa legacy.
  • They represent a new generation of Buddhists who use their teachings to take real action and effect meaningful change in the world by promoting gender equality and environmentalism.
  • The Nuns use Jigme as their first name and the meaning of Jigme is ‘fearless’.
  • With this recognition, the Kung Fu Nuns join the likes of iconic Indian leaders Indra Nooyi, Mukesh Ambani, and Dev Patel, who have also been honored by the Asia Society.

Drukpa Order

  • The Kung Fu Nuns are the fearless daughters of India who represent a new generation of Buddhists using spirituality to inspire real-life action & impact.
  • Harnessing the ancient martial art to build strength, promote equality, and improve communities, they are inspiring young girls to break stereotypes and be their own heroes.
  • They belong to the Drukpa Lineage, a thousand-year-old Buddhist tradition that began in the Himalayas.
  • The Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual leader and founder of the Drukpa order, encouraged his nuns to train in Kung Fu to build confidence as leaders.
  • In doing so, he flouted centuries of Buddhist tradition that barred nuns from physical exercise.
  • They are the only Buddhist nuns in the world to practice Kung Fu. The nuns use their martial arts expertise to challenge gender roles in India’s conservative culture.

About Asia Society Game Changer Awards

  • Founded in 1956, the Asia Society is a nonpartisan, non-profit educational institution.
  • It holds offices in Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, NYC, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Washington DC and Zurich.
  • The society is dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among people, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context.
  • Each year, the Asia Society honor individuals, organizations, or movements that have inspired, enlightened, and shown true leadership in areas that reflect Asia Society’s core pillars of policy and business, arts and culture, and education.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

[pib] SCOJtEx-2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCOJtEx-2019

Mains level : SCO

  • Union Minister of Home Affairs inaugurated the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Joint Exercise on Urban Earthquake Search & Rescue (SCOJtEx-2019) in New Delhi.


  • SCOJtEx is being organized with the aim to provide an opportunity to enhance the coordination & co-operation involving multi-agency operations in an earthquake scenario.
  • The four day long simulation exercise shall be conducted as per the International Search & Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) methodology & guidelines.
  • The participants of all 08 member countries namely China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan shall be participating in this exercise (Pakistan opted out).
  • On the initiative of Government of India, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is hosting SCOJtEx-2019.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

Places in news: Danakil Depression


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Danakil Depression

Mains level : NA

  • Microbes are known to survive almost anywhere. Scientists now believe that Danakil depression in Ethiopia is an exception.
  • New research has pointed out that bubbling pools of water and mounds of salt covering its landscape — that is too daunting even for these microorganisms.

Danakil Depression 

  • The Danakil Depression in northeastern Ethiopia is one of the world’s hottest places, as well as one of its lowest, at 100 metres below sea level.
  • At the northern end of the Great Rift Valley, and separated by live volcanoes from the Red Sea, the plain was formed by the evaporation of an inland water body.
  • All the water entering Danakil evaporates, and no streams flow out from its extreme environment. It is covered with more than 10 lakh tonnes of salt.
  • Now, a new study says that active and naturally occurring life cannot be sustained at Danakil.
  • It identifies two barriers: magnesium-dominated brines that cause cells to break down; and an environment having simultaneously very low pH and high salt, a combination that makes adaptation highly difficult.