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November 2019

Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

Explained: Surveillance laws in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Provisions of the IT Act

  • On October 30, many publications reported that phones of several dozen Indian journalists, lawyers and human rights activists had been compromised using an invasive Israeli-developed malware called Pegasus.

Is surveillance of this kind illegal in India?

  • First, it’s important to explain that there are legal routes to surveillance that can be conducted by the government.
  • The laws governing this are the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, which deals with interception of calls and the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, which deals with interception of data.
  • Under both laws, only the government, under certain circumstances, is permitted to conduct surveillance, and not private actors.
  • Moreover, hacking is expressly prohibited under the IT Act. Section 43 and Section 66 of the IT Act cover the civil and criminal offences of data theft and hacking respectively.
  • Section 66B covers punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication. The punishment includes imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years.

How broad are the laws regarding legal surveillance?

  • The framework for understanding the checks and balances built into these laws dates back to 1996.
  • In 1996, the Supreme Court noted that there was a lack of procedural safeguards in the Indian Telegraph Act.
  • It laid down some guidelines that were later codified into rules in 2007.
  • This included a specific rule that orders on interceptions of communication should only be issued by the Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • These rules were partly reflected in the IT (Procedures and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules framed in 2009 under the IT Act.

What do the Rules say?

  • The rules state that only the competent authority can issue an order for the interception, monitoring or decryption of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource (mobile phones would count).
  • The competent authority is once again the Union Home Secretary or State Secretaries in charge of the Home Departments.
  • In December 2018, the Central government created a furore when it authorised 10 Central agencies to conduct surveillance.
  • In the face of criticism that it was building a ‘surveillance state’, the government countered that it was building upon the rules laid down in 2009 and the agencies would still need approval from a competent authority, usually the Union Home Secretary.
  • The 2018 action of the Union government has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

What about the Supreme Court verdict on privacy?

  • The Supreme Court in a landmark decision in August, 2017 (Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India And Others) unanimously upheld right to privacy as a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • It is a building block and an important component of the legal battles that are to come over the state’s ability to conduct surveillance.
  • But as yet a grey area remains between privacy and the state’s requirements for security.
  • In the same year, the government also constituted a Data Protection Committee under retired Justice B.N. Srikrishna.
  • It held public hearings across India and submitted a draft data protection law in 2018 which Parliament is yet to enact.
  • Experts have pointed out, however, that the draft law does not deal adequately with surveillance reform.

Do other countries have stricter laws against surveillance?

  • This continues to be a grey area around the world.
  • Take the U.S. for example. Electronic surveillance is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment which protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure.
  • Thus the government has to obtain a warrant from a court in each case and crucially, establish probable cause to believe a search is justified.
  • It also has to provide a specific time period under which the surveillance is to be conducted and to describe in particularity the conversation that is to be intercepted.
  • There are very few exceptions or exigent circumstances under which the government may proceed without a warrant.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Spicules in the Sun


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Spicules, Photosphere

Mains level : Heating of Sun's photosphere

  • One of the puzzles concerning is the Sun’s surface and atmospheric temperature.
  • A team of researchers has observed the reason why Sun’s atmosphere is hotter than its surface.

Anomaly of the Sun’s temperature

  • The temperature at the core of the Sun is nearly 15 million degrees Celsius, while that at its surface layer, known as the photosphere, is merely 5,700 degrees C.
  • The natural thing to expect is that still further outwards, in its atmosphere, known as the corona, the temperatures would be comparable to that at the surface (photosphere).
  • However, the temperature of the corona is much higher.
  • It starts increasing outside the photosphere, reaching a value of about one million degrees or more in the corona.

Coronal heating

  • One would expect that as there are no extra sources of heat, when you move away from a hot object, the temperature steadily decreases.
  • However, with respect to the Sun, after dropping to a low, the temperature again rises to one million degrees in the corona which stretches over several million kilometres from the surface of the Sun.
  • This implies there should be a source heating the corona. The puzzle of coronal heating has been tackled by many theories.
  • Now, in a research paper, the team of solar physicists has made observations and matched it with an analysis that explains this conundrum.

Mystery now solved: Spicules in the Sun

  • The key to the puzzle lies in geyser-like jets known as solar spicules that emanate from the interface of the corona and the photosphere.
  • While in a photograph these look like tiny hairlike projections, they are in fact 200-500 kilometres wide and shoot up to heights of about 5,000 km above the solar surface.
  • It has been suspected that these spicules act as conduits through which mass and energy from the lower atmosphere bypass the photosphere and reach the corona.
  • These spicules heat up while propagating upward, reaching the coronal temperature.
  • They are made of plasma – a mixture of positive ions and negatively charged electrons.The coronal plasma emits light in extreme ultraviolet.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gravastars

Mains level : Gravastars, Black Holes

  • According to some scientists, the universe contains not just black holes but many exotic objects, such as gravastars and boson stars which are black hole mimickers.

Why study Gravastars?

  • In September 2015, the LIGO detectors in the US made history by directly detecting for the first time the merging of two black holes.
  • Since then, LIGO, joined by other detectors around the world, has gone on to detect eleven events of which one is the merger of two neutron stars and the remaining ten, of pairs of black holes (binary black holes).
  • As they spiralled in towards each other and merged, the binary black holes let off characteristic gravitational wave signals. The properties of the merging black holes, namely the masses and spins could be arrived at by looking at the initial part of the signal waveform.
  • Similarly, by carefully looking at the tail end – also known as the ring down part of the signal, the mass and spin of the final merged state (black hole) can be inferred.
  • The question emerges – whether other exotic objects exist that may act as black hole mimickers and give off similar signals.

What is Gravastar?

  • Theoretically, there are possibilities such as the so-called gravastars and boson stars which are black hole mimickers.
  • For instance, a gravastar is a strange object that would have a core of exotic matter resembling dark energy with an external shell of normal star-like matter.
  • There are no observational evidences for their existence till date, but then, there were not too many ways in which one could look for them.

How it is distinguished from black hole?

  • The spinning of the compact object has a different effect on it whether it is a black hole or, for instance, a gravastar.
  • Since the gravastar is filled with dark energy, it exerts a negative pressure on the outside. So when it spins it behaves differently from normal stars and black holes.
  • When a normal star spins about an axis, it tends to bulge about the equator and get compressed at the poles.
  • However, for a gravastar this effect is just reversed – It gets compressed near the equator and bulges out at the poles. Thus their shapes change differently when spinning.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Water Quality Report


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Water Quality Report

Mains level : Issues with potable water in India

A report ranking major cities on the basis of quality of tap water was recently released by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

Delhi fares the worst

  • If it wasn’t enough that Delhi air is among the world’s most polluted, a new study has now shown that the city’s tap water is the most unsafe among 21 State capitals.
  • The national capital is at the very bottom of the list.
  • It is among 13 cities, including Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Jaipur and Lucknow, where all tested samples failed to meet the BIS norms for piped drinking water.
  • In fact, Mumbai is the only city where all samples of tap water met all the tested parameters under the Indian Standard 10500:2012 (specification for drinking water) so far.

Why such report?

  • Under its flagship Jal Jeevan Mission, the Centre aims to provide safe piped water to all households by 2024.
  • However, the study, conducted by the BIS for the Union Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry, showed that even in urban areas, which are connected to the piped water network, there is no guarantee that the water is safe for consumption.
  • While it is mandatory for bottled water manufacturers to meet quality standards, the BIS standard is voluntary for the public agencies which supply and distribute piped water.

History- Important places, persons in news

Lala Lajpat Rai


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lala Lajpat Rai and associated facts

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • Yesterday, November 17 was the centenary of the death anniversary of Lala Lajpat Rai, the firebrand Indian nationalist leader affectionately called ‘Punjab Kesari’.
  • Rai is remembered for his role during the Swadeshi movement and for his advocacy of education.

Lala Lajpat Rai

  • Born at Dhudike near Ludhiana in Punjab in 1865, Rai studied law at the Government College, Lahore (now called GCU, Lahore), and had a legal practice in that city.
  • Early in life, he became a follower of Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, and went on to become one of the society’s leaders.
  • He died at Lahore in 1928 after he was attacked by police during a protest rally against the Simon Commission.

Major works of Lala Ji

  • In 1881, he joined the Indian National Congress at the age of 16.
  • In 1885, Rai established the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School in Lahore and remained a committed educationist throughout his life.
  • During the Lahore Session of the Congress in 1893, Rai met Lokmanya Tilak, another nationalist, and the two became lifelong associates.

Role in Swadeshi movement

  • Rai, Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal (called Lal-Bal-Pal) fervently advocated the use of Swadeshi goods and mass agitation in the aftermath of the controversial Partition of Bengal in 1905 by Lord Curzon.
  • After taking part in a demonstration in Punjab in 1907, colonial authorities deported Rai to Mandalay in present-day Myanmar without trial, but he was allowed to return the same year for lack of evidence.

Home Rule Movement

  • In 1913, Rai set out for a lecture tour to Japan, England, and the United States, but was forced to stay put abroad after World War I broke and remained overseas until 1920.
  • During his travels, he met many diaspora communities and founded the Indian Home Rule League of America in New York City in 1917.

Association with INC

  • Upon his return, Rai was elected President of the Indian National Congress during its Special Session in Kolkata in 1920, which saw the launch of Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement.
  • He was subsequently imprisoned from 1921 and 1923.

Literary works

  • Apart from his active involvement in politics, Rai also wrote extensively in English and Urdu.
  • His important works include: ‘The Arya Samaj’, ‘Young India’, ‘England’s Debt to India’, ‘Evolution of Japan’, ‘India’s Will to Freedom’, ‘Message of the Bhagwad Gita’, ‘Political Future of India’, ‘Problem of National Education in India’, ‘The Depressed Glasses’, and the travelogue ‘United States of America’.

Legacy and death

  • In 1928, the Simon Commission, a British-appointed group of lawmakers arrived in India to study the implementation of the Government of India Act, 1919 (the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms).
  • The group of 7 did not consist of a single Indian member, a fact that was heavily resented by the Congress.
  • Rai was among the leaders of the movement opposing the Commission and was severely lathi-charged during a protest in Lahore on October 30, 1928.
  • It was after this that Rai famously said, “The blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffin of British rule in India.” He died a few days later on November 17.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

250th session of Rajya Sabha


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Significance of Rajya Sabha in Parliamentary procedures

  • The landmark 250th session of Rajya Sabha is commencing from today.
  • A glimpse of the content relating to the journey of Rajya Sabha during the last 67 years since it’s first sitting on 13.5.1952 is furnished below:

Some unique events relating to Rajya Sabha:


  • Total members of Rajya Sabha so far including those with more than one term is 2,282 including 208 women and 137 nominated members.
  • Mahendra Prasad is serving the highest number of 7th term followed by Dr.Manmohan Singh serving 6th term.
  • Najma Heptulla and late Shri Ram Jethmalani are the other two with six terms each.
  • The representation of women in Rajya Sabha increased from 15 (6.94%) in 1952 increased to 31(12.76%) in 2014 and is now  26(10.83%) in 2019.

Casting vote by the Chair

  • The first and the only time when a Presiding Officer of Rajya Sabha cast his  vote was when the Panel Chairman Shri M.A.Baby did so on 5.8. 1991.
  • The voting was tied 39-39 on the Statutory Resolution moved by the opposition seeking disapproval of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Ordinance resulting in the victory of the opposition in the House.

President Rule approved only by Rajya Sabha

  • It happened only twice in respect of extension of President Rule in Tamil Nadu and Nagaland in 1977 and in case of Haryana in 1991 when Lok Sabha was dissolved.

Removal of a Judge

  • The only time Rajya Sabha adopted a motion for removal of a Judge was in respect of Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court on 18.8.2011 but he resigned before the motion was taken up in Lok Sabha.

Expulsion of members

  • Rajya Sabha adopted a motion on 15.11.1976 for expulsion of Dr.Subramanian Swamy whose conduct and activities were found by a Committee to be derogatory to the dignity of the House and it’s members.
  • Chatrapal Singh was expelled on 23.11.2005 after Ethics Committee found him guilty of accepting money for asking questions.
  • Swami Sakhsi Ji Maharaj was expelled on 21.3.2006 for irregularities in recommending projects under MPLAD scheme.


  • Former Member of Rajya Sabha Shri K.K.Tiwari was summoned to the Bar of the House and was reprimanded on 1.6.1990 for a statement published in newspapers the same day that brought the office of Chairman and the House to indignity and contempt.

Bill passed by Rajya Sabha but negative by Lok Sabha

  • The Constitution (Sixty-fourth Amendment) Bill 1990 seeking to amend Article 356 relating to extension of President’s Rule in Punjab.

Bills passed by Lok Sabha but negatived by Rajya Sabha (5)

  • The Constitution (Twenty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1970 seeking to terminate privy purses and privileges of former Indian States, The Banking Service Commission (Repeal) Bill, 1977, The Constitution (Sixty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1989 seeking to insert a new Part IX in the constitution relating to Panchayats, The Constitution (Sixty-fifth Amendment) Bill, 1989 relating to Nagar Panchayats and Municipalities and The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002.

Bill reconsidered by Rajya Sabha

  • Rajya Sabha passed the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill on 17.5.2006 as earlier passed by Lok Sabha but the President referred the same for reconsideration on 30.5.2006.
  • Rajya Sabha reconsidered the same and passed as it was on 27.7.2006 and Lok Sabha passed it four later and was later assented to by the President on 18.8.2006.

Bills passed at the joint sittings of both the Houses of Parliament (3)

  • The Dowry Prohibition Bill, 1959 was first introduced in and passed by Lok Sabha. Rajya Sabha later insisted on some amendments to which Lok Sabha did not agree. The Bill was passed on 9.5.1961 at a joint sitting.
  • The Banking Service Commission (Repeal) Bill, 1978 first introduced in and passed by Lok Sabha was later rejected by Rajya Sabha. It was passed on 16.5.2018 at a joint sitting.
  • The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002 passed by Lok Sabha was negatived by Rajya Sabha and was later passed at a joint sitting on 26.3.2002.

Some firsts relating to Rajya Sabha

  • First sitting of the House was held on 13.5.1952
  • First Bill passed : The Indian Tariff (Second Amendment) Bill, 1952
  • First Bill concerning social change: The Special Marriages Bill, 1952
  • First Constitution Amendment Bill passed by Rajya Sabha: The Constitution (Second Amendment) Bill, 1953 for readjustment of representation in Lok Sabha by increasing the size of population per constituency.
  • First Bill on Law and Order: The Preventive Detention (Second Amendment) Bill, 1952
  • First Bill on imports: The Live-stock Importation (Amendment) Bill, 1953
  • First media related Bill: The Press (Objectionable Matters) Amendment Bill, 1953
  • First on reorganization of States: The Andhra State Bill, 1953
  • First Bill on health education: The All India Institute of Medical Sciences Bill, 1955
  • First on urban development : The Faridabad Development Corporation Bill, 1955
  • First on agriculture: The Agriculture Produce (Development and Warehousing Corporations) Bill, 1956
  • First Bill on all-India services: The All India Services (Amendment) Bill, 1958
  • First security related Bill: The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Bill, 1958
  • First relating to animals: The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Bill, 1959
  • First on corporate take over: The Jayanti Shipping Company (Taking Over of Management) Bill, 1966
  • First on pollution: The Prevention of Water Pollution Bill, 1969
  • First nationalization Bill: The Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Bill, 1970
  • First against economic offences: The Economic Offences (Incapability of Limitation) Bill, 1974
  • First Money Bill deemed to have been passed by Rajya Sabha: The Appropriation (Railways) No.4 Bill, 1978
  • First Bill referring to terrorism: The Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Bill, 1984

Bills passed by Lok Sabha and amended by Rajya Sabha

The 120 such  Bills include; The Companies Bill, 1953, The UGC Bill, 1954, The Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Bill, 1978, The Chit Funds Bill, 1982, The Prevention of Corruption Bill, 1988, The Prevention of Money Laundering Bill, 2002, The Special Economic Zones Bill, 2005, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, 2013, The Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas Bill, 2016, The National Medical Council Bill, 2019 and The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

J&K – The issues around the state

National Mission ‘NISHTHA’ launched in J&K


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NISHTA Mission

Mains level : School education in India

National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement (NISHTHA) has been launched in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.


  • NISHTHA is a capacity building programme for “Improving Quality of School Education through Integrated Teacher Training”.
  • The Department of School Education and Literacy has launched a National Mission to improve learning outcomes at the elementary level through an Integrated Teacher Training Programme called NISHTHA under the CSS of Samagra Shiksha in 2109-20.
  • It aims to build competencies among all the teachers and school principals at the elementary stage. NISHTHA is the world’s largest teachers’ training programme of its kind.
  • The basic objective of this massive training programme is to motivate and equip teachers to encourage and foster critical thinking in students.
  • The initiative is first of its kind wherein standardized training modules are developed at national level for all States and UTs.

Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

[pib] Winter-grade diesel


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Winter-grade diesel

Mains level : NA


The launch of a special winter-grade diesel, developed by Indian Oil Corporation (Indian Oil), for the high-altitude regions of Ladakh was recently held.

Winter-grade diesel

  • Motorists in high-altitude sectors like Ladakh, Kargil, Kaza and Keylong face the problem of freezing of diesel in their vehicles when winter temperatures drop to as low as -30o
  • Indian Oil has come up with an innovative solution to this problem by introducing a special winter-grade diesel with a low pour-point of -33o
  • This fuel does not lose its fluidity function even in extreme winter conditions.
  • This will help reduce the hardships faced by the local people for transportation and mobility during the harsh winter months.
  • It will further facilitate the local economy as well as tourism of the region.

[op-ed snap] Steps to revival


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : IBC - Telecom - Investment


Supreme Court approved the resolution plan of ArcelorMittal to pay Rs 42,000 crore to local financial creditors and take over Essar Steel after setting aside a ruling of the NCLAT. 


    • Prominent case – This marks a closure to an important case under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. 
    • CoC – The Court made it clear that the decision of the Committee of Creditors or lenders will be final and binding. This should help faster resolution of more such cases. 
    • Investment – it paved the way for the entry of the world’s largest steelmaker into one of the biggest markets.

Ancillary concerns

    • Supreme Court ruling on dues in adjusted gross revenue hit two major players, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel. 
    • Vodafone reported the highest ever quarterly loss by an Indian corporate of Rs 50,921 crore a week ago, and Bharti Rs 23,045 crore.
    • Indian banks, which had an exposure of Rs 1.15 lakh crore to the telecom sector will get hit. 
    • These lenders will be further hit because of extra provisions and the need for capital if the issue is not swiftly sorted out by the government. 
    • Vodafone had indicated its inability to invest more. It is one of India’s largest FDI investors and a global telecom player. 
    • It has taken a lot of effort to undo the damage caused by the decision of the UPA government to tax the company retrospectively over seven years ago.

Problems with the ruling

    • Failure of the government and policymakers to recognise the interconnection of such decisions on other sectors such as banking. 
    • A good decision like the reduction of corporate tax, which makes India one of the most competitive tax regimes, will be neutralised.
    • This will hurt India’s hope to attract global supply chains shifting from China.


The government should move quickly on the strategic sell-off of BPCL and Air India, address sectoral issues and further strengthen India’s dominant state-owned banks to revive lending.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] Quality on tap: On report of Ministry of Consumer Affairs


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Water standard

Mains level : Piped water quality in India


The report of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution red-flagged tap water quality in major Indian cities.

The report

    • BIS – The tests were carried out by the Bureau of Indian Standards for the Ministry.
    • Delhi least – Delhi has abysmal water quality. Chennai and Kolkata rank very low. Mumbai is the only city with acceptable results. 
    • This is not surprising as many official water distribution agencies routinely advise consumers to consume only boiled water.

Water Quality

    • Standard – City water systems are required to comply with the national standard for drinking water, IS 10500:2012.
    • Requirements – the Indian standard has a plethora of quality requirements, including the absence of viruses, parasites and microscopic organisms, and control over levels of toxic substances. 

Reasons for poor quality

    • Packaged water – lack of initiative could be attributed to the expanding use of packaged drinking water in populous cities.
    • Groundwater use — high dependence on groundwater in fast-growing urban clusters where State provision of piped water systems does not exist. 
    • Poor standards in practice – municipal water fails the tests due to the lack of accountability of the official agencies, and the absence of robust data in the public domain on quality testing.

Solving the problem

    • Name & shame – The Centre’s approach relies on naming and shaming through a system of ranking.
    • May not be effective – This is unlikely to yield results as in similar attempts to benchmark other urban services. 
    • Legally binding – Making it legally binding on agencies to achieve standards and empowering consumers with rights is essential.
    • Integrated view – state governments should take an integrated view of housing, water supply, sanitation, and waste management. 
    • Scientific – A scientific approach to water management is vital, considering that 21 cities could run out of groundwater as early as 2020 as per a NITI Aayog report.
    • Water crisis – the Central Ground Water Board estimates that nearly a fifth of the urban local bodies is already facing a water crisis due to excessive extraction, failed monsoons, and unplanned development. 
    • Regular testing – entrust the task to a separate agency in each State, rather than relying on the agency that provides water to perform this function. 
    • Public data – If data on the water are made public on the same lines as air quality, it would increase pressure on governments to act. 


The response of water departments to the challenge has been to chlorinate the supply, as this removes pathogens, ignoring such aspects as appearance, smell, and taste. It is time to move beyond this and make tap water genuinely desirable.