Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[op-ed snap] Naming of the Anthropocene epochMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anthropocene

Mains level : How anthropocene is different from other epochs.


CONTEXT

 On May 21, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) overwhelmingly voted to recognise Anthropocene as an epoch. The vote gives form to the efforts of scientists, notably the Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, who coined the term in 2000 to highlight how human activity had changed many facets of the earth. So overwhelming is the concept of the Anthropocene that it got mainstreamed in scientific and general literature years ago.

Relevance of this naming

  • The AWG vote is a sobering reminder to humanity that failure to end destructive activities will irrevocably change the face of the earth and make it uninhabitable.
  • Officially, humans will continue to live in the Holocene epoch for a couple of years more before the Anthropocene epoch is finally ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences.
  • The vote by the working group will contribute to the formalisation of the Anthropocene as a stratigraphic entity on a par with other geologic epochs.
  • But unlike the others, it will be the first time that the beginning of an epoch would be based on human activity and not the consequences of changes brought about by nature.

Difference from other epochs

  • For instance, the start of the Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago marks the end of the transition from the last glacial phase to a period of warming and a rise in sea level.
  • Human activity has been drastically changing the earth, with the greatest impacts coming from agriculture, large-scale deforestation, the industrial revolution and increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, besides the creation of materials such as concrete and plastic.
  • However, the working group voted to look for unique signatures around the 1950s to define the start of the Anthropocene.
  • A decrease in deuterium excess, a proxy for climate change, owing to the reorganisation of North Atlantic Ocean-atmosphere circulation was a definitive geologic marker, or golden spike, to signify the base of Holocene.

Basis of change –

Now, radionuclides from atomic bomb tests from the early 1950s are emerging as a favourite golden spike candidate to define the base of the Anthropocene.

Presence of geological marker across the globe

  • To be chosen as a geologic marker, the golden spike must be present globally across most environments and must be a part of deposits for a geologically significant length of time.
  • Thus, plutonium isotope Pu-239 with a half-life of 24,110 years will remain detectable for more than 1,00,000 years and continue to exist as uranium 235 when Pu-239 decays.
  • The next task is to find a single site from among the 10 sites chosen across the world for inclusion in the formal proposal.
  • Here, coral reefs and Antarctic glacial ice located far from nuclear detonation test sites might be more suitable as they would not reflect any local spike but a global distribution pattern.
Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Bills of rights for the vulnerableMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Bills Concerning marginalised sections shpuld be inclusive and comprehensive.


CONTEXT

Important Social Bills

  • In the social sphere, the government introduced the Transgender Bill, the Surrogacy Bill, and the Trafficking Bill.
  • In each of the cases, the draft legislation was — correctly — introduced with the aim of addressing an existing lacuna in the legal landscape.
  • The recognition of transgender rights by enshrining them in law had long been a demand of the community; the legal regulation of surrogacy and the tackling of trafficking as well arose out of the articulated claims of grassroots social movements, debated and framed over many years of engagement and activism.

Issues with  these bills

1.Transgender Bill

  • For example, the Transgender Bill did away with the fundamental and non-negotiable principle — and one recognised by the Supreme Court in its NALSA judgment — of the right to self-determination of gender identity.
  • Instead, it placed such decisions in the hands of government-appointed committees, extending state control over gender identities rather than liberating or emancipating them. It also contained deeply suspect provisions on gender reassignment surgery.

2.Surrogacy Bill

Similarly, the Surrogacy Bill excluded LGBT individuals from its ambit (despite their recognition as equal citizens under the Constitution by the Supreme Court), imposed discriminatory age restrictions upon men and women, and by entirely outlawing “commercial” surrogacy (instead of regulating it with appropriate safeguards) opened up space for underground and unreported exploitation of women, effectively creating a black market.

  • Lastly, the Trafficking Bill criminalised begging without providing any manner of effective alternatives and failed to distinguish between non-consensual trafficking and consensual sex work.
  • It thus opened the door to criminalising livelihoods on the basis of what was effectively a set of narrow, moral objections.

Common Aspects among the bills

Individuality – First, each of them dealt with intimate subjects such as individuals’ decisions of what to do with their body, personal dignity and autonomy, and gender identity.

Rights of vulnerable Section – Second, they concerned the rights of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our society.

Ignoring the stakeholders – Third, they were drafted without adequately consulting with, or listening to, the members of the communities who were impacted.

Enhanced State’s Control – Fourth, instead of guaranteeing and securing the rights of these communities to be free from state interference, they extended the state’s control and domination. And last, they were met by extensive and widespread protests from the communities themselves.

Way Forward

  • While the government is, of course, entitled to frame its own policies, and draft and implement legislation to enact those policies, there are certain constraints upon how it should go about that task.
  • At the minimum, the voices of those who will be directly impacted by the policy should be listened to and engaged with in good faith, and basic constitutional principles and values ought to be respected.
  • The last phase of the previous government’s tenure presented a number of examples where these constraints were insufficiently complied with, and the resulting bills would therefore have ended up harming those whose rights they were meant to protect, apart from falling foul of crucial constitutional rights.
  • It is to be hoped that these lacunae and shortcomings are remedied by the continuing government in power.
  • Apart from the courts, however, this would need a sustained public movement around these issues, which can make its voice heard in the halls of power.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Next, PlasticeneMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anthropocene

Mains level : Broad usage of plastic should make it a category under anthropocene.


CONTEXT

The Holocene is drawing to a close, and the Age of Humans will dawn in 2021. But the Anthropocene lacks a sub-category.

Background

Anthropocene era –

  • Just when the human race seems ready to annihilate itself and enter the fossil record for keeps, the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy is propelling it into the Anthropocene Age — the era in which the imprint of this industrial and agricultural species becomes visible planetwide.
  • Of course, stratigraphers work with geological slowness.
  • The process of defining the Anthropocene was initiated in 2016 and, while the working group has voted overwhelmingly for the motion, it will be formally proposed only two years later to the commission.

Difference in the legacy of Holocene and Anthropocene

  • Humans have also left their mark on the Holocene, the era which began about 11,650 years ago, when the glaciers retreated.
  • Ruined cities like Petra and Ur are stirring tourist attractions. Further back in time are the odds and ends of material culture — Acheulian hand-axes, Jomon pottery — and much further back are fossils like Lucy, and fossilised human footprints on the sands of time.
  • Signs of the Anthropocene are less poetic — traces of pollution in tree rings, layers of soot in the substrata of industrial towns, massive deforestation and erosion, millions of acres of concrete, space junk in orbit.

Subcategory of Anthropocene

  • However, there is time yet, until 2021.
  • Time to define a subsidiary age of the Anthropocene, in recognition of a human stain that is far more pervasive than all these vile signs — plastic. Undegraded plastic is everywhere, from landfills to kitchens and the innards of cows.
  • Rivers of plastic flow down to the sea, where it breaks down into microscopic particles that are now found in maritime life forms.
  • Plastic is the most enduring sign of the human race. It is significant enough to be eponymous, identifying a subsidiary of the Anthropocene. It must be named Plasticene
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD, etc

[op-ed snap] Why the integrity of data mattersMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Autonomy of NSC is required to maintain sanctity of data, surveys.


CONTEXT

The announcement that the government has decided to merge the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) into and under the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has caused both surprise and concern. ecent attempts to question the veracity of National Sample Survey (NSS) data and the way the issue has been handled have given rise to apprehensions within academia, State governments and the media about the prospect of radical changes in the present system for deciding substantive issues of scope, design, scrutiny and validation of the surveys.

The present system

Under the present system, every year various departments of government send a list of subjects that they would like to be investigated by the NSSO.

Request for investigation are sent to NSC –

The requests are sent to the National Statistical Commission (NSC), which has respected economists, subject matter specialists and statisticians from government, including the head of the CSO and senior officials of the NSSO responsible for technical aspects of design and conduct of field work, as well as representatives of State governments.

The investigation by NSC –

  • Subject matter specialists in particular fields are also brought in. The proposals are discussed at length keeping in view the budget allocations, availability of trained field staff and supervisors.
  • In doing so, the conduct of periodic surveys on important issues is also considered. (It should be noted that budget allocations, and personnel of the NSSO have always been under the Department of Statistics.)
  • After providing for periodic repeat surveys (at quinquennial or decennial intervals) of some important aspects (notably consumer expenditure, employment, social consumption, land holdings, rural savings and investments), the subjects to be covered in a particular year and the scope of the inquiry are decided.
  • The tasks of sampling design, the scope and content of information to be collected, design of schedules and protocols of field work are left to be decided by special working groups.
  • The tabulated results are discussed in detail by the NSC and are published after its approval.

Compromising autonomy

  • The NSSO surveys command wide respect among academics, State governments and non-governmental organisations .
  • The existing institutional arrangement in which the NSC, as a professional body independent of government, has not only functioned smoothly but also commands confidence and respect both within the country and abroad must be maintained.
  • Any attempt or even a suggestion that its substantive work, publication and free dissemination of data are subject to the department’s approval will hugely dent the credibility of the Indian statistical system.

Scope for improvement

  • It is widely recognised that there is scope for improvement in the functioning of the institution and the way data are collected.
  • These problems are well known: the NSSO doesn’t have adequate budgetary allocations; there is an acute shortage of trained field staff; the scale of surveys is un-manageably large mainly because the users demand a degree of detail in content and regional disaggregation of estimates.
  • But there are also serious difficulties inherent in trying to get reliable and complete information through the interview method.

Solutions

  • The solutions call for action by the institutions responsible for gathering data by investing in continuing research on improving sampling design, field survey methods and validation of data.
  • Correcting these deficiencies is entirely in the domain of government.

Conclusion

Increasing the role of CSO officials in running the NSSO will not solve these problems, but they can help by providing funds for specialised research on survey design and methodology. The necessity and importance of such research calls for far greater attention and resources than they receive at present.

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

[op-ed snap] Cities at crossroads: Federalism for the cityMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Problems with urbanization and ways to improve it


CONTEXT

It is time to reflect on what should be the priorities in fixing our cities. The scale of the challenge is massive whether we look at the availability of clean drinking water, unpolluted air, quality of public transport, traffic management and parking, integrated planning of transport and land use, law and order, management and safe disposal of solid waste that is generated, treatment of waste water and effluents, and affordable housing.

Importance of Cities

  • Rapid economic growth in any country is associated with a decline in the share of agriculture and an increase in the shares of manufacturing and services in its GDP, and this involves greater urbanisation.
  • Going forward, as we try to achieve rapid growth which is necessary to provide growing employment opportunities for our young work-force, we need to position our cities as drivers of the structural transformation of the Indian economy.
  • UN projections suggest that India’s urban population will increase from 461 million in 2018 to 877 million in 2050, with India contributing the largest share of global urban population growth from 2018 to 2050.
  • State governments have the principal responsibility for urban development. But in order to deliver, they can and should ensure that city governments are sufficiently empowered to get the job done.
  • This requires strengthening the finances of these governments, building their capacity to take on the new challenges that urbanisation brings, and providing an enabling environment through legislative and administrative support.

No  transformative action on devolution

  • The 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992 gives the state governments the power to transfer a set of 18 legitimate municipal functions to the municipal governments and also devolve finances to them to enable them to perform these functions and organise the delivery of the public services.
  • Town planning — the golden goose — was not typically transferred.
  • Also, action on devolution of funds to urban local governments has been unpredictable and hopelessly inadequate.
  • The Government of India must work towards amending the Constitution to undo the injustice that has been meted out to local governments.

 

Past efforts in strengthening the foundation

  • In the past decade or so, the Centre has come to recognise that urbanisation is set to accelerate with India’s rapid growth.
  • First, the UPA government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and Rajiv Awas Yojana as centrally sponsored schemes.
  • The NDA government followed up with a number of their own urban development missions like Swachh Bharat, AMRUT, Smart Cities Mission, and Housing for All.

State’s Role

  • An important point to note is that the national missions could deliver only where the state governments were pro-active in bringing about the change.
  • Only a few state governments have been able to come forward to realise the potential offered by the national missions.
  • The missions played an additional role in igniting a competitive spirit among the state governments in the delivery of public services.

Way Forward

  • A simple solution would be for the Government of India to introduce an incentive grant system whereby states which devolve funds to some desired degree get to top up the financial grant from the Centre.
  • This should be limited to second-tier cities, which are crucial to a new urbanisation thrust.
  • Metropolitan cities need such grants much less, since states can help them raise resources by empowering them to unlock land value. They are also better placed to develop PPPs with viable revenue models to attract private funds.

Conclusion

Essentially, co-operative federalism needs to go deeper, below the state level. There are no shortcuts to improving the state of our cities. The state governments need to decentralise, devolve and empower the cities. We, as responsible citizens, need to engage with the government to find collective solutions while at the same time, holding the government accountable.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Eastward courseMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : India's focus on BBIN is a better alternatice to SAARC.


CONTEXT

It is tempting to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to the leaders of a Bay of Bengal forum for the inauguration of his second term, as a “snub to Pakistan”.

Rational behind Marginalising SAARC

  • But the talk of a snub misses the story of the larger regional dynamic that has emerged over the last few years.
  • When he travelled to the Kathmandu summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Kathmandu at the end of 2014, PM Modi may have figured out that the future of SAARC was bleak.
  • At the summit, Nawaz Sharif pulled out of regional connectivity agreements that were ready for signature.
  • Officials from Islamabad were very much part of the prolonged and painful negotiations to finalise the agreements.
  • Quite clearly, the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi had pulled the plug at the very last minute.
  • The fiasco at Kathmandu evidently led the PM to shift the focus to India’s sub-regional cooperation within South Asia with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal.
  • Instead of holding the rest of the region hostage, India chose to expand regionalism with the BBIN forum.
  • The PM also looked beyond SAARC to revive the moribund BIMSTEC regional forum that brings together five South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka) and two South East Asian countries (Myanmar and Thailand).

Pakistan still holds importance

  • That it is not invited to the PM’s oath-taking ceremony on Thursday does not mean Pakistan will disappear from India’s foreign policy agenda.
  • During the last few years, Modi has demonstrated his political will for either peace or war with Pakistan.
  • If he travelled to Lahore on short notice at the end of 2015, he was ready to attack a terror camp at Balakot in February 2018. Modi will have an opportunity to engage Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at a Central Asian summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan next month.
  • Any productive meeting with the Pakistani leadership needs significant preparation and hopefully, there are back channel conversations underway.

Conclusion

  • While Pakistan to the west is a big challenge that needs to be carefully managed, the east is full of opportunities — marked by the economic resurgence of Bangladesh and Myanmar that form a bridge to the dynamic region of East Asia.
  • Modi has talked the talk on BIMSTEC in the first term. He must now walk the walk, by committing substantive resources for the strengthening of BIMSTEC and removing the multiple obstacles within India for the rapid economic integration of the Bay of Bengal littoral.
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD, etc

[op-ed snap] Government’s key agenda must be to accelerate growthMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Economic growth should be top agenda of new government.


CONTEXT

Accelerating economic growth must be on top of the agenda of the new government. It is only a fast-growing economy that will generate the surpluses which are necessary to address many of our socio-economic problems and to provide social safety nets.

The decline in the investment rate

  • In current prices, the ratio of Gross Fixed Capital Formation to Gross Domestic Product has stayed low at 28.5% between 2015-16 and 2017-18. In 2018-19 it is estimated at 28.9%. In 2007-08, it was as high as 35.8%. In constant prices, the ratio, has, however, shown a smaller decline from the peak.

Reviving investment

  • The bulk of public investment comes from public sector enterprises, including the Railways.
  • What is needed is for the government to interact with all public sector units and prepare a programme of public investment for 2019-20.

Long term view of Public Sector

Public sector units can take a longer-term view than the private sector. A strong public investment programme can be a catalyst of private investment. In a situation such as the present one, it can crowd in private investment.

Industry government participation

Second, there have to be sector- or industry-wise discussions between the government and industrialists to understand the bottlenecks that each industry faces in making investment and take actions to remove them.

  • Banks are under stress and the ratio of non-performing assets (NPAs) has risen.
  • We need to resolve this issue as early as possible so that banks can get back to lending at a significant pace. In the absence of term lending financial institutions, banks provide both working capital and long-term loans.
  • That is why resolving the issue of NPAs is critically important for larger flow of long-term funds.

Jobs and growth

  • The answer to the problem of jobs is only growth. It is faster growth and faster investment which will generate employment.
  • Sectors such as IT and the financial system, which provided attractive employment to young educated entrants to the labour market in the past, have their own problems.
  • But an improvement in the financial system may trigger some new jobs. Ultimately, it is overall growth which is key to more employment.

Rural Demand –

  • The main concern is the slowdown in rural demand, which can affect the off-take of consumer goods.
  • Agrarian distress, which is the cause of the slowdown in demand, needs to be tackled on a priority.
  • Where distress is due to a fall in prices, the best course of action is to resort to limited procurement so that the excess over normal is procured by the government.

Increase in agricultural output –

  • As far as increase in agricultural output in the short run is concerned, the monsoon is a big question mark.
  • Nothing can be done about it except changing the cropping pattern depending on rainfall.
  • Over the medium term, more attention must be paid to increasing agricultural productivity through consolidation of land holdings and spreading better techniques of cultivation.

Goods and services act

  • The government should get tax authorities, industrialists, traders and, particularly, exporters to sort out the issues together.
  • The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code was another significant step taken in the last few years.
  • Even here there are some bottlenecks and the government must address them.

Land Reforms –

Compulsory acquisition of land is the antithesis of competition and should be resorted to only in limited cases where the public interest is involved.

Labour Reforms – 

  • Labour reforms should wait until the economy has picked up steam and moved to a higher growth path.
  • Only in these circumstances will there be less resistance.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, besides economic factors, non-economic factors are also critically important to revive what are often described as ‘animal spirits’. Investment today is based on expectations of future earnings. Thus it is an act of faith in the future. For this to happen, there must be social and political tranquillity.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

US has removed India from its currency monitoring watchlistPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Currency Monitoring Watchlist

Mains level : Impact of the move


  • The US administration under Trump has removed India from its currency monitoring watchlist.

Countries in the list

  • India, alongside China, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and South Korea, was placed in the bi-annual currency watch list in October last year.
  • While India and Switzerland have not been mentioned in the latest list, the US has added Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam to the list, with China continuing to figure in it.
  • While the designation of a country as a currency manipulator does not immediately attract any penalties, it tends to dent the confidence about a country in the global financial markets.

The criterion

  • Countries with a current-account surplus equivalent to 2 per cent of gross-domestic product are eligible for the list, according to modifications made in the new list, down from 3 per cent earlier.
  • Other thresholds include repeated intervention in the currency markets and a trade surplus with the US of at least $20 billion

Why is this significant?

  • Tweaks in currency policy has been used by the Trump administration to browbeat countries that, from Washington’s perspective, have hurt American businesses and consumers.
  • For India, this comes amid the ongoing trade spat between Washington and New Delhi.
  • Trump has repeatedly claimed that India is a “tariff king” and imposes “tremendously high” tariffs on American products.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

India proposes reply to WuhanMains OnlyPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCO

Mains level : Wuhan Spirit


  • India has proposed that the next informal summit between PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping be held in October in Varanasi.

The Wuhan Spirit

  • The first informal summit between the two leaders took place in Wuhan in Hubei province in China on April 27-28, 2018.
  • The government saw the value of the Wuhan informal summit — no border stand-offs in a politically sensitive year.
  • Particularly, they established mutual trust and they jointly planned for the future of improvement and the strengthening of the China-India relationship.
  • India and China were currently limiting the threshold of their differences so that overall development of ties remained unhampered.
  • They agreed to significantly enhance efforts to build on the convergences through the established mechanisms in order to create the broadest possible platform for the future relationship.
  • They agreed to handle the differences through peaceful discussion within the context of the overall relationship, bearing in mind the importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations.

Why Varanasi?

  • The choice of Varanasi is because PM wants to invite Xi to his parliamentary constituency, just like the Chinese President had hosted him in Xiamen for the BRICS summit.
  • More detailed discussions are expected to take place when the two leaders meet in Kyrgyz Republic capital, Bishkek, on the sidelines of the SCO summit in June.

Why informal meets are necessary?

  • In June 2017, just before the Doklam incident rocked the relationship, the two leaders had met on the sidelines of SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.
  • The leaders had come up with the formulation that “differences should not become disputes” at that meeting.
  • After the Doklam border stand-off was resolved in August 2017, just before the BRICS summit in Xiamen in China in September 2017, the Astana consensus evolved in June 2017 was recalled.
  • The two sides had then discussed the possibility of the informal summit, the idea for which had been first floated in Astana itself.
  • Over the next seven months, the two sides had worked on holding the informal summit in Wuhan in April.

New peak of cooperation

  • The understandings between two Asian giants reached during the Wuhan summit — a new template for the leaders of the two countries to have a long meeting.
  • After the Wuhan summit, the armed forces of the two sides were given “strategic guidance” by the two leaders, and 2018 and 2019 have remained peaceful – without any major incident along the LAC.
  • Beijing — in a single stroke, by lifting the hold on Azhar’s listing as global terrorist under the UNSC 1267 — has created more political space for engagement between the two sides.

Way Forward

  • Many caution that the relationship is prone to ups and downs as was visible during Xi’s Gujarat visit in September 2014 — when Modi had hosted Xi while there was an ongoing stand-off at the border in Chumar.
  • Also, the issue of how India will respond to the Belt and Road Initiative ahead holds the key to the future of the relationship.
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Regulatory Sandbox for fintech testingPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Regulatory Sandbox

Mains level : Read the attached story


  • The SEBI has released a discussion paper on a framework for a ‘regulatory sandbox,’ wherein companies dealing with financial technologies can test new technologies and products in a live market environment.

What is Regulatory Sandbox?

  • A sandbox approach provides a secure environment for fintech firms to experiment with products under supervision of a regulator.
  • The concept of a regulatory sandbox or innovation hub for fintech firms was mooted by a committee headed by then RBI executive director Sudarshan Sen.
  • The panel, which submitted its report in November 2017, had called for a regulatory sandbox to help firms experiment with fintech solutions, where the consequences of failure can be contained and reasons for failure analysed.
  • If the product appears to have the potential to be successful, it might be authorised and brought to the broader market more quickly.
  • The sandbox will enable fintech companies to conduct live or virtual testing of their new products and services.

Why such move?

  • Fintech or financial technology companies use technology to provide financial services such as payments, peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding, among others.
  • According to NITI Aayog, India is one of the fastest growing fintech markets globally, and industry research has projected that $1 trillion, or 60% of retail and SME credit, will be digitally disbursed by 2029.
  • The Indian fintech ecosystem is the third largest in the world, attracting nearly $6 billion in investments since 2014, the think tank said.
  • A global survey ranked India, with 1,218 fintech firms, second in terms of fintech adoption, with an adoption rate of 52 per cent.

Issue of Data Privacy

  • The risks for fintech products may arise from cross-border legal and regulatory issues where confidentiality and customer protection are major areas that needed to be addressed.
  • The proposed Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, had categorised all financial data as “sensitive personal data”, which is not the case for many European countries.
Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Social and Labor Convergence Programme (SLCP)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Social and Labor Convergence Programme (SLCP)

Mains level : Labour reforms in India


  • The ‘Social and Labor Convergence Programme (SLCP),’ an initiative to have a standard-neutral, converged assessment framework for the textile and clothing industry, will be launched in India very soon.

Social and Labor Convergence Programme (SLCP)

  • The SLCP is an initiative led by the world’s leading manufacturers, brands, retailers, industry groups, (inter)governmental organizations, service providers and civil society organizations, to eliminate audit fatigue by replacing current proprietary tools with a standard-neutral Converged Assessment Framework.
  • The objective of the programme is to improve the working conditions in textile units by allowing resources that were previously designated for compliance audits to be redirected towards the improvement of social and labour conditions.

What SCLP actually is?

  • This is a voluntary adoption by the textile and clothing makers.
  • The SLCP would be holding free seminars at Mumbai, Bengaluru, Tiruppur, and New Delhi and will launch operations in India, China, Sri Lanka and Taiwan this month.
  • The SLCP is not a code of conduct or compliance programme.
  • The converged assessment framework is a tool developed by the SLCP, which provides a data set with no value judgment or scoring.
  • It is, however, compatible with existing audit systems and codes of conduct. This means that the same data set can be used by a wide-range of stakeholders.
  • It eliminates the need for repetitive audits to be carried out on the same facility.

Impact

  • For the exporting units, it will reduce the number of social audits and facilitate measuring of employment practices, thus improving working conditions and employee relations.
  • It also redeploys resources towards improvement actions and fosters collaboration between supply chain partners.
  • The benefits of SLCP for facilities are that it addresses audit fatigue by reducing the number of social audits and facilitates measuring of employment practices, thus improving working conditions & employee relations.
  • It also redeploys resources towards improvement actions and fosters trust and collaboration between supply chain partners.
  • SLCP will be holding a series of free one-day seminars in four centres to introduce facilities and their business partners to the SLCP process.

Govt plans to merge CSO, NSSODOMRPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CSO, NSSO

Mains level : Merger of the two and its impact


  • To streamline and strengthen the statistical system, the government has decided to merge the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) and the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) to form a National Statistical Office (NSO).
  • While the NSSO comes out with various sample surveys such as on consumption expenditure, employment and unemployment, the CSO releases various data such as GDP and IIP.

Merging NSSO and CSO into NSO

  • The move is a follow-up of a decision taken in 2005 by the UPA government’s based on recommendations of the report of the National Statistical Commission, headed by former RBI governor C Rangarajan.
  • Both the wings are currently part of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI).

Rangarajan committee recommendations

  • The Rangarajan committee had recommended setting up of the NSC, headed by a person with a Minister of State-level designation, to serve as a nodal and empowered body for all core statistical activities of the country.
  • The NSC was constituted on July 12, 2006 with a mandate to evolve policies, priorities and standards in statistical matters.
  • According to the Commission, the new NSO was envisaged as an agency to implement and maintain statistical standards and coordinate statistical activities of Central and State agencies as laid down by the NCS.
  • The NSO’s other roles included collection of core statistics, carrying out methodological research and studies, maintaining a warehouse of core statistics, as per the Commission report.

Benefits of the merger

  • This is a measure to avoid duplication of work and leverage the strength of the statistical system.
  • There is no dilution of independence and in fact strengthens the system.
  • This will help in meeting the requirement of the statistical system as a lack of control on these two bodies was one challenge presently.

National Statistical Office (NSO)

  • The Statistical Wing, comprising the NSO with constituents as the CSO and the NSSO, to be an integral part of the main ministry.
  • The NSO would be headed by Secretary Statistics and Programme Implementation, with various divisions reporting to the Secretary through Director Generals (DGs).
  • Presently the CSO is headed by a DG brings out macro economic data like economic (GDP) growth data, industrial production and inflation.
  • While the NSSO conducts large-scale surveys and brings out reports on health, education, household expenditure and other social and economic indicators.

Data Quality Assurance Division

  • A Data Quality Assurance Division has also been set up, replacing the Data Processing Division, which will have the responsibility to bring about improvements in survey and administrative databases.
  • This division will be strengthened through “re-skilling and deployment of existing personnel”.

In recent controversy!

  • India’s official statistics came under a cloud after several experts raised questions on credibility of the new GDP series.
  • The government’s move to withhold the first periodic labour force survey, which showed unemployment rate at a 45-year high, put a further dent.

Assist this newscard with:

https://thewire.in/government/nsso-cso-merger-what-will-the-centralisation-of-indian-statistics-bring-with-it

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

Draft Export Policy unveiledPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Draft export policy 2019


  • The Commerce Ministry has come out with a comprehensive draft of the export policy which includes product- specific rules with a view to provide a ready reckoner for exporters.

Draft Export Policy, 2019

  • The draft policy aims at consolidating the export norms for each product as applicable at different government agencies.
  • It is proposed to bring out a comprehensive exports policy for all ITC (HS) tariff codes (including items which are ‘free’ for export and do not currently exist in the policy), covering conditions/restrictions imposed by partner government agencies on exports.
  • ITC-HS Codes are Indian Trade Clarification based on Harmonised System of Coding. It was adopted by India for import-export operations.
  • Every product has been accorded eight digit HS codes.
  • The compendium will help an exporter know all the applicable norms pertaining to a particular product, helping him/her understand policy conditions for that item.

Consolidating norms

  • This exercise is for consolidating the norms and not for making any changes in the existing export policy of the country.
  • It also includes non-tariff regulations imposed by different government agencies.
Indian Missile Program Updates

AKASH – MK 1S MissilePrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Akash MK 1S

Mains level : India's missile arsenal



  • DRDO has successfully test fired AKASH-MK-1S missile from ITR , Chandipur.

AKASH Mk1S

  • AKASH Mk1S is a surface to air missile which can neutralize advanced aerial targets.
  • It is an upgrade of existing AKASH missile with indigenous Seeker.
  • The Akash weapon system has combination of both command guidance and active terminal seeker guidance.
  • The medium range multi-target engagement capable missile was developed as part of the Integrated Guided-Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) other than Nag, Agni, Trishul, and Prithvi missiles.

Specifications

  • The supersonic missile has a range of around 25 km and up to the altitude of 18,000 metres.
  • The missile uses high-energy solid propellant for the booster and ramjet-rocket propulsion for the sustainer phase.
  • Several variants of the missile — Akash MK1, Akash-MK2 — with improved accuracy and higher ranges are under development by the DRDO.
History- Important places, persons in news

Orchha on UNESCO world heritage sites tentative listIOCRPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Orchha Architectural Complex

Mains level : UNESCO heritage sites in India



  • THE architectural heritage of Orchha town of Madhya Pradesh – has been included in the tentative list of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
  • It is declared following a proposal sent by the ASI to the UNESCO.

About Orchha

  • Orchha town in Niwari district of MP’s Bundelkhand region has a peculiar style of architecture used by the Bundela dynasty.
  • The town, located on the banks of river Betwa, around 80 km from MP’s Tikamgarh district and 15 km from Jhansi district of UP, was built by King Rudra Pratap Singh of Bundela dynasty in the 16th century.
  • The town is celebrated for its rich and ancient architecture of Chaturbhuj Temple, Orchha Fort Complex, and Raja Mahal among others.
  • It is famous for its two elevated minarets – Saavan and Bhadon; and four palaces – Jahangir Palace, Rai Praveen Mahal, Raja Mahal, and Sheesh Mahal.
  • It represents the concept of open bungalows, animal statues depicting the culture of Bundelkhand and stone work windows.
  • The site houses ‘Sri Ram Raja Mandir’, the only place in India where Lord Ram is worshipped as a King, not as a deity, with this dedicated temple in his name.

Mughal Confluence

  • The Orchha town is boasts of Bundela as well as Mughal architecture influence due to the closeness of both the dynasties.
  • Veer Singh Dev, King of Bundela dynasty, was a close friend of Mughal emperor Jahangir.
  • King Dev also fought wars as Mughal emperor Akbar’s aid.

What is tentative list?

  • As per rules, to be a part of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, the heritage or any historical site first has to be on the tentative list.
  • After it makes to the tentative list, another proposal is sent to UNESCO.
  • If the architectural splendour of Orchha makes it to the final list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, it would be the 38th site in India to form part of the treasured list.
  • Three historically famous sites in MP, including the rock shelters of Bhimbedka, Buddhist monuments at Sanchi, and the Khajuraho group of monuments are among the 37 Indian heritage sites on the UNESCO list.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Modi’s Taiwan opportunityMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Stronger relationship with Taiwan may boost India's Act East policy


CONTEXT

Some in Delhi, however, would say that Modi’s focus on Taiwan is too big and risky an idea. They worry it might offend Chinese political sensitivities. But productive engagement with Taiwan is not about abandoning India’s “One-China” policy or playing some kind of a “card”. India has been rather scrupulous in respecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Relationship with Taiwan

  • Most major nations have significant cooperation with Taiwan without extending it diplomatic recognition. India, however, has too many self-imposed constraints on its Taiwan policy.
  • It is now time to lift many of them.
  • To be sure, since the establishment of formal channels of contact in the mid-1990s, there has been steady progress in the relationship.
  • Annual bilateral trade has reached $7 billion last year and the hope is to raise it to $20 billion in the next few years.
  • There has been a rise in Taiwan’s investments in India and a steady growth in exchanges between the two societies.
  • During the last five years, the NDA government has taken steps to enhance the relationship.
  • These include the upgradation of the bilateral investment agreement, promotion of major Taiwanese investments, expanding parliamentary exchanges and facilitating track-two dialogues on regional issues.

Reasons to enhance the relationship

There are at least three reasons why Delhi should take a fresh look at Taiwan and replace its current incrementalism with a more ambitious policy.

  1. Geopolitical –
  • The delicate three-way political compromise between US, China and Taiwan crafted in the 1970s appears to be breaking down, thanks to rising China’s regional assertiveness, the renewed threat of forceful reunification of Taiwan and Beijing’s relentless pressure tactics against Taipei.
  • If there is one piece of real estate that holds the key to the geopolitics of East Asia, it is Taiwan. The unfolding dynamic around Taiwan will have significant consequences for India’s Act East Policy and its emerging role in the Indo-Pacific Region.

2. Geo-economic –

  • The unfolding trade war between the US and China is compelling Taiwan to accelerate its plans to move its large manufacturing bases away from China to Southeast Asia and India.
  • As the structure of industrial production in East Asia undergoes a profound transformation, amidst the prospect of an economic decoupling between the US and China, India has once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost its own manufacturing sector.

3. Talent and technology

  •  As it turns out, Taiwan has embarked on a big mission to attract skilled workers.
  • With a declining birth rate and growing emigration, Taiwan’s industry, education, and technology development could do with Indian engineers and scientists. At present, there are barely 2,000 Indians working in Taiwan.

Future of relationship

  • There is no shortage of ideas for the transformation of India’s relations with Taiwan.
  • An agreement on comprehensive economic cooperation is one of those.
  • The synergy in human resources provides the basis for massive collaborations between the universities, research institutions and technology enclaves in the two countries.
  • Expanding the engagement with Taiwan can’t be a tactical game; it should be an important part of Delhi’s effort to come to terms with all corners of Greater China that looms so large over India’s future.

Those who think Taiwan is small beer in the wider scheme of Indian grand strategy should ponder over two facts. Taiwan’s GDP is about $600 billion and twice the size of Pakistan’s economy. And few entities in the international system are today as eager and capable of boosting Modi’s domestic economic agenda.

Corruption Challenges – Lokpal, POCA, etc

[op-ed snap] Shadow over dataMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Loss of autonomy of NSC will raise doubts on official data.


CONTEXT

On May 23, while the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha election was underway, the NDA government passed an order to merge the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) with the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Details of the order

The order, which cleared the formation of an overarching body — National Statistical Office (NSO) — skipped any mention of the National Statistical Commission (NSC).

As the NSC is an independent body which oversees technical aspects of the NSSO’s statistical work, the worry is that this move will impinge on the autonomy enjoyed by the NSSO so far.

Coming at a time when data put out by the Indian statistical system is already under a cloud of suspicion, this is likely to raise further questions over the independence of the statistical system.

Loss of autonomy of Indian statistical system

Events over the past year have suggested that all is not well in the Indian statistical system.

New GDP series data –

  • At the centre of it all, was the NSC. It all began when a report, prepared by a committee appointed by the NSC, showed that under the new GDP series, the economy had grown at a much faster pace under the UPA, than previously estimated.
  • With the NDA government quick to disown it, the matter acquired a political dimension.

Employment Report

  • A few months later, P C Mohanan, acting chairman of the NSC, and J V Meenakshi, Professor at the Delhi School of Economics, resigned from the NSC, protesting against the decision to not publish the NSSO’s employment survey.
  • The results of the survey showed that unemployment in India had surged under the NDA.

Shell companies under MCA 21

  • Then, a few weeks ago, another report by the NSSO showed that a large number of companies in the MCA21 database — which is integral to estimating GDP under the new series — either couldn’t be traced or had closed down or were operating in different sectors.
  • This warrants a relook at the manner in which the MCA21 database is used for estimating GDP.

Conclusion

  • This series of events, followed by the government’s latest order, is likely to increase scepticism of official data.
  • But, while the more immediate concern is that of the role of the NSC, the larger concern is the decline of what was once a famed statistical system.
  • For a government that should have begun its new term by re-building the credibility of the system, this is not a good start.

[op-ed snap] Global implications of the 2019 mandateMains Onlyop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : A strong mandate will help tin taking strong decision to secure India's Interests.


CONTEXT

The clear and decisive mandate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a defining moment in India’s democratic history. Its extent, which is manifest from the highest-ever voter turnout in a general election and the share of votes won by the winning coalition, creates its own very unique set of circumstances.

Background

  • It is a unique moment for India that the rising aspirations of people in one of the fastest growing economies have resulted in this kind of a mandate.
  • While it raises the bar on expectations, more importantly, it gives the leadership of the country the necessary wherewithal to take the kind of decisions that are needed to put India on a high growth trajectory.
  • At a time when two of the largest economic powers in the world, the U.S. and China, are locked in a trade war of sorts, this mandate opens the window for India to take advantage of economic opportunities that are likely to develop in the geopolitical space.
  • To get the Indian economy on the right trajectory, to spur our exports and to create jobs — while this kind of a mandate creates expectations, it also empowers the leadership to take the right decisions to realise the same.

A chance to steer geopolitics

International Solar Alliance – India over the last five years has taken a leadership position in quite a few initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance, while facilitating global action on climate change through the Paris Agreement.

International Yoga day – India has also projected its soft power through a global projection of yoga to shine the spotlight on how Indian spirituality can be a force for greater good.

Other venues –  India should would take up its rightful role in steering geopolitics in a host of areas: from global trade to regional conflicts to setting the global direction in emerging technology areas such as artificial intelligence and space exploration, to name a few.

Net neutrality and privacy – The mandate also calls for a new creed of techno-nationalism as a counter to borderless techno-activism that has threatened Indian interests through its pursuit of innocuous agendas (net neutrality and privacy) which have advocated measures inimical to India.

Ahead in technology curve – The political mandate demands that India devise ways and means to stay ahead of the curve in emerging technology areas such as 5G and artificial intelligence, among others.

Data Localisation – India is also the largest open market to global technology majors which continue to locate their computing and storage infrastructure outside India and beyond Indian jurisdictions.

Conclusion

The mandate demands that India leverage the strength of its democracy and the power of its markets to ensure that the global platforms play by rules that do not hurt the Indian national interest. While India continues to benefit from global digital innovations, this needs to happen within a framework that enhances Indian interests.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

Seawater from Ice Age tucked in rocks discovered in Indian OceanPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ice Age

Mains level : Read the attached story


Seawater from Ice Age

  • Scientists have discovered the remnants of seawater dating back to the Ice Age, tucked inside rock formations in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
  • Researchers from the University of Chicago in the U.S. made the discovery during a months-long scientific mission exploring the limestone deposits that form the Maldives.
  • The ship, the JOIDES Resolution, is specifically built for ocean science and is equipped with a drill that can extract cores of rock over a mile long from up to three miles beneath the seafloor.
  • The water in actual specimen was found to be 20,000-year-old as it was much saltier than normal seawater.

Importance of the study

  • Scientists are interested in reconstructing the last Ice Age because the patterns that drove its circulation, climate and weather were very different.
  • Understanding these patterns could shed light on how the planet’s climate will react in the future.
Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

SuperconductivityPrelims OnlyPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Superconductivity

Mains level : Superconductors and their future uses


  • Researchers from IISc Bengaluru have confirmed that the material they tested exhibits major properties of superconductivity at ambient temperature and pressure.

Superconductivity

  • Superconductivity is a phenomenon of exactly zero electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic flux fields occurring in certain materials, called superconductors, when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature.
  • A material is said to be a superconductor if it conducts electricity with zero resistance to the flow of electrons.
  • Until now, scientists have been able to make materials superconduct only at temperature much below zero degree C and hence making practical utility very difficult.
  • They help build very high efficiency devices leading to huge energy savings.

Silver embedded gold matrix

  • The material that exhibited superconductivity is in the form of nanosized films and pellets made of silver nanoparticles embedded in a gold matrix.
  • Interestingly, silver and gold independently do not exhibit superconductivity.