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May 2019

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Equip Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EQUIP Project

Mains level : Promoting quality education in India

EQUIP Project

  • Equip stands for Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme.
  • The Ministry of HRD plans to launch this ambitious ₹1.5 lakh crore action plan to improve the quality and accessibility of higher education over the next five years.
  • The Centre would mobilise money from the marketplace through the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA).
  • The joint venture between the HRD Ministry and Canara Bank, set up in 2017, has been tasked with raising ₹1 lakh crore to finance infrastructure improvements in higher education by 2022.

Objectives of the project

The committees have drafted strategy to improve access to higher education, especially for underserved communities:

  • improve the gross enrolment ratio;
  • improve teaching and learning processes;
  • build educational infrastructure;
  • improve the quality of research and innovation;
  • use technology and online learning tools; and
  • work on accreditation systems, governance structures and financing.

A news NEP

  • This is being described as the implementation plan for the National Education Policy — a 2014 poll promise from the NDA.
  • The last NEP was released in 1986, with a revision in 1992.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

MeerLICTH Optical Telescope


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SKA, MeerLitch

Mains level : SKA

  • Scientists in South Africa have launched the world’s first optical telescope linked to a radio telescope, combining “eyes and ears” to try to unravel the secrets of the universe.
  • The device forms part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the remote Karoo desert, which will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope system.

Square Kilometre Array

  • The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre of collecting area.
  • The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development towards building and delivering a unique instrument, with the detailed design and preparation now well under way.
  • The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail.
  • Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • South Africa’s Karoo host the core of the high and mid frequency dishes, ultimately extending over the African continent. Australia’s Murchison Shire  host the low-frequency antennas.


  • The latest move combines the new optical telescope MeerLITCH — Dutch for ‘more light’ — with the recently-completed 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope, located 200 kilometres away.
  • This is the eye, with the MeerKAT being the ears as a radio telescope.
  • The MeerLITCH uses a main mirror just 65 cm in diameter and a single 100 megapixel detector measuring 10 cm x 10 cm.
  • Astronomers have previously had to wait for a cosmic incident to be picked up by a radio telescope and then carry out optic observations afterwards.
  • The project has been six years in the making by a joint-team of South African, Dutch and British scientists.

Purpose of MeerLITCH

  • MeerLICHT boasts of a huge field of view that allows astronomers to see an area 13 times the size of the full moon in exquisite detail, and pick up objects one million times fainter than is possible with the human eye.
  • The priorities for MeerLITCH is the study of black holes, neutron stars and stellar explosions, which must be scrutinized quickly before they fade away.
  • The study of exploding stars across the universe will gain a whole new dimension.
  • Flashes of radio emission known as Fast Radio Bursts may now be ‘caught in the act’. Hopefully we can finally determine the origin of these enigmatic flashes.

Members of SKA

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

[op-ed snap] Fire and laissez-faire: fix accountability for Surat tragedy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Fire safety measures should be stringent.


The deadly fire in a Surat coaching centre that resulted in the death of 22 young people highlights the gap between India’s dreamy visions of smart cities and the cruel reality of urban chaos and lawlessness.

Flawed Urbanisation

These young Indians are the latest victims of a culture of laissez-faire urbanisation that city governments have bred and which the courts allow to be pursued without severe penalties.

History of fire incidents

  • India’s abysmal record on fire safety is reflected in the death of 17,700 people countrywide in fires in both public and residential buildings during 2015, according to the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau.
  • Periodically, high-profile cases such as the Uphaar cinema blaze in Delhi that killed 59 people in 1997, and the Kumbakonam school fire in Tamil Nadu in 2004 in which 94 children perished shock the nation, but even these are not strong enough to persuade governments to make fire safety the priority it should be.

Accountability is missing

Neither has prolonged, aggressive litigation by the affected families in the Uphaar case made a difference, because the criminal culpability of the administrative machinery and officials who sanctioned unsafe buildings, often in return for bribes, remains largely unaddressed.

Ignorance towards safety norms

Negligence by the fire department – The Surat fire cannot be called an accident, since there are reports of notices having been served to the builder on the risks, but not pursued by the Fire Department.

Negligence by civic department – Civic officials have displayed unforgivable indifference, since two deaths occurred in another coaching centre in the city late last year.

That tragedy should have led to a comprehensive review of public buildings.

Way forward

Look for deviation – The present inquiry into the disaster should go into any deviations from the sanctioned plan for the commercial building housing the coaching centre, and the role of urban planning officials in allowing it to come up.

Responsibility of the judiciary – Ultimately, litigation on fire disasters goes to the courts, and it is essential for the judiciary to send out the message that there will be no tolerance to corruption and evasion in the enforcement of building rules and fire safety.

Enforcing accountability –

  • Beyond suspending a few officials and filing cases against the building owners, there is a need to make an example of sanctioning and enforcement authorities.
  • The unwavering message must be that Indians demand accountability. Mandatory Building Insurance
  • Mandating compulsory insurance for all public buildings against fire risk and public liability can bring about a change to the way architects and builders approach the question of safety, since the insurer would require a reduction of risk and compliance with building plans. At least, that would be a start to rewriting India’s shameful record on fire safety.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

[op-ed snap] Farm price challenge


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM- AASHA

Mains level : Farm prices should be boosted to protect farmers interest.


A persistent slump in the commodities market despite substantial hikes in the official floor prices of major crops to  50 per cent above their production cost is among the issues the new government would need to address urgently.


  • Most of the commodities for which the government fixes minimum support prices (MSPs) are being traded at 10 to 30 per cent below these rates in the ongoing rabi marketing season.
  • The situation in the last kharif season was no different. The only exceptions are wheat and rice in select areas where these  are procured by  official agencies and a few others like barley, tur (pigeonpea) and cotton, whose  demand outstrips supplies.
  • Though pulses and oilseeds are also purchased in some areas by government-designated agencies, the quantities picked up by them are too meagre to impact the market.
  • The government’s flagship price support scheme, PM-AASHA (Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan), has remained virtually a non-starter.
  • The losers in the process are the farmers who, it is feared, might resume their protests once the new government settles down in office.

Reasons for price meltdown

  • The present commodity price meltdown can, indeed, be  attributed largely to factors such as consistent surplus production in the last couple of years, subdued global commodity prices and unfavourable domestic and external trade policies concerning agri-commodities.
  • Besides, some imprudent moves such as offloading previously procured stocks and permitting imports while the domestic crops are still being marketed also seem to have contributed to it.

Flaws of PMAASHA –

  • This aside, the PM-AASHA (Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan) scheme has been marred by some basic flaws in all the three price support components:
  • Physical procurement of stocks at MSPs, price deficiency payment of the kind tried out in Madhya Pradesh, and a few other states, and the participation of private  trade in the procurement and management of farm produce on a fixed-commission basis.
  • The system of open-ended procurement of staple cereals, notably rice and wheat, has been in operation for decades and has served well to  run the world’s largest public distribution system but at a huge cost to  the exchequer.
  • Open-ended procurement limited to few states – It has, however,  remained confined primarily to  parts of a handful of states  where the procurement infrastructure exists.
  • Elsewhere,  even rice and wheat are traded at sub-MSP rates. Universalising this system to  cover all crops all over the country is unthinkable.
  • Failure of price deficiency system – The price deficiency payment system, too,  has failed to  deliver the results because of a cumbersome registration procedure; mandatory sale through the regulated mandis dominated by  manipulative  middlemen; and capping total purchases at 25 per cent of production.
  • Less participation by private traders – The third option of roping in private traders in price support operations has found no takers chiefly because the proposed commission of 15 per cent of the MSP for the operation involving buying, bagging, transporting, storing and disposing of the stocks is too meagre for the task.

Way Forward

  • Apart from addressing these issues, several other measures may be needed to prop up agri-commodities prices.
  • An export window as an outlet for surplus stocks is a must.
  • This can be created by modifying import-export tariffs with an eye on boosting agri-exports.
  • Besides, the farmers need to be incentivised to diversify their production by growing high-value crops, which could yield better returns without the government’s intervention.
  • The overarching objective  of the policy regime has to  be  to  strike a balance between the farmers’  interests and inflation management

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Left adrift


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing

Mains level : Reasons for left's decline in Indian Politics


The communists once wielded influence out of proportion with their numbers. Now, they are in retreat on both fronts.


  • The communist parties have plumbed the nadir in the general elections, with just five seats in the Lok Sabha — four in Tamil Nadu, one in Kerala and absolutely none in West Bengal and Tripura, their former strongholds in the east.
  • Apart from the numbers, the influence that they had wielded in national affairs and policymaking has also dwindled to nothing.
  • Once upon a time, they could claim to provide the moral armature of Manmohan Singh’s government, highlighting welfare and deploying the work of academics loyal to the cause for leverage in steering policy.

Start of decline

  • That was before they let their anti-Americanism get the better of their political sense and withdrew support to the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, a decision they were unable to explain to the electorate.
  • That misadventure alone would have sapped the energy of the cadre in less committed parties, but it was not the first.
  • In 1996, to the dismay of the troops, the Politburo had prevented Jyoti Basu from becoming prime minister of the United Front government.
  • And in 2008, Somnath Chatterjee was expelled by the CPM for being more loyal to Parliament than to his party.

Limited to academia

  • Ever since, the left has been almost shouldered off the electoral field and had retreated to the groves of academe.
  • It ventured out of that safe haven this year to do combat in Begusarai, and lost one of the most closely watched contests.
  • This would only embolden the BJP to proceed with its declared project to clear universities of left influence.
  • Of course, success in this initiative would also deprive it of a pet peeve, that it had been excluded from academia and the writing of history by left-wing intellectuals.
  • But that would be a small price to pay, now that it has demonstrated its electoral prowess beyond doubt.

Other reasons for the decline

1. Loss of class notions

The left movement has lost relevance because it is overtaken and outclassed. Its politics is based on the notion of class, whose contours have changed over time.

2. Caste is not class –

Historically, it was also hamstrung by its decision to interpret caste through the lens of class. It doesn’t really matter any more, because Hindu pride may have, in many ways, trumped caste, too, in this election.


The eclipse of the left may be a historical necessity, but which party is capable of filling the moral vacuum it will leave behind – its commitment to welfare, and to the centrality of the poorest? That question lingers on.


Indian Navy Updates

[pib] Sahara Hostel


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sahara hostels

Mains level : Empowerment of veer naris

  • Lt Governor of Delhi has inaugurated the Sahara Naval Hostel for the ‘Veer Naris’

Sahara Naval Hostel

  • Sahara Hostel is a unique and first of its kind initiative by the Indian Navy for the welfare of the Naval Widows/Veernaris.
  • It is aimed towards providing support to the lady and their families in the period immediately after the unfortunate demise of their husbands.
  • Only those widows who have completed the requisite period in Government accommodation after the demise of their husbands are eligible to apply for stay in the hostel for one year.
  • Extension beyond this period will be considered based on availability and merits of the case.
  • The unique project has been built in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) partnership with National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC).
  • It comprises compact suites equipped with all necessary amenities for dignified living, along with a common Dining Hall and a Community Hall.

Black Money – Domestic and International Efforts

Elephant Bonds


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Elephant Bonds

Mains level : Curbing black money

  • A high level government-appointed committee on trade and industry has suggested it to issue ‘Elephant Bonds’ to people for declaring undisclosed income to mandatorily invest 50%.

Elephant Bonds

  • Elephant Bonds are the 25-year sovereign bonds in which people declaring undisclosed income will be bound to invest 50 per cent.
  • The fund, made from these bonds, will be utilized only for infrastructure projects.
  • It is like an Amnesty scheme to help State treasury raising tax revenues, adding beneficiaries in tax base who have not declared their assets previously.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

ISRO’s new commercial arm NewSpace India officially inaugurated


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NewSpace India Limited (NSIL)

Mains level : Commercial activities by ISRO

  • NewSpace India Limited, the commercial arm of ISRO was officially inaugurated in Bengaluru.

NewSpace India Limited (NSIL)

  • NSIL’s main objective is to scale up industry participation in Indian space programmes.
  • NSIL was incorporated on March 6 2019, for commercially utilising research and development activities carried out by ISRO in the area of space with an authorised share capital of Rs 100 crore and initial paid up capital of Rs 10 crore.
  • NSIL will act as an aggregator for all space related activities in industry and develop private entrepreneurship in space related technologies.

Services to be provided

  • Specifically, it will be responsible for manufacturing and production of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) and Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) through technology transfer mechanisms.
  • It will also cater to emerging global commercial SSLV market demand, providing satellite building and satellite-based services.
  • Its services will include supply of sub-systems for various domestic and international application needs and will enable space technology spin-offs through Indian industry interface.
  • It will enable space technology spin-offs via Indian industry interface.

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

WHO strategy to tackle global snakebite ’emergency’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : WHO strategy on snakebites

  • The World Health Organisation has unveiled a new strategy to dramatically cut deaths and injuries from snakebites, warning a dearth of antivenoms could soon spark a “public health emergency”.

The Strategy

  • The UN agency called for “the restoration of a sustainable market for snakebite treatment”, insisting on the need for a 25-per cent increase in the number of competent manufacturers by 2030.
  • WHO said it planned a pilot project to create a global antivenom stockpile.
  • The strategy also called for integrating snakebite treatment and response into national health plans in affected countries, including better training of health personnel and educating communities.
  • WHO, which two years ago categorised “snakebite envenoming” as a Neglected Tropical Disease, presented a strategy aimed at cutting snakebite-related deaths and disabilities in half by 2030.
  • An important part of the strategy is to significantly boost production of quality antivenoms.

Snakebite: An Emergency

  • Each year, nearly three million people are bitten by poisonous snakes, with an estimated 81,000-138,000 deaths.
  • Another 400,000 survivors suffer permanent disabilities and other after-effects, according to WHO figures.
  • Snake venom can cause paralysis that stops breathing, bleeding disorders that can lead to fatal haemorrhage, irreversible kidney failure and tissue damage that can cause permanent disability and limb loss.
  • Most snakebite victims live in the world’s tropical and poorest regions, and children are worse affected due to their smaller body size.
  • It causes nearly 50,000 deaths in India every year.
  • Four snake varieties – Indian Cobra, Russel’s viper, saw-scaled viper and Indian common krait are mostly responsible for most snakebite deaths.
  • Production of life-saving antivenoms has been abandoned by a number of companies since the 1980s, and availability of effective and safe products is disastrously low in Africa especially, with a similar crisis also looming in Asia.

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Disclosing dissent: on EC’s decision to not record split opinions


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Election Commission Dissent


The rejection of the demand of one of the Election Commissioners that dissenting opinions be recorded in the orders passed by the three-member Election Commission on complaints of violations of the Model Code of Conduct may be technically and legally right. However, there was indeed a strong case for acceding to the demand of Ashok Lavasa at least in regard to complaints against high functionaries such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Events leading to dissent

  • The EC has been rightly widely criticised for giving a series of ‘clean chits’ to the PM, despite some questionable remarks that appeared to solicit votes in the name of the armed forces.
  • Added to the widespread unease was the unexplained delay of several weeks in disposing of complaints against Mr. Modi.
  • It is in this context that Mr. Lavasa’s dissenting opinion may have been relevant enough to merit inclusion in the EC’s orders.
  • After all, the public is aware of the allegedly offending actions and remarks, and is entitled to be informed if the decision was not unanimous.
  • In this hotly contested election, one in which the level of discourse was abysmally low, the onus on the poll panel to maintain a level-playing field and enforce the election code was quite high.
  • Making public a dissent in the final order would have deepened the popular understanding of the issues in play.

Legal Provisions

  • The law requires the multi-member EC to transact business unanimously as far as possible — and where there is a difference of opinion, by majority.
  • Therefore, there is nothing wrong if decisions are made by a 2:1 ratio.
  • The apparent justification for excluding any dissent from the final order, but merely recording it in the file, is that the practice of including dissent is limited to quasi-judicial matters such as allotment of symbols
  • A more appropriate distinction would be between decisions that require reasoning — absolving the Prime Minister of an election code violation surely ought to be one — and administrative matters that need to be resolved with dispatch.
  • If members have specific reasons for deciding for or against a particular course of action, there would surely be no harm in spelling out their respective positions.


At a time when the institution’s reputation is being undermined by sustained criticism, the EC should not shy away from making public any difference of opinion within. It would be unfortunate if the majority in the EC were to be afraid of any public reaction that may result from disclosure of a split opinion.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[op-ed snap] Full circle: on the change in kilogram’s definition


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Planck's Constant

Mains level : How changes have taken place over the time in defining standard metrics


As of May 20, the kilogram joined a bunch of other units — second, metre, ampere, kelvin, mole and candela — that will no longer be compared with physical objects as standards of reference.


  • The change comes after nearly 130 years: in 1889 a platinum-iridium cylinder was used to define how much mass one kilogram represented.
  • Now, a more abstract definition of the kilogram has been adopted in terms of fundamental constants, namely, the Planck’s constant h, and the metre and second which already have been defined in terms of universal constants such as the speed of light.
  • With this redefinition, the range of universality of the measurement has been extended in an unprecedented way.

New Method

  • Earlier, if a mass had to be verified to match with a standard kilogram, it would be placed on one of the pans of a common balance, while the prototype would have to be placed in the other pan — and mass would be measured against mass.
  • Now, by using a Kibble balance, which balances mass against electromagnetic force, to measure the mass of an unknown piece, the very methodology of verification has been altered.
  • The constants involved are known precisely and are universal numbers. Hence, whether the mass is measured on earth or, say, on the moon, it can be determined with precision.


History of standards

  • This is the culmination of a series of historical changes, which are also described by Richard S. Davis et al in their 2016 article in the journal Metrologia.
  • Originally the definition of mass was in terms of what was then thought of as a universal physical constant.
  • In 1791, 1 kg was defined as the mass of one litre of distilled water at its melting point. Thus, the density of water was the physical constant on which this definition hinged.
  • In 1799, the kilogram came to be defined using a cylinder of platinum – the first time an artefact was used for this purpose.
  • But it was also defined as equivalent to the mass of one litre of distilled water at atmospheric pressure and at about 4 degrees Celsius, the temperature at which water has the maximum density.
  • This was done away with in 1889 when the community adopted the International Prototype of the Kilogram — a cylinder made of an alloy that’s 90% platinum and 10% iridium.
  • The reference to the ‘physical constant’, i.e. mass of one litre of water, was abandoned.

Planck’s Constant

  • Now, as a culmination of this historical process, we come back full circle and find that the kilogram is defined again in terms of a fundamental physical constant — the Planck’s constant.
  • Planck’s constant is a robust number to match. Not until the art of travelling at relativistic speeds, close to the speed of light, is mastered, will we have to redefine these abstract definitions. Until then, it looks like metrologists are on a stable berth.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] Sops to shun paddy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Focus should shift from water guzzling crops like rice to conserve ground water.


ALARMINGLY dire situations call for urgent and immediate measures. With 75 per cent of its groundwater already extracted, it is imperative for Haryana to arrest the depleting water table.

Ways to address the crisis

The last mile reach – It must ensure that its schemes reach the last acre and are implemented in totality so that soil health and its hydrological levels are restored.

No corruption – Any whiff of a scam or siphoning off of funds meant for the endeavour, if not dealt with strictly, will cost the state dearly, with the shadow of desertification looming large.

Incentives to other crops – The latest incentives to steer farmers away from the water-guzzling non-basmati paddy variety to maize or pulses include Rs 2,000 per acre, subsidised seeds and free crop insurance.

Of the 1.95 lakh hectares under this cultivation, the government hopes to divert 50,000 hectares to alternative crops.

Close Monitoring – An eagle eye on every transaction is needed to ensure that every penny of this scheme is accounted for; only that will make the intended difference.

Saathi (summer paddy) was banned about a decade ago, but efforts to curb its plantation have left a lot to be desired.


  • The peasant is not able to break free from the paddy-wheat cycle to crop diversification because paddy continues to give him higher returns and MSP.
  • Plus, the ad hoc nature of the doles promised rather than long-term lucrative prices and marketing of alternative crops make him wary of shifting.
  • Attractive prices for these crops should not be difficult to give. Weighing in the cost factor of paddy against the other crops reveals its feasibility.
  • Consider this: the production of 1 kg rice leaves the soil drier by 2,497 litres of water.
  • On top, a large portion of the power subsidy — worth Rs 6,700 crore was given in the state in 2017 as per the Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission — goes into paddy cultivation.
  • Punjab, too, would do well to urgently review whether power subsidy doled out to paddy farmers is not rendering the state a net loser.
  • The irretrievable loss of groundwater and soil health is staring the state in the face.

Indian Ocean Power Competition

UNGA resolution demanding UK withdraw from Chagos Archipelago


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Chagos Archipelago: Location and surrounding

Mains level : Decolonization measures across the world

  • India was among 116 nations to vote in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution demanding the UK to withdraw its “colonial administration” from the Chagos Archipelago unconditionally within six months.
  • This aimed at supporting Mauritius in its quest for the restoration of sovereignty over the island chain in the Indian Ocean.

Colonization of Chagos

  • The UK retained sovereignty over the islands after Mauritius gained its independence from Britain in 1968.
  • It has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814.
  • The islands have since been used for defence purposes by the UK and the US, which established a military base on the island of Diego Garcia.
  • The entire Chagossian population was forcibly removed from the territory between 1967 and 1973, and prevented from returning.

An ICJ obligation for UK

  • The ICJ had said in its opinion that the UK Government is “under an obligation” to end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.
  • It demanded that the UK withdraw its colonial administration from the Chagos Archipelago unconditionally within six months, enabling Mauritius to complete the decolonization of its territory as rapidly as possible.

Why India voted in favor of Mauritius?

  • As a part of India’s longstanding support to all peoples striving for decolonization, India has consistently supported Mauritius in its quest for the restoration of sovereignty.
  • India has age-old people-to-people bonds with Mauritius.

Assist this newscard with:

ICJ rejects UK’s claim of sovereignty over Chagos Archipelago

Global Geological And Climatic Events

Anthropocene as Earth’s new epoch


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anthropocene epoch

Mains level : Geological time scale of Earth

  • Rising global temperatures, sea levels, depleting ozone layer and acidifying oceans are the result of human activity that has “distinctively” altered our planet.
  • Now, a team of scientists have voted to declare “Anthropocene” as a new chapter in the Earth’s geological history.

Anthropocene Epoch

  • Coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the present geological time interval, Anthropocene has been used to describe humanity’s large impact on the environment.
  • The scientific community have intensely debated in the past the idea to formally define it as a geological unit within the Geological Time Scale.
  • Recently the 34-member Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), voted in favour of starting the new epoch.
  • The result builds on an informal vote taken at the 2016 International Geological Congress in Cape Town, and lays the groundwork for a formal proposal by 2021 to the International Commission on Stratigraphy.
  • The move signals the end of the Holocene epoch, which began 12,000 to 11,600 years ago.
  • The International Union of Geological Sciences needs to ratify the AWG formal proposal, before the new epoch can formally be recognised.

Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point

  • To show a clear transition from the Holocene, the scientists plan to identify a definitive geologic marker or ‘golden spike’.
  • It would be technically called a Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP).
  • For this, the group will search for the marker from around the globe, including a cave in northern Italy, corals in the Great Barrier Reef and a lake in China.

Demarcation of an epoch is not so easy

  • To demonstrate a sedimentary record representing the start of the epoch, the researchers are likely to choose the radionuclides that came from atomic-bomb detonations from 1945 until the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
  • The stratigraphic evidence indicates a time-transgressive Anthropocene with multiple beginnings rather than a single moment of origin.
  • Declaring a new epoch on the basis of the radionuclide signal alone impedes rather than facilitates scientific understanding of human involvement in Earth system change.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

UAE launches ‘Golden Card’ scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Golden Visa Scheme

Mains level : Indian diaspora in UAE

  • The United Arab Emirates has launched a permanent residency scheme to woo wealthy individuals and exceptional talents, a move that could attract more Indian professionals and businessmen to the Gulf nation.

Golden Card Programme

  • The “Golden Card” programme is open to investors and “exceptional talents” such as doctors, engineers, scientists, students and artists.
  • The visa categories include:
  1. General investors who will be granted a 10 years visa
  2. Real estate investors, who can get a visa for 5 years Visa
  3. Entrepreneurs and talented professionals such as doctors, researchers and innovators: 10 years Visa
  4. Outstanding students — will also be permitted residency visas for 5 years
  • All categories of visas can be renewed upon expiry.

Benefits of the move

  • The new initiative will attract greater foreign investment and stimulate the local economy, making it more efficient and attractive for investors.
  • It will also increase the UAE’s competitiveness and reaffirms the country’s position as a global incubator.
  • The benefits of the permanent residency also include the spouse and children of the cardholder to ensure cohesive social ties.

Benefits for India

  • The Indian expatriate community is reportedly the largest ethnic community in the UAE, constituting roughly about 30 per cent of the country’s population of around nine million.
  • Though most of the Indians living in the UAE are employed, about 10 per cent of the Indian population constitutes dependent family members, according to the Indian Embassy.

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

Taj Mahal: First Indian Heritage Site to Get a Breastfeeding Room


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Awareness about antenatal care and breastfeeding

  • The Taj Mahal has become one of the only three UNESCO Heritage Sites to have a breastfeeding room for women.

Breastfeeding room in Taj

  • In a country like India, breastfeeding has a lot of social stigma attached to it.
  • It is often seen as disgusting or even embarrassing.
  • This initiative aims at removing the social stigma regarding breastfeeding and helping new mothers to get the freedom to breastfeed in public without being forced to cover-up.
  • The main objective continues to be normalizing public breastfeeding.
  • The breastfeeding room will also be introduced in other monuments including the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.

Why such move?

  • India accounts for one-fifth of neonatal deaths.
  • Over 20 percent neonatal deaths can be prevented if the child is breastfed.
  • Various factors come into play when the question comes to why less than 55 percent babies are breastfed in the country.
  • Aside from poor health of the mother, lack of time and the convenience of formula milk, one of the biggest hindrances when it comes to breastfeeding is the taboo attached to it.
  • There have been various instances internationally where women have been asked to exit the premises or even “take their business in the washroom” for breastfeeding in public.
  • However, initiatives like the one taken in the Taj Mahal, are actively working towards removing the taboo and stigma related to breastfeeding and to normalize something as simple as a mother feeding her child.

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] When the big guys fight


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : nothing much

Mains level : Opposition Parties' mistrust over EVMs is not a good precedent for democratic setup.


ON the eve of counting, the Opposition demonstrated its mistrust of the electoral process yet again.

Mistrust of EVMs

  • In a memorandum, several top leaders urged the Election Commission (EC) to match VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) slips with EVMs in five polling stations per Assembly segment before going ahead with the counting of votes.
  • Their argument: verifying VVPATs beforehand would give poll officers a chance to prevent discrepancies.
  • They wanted 100 per cent matching in all polling booths of an Assembly constituency if even one discrepancy was reported during sample checks. However, the EC decided to stick to the procedure of counting first and conducting VVPAT verification later.

Supreme Court’s Judgement

  • A fortnight ago, the Supreme Court had rejected a review petition by 21 leaders of Opposition parties demanding that the random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs should be raised to at least 25 per cent as against the present 2 per cent.
  • But the apex court refused to modify its April 8 order directing the EC to increase the number for random tallying from one to five polling booths per Assembly segment in the parliamentary polls.
  • This fair arrangement should have been acceptable to all, but Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu and others have continued to fuel suspicion on the pretext of seeking greater transparency and confidence-building in the EVM system.


  • It’s ironical that the Opposition parties have submitted themselves to the humongous poll exercise over the past month and a half but at the same time missed no opportunity to question its reliability.
  • They have also repeatedly cast aspersions on the functioning of the EC.
  • Indeed, the poll conductor has done itself no favour by first delaying action on complaints against PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah and then, after being pulled up by the Supreme Court, disposing of the petitions with undue haste.
  • The rapid-fire clean chits were in stark contrast to the assertiveness shown by TN Seshan and JM Lyngdoh when they were at the helm.
  • Warts and all, the EC should have the last word on the conduct of the elections.

Indian Army Updates

[op-ed snap] A blueprint for a national security strategy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : There is a need for national security architecture.


There have been several attempts at formulating a national security strategy for India. According to some accounts, the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) had formulated draft national security strategy documents on four different occasions and presented them to successive governments, but the political class wouldn’t bite. There has been a lingering worry in the minds of the politicians about a potential commitment trap if a national security strategy were to be put on paper.

Key issues with present security architecture

1. National Security Council

  • The National Security Council (NSC) set up in 1998 almost never meets, primarily because it is an advisory body, with the Cabinet Committee on Security being the executive body.
  • If the NSC is to be made more useful, the government’s allocation of business rules should be amended to give more powers to the NSC and its subordinate organisations, such as the Strategic Policy Group.

2. National Security Adviser’s role –

  • Second, the job of the National Security Adviser needs to be reimagined. Even though the NSA plays a vital role in national security, he has no legal powers as per the government’s allocation of business rules.
  • The K.C. Pant Task Force in the late 1990s had recommended the creation of an NSA with the rank of a Cabinet Minister.
  • Over the years, the NSA’s powers have increased, even though he is not accountable to Parliament.
  • The institution of the NSA today requires more accountability and legal formality.

3. Structural Reforms –

More national security organisations are not the answer; fundamental structural reforms in national security planning are needed.

Case Study of Defence Planning Committee (DPC) –

  • Take the case of the recently constituted Defence Planning Committee (DPC) tasked to recommend policy measures to improve India’s defence capability and preparedness, and national security in general.
  • Not only does the DPC have too many responsibilities on its plate, it is also an advisory body.
  • More worryingly, there is a feeling among the armed forces that by having the NSA chair the DPC, the government may have scuttled the demands to appoint a Chief of the Defence Staff, an issue the Hooda document highlights.

The Hooda document

Vision of document

  • The guiding philosophy of the document is enshrined in the following sentence: “This strategy recognises the centrality of our people. We cannot achieve true security if large sections of our population are faced with discrimination, inequality, lack of opportunities, and buffeted by the risks of climate change, technology disruption, and water and energy scarcity.”
  • At a time when national security is referred to in strictly military terms, it is heartening to see that a strategy document defines security in an out-of-the box and inclusive manner.
  • A glance at the key themes shows how well-designed the document is: “assuming our rightful place in global affairs”, “achieving a secure neighbourhood”, “peaceful resolution of internal conflicts”, “protecting our people” and “strengthening our capabilities”.

 1. Military jointmanship –

On the issue of military jointmanship, it recommends that “the three services should undertake a comprehensive review of their current and future force structures to transform the army, navy and air force into an integrated warfighting force.

2. Cyber Command –

While discussing emerging national security threats, the document differs with the BJP-led government’s decision to set up a Defence Cyber Agency instead of a Cyber Command as was originally recommended.

3. On Kashmir – 

There is a need to initiate structured programmes that bring together civil society members, family groups, educationists, religious teachers and even surrendered terrorists in an effort to roll back radicalisation.”


Let’s hope that this document is the beginning of a tradition in India of thinking about national security and strategy more systematically, consistently and comprehensively.

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[op-ed snap] Eye in the sky: on RISAT-2B


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RISAT-2B

Mains level : Benefits of RISAT- 2B


With the successful pre-dawn launch of RISAT-2B satellite on May 22, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has added another feather to its cap.

Benefits of RISAT-2B

1. Agriculture, Disaster Management and Forestry

The satellite will enhance India’s capability in crop monitoring during the monsoon season, forestry mapping for forest fires and deforestation, and flood mapping as part of the national disaster management programme.

2. All weather monitoring – 

  • Given that overcast skies are a constant during the monsoon season and during times of flood, the ability to penetrate the cloud cover is essential.
  • While optical remote sensing that relies on visible light for imaging gets obstructed by clouds, RISAT-2B will not. Much like the RISAT-1 satellite that was launched by ISRO in April 2012, RISAT-2B will also use microwave radiation.
  • Unlike visible light, microwaves have longer wavelength and so will not be susceptible to atmospheric scattering.
  • Microwave radiation can thus easily pass through the cloud cover, haze and dust, and image the ground.
  • Hence, RISAT-2B satellite will be able to image under almost all weather and environmental conditions.

3. No dependence on visible light –

  • Since it does not rely on visible light for imaging, it will be able to image the ground during both day and night.
  • The satellite does not have passive microwave sensors that detect the radiation naturally emitted by the atmosphere or reflected by objects on the ground.
  • Instead, RISAT-2B will be transmitting hundreds of microwave pulses each second towards the ground and receiving the signals reflected by the objects using radar.
  • The moisture and texture of the object will determine the strength of the microwave signal that gets reflected.
  • While the strength of the reflected signal will help determine different targets, the time between the transmitted and reflected signals will help determine the distance to the object.

4. Study of small objects and surveillance –

  • The RISAT-2B satellite uses X-band synthetic aperture radar for the first time; the synthetic aperture radar was developed indigenously.
  • Unlike the C-band that was used by RISAT-1, the shorter wavelength of the X-band allows for higher resolution imagery for target identification and discrimination.
  • Since it has high resolution, the satellite will be able to detect objects with dimensions of as little as a metre.
  • This capacity to study small objects and also movement could be useful for surveillance.


As K. Sivan, ISRO Chairman and Secretary, Department of Space, had said last month, the satellite could be used for civil and strategic purposes. RISAT-2B will have an inclined orbit of 37 degrees, which will allow more frequent observations over the Indian subcontinent. With ISRO planning to launch four more such radar imaging satellites in a year, its ability to monitor crops and floods as well as engage in military surveillance will be greatly enhanced.

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Electoral bribery and the best way to stop it


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Electoral bribery hampers free and fair democracy.


According to Election Commission (EC) data compiled over the span of this year’s election season, seizures of illicit intoxicants, cash and gold have been vastly higher than before.


  • Attempts to bribe voters, it would seem, have not only been part and parcel of the fiesta, but the offerings being dangled have been juicier. The value of all the bottles of liquor, packets of narcotics, wads of currency and biscuits of shiny metal in electoral service recovered by the authorities is estimated at3,458.7 crore, several times what was seized during the general elections of 2014.
  • Cash seizures were up 181.3 %, while alcohol volumes have risen 15.9% and narcotic quantities have shot up 355.6% in five years.
  • The drugs alone were worth more than all the cash that was seized this year.
  • A closer examination of this year’s data reveals that five states accounted for the bulk of all seizures.
  • Tamil Nadu stands out with a share of 27.5% of the total by value, followed by Gujarat with about 16%, Delhi with 12.3%, Punjab with 8.2% and Andhra Pradesh with 6.6%.

Analysis of electoral bribery

  • Levels of political competition have been consistently high across the country, for example, and there is no reason to suppose that one state’s electorate would have been more amenable to such bribery than another’s. Still, some variations are clear.
  • In Gujarat, Punjab and Delhi, drugs were the most valuable part of the haul; in Tamil Nadu, gold and silver were favoured as a ballot lure; and in Andhra Pradesh, currency notes were apparently expected to take on some of the canvassing burden.

Puzzling Conclusion –

  • The data merely relates to seizures, and there is no way of knowing whether their higher rates reflect greater use of these devious methods or better vigilance by the authorities.
  • The same goes for the higher all-India figure of seizures this year. It could simply be that the EC, police and other departments have done a better job.
  • The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs had specifically directed tax officials to share information with other government agencies on a real-time basis so that raids could be carried out.
  • As with all such matters, partisan action is easy to suspect.
  • Like demonetization—which has not stopped cash from being used like poll confetti—the axe of the authorities may have fallen harder on some than on others.

Way Forward

  • But the point is that offering people material inducements for their votes is against the law.
  • Such bribery is a blight on our democracy and perverts the very purpose of elections.
  • To rid ourselves of the problem, however, we cannot rely on the conscience of politicians.
  • It’s ultimately for voters to send them a clear signal that their votes cannot be bought. Let’s hope they already have.