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January 2020

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[op-ed of the day] The age of ubiquitous drones and the challenges overhead


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Drones, applications and security threats.


Increasing the use of drones in warfare and other areas has brought into focus the potential the use of drones hold and the other issues related to its misuse.

Recent events featuring drones

  • A drone was used by the U.S. to fire the missile at Qassem Soleimani to assassinate him.
  • A few days before that, less-lethal drones monitored crowds of student protesters rocking India.

A potential area of use of drones

  • Military and Policing: Drones are largely used for military or policing purposes, but they also have other uses.
  • Recreation and Sports: They are used for recreation and sports. The Chinese company DJI dominates this space.
  • Logistics: Logistics is another use, with Amazon developing last-mile drone delivery.
  • At scale, this delivery model can save money, energy and time.
  • Domino’s extended this logic to deliver its first pizza by drone in New Zealand and is experimenting with scaling this model up in many markets.
  • Botswana has had some successful trials where drones have delivered blood and life-saving drugs to villages out in the wilderness.
  • Agriculture: A startup called Terraview uses drones with advanced image processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality to increase the productivity of vineyards.
  • A drone can be used to measure the amount of grain that’s piled up after harvest.
  • Mining Output: Tata Steel has used drones quite effectively to measure mining output.
  • Access the inaccessible places: Drones can go where people cannot.
  • So, inspection and repair at remote wind farms on an island, or pipelines in the remote tundra, or equipment in a rainforest can be done more cheaply and precisely.
  • Drone surveillance is now widely used by the insurance industry in the aftermath of floods or pest inspections.
  • They can provide organizations a 360-degree view of the status of any construction project and its assets.
  • Explosive detection and defusing: In many places, it is just safer to send a drone, such as while using explosives in deep mines or defusing suspected bombs.
  • Wildlife protection and survey: drones are used to survey wildlife and detect poaching in the jungles of Africa.

Drones as commodity

  • Drones will soon become a hardware commodity, much like personal computers.
  • It will be the software loaded on it that will be the real force-multiplier.
  • Industry 4.0 revolution: Business like “drones-as-a-service” will emerge, dramatically reducing the time taken for tasks and serving as a vital tool in the Industry 4.0 revolution.

A potent tool for Swarm-attack by military

  • Perhaps the most fascinating developments will occur where drones originated, in
  • Drones will mutate into swarms, where multiple, intelligent, small drones act as one vast network, much like a swarm of birds or locusts.
  • Advanced militaries have drone swarms under trial that could revolutionize future conflicts.
  • These swarms could overwhelm enemy sensors with sheer numbers and precisely target enemy soldiers and assets using data fed into them.
  • They will be difficult to shoot down as there will be hundreds of small flying objects rather than one big ballistic missile.
  • The swarm will use real-time ground data to organize itself and operate in concert to achieve its goal.

Issues with drones

  • It will be us humans who will decide whether we use drones for beneficial or malevolent ends.
  • National Security Issues: Drones have demonstrated the potentials for their threat to the security of a country. Drones are operated remotely and can strike where it want it to strike. Raising serious security issues.
  • Terrorism: Drones have been used by various terrorist organisations like ISIS in Syria and Iraq to hit their targets.
  • Aviation safety: Drones flying too close to commercial aircraft has called for regulations.
  • Privacy: Drones have been used by the paparazzi to take the images of individuals breaching their privacy.


Drones can indeed be a fantastic tool for good projects, from helping save the planet to identifying and nabbing criminals, and preventing the loss of human life. However, for that, we will have to change the DNA that they were born with, as lethal weapons of war. Otherwise, they will remain anonymous killers, wreaking death and destruction as they hover innocuously above.


Coal and Mining Sector

[op-ed snap] Mining deep


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Changes in policy and their effects.


The government eased the regulations for coal mining in India.

What does the opening mean?

  • Removal of restrictions: Until now there were restrictions on who could bid for coal mines.
  • Only those in power, iron and steel and coal washery business could bid for mines.
  • The bidders needed the prior experience of mining in India.
  • Who can buy now?: The move will open up the coal mining sector completely, enabling anyone with finances and expertise to bid for blocks and sell the coal freely to any buyer of their choice.

Benefits of opening

  • More value extraction: The restrictions limited the potential bidders to a select circle of players and thus limited the value that the government could extract from the bidding.
  • Now the Government can extract more value from the auction of the blocks.
  • Development of coal market: Second, end-use restrictions inhibited the development of a domestic market for coal.
  • Job creation: Large investment will create jobs in the sector.
  • Increase in Demand: It will also set off demand in critical sectors such as mining equipment and heavy commercial vehicles.
  • Technology infusion: The country may also benefit from an infusion of sophisticated mining technology, especially for underground mines, if multinationals decide to invest.
  • Ease on Current account: In value terms, coal imports touched $26.18 billion in 2018-19, up from $15.76 billion in 2016-17.
  • This surge in coal imports, along with oil and electronics imports, has exerted pressure on the country’s current account in recent years.

Why the move matters

  • 70 % of energy production in India is coal-based.
  • Until now Coal India was the only commercial miner in the country for more than four decades accounting for 82 per cent of the coal production in the country.
  • The productivity of coal is still an issue in the country. Coal is a very crucial raw material that is used in the power sector and also in cement and metal sectors.

Way forward

The relaxation in regulations, along with previous initiatives such as allowing 100 per cent foreign direct investment through the automatic route in commercial coal production, can aid in boosting coal production in the country and help reduce imports.

Coal India Limited (CIL) has to be nurtured even as private players are welcomed.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Green Credit Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Green Credit Scheme, CAMPA

Mains level : CAMPA

The Forest Advisory Committee has approved a scheme that could allow “forests” to be traded as a commodity.  FAC is an apex body tasked with adjudicating requests by the industry to raze forest land for commercial ends.

Green Credit Scheme

  • The proposed ‘Green Credit Scheme’, as it is called, allows agencies — they could be private companies, village forest communities — to identify land and begin growing plantations.
  • After three years, they would be eligible to be considered as compensatory forest land if they met the Forest Department’s criteria.
  • An industry needing forest land could then approach the agency and pay it for parcels of such forested land, and this would then be transferred to the Forest Department and be recorded as forest land.
  • The participating agency will be free to trade its asset, that is plantation, in parcels, with project proponents who need forest land.
  • This is not the first time that such a scheme has been mooted.
  • In 2015, a ‘Green Credit Scheme’ for degraded forest land with public-private participation was recommended, but it was not approved by the Union Environment Minister, the final authority.


  • In the current system, industry needs to make good the loss of forest by finding appropriate non-forest land — equal to that which would be razed.
  • It also must pay the State Forest Department the current economic equivalent — called Net Present Value — of the forest land.
  • It’s then the Forest Department’s responsibility to grow appropriate vegetation that, over time, would grow into forests.
  • Industries have often complained that they find it hard to acquire appropriate non-forest land, which has to be contiguous to existing forest.
  • If implemented it allows the Forest Department to outsource one of its responsibilities of reforesting to non-government agencies.

 Individuals outside

  • One of India’s prongs to combat climate change is the Green India Mission that aims to sequester 2.523 billion tonnes of carbon by 2020-30, and this involves adding 30 million hectares in addition to existing forest.
  • Critics held that it does not solve the core problems of compensatory afforestation.
  • It creates problems of privatizing multi-use forest areas as monoculture plantation plots. Forests are treated as a mere commodity without any social or ecological character.

Judicial Reforms

Curative Petition


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Review Petition, Curative Petition

Mains level : Capital Punishment and its justification

Curative petitions were filed in the Supreme Court by two convicts in the Nirbhaya case after their execution was scheduled.  The case had shocked the nation and led to the tightening of anti-rape laws. Rape, especially gang rape, is now a capital crime.


  • The concept of Curative petition was evolved by the Supreme Court of India in the matter of Rupa Ashok Hurra vs. Ashok Hurra and Anr. (2002) Judgement.
  • The question was whether an aggrieved person is entitled to any relief against the final judgement/order of the Supreme Court, after dismissal of a review petition.
  • The Supreme Court in the said case held that in order to prevent abuse of its process and to cure gross miscarriage of justice, it may reconsider its judgements in exercise of its inherent powers.

Curative Petition

  • For this purpose, the court has devised what has been termed as a “curative” petition.
  • In the Curative petition, the petitioner is required to aver specifically that the grounds mentioned therein had been taken in the review petition filed earlier and that it was dismissed by circulation.
  • This has to be certified by a senior advocate. The Curative petition is then circulated to the three senior most judges and the judges who delivered the impugned judgement, if available.
  • No time limit is given for filing Curative petition. It is guaranteed under Article 137 of Constitution of India i.e. powers of the Supreme Court to review of its own judgements and orders.

Review Petition

  • Article 137 of the Constitution provides that subject to provisions of any law and rule made under Article 145 the Supreme Court of India has the power to review any judgement pronounced (or order made) by it.
  • Thus binding decision of the Supreme Court/High Court can be reviewed in Review Petition.
  • The parties aggrieved on any order of the Supreme Court on any apparent error can file a review petition.
  • Taking into consideration the principle of stare decisis courts generally do not unsettle a decision, without a strong case. This provision regarding review is an exemption to the legal principle of stare decisis.
  • Under Supreme Court Rules, 1966 such a petition needs to be filed within 30 days from the date of judgement or order.
  • It is also recommended that the petition should be circulated without oral arguments to the same bench of judges that delivered the judgement (or order) sought to be reviewed.

Banking Sector Reforms

Video based Customer Identification Process (V-CIP)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : V-CIP

Mains level : Importance of KYC

The RBI has amended the KYC norms allowing banks and other lending institutions regulated by it to use Video-based Customer Identification Process (V-CIP), a move which will help them, onboard customers, remotely.


  • The V-CIP will be consent-based, will make it easier for banks and other regulated entities to adhere to the RBI’s KYC norms by leveraging the digital technology.
  • The regulated entities will have to ensure that the video recording is stored in a safe and secure manner and bears the date and time stamp.
  • As per the circular, the reporting entity should capture a clear image of PAN card to be displayed by the customer during the process, except in cases where e-PAN is provided by the customer.
  • The PAN details should be verified from the database of the issuing authority.
  • Live location of the customer (Geotagging) shall be captured to ensure that customer is physically present in India.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Why Australia is killing thousands of camels


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Impacts of the invasive alien species

Australia began a five-day cull of up to 10,000 camels, using sniper fire from helicopters. The exercise is taking place in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (called APY Lands) in South Australia state where the animals will be killed according to the “highest standards of animal welfare”.

Australia’s camel woes

  • Australia is believed to have the largest population of wild camels in the world — over 10 lakh, which is rapidly growing.
  • The herds roam in the country’s inland deserts and are considered a pest, as they foul water sources and trample native flora while foraging for food over vast distances each day.
  • Unless their breeding is controlled, the camel population doubles every nine years.
  • The animals also have a massive carbon footprint, each camel emitting methane equivalent to one tonne of carbon ¬dioxide a year.
  • Some in the APY Lands are now demanding legislation that would allow them to legally cull the animals, which could help offset greenhouse emissions.

Camels from India

  • Camels in Australia, which number over 10 lakh today, were first brought to the continent in the late 19th century from India when Australia’s massive interior region was first being discovered.
  • Over 20,000 were imported from India between the 1840s and the 1900s.

Why is Australia killing the camels?

  • The year 2019 was the driest and hottest on record in Australia.
  • A catastrophic bushfire season, that began months before usual, has left over 25 people dead and has burned over 1.5 crore acres of land, killing an estimated 100 crore animals.
  • The acute drought has pushed massive herds of feral or wild camels towards remote towns looking for water, endangering indigenous communities.
  • According to South Australia’s environment department, some camels have died of thirst or trampled each other as they rushed to find water.
  • The camels have been threatening scarce reserves of food and water, besides damaging infrastructure and creating a hazard for drivers, authorities have said.
  • The herds have also contaminated important water sources and cultural sites.

History- Important places, persons in news

Person in news: Manilal Doctor


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Manilal Doctor

Mains level : Indentured labour system in colonial period

An associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Manilal Doctor is known for his efforts towards helping abolish the indentured labour system that Indian immigrants in many parts of the British Empire were subjected to. He fought for the rights of Indian-origin people in Mauritius and Fiji.

The indentured labour system

  • In 1833, the British Parliament banned slavery, and the practice became illegal throughout the Empire. However, to maintain the supply of labour in their territories, colonial authorities effectively replaced slavery with the indentured labour system.
  • The ‘indenture’ (meaning contract) system required Indians to sign a legal agreement stating their consent to move abroad for a minimum of five years to work mainly on sugar estates.
  • Many were lured to distant lands, such as the Caribbean, South Africa, Réunion, Mauritius, Malaysia, and Fiji, where they ended up living in miserable conditions.
  • In the mid 19th century, over 35 lakh Indians were transported to British, French, and Dutch colonies around the world. The system was officially banned in 1917.

Manilal Doctor

  • Born in 1881 in Vadodara, Doctor studied law in Bombay before travelling to Britain in 1905 for further studies.
  • He became a member of the Indian Home Rule Society in London, and wrote in the monthly ‘Indian Sociologist’.
  • In 1906, Doctor met Gandhi, who at the time was in London to meet imperial authorities on behalf of South Africa’s Indian origin people.
  • During the meeting, Gandhi asked Doctor to move to Mauritius to assist the Indian community there in their struggle for equal rights. Doctor arrived in Mauritius the following year.

In Mauritius (1907-1911)

  • Doctor organised the Indian community in the island colony, which consisted of indentured and non-indentured workers, and advocated for the abolition of discriminatory laws.
  • He practised law at the Supreme Court in St Louis, and provided free legal service to bonded workers in need.
  • Doctor visited plantations across the island and met indentured labourers, making them aware of their rights and encouraged them to agitate.
  • He founded ‘The Hindustani’ newspaper in Mauritius, which had the motto “Liberty of Individuals! Fraternity of Men!!! Equality of Race!!!”
  • Doctor also helped establish the Arya Samaj in Mauritius. He returned to India in 1911.

Next, Fiji (1912-1920)

  • In 1912, Gandhi deputed Doctor to the Fiji Colony with the same objective. Like in Mauritius, Doctor emerged as the leader of the Indian community in Fiji in the coming years.
  • In Fiji, Doctor started ‘The Indian Settler’ newspaper, and helped set up the Indian Imperial Association. Here too, he helped establish the Arya Samaj.
  • In 1920, Doctor organised a major strike, which rattled colonial authorities.
  • The imperial administration had Doctor deported to New Zealand, where he remained under surveillance and was barred from practising.
  • In 1922, Doctor was able to move to Gaya in Bihar, where he could practise law. He later practised for many years in Aden, also then a British colony, and died in Bombay in 1956.

Indian Navy Updates

[pib] Exercise MILAN 2020


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ex Milan

Mains level : Not Much

Visakhapatnam is set to host an International Naval event ‘MILAN’ in March 2020.

MILAN 2020

  • It is a multilateral naval exercise aimed to enhance professional interaction between friendly foreign navies and learn from each other’s strengths and best practices in the maritime domain.
  • The Exercise with the theme ‘Synergy Across the Seas’ would provide an excellent opportunity for Operational Commanders of friendly foreign navies to interact with each other in areas of mutual interest.
  • Of the 41 navies invited, confirmations from over 30 navies have been received towards their participation in MILAN 2020.

In continuity with:

[pib] Exercise MILAN 2020

Issues related to Economic growth

[op-ed snap] Limited scope for sharp recovery


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3-Slowdown in the economy, supply side-demand side, way forward for recovery.


In order to revive the economy, the Government must choose between tax reductions and increasing rural spending.

The Current Status of the Indian Economy

  • 5 % in 2019-20: The first advance estimate pegs India’s economic growth at 5 per cent in 2019-20.
  • Cause of the slowdown: The slowdown can be attributed largely to a structural demand problem in the economy along with some cyclical
  • Stagnant income and stagnant incomes: Despite largely stagnant incomes, private consumption has been financed over the past few years through lower savings, easy credit, and certain one-offs such as the Seventh Pay Commission led pay-outs.
  • Private consumption is the largest driver of growth.
  • Depleting savings: The household savings rate has dipped to 17.2 per cent of GDP in FY18, from 22.5 per cent in FY13.
  • Depleting credit in the system: Overall credit in the system has dried up.

 Rural economy

  • Low wages and stagnant incomes: Rural wage growth has averaged around 4.5 per cent over the past five years, but adjusting for inflation it has been only 0.6 per cent.
  • Weak real estate sector: The rural population, which was dependent on urban real estate/construction has faced headwinds in the recent past.
  • The sector is experiencing lower private sector investments recently.

Limited scope for a sharp recovery

  • The following factors render the scope for sharp recovery limited.
  • Consumption issue is structural:  The slowdown in private consumption is a structural issue linked to low household income growth.
  • Low job creation: Low consumption is in turn, linked to the basic problems of low job creation.
  • Low Income: Low consumption is also linked with stagnant farm incomes.
  • None of the above factors is likely to change suddenly, limiting the scope of recovery.
  • Low Investments: Investment is unlikely to rebound sharply given the challenges on both income and balance sheet of the government, private sector, and households.
  • Stressed Government consumption: Which has been supporting growth over the past few years, remains under stress.
  • The combined Centre and states’ fiscal deficit is close to 6.5 per cent of GDP.
  • The public sector is already weighing on the limited domestic financial resources, ruling out space for an aggressive fiscal stimulus.
  • NBFC’s role: Recovery will also depend on the health of the financial sector, especially that of NBFCs.

 Use of the fiscal space

  • Supply-side: The government has shown a clear preference to rely on supply-side measures (like corporate tax cut) to support growth.
  • Need to address demand-side: Expectations will be high that the upcoming Union budget addresses the demand side concerns as well.
  • Spending on rural infrastructure and employment (MGNREGA, PM-KISAN, PMGSY) can decrease pain in rural areas.
  • Given the narrow income tax base, any sacrifice of the fiscal room would be beneficial only for a limited number of people.

Way forward

  • Widening of the tax base- Given the narrow income tax base, any sacrifice of the fiscal room would be beneficial only for a limited number of people.
  • Broad-basing of the income and consumption profile: Economic reforms in the past have worked to enhance the capacity of the top few hundred million consumers.
  • The next set of reforms should enhance the capacity of those in the middle and the bottom of the income pyramid.
  • Role of the private sector: Given the huge infrastructure gap in the country, it is essential that the private sector’s role in infrastructure creation is much more inclusive.


Reforms that increase the productivity of the factors of production, provide an enabling environment for competitive production of goods and services and ensure steady and substantial growth in purchasing power for a larger section of the population should be the focus.