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February 2020

Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Missed call


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- AGR issue and its impact on the telecom sector of the country.


As the dust settles after the Union budget and the Supreme Court’s decision to not provide relief to telcos from their licence fee liabilities, it is an appropriate moment to step back and examine how we got here.

The issue over the definition of AGR (Aggregate Gross Revenue)

  • What is AGR issue: Since the New Telecom Policy of 1999 (NTP 1999), operators were required to pay a percentage of their AGR to the government as licence fees instead of a one-time licence fee.
    • License fee based on earnings: This was done in exchange for moving operators from fixed licence fee-based on irrationally exuberant bids they had made in the mid-nineties-to a regime that determined licence fee based on revenue earned, thereby de-risking the obligation.
    • Why it matters? What constitutes AGR is important for the purpose of the computing licence fee and thousands of crore are dependent on this.
  • Consequences of ambiguity over the definition of AGR: Bundling – a pervasive phenomenon in most telecom markets have not taken off in India.
    • What is bundling? Product bundling is a marketing strategy that involves offering several products and/or services for sale as one combined product.
    • The fear is that handset sales will also come under the purview of AGR. Handsets, it could still be argued are part of the service offering.
    • Dividend on earning is considered as the part of AGR: Interest and dividend earnings on investments have also been included in AGR.

Unfair practices and cancellation of licences by the court

  • Controversy over conversion charges: In 2003, “limited” mobility service was converted into a fully mobile service with a one-time payment of Rs 1,658 crore as “conversion” charges, generating controversy. It was labelled as a “back door entry” to full mobility.
  • Disguising international calls as domestic: Around the same time, the DoT used to levy a fee of Rs 4.75 per minute on international calls known as “access deficit charge” (ADC) to fund universal coverage. It is well known that an operator disguised international calls as domestic to bypass ADC.
  • Showing call revenue as internet services revenue: For some time, internet services attracted lower or no licence fee and it became expedient for operators to indulge in license fee “arbitrage” by showing more revenue from internet services.
  • Inflating subscriber numbers: Another manoeuvre was to inflate subscriber numbers to gain access to scarce spectrum in the days when fresh spectrum was administratively assigned based on subscriber numbers.
  • First come first serve policy: Finally, the shameful spectacle was the battle fought by operators to jump the queue to deposit earnest money for gaining rights over the spectrum that was oddly sought to be assigned by a method called “first come first served” and whose definition itself was quite elastic.
  • Cancellation of licence by the Court: Thereafter, in the litigation that inevitably followed, the Court cancelled 122 telecom licences and mandated allocation of spectrum by auction.


  • Erosion of trust between the public and private sector in general and in the telecom sector, in particular, has been a negative externality of the reform process.
  • Restoration of trust between public and private sector is necessary: In this context, the appeal made by the finance minister during her budget speech for the restoration of “vishwaas” between the public and private sectors and between citizens and government is critical

Digital India Initiatives

Riding on data for mobility


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Applying digital revolution to transform governance.


Data-based governance can assist in reducing traffic congestion, as illustrated by a pilot study in Hyderabad.

How the Digital revolution is transforming lives

  • Seamless and efficient interaction: The digital revolution has made interactions between humans and machines, and among citizens, governments and businesses, seamless and efficient.
  • Helping efficient delivery of services: Today, e-governance enables and empowers citizens to directly engage with the state, thereby eliminating barriers in the delivery of public services.
  • The next wave of transformation: The next wave of transformation in digital governance is at the intersection of data and the public good.
    • Data as a strategic asset: The key to this transformation lies in incorporating data as a strategic asset in all aspects of-
    • Policy.
    • Planning.
    • Service delivery and-
    • Operations of the government.

Transportation system improvement by leveraging Digital revolution

  • Loss caused by the congestion
    • Congestion caused an estimated $24 billion to the four metro cities in India in 2018.
    • Given the limited land resources available, the key to solving congestion lies in improving the efficiency of existing transportation systems.
  • How can Digital revolution help tackle the problem?
    • An efficient transportation system would help ease congestion, reduce travel time and cost, and provide greater convenience.
    • How it will work? Data from multiple sources such as-
    • CCTV cameras.
    • Automatic traffic 
    • Map services and-
    • Transportation service providers could be used.
  • Results of the previous studies
    • London example: A study by Transport for London estimates that its open data initiative on sharing of real-time transit data has helped add £130 million a year to London’s economy by improving productivity and efficiency.
    • Results from China: In China, an artificial intelligence-based traffic management platform developed by Alibaba has helped improve average speeds by 15%.

Hyderabad Open Transit Data portal

  • Hyderabad Open Transit Data, launched by Open Data Telangana, is the country’s first data portal.
    • What does it do? It publishes datasets on bus stops, bus routes, metro routes, metro stations, schedules, fares, and frequency of public transit services.
  • The objective of the portal: The objective is to empower start-ups and developers to create useful mobility applications.
    • The datasets were built after an intensive exercise carried out by the Open Data Team and Telangana State Road Transport Corporation to collect, verify and digitise the data.
  • Collaboration with the private sector: Hyderabad has also begun collaborating with the private sector to improve traffic infrastructure.
    • MoU with Ola Mobility Institute: One such partnership followed a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Telangana government and Ola Mobility Institute.
    • Monitoring the quality of roads in the city: Under this collaboration, Ola has developed a tool, Ola City Sense, to provide data-based insights that can monitor the quality of Hyderabad’s roads and identify bad quality patches.
    • Other areas in which the data is used: The information thus given is useful not only for carrying out road repairs, it also helps officials take initiatives to improve road safetymonitor quality of construction, and study the role of bad roads in causing congestion.
  • A pilot project to prioritisation of repairs: A pilot was implemented in a municipal zone to gauge the efficacy of the data in supporting road monitoring and prioritisation of repairs.
    • The early results of this pilot project were encouraging. The dashboard helped city officials plan the pre-monsoon repair work and budget for repairs last year.


  • The willingness of the government to apply data-based insights: The Hyderabad project and the pilot demonstrated the willingness of government departments to apply data-based insights for better decision making.
    • This could also serve as a model for other cities to emulate.
  • Making the departments data-centric: The Hyderabad example also shows that governments can make their departments data-centric by-
    • Institutionalising data collection.
    • Building technology platforms.
    • And helping the departments develop the capacity to handle the insights generated from the data.
    • Smart cities as a starting point: Command and control centres under the ‘smart cities’ initiative can be an ideal starting point.
    • Data security and privacy: Such interventions, however, also need to address genuine concerns around data security and privacy.



Hunger and Nutrition Issues – GHI, GNI, etc.

Nutrition and the Budget’s fine print


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh

Mains level : Paper 2- Despite having many schemes to address the malnutrition the problems still looms large, why?


There are well-equipped schemes to address the malnutrition, plugging the policy gaps is the problem.

Nutrition and hunger in India

  • Global Hunger Index rank 102: A few months ago, the Global Hunger Index, reported that India suffers from “serious” hunger, ranked 102 out of 117 countries.
  • Only one-tenth of children getting proper diet: Just a tenth of children between six to 23 months are fed a minimum acceptable diet.
  • Urgency reflected in the budget: The urgency around nutrition was reflected in the Union Finance Minister’s Budget speech, as she referred to the “unprecedented” scale of developments under the scheme for Holistic Nutrition, or POSHAN Abhiyaan, the National Nutrition Mission with efforts to track the status of 10 crore households.
  • The Economic Survey notes that “Food is not just an end in itself but also an essential ingredient in the growth of human capital and therefore important for national wealth creation”.
  • How malnutrition affects? Malnutrition affects cognitive ability, workforce days and health, impacting as much as 16% of GDP (World Food Programme and World Bank).

Addressing Nutrition through Agriculture

  • Multiple dimension of malnutrition: There are multiple dimensions of malnutrition that include-
    • Calorific deficiency.
    • Protein hunger.
    • Micronutrient deficiency.
  • Addressing the issue through Agriculture: An important approach to address nutrition is through agriculture.
    • The Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh which was launched in 2019 is a recent attempt to bridge this gap.
    • The krishi kosh was launched by Ministry of Women and Child Development along with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
    • Existing schemes can well address India’s malnutrition dilemma. Following is the analysis of budgetary allocation and expenditure in the previous year.

First- Calorific deficiency

  • The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme provides a package of services including-
    • Supplementary nutrition.
    • Nutrition and health education.
    • Health check-ups and
    • Referral services addressing children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls, key groups to address community malnutrition, and which also tackle calorific deficiency and beyond.
    • Underutilisation of funds: For 2019-20, the allotment was ₹27,584.37 crore but revised estimates are ₹24,954.50 crore, which points to an underutilisation of resources.
    • Which area needs the emphasis: The allocation this year is marginally higher, but clearly, the emphasis needs to be on implementation.
  • Mid-Day Meal Scheme: Another pathway to address hunger is the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, to enhance the nutrition of schoolchildren.
    • Here too, the issue is not with allocation but with expenditure.
    • The 2019-20 Budget allocation was ₹11,000 crore and revised estimates are only ₹9,912 crores.

Second-Protein Hunger

  • Contribution of pulses: Pulses are a major contributor to address protein hunger.
    • Underutilisation of funds: A scheme for State and Union Territories aims to reach pulses into welfare schemes (Mid-Day Meal, Public Distribution System, ICDS) has revised estimates standing at just ₹370 crores against ₹800 crore allocation in the 2019-20 Budget.

Third-micronutrient deficiency

  • Horticulture Mission: The Horticulture Mission can be one of the ways to address micronutrient deficiency effectively, but here too implementation is low.
    • Revised estimates for 2019-20 stand at ₹1,583.50 crores against an allocation of ₹2,225 crores.
  • National Millet Mission: In 2018-19, the Government of India launched a national millet mission which included renaming millets as “nutri-cereals” also launching a Year of Millets in 2018-19 to promote nutritious cereals in a campaign mode across the country.
    • This could have been further emphasised in the Budget as well as in the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) which includes millets.
    • Under-utilisation of funds: The NFSM strains to implement the allocation of ₹2,000 crores during 2019-20, as revised expenditures stand at ₹1,776.90 crore.
    • Need to sustain the momentum: As millets have the potential to address micronutrient deficiencies, the momentum given to these cereals needs to be sustained.

POSHAN Abhiyan and issues involved

  • 72% expenditure on technology: The National Nutrition Mission which is a major initiative to address malnutrition, had 72% of total expenditure going into “Information and Communication Technology.
    • Misplaced focus: The focus of the bulk of the funding has been on technology, whereas, actually, it is a convergence that is crucial to address nutrition.
    • Under-utilisation of funds: Only 34% of funds released by the Government of India were spent from FY 2017-18 to FY 2019-20 till November 30, 2019.
    • Limiting the possibility of an increase in the allocation: With underspending, allocations for subsequent years will also be affected, limiting the possibility of increasing budgets and the focus on nutrition schemes.

Agriculture-nutrition link

  • The agriculture-nutrition link is another piece of the puzzle.
  • Link not explicitly mentioned: While agriculture dominated the initial Budget speech, the link between agriculture and nutrition was not explicit.
    • Why the link is important: The link is important because about three-fifths of rural households are agricultural in India (National Sample Survey Office, 70th round)
    • The malnutrition rates, particularly in rural areas are high (National Family Health Survey-4).
    • Need for greater emphasis: Agriculture-nutrition linkage schemes have the potential for greater impact and need greater emphasis.

Way forward

  • Focus: Focus on nutrition-related interventions, beyond digitisation.
  • Bring all departments in one place: Intensify the convergence component of POSHAN Abhiyaan, using the platform to bring all departments in one place to address nutrition.
  • Nutrition based activities by farmer-producer: Direct the announcement to form 10,000 farmer producer organisations with an allocation of ₹500 crores to nutrition-based activities.
  • Youth schemes: Promotion of youth schemes to be directed to nutrition-agriculture link activities in rural areas.
  • Emphasis on fund allocation: Give explicit emphasis and fund allocation to agriculture-nutrition linked schemes.
  • Early disbursement and utilisation of funds: Ensure early disbursement of funds and optimum utilisation of schemes linked to nutrition.


Nutrition goes beyond just food, with economic, health, water sanitation, gender perspectives and social norms contributing to better nutrition. This is why the implementation of multiple schemes can contribute to better nutrition.


Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

Medical Devices (Amendment) Rules, 2020


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Medical Devices (Amendment) Rules, 2020

Mains level : Regulation of medical devices in India

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has notified changes in the Medical Devices Rules, 2017 to regulate medical devices on the same lines as drugs under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.

Medical Devices (Amendment) Rules, 2020

  • These rules are applicable to devices intended for internal or external use in the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of disease or disorder in human beings or animals” (as notified by the ministry).
  • It requires online registration of these devices “with the Central Licensing Authority through an identified online portal established by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation for this purpose.
  • Among the information that the manufacturer has to upload are “name & address of the company or firm or any other entity manufacturing the medical device along with name and address of manufacturing site.
  • It also need to upload certificate of compliance with respect to ISO 13485 standard accredited by National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies or International Accreditation Forum.
  • This would mean that every medical device, either manufactured in India or imported, will have to have quality assurance before they can be sold anywhere in the country.
  • After furnishing of the above information a registration number will be generated. Manufacturer shall mention the registration number on the label of the medical device.

What are the items covered under the new Rules?

  • A large number of commonly used items including hypodermic syringes and needles, cardiac stents, perfusion sets, catheters, orthopaedic implants, bone cements, lenses, sutures, internal prosthetic replacements etc are covered under the new rules.
  • For some items such as sphygmomanometers (used to monitor blood pressure), glucometers (to check blood sugar), thermometers, CT scan and MRI equipment, dialysis and X-ray machines, implants etc, different deadlines for compliance have been set.
  • For example for the first three, it is January 2021, for the others it is April next year. For ultrasound equipment, it is November 2020.

Is this a sudden move?

  • This has been in the offing for some time now.
  • In October last year, the ministry had circulated copies of the then proposed notification for public comments following recommendations of the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB), which is the highest technical body for these decisions and has experts among its members.
  • In April last year, the DTAB had recommended that all medical devices should be notified as “drugs” under the drug regulation law to ensure they maintain safety and quality standards.
  • The notification makes it clear that the government has issued it in consultation with the DTAB.

Why was the move required?

  • For much of the last one year, the health sector has been at the centre of attention following revelations about faulty hip implants marketed by pharma major Johnson & Johnson.
  • This has caused major embarrassment to the government, too, as it exposed the lack of regulatory teeth when it came to medical devices.
  • The matter dragged on, exposing the regulatory loopholes until finally the company agreed in court to pay Rs 25 lakh each to the 67 people who had had to undergo revision surgeries because the implants were defective.
  • That is really where the discussion started about regulation of medical devices.

What are the penal provisions under Indian law?

  • There are various penal provisions under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 for various kinds of offences. Manufacture or sale of substandard items is punishable with imprisonment of at least 10 years, which may extend to imprisonment for life.
  • There is also a provision for fine that will “not be less than Rs 10 lakh rupees or three times value of the confiscated items”.

Terrorism and Challenges Related To It

Conviction of Hafiz Saeed


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FATF

Mains level : Terror funding

The Lashkar-e-Taiba founder (LeT) and Jamat-ud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed was convicted by a Pakistan court in two terror-financing cases and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison concurrently.

Why such move?

  • With pressure from the international community building up, Pakistan has been trying to convince the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to prevent it getting blacklisted.
  • Saeed’s conviction is perhaps a reflection of Pakistan’s changing approach towards its treatment of terror groups, given the FATF’s actions and warnings.

Who is Hafiz Saeed?

  • Hafiz Saeed is the founder and leader of the fundamentalist terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is a group that follows an extreme interpretation of religious texts.
  • It was founded in 1990 and its goals include conducting jihad, preaching the true religion and training the new generation along true religious lines.
  • Some of its goals are aligned with that of Pakistan, including the liberation of Kashmir from India.

Why his conviction matters?

  • Saeed is also the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
  • Other attacks that LeT has been involved in include the 2001 shootout at Parliament House in New Delhi, and, most recently, the 2016 attack on the military headquarters in Uri.
  • In 2012, in order to support India in its attempt to extradite Saeed, the US State Department offered a bounty of up to $10 million for information that could lead to his arrest or conviction.
  • Moreover, the US Department of the Treasury has marked Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist since 2012.
  • ISI and the Pakistani government too help the LeT bring in funds, and it is believed to have fund-raising offices in Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and the Gulf region.

A shield against FATF actions

  • The FATF placed Pakistan in the grey list in July 2018 nonetheless.
  • Before Saeed’s arrest, the FATF had warned Pakistan to deliver on its commitments to curb terror financing. Pakistan feared being a part of FATF’s “Grey List”.
  • Significantly, if Pakistan did not follow up on FATF’s warnings, it could potentially be downgraded to the Black List, which would make things more difficult for the country.
  • FATF is de facto run by the US Treasury Department.

RBI Notifications

New Umbrella Entity (NUE) for Retail Payment Systems


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NUE

Mains level : Payments regulation measure by RBI

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has proposed to set up a new pan-India new umbrella entity (NUE) or entities focussing on retail payment systems with a minimum paid-up capital of Rs 500 crore.

New Umbrella Entity (NUE)

  • The proposed entity will set up, manage and operate new payment systems especially in the retail space.
  • It would comprise of but not limited to ATMs, white label PoS, Aadhaar-based payments and remittance services, develop payment methods, standards and technologies, monitor related issues and internationally.
  • It would take care of developmental objectives like enhancement of awareness about the payment systems.
  • The RBI retains the right to approve the appointment of directors as also to nominate a member on the board of the NUE.
  • The NUE should conform to the norms of corporate governance along with ‘fit and proper’ criteria for persons to be appointed on its board.


It will:

  • operate clearing and settlement systems
  • identify and manage relevant risks such as settlement, credit, liquidity and operational and preserve the integrity of the system
  • monitor retail payment system developments and related issues in the country and internationally to avoid shocks, frauds and contagions that may adversely affect the system and the economy in general

Terms of reference

  • The entity eligible to apply as promoter or the promoter group for the NUE should be ‘owned and controlled by residents’ with 3 years’ experience in the payments ecosystem as Payment System Operator (PSO) or Payment Service Provider (PSP) or Technology Service Provider (TSP).
  • The shareholding pattern should be diversified.
  • Any entity holding more than 25 per cent of the paid-up capital of the NUE will be deemed to be a promoter.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Novel Coronavirus renamed as COVID-19 by WHO


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Coronavirus, Pneumonia

Mains level : Threats posed by coronavirus outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) gave an official name to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The death toll from the virus has now crossed 1,000 and the disease has infected tens of thousands of people, the majority of them in China.


  • The disease will be called “COVID-19”; the “CO” stands for coronavirus, “VI” for virus and “D” for disease.
  • The coronavirus itself is called “nCoV-2019”.

WHO nomenclature

  • The WHO, in consultation with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has identified best practices for naming new human diseases.
  1. These best practices apply to a new disease:
  2. That is an infection, syndrome, or disease of humans;
  3. That has never been recognised before in humans;
  4. That has potential public health impact; and
  5. Where no disease name is yet established in common usage
  • Names that are assigned by the WHO may or may not be approved by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) at a later stage.
  • The ICD, which is also managed by the WHO, provides a final standard name for each human disease according to standard guidelines that are aimed at reducing the negative impact from names while balancing science, communication and policy.

Terms to avoid

  • The agreed best practices include advice on what the disease names should not include, such as geographic location (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish Flu, Japanese encephalitis).
  • Disease names should not include people’s names (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), the species or class of animal or food (swine flu, monkeypox etc.), cultural or occupational references (miners, butchers, cooks, nurses etc.) and terms that incite “undue fear” such as death, fatal and epidemic.
  • The use of names such as “swine flu” and “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” has had “unintended negative impacts” by stigmatising certain communities and economic sectors.

Terms to include

  • The best practices include using generic descriptive terms such as respiratory diseases, hepatitis, neurologic syndrome, watery diarrhoea.
  • They include using specific descriptive terms that may indicate the age group of the patients and the time course of the disease, such as progressive, juvenile or severe.
  • If the causative pathogen is known, it should be used as part of the disease name with additional descriptors such as the year when the disease was first reported or detected.
  • The names should also be short (rabies, malaria, polio) and should be consistent with the guidelines under the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) Content Model Reference Guide.
  • As per the WHO, “severe” should be used only for those diseases that have a very high initial case fatality rate. “Novel” can be used to indicate a new pathogen of a previously known type
  • In the case of the novel coronavirus, “recognizing that this term will become obsolete if other new pathogens of that type are identified”, the WHO has now changed its name.

Human Rights Issues

‘2 Billion Kilometers to Safety’ campaign


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : '2 Billion Kilometers to Safety' campaign

Mains level : Refugees issue across the world


The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has announced a new global campaign urging people worldwide to cover the total distance travelled by refugees each year – 2 billion kilometers – by running, jogging or walking.

About the campaign

  • The “2 Billion Kilometers to Safety” campaign vies to encourage people to support refugees by championing individual acts of solidarity.
  • The goal is to acknowledge the resilience and strength of refugees.
  • It calls on the public to show their solidarity with refugees by running, walking or cycling to collectively cover two billion kilometers.
  • Participants can use their fitness apps or the campaign website to log the kilometers and contribute to the global total.

Distance covered by refugees 

  • UNHCR traced the journeys of refugees around the world and calculated that, collectively, people forced to flee travel approximately two billion kilometers every year to reach the first point of safety.
  • This is roughly the distance that separates Earth from somewhere between the planets Saturn and Uranus.
  • According to UNHCR estimates, Syrian refugees travelled over 240 kilometers each to reach Turkey.
  • South Sudanese refugees travelled more than 640 kilometers to reach Kenya. Rohingya refugees from Myanmar travelled approximately 80 kilometers to reach Bangladesh.

New Species of Plants and Animals Discovered

In news: Yaravirus


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Yaravirus

Mains level : NA

In a lake in Brazil, researchers have discovered a virus that they find unusual and intriguing.


  • The Yaravirus infects amoeba and has genes that have not been described before, something that could challenge how DNA viruses are classified.
  • It has a puzzling origin and phylogeny (evolutionary relationship).
  • Because of the Yaravirus’s small size, it was unlike other viruses that infect amoeba and they named it as a tribute to Yara, the “mother of waters” in the mythological stories of the Tupi-Guarani indigenous tribes.
  • The virus does not infect human cells, according to the researchers.