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March 2020

Human Rights Issues

Not an unfettered right


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights filed an application seeking to intervene as amicus curiae in the pending litigation in the Supreme Court against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

What are the implications of intervention?

  • Concern over international attention: That the case has attracted the attention of the international human rights agency is a matter of concern for the Indian government.
  • International law principles: The intervention may enable the Supreme Court to read in public international law principles in determining the constitutionality of CAA.
  • Law on concepts of sovereignty: Ultimately, this would assist in laying down the law on concepts of sovereignty in addition to determining the obligations of a nation-state to the international community at large.

Why the intervention matters?

  • Basis of the application: The application is based on the belief that the High Commissioner’s intervention will provide the Court “with an overview of the international human rights norms and standards with respect to the state’s obligations to provide international protection to persons at risk of persecution in their countries of origin”.
  • This application stands out for a number of reasons.
  • First, this is a voluntary application rather than at the invitation of the Supreme Court.
  • Second, she accepts that India is a state party and signatory to various international conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Culture Rights which contain important non-discrimination clauses, including on the ground of religion.
  • India’s obligations towards migrants: India is obliged, under international law, to ensure that migrants in its territory or under its jurisdiction receive equal and non-discriminatory treatment regardless of their legal status or the documentations they possess.
  • Locus standi issue raised by India: In response, the External Affairs Ministry argued that “no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty”.
  • The High Commissioner has filed similar amicus curiae briefs on issues of pubic importance before a range of international and national judicial fora.
  • A precedent for future: This intervention, if permitted, would serve as a precedent for a number of future applications. It would also provide an opportunity for the Supreme Court to lay down the law on whether such applications interfere with national sovereignty.

Sovereignty as responsibility

  • Defining sovereignty: International Court of Justice judge James Crawford defines sovereignty as, among other things, the “capacity to exercise, to the exclusion of other states, state functions on or related to that territory, and includes the capacity to make binding commitments under international law” and states that “such sovereignty is exercisable by the governmental institutions established within the state”.
  • Sovereignty in Indian Constitution: The Preamble to the Constitution lays out the position, wherein the people of India have resolved to constitute the Indian Republic into a sovereign and not just any one authority.
  • As such, the courts (judiciary), the government (executive) and elected legislatures (legislature) are equally sovereign authorities.
  • No one can claim exclusivity over sovereignty. Furthermore, Article 51 (c) of the Constitution directs the state to “foster respect for international law”.

Responsibility to citizens and the international community

  • Responsibility of political authority: According to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, “national political authorities are responsible to the citizens internally and to the international community through the UN”.
  • Constraints on sovereignty: Therefore, it is trite to say that an authority’s right to sovereignty is not unfettered. It is subject to constraints including the responsibility to protect its citizenry and the larger international community.
  • Extending Article 14: Furthermore, Article 14 extends the right to equality to all persons, which is wider than the definition of citizens. Even illegal immigrants shall, consequently, be treated by the government in a manner that ensures equal protection of Indian laws.


It is hoped that the Supreme Court will conclude that the intervention is necessary as the Court would benefit from the High Commissioner’s expertise in public international law principles.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Picking up the quantum technology baton


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NM-QTA

Mains level : Paper 3- Research on Quantum technology and its applications in India.


With the Budget announcement providing direction for the development in quantum technology, the stakeholders need to roll-out the national mission quickly.

Pushing India into second quantum revolution

  • Budgetary allocation for NM-QTA: In the Budget 2020 speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a welcome announcement for Indian science — over the next five years she proposed spending ₹8,000 crores (~ $1.2 billion) on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications.
  • This promises to catapult India into the midst of the second quantum revolution, a major scientific effort that is being pursued by the United States, Europe, China and others.

Timeline of the development of Quantum Mechanics

  • Science to describe nature on atomic-scale: Quantum mechanics was developed in the early 20th century to describe nature in the small — at the scale of atoms and elementary particles.
  • Foundation for understanding: For over a century it has provided the foundations of our understanding of the physical world, including the interaction of light and matter.
    • It also led to ubiquitous inventions such as lasers and semiconductor transistors.
    • Despite a century of research, the quantum world still remains mysterious and far removed from our experiences based on everyday life.
  • Second revolution: A second revolution is currently underway with the goal of putting our growing understanding of these mysteries to use by actually controlling nature and harnessing the benefits of the weird and wondrous properties of quantum mechanics.
  • Challenge of experimental realisation: One of the most striking of these is the tremendous computing power of quantum computers, whose actual experimental realisation is one of the great challenges of our times.
  • Quantum supremacy: The announcement by Google, in October 2019, where they claimed to have demonstrated the so-called “quantum supremacy”, is one of the first steps towards this goal.

Applications and challenges

  • Applications: Besides computing, exploring the quantum world promises other dramatic applications including the creation of novel materials, enhanced metrology, secure communication, to name just a few.
    • Some of these are already around the corner.
    • Application in communication: China recently demonstrated secure quantum communication links between terrestrial stations and satellites.
    • Applications in cryptography: Computer scientists are working towards deploying schemes for post-quantum cryptography — clever schemes by which existing computers can keep communication secure even against quantum computers of the future.
    • Exploring fundamental questions: Beyond these applications, some of the deepest foundational questions in physics and computer science are being driven by quantum information science. This includes subjects such as quantum gravity and black holes.
  • The need for collaboration: Pursuing these challenges will require unprecedented collaboration between physicists (both experimentalists and theorists), computer scientists, material scientists and engineers.
  • Challenges on the experimental front: On the experimental front, the challenge lies in harnessing the weird and wonderful properties of quantum superposition and entanglement in a highly controlled manner by building a system composed of carefully designed building blocks called quantum bits or qubits.
    • These qubits tend to be very fragile and lose their “quantumness” if not controlled properly, and a careful choice of materials, design and engineering is required to get them to work.
  • Challenges on the theoretical front: On the theoretical front lies the challenge of creating the algorithms and applications for quantum computers.
    • These projects will also place new demands on classical control hardware as well as software platforms.

Where India stands

  • India late in starting work on technology: Globally, research in this area is about two decades old, but in India, serious experimental work has been underway for only about five years, and in a handful of locations.
  • What are the constraints on Indian progress in this field? So far we have been plagued by a lack of sufficient resources, high-quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility.
    • Resource and quality manpower problem: The new announcement in the Budget would greatly help fix the resource problem but high-quality manpower is in global demand.
    • In a fast-moving field like this, timeliness is everything — delayed funding by even one year is an enormous hit.
  • A previous programme called Quantum Enabled Science and Technology has just been fully rolled out, more than two years after the call for proposals.
  • Laudable announcement: One has to laud the government’s announcement of this new mission on a massive scale and on a par with similar programmes announced recently by the United States and Europe.

Limits and way forward

  • But there are some limits that come from how the government must do business with public funds.
  • Role of the private sector: Here, private funding, both via industry and philanthropy, can play an outsized role even with much smaller amounts.
  • For example, unrestricted funds that can be used to attract and retain high-quality manpower and to build international networks — all at short notice — can and will make an enormous difference to the success of this enterprise.
  • Private participation is the effective way: This is the most effective way (as China and Singapore discovered) to catch up scientifically with the international community, while quickly creating a vibrant intellectual environment to help attract top researchers.
  • Connection with industry: Further, connections with the Indian industry from the start would also help quantum technologies become commercialised successfully, allowing the Indian industry to benefit from the quantum revolution.
  • We must encourage industrial houses and strategic philanthropists to take an interest and reach out to Indian institutions with an existing presence in this emerging field.
  • For example, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), home to India’s first superconducting quantum computing lab, would be delighted to engage.

Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce

Price Support Mechanism under MSP Operations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Price Support operations under MSP Operations

Mains level : MSP mechanism

The Centre will spend ₹1,061 crore to reimburse the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) and its sub-agent in Maharashtra for procuring cotton at the minimum support price in that State since 2014.

Why Centre reimburses to states?

In the event of fall in market prices, the Centre intervenes through following schemes-

Market Intervention Scheme

  • Similar to MSP, there is a Market Intervention Scheme (MIS), which is implemented on the request of State Governments for procurement of perishable and horticultural commodities in the event of fall in market prices.
  • The Scheme is implemented when there is at least 10% increase in production or 10% decrease in the ruling rates over the previous normal year.
  • Proposal of MIS is approved on the specific request of State/UT Government, if the State/UT Government is ready to bear 50% loss (25% in case of North-Eastern States), if any, incurred on its implementation.
  • Under MIS, funds are not allocated to the States.
  • Instead, central share of losses as per the guidelines of MIS is released to the State Governments/UTs, for which MIS has been approved based on specific proposals received from them.

Price Supports Scheme (PSS)

  • The Department of Agriculture & Cooperation implements the PSS for procurement of oil seeds, pulses and cotton, through NAFED which is the Central nodal agency, at the MSP declared by the government.
  • NAFED undertakes procurement as and when prices fall below the MSP. Procurement under PSS is continued till prices stabilize at or above the MSP.
  • Losses, if any incurred by NAFED in undertaking MSP operations are reimbursed by the central Government.
  • Profit, if any, earned in undertaking MSP operations is credited to the central government.


Minimum Support Price (MSP)

  • MSP is a form of market intervention by the GoI to insure agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices.
  • The MSP are announced at the beginning of the sowing season for certain crops on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
  • MSP is price fixed to protect the producer – farmers – against excessive fall in price during bumper production years.
  • In case the market price for the commodity falls below the announced minimum price due to bumper production and glut in the market, govt. agencies purchase the entire quantity offered by the farmers at the announced minimum price.
  • The minimum support prices are a guarantee price for their produce from the Government.
  • The major objectives are to support the farmers from distress sales and to procure food grains for public distribution.

Methods of calculation

  • In formulating the level of MSP and other non-price measures, the CACP takes into account a comprehensive view of the entire structure of the economy of a particular commodity or group of commodities.
  • The CACP makes use of both micro-level data and aggregates at the level of district, state and the country.
  • Other factors include cost of production, changes in input prices, input-output price parity, trends in market prices, demand and supply, inter-crop price parity, effect on industrial cost structure, effect on cost of living, effect on general price level, international price situation, parity between prices paid and prices received by the farmers and effect on issue prices and implications for subsidy.

Procurement agencies

  • Food Corporation of India (FCI) is the designated central nodal agency for price support operations for cereals, pulses and oilseeds.
  • Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) is the central nodal agency for undertaking price support operations for Cotton.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Stages in a COVID-19 Pandemic


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various stages of a pandemic

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation

Over the past few weeks, India has been dreading the possibility that the novel coronavirus outbreak will move to the stage of community transmission.

What are the stages of a pandemic?

Stage I

  • In the first stage of a disease epidemic that eventually takes the form of a pandemic sweeping the globe, cases are imported into a country in which the infection did not originate.
  • An infection whose spread is contained within the boundaries of one or a few countries is obviously not a pandemic.

Stage II

  • The second stage is when the virus starts being transmitted locally.
  • Local transmission means that the source of the infection is from within a particular area and the trajectory the virus has taken from one person to the next is clearly established.

Stage III

  • The third stage is that of community transmission. It is usually localised.
  • According to the WHO community transmission is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples.
  • In layman terms, it means that the virus is now circulating in the community, and can infect people with no history either of travel to affected areas or of contact with an infected person.
  • If and when community transmission happens, there might arise the need for a full lockdown because in that situation it is theoretically possible for every person, regardless of where they are from and who they have been in contact with, to spread the disease.

Stage IV

  • There is also a fourth stage in every pandemic. It is when the disease, COVID-19 in this case, becomes endemic in some countries.
  • The Indian government’s containment plan takes this possibility into account.
  • Among diseases that are currently endemic in India — meaning they occur round the year across the country — are malaria and dengue.

How does categorising an outbreak in this manner help?

  • The stages of a pandemic are uniform the world over.
  • This is so because, in today’s interconnected world, it is important to have a standardised phraseology that conveys the same thing to every person around the world, and helps countries prepare better.
  • The categorization helps countries take specific actions that are necessary to target just that particular scenario.
  • For example, India imposed travel restrictions to China from very early on as the cases they were all imported from China.
  • Later, as cases started being imported from other European countries, flight and visa restrictions were put in place for those countries.
  • India has now shut itself to individuals coming from all countries — this is because the virus is now confirmed as circulating in at least 177 countries and territories.

Worldwide, in which stage is the COVID-19 pandemic now?

  • The pandemic has spread to nearly every country on the planet. In most, though, it is in the stage of either imported cases or local transmission.
  • Among the countries where community transmission seems to be operating are China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan.
  • China adopted a graded approach in dealing with the infection but the epicentre, Hubei, was in a state of complete lockdown at the peak of the infection.
  • It something that Italy has now effected in a bid to stop the virus from wreaking more havoc, given the country’s ageing population.

How long before India enters community transmission?

  • It is totally unpredictable. Some doctors perceive that community transmission is inevitable; other experts feel it may have already happened.
  • There are some reports of one strain having less mortality. If indeed a milder strain has come to India, it could change the course of the epidemic.
  • There is another theory that all the various viruses circulating in South Asia and the generally lower levels of hygiene may give us some immunity.

AYUSH – Indian Medicine System

AYUSH Health-Wellness Centres


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AYUSH Health-Wellness Centres

Mains level : Self-care practices and its benefits

What is the news: The Union Cabinet has approved the inclusion of AYUSH Health and Wellness Centre (AYUSH HWC) component of Ayushman Bharat in the National AYUSH Mission (NAM).

  • A total of 12,500 Ayush health and wellness centres throughout the country will be operationalised within a period of five years.
  • The implementation of the proposal will establish a holistic wellness model based on Ayush principles and practices focusing on preventive promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative healthcare by integration with the existing public health care system.

Why such a move?

  • The move is aimed at establishing a holistic wellness model based on AYUSH principles and practices focusing on preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative healthcare by integration with the existing public health care system.
  • The National Health Policy 2017 has advocated mainstreaming the potential of AYUSH systems (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sows-rigpa and Homoeopathy) within a pluralistic system of Integrative healthcare.
  • The vision of the proposal is to establish a holistic wellness model based on AYUSH principles and practices, to empower masses for ‘self care’ to reduce the disease burden and out of pocket expenditure and to provide informed choice of the needy public.

What is National AYUSH Mission (NAM)?

  • Department of AYUSH, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India has launched National AYUSH Mission (NAM) during 12th Plan for im­plementing through States/UTs.
  • The basic objective of NAM is to promote AYUSH medical systems through cost effective AYUSH services, strengthening of educational systems, facilitate the enforcement of quality control of ASU &H drugs and sustainable availability of ASU & H raw-materials.
  • It envisages flexibility of implementation of the programmes which will lead to substantial participation of the State Governments/UT.
  • The NAM contemplates establishment of a National Mission as well as corresponding Missions in the State level.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Can Vitamin C prevent or cure novel Coronavirus infection?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Vitamin C

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

The strategy of ‘Shelter in Place’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Janata curfew

Mains level : Social distancing and its significance

What is the news: As India observed a “janata curfew” from 7 am to 9 pm on 22nd March refraining from making any non-essential movements, they are implementing a version of what is referred to, most commonly in the United States, as a “shelter in place” order.

What exactly is a “Shelter in Place”?

  • In the context of the US, it is not a precise legal term, and its meaning and implications vary.
  • It conveys the broad idea of a set of restrictions being put into place, but follows not set definition.
  • Broadly, “shelter in place” orders everywhere social distancing, which is the key to “flattening the curve”, that is, spreading out the incidence of infection over a longer time so that healthcare systems are not overwhelmed.
  • Ultimately, the intent of the protocols is to decide what people should and shouldn’t do based on a particular threat to the public.

Indian concept of self-imposed curfew

  • There is no exact definition of a “Janata curfew” — the PM has laid down guidelines for what Indians should not do, and authorities have taken steps to ensure compliance through appeals, advisories, and executive action such as invoking prohibitory orders.
  • In the cities, traders’ associations and housing societies have voluntarily put curbs on themselves in response to the PM’s call.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Species in news: Carissa carandas (the Great Hedge of India)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Carissa carandas

Mains level : NA


Carissa carandas, a  multi-utility wild berry, whose thorny plant the British had used to build a barrier through India in the 1870s, has a hitherto unknown wilder cousin in Assam, a new study has revealed.

Carissa carandas

  • The Carissa carandas was also among several thorny plants the British had grown 140 years ago for a 1,100-mile barrier apparently to enforce taxes and stop the smuggling of salt.
  • It has been used as a traditional herbal medicine for a number of ailments such as diarrhoea, anaemia, constipation, indigestion, skin infections and urinary disorders.
  • The leaves have been used as fodder for silkworms while a paste of its pounded roots serves as a fly repellent.
  • It is better known as karonda in Hindi, kalakkai in Tamil, koromcha in Bengali and karja tenga in Assamese, the Carissa kopilii is threatened by the very river it is named after — Kopili in central Assam.
  • The “sun-loving” plant was distributed sparsely, rooted in rocky crevices along the Kopili riverbed at altitudes ranging from 85-600 metres above sea level.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Test of regional solidarity lies ahead


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Prospects of revival of SAARC and India's leadership in the aftermath of COVID-19.


If PM Modi’s gesture to SAARC is to go some way towards a solution for the region, India, which will be picking up the pieces itself, must have something to offer to its neighbours.


  • Not a viable option: Since 2014, when the last SAARC summit was held in Kathmandu, India had made it more than clear that it no longer considers the South Asia grouping viable.
    • It was Islamabad’s turn to host the next summit in 2016, but the Uri attack intervened, and India refused to attend.
  • SAARC in limbo: Under the SAARC charter, the summit cannot be held even if a single nation stays away, and the grouping has remained in limbo since.
  • India’s increased engagement with other groups: In the last five years, India has actively sought to isolate Pakistan in the region.
    • India hyped up its engagement with other regional groupings such as-
    • BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal), and
    • BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which includes Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.

How to read the sudden resurrection of SAARC?

  • Officials denied revival speculation: Despite hopes that this might be a SAARC revival, officials have discounted such speculation. That would require India to climb down from its position that Pakistan has taken verifiable steps to address India’s concerns on terrorism. There is no evidence at all that Delhi is about to do that.
  • No hope of move from Pakistan: It would need Pakistan to turn over a new leaf, stop playing with free radicals to use against India, in Kashmir or elsewhere when the time is ripe. Neither is about to happen.

No cooperative response in the works

  • First to call the neighbours: At a time when leaders across the globe appeared to be engrossed in the COVID-19 calamity of their own nations, Modi was the first to think of calling the neighbours.
  • Why cooperation among neighbours matter? Almost all South Asian countries are bound to each other by land borders and frequent inter-travel, and it is important that the region liaises to stop the disease from spreading across the Subcontinent.
  • Countries not willing to learn from each other: It was a trifle disappointing, therefore, that beyond the experience of witnessing a unique video summit, there is not much to suggest that a cooperative response is in the works.
    • There is no evidence that each country is willing to learn from the other’s experiences, or public health systems, or that we are tracking each other’s data and responses.
  • What were the proposals made in the summit? Two proposals were made:
    • One by India for a regional fund that Modi has generously offered to put aside $10 million for.
    • Pakistan proposed the setting up of a diseases surveillance centre for sharing real-time data. India has said it would prepare emergency response task forces to help out the member countries in need.
    • Delhi is said to be in the process of sending medical supplies worth $1 million to Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives, which sounds like a fraction of what they may eventually require.
    • Pakistan has said China will give it testing kits, protective gear and portable ventilators, as well as a cash grant for a state-of-the-art isolation centre.
    • Beijing, eager to live down its image as the point of origin for this global mayhem, will make the same offer to other South Asian countries soon.

What were the lessons India need to learn from video-summit?

  • Indian need to go beyond Big Brother events: If the intention was to try and restore the aura Prime Minister Modi enjoyed in the region at the beginning of NDA-1, as some have not improbably suggested, it has to go beyond this Big Boss event.
    • The video summit saw polite attendance by all SAARC leaders, with the exception of Pakistan which sent its health minister.
    • But going by the scant media coverage that the summit, the first after six years, received in the neighbourhood, no one is holding their breath.
  • India has lost heft it once held: For many countries in the region now, India has lost the heft it used to have in the last century.
    • A proximate reason is that it is no longer an economic powerhouse nor holds the promise of being one in the near future.
    • The other reason is that it no longer offers itself as a model nation, pulling together its complex diversities, pluralism and political ideologies in a broad-minded vision.
  • CAA factor and changing the perception of India: The real damage to India’s standing was, of course, done by the badmouthing of the Muslim countries in the neighbourhood to justify the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.
    • Larger image of themselves: Seen from the eyes of other countries in South Asia today, India is now just a larger version of themselves and their political and economic dysfunctions.
    • While additionally possessing and wielding the instruments to be vengeful and punitive in its foreign policy — including arm-twisting them now and then in its constant quest to isolate Pakistan.


  • The real test for India lies ahead: The real test of Modi’s leadership of South Asia, and by extension of India’s, will come after the pandemic subsides, when each country has to deal with what remains of its economy.
    • The tourism economy of Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka would have been crushed by then. Pakistan will be worse off than it is now.
    • There will be more unemployment and hardship everywhere in the region.
    • Some of these countries will inevitably turn to China.
  • India must have something to offer as a solution: If Modi’s gesture is to go some way as part of the solution for the region, India, which will be picking up the pieces itself, must have something to offer to its South Asian neighbours six months to a year down the line.
    • Is there such a plan? Can India put aside the prejudices of its domestic communalism, and its own economic woes, demonstrate large-heartedness to all the countries of the region, irrespective of what religion its people follow, irrespective of its historical hostilities with at least one?
    • There may be more economic refugees knocking on India’s doors, apart from a host of other inter-regional problems.