Bills/Act/LawsDOMRExplainedGovt. SchemesHistorical Sites in NewsIOCRMains Onlyop-ed of the dayop-ed snapPIBPrelims OnlyPriority 1SC JudgementsSpecies in NewsStates in News
April 2020
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

RBI Notifications

RBI should preserve its inflation credibility

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MPC

Mains level : Paper 3- MPC and RBI actions which are inimical to mandate of MPC.

This article by Urjit Patel elaborates on the recent actions of the RBI which are likely to result in making the role of MPC redundant. Some of the moves cited are injection of liquidity by the RBI and reduction of reverse repo rate by the RBI. Implications such actions could have for the macroeconomic stability are also discussed.

Stimulus package after the 2008 financial crisis and problems created by it

  • Following the global financial crisis of 2007-08, India, like many other countries, embarked on a stimulus.
  • The pump-priming did not end too well.
  • Inflation and bad loans: By 2013, India crossed or approached double-digit figures in inflation and the national fiscal deficit, in addition to looming bad loans.
  • Taper tantrum: In summer 2013, when the Federal Reserve indicated a possible reversal of its ultra-accommodative policy, macroeconomic parameters for India were so weak that it got caught up in the “taper tantrum” and experienced external sector fragility.

Inflation targeting and the role of MPC

  • While fiscal excesses and financial sector stress remain issues today, India has improved significantly on at least one dimension — namely, inflation — which has also stabilised the external sector.
  • How was this beneficial progress achieved?
  • Starting in September 2013, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) initiated an effort to build credibility with domestic savers and international investors on maintaining inflation at prudent levels.
  • Three years thereafter, the RBI Act was amended to put in place a flexible inflation targeting framework.
  • A Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), comprising of RBI representatives and external members appointed by the Government of India, was enjoined with the legal mandate of managing the policy (repo) rate.
  • MPC was mandated to keep consumer price inflation at a target level of 4 per cent, while keeping in mind economic growth.

Assessment of MPC’s performance

  • By objective measures, the MPC framework until recently worked rather well.
  • It lent transparency and democratic accountability to the process of interest-rate setting.
  • Combined with efforts on managing food inflation, it has brought inflation closer to the target.
  • It has contributed to tempering household inflation expectations.
  • It has kept borrowing costs in the economy at reasonable levels in spite of the high level of government borrowing and several other distortions.
  • Appreciation by the rating agencies: Indeed, rating agencies and multilateral institutions repeatedly mention the MPC and the inflation targeting framework as a landmark structural reform towards sound macroeconomic management.

Latest monetary actions by RBI that reduced MPC’s role

  • Since last year, a series of monetary actions by the RBI have left the MPC’s decision on the policy rate partly redundant, diluted the accountable process of monetary decision-making.
  • This has put at stake the sanctity of the MPC framework.
  • With a stated intention to improve the transmission of monetary policy to households and corporations, the RBI has pumped unprecedented levels of money (close to Rs 7 trillion) into the banking system.
  • It has done so mostly by purchasing government bonds but partly also by purchasing dollars.
  • No desired results: Given impaired financial sector balance-sheets, transmission to economic growth has been at best muted; liquidity is no silver bullet to durably address financial sector stress.
  • The primary effect of excessive liquidity has, instead, been to monetise the government’s expenditures and keep its borrowing costs low.
  • With its declared aim not being met satisfactorily, the RBI has doubled down on liquidity supply, with the same outcome.
  • An important casualty has been the MPC framework.
  • Contradictory actions: At times, even when the MPC has kept the policy rate unchanged, the RBI has injected yet more liquidity to move medium-term interest rates down.
  • The two actions have been noted to be in direct contradiction of each other.
  • If the objective is to move medium-term rates, why not build consensus within the MPC to cut the policy rate more aggressively and communicate the rationale?
  • Change in reverse repo by the RBI: Further, given the enormous liquidity glut, every night banks park liquidity with the RBI at a (reverse repo) rate lower than the policy rate and which is not set by the MPC; nevertheless, this rate used to be changed only as part of the MPC Resolution.
  • Lately, the RBI has moved reverse repo rate progressively lower than the policy rate; recently.
  • It has done so outside of the MPC meeting cycle and not as part of the MPC Resolution.
  • There are straightforward tools in liquidity management to ensure that in surplus conditions also, the central bank transacts with banks at the policy rate — technically, by switching from “deficit” to “floor” system of liquidity management.
  • Such a switch is routinely adopted by central banks when they provide excess liquidity; the RBI has chosen not to do so.

What are the implications?

  • The net effect is that market interest rates are being increasingly controlled by the RBI rather than the MPC.
  • Indeed, there is a proposal that the rate at which the RBI absorbs liquidity be still lower, likely divorced from the policy rate set by the MPC.
  • The spirit of the MPC framework enshrined in the RBI Act is being violated.
  • It is unclear how the MPC can be expected to satisfy its legal mandate if what it seeks to achieve via the setting of the policy rate is in conflict with, or compromised by, the RBI’s liquidity management.
  • These developments have the potential to pose risks for India’s macroeconomic stability going forward.
  • The implicit monetisation of fiscal expenditures through government bond purchases by the RBI in the secondary market has postponed the recognition of the untenable fiscal reality.
  • The delay has meant the government has had limited policy space since the onset of COVID.
  • Supply-chain disruptions due to measures taken to contain the pandemic raise the possibility of cost-push inflationary pressures, especially given the excessively easy fiscal and monetary conditions.
  • This can abruptly raise economy-wide borrowing rates, inflict losses on banks, and imperil financial stability.
  • If the gains in inflation credibility built by the MPC framework are dissipated by ineffective policies and operations, both household and investor expectations for inflation in India could unhinge.
  • Worse, it could instigate turmoil in the external sector.
  • Excessively low bank deposit rates may induce some non-resident deposits to exit the country.

A question based on the issue of RBI’s action and its implication for MPC and overall economy can be asked by the UPSC, for ex- “The MPC framework has performed well in delivering on its mandate. Yet, there were some actions by the RBI recently which could be perceived as inimical to the functions of the MPC. Discuss.”

Conclusion

In a highly unpredictable time such as this, the RBI should preserve its inflation credibility. The decision on monetary policy actions based on voting by committee members, provision of inflation and growth forecasts in the resolution statement, and coordination of rate-setting and liquidity management, need to be adhered to.


Back2Basics: What is MPC?

  • The Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 (RBI Act) was amended by the Finance Act, 2016,  to provide for a statutory and institutionalised framework for a Monetary Policy Committee, for maintaining price stability, while keeping in mind the objective of growth.
  • The Monetary Policy Committee is entrusted with the task of fixing the benchmark policy rate (repo rate) required to contain inflation within the specified target level.
  • The meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee are held at least 4 times a year and it publishes its decisions after each such meeting.
  • As per the provisions of the RBI Act, out of the six Members of Monetary Policy Committee, three Members are from the RBI and the other three Members of MPC are appointed by the Central Government.
  • Governor of the RBI is ex officio Chairman of the committee.

Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Sharp fall in oil prices is opportunity for India to increase stockpile

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SPR

Mains level : Paper 3- Importance of SPR , issues with it and need for the diversification.

This article highlights the opportunity that the sharp drop in the oil prices presents to India. It also highlights several issues with India’s strategic petroleum reserves and suggests ways to deal with them. We have covered an article from livemint on the same topic in the past week.

Negative price in the international market for WTI crude oil

  • Oil prices continue to decline globally, with crude hitting multi-decade lows, as global demand evaporates.
  • Earlier last week, in unprecedented price action, the near-month contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) sweet crude oil dropped to -$37.63 a bbl.
  • A negative price has never before been registered for a major global crude oil benchmark.
  • The extreme price action is a signal that there is a global oil glut with few places to store oil.
  • Global oil markets have been severely disrupted.
  • While WTI does not feature in India’s basket, Brent Crude Oil, which does, is trading around $25 a barrel, the lowest in 18 years.

Price of oil: The silver lining of the future recovery

  • Even as India suffers from a lockdown, a silver lining for future recovery and reconstruction is the price of oil.
  • Given India’s growth aspirations and lack of self-sustaining oil production, a sharp reduction in oil prices is a bonanza.
  • Normally, reduced oil prices would translate into surplus for the consumers and a fiscal bonus for the government through increased tax collections.
  • However, given that the demand for petrol has slumped, those gains will not accrue right away.
  • Opportunity for India: India should look at this as an opportunity to strengthen its energy security by buying oil and filling up our Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR).
  • Considering that India was the third-largest consumer of energy in the world, as well as the third-largest importer of oil in 2018, we are particularly vulnerable to oil price fluctuations.
  • The dramatic reduction in oil prices offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to fill up our reserves in an extremely cost-effective way.

India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) Programme

  • Currently, we do maintain an emergency stockpile of oil reserves: Under the existing Strategic Petroleum Reserves programme, India claims to have 87 days of reserves.
  • Out of this, refiners maintain 65 days of oil storage and the rest of the reserves are held in underground salt caverns maintained by Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL).
  • The existing and planned capacity for the underground reserves is 10 and 12 days of import cover for crude oil respectively.

Following point highlights the importance and various issues with India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR). SPR plays an important role in India’s energy security.  A question based on its role may be asked by the USPC “Assess the importance of Strategic Petroleum Reserves for India and what are the issues associated with that need to be improved?”

Issues with the strategic reserves

  • First, capacity does not directly translate into utilisation, which is partly because oil is an expensive commodity most days of the year.
  • In 2019, the average closing price of a barrel of crude was $57.05.
  • In 2018, it was $64.90, and in 2017, U$50.84.
  • Of the existing 10 days of capacity, only about 50 per cent is utilised.
  • The second issue is with regard to the refinery holdings.
  • In India, the SPR arrangement between the oil refineries and the Union or state governments is not specified well, though most of the refineries that hold stock are publicly-owned companies.
  • In fact, a breakdown of which refineries hold SPR and in what form (crude or refined) or information about where they are located is not publicly available.

Need for transparency in relation to SPR

  • The first step, therefore, should be to introduce transparency and accountability in relation to the SPR.
  • The procedures, protocols and facts about Indian SPR storage require greater public and parliamentary scrutiny, just like India’s other strategic reserves (for instance, foreign exchange).
  • For this, there should be timely and reliable dissemination of information.
  • Instead, it is now shrouded in secrecy.
  • The ambiguity surrounding mobilisation process: The lack of transparency around our SPR holdings is compounded by the ambiguity surrounding the mobilisation process.
  • SPR reserves are meant to be used in emergencies, where time is likely to be of the essence.
  • The SPR mobilisation process could be made more efficient by laying out designated roles for different agencies to avoid redundancies in times of crisis.
  • There should be role and process clarity regarding SPR mobilisation.
  • For instance, to begin with, there should be clarity on who (or which agency) can define an emergency and therefore order a mobilisation.

Diversification of SPR

  • Further, in order to mitigate risks better, India should look to diversify its SPR holdings.
  • Diversification can be 1)Based on geographical location (storing oil either domestically or abroad), storage location (underground or overground) and 2) Product type (oil can be held in either crude or refined form).
  • Storage and transportation costs could be saved by diversifying geographically.
  • 3) Diversification could also be in the form of ownership — either publicly owned through ISPRL or by private oil companies, such as ADNOC of Abu Dhabi.
  • The private companies could fill up the SPR when prices are low and take advantage of price arbitrage.
  • This could achieve a degree of price stability and reduce the cost for India to buy such large quantities of oil.
  • The only requirement for this to work is to have a clear contract with the private companies about the mandatory minimum level of stock that they should preserve for use in emergency times.

Storing oil abroad

  • With oil dirt-cheap, if we can purchase more than we can store in our existing facilities, why not go abroad for more storage space?
  • For instance, one option could be to operationalise, modernise, and add to the oil tanking facilities at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka.
  • Another opportunity would be to enter into a strategic partnership with Oman (Ras Markaz) for oil storage.
  • Partnership with Oman would also help India avoid the potential bottleneck of the straits of Hormuz.
  • Geopolitical risk factor: Since many of these places could potentially be vulnerable to geopolitical risks, only a small part of India’s overall SPR strategy should involve storing abroad.

Conclusion

Energy is and will remain vital to India’s aspirations for growth. The sharp fall in the price of oil presents an opportunity for the Union government to increase its SPR stockpile and achieve a degree of energy security.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

New global order in post-Covid-19 world

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Changes in the post-Covid-19 world in geopolitics and the geoeconomics.

The article discusses the changes that the world will experience in the global order in the aftermath of Covid-19. The major changes will be on the economic and geopolitical front. Various changes are discussed in the article. We have read some article on the same topic and the basic theme is the same. Role of China and the US, failure of the international institutions are some of the common themes.

Failure of international institutions

  • The existing international institutions such as the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council and the World Health Organization (WHO) are seen to have failed to measure up to the grave challenge posed by the pandemic.
  • The UN Security Council is under attack for being slow in dealing with a situation that appears, at least on the surface, far graver than any military threat in recent decades.
  • The WHO has been tarred with the charge of bias and of grossly underestimating the nature of the epidemic.
  • That prestigious global institution should have been singled out for attack at this time speaks volumes about the mood prevailing across the world.

Economic shock

  • There are many other aspects of the COVID-19 crisis that will drastically impact the globe.
  • Negative growth: On the economic front, the World Bank has already predicted negative growth for most nations. India’s growth forecast for the current fiscal year has been put at 5% to 2.8%.
  • Contraction of the economy and the loss of millions of jobs across all segments will further complicate this situation.

One of the most important factors that we realised in the corona crisis in the role of the state. Take note of this factor. A question can be asked on the role of the state, for ex. “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus the important role of the state in our lives. comment.”

The important role of the state in focus

  • What is likely to change even more dramatically are certain other aspects relating to political management and security. Both terms are set to gain new meanings.
  • The role of the state as an enforcer of public goodwill almost certainly become greatly enhanced.
  • The dominant imperative would be to not put limits on the role of the state even where the situation may not be as grave as the present one.
  • Many pieces of legislation of yesteryears that had been relegated to the archives — they were perceived to be anachronistic in a modern democratic set-up — may get a new lease of life.
  • Some pieces of legislation such as the Disaster Management Act already reflect this reality today.
  • Other pieces of legislation could follow in its wake.
  • This trend is already becoming evident to some extent across the world. Europe has shown a willingness to sacrifice personal liberties in favour of greater state control.
  • Post COVID-19, the world may have to pay a heavy price in terms of loss of liberty. An omnipotent state could well become a reality.

Following are the changes in geo-economics and geo-politics that post-covid world would see.

Role of China under scrutiny

  • Far-reaching changes can also be anticipated in the realm of geo-economics and geopolitics. The world needs to prepare for a sea change.
  • One nation, viz. China, is presently seeking to take advantage of and benefit from the problems faced by the rest of the world in the wake of the epidemic.
  • Negligence on the part of China: China remains totally unfazed by the stigma that the current world pandemic owes a great deal to its negligence.
  • More importantly, it is seeking to convert its ‘failure’ into a significant opportunity.
  • This is Sino-centrism at its best, or possibly its worst.
  • China now seeks to benefit from the fact of its ‘early recovery’.
  • It wants to take advantage of the travails of the rest of the world, by using its manufacturing capability to its geo-economic advantage.
  • Seeking geopolitical advantage: Simultaneously, it seeks to shift from being a Black Swan (responsible for the pandemic), to masquerade as a White one, by offering medical aid and other palliatives to several Asian and African countries to meet their current pandemic threat.
  • In turn, it seeks to gain a geopolitical advantage by this action.

Hostile takeover bids by China

  • There are enough reports of China’s intentions to acquire financial assets and stakes in banks and companies across the world amid crisis.
  • Shares in HDFC: India seems to have woken up only recently to this threat after the Peoples’ Bank of China acquired a 1% stake in India’s HDFC.
  • Across the world, meanwhile, the clamour against China’s hostile takeover bids is becoming stronger.
  • Several countries apart from India, such as Australia and Germany, have begun to restrict Chinese foreign direct investment in companies and financial institutions in their countries.
  • These countries recognised the inherent danger of a possible Chinese hostile takeover of their critical assets.

China taking advantage of RCEP and Belt and Road initiative

  • Restricting hostile takeovers may not be adequate to checkmate China.
  • It is poised to dominate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  • Which will enable China to exploit market access across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, East Asian nations, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Together with its Belt and Road Initiative, China is ostensibly preparing the way for a China-centric multilateral globalisation framework.

The diminishing role of the US’s and Europe

  • The geopolitical fallout of this pandemic could be still more serious.
  • One distinct possibility is that COVID-19 would effectively put paid to the existing global order that has existed since the late 1940s.
  • The United States which is already being touted in some circles as a ‘failing’ state, will be compelled to cede ground.
  • Weakened economically and politically after COVID-19 has ravaged the nation, the U.S.’s capacity to play a critical role in world affairs is certain to diminish.
  • The main beneficiary of this geopolitical turnaround is likely to be China, a country that does not quite believe in playing by the rules of international conduct.
  • Weakened Europe: Europe, in the short and medium-term, will prove incapable of defining and defending its common interests, let alone having any influence in world affairs.
  • Role of Germany: Germany, which may still retain some of its present strength, is already turning insular.
  • Both France and the post-Brexit United Kingdom will be out of the reckoning as of now.

Problems in West Asia and the possible role of Israel

  • In West Asia, both Saudi Arabia and Iran are set to face difficult times.
  • The oil price meltdown will aggravate an already difficult situation across the region.
  • There may be no victors, but Israel may be one country that is in a position to exploit this situation to its advantage.

India: Economic and geopolitical challenges

  • In the meantime, the economic downturn greatly reduces India’s room for manoeuvre.
  • In South Asia, India faces the prospect of being isolated, with the Chinese juggernaut winning Beijing new friends and contacts across a region deeply impacted by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Likewise, India’s leverage in West Asia — already greatly diminished — will suffer further.
  • With oil prices going down and the Indian expatriate community (who are among the hardest hit by this downturn) out on a limb.
  • Reduction in remittances: Many of the latter may seek repatriation back to the host country, substantially reducing the inflow of foreign funds to India from the region.

A question based on the changes in the global order in the post-pandemic world could be asked by the UPSC, for ex- “In the post-Covid-19 world, we are experiencing several changes. What are the changes in the geo-politics that are likely to affect India’s interests?”

Conclusion

In the post-Covid-19 world, we are about to see many changes on the economic and geopolitical front. India should prepare itself for the emerging challenges on various fronts.

Judicial Reforms

Kesavananda Bharati Case (1973): The judgment that upheld basic structure of India’s constitution

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Features of Basic structure doctrine

Mains level : Basic structure doctrine

Exactly 47 years ago, the Supreme Court passed its landmark judgment in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, considered among the most significant constitutional cases in India’s judicial history.

Major judgments of the Supreme Court are mentioned in the newscard. Aspirants are advised to memorize them all with thier key features. UPSC may ask a prelim question mentioning all these judgements and asking which of them are related/not related to the Amendments in the Constitution.  Right from the Shankari Prasad Judgment (1951) to the Ayodhya Judgement (2019), note down all important judgements.

Background

Amending  the Constitution

  • The Constitution of a country is the fundamental law of the land. It is based on this document that all other laws are made and enforced.
  • Under some Constitutions, certain parts are immune from amendments and are given a special status compared to other provisions.
  • Since the Indian Constitution was first adopted, debates have raged as to the extent of power that Parliament should have to amend key provisions.

Early years of Absolute Power

  • In the early years of Independence, the Supreme Court conceded absolute power to Parliament in amending the Constitution, as was seen in the verdicts in Shankari Prasad (1951) and Sajjan Singh (1965).
  • The reason for this is believed to be that in those initial years, the apex court had reposed faith in the wisdom of the then political leadership when leading freedom fighters were serving as Parliamentarians.
  • In subsequent years, as the Constitution kept being amended at will to suit the interests of the ruling dispensation, the Supreme Court in Golaknath (1967) held that Parliament’s amending power could not touch Fundamental Rights, and this power would be only with a Constituent Assembly.

Parliament could make any amendment

  • Article 13(2) reads, “The State shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the right conferred by this Part (Part-III) and any law made in contravention of this clause shall, to the extent of the contravention, be void.”
  • In both the cases, the court had ruled that the term “law” in Article 13 must be taken to mean rules or regulations made in exercise of ordinary legislative power and not amendments to the Constitution made in exercise of constituent power under Article 368.
  • This means Parliament had the power to amend any part of the constitution including Fundamental rights.

The tussle between Parliament and the judiciary

  • In the early 1970s, the government of then PM Indira Gandhi had enacted major amendments to the Constitution (the 24th, 25th, 26th and 29th) to get over the judgments of the Supreme Court in RC Cooper (1970), Madhavrao Scindia (1970) and the earlier mentioned Golaknath.
  • In RC Cooper, the court had struck down Indira Gandhi’s bank nationalization policy, and in Madhavrao Scindia it had annulled the abolition of privy purses of former rulers.

Background for the Kesavananda Bharati Case

  • All the four amendments, as well as the Golaknath judgment, came under challenge in the Kesavananda Bharati case.
  • Here, relief was sought by the religious figure Swami Kesavananda Bharati against the Kerala government vis-à-vis two state land reform laws.
  • Since Golaknath was decided by eleven judges, a larger bench was required to test its correctness, and thus 13 judges formed the Kesavananda bench.
  • Critics of the doctrine have called it undemocratic since unelected judges can strike down a constitutional amendment. At the same time, its proponents have hailed the concept as a safety valve against majoritarianism and authoritarianism.
  • Noted legal luminaries Nani Palkhivala, Fali Nariman, and Soli Sorabjee presented the case against the government.
  • The majority opinion was delivered by CJI S M Sikri, and Justices K S Hegde, A K Mukherjea, J M Shelat, A N Grover, P Jaganmohan Reddy, and H R Khanna. Justices A N Ray, D G Palekar, K K Mathew, M H Beg, S N Dwivedi, and Y V Chandrachud dissented.

A closer win

  • By a 7-6 verdict, a 13-judge Constitution Bench ruled that the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution is inviolable, and could not be amended by Parliament.
  • The basic structure doctrine has since been regarded as a tenet of Indian constitutional law.

The judgment in Kesavananda Bharati

  • The Constitutional Bench, whose members shared serious ideological differences, ruled by a 7-6 verdict that Parliament should be restrained from altering the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.
  • The court held that under Article 368, which provides Parliament amending powers, something must remain of the original Constitution that the new amendment would change.
  • The court did not define the ‘basic structure’, and only listed a few principles — federalism, secularism, democracy — as being its part.
  • Since then, the court has been adding new features to this concept.

‘Basic structure’ since Kesavananda

  • The basic structure doctrine was first introduced by Justice Mudholkar in the Sajjan Singh case (1965).
  • Major features were notably propounded by Justice Hans Raj Khanna in 1973.
  • The ‘basic structure’ doctrine has since been interpreted to include the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, Independence of the judiciary, doctrine of separation of powers, federalism, secularism, sovereign democratic republic, the parliamentary system of government, the principle of free and fair elections, welfare state, etc.
  • An example of its application is SR Bommai (1994), when the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the governments by the President following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, invoking a threat to secularism by these governments.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

How the ozone layer hole over Arctic closed?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ozone, Polar Vortex

Mains level : Ozone hole healing

Recently the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) announced that a hole in the Arctic ozone layer, believed to be the biggest reported, has closed.

What healed the hole in the Ozone?

  • The ozone hole’s closing was because of a phenomenon called the polar vortex, and not because of reduced pollution levels due to Covid-19 lockdowns around the world.
  • The hole in the North Pole’s ozone layer, which was first detected in February, had since reached a maximum extension of around 1 million sq km.

Ozone hole

  • The ‘ozone hole’ is not really a hole — it refers to a region in the stratosphere where the concentration of ozone becomes extremely low in certain months.
  • Ozone, made up of three oxygen atoms, occurs naturally in small amounts.
  • Roughly 10 km to 40 km up in the atmosphere (the layer called the stratosphere), the ozone layer is sunscreen, shielding Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
  • Manufactured chemicals deplete the ozone layer. Each spring over Antarctica (it now springs there), atmospheric ozone is destroyed by chemical processes.
  • This creates the ozone hole, which occurs because of special meteorological and chemical conditions that exist in that region.

The importance of the ozone layer

  • Ozone (chemically O3, a molecule of three oxygen atoms) is found mainly in the upper atmosphere, an area called the stratosphere, between 10 and 50 km from the earth’s surface.
  • Though it is talked of as a layer, ozone is present in the atmosphere in rather low concentrations.
  • Even at places where this layer is thickest, there are not more than a few molecules of ozone for every million air molecules.
  • They perform a very important function. By absorbing the harmful ultraviolet radiations from the sun, the ozone molecules eliminate a big threat to life forms on earth.
  • UV rays can cause skin cancer and other diseases and deformities in plants and animals.

Why this year’s hole was massive?

  • This year, the ozone depletion over the Arctic was much larger.
  • Scientists believe that unusual atmospheric conditions, including freezing temperatures in the stratosphere, were responsible.
  • Cold temperatures (below -80°C), sunlight, wind fields and substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were responsible for the degradation of the Arctic ozone layer.
  • Although Arctic temperatures do not usually fall as low as in Antarctica, this year, powerful winds flowing around the North Pole trapped cold air within what is known as the polar vortex.
  • By the end of the polar winter, the first sunlight over the North Pole initiated this unusually strong ozone depletion—causing the hole to form.

How long it will take for complete recovery?

  • As per the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion data of 2018, the ozone layer in parts of the stratosphere has recovered at a rate of 1-3 per cent per decade since 2000.
  • At these projected rates, the Northern Hemisphere and mid-latitude ozone is predicted to recover by around 2030, followed by the Southern Hemisphere around 2050, and polar regions by 2060.

Also read: Polar Vortex

What’s causing extreme cold in US Midwest

Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

What are Deep Fakes?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Deep Fake

Mains level : Cyber bullying and other threats posed by AI

Cybercrime officials in India have been tracking certain apps and websites that produce vulgar photographs of innocent persons using Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms. These images are then used to blackmail victims, seek revenge or commit fraud on social networking and dating sites.

The most notorious misuse of AI is knocking the door. The Deepfake is an application of Deep Learning (an axiom of AI and Machine Learning). UPSC may ask a mains question about the challenges posed by AI-based technology.

What is Deep Fake?

  • Cybercriminals use AI software — now easily available on apps and websites — to superimpose a digital composite (assembling multiple media files to make a final one) on to an existing video, photo or audio.
  • They are computer-generated images and videos.
  • Using AI algorithms a person’s words, head movements and expressions are transferred onto another person in a seamless fashion.
  • That makes it difficult to tell that it is a deepfake unless one closely observes the media file.

Threats posed

  • Because of how realistic deepfake images, audio and videos can be, the technology is vulnerable for use by cybercriminals who could spread misinformation to intimidate or blackmail people.
  • With real-time face tracking it is becoming easier to fabricate believable videos of people doing and saying things they never did.
  • There are rising cases of “revenge porn” i.e. creation of sexually explicit videos or images that are posted on the Internet without the consent of the subject as a way to harass them.

What are the catfish accounts?

  • Catfishing refers to the practice of setting up fictitious online profiles most often for the purpose of luring another into a fraudulent romantic relationship.
  • A “catfish” account is set up a fake social media profile with the goal of duping that person into falling for the false persona.

What can we do to protect yourself?

  • A basic check of their social media profiles, comments on the images and whether similar profiles exist could help determine if the person is genuine.
  • While it is not easy to keep track of who downloads or misuses the user images, the best way to protect is to ensure that we are using privacy settings on social media profiles.
  • If one feels his/her image has been used without prior permission, they could use freely available reverse image search tools to find images that are similar to yours.
  • One can also be mindful of who he/she is conversing with on the web.

History- Important places, persons in news

Who was Lord Basaveshwara?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lord Basaveshwara and his philosophy

Mains level : Six schools of Indian Philosophy

Prime Minister has offered his homage to the 12th-century social reformer Basaveshwara on his birth anniversary.

Vaishnavism and Shaivism are the two most profound strands of Bhakti Movement in Indian history. Enlist all the Bhakti Saints and their theistic philosophy and teachings. Try to spot the minute differences between them.

Lord Basaveshwara

  • Basaveshwara or Basavanna was an Indian 12th-century statesman, philosopher, a poet and Lingayat saint in the Shiva-focussed Bhakti movement and a social reformer in Karnataka.
  • He lived during the reign of the Kalyani Chalukya/Kalachuri dynasty.
  • He was active during the rule of both dynasties but reached his peak of influence during the rule of King Bijjala II in Karnataka, India .

Founder of Lingayat cult

  • The traditional legends and hagiographic texts state Basava to be the founder of the Lingayats.
  • However, modern scholarship relying on historical evidence such as the Kalachuri inscriptions state that Basava was the poet-philosopher who revived, refined and energized an already existing tradition.

His Philosophy

  • Basava’s Lingayat theology was a form of qualified nondualism, wherein the individual Atman (soul) is the body of God, and that there is no difference between Shiva and Atman (self, soul).
  • Basava’s views finds places in Vedanta school, in a form closer to the 11th century Vishishtadvaita philosopher Ramanuja.

Famous works

  • Basavanna spread social awareness through his poetry, popularly known as Vachanaas.
  • Basavanna rejected gender or social discrimination, superstitions and rituals but introduced Ishtalinga necklace, with an image of the Shiva Liṅga to every person regardless of his or her birth.
  • As the chief minister of his kingdom, he introduced new public institutions such as the Anubhava Mantapa (or, the “hall of spiritual experience”) which welcomed men and women from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Back2Basics: Bhakti Movement

  • The Bhakti movement refers to the theistic devotional trend that emerged in medieval Hinduism.
  • It originated in eighth-century south India and spread northwards.
  • It swept over east and north India from the 15th century onwards, reaching its zenith between the 15th and 17th century CE.
  • It has traditionally been considered as an influential social reformation in Hinduism, and provided an individual-focused alternative path to spirituality regardless of one’s birth or gender
  • Salvation which was previously considered attainable only by men of Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes, became available to everyone.