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Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

Social media and dilemmas associated with it

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Internet and related terms

Mains level : Paper 3- Social media and related issues

Internet has transformed our life like no other technologies. However, it has created several problems as well. The article analyses such issues.

Examining the role of social media

  • The first reason for the examination of role is the impending US presidential election.
  • Ghosts of Cambridge Analytica, are returning to haunt us again.
  • The second reason is the COVID pandemic.
  • Social media has emerged as a force for good, with effective communication and lockdown entertainment, but also for evil, being used effectively by anti-vaxxers and the #Unmask movement to proselytize their dangerous agenda.

Understanding the problems associated with social media

  • The big problem with social networks is their business model.
  • The internet was created as a distributed set of computers communicating with one another, and sharing the load of managing the network.
  • This was Web 1.0, and it worked very well. But it had one big problem—there was no way to make money off it.
  •  The internet got monetized, Web 2.0 was born.
  • Come 2020, search and social media advertising has crossed $200 billion, rocketing past print at $65 billion, and TV at $180 billion.
  • This business model has led to a “winner-takes-all” industry structure, creating natural monopolies and centralizing the once-decentralized internet.
  • The emergence of Web 3.0, a revolution that promises to return the internet to users.

Way forward

  • One principle of the new model is to allow users explicit control of their data, an initiative aided by Europe-like data protection regulation.
  • Another is to grant creators of content—artists, musicians, photographers, —a portion of revenues, instead of platforms taking it all (or most).
  • The technologies that Web 3.0 leverages are newer ones, like blockchains, which are inherently decentralized.
  • They have technology protection against the accumulation of power and data in the hands of a few.
  • Digital currencies enabled by these technologies offer a business model of users paying for services and content with micro-transactions, as an alternative to advertiser-pays.

Conclusion

The path to success for these new kinds of democratic networks will be arduous. But a revolution has begun, and it is our revulsion of current models that could relieve us of our social dilemmas.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Power, problems and potential of federalism

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Seventh Schedule

Mains level : Paper 2- Federal system

The article analyses the issues of distribution of powers under the Constitution and the issues linked with it.

Debate on the role of Centre and states

  • There is an argument for the need to re-examine the distribution of powers under the Seventh Schedule so as to rationalise the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSSs).
  • Under the Centrally Sponsored SchemesCentre extends support in sectors pertaining to the State List.
  • Spending by the Centre on a state subject like health and need for states’ contribute to a Union subject like defence is considered.
  • However, the constitutional assignments between the Centre and subnational governments in federations, are done broadly on the basis of their respective comparative advantage.
  • That is why the provision of national public goods is in the federal domain and those with the state-level public service span are assigned to the states.

3 settled issues in the debate

  • The debate seems to have settled on at least three counts.
  • One, the federal organisation of powers can be revisited and reframed.
  • Two, the CSSs must continue but they should be restructured.
  • Three, there is a need for an appropriate forum to discuss the complex and contentious issue of reviewing federal organisation of powers and restructuring of central transfers.

Review of the subjects in lists

  • In spite of health being a state subject, the response to collective threats linked to the subject required some kind of organisation of federal responsibilities on a functional basis.
  • A typical response is to recommend shifting subjects to the Concurrent List to enable an active role for the Centre.
  • The High-Level Group, constituted by the 15th Finance Commission, recommended shifting health from the State to the Concurrent List.
  • A similar recommendation was made earlier by the Ashok Chawla Committee for water.

Challenges

  • Shifting of subjects from the State to Concurrent List in times of acute sub-nationalism, deep territorialisation and competitive federalism is going to be challenging.

Way forward

  • The most collective threats and the challenges of coping with emerging risks of sustainability are linked to either the State List subjects or require actions by states — water, agriculture, biodiversity, pollution, climate change.
  • This extended role of ensuring security against threats to sustainability of resources forms a new layer of considerations.
  • This should define the contours of a coordinated response between the Centre and States — as it happened during the pandemic.
  • In fact, such threats and challenges require the states to play a dominant role.
  • At the same time, the Centre must expand its role beyond the mitigation of inter-state externalities and address the challenges of security and sustainability.

Consider the question “The federal organisation of powers under the Constitution’s Seventh Schedule needs review. In light of this, examine the problems faced by the distribution and suggest the challenge the review would face.”

Conclusion

The ongoing friction between the Centre and the states over GST reforms tells us that consensus-building is not a one-time exercise. It has to allow sustained dialogue and deliberation. Perhaps it is time to revisit the proposal for an elevated and empowered Inter-State Council.

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

India must reject the inequitable climate proposal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paris Agreement

Mains level : Paper 3- Paris Agreement and India's progress on climate action

The article takes stock of India’s climate action and the issue of phasing out the use of coal.

Context

  • The UN Secretary-General called on India to give up coal immediately and reduce emissions by 45% by 2030.

State of India’s climate action

  • India’s renewable energy programme is ambitious and its energy efficiency programme is delivering, especially in the domestic consumption sector.
  • India is one of the few countries with at least 2° Celsius warming compliant climate action.
  • India is also among one of smaller list of countries on track to fulfilling their Paris Agreement commitments.
  • India’s annual emissions, at 0.5 tonnes per capita, are well below the global average of 1.3 tonnes.
  • In terms of cumulative emissions, India’s contribution by 2017 was only 4% for a population of 1.3 billion.

How West is performing?

  • While talking about their phasing out of coal, the global North has obscured the reality of its continued dependence on oil and natural gas, both equally fossil fuels, with no timeline for their phaseout.
  • While it is amply clear that their commitments into the future set the world on a path for almost 3°C warming, they have diverted attention by fuzzy talk of “carbon neutrality” by 2050.
  • Environmentalists in developed countries, unable to summon up the domestic political support have turned to pressure the developing countries.
  • All of these are accompanied by increasing appeals to multilateral or First World financial and development institutions to force this agenda on to developing countries.

Implications of ending coal investment for India

  •  Currently, roughly 2 GW of coal-based generation is being decommissioned per year.
  •  But meeting the 2030 electricity consumption target of 1,580 to 1,660 units per person per year, will require anywhere between 650 GW to 750 GW of renewable energy.
  • Unlike the developed nations, India cannot substitute coal substantially by oil and gas and despite some wind potential, a huge part of this growth needs to come from solar.
  • However, renewables at best can meet residential consumption and some part of the demand from the service sector.
  • Currently, manufacturing growth powered by fossil fuel-based energy is itself a necessity.

Conclusion

India must unanimously reject the UN Secretary General’s call and reiterate its long-standing commitment to an equitable response to the challenge of global warming.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Explained: Solar Cycle 25

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solar Cycle, solar maxima and minima

Mains level : Solar Cycle and its impact

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced the commencement of solar cycle 25.

Try this PYQ:

Q. Which one of the following reflects back more sunlight as compared to the other three?

(a) Sand desert

(b) Paddy cropland

(c) Land covered with fresh snow

(d) Prairie land

What is the Solar Cycle?

  • Like seasons on Earth, the Sun follows a cycle of 11 years, during which solar activities fluctuate between solar minima and maxima.
  • Depending on the number of sunspots detected on the Sun, scientists term it is as solar maxima (highest number of sunspots) or solar minima (lowest number of sunspots).
  • Sunspots are small and dark, yet cooler areas formed on the solar surface, where there are strong magnetic forces.
  • They start appearing at Sun’s higher latitudes and later shift towards the equator as a cycle progresses.
  • In short, when the Sun is active, there are more sunspots in comparison to fewer sunspots during the lesser active phase.
  • Maxima or minima is not a specific time in the 11-year cycle but is a period that can last for a few years.

How are solar cycles determined?

  • One of the important elements researchers look out for on the Sun’s surface is the number of sunspots.
  • A new cycle commences when the Sun has reached its lowest possible minima phase.
  • Every time the cycle changes, the Sun’s magnetic poles reverse.

Monitoring solar cycles

  • Since the Sun is a highly variable star, data of sunspot formation and its progress need close monitoring.
  • Data of six to eight months are required to confirm whether the star has undergone a minima phase.
  • Traditionally, telescopes were used to record sunspots and recorded data since 1755 is available.
  • With the advance in technology in recent decades, satellites are also used to make real-time sunspot observations.
  • On this basis, scientists announced the completion of solar cycle 24, which lasted between December 2008 and December 2019.
  • With the Sun’s activities having reached its lowest minima between the two cycles, the new solar cycle 25 has now commenced.

How has the transition between solar cycles 24 and 25 been?

  • The Sun’s activities were notably lesser during 2019 and early 2020. There were no sunspots for 281 days in 2019 and 181 days in 2020.
  • Since December 2019, the solar activities have slowly picked up, corroborating the beginning of the news cycle.
  • The panel termed solar cycle 25 to be a weak one, with the intensity similar to that of Solar cycle 24.

What solar activities affect us on Earth?

  • Solar activities include solar flares, solar energetic particles, high-speed solar wind and Coronal Mass Ejections (CME).
  • These influence the space weather which originates from the Sun.
  • Solar storms or flares can typically affect space-dependent operations like GPS, radio and satellite communications, besides hampering flight operations, power grids and space exploration programmes.
  • CMEs pose danger to space weather. Ejections travelling at a speed of 500km/second are common during solar peaks and create disturbances in Earth’s magnetosphere, the protective shield surrounding the planet.
  • At the time of spacewalks, astronauts face a great health risk posed by exposure to solar radiation outside Earth’s protective atmosphere.

 

Judicial Reforms

What is Queen’s Counsel?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Queens Council

Mains level : NA

India has suggested Pakistan appointing a Queen’s Counsel for the Kulbhushan Jadhav case to ensure a free and fair trial.

Queen’s Counsel

  • In the UK and in some Commonwealth countries, a Queen’s Counsel during the reign of a queen is a lawyer who is appointed by the monarch of the country to be one of ’Her Majesty’s Counsel learned in the law’.
  • The position originated in England.
  • Some Commonwealth countries have either abolished the position, or re-named it so as to remove monarchical connotations, for example, ’Senior Counsel’ or ’Senior Advocate’.
  • Queen’s Counsel is an office, conferred by the Crown that is recognised by courts.
  • Senior Advocate Harish Salve earlier this year has been appointed as Queen’s Counsel (QC) for the courts of England and Wales.

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

Global Smart City Index, 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Smart City Index

Mains level : Success of the Smart City Mission

Four Indian cities -New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru – witnessed a significant drop in their rankings in the global listing of smart cities that was topped by Singapore.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which one of the following is not a sub-index of the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’?

(a) Maintenance of law and order

(b) Paying taxes

(c) Registering property

(d) Dealing with construction permits

Global Smart City Index

  • The Institute for Management Development, in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design, has released the 2020 Smart City Index.
  • Its key findings rest on how technology is playing a role in the Covid-19 era.
  • The 2020 Index was topped by Singapore, followed by Helsinki and Zurich in the second and the third place respectively.
  • Others in the top 10 list include Auckland (4th), Oslo (5th), Copenhagen (6th), Geneva (7th), Taipei City (8th), Amsterdam (9th) and New York at the 10th place.

India’s performances

  • In the 2020 Smart City Index, Hyderabad was placed at the 85th position (down from 67 in 2019), New Delhi at 86th rank (down from 68 in 2019), Mumbai was at 93rd place (in 2019 it was at 78) and Bengaluru at 95th (79 in 2019).
  • This drop can be attributed to the detrimental effect that the pandemic has had where the technological advancement was not up to date.
  • From 15 indicators that the respondents perceive as the priority areas for their city, all four cities highlighted air pollution as one of the key areas that they felt their city needed to prioritise on.
  • For cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, this was closely followed by road congestion while for Delhi and Hyderabad it was basic amenities, the report said.

New Species of Plants and Animals Discovered

Species in news: Kalinga Frog

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kaling frog and its habitat

Mains level : Western Ghats and its biodiversity richness

Indian scientists have reported a first-of-its-kind discovery of morphological phenotypic plasticity (MPP) in the Kalinga cricket frog.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following statements:

  1. Biodiversity hotspots are located only in tropical regions.
  2. India has four biodiversity hotspots i.e., Eastern Himalayas, Western Himalayas, Western Ghats and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands.

Which of the above statements is/ are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Kalinga Frog

  • The Kalinga Frog (Fejervarya Kalinga) was recently identified species which was documented in 2018.
  • The species was encountered several times during field expeditions in the Western Ghats. However, the physical characteristics vary entirely from the known species of Eastern Ghats.
  • However, it has been reported from the central Western Ghats, with the evidence of considerable MPP.
  • It was the only genetic analysis that helped prove that physically different-looking frogs from eastern and western ghats were the same.

What is MPP?

  • The morphological phenotypic plasticity (MPP) is the ability of an organism to show drastic morphological (physical features) variations in response to natural environmental variations or stimuli.
  • The term “phenotype” refers to the observable physical properties of an organism, which include the organism’s appearance, development, and behaviour.

Railway Reforms

[pib] Kosi Rail Mahasetu

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kosi River

Mains level : Not Much

PM has dedicated to the nation the historic Kosi Rail Mahasetu (mega-bridge).

Kosi Rail Mahasetu

  • The Kosi Mega Bridge line project was sanctioned during 2003-04.
  • The bridge is 1.9 km long. It is of strategic importance along the India-Nepal border.
  • In 1887, a meter gauge link was built in between Nirmali and Bhaptiahi (Saraigarh).
  • During the heavy flood and severe Indo Nepal earthquake in 1934, the rail link was washed away and thereafter due to meandering nature of river Kosi no attempt was made to restore this Rail link for long period.
  • The dedication of the mega-bridge is a watershed moment in the history of Bihar and the entire region connecting to the North East.

About Kosi River

  • The Kosi is a trans-boundary river which flows through Tibet, Nepal and India.
  • The river crosses into northern Bihar, India where it branches into distributaries before joining the Ganges near Kursela in Katihar district.
  • Its unstable nature has been attributed course changes and the heavy silt it carries during the monsoon season, and flooding in India has extreme effects.
  • It is also known as the “Sorrow of Bihar” as the annual floods affect about 21,000 km2 of fertile agricultural lands thereby disturbing the rural economy.