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No-fly List

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : No-fly List

Mains level : Not Much

Four airlines in India have banned a stand-up comedian from taking flights after he allegedly heckled television news anchor on-flight.

No-Fly List

  • In 2017, the government issued rules for preventing disruptive behaviour by air travellers and laid down guidelines for a no-fly list.
  • As per the rules, a complaint of unruly behaviour needs to be filed by the pilot-in-command, and this is to be probed by an internal committee to be set up by the airline.
  • During the period of pendency of the inquiry, the rules empower the concerned airline to impose a ban on the passenger.
  • The committee is to decide the matter within 30 days, and also specify the ban duration.
  • Any aggrieved person, upon receipt of communication of a ban from the airline, may appeal within 60 days from the date of issue of the order, to an Appellate Committee constituted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Three categories of unruly behaviour:

  • Level 1 refers to behaviour that is verbally unruly, and calls for debarment up to three months;
  • Level 2 indicates physical unruliness and can lead to the passenger being debarred from flying for up to six months;
  • Level 3 indicates life-threatening behaviour for which the debarment would be for a minimum of two years.

 

Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.

[op-ed of the day] The many problems of delayed data

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Delays in NCRB data release, Increasing crime reporting, role played by the media.

Context

Delay in releasing the crime data by NCRB reduces the utility of the data for the policymakers.

Formidable challenges faced by NCRB

  • The First-Casual approach of the States: The first is the lackadaisical approach of some of the States in providing data.
    • The NCRB merely assembles the figures it receives from the State police forces and does not tinker with them to reach a predetermined conclusion.
    • States’ irregularity: Data collection hits a roadblock when a few States either don’t bother to send the figures or send them much after the volume is published.
  • The second-Utility of the released data: The second problem is that questions are raised over the utility of the data.
    • There was a two-year delay in releasing the crime statistics for 2017.
    • Just two months after it was published, the ‘Crime in India’ (CII) 2018 report was released.
    • Reduced utility from a policy point of view: These numbers are only relevant to researchers, not policymakers as it does not carry us far in understanding what is happening on the ground.
    • A fossilised CII is meaningless.
  • The third- Third problem lies with the police and the public.
    • The Reluctance of the police to register the complaint: The police are notorious the world over for not registering complaints.
    • They do this so that they can present a false picture of a decline in crime.
    • The reluctance of the public: The public is also not very enthusiastic about reporting crimes to the police.
    • Catch-22 situation: Public is fearful of being harassed at the police station or do not believe that the police are capable of solving the crime. This is a Catch-22 situation.

Crimes difficult to bury

  • The positive role played by the media: However, the problem has declined slightly over the years due to public awareness and intense media scrutiny.
    • There are a few classes of offences which are becoming increasingly difficult to bury. This is attributable to the extraordinary interest evinced by the media in reporting crime.
  • The crimes which are difficult to bury: The following cases of crime are becoming difficult to bury.
    • Homicide: The first category of crimes that is difficult to bury is of homicides.
    • Matter of distress: India reports an average of 30,000 murders every year (29,017 were registered in 2018). Every murder is a matter of distress.
    • Nevertheless, the stabilisation of the figure at 30,000 is a mild assurance.
    • The corresponding figure for the period in the U.S. was around 16,200.
    • Need to study the US decline: Though the U.S. has about one-third of India’s population, the reported decline in murders in many major U.S cities is worth studying.
    • Crime against women: The common man in India does not lag behind others in reacting strongly to attacks on hapless women and men.
    • The growth of the visual media possibly explains this welcome feature in Indian society.
    • The hope of a decrease in crime: The nationwide outrage over the gang-rape in Delhi and the subsequent tightening of laws on sexual crimes generated the hope that attacks against women would decrease.

The issue of under-reporting

  • Under-reporting of crime in rural areas: In 2018, there were 33,356 rapes, a higher number than the previous year.
    • But these figures do not fully reflect realities on the ground.
    • There is still the unverifiable suspicion that while in urban areas sexual violence cases are reasonably well-reported, the story is different in rural India.
    • The role played by money and caste: Money power and caste oppression are believed to play a significant role in under-reporting.
    • What is more significant is that a substantial number of such crimes are committed by the ‘friends’ and families of victims.

Conclusion

  • To be fair to the NCRB, we must concede that the organisation has more than justified its existence. The CII is used extensively by researchers.
  • Need for educating the people on realities of crime and its reporting: There is scope for more dynamism on the NCRB’s part, especially in the area of educating the public on the realities of crime and its reporting.
  • Greater pressure on the States to stick to a schedule: The NCRB will also have to be conscious of the expectation that it should bring greater pressure on States to make them stick to schedules and look upon this responsibility as a sacred national duty.

 

WTO and India

 [op-ed snap] How to protect trade in a tug of war between nations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Cause of the emergence of trade disputes and how can emerging economies negotiate the deals

Context

Developing countries have argued for decades that the rules governing international trade are profoundly unfair. But similar complaints are now emanating from the developed countries that established most of those rules.

Why are developed countries complaining now?

  • Competition: A simple but inadequate explanation is “competition.”
    • Turning tide: In the 1960s and 1970s, industrialized countries focused on opening foreign markets for their goods and set the rules accordingly.
    • Since then, the tide has turned.
  • Left behind communities in developed countries
    • Cheap labour-an advantage: One reason why emerging-market producers are competitive is that they pay workers less.
    • Job creation in services by developed countries: To replace lost manufacturing jobs, developed economies have been creating jobs in services.
    • Not everyone has moved to the service sector job: Unfortunately, not everyone in developed countries has been able to move to good service jobs.
    • Efforts by the left-behind bring back the manufacturing job: The left-behind former manufacturing communities have a voice in the capital city now, and it wants to bring back manufacturing.
    • Yet this explanation, too, is incomplete. The ongoing US-China trade war is not about manufacturing, it is about services.
  • Services a reason behind US-China dispute: Much of the US dispute with China is not about manufacturing. It is about services.
  • Emerging market competition increasing in services: Although eight of the top ten service exporters are developed countries, emerging-market competition is increasing.
    • New services related rules: This increased competition from emerging markets is prompting a major push by advanced-economy firms to enact new service-related trade rules.
    • An opportunity to protect the developed country producers: The new rules will ensure continued open borders for services. But it will also be an opportunity to protect the advantages of dominant developed-country producers.

Trade disputes- The combined effects of the two factors

  • There are no easy trade deals anymore.
    • Two conflicting factors: In sum, two factors have increased the uneasiness over international trade and investment arrangements.
    • First-Left behind community: Ordinary people in left-behind communities in developed countries are no longer willing to accept existing arrangements.
    • They want to be heard, and they want their interests protected
    • Second-emerging economy demanding access to service sector: At the same time, emerging-economy elites want a share of the global market for services and are no longer willing to cede ground there. So, there is no easy trade deal anymore.
  • Trade disputes-exercise in power politics
    • High tariffs and ram tactics: Threats of sky-high tariffs to close off markets, for example, and battering-ram tactics to force “fairer” rules on the weaker party.
    • The important difference from the past: One important difference is that the public in emerging markets is more democratically engaged than in the past.
    • Short timed victory: Any success that rich countries have in setting onerous rules for others today could prove pyrrhic.
    • No consensus on the rules: For one thing, it is unclear that there is a consensus on those rules even within developed countries. For example- rules to regulate social media.

Way forward

How should developed countries respond to domestic pressures to make trade fairer?

  • Demand lower tariffs from developed countries: For starters, it is reasonable to demand that developing countries lower tariffs steadily to an internationally acceptable norm.
  • Challenge the discriminatory barriers: Discriminatory non-tariff barriers or subsidies that favour their producers excessively should be challenged at the World Trade Organization.
  • Go for less intrusive treaties: To go much beyond these measures—to attempt to impose one’s preferences on unions, regulation of online platforms, and duration of patents on other countries—will further undermine the consensus for trade.
    • Less intrusive trade agreements today may do more for the trade tomorrow

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

[op-ed snap] Examining the slowdown

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Reasons for the slowdown in the Indian economy, declining household saving, consumption driven growth.

Context

Setting aside the gloomy projections based on short-term economic trends, the long-term and comparative evidence reveal interesting trends about the health of the Indian economy.

Performance of the Indian economy after 1991

  • Higher growth plateau reached after 1991: After the 1991 economic reforms, the Indian economy reached a higher growth plateau of 7% compared to a prior rate of 3. 85%.
    • The high growth rate during 2003-2011: India witnessed a high growth momentum during 2003-04 and 2010-11 with a period average of 8.45% (GDP with base 2004-05) or 7% (base 2011-12).
    • Ups and downs after 2012: The momentum lost steam in 2011-12 and 2012-13, gradually picked up again gradually to reach the 8% mark in 2015-16, and then started falling consistently to reach 6.63% in 2018-19.
    • Structural dimension? This trend suggests that India’s current growth challenge has a structural dimension as it began in 2011-12.
  • Comparison with China and the world
    • Average at 7.07% after 2011-12: Despite these fluctuations from 2011-12, on average, India clocked a growth rate of  7.07% from 2011 to 2019, a decent figure compared to China’s and the world’s economic growth rates.
    • Whereas like India, the growth of the world economy was fluctuating since 2011, China’s growth declined consistently from 10.64% in 2010 to 6.60% in 2018.

Why couldn’t India’s growth momentum be sustained after 2010-11?

  • Analysis of five variables: To answer the above question, an in-depth analysis of trends in five key macroeconomic variables was done for two different periods: 2003-04 to 2010-11 and 2011-12 to 2018-19.
    • Consumption.
    • Investment.
    • Savings.
    • Exports.
    • Net foreign direct investment (NFDI) inflows.
  • What emerged from the analysis: The results reveal that compared to 2003-2011, investment and savings rates and exports-GDP ratio declined in the 2011-2019 period.
    • How much the investment declined? The investment rate declined from 34.31% of GDP in 2011-12 to 29.30% in 2018-19.
    • Household vs. corporate sector decline: The investment decline was caused mainly by the household sector and to some extent by the public sector, but not the corporate sector.
    • The decline in investment compensated by NFDI: The slump in the domestic investment rate in the 2011-2019 period was compensated by increased NFDI inflows.
    • On average, NFDI inflow was 1.31% of GDP during 2011-2019 compared to 0.89% during 2003-2011.

Why tax-cut not help the economy

  • The justified policy of reviving the housing sector: The decline in household sector investment justifies the package of measures introduced by the Central government to revive the housing sector.
  • Why corporate tax cut won’t help much? The questionable policy, however, is the steep cut in the corporate income tax rate from 30% to 22%, aimed at boosting private investment.
    • Given that the corporate investment rate has not eroded severely during 2011-2019, the tax cut would help economic revival.
    • Lost opportunity to spur rural consumption: A part of the largesse offered to Corporate India could have been used to spur rural consumption.

What the decline in saving rate mean?

  • Importance of savings: The savings rate declined almost consistently from 27% of GDP to 30.51% between 2011 and 2018.
    • This was also caused by a significant fall in the savings of the household sector in financial assets. Corporate savings did not fall.
    • Why the fall in household financial savings needs to be increased? The fall in household financial savings is alarming and needs to be arrested.
    • Savings are required to meet the requirements of those who want to borrow for their investment needs.
    • Saving-investment relation: Lower household savings imply lesser funds available in the domestic market for investment spending.
  • Economic growth powered by consumption: The decline in household savings has pushed up private final consumption expenditure consistently
    • Private final consumption rose from 56.21% of GDP in 2011-12 to 59.39% in 2018-19.
    • Consumption driven economic growth in 2011-19: The increase in private consumption suggests that economic growth during 2011-2019 was powered by consumption, not investment.
    • Investment driven growth during 2003-2011: In contrast, during 2003-2011, growth was powered by investments.
  • So, declining saving rate means a slowdown in the economy may not be due to structural issues.
    • Re-examination of popular view: Thus, the popular view that economic slowdown was caused due to a slowdown in consumption demand needs to be re-examined.
    • There is no concrete evidence to suggest that the economy is facing a structural consumption slowdown.

Export-GDP ratio decline and what it means

  • Export-GDP decline from 24.54% to 19.74%: India’s exports-GDP ratio declined from 24.54% to 19.74% during 2011-2019.
  • A trend similar to the rest of the world: The decline started from 2014-15, coinciding with a similar trend in the world export-GDP ratio.
    • However, the drop in India’s exports was significantly larger than the world, a cause for concern.
    • The exports- and NFDI-GDP ratio has deteriorated sharply and consistently in China after 2006.
  • Indian economy doing better than China: Sharp decline in China’s export-GDP and NFDI-GDP, together with the consistent fall in China’s GDP growth after 2010, proves that the Indian economy is doing better than China.

Conclusion

The popular view that the slowdown in the Indian economy is due to the structural problems needs a re-examination in the view of the decline in investment in tandem with the world.

 

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Explained: Fiscal Marksmanship

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fiscal Marksmanship

Mains level : Signs of economic slowdown in the country

Over the past few years, many have questioned the government’s fiscal marksmanship.

What is fiscal marksmanship?

  • Fiscal marksmanship essentially refers to the accuracy of the government’s forecast of fiscal parameters such as revenues, expenditures and deficits etc.
  • In other words, if the difference between what the government projected as the likely tax revenues in the Budget and the actual figures a year later is large then it reflects poor fiscal marksmanship.
  • In the Indian context, this term gained popularity after Raghuram Rajan, then India’s Chief Economic Advisor stressed on fiscal marksmanship in the Economic Survey for the year 2012-13.
  • He had defined fiscal marksmanship as “the difference between actual outcomes and budgetary estimates as a proportion of GDP”.

Why does fiscal marksmanship matter?

  • The salience of Budget numbers lies in their credibility.
  • The central purpose of publicly disclosing the Budget or the annual financial statement in a democracy and seeking approval from the legislature is to make the policymaking and governance transparent and participatory.
  • Everyone knows that Budget numbers are forecasts and estimates, and as such, unlikely to tally exactly with the actual numbers a year later.
  • But there is an underlying belief among people that when the government states, say, that its revenues will grow by 12% or that its fiscal deficit will remain within the FRBM Act’s mandate as it is based on genuine calculations.
  • However, if these fiscal forecasts turn out to be way off the mark repeatedly, it will undermine the credibility of the Budget numbers and indeed the Budget presentation itself.

Why is India’s fiscal marksmanship being questioned?

Typically, the fiscal marksmanship tends to get dented every time the economy faces a bump during the financial year.

  • For instance, as a result of the extent of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, budget forecasts in the ensuing years did take a hit.
  • The latest trigger has been the wide discrepancy between what the last couple of budgets — first the interim budget for 2019-20 (presented in February 2019) and then the full budget for 2019-20 (presented in July 2019).
  • It expected the nominal GDP growth to be in 2019-20 and what the First Advance Estimates (FAE), released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in January 2020.
  • For instance, the July 2019 Budget expected nominal GDP to grow by 12% in 2019-20 but the FAE expect the nominal GDP to grow by just 7.5% (which by the way is a 42-year low).
  • Since all budget calculations are based on the nominal GDP, it is expected that this wide variance in nominal GDP will reflect across the board in the coming Budget.

Impact on revenue

  • The government’s revenues are unlikely to grow anywhere close to the last Budget’s expectation.
  • Indeed, the revenue shortfall is expected to be anywhere between Rs 2 lakh crore to Rs 5 lakh crore.
  • As a result, either the fiscal deficit will overshoot from the budgeted number or the expenditure numbers will be much lower than promised.

Why has fiscal marksmanship worsened?

  • As mentioned earlier, when an economy’s growth slows down (or picks up) sharply within a year, it is possible that the fiscal forecasts for that year go down (or up) substantially.
  • However, such changes do not happen too often.
  • In the recent past, however, there is one structural change that appears to be contributing to poor fiscal forecasts by the government.
  • This structural change was the government’s decision in January 2017 to advance the presentation of the Union Budget by a whole month.
  • Accordingly, the Union Budget for 2017-18 was presented on February 1 instead of the last working day of February (28th or 29th), as was the norm till then.
  • It meant that the First Advance Estimates, which used to come by January end (after taking into account the economic activity of the first three quarters of the financial year), had to be brought out by the start of January.
  • This, in turn, essentially meant that the estimate of the key nominal GDP data for the current year — on the base of which next year’s nominal GDP and other estimates were to be made — had to be made using the first two quarters of the current fiscal year.

Why didn’t the government course-correct and project slower economic growth in July 2019 when it presented the full Budget for 2019-20?

  • It is unclear why this was not done. But could be two or three possible reasons.
  • One, the FM may have favoured continuity over the Interim Budget estimates instead of providing a starkly different set of estimates.
  • Two, and a related reason, could be that the government did not have enough time to make the adjustment because it may have required redoing the whole Budget afresh.
  • Or third, because perhaps the government did not recognise the severity of the economic slowdown that has been underway.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Reintroduction of African Cheetahs in Indian forests

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Asiatic and African Cheetah

Mains level : Translocation of Species and its impacts

 

The Supreme Court lifted its seven-year stay on a proposal to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the Indian habitat on an experimental basis. The plan was to revive the Indian cheetah population.

Asiatic cheetahs in India

  • In 1947, Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh of Deoghar of Koriya, Chhattisgarh — who was infamous for shooting over 1,150 tigers — reportedly killed the last known Asiatic cheetah in India.
  • In that year, a few miles from Ramgarh village in the state, the Maharaja killed three of the animals — brothers — during a night drive.
  • After that, the Maharaja’s kin continued to report the presence of a few stragglers in the forests of Surguja district, including a pregnant female, up until the late 1960s.
  • Some more unconfirmed sightings were reported in 1951 and 1952, from the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border and Chittoor district.
  • The latter sighting is generally accepted to be the final credible sighting of a cheetah in India. In 1952, the cheetah was officially declared extinct from India.

African cheetah and Asiatic cheetah

  • Before Namibia, India had approached Iran for Asiatic cheetahs, but had been refused.
  • The Asiatic cheetah is classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List, and is believed to survive only in Iran.
  • From 400 in the 1990s, their numbers are estimated to have plummetted to 50-70 today, because of poaching, hunting of their main prey (gazelles) and encroachment on their habitat.
  • ‘Critically endangered’ means that the species faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Why does NTCA want to reintroduce cheetahs?

  • A section of conservationists has long advocated the reintroduction of the species in the country.
  • Reintroductions of large carnivores have increasingly been recognised as a strategy to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystem functions.
  • The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been extirpated, mainly by over-hunting in India in historical times.
  • India now has the economic ability to consider restoring its lost natural heritage for ethical as well as ecological reasons.

Why was the project halted?

  • The court was also worried whether the African cheetahs would find the sanctuary a favourable clime as far as abundance of prey is concerned.
  • Those who challenged the plan argued that the habitat of cheetahs needed to support a genetically viable population.

What did court say?

  • The Supreme Court made it clear that a proper survey should be done to identify the best possible habitat for the cheetahs.
  • Every effort should be taken to ensure that they adapt to the Indian conditions.
  • The committee would help, advice and monitor the NTCA on these issues. The action of the introduction of the animal would be left to the NTCA’s discretion.

Wetland Conservation

10 more wetlands from India get the Ramsar site tag

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ramsar sites in India

Mains level : Ramsar Convention

Ramsar has declared 10 more wetland sites from India as sites of international importance.

News Ramsar Wetlands

With this, the numbers of Ramsar sites in India are now 37 and the surface area covered by these sites is now 1,067,939 hectares.

  1. Maharashtra gets its first Ramsar site (Nandur Madhameshwar) ,
  2. Punjab which already had 3 Ramsar sites adds 3 more (Keshopur-Miani, Beas Conservation Reserve, Nangal) and
  3. UP with 1 Ramsar site has added 6 more (Nawabganj, Parvati Agra, Saman, Samaspur, Sandi and Sarsai Nawar).

Why conserve wetlands?

  • Wetlands provide a wide range of important resources and ecosystem services such as food, water, fibre, groundwater recharge, water purification, flood moderation, erosion control and climate regulation.
  • They are, in fact, are a major source of water and our main supply of freshwater comes from an array of wetlands which help soak rainfall and recharge groundwater.

Back2Basics

Ramsar Convention

  • The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (better known as the Ramsar Convention) is an international agreement promoting the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
  • It is the only global treaty to focus on a single ecosystem.
  • The convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975.
  • Traditionally viewed as a wasteland or breeding ground of disease, wetlands actually provide freshwater and food, and serve as nature’s shock absorber.
  • Wetlands, critical for biodiversity, are disappearing rapidly, with recent estimates showing that 64% or more of the world’s wetlands have vanished since 1900.
  • Major changes in land use for agriculture and grazing, water diversion for dams and canals and infrastructure development are considered to be some of the main causes of loss and degradation of wetlands.

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

 India’s imports of palm oil — dynamics of the trade with Malaysia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Types of palm oil, its uses

Mains level : Impact of import restrictions of palm oil

 

India has cut import duty on crude palm oil (CPO) and refined, bleached and deodorized (RBD) palm oil, and also moved RBD oil from the “free” to the “restricted” list of imports.

A move against outspoken Malaysia

  • Curbing palm oil imports has been construed as retaliation against Malaysia’s PM Mahathir Mohamad, who has criticised India’s internal policy decisions such as the revocation of the special status for J&K and CAA.
  • Malaysia has also been sheltering since 2017 the Islamic preacher Zakir Naik who is wanted by India on charges of money laundering, hate speech, and links to terror.

Has India banned import of Malaysian palm oil because of political reasons?

  • Not really. The import of RBD palm oil has been restricted, not banned — and this is from all countries, not just Malaysia. Also, CPO can still be imported freely.
  • Under the trade classification system that India follows, except for goods that can be imported only by state trading enterprises all goods whose import is not restricted or prohibited are traded freely.
  • Normally, a special licence is required to import a restricted good. The government has neither specified what the restrictions entail nor issued any licences.
  • However, it has been reported that vessels carrying RBD palm oil are stuck at several ports because buyers have been asked to shun the product.

How much palm oil does India import?

  • India imported 64.15 lakh metric tonnes (MT) of CPO and 23.9 lakh MT of RBD in 2018-19, the bulk of which was from Indonesia.
  • India imported $10 billion worth of vegetable oil in 2019-20, making it the country’s fifth most valuable import after mineral oil ($141 bn), gold ($32 bn), coal ($26 bn), and telecom instruments such as cell phones ($17 bn).

Why does India need so much palm oil?

  • It is the cheapest edible oil available naturally.
  • Its inert taste makes it suitable for use in foods ranging from baked goods to fried snacks.
  • It stays relatively stable at high temperatures, and is therefore suitable for reuse and deep frying. It is the main ingredient in vanaspati (hydrogenated vegetable oil).
  • However, palm oil is not used in Indian homes.
  • That, and the fact that CPO continues to be imported, makes it unlikely that the decision to restrict refined palm oil imports will impact food inflation immediately.

Who will be impacted by the decision?

  • Indonesia and Malaysia together produce 85% of the world’s palm oil, and India is among the biggest buyers.
  • Both Indonesia and Malaysia produce refined palm oil; however, Malaysia’s refining capacity equals its production capacity — this is why Malaysia is keen on exporting refined oil.
  • Indonesia, on the other hand, can supply CPO, which would allow India to utilise its full refining capacity.

Why import Crude Palm Oil?

  • The CPO that India imports contains fatty acids, gums and wax-like substances. Refining neutralises the acids and filters out the other substances.
  • The filtrate is bleached so that the oil does not change colour after repeated use. Substances that may cause the oil to smell are removed physically or chemically.
  • This entire process increases the value of a barrel of crude oil by about 4%.
  • Additionally, there are costs to transporting the crude, which makes it more cost-effective to import the refined oil.
  • But the refining industry has been demanding that the import duty on refined oil be increased, which would make importing crude oil cheaper than importing refined oil.
  • The decision to restrict imports of refined oil will benefit refiners, which include big-ticket names like the Adani Wilmar group.

Will restricting imports of RBD palm oil help farmers?

  • Restricting refined oil imports will not help farmers directly, as they are not involved in the process of refining.
  • However, the restrictions have caused refined palm oil prices to increase. If prices continue to hold, farmers will get a better realization for their crop.
  • But the timeframe over which the changes in import policy will have an effect on domestic crop realization is fairly long, given that palm trees take over four years to provide a yield.
  • Also, if the demand is met entirely by importing and refining CPO, farmers will be left out of the picture.

How will Malaysia be affected?

  • Malaysia has said that it cannot retaliate against India because it is “too small”.
  • With imports to its largest market restricted (India bought over 23% of all CPO produced by Malaysia in 2019), Malaysian palm oil futures fell by almost 10% in January, although it has recovered since then.
  • India and Malaysia signed a free trade agreement — Malaysia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement — in February 2011.
  • In 2018, Malaysia exported 25.8% of its palm oil to India.
  • If India does not issue licenses for importing refined oil, Malaysia will have to find new buyers for its product.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Spitzer Space Telescope

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Spitzer Telescope

Mains level : Significant feats of the mission

 

NASA’s Spitzer Mission, which studied the universe in infrared light for more than 16 years, will come to an end since it is low on fuel and has been drifting away from Earth for a few years now.

Spitzer Space Telescope

  • The Spitzer Space Telescope is a space-borne observatory, one of the elements of NASA’s Great Observatories that include the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray.
  • Using different infrared wavelengths, Spitzer was able to see and reveal features of the universe including objects that were too cold to emit visible light.
  • Apart from enabling researchers to see distant cold objects, Spitzer could also see through large amounts of gas using infrared wavelengths to find objects that may otherwise have been invisible to human beings.
  • These included exoplanets, brown dwarfs and cold matter found in the space between stars.
  • Spitzer was originally built to last for a minimum of 2.5 years, but it lasted in the “cold” phase for over 5.5 years. On May 15, 2009 the coolant was finally depleted and the “warm mission” began.

Major discoveries

  • Spitzer also studied some of the most distant galaxies ever detected.
  • The light from these galaxies reached us after traveling for billions of years, enabling scientists “to see those objects as they were long, long ago”.
  • Hubble and Spitzer in 2016 identified and studied the most distant galaxy ever observed.
  • Using these two telescopes, scientists were able to see a bright infant galaxy as it was over 13.4 billion years ago, roughly 400 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was less than 5% of its current age.
  • It assisted in the discovery of planets beyond our solar system, including the detection of seven Earth-size exo-planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1.
  • Three of its seven planets were located in the “habitable zone,” where the temperature might be right for liquid water to exist on the planets’ surfaces.

Other landmarks

  • Spitzer has logged over 106,000 hours of observation time.
  • Thousands of scientists around the world have utilized Spitzer data in their studies, and Spitzer data is cited in more than 8,000 published papers.
  • Spitzer’s primary mission ended up lasting 5.5 years, during which time the spacecraft operated in a “cold phase,” with a supply of liquid helium cooling three onboard instruments to just above absolute zero.
  • The cooling system reduced excess heat from the instruments themselves that could contaminate their observations.
  • This gave Spitzer very high sensitivity for “cold” objects.
  • In July 2009, after Spitzer’s helium supply ran out, the spacecraft entered a so-called “warm phase.”
  • Spitzer’s main instrument, called the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), has four cameras, two of which continue to operate in the warm phase with the same sensitivity they maintained during the cold phase.

Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[pib] Bhuvan Panchayat V 3.0

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bhuvan Panchayat V 3.0, SISDP Project

Mains level : Utility of geospatial data in governance

The Bhuvan Panchayat V 3.0 web portal was recently launched.

Bhuvan Panchayat Version 3.0

  • For better planning and monitoring of government projects, the ISRO has launched the Bhuvan Panchayat web portal’s version 3.0.
  • For the first time, a thematic data base on a 1:1000 scale for the entire country is available with integrated high resolution satellite data for planning.
  • In the project that will last for at least two years, ISRO will collaborate with the gram panchayat members and stakeholders to understand their data requirements.
  • The third version of the portal will provide database visualisation and services for the benefit of panchayat members, among others.
  • The project is meant to provide geo-spatial services to aid gram panchayat development planning process of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
  • The targeted audiences for this portal are Public, PRIs and different stakeholders belonging to the gram panchayats.

About SISDP Project

  • Space based Information Support for Decentralised Planning at Panchyayat level (SIS-DP) is a national initiative of preparing basic spatial layers useful in planning process for local self governance.
  • ISRO launched SISDP project to assist Gram Panchayats at grassroot level with basic planning inputs derived from satellite data for preparing developmental plans, its implementation and monitoring the activities.
  • The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) is the lead centre to execute the project in collaboration with various State Remote Sensing Centres.
  • SISDP phase I Project was successfully concluded in the year 2016-17.
  • Under Phase II, this project shall be implemented shortly with a enhanced scope of updating geodatabase with latest high resolution remote sensing data and spatial data analytics.
  • For the first time, thematic database on 1:10,000 scale for the entire country is available with high integrated High Resolution satellite data for planning.

Indian Navy Updates

[pib] Operation Vanilla

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HADR, Op Vanila

Mains level : NA

Indian navy will perform HADR operations in Madagascar under ‘Operation Vanilla’.

Operation Vanilla

  • Indian Navy Ship Airavat whilst mission deployed in the Southern Indian Ocean has been diverted to Antsiranana based on request recieved from Madagascar.
  • The ship will undertake Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission as part of ‘Operation Vanilla’.
  • It has been launched to provide assistance to the affected population of Madagascar post devastation caused by Cyclone Diane.

Disinvestment in India

[op-ed of the day] Strategic disinvestment does not deserve the criticism it gets

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Pros and cons of strategic disinvestment.

Context

Air India is on the block.

Why disinvestment is not such a bad idea?

  • Wisdom lies in the use of resources to meet the emergent needs: True wisdom lies in the use of resources, including the so-called “family silver”.
    • To meet emergent needs.
    • As also for better returns.
    • Even individuals and private sector organizations committed to meeting their obligations or optimizing wealth creation take such initiatives routinely.
  • The weakening of Indian economy
    • This fiscal year’s second quarter growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) slipped to 4.5% and the portents of a slowdown have been quite apparent.
    • Private sector investment is sagging. Gross capital formation has dipped.
    • Aggregate demand has contracted.
    • Public sector expenditure is the single engine that’s driving economic growth.
  • Clamour for the government to open its purse and limited fiscal room.
    • Shrunk revenue growth: There is a clamour for the government to open its purse and help out. However, its revenue growth has shrunk.
    • Low direct tax collection: Direct tax collections registered a growth of only a little more than 6%.
    • The cautious approach by the RBI: The Reserve Bank of India has taken a rate cut pause, inter alia, to watch the government’s approach to the fisc.
    • Commitment to low inflation: The political executive seems determined to honour its commitment to low inflation and macroeconomic stability.
    • India facing Hobson’s Choice: India is thus faced with a Hobson’s choice—either to significantly revise its fiscal deficit target or monetize state assets.
  • The liberalized markets and optimizing wealth.
    • Perception in the capital market: Capital markets operate on perceptions. Valuations of public sector enterprises tend to be much lower than those of private sector companies even if their profit numbers are the same.
    • Why should India suffer suboptimal wealth creation?: The liberalized market philosophy that the country has pursued aims at optimizing wealth creation. In case a change in ownership structure can deliver higher wealth, why should Indian society retain the current ownership frame and suffer suboptimal wealth creation?
    • Need to make policies aimed at value creation: Given the limits on India’s resources, it is all the more important to see that policies are geared to ensure that value is created.
    • Stake sales can achieve value creation: For validation of this surmise, look at the rapid rise in the enterprise value of Bharat Petroleum, as indicated by its share price, since the announcement of its strategic disinvestment.
  • Not all private sector companies perform well: In those cases, the losses are not funded by innocent taxpayers.

Twin angles to welcome strategic disinvestment

  • One: The need for India to invest in fresh asset creation.
  • The fresh asset can be created by way of roads, ports and airports that would result in a cascade effect for the economy’s growth.
  • Two: The optimization of wealth generation from the country’s assets.
    • This, incidentally, will benefit individual shareholders, including employees with shares, who have invested in the equity of listed public-sector companies such as Bharat Petroleum.
    • Energy security of the country not harmed: As there are other state-owned petroleum companies undertaking exactly the same activities, such as refining and marketing crude oil, the sale of one company does not tamper with the energy security of the country.

Way forward

  • Caution against undervaluation: The government, however, must ensure that it is not taken for a ride. It must make a good judgment of the value of the company it decides to disinvest from and if the market conditions are not favourable for the move it must wait for the opportune moment.
  • Asset creation from the proceeds: Instead of using the proceeds from the disinvestment to fund revenue deficit the proceeds must be utilized strictly for new asset creation.

 

 

Government Budgets

[op-ed snap] The stress in state finances

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Effects of low growth rate on the State's finances.

Context

Lower tax devolution, delays in GST compensation are potential risks to the states.

Trends in the finances of the state

  • The unaudited fiscal data of 21 states:
    • These states account for around 90 per cent of India’s GDP in 2017-18. The data reveal some trends.
  • First Trend: Revenue receipt sliding down
    • From 15.6 to 4.6 %: At the aggregate level, revenue receipts of these 21 states have grown by a mere 4.6 per cent, sliding down from 15.3 per cent over the same period last year.
    • Decrease in Central tax devolution: The analysis shows that the states’ share in Central tax devolution has slowed the most, contracting by 2.3 per cent during this period, after having grown by 12.1 per cent over the same period last year.
  • Second trend: The Centre’s gross tax revenues are expected to fall short of the budgeted target by a considerable Rs 3- 3.5 trillion this fiscal year.
    • The aggregate tax devolution to all states may be as much as Rs 1.7 – 2.2 trillion lower in the current fiscal year than what was budgeted.
    • This is a key revenue risk staring at the state governments this year.
  • Third trend: States own tax and non-tax revenue contracting.
    • The states’ own non-tax revenues have contracted by 5 per cent during the first eight months of this fiscal year, after an expansion of 15.3 per cent over the same period last year.
    • Decreasing tax revenue: Growth of states’ own tax revenues, the largest source of their revenue receipts, eased to a tepid 2.2 per cent during this period from a healthy 16 per cent over the same period last year.
    • This is in part by the modest rise in collections of the State Goods and Services Tax (SGST).
  • Fourth trend: Increase in the grants from the Centre
    • The primary factor boosting the GST compensation seems to be the low growth in states’ GST revenues relative to the mandated 14 per cent annual growth for the five-year transition period.

Delay in receipt of the GST collection and the risk

  • Some state has voiced concerns over the delays in receipt of the compensation amount in recent months.
    • The delay has complicated their fiscal position and cash flow management.
    • Risk for the states: The timing of receipt of the compensation is the second major revenue risk facing state governments.
    • If compensation gets delayed to the next fiscal year, we may well find some traditionally revenue surplus states staring at a revenue deficit
    • Case of no GST compensation: But it seems states will have to start gearing up for life without the GST compensation.

The Rise in State Development Loans or Market borrowing by states

  • SDL rising in first three quarters: According to ICRA’s estimates, net SDL issuance of all states and UTs rose by 15.5 per cent to Rs 2,806 billion in the first three quarters of this fiscal year, up from Rs 2,429 billion last year.
    • The combined gross SDL issuance has expanded by a significant 34.9 per cent to Rs 3,874 billion this fiscal year (April-December), up from Rs 2,872 billion last year.
    • The calendar for state government market borrowings for the fourth quarter indicates tentative gross SDL issuances of Rs 2,086 billion in the quarter, implying a moderate 9.1 per cent growth.
    • But, this conceals a large dip in redemptions.
    • Net SDL issuances will expand by a staggering 55.7 per cent to Rs 1,766 billion in Q4FY20, up from Rs 1,134 billion last year, underlining the stress in state government finances this year.
  • About 25 % rise in borrowing this fiscal: If market borrowings in the fourth quarter are in line with the amounts indicated, total gross borrowing this fiscal year would rise by 24.6 per cent to nearly Rs 6 trillion, up from Rs 4.8 trillion last year.
  • Net borrowing by states as large as Central govt. borrowing: Net borrowings by states would rise by an even sharper 28.3 per cent to Rs 4.6 trillion this year, becoming nearly as large as the Central government’s net market borrowings of Rs 4.7 trillion that have been announced so far for this year.

Conclusion

The figure and the trends indicated the financial risk the states are staring at. The government must take measure to revive the economy in order to address the problems faced by the states and ensure that the states are not left in lurch while SGT compensation receipts get delayed.

 

 

Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

[op-ed snap] Here’s looking at you

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Facial recognition technique and issues associated with it.

Context

Face recognition technology calls for a more comprehensive domestic framework that promotes the use of new technologies for the public good as well as imposes necessary constraints against their abuse.

Debate on finding the balance between regulation and promotion

  • Google calls for partial ban: TheGoogle CEO’s recent support for a temporary ban on facial recognition technologies seems uncharacteristic.
    • It is not often that companies developing a technology call for its ban.
    • Their interest is in promoting the use of technology, not proscribing it.
    • Not every one of the leading tech companies agrees with Google on facial recognition.
  • Microsoft against the ban: Microsoft has questioned the idea of a ban. Calling facial recognition a “young technology”, it said “it will get better.
    • To get better the technology has to be used: The only way to make it better is actually to continue developing it.
    • And the only way to continue developing it actually is to have more people using it.
  • IBM’s precision regulation: IBM has taken a step forward in developing the policies for the use of technology by setting up a “lab”.
    • The lab will generate actionable ideas for policymakers to manage the emergence of new technologies like facial recognition that are shaping our digital future.
    • Precision regulation vs. complete ban: The idea is to develop “precision regulation” rather than enforce “blunt” instruments like the ban.
  • The EU’s plans for temporary ban: The debate on finding the right balance between regulation and promotion of emerging technologies comes in the wake of leaked plans of the EU to issue a temporary ban.
    • The ban could be up to five years.
    • Ban on use in public places only: The proposed ban is not a comprehensive one and will be applicable to the use of facial recognition in public spaces.
  • India’s own plans for law enforcement agencies: The intensifying global debate also coincides with India’s own plans to roll out a massive project on deploying facial recognition technologies, essentially for law enforcement.
    • The international discourse provides the context for developing a broad and effective Indian policy framework for the use of facial recognition.

Background of the backlash against the tech companies

  • Techlash: Well before the EU had begun to discuss a temporary ban on facial recognition, there has been a “techlash” against the companies.
    • The companies faced backlash because they have so dramatically altered our lives in the last few years.
  • The idea of “digital is different”: For nearly two decades, the idea that “digital is different” and does not need public oversight had triumphed in most capitals of the world.
  • Problems with regulations: The main argument was that regulation constrains technological innovation and retards progress.
  • AI and Big data:  The urge to regulate has triggered widespread concerns about the dangers of digitalisation, especially the use of big data and AI by private companies as well as governments.

Major concerns against facial recognition

  • Surveillance capitalism and surveillance state: The companies were seen as monetising the data generated by the widespread use of digital platforms like Google and Facebook.
    • Surveillance state:  China became the prime example of states using data and information to exercise ever more control over its citizens.
  • Accuracy: At the other end are concerns that facial recognition is not entirely accurate and could lead to punitive actions against innocent people.
  • Racial bias misogyny: There is also a concern in the US that the algorithms behind facial recognition carry the baggage of racism and misogyny.
  • Concerns in India: It also remains a fact that the Indian state has always been tempted to empower itself against its citizens in the name of collective security.
    • It has also tended to weaponise information against political opponents and dissidents.

Potential Advantages

  • In the control of crime.
  • Better border controls and countering terrorism.
  • Aid the Police: In India, a severely under-policed nation, facial recognition surely offers many benefits.

Conclusion

The foreign office must reclaim India’s place in the international discourse on AI and facial recognition and develop a productive alignment between India’s national interests and the development of new digital norms.

 

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Comprehensive Bodo Settlement Agreement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Bodoland statehood issue

 

  • The MHA, the Assam government and the Bodo groups have signed an agreement to redraw and rename the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in Assam, currently spread over four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.
  • Several Bodo groups led have been demanding a separate land for the ethnic community since 1972, a movement that has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

Background

  • The first Bodo accord was signed with the ABSU in 1993, leading to the creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.
  • The BTC was created in 2003 with some more financial and other powers.
  • The BTAD and other areas mentioned under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution have been exempted from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Highlights of the Agreement

  • As per the agreement, villages dominated by Bodos that were presently outside the BTAD would be included and those with non-Bodo population would be excluded.
  • Bodos living in the hills would be conferred a Scheduled Hill Tribe status.
  • The BTAD is to be renamed as the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

Rehabilitation and relief

  • The criminal cases registered against members of the NDFB factions for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn by the Assam government and in cases of heinous crimes it will be reviewed.
  • A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crore would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.

A separate Commission

  • It proposes to set up a commission under Section 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution which will recommend the inclusion or exclusion of tribal population residing in villages adjoining BTAD areas.
  • In this commission, besides State government, there will be representatives from ABSU and BTC. It will submit its recommendation within six months.

Changes in Legislature

  • The total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40.
  • The present settlement has a proposal to give more legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers to BTC.

Bodo as an official language

  • The Assam government will also notify Bodo language as an associate official language in the state and will set up a separate directorate for Bodo medium schools.
  • Bodo with Devnagri script would be the associate official language for the entire Assam.

Significance of the agreement

  • The signing of the agreement would “end the 50-year-old Bodo crisis.”
  • Around 1500 cadres of BODO militant factions will be rehabilitated by Centre and Assam Government.

Legislative Council in States: Issues & Way Forward

Legislative Councils and its abolition

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Legislative Councils

Mains level : Need for Legislative Councils

The Andhra Pradesh Assembly recently passed a resolution to abolish the state’s Legislative Council (LC).

Legislative Councils

  • The LC or Vidhan Parishad is the upper house in those states that have a bicameral legislature; the lower house being the State Legislative Assembly.
  • Its establishment is defined in Article 169 of the Constitution of India.
  • Each Member of the State LC serves for a six-year term, with terms staggered so that the terms of one third of a State Legislative Council’s membership expire every two years.
  • This arrangement parallels that for the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India.
  • Q member of LC must be a citizen of India, at least 30 years old, mentally sound, not an insolvent, and must be enrolled on the voters’ list of the state for which he or she is contesting an election.
  • Under Article 171, a Council cannot have more than a third of the number of MLAs in the state, and not less than 40 members.

Representation in an LC

MLCs are chosen in the following manner:

  • One third are elected by the members of local bodies such as municipalities, Gram panchayats, Panchayat samitis and district councils.
  • One third are elected by the members of Legislative Assembly of the State from among the persons who are not members of the State Legislative Assembly.
  • One sixth are nominated by the governor from persons having knowledge or practical experience in fields such as literature, science, arts, the co-operative movement and social service.
  • One twelfth are elected by persons who are graduates of three years’ standing residing in that state.
  • One twelfth are elected by persons engaged for at least three years in teaching in educational institutions within the state not lower than secondary schools, including colleges and universities.

Abolition of LC

  • Article 169(1) of the Constitution allows Parliament to either create or abolish a Council in a state “if the Legislative Assembly of the State passes a resolution to that effect.
  • The resolution must by a majority of the total membership of the Assembly and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the Assembly present and voting.

Councils in the Constitution

  • Under Article 168, states can have either one or two Houses of legislature. Article 169 leaves the choice of having a Vidhan Parishad to individual states.
  • The Constituent Assembly was divided on having a second chamber in the states.
  • It was argued that a second House can help check hasty actions by the directly elected House, and also enable non-elected persons to contribute to the legislative process.
  • However, it was also felt that some of the poorer states could ill afford the extravagance of two Houses.
  • It has been pointed out that the Councils can be used to delay important legislation, and to park leaders who have not been able to win an election.

Councils in other states

  • Besides Andhra Pradesh, five other states have Vidhan Parishads — Bihar (58 members), Karnataka (75), Maharashtra (78), Telangana (40), UP (100).
  • Jammu and Kashmir had a Council until the state was bifurcated into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.
  • In 1986, the M G Ramachandran government in Tamil Nadu abolished the Council.
  • The DMK government passed a law revives it, but the subsequent J Jayalalithaa-led government withdrew it after coming to power in 2010.
  • The Odisha Assembly has passed a resolution for a Legislative Council. Proposals to create Councils in Rajasthan and Assam are pending in Rajya Sabha.

History- Important places, persons in news

Liberation of Auschwitz

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Liberation of Auschwitz

 

  • Yesterday on January 27th survivors of the Holocaust and international heads of state marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
  • During the Second World War, the government of Nazi Germany killed approximately 17 million people across Europe in half a dozen camps specifically designated for killings.
  • Of these seven killing centers, the camp at Auschwitz, perhaps the most well known, was the largest in size.

Why is January 27 an important date in Holocaust history?

  • During the final stages of the Second World War, months before the fall of Nazi Germany, Nazi officials began forcibly moving prisoners between the camps spread across Europe.
  • Called ‘Death Marches’, this forcible displacement on foot over long distances in the bitter cold, with little to no food resulted in many deaths.
  • Some researchers believe that prisoners were moved from camps to prevent the liberation of prisoners held inside these camps and to also remove evidence of crimes against humanity perpetrated by Nazi officials.
  • Prisoners who were very ill and disabled were left to die in the abandoned camps.

Rescue of Auschwitz

  • Allied forces advanced from the West while soldiers belonging to the Red Army of the Soviet Union began entering concentration camps and killing centers across Europe, liberating survivors.
  • The first camp that the Red Army soldiers liberated was the Majdanek camp in Poland in July 1944.
  • The Army entered Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, finding hundreds of sick, starving and exhausted prisoners, who had somehow survived.
  • In 2005, the UN-designated January 27 as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

What occurred during the liberation of Auschwitz?

  • Along with surviving prisoners, the Red Army also found hordes of items belonging to the prisoners that had been stripped from them by Nazi officials when they first arrived at Auschwitz.
  • The prisoners were so weak after having been starved for prolonged periods of time, that despite medical intervention, many died days after their rescue.
  • Several soldiers in the Red Army and in the Allied troops later gave testimonies concerning the sights that awaited them when they first entered the camps in Auschwitz and elsewhere.
  • Although Nazi officials had destroyed many warehouses and crematoria where property looted from prisoners had been stored and where bodies had been disposed, liberating troops still found evidence of the crimes and brutality perpetrated against the prisoners.

What made Auschwitz unique?

  • Historical records show that despite attempts by Nazi officials to obliterate prisoners, particularly those at Auschwitz, there were survivors who lived to provide testimony against Nazi officials.
  • Several factors set Auschwitz apart from other camps across Europe.
  • The camp at Auschwitz had originally been built to hold Polish political prisoners but by March 1942, it became one of the main centres for the Nazi’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

Aftermath of the Holocaust

  • Trials were held against Nazi officers and people who worked inside the camps in various capacities and perpetrated crimes against humanity in the camps of Auschwitz and elsewhere in Europe.
  • These individuals included both men and women, many who escaped accountability for their crimes after the fall of Nazi Germany.
  • To evade justice, many SS officers changed their identities and escaped to other parts of Europe, the US and to other parts of the world.
  • The camps at Auschwitz have become an important reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust and in 1947 the government of Poland made the site a state memorial.
  • In 1979, UNESCO added the Auschwitz memorial to its list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Air India Disinvestment

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Disinvestment processes in India

The government has kicked off the complete disinvestment process of Air India for the second time after it failed to receive a single bid in the first attempt back in 2018.

100% stake sale

  • Most significantly, the government will offload 100% of its stake in Air India, compared with 76% put on the block last time.
  • The government holding even a minor stake in the airline post disinvestment was seen as a huge negative for any potential buyers.
  • The buyer will have to take on Rs 23,286 crore of debt out of a total Rs 60,074 crore.
  • Compared with this, in the last attempt, a potential buyer would have to take on Rs 33,392 crore of debt and current liabilities.
  • The amount of debt being bundled with the airline in this attempt is towards the aircraft that are being sold off along with the carrier as part of the transaction.
  • The working capital and other non-aircraft debt will be retained by the government.

Air India’s assets

  • The new owner will be taking on a fleet of 121 aircraft in Air India’s fleet and 25 planes in Air India Express’ fleet.
  • These exclude the four Boeing 747-400 jumbojet aircraft that the airline plans to transfer to its subsidiary Alliance Air, which is not a part of the current transaction.
  • However, like the last attempt, the properties currently in use by Air India, including the Nariman Point building and the company’s headquarters near Connaught Place in New Delhi will be retained by the government.

Will the new terms attract investors?

  • Air India has a 50.64% market share in international traffic among Indian carriers.
  • The government is hopeful of attracting investors with the new sale criteria, coupled with the main benefits of the airline, which are prime slots in capacity-constrained airports across the world.
  • However, any potential investor is also expected to look at the size of the airline’s operations with reference to what those operations generate.
  • For example, both Air India and Singapore Airlines operate with a fleet of 121 aircraft, but in 2018-19 Air India posted a net loss of Rs 8,556 crore, whereas Singapore Airlines reported a net profit of Singapore $ 779.1 million (approx Rs 4,100 crore).

What will the new investor get?

  • The most attractive proposition in acquiring Air India is the slots and landing rights that it holds at airports such at Delhi, Mumbai, London, New York, Chicago, Paris, etc.
  • These could be helpful both to airlines looking to expand into long-haul international operations, and to entities looking to set up global operations from scratch.
  • Air India currently operates to 56 Indian cities and 42 international destinations.
  • The new investor also gets hold of the ground-handling firm AI-SATS, which offers end-to-end ground handling services such as passenger and baggage handling, ramp handling, aircraft interior cleaning etc. at Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mangaluru and Thiruvananthapuram airports.
  • This would provide the investor with an ancillary services firm with captive use.

Loss makers in AI

  • Several of Air India’s international and domestic routes are profit-generating, while a number of them are loss-making or witness low load factors.
  • This is a legacy problem that the airline comes with for the new promoter.
  • Additionally, while the airline comes with 121 aircraft primed as domestic and international workhorses, 18 of them are grounded for lack of funds to make them airworthy.

How will consumers and employees be impacted?

Consumers

  • If and when Air India is taken over by a private entity or consortium, experts believe the first move could be pruning of operations to ensure the airline inches closer to profitability.
  • This could cause Air India to cease operations on certain loss-making domestic and international routes — leading to a rise in fares.
  • It is believed that Air India’s continuous loss-making operations have skewed the market, wherein private companies have to play ball even when fares are artificially low.
  • Cutting certain routes could also impact consumers in terms of the unique offerings by Air India, such as higher baggage allowance, etc.

Employees of AI

  • Air India’s bloated staff strength was flagged by potential investors in the last disinvestment attempt.
  • The airline has 17,984 employees, of which 9,617 are permanent staff.
  • Whether the employees will be retained by the new investor is unclear.
  • The government is expected to provide more clarity on conditions for retaining staff in the request-for-proposal stage, which will come after expressions of interest are received.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Why China has emerged as the epicentre of global outbreaks of disease?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Zoonotic diseases

Mains level : Threats posed by coronavirus outbreak

Several deadly new viruses in recent years have emerged in China — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), bird flu, and now the novel Coronavirus (nCOV).

Zoonotic infections

  • Closely packed stalls in busy marketplaces, the Chinese taste for exotic meats, and the high population density of cities create the conditions for the spread of zoonotic infections.
  • The reason could lie in the busy food markets dotting cities across the country — where fruits, vegetables, hairy crabs and butchered meat are often sold next to bamboo rats, snakes, turtles, and palm civets.
  • The relationship between zoonotic pathogens and global pandemics are not new.
  • The WHO estimates that globally, about a billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from zoonoses, i.e, diseases and infections naturally transmitted between people and vertebrate animals.
  • Some 60% of emerging infectious diseases globally are zoonoses. Of the over 30 new human pathogens detected over the last three decades, 75% originated in animals.

Major cause: Animal markets

  • In animal markets, there are greater chances of transmission of a virus from animals to humans, and its mutation to adapt to the human body.
  • It has happened wherever in the world there is unregulated mixing of humans and animals, either wild or domesticated.
  • The official referred to the Ebola outbreak in Africa there it was wild chimpanzees who had the disease. It came into humans after these were killed and consumed.

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

Polycrack Technology

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Polycrack Technology

Mains level : Polycrack Technology and its benefits

 

Indian Railways has put in place the country’s first Waste to Energy plant in Mancheswar Carriage Repair Workshop which falls under East Coast Railway. It uses a patented technology called POLYCRACK, is first-of-its-kind in Indian Railways and fourth in India.

Polycrack Technology

  • It is world’s first patented heterogeneous catalytic process which converts multiple feed stocks into hydrocarbon liquid fuels, gas, carbon and water.
  • The process is a closed-loop system and does not emit any hazardous pollutants into the atmosphere.

Feeders

  • Polycrack Plant can be fed with all types of plastic, petroleum sludge, un-segregated MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) with moisture up to 50%, e–waste, automobile fluff, organic waste including bamboo, garden waste etc., and Jatropha fruit and palm bunch.

How it works?

  • The process is a closed-loop system and does not emit any hazardous pollutants into the atmosphere.
  • The combustible, non-condensed gases are re-used for providing energy to the entire system and thus, the only emission comes from the combustion of gaseous fuels.
  • The emissions from the combustion are found to be much less than prescribed environmental norms.
  • This process will produce energy in the form of Light Diesel Oil which is used to light furnaces.

Advantages of Polycrack

Polycrack has the following advantages over the conventional approach of treating solid waste:

  • Pre-segregation of waste is not required to reform the waste. Waste as collected can be directly fed into Polycrack.
  • It has high tolerance to moisture hence drying of waste is not required.
  • Waste is processed and reformed within 24 hours.
  • It is an enclosed unit hence the working environment is dust free.
  • Excellent air quality surrounding the plant.
  • Biological decomposition is not allowed as the Waste is treated as it is received.
  • The foot print of the plant is small hence the area required for installing the plant is less when compared with conventional method of processing.
  • All constituents are converted into valuable energy thereby making it Zero Discharge Process.
  • Gas generated in the process is re-used to provide energy to the system thereby making it self-reliant and also bring down the operating cost.
  • There is no atmospheric emission during the process unlike other conventional methods except for combustion gases which have pollutants less than the prescribed norms the world over.
  • Operates around 450 degrees, making it a low temperature process when compared with other options.
  • Safe and efficient system with built-in safety features enables even an unskilled user to operate the machine with ease.
  • Low capital cost and low operating cost.
  • Fully automated system requires minimum man power.