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Urban Floods

Need for Sponge cities Mission in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : urban floods

Issue of flood in the cities

  • Over 50 peple died in the wake of torrential rains in the third week of October in Hyderabad.
  • This experience is not unique to the city of Hyderabad, five years ago Chennai saw a massive flood costing much damage and lives.
  • Gurugram over the past few years comes to a complete standstill during the monsoon months.
  • And for Mumbai, the monsoon has become synonymous with flooding and enormous damages.

Causes of frequent urban floods:

Natural:

  • Meteorological Factors: Heavy rainfall, cyclonic storms and thunderstorms causes water to flow quickly through paved urban areas and impound in low lying areas.
  • Hydrological Factors: Overbank flow channel networks, occurrence of high tides impeding the drainage in coastal cities.
  • Climate Change: Climate change due to various anthropogenic events has led to extreme weather events.

Anthropological:

  • Unplanned Urbanization: Unplanned Urbanization is the key cause of urban flooding. A major concern is blocking of natural drainage pathways through construction activity and encroachment on catchment areas, riverbeds and lakebeds.
  • Destruction of lakes: A major issue in India cities. Lakes can store the excess water and regulate the flow of water. However, pollution of natural urban water bodies and converting them for development purposes has increased risk of floods.
  • Unauthorised colonies and excess construction: Reduced infiltration due paving of surfaces which decreases ground absorption and increases the speed and amount of surface flow
  • Poor Solid Waste Management System: Improper waste management system and clogging of storm-water drains because of silting, accumulation of non-biodegradable wastes and construction debris.
  • Drainage System: Old and ill maintained drainage system is another factor making cities in India vulnerable to flooding.
  • Irresponsible steps: Lack of attention to natural hydrological system and lack of flood control measures.

Impact of the devastation due to floods:

  • On economy: Damage to infrastructure, roads and settlements, industrial production, basic supplies, post disaster rehabilitation difficulties etc.
  • On human population and wildlife: Trauma, loss of life, injuries and disease outbreak, contamination of water etc.
  • On environment: Loss of habitat, tree and forest cover, biodiversity loss and large scale greenery recovery failure.
  • On transport and communication: Increased traffic congestion, disruption in rail services, disruption in communication- on telephone, internet cables causing massive public inconvenience.

What is to be done

1) Management of wetlands

  • We neglect the issues of incremental land use change, particularly of those commons which provide us with necessary ecological support — wetlands.
  •  We need to start paying attention to the management of our wetlands by involving local communities.
  • The risk is going to increase year after year with changing rainfall patterns and a problem of urban terrain which is incapable of absorbing, holding and discharging water.

2) Implementing the idea of sponge cities

  • The idea of a sponge city is to make cities more permeable so as to hold and use the water which falls upon it.
  • Sponge cities absorb the rain water, which is then naturally filtered by the soil and allowed to reach urban aquifers.
  • This allows for the extraction of water from the ground through urban or peri-urban wells.
  • This water can be treated easily and used for city water supply.
  • In built form, this implies contiguous open green spaces, interconnected waterways, and channels and ponds across neighbourhoods that can naturally detain and filter water.
  • It implies support for urban ecosystems, bio-diversity and newer cultural and recreational opportunities,
  • These can all be delivered effectively through an urban mission along the lines of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) and Smart Cities Mission.

On a top priority, such a mission should address the following.

  • 1) Wetland policy: In most of our lakes, the shallow ends, which often lie beyond the full tank level, have disappeared.
  • These shallow ends are best characterised as wetlands.
  • Regardless of ownership, land use on even this small scale needs to be regulated by development control.
  • 2) Watershed management and emergency drainage plan is next.
  • This should be clearly enunciated in policy and law.
  • 3) Ban against terrain alteration is third.
  • Lasting irreversible damage has been done to the city by builders, property owners, and public agencies by flattening terrain and altering drainage routes.
  • 4) Use of porus material: Our cities are becoming increasingly impervious to water, not just because of increasing built up but also because of the nature of materials used.
  • To improve the city’s capacity to absorb water, new porous materials and technologies must be encouraged or mandated across scales.
  • Examples of these technologies are bioswales and retention systems, permeable material for roads and pavement, drainage systems which allow storm water to trickle into the ground, green roofs and harvesting systems in buildings.

Conclusion

We can learn to live with nature, we can regulate human conduct through the state and we can strategically design where we build. We need to urgently rebuild our cities such that they have the sponginess to absorb and release water without causing so much misery and so much damage to the most vulnerable of our citizens, as we have seen.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

What are Western Disturbances?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Polar Vortex

Mains level : Not Much

With the approaching winter, minimum temperatures in the national capital have trended downward over the last due to the arrival of northwesterly winds called Western Disturbances.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Westerlies in the southern hemisphere is stronger and persistent than in northern hemisphere. Why?

  1. The southern hemisphere has less landmass as compared to the northern hemisphere.
  2. Coriolis force is higher in the southern hemisphere as compared to the northern hemisphere

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) Only 1

(b) Only 2

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Western Disturbances

  • A western disturbance is an extratropical storm originating in the Mediterranean region that brings sudden winter rain to the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent.
  • It is a non-monsoonal precipitation pattern driven by the westerlies.
  • The moisture in these storms usually originates over the Mediterranean Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.
  • Extratropical storms are global phenomena with moisture usually carried in the upper atmosphere, unlike their tropical counterparts where the moisture is carried in the lower atmosphere.
  • In the case of the Indian subcontinent, moisture is sometimes shed as rain when the storm system encounters the Himalayas.
  • Western disturbances are more frequent and strong in the winter season.

Their significance

  • Western disturbances, specifically the ones in winter, bring moderate to heavy rain in low-lying areas and heavy snow to mountainous areas of the Indian Subcontinent.
  • They are the cause of most winter and pre-monsoon season rainfall across northwest India.
  • Precipitation during the winter season has great importance in agriculture, particularly for the rabi crops.
  • Wheat among them is one of the most important crops, which helps to meet India’s food security. An average of four to five western disturbances forms during the winter season.
  • The rainfall distribution and amount vary with every western disturbance.

Also read: Polar Vortex 

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

Who is a Star Campaigner?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Star campaigner

Mains level : Election expenditure and associated issues

The Election Commission (EC) has revoked the status of a veteran leader and former Madhya Pradesh CM as a star campaigner for the party.

Try answering this question:

Q.Ceiling on election expenses ends up being counterproductive and encourages candidates to under-report their expenditure. Critically analyse.

Who is a Star Campaigner?

  • A star campaigner can be described as persons who are nominated by parties to campaign in a given set of constituencies.
  • These persons are, in almost all cases, prominent and popular faces within the party.
  • There is no specific definition according to law or the Election Commission of India.
  • Star campaigners for a party will not exceed 40 where it is a recognised political party.
  • For parties that are deemed unrecognized, the number of star campaigners will not be more than 20.

Their purpose

  • Actors, celebrities and senior political party members are the ones who are nominated to be star campaigners.
  • This is based on the premise that a popular face, someone that the common voter can immediately identify and side with, can rake in more votes for that political party.

How much does a star campaigner cost?

  • Section 77 (b) of The Representation of People’s Act, 1951 says that most of the expenses incurred by the campaigner “shall not be deemed to be an expenditure in connection with the election”.
  • In other words, all expenses will be borne by the respective political party.
  • For example, expenses borne by star campaigners on account of travel by air or by any other means of transport shall not be deemed as expenditure in connection with the election.
  • The manual to the Model Code of Conduct states that for the benefit of availing Section 77 (1) of The RP Act, a permit for the mode of transport for every star campaigner will be issued centrally and against their name.
  • It is also mandatory for this permit to be stuck on a prominent and visible place on the vehicle.

A case for PMs

  • The MCC states that if the star campaigner is a PM or a former PM, then expenses incurred for bullet-proof vehicles required by centrally appointed security personnel will be borne by the government.
  • If another political dignitary accompanies this candidate, then 50 per cent of expenses incurred for security arrangements will be borne by the candidate.

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

Index of Eight Core Sector Industries

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Core Sector Industries

Mains level : Core sector industries and their impacts

The Office of Economic Advisor within the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) has released the Index of Eight Core Industries (ICI) for September 2020.

Try this PYQ:

Q.In the ‘Index of Eight Core Industries’, which one of the following is given the highest weight?

(a) Coal production

(b) Electricity generation

(c) Fertilizer production

(d) Steel production

What is the Index of Core Industries?

  • As the title suggests, this is an index of the eight most fundamental industrial sectors of the Indian economy and it maps the volume of production in these industries.
  • It gives the details of these eight sectors — namely Coal, Natural Gas, Crude Oil, Refinery Products (such as Petrol and Diesel), Fertilizers, Steel, Cement and Electricity.
  • Since these eight industries are the essential “basic” and/or “intermediate” ingredient in the functioning of the broader economy, mapping their health provides a fundamental understanding of the state of the economy.
  • In other words, if these eight industries are not growing fast enough, the rest of the economy is unlikely to either.

ICI this year

  • This data is to focus on the trend of ICI growth over the past 6 months — that is, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.
  • A crucial factor in this regard would be the next wave of Covid-19 infections.
  • If there is a surge in the winter months — as is being witnessed in most Europe and the US — then India’s recovery will be dented yet again.

Finance Commission – Issues related to devolution of resources

Fifteenth Finance Commission

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Finance Commission

Mains level : Finance Commission, Its evolving role in fiscal federalism

Three years after it was constituted, the Fifteenth Finance Commission has finalised its report for fund devolution from the Centre to States for the five years from 2021-22 to 2025-26.

Fifteenth Finance Commission

  • The Fifteenth Finance Commission (XV FC) was constituted on November 27, 2017.
  • It was constituted against the backdrop of the abolition of the Planning Commission and the distinction between Plan and non-Plan expenditure, and introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

 What is the Finance Commission?

  • The FC was established by the President of India in 1951 under Article 280 of the Indian Constitution.
  • It was formed to define the financial relations between the central government of India and the individual state governments.
  • The Finance Commission (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1951 additionally defines the terms of qualification, appointment and disqualification, the term, eligibility and powers of the Finance Commission.
  • As per the Constitution, the FC is appointed every five years and consists of a chairman and four other members.
  • Since the institution of the First FC, stark changes in the macroeconomic situation of the Indian economy have led to major changes in the FC’s recommendations over the years.

Why in news now?

  • That report of the XV FC had pared the States’ share of the divisible tax pool from 42%, as recommended by the Fourteenth Finance Commission, to 41%, citing the creation of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
  • The Commission had then said that some of the key recommendations it was required to make would feature in its final report, including the viability of creating a separate defence and national security fund.
  • The panel is also expected to factor in unpaid GST compensation dues to States for this year while working out States’ revenue flow calculations for the years beyond 2022.

Must read:

[Burning Issue] 15th Finance Commission and its recommendations (Part I)

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

What is NAFED?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NAFED

Mains level : Food procurement

The central cooperative NAFED will soon begin importing onions in a bid to tame soaring prices before the festive season.

UPSC can frame statements based MCQ over the functions of NAFED.

NAFED

  • National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (NAFED) is an apex organization of marketing cooperatives for agricultural produce in India.
  • It was founded on 2 October 1958 to promote the trade of agricultural produce and forest resources across the nation.
  • It is registered under the Multi-State Co-operative Societies Act.
  • NAFED is now one of the largest procurement as well as marketing agencies for agricultural products in India.
  • With its headquarters in New Delhi, NAFED has four regional offices at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, apart from 28 zonal offices in capitals of states and important cities.

Functions of the NAFED

  • To facilitate, coordinate and promote the marketing and trading activities of the cooperative institutions, partners and associates in agricultural, other commodities, articles and goods
  • To undertake purchase, sale and supply of agricultural, marketing and processing requisites, such as manure, seeds, fertilizer, agricultural implements and machinery etc.
  • To act as a warehouseman under the Warehousing Act and own and construct its own godowns and cold storages
  • To act as agent of any Government agency or cooperative institution, for the purchase, sale, storage and distribution of agricultural, horticultural, forest and animal husbandry produce, wool, agricultural requisites and other consumer goods
  • To act as an insurance agent and to undertake all such work which is incidental to the same
  • To collaborate with any international agency or a foreign body for the development of cooperative marketing, processing and other activities for mutual advantage in India or abroad

Now try this PYQ:

Q.In, India, markets in agricultural products are regulated under the:

(a) Essential Commodities Act, 1955

(b) Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act enacted by States.

(c) Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937

(d) Food Products Order, 1956 and Meat and Food Products Order, 1973

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Anomaly over Normal Body Temperature

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : “Normal” body temperature

Mains level : NA

For several years now, doctors and researchers have known that 98.6°F is not really the gold-standard “normal” body temperature it was once considered to be.

The “normal” body temperature

  • In 1851, Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich pioneered the use of the clinical thermometer.
  • It was a rod a foot long, which he would stick under the armpits of patients at the hospital attached with Leipzig University, and then wait for 15 minutes for the temperature to register.
  • He took over a million measurements of 25,000 patients, and published his findings in a book in 1868, in which he concluded that the average human body temperature is 98.6°F.
  • Most modern scientists feel Wunderlich’s experiments were flawed, and his equipment inaccurate.
  • Another study concluded that the average human body temperature is closer to 98.2°F, and suggested that the 98.6°F benchmark be discarded.

The anomaly

  • Studies in the US and Europe have found average body temperatures declining over time.
  • In recent years, however, different studies have found the human body temperature averaging out differently, including at 97.7°, 97.9° and 98.2°F.
  • One of the largest such studies, published last year, found that body temperatures among Americans have been declining over the last two centuries.

Now try this PYQ based on health sciences

Q.Which of the following diseases can be transmitted from one person to another through tattooing?

  1. Chikungunya
  2. Hepatitis B
  3. HIV-AIDS

Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a) Only 1

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] Sardar Sarovar Dam

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sardar Sarovar Dam

Mains level : Not Much

The PM has inaugurated dynamic lighting for the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

Try this PYQ:

What is common to the places known as Aliyar, Isapur and Kangsabati?

(a) Recently discovered uranium deposits

(b) Tropical rain forests

(c) Underground cave systems

(d) Water reservoirs

Sardar Sarovar Dam

  • It is a concrete gravity dam on the Narmada River in Kevadiya near Navagam, Gujarat.
  • Four Indian states, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, receive water and electricity supplied from the dam.
  • The foundation stone of the project was laid out by then PM Jawaharlal Nehru on 5 April 1961.
  • The project took form in 1979 as part of a development scheme funded by the World Bank to increase irrigation and produce hydroelectricity, using a loan of US$200 million.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Allaying the fears of farmers over MSP regime

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MSP

Mains level : Paper 3- Agri bills and issue of MSP

Question of MSP regime while arguing in favour of recently passed agri bills has made the farmers apprehensive of the purpose of the bill. The article argues for allaying the fears of the farmers and explains the salience of the MSP.

Flawed argument over MSP

  • The recently enacted farm bills have triggered debate on the desirability of the MSP regime.
  • But, the bills do not facilitate a policy to do away with Minimum Support Prices (MSPs).
  • The bills allow free entry to agents who wish to set up markets — whether they be private individuals, producer collectives or cooperatives.
  • This means that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other associated agencies can procure in the traditional mandis, or in a new market established under this law — or in their own backyard.
  • So, the argument that if the mandis cease to exist, the procurement will also cease is, in fact, flawed.
  • Supporters of the bills have quoted the Shanta Kumar committee’s figures to argue that MSPs are anyway irrelevant for most of the farmers in the country.
  • This linkage of the farm bills with the MSP only adds to the apprehension that farmers have about the bills.

Significance of MSP

  • It is true that the procurement has remained confined to only a few crops.
  • But the benefits to the farmers even beyond Punjab and Haryana are certainly not negligible.
  • It is true that only a small fraction benefits directly from the procurement.
  • But one cannot ignore the indirect benefit of this to all foodgrain producers in the country.
  • As the procurement significantly exceeds the PDS requirement, this creates additional demand in the foodgrain market, pushing up the prices.
  • This has been a great help for all the grain producers in the country, especially when the international prices have remained low for a long time now.
  • The RBI’s annual report of 2017-18 on impact of MSP on the food prices conclusively shows that MSP is a leading factor influencing the output prices of the farm produce in the entire country.
  • The issue of MSP is all the more important for rain-fed agriculturists, being deprived of irrigation, they don’t derive benefit from subsidies on electricity and fertiliser as their use is limited.
  • So, at the moment, the only state support these farmers (primarily cotton and pulse producers) have is that of MSPs.

Conclusion

The debate on whom and how the state should support is an issue that should be addressed independently of the farm acts. Presenting these acts as an alternative to MSPs will not persuade farmers.

Air Pollution

Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mandate of the commission

Mains level : Air pollution in Delhi

The President of India has signed the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020.

Try this question from CS Mains 2015:

Q.Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the three megacities of the country but the air pollution is a much more serious problem in Delhi as compared to the other two. Why is this so?

About the Ordinance

  • The Ordinance seeks to create an overarching body to consolidate all monitoring bodies and to bring them on one platform so air quality management can be carried out in a more comprehensive, efficient, and time-bound manner.
  • It came within days of the hearing in ‘Aditya Dubey vs Union of India’ in the court of the CJI, where Solicitor General had indicated the setting up of such a Commission.

Why has the central government set up this Commission?

  • The monitoring and management of air quality in the Delhi NCR region have been done piecemeal by multiple bodies including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the adjacent state PCBs and state governments.
  • They, in turn, are monitored by the Environment Ministry, and the Supreme Court itself, which monitors air pollution as per the judgment in ‘M C Mehta vs Union of India’, 1988.

Consolidating the efforts

  • The Centre seeks to relieve the Supreme Court from having to constantly monitor pollution levels through various pollution-related cases.
  • The body indicates the central government’s push to bring all stakeholders on one platform.
  • This is important because the management of air pollution in Delhi NCR will involve controlling stubble-burning (Agriculture Ministry and state governments), and the control of industrial emissions (Commerce and Industries Ministry), etc.

About the Commission

  • The Commission, which will be a permanent body, will have over 20 members and will be chaired by a retired official of the level of Secretary to the GoI or Chief Secretary of a state.
  • It will include a representative of the Secretary of the MoEFCC, five Secretary level officers who will be ex officio members and two joint secretary-level officers who will be full-time members.
  • The Commission will also have representation from the CPCB, ISRO, air pollution experts, and three representatives of non-government organisations (NGOs).
  • As associate members, the Commission will have representatives from various other Ministries including the Ministries of Agriculture, Petroleum, Power, Transport, Housing etc.

Power and functions

  • In matters of air pollution and air quality management, the Commission will supersede all existing bodies.
  • It will have the powers to issue directions to the states.
  • The Commission will also coordinate efforts of state governments to curb air pollution, and will lay down the parameters of air quality for the region.
  • It will have powers to restrict the setting up of industries in vulnerable areas and will be able to conduct site inspections of industrial units.

Penal powers

  • The Commission will have some penal powers.
  • If its directions are contravened, through say, the setting up of an industrial unit in a restricted area, the Commission will have the power to impose a fine of up to Rs 1 crore and imprisonment of up to 5 years.

Wasn’t EPCA effective?

  • The one body with powers similar to the new Commission’s was the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA).
  • It was not a statutory body but drew legitimacy from the Supreme Court, which has been looking at cases of air pollution as part of the judgment in M C Mehta vs Union of India (1988).
  • The EPCA was not, however, supported by a legal framework in the form of a law. It did have the authority to issue fines or directions and guidelines to the governments in other states.

How is the new commission expected to alter the situation?

  • By forming a new commission, the government has taken the issue of air pollution out of the purview of the judiciary.
  • As per the Ordinance, only NGT, and not civil courts, is authorised to hear cases where the commission is involved.
  • The central government has got itself out of the clutch of Supreme Court and closed down SC-appointed EPCA.

Challenges ahead

  • The Commission has a large number of members from the central government, which has not gone down well with the states.
  • It is full of officials from the central government. Taking away any say from the state government is not the way to go further.
  • Also, political differences will also now play a part in the functioning of the Commission because states are not happy with the overarching powers being vested in it.

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

In news: Great Barrier Reef

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Great Barrier Reef

Mains level : Impact of climate changes on coral reefs

Australian scientists have found a detached coral reef on the Great Barrier Reef that exceeds the height of the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following statements:

  1. Most of the world’s coral reefs are in tropical waters.
  2. More than one-third of the world’s coral reefs are located in the territories of Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
  3. Coral reefs host far more number of animal phyla than those hosted by tropical rainforests.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1 and 3 only

About Great Barrier Reef

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.
  • It is stretched for over 2,300 kilometres over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres.
  • The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
  • It was world heritage listed in 1981 by UNESCO as the most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem on the planet.

Why it is significant?

  • This is first such discovery in over 100 years.
  • The “blade-like” reef is nearly 500 metres tall and 1.5 kilometres wide.
  • It lies 40 metres below the ocean surface and about six kilometres from the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Tap to read more about:

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

[pib] POWER Initiative

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : POWER Initiative

Mains level : Women in sciences

The Union Minister for Science & Technology has launched a Scheme titled SERB-POWER (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Exploratory Research).

Try this MCQ:

Q.The POWER initiative sometimes seen in news is related to

a)Reforms in the DISCOMs

b)Renewable Energy Sector

c)Women Empowerment

d)Health Sector

POWER Initiative

  • It is a scheme to mitigate gender disparity in science and engineering research funding in various S&T programs in Indian academic institutions and R&D laboratories.
  • The Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), a statutory body of the DST has been contemplating to institute a scheme to mitigate gender disparity in science and engineering.
  • SERB – POWER Scheme will have two components namely (i) SERB-POWER Fellowship (ii) SERB- POWER Research Grants.

A. Salient features of the SERB-POWER Fellowship

  1. Target: Women researchers in 35-55 years of age. Up-to 25 Fellowships per year and not more than 75 at any point in time.
  2. Components of support: Fellowship of Rs. 15,000/- per month in addition to regular income; Research grant of Rs. 10 lakh per annum; and Overhead of Rs. 90,000/- per annum.
  3. Duration: Three years, without the possibility of extension. Once in a career.

B. Salient features of the SERB – POWER Research Grants

POWER Grants will empower women researchers by funding them under the following two categories:

  1. Level I (Applicants from IITs, IISERs, IISc, NITs, Central Universities, and National Labs of Central Government Institutions): The scale of funding is up to 60 lakhs for three years.
  2. Level II (Applicants from State Universities / Colleges and Private Academic Institutions): The scale of funding is up to 30 lakhs for three years.

Why need such a scheme?

  • Integration of the gender dimension in research design has gained considerable attention in the global scenario.
  • Enhancement of participation and promotion of women in the research workforce has to be one of the prime priorities.

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

[pib] Meri Saheli Initiative

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Meri Saheli Initiative

Mains level : Women safety

Indian Railways has launched “Meri Saheli” initiative for focused action on the security of women across all zones with an objective to provide safety and security to lady passengers.

Such a feedback-based initiative can be replicated in unsafe cities while addressing distress situation.

Meri Saheli Initiative

  • The initiative was started as a pilot project in South Eastern Railway in September 2020 and after getting encouraging response from lady passengers.
  • An initiative of RPF, the strategy entails interaction with lady passengers especially those travelling alone by a team of lady RPF personnel at the originating station.
  • These lady passengers are briefed about all precautions to be taken during the journey and told to dial 182 in case they face or see any problem in the coach.
  • The RPF team collects only the seat numbers of the ladies and conveys them to stoppages en-route.
  • RPF/RPSF escort onboard also covers all the coaches/identified berths during its duty period.

Based on feedbacks

  • RPF teams at the destination collect the feedback from the identified lady passengers.
  • The feedback is then analysed and corrective action, if any, is taken.
  • If some distress call comes from a train covered under “Meri Saheli” initiative, the disposal of the call is monitored at the level of senior officers.

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

[pib] National Productivity Council (NPC)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Productivity Council (NPC)

Mains level : Not Much

National Productivity Council (NPC) has been granted accreditation conforming to ISO 17020:2012 by National Accreditation Board for Certification Body (NABCB).

National Productivity Council (NPC)

  • NPC is a national level organization to promote productivity culture in India.
  • The NPC comes under the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
  • Established in 1958, it is an autonomous, multipartite, non-profit organization and has been registered as a Society under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860.
  • NPC is a constituent of the Tokyo-based Asian Productivity Organisation (APO), an Inter-Governmental Body, of which the Government of India is a founder member.

Why ISO status?

  • It has been granted accreditation for undertaking inspection and audit work in the area of Food Safety Audit and Scientific Storage of Agricultural Products.
  • NPC has been conducting inspections/audit for different statutory bodies such as Warehousing Development and Regulatory Authority (WDRA) and FSSAI and is already having high credentials in the area of inspections and audits.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Countering deepfakes, the most serious AI threat

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Deepfakes

Mains level : Paper 3- Threats of the deepfakes

Deepfakes poses threaten the society at various level due to their disruptive potential. The article explains the threat and suggest the measures to deal with the threat. 

Understanding deepfakes

  • Deepfakes are the digital media (video, audio, and images) manipulated using Artificial Intelligence.
  • This synthetic media content is referred to as deepfakes.
  •  They make it possible to fabricate media — swap faces, lip-syncing, and puppeteer.
  • Access to commodity cloud computing, algorithms, and abundant data has created a perfect storm to democratise media creation and manipulation.
  • Synthetic media can create possibilities and opportunities for all people.
  •  But as with any new innovative technology, it can be weaponised to inflict harm.

Threat posed by deepfakes

  • Deepfakes, hyper-realistic digital falsification, can inflict damage to individuals, institutions, businesses and democracy.
  • Nation-state actors with geopolitical aspirations, ideological believers, violent extremists, and economically motivated enterprises can manipulate media narratives using deepfakes, with easy and unprecedented reach and scale.
  • Pornographic deepfakes can threaten, intimidate, and inflict psychological harm and reduce women to sexual objects.
  • Deepfakes can be deployed to extract money, confidential information, or exact favours from individuals.
  • Deepfakes can cause short- and long-term social harm and accelerate the already declining trust in news media.
  • Such an erosion can contribute to a culture of factual relativism, fraying the increasingly strained civil society fabric.

Undermining democracy

  • A deepfake can also aid in altering the democratic discourse and undermine trust in institutions and impair diplomacy.
  • False information about institutions, public policy, and politicians powered by a deepfake can be exploited to spin the story and manipulate belief.
  • A deepfake of a political candidate can sabotage their image and reputation.
  • Voters can be confused and elections can be disrupted.
  • A high-quality deepfake can inject compelling false information that can cast in doubt the voting process and election results.
  • Deepfakes contribute to factual relativism and enable authoritarian leaders to thrive.
  • Another concern is a liar’s dividend; an undesirable truth is dismissed as deepfake or fake news.

Solution to the problem

  • Media literacy for consumers and journalists is the most effective tool to combat disinformation and deepfakes.
  • Improving media literacy is a precursor to addressing the challenges presented by deepfakes.
  • Meaningful regulations with a collaborative discussion with the technology industry, civil society, and policymakers can facilitate disincentivising the creation and distribution of malicious deepfakes.
  • We also need easy-to-use and accessible technology solutions to detect deepfakes, authenticate media, and amplify authoritative sources.

Conclusion

Deepfakes can create possibilities for all people. However, as access to synthetic media technology increases, so does the risk of exploitation. To counter the menace of deepfakes, we all must take the responsibility to be a critical consumer of media on the Internet, think and pause before we share on social media, and be part of the solution to this infodemic.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

The challenges of walking the Indo-Pacific talk

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : India FTAs

Mains level : Paper 2- Limits and challenges India faces in its engagement in Quad and Indo-Pacific construct

The article analyses the similarity, differences and limitations of the Quad and the Indo-Pacific construct and delineate the challenges India as it seeks to deal with China.

Expectations from India in countering China

  • During the mid-2000s the world expected India to be an economic powerhouse, a decade later, those expectations remain modest, at best.
  • The international community has once again decided to court New Delhi to play a decisive role in shaping the region’s strategic future.
  • The expectation this time is more strategic and military, to lead the charge against China from within the region.

Role of India in the Quad and similarity with Indo-Pacific construct

  • Quad is a forum for strategic and military consultations among India, the U.S., Australia and Japan.
  • Quad members are also major States in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Both the Quad and the Indo-Pacific constructs are focused on China.
  • More so, they are also in some ways centred around India’s geographic location and its policies.
  • Put differently, if you take China out of the equation, they would have little rationale for existence.
  • If you take India out of the picture, their ability to sustain as geopolitical constructs would drastically diminish.

Differences between  Indo-Pacific Construct and Quad

  • The Indo-Pacific is a politico-economic vision and the Quad is a military-strategic vision which does not form the military or strategic nucleus of the first.
  • While the Indo-Pacific provides a complex political and economic picture with a hesitant, but growing, articulation of China as a strategic challenge.
  • The Quad is inherently more anti-China in character and intent.
  • The Indo-Pacific,will find it impossible to avoid engaging China, the Quad is mostly focused on diplomatic signalling and with little common intent let alone joint action.
  • Quad’s ability to succeed would entirely depend on China — the more aggressive China gets, the more resolute the Quad countries would be in strengthening it.

Comparing Indio-Pacific with BRI

  • The BRI is far more advanced, much more thought-out, and enjoyes the support of Chinese state.
  • Several Indo-Pacific countries are already members of the BRI.
  • On the flip side, the BRI is already under immense stress from its inherent weaknesses, such as China’s unilateral pursuit of the BRI and the associated economic burdens on the States that sign up to it.

Challenges India face

1) On economic front

  • There must be strong economic partnerships and linkages among its members, merely focusing on strategic talk and possible military cooperation will not work.
  • India’s recent decision not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), could potentially complicate the country’s future engagements in the region.
  • Also worryinng is the already huge gap between India and China on trade with almost every Indo-Pacific country.
  • This growing trade gap will be a major determining factor in shaping the region’s strategic realities.
  • Institutional engagement: India does not have FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Bangladesh and the Maldives. It has FTAs with South Korea, the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, Japan and Sri Lanka.
  • In the case of China, it has FTAs with all these countries barring the U.S.

2) On strategic and military front

  • India strategic and military engagements in the region also fall short.
  • Beijing is a major defence supplier to several of the region’s States including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
  • This dwarfs India’s minimal sales, defence dialogues and occasional joint military exercises in the region.

Way forward

  • India’s role in the Indo-Pacific will remain limited if it does not prove to be a major economic partner to these States.
  • But given the economic slowdown in India today in the wake of COVID-19 and the lack of political consensus about RCEP, India’s ability to economically engage with the region remains limited.
  • On the military-strategic side too, India’s performance in the region is less than desirable.
  • The only choice, it appears then, is for some sort of a loosely structured regional strategic alliance with the U.S. and its allies in the broader Indo-Pacific region.

Consider the question ” What are the similarities and differences in the Quad and the Indo-Pacific construct? What are the challenges India faces as it increases its engagement in the both.” 

Conclusion

India remains caught between a deeply constrained, but unavoidable, need to rethink its strategic posture, and the recognition of its material inability to do so, at least for now.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Excessive optimism over a pact with election-bound US is premature

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BECA

Mains level : Paper 2- India-US and optimism

The growing pace of India-US bilateral engagement has raised hopes in several quarters. However, there are several issues that must be considered and need to avoid excessive optimism. 

Timing of 2+2 dialogue

  • The India-US 2+2 third meeting was held in Delhi only a week before the US presidential elections.
  • The government felt that it was important to seal the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) without delay.
  • Other reason could be government’s assessment that there is bipartisan support in the US for higher and positive bilateral ties.

Need for caution in India’s approach

  • In India-US ties, the leading outside consideration is China.
  • A Biden presidency, should that be the choice of the American people, would seek to ensure that China’s rise is not at the cost of the US’s global pre-eminence.
  • However, the strategy and methods it employs would be different from that of its predecessor.
  • Further, even a Trump 2 administration, with the election done, may change course in its China approach.
  • Hence, caution and prudence are good diplomatic watchwords.
  • It is good that the agreements for a full defence engagement with the US are in place.
  • But it is one matter to have them done and an entirely different one insofar as the nature and intensity of cooperation.
  • So, India’s tradition of relying on its own strengths in matters of national security should not be eroded in the hope that an outside power would provide useful inputs.

Alliance Vs. Partnership

  • India-US ties are in the framework of a partnership, not an alliance.
  • The partnership may not be based on opposition to an outside element, the alliance almost always is.
  • Alliances also demand a much higher price than partnerships, through loss of autonomy if the ally is a bigger power.

Excessive enthusiasm on Quad may be premature

  • The 2+2 joint statement does not name China but its thrust is clear.
  • The Quad is based on a commonality of concerns on account of China’s actions.
  • India’s decision to go along with a more purposive group, including through its maritime exercises, is in keeping with its interests.
  • The real direction that the Quad will take has to await the US’s overall China strategy over the next few years.
  • Excessive enthusiasm on the Quad front may, therefore, be premature.

Way forward

  • India has to change the nature of its economic and commercial ties with China.
  • Thus, the joint statement’s reference on the need to “enhance supply chain resilience and to seek alternatives to the current paradigm” was timely, though here, again, the future US approach is not entirely certain.
  • The areas where the bilateral partnership has the potential of evolving most positively for India relate to health, education and science and technology.
  • There should not be any reluctance in developing ties in defence industries, too, but it cannot be forgotten that no country will part with any of its critical technologies.
  • But there cannot be a substitute for developing indigenous capacity for India’s needs for weapon systems.

Conclusion

India-US ties will move positively forward but there will be imponderables ahead, principally arising out of US strategies towards China. But, a close embrace of another country is always problematic.

Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

Annual State of Education Report (ASER) Wave 1, 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ASER

Mains level : State of school education in India

The ASER Wave 1 Survey was recently released since the COVID-19 crisis interrupted this years’ trajectory.

Practice question for mains:

Q.Discuss the efficacy of the One-Nation- One-Board System and its limitations.

About ASER Survey

  • This is an annual survey (published by education non-profit Pratham ) that aims to provide reliable estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels for each district and state in India.
  • ASER has been conducted every year since 2005 in all rural districts of India. It is the largest citizen-led survey in India.
  • It is also the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India.

How is the survey conducted?

  • ASER tools and procedures are designed by ASER Centre, the research and assessment arm of Pratham.
  • The survey itself is coordinated by ASER Centre and facilitated by the Pratham network. It is conducted by close to 30,000 volunteers from partner organisations in each district.
  • All kinds of institutions partner with ASER: colleges, universities, NGOs, youth groups, women’s organisations, self-help groups and others.
  • The ASER model has been adapted for use in several countries around the world: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Pakistan, Mali and Senegal.

Assessment parameters

  • Unlike most other large-scale learning assessments, ASER is a household-based rather than school-based survey.
  • This design enables all children to be included – those who have never been to school or have dropped out, as well as those who are in government schools, private schools, religious schools or anywhere else.
  • In each rural district, 30 villages are sampled. In each village, 20 randomly selected households are surveyed.
  • Information on schooling status is collected for all children living in sampled households who are in the age group 3-16.
  • Children in the age group 5-16 are tested in basic reading and basic arithmetic. The same test is administered to all children.
  • The highest level of reading tested corresponds to what is expected in Std 2; in 2012 this test was administered in 16 regional languages.
  • In recent years, this has included household size, parental education, and some information on household assets.

Key Findings

1.Enrollments:

  • 5.5% of rural children are not currently enrolled for the 2020school year, up from 4% in 2018.
  • This difference is the sharpest among the youngest children (6 to 10) where 5.3% of rural children had not yet enrolled in school in 2020, in comparison to just 1.8% in 2018.
  • Due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, families are waiting for the physical opening of schools to enrol their youngest children, with about 10% of six-year-olds not in school.
  • Among 15-16 year-olds, however, enrollment levels are slightly higher than in 2018.
  • The proportion of boys enrolled in government schools has risen from 62.8% in 2018 to 66.4% in 2020, while for girls, that number has gone up from 70% to 73% in the corresponding period.
  • Patterns show a slight shift toward government schools, with private schools seeing a drop in enrolment in all age groups.
  • The Centre has now permitted States to start reopening schools if they can follow Covid-19 safety protocols but the majority of the country’s 25 crore students are still at home.

2.Availability of Smartphones:

  • Among enrolled children, 61.8% live in families that own at least one smartphone which was merely 36.5% in 2018.
  • About 11% of families bought a new phone after the lockdown, of which 80% were smartphones.
  • WhatsApp is by far the most popular mode of transmitting learning materialsto students, with 75% of students receiving input via this app.

3.Availability of Learning Material:

  • Overall more than 80% of children said they had textbooks for their current grade.
  • This proportion was higher among students enrolled in government schools (84.1%) than in private ones (72.2%).
  • In Bihar, less than 8% got such materials from their schools, along with 20% in West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
  • More than 80% of rural children in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Gujarat received such input.

4.Learning Activities:

  • Most children (70.2%) did some form of a learning activity through material shared by tutors or family members themselves, with or without regular input.
  • 11% had access to live online classes, and 21% had videos or recorded classes, with much higher levels in private schools.
  • About 60% studied from their textbooks and 20% watched classes broadcast on TV.

Suggestions

  • Fluid Situation: When schools reopen, it will be important to continue to monitor who goes back to school as well as to understand whether there is learning lossas compared to previous years.
  • Building on and Strengthening Family Support: Parents’ increasing levels of education can be integrated into planning for learning improvement, as advocated by National Education Policy, 2020. Reaching parents at the right level is essential to understand how they can help their children and older siblings also play an important role.
  • Hybrid Learning: As children do a variety of different activities at home, effective ways of hybrid learning need to be developed which combine traditional teaching-learning with newer ways of “reaching-learning”.
  • Assessment of Digital Modes and Content: In order to improve digital content and delivery for the future, an in-depth assessment of what works, how well it works, who it reaches, and who it excludes is needed.
  • Mediating the Digital Divide: Children from families who had low education and also did not have resources like smartphones had less access to learning opportunities. However, even among such households, there is evidence of effort with family members trying to help and schools trying to reach them. These children will need even more help than others when schools reopen.

Way Forward

  • Covid-19 has left the nation with deep economic distress and uncertainty over school-reopenings and thrown open new challenges in every sector.
  • The nationally representative sample highlighted the role played by the families where everyone in the family supported children regardless of their education levels.
  • This strength needs to be leveraged by reaching out to more students and reducing the distance between schools and homes.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

 Explained: Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) VS COMCASA VS LEMOA

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CAATSA, COMCASA, LEMOA , BECA

Mains level : India-US relations as a response to China

India and the United States have signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which, along with the two agreements signed earlier — the LEMOA and the COMCASA.

Try this question for mains:

Q. What is the troika of “foundational pacts” of India with the US? Discuss each of them. (150W)

Completing the troika

  • The two agreements signed earlier are— the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).
  • This completes a troika of “foundational pacts” for deep military cooperation between the two countries.

What is BECA?

  • BECA will help India get real-time access to American geospatial intelligence that will enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones.
  • Through the sharing of information on maps and satellite images, it will help India access topographical and aeronautical data, and advanced products that will aid in navigation and targeting.

Benefits of BECA

  • This could be a key to Air Force-to-Air Force cooperation between India and the US.
  • BECA will provide Indian military systems with a high-quality GPS to navigate missiles with real-time intelligence to precisely target the adversary.
  • Besides the sailing of ships, flying off aircraft, fighting of wars, and location of targets, geospatial intelligence is also critical to the response to natural disasters.

What was the LEMOA about?

  • LEMOA was the first of the three pacts to be signed in August 2016.
  • LEMOA allows the militaries of the US and India to replenish from each other’s bases, and access supplies, spare parts and services from each other’s land facilities, air bases, and ports, which can then be reimbursed.
  • LEMOA is extremely useful for India-US Navy-to-Navy cooperation since the two countries are cooperating closely in the Indo-Pacific.

Concretizing the mutual trust

  • The critical element that underpins LEMOA is mutual trust.
  • Without trust, no country will be willing to expose its military and strategic assets such as warships to the facilities of another country.
  • The signing of LEMOA was in itself an affirmation of the mutual trust between the two militaries, and its application will enhance the trust.
  • It took almost a decade to negotiate LEMOA, and the exercise in a sense bridged the trust deficit between India and the US and paved the way for the other two foundational pacts.

What about the COMCASA?

  • COMCASA was signed in September 2018, after the first 2+2 dialogue during Mrs. Swarajs’ term as EAM.
  • The pact allows the US to provide India with its encrypted communications equipment and systems so that Indian and US military commanders, and the aircraft and ships of the two countries, can communicate through secure networks during times of both peace and war.
  • The signing of COMCASA paved the way for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India to facilitate “interoperability” between their forces.

Specific context and practical benefit for India

  • The strengthening of the mechanisms of cooperation between the two militaries must be seen in the context of an increasingly aggressive China.
  • Amid the ongoing standoff on the LAC in Ladakh — the longest and most serious in three decades — India and the US intensified under-the-radar intelligence and military cooperation at an unprecedented level.
  • These conversations facilitated information-sharing between the two countries, including the sharing of high-end satellite images, telephone intercepts, and data on Chinese troops and weapons deployment along the LAC.

Conclusion

  • Such agreements mark the enhancement of mutual trust and a commitment to the long-term strategic relationship.
  • The US wants India to move away from Russian equipment and platforms, as it feels this may expose its technology and information to Moscow.
  • So far, India is going ahead with the purchase of the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia, and this has been a sticking point for American interlocutors.
  • For its part, India is wary of Pakistan’s deep-rooted ties with the Pentagon, and Washington’s dependence on Rawalpindi for access to Afghanistan as well as its exit strategy.
  • But, because of the clear and present danger from China, New Delhi’s strategic embrace of Washington is the obvious outcome.

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

What is Atlantification?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Atlantification

Mains level : Impact of climate changes

Scientists have uncovered “hotspots” where some parts of the Barents Sea are starting to more closely resemble the Atlantic. They call this phenomenon “Atlantification”.

Try this MCQ:

Q.The Atlantification phenomenon sometimes seen in news is most closely related to which of the following seas/water bodies?

a) Norwegian Sea

b) Kara Sea

c) Barents Sea

d) Baffin Bay

What is Atlantification?

  • Streams of warmer water from the Atlantic Ocean flow into the Arctic at the Barents Sea.
  • This warmer, saltier Atlantic water is usually fairly deep under the more buoyant Arctic water at the surface.
  • Lately, however, the Atlantic water has been creeping up. That heat in the Atlantic water is helping to keep ice from forming and melting existing sea ice from below.
  • This process is called “Atlantification”.
  • The ice is now getting hit both from the top by a warming atmosphere and at the bottom by a warming ocean.

Reasons for it

  • In the background of all of this is global climate change.
  • The Arctic sea ice extent and thickness have been dropping for decades as global temperatures rise.
  • As the Arctic loses ice and the ocean absorbs more solar radiation, global warming is amplified.
  • That affects ocean circulation, weather patterns and Arctic ecosystems spanning the food chain, from phytoplankton all the way to top predators.