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Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

State lethargy amidst cough syrup poisoning

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Need of the policy and standard guidelines for the drug recall.

Context

A few days ago, 12 children died in Udhampur district of Jammu due to poisoned cough syrup (Coldbest-PC).

Fourth mass glycol poisoning

  • What was the cause of the poisoning? A team of doctors at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh, attributed the deaths to the presence of diethylene glycol in the cough syrup.
  • What is Diethylene glycol? It is an anti-freezing agent that causes acute renal failure in the human body followed by paralysis, breathing difficulties and ultimately death.
  • This is the fourth mass glycol poisoning event in India that has been caused due to a pharmaceutical drug.

Measures required and example from the US

  • Preventing further deaths: The immediate concern for doctors, pharmacists and the drug regulators should be to prevent any more deaths.
    • The only way to do so is to account for each and every bottle of the poisoned syrup that has ever been sold in the Indian market and stop patients from consuming this drug any further.
  • The US example in such case: United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), in 1937, when the United States faced a similar situation with glycol poisoning.
    • Tracking down every bottle: Entire field force of inspectors and chemists were assigned to the task of tracking down every single bottle of the drug.
    • Even if a patient claimed to have thrown out the bottle, the investigators scoured the street until they found the discarded bottle.
    • This effort was accompanied by a publicity blitz over radio and television.
  • What is being done in India? We do not see such public health measures being undertaken here.
    • Seriousness not communicated to the pubic: Authorities are simply not communicating the seriousness of the issue to the general public.
    • A general statement: At most, the authorities in Himachal Pradesh (H.P.), who are responsible for oversight of the manufacturer of this syrup, have made general statements that they have ordered the withdrawal of the drug from all the other States where it was marketed.
    • Lack of transparency: There is no transparency in the recall process and information about recalls and batch numbers is not being communicated through authoritative channels.
    • No public announcement by the DCGI: There is no public announcement by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), which is responsible for overall regulation of the entire Indian market.
    • The suspect product, although manufactured in H.P., has been sold across the country.
    • The website of the DCGI, which is supposed to communicate drug alerts and product recalls, has no mention of Coldbest-PC as being dangerous as of this writing.

Need for the recall policy

  • No rules or binding guidelines on recall: One of the key reasons why the DCGI and state drug authorities have been so sloppy is because unlike other countries, India has not notified any binding guidelines or rules on recalling dangerous drugs from the market.
  • Warnings to the DGCI on lack of framework: The 59th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health as well as the World Health Organization (in its national regulatory assessment) had warned the DCGI on the lack of a national recall framework in India.
    • A set of recall guidelines was drafted in 2012 but never notified into law.

Conclusion

The drug regulator needs to take the urgent steps to avoid the repeat of such tragedies in the future and formulate a policy on the drug recall at the earliest.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Regional bonding: On Ranil Wickremesinghe’s prescription for peace

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues in the SAARC, India need to move sub-regional grouping to increase the intra-regional trade.

Context

Former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s push for regional economic integration and for India-Pakistan dialogue should be studied carefully by New Delhi.

What are the issues with SAARC?

  • Recent moves by India: India has more or less shut down all conversations on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
    • India also walked away from the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  •  Mr Wickremesinghe set out a number of suggestions:
  • The original purpose of SAARC-Regional growth: India-Pakistan tensions have brought economic integration within the SAARC region to a “standstill”.
    • That the original purpose of the South Asian group was to build a platform where bilateral issues could be set aside in the interest of regional growth.
  • Start at the sub-grouping levels: To engender more intra-regional trade, an even smaller sub-grouping of four countries with complementary economies: India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand, can start the process of reducing tariffs and demolishing non-tariff barrier regimes.
    • When it comes to the intra-regional share of total trade, SAARC and BIMSTEC languish behind groupings such as ASEAN, EU and MERCOSUR.
  • Economic Integration Road Map: The Sri Lankan leader also suggested that with India’s leadership, a more integrated South Asian region would be better equipped to negotiate for better terms with RCEP so as not to be cut out of the “productivity network” in Asia, and envisioned an Economic Integration Road Map to speed up the process.

Governments stand

  • Talks with Pakistan off the table: The government has made it clear that talks with Pakistan are strictly off the table, and that a SAARC summit, which has not been held since 2014, is unlikely to be convened anytime soon.
  • More reliance on bilateral deals: The government, which has taken a protectionist turn on multilateral trade pacts, is relying more on direct bilateral deals with countries rather than overarching ones that might expose Indian markets to flooding by Chinese goods.
  • India’s trade deficit with the neighbours: For any regional sub-grouping in South Asia to flourish, it is India that will have to make the most concessions given the vast trade deficits India’s neighbours have at present, which it may not wish to do.

Conclusion

  • The overall projection that India’s global reach will be severely constrained unless it is integrated with its neighbours, and tensions with Pakistan are resolved, cannot be refuted. India needs to be more accommodative for the realisation of its ambitions.

 

 

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

One country, two viruses

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- What India can learn from China's dealing with the coronavirus outbreak?

Context

China’s handling of coronavirus, in contrast to SARS, has been effective, should be a template for others.

Why lockdown of Wuhan is a big deal?

  • A move without precedent: China’s lockdown of roughly 60 million people in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province for more than a month now is without precedent in the history of public health.
  • Best way to stop the virus from spreading: The best way to stop a virus from spreading from person to person, is to give it no place to spread to.
    • This is achieved by isolating those who are infected and quarantining those who might be infected.
  • Cordon sanitaire: In China, though, the control has moved beyond traditional quarantine to a cordon sanitaire-an exclusion zone people cannot travel into or get out of.
    • In most countries, this simply would not work for a period this long and a population that large.
  • Inconceivable move in other places: Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, slightly larger than Chennai or Bengaluru. It would be inconceivable to think of cutting off transportation in and out of these cities or asking people to stay at home for even a day, let alone a month.
    • No political control nor administrative mechanism: Like India, most countries in the world have neither the political control to impose their will on people this way nor the administrative mechanism to enforce this degree of control.

Human cost and ethic of the lockdown

  • The human cost: The human cost of such a strategy is immense.
    • Feeling of being unable to escape: The fear induced by being unable to escape from a place where a new virus is circulating is immense.
    • The worries and stresses of everyday life multiply one hundred-fold when everything from shopping for food to occupying children stuck at home becomes a challenge.
    • The slightest cough, cold or fever can trigger panic.
  • Ethics involved in the move: The ethics of the cordon sanitaire in Wuhan, as well as the quarantining by Japanese authorities of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, will be debated for years after this particular outbreak is over.
  • Slowing the spread: But whatever its human and financial cost, China’s actions in the first month of the outbreak helped to slow the spread of the virus within the country as well as internationally.

How China’s response this time is different from the SARS

  • On December 31, the Chinese government informed the WHO, and the world, of the existence of a form of pneumonia of unknown cause
    • It also told the people of Wuhan to wear masks if they had symptoms and seek medical attention.
  • Virus identification: For the world, the big breakthrough from China came on January 7, when researchers in Wuhan identified the virus as a new coronavirus.
  • Sharing of the genetic sequence of the virus: Two days later, China shared its genetic sequence with the world.
    • How genetic sequence helped? The sharing of the genetic sequence allowed labs all over the world to develop testing kits to detect the disease.
    • It also put countries on the alert for travellers with the disease, without which the new coronavirus would have spread much quicker and farther than it has so far.
  • China’s response to SARS: The Chinese response to SARS in 2003, in contrast to this, was a cover-up.
    • The disease circulated for nearly three months, enabled by government secrecy and censorship.
    • Spread of disease without warning: When travellers from China brought the disease first to Hong Kong and from there to other cities across the globe, there was no warning.
    • It was only after the disease spread in Hong Kong, that scientists and public health experts began to decipher this new virus.
    • Lessons learned: China, fortunately, learned the lessons for SARS and put together systems to identify and respond to this new disease quickly.

What India can learn from China

  • Infrastructure with speed: Public health officials all over the world, including in India, should study the speed with which China put together an infrastructure to deal with this new disease.
    • Modern, well-equipped hospitals dedicated to coronavirus patients were constructed in weeks.
  • Centralised information and logistic system: Centralised information and logistics systems and systems to ensure coordination between multiple levels of government -from the central government to provincial and municipal governments, were put into place.
    • All the systems seem to have worked reasonably smoothly, given the chaotic and complex atmosphere of a disease outbreak.
  • Unique approach: The way China has tackled this disease has been an “all of government, all of the society approach”, in the words of Bruce Aylward, the leader of the WHO team that recently spent two weeks in the country.
    • It was, as he described it, “a very old-fashioned approach”, but one that had “prevented at least tens of thousands, but probably hundreds of thousands of cases.”

Conclusion

  • In all probability, it is only a matter of time before India sees new cases. The Indian health system, as in China, is multi-layered. Some states like Kerala have strong public health infrastructure and a strong response capability. Many other states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar do not have strong public health systems. They will find it difficult to respond and will learn that diseases, like the revolution, can be brutal.

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

Explained: Marine Heatwave (MHW)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Marine Heatwave

Mains level : Read the attached story

 

 

Scientists have observed unusually high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Pacific Ocean around the western coast of the United States.  This marine heatwave (MHW), covering an area of roughly 6.5 million square kilometres, can affect marine life and lead to droughts in the surrounding regions.

What are MHWs?

  • We know that heatwaves occur in the atmosphere. We are all familiar with these extended periods of excessively hot weather.
  • However, heatwaves can also occur in the ocean and these are known as marine heatwaves, or MHWs.
  • These marine heatwaves, when ocean temperatures are extremely warm for an extended period of time can have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and industries.

When do they occur?

  • Heatwaves can happen in summer and also in winter, where they are known as “winter warm-spells”.
  • These winter events can have important impacts, such as in the southeast of Australia where the spiny sea urchin can only colonize further south when winter temperatures are above 12 °C.

What causes marine heatwaves?

  • Marine heatwaves can be caused by a whole range of factors, and not all factors are important for each event.
  • The most common drivers of marine heatwaves include ocean currents which can build up areas of warm water and air-sea heat flux, or warming through the ocean surface from the atmosphere.
  • Winds can enhance or suppress the warming in a marine heatwave, and climate modes like El Niño can change the likelihood of events occurring in certain regions.
  • MHWs can be caused due to large-scale drivers of the Earth’s climate like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Impacts of the MHWs

  • Marine heatwaves affect ecosystem structure, by supporting certain species and suppressing others.
  • For example, after the 2011 marine heatwave in Western Australia the fish communities had a much more “tropical” nature than previously and switched from kelp forests to seaweed turfs.
  • Marine heatwaves can cause economic losses through impacts on fisheries and aquaculture.
  • Temperature-sensitive species such as corals are especially vulnerable to MHWs. In 2016, marine heatwaves across northern Australia led to severe bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

How do we measure marine heatwaves?

  • A marine heatwave occurs when seawater temperatures exceed a seasonally-varying threshold (usually the 90th percentile) for at least 5 consecutive days.
  • Successive heatwaves with gaps of 2 days or less are considered part of the same event.

Why study MHWs?

  • MHWs are increasing in frequency due to climate change. MHWs increased by 54 per cent in the last 30 years.
  • Despite their potential impact on the health of marine ecosystems, MHWs remain one of the least studied consequences of global warming.

Way Forward

  • Marine heatwaves clearly have the potential to devastate marine ecosystems and cause economic losses in fisheries, aquaculture, and ecotourism industries.
  • However, their effects are often hidden from view under the waves until it is too late.
  • By raising general awareness of these phenomena, and by improving our scientific understanding of their physical properties and ecological impacts, we can better predict future conditions and protect vulnerable marine habitats and resources.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Locust Invasions and its mitigation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Locusts invasion

Mains level : Locusts invasion and its threats

 

 

The locust, a short-horned, desert grasshopper that attacks standing crops and green vegetation, has been making news in India since May-June 2019 when it appeared in Rajasthan and Gujarat. In Kharif season last year, it was also seen in a few areas along Punjab’s border with Rajasthan.

Context

  • The Locust Warning Organisation (LWO) has been taking measures to control attacks by the pest for the past eight decades in the country.
  • Despite all of LWO’s efforts, the chain of periodic locust attacks in India is yet to be broken.

Why Locusts attacks are deadly?

  • Adult locust swarms can fly up to 150 km (93 miles) a day with the wind and adult insects can consume roughly their own weight in fresh food per day.
  • A very small swarm eats as much in one day as about 35,000 people.
  • If allowed to breed unchecked in favourable conditions, locusts can form huge swarms that can strip trees and crops over vast areas.

About LWO

  • In India, the scheme Locust Control and Research (LC&R) is responsible for control of Desert Locust.
  • It is being implemented through Organisation known as “Locust Warning Organisation (LWO)” established in 1939 and later amalgamated with the Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine and Storage in 1946.
  • Locust Warning organization (LWO) is responsible to monitor and control the locust situation in Scheduled Desert Area (SDA) mainly in the States of Rajasthan and Gujarat while partly in the States of Punjab and Haryana.
  • It keeps itself abreast with the prevailing locust situation at National and International level through monthly Desert Locust Bulletins of FAO.

What measures are being taken by the LWO to control locust breeding/attacks in India?

  • Experts at the LWO said around three dozen offices including 10 circle offices are working on this issue.
  • They have been doing regular field surveys to keeping a close and regular watch on an over two lakh sq. km area (nearly 11,500 villages) of three states including 1.79 lakh sq. km in Rajasthan (52 per cent of the state’s total area), and the remaining in Gujarat and Haryana.
  • To observe the locust, intensive surveys are conducted by walking along the wind direction and driving at low speed to count flying locusts.

How often have there been locust attacks in India?

  • The pests have been appearing periodically after a gap of 2-3 or 5-7 years. Around 26 locust attacks have taken place in India in two major cycles.
  • After independence (1947), 25 attacks were observed. Among these, the attacks of 1949-55, 1962 and 1993 were most devastating when 167 and 172 swarms were noticed in 1962 and 1993 respectively.
  • Since 1993, locust attacks have occurred less frequently. The latest attack of 2019-20, has had quite a severe effect on crops in Rajasthan.

Financial losses incurred

  • According to LWO, to date, the financial loss due to locusts is said to be Rs 50 lakh, Rs 2 lakh and Rs 7.18 lakh in 1962, 1978 and 1993 respectively.
  • A loss of Rs 2 crore was incurred in 1940-46 and 1949-55. Before the LWO was formed, a loss of Rs 10 crore is estimated in the 1926-31 cycle.

Why has the chain not been broken even after 80 years?

  • LWO experts said it is because there are 30 countries in four regions of different continents that have an arid climate with large deserts that provide an ideal breeding ground for the locust.
  • Most of the time, locusts are coming to India from Pakistan, or from the Middle East via Pakistan.
  • There are four commissions for these 30 countries which include Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
  • Laxity by any country would lead to its spread in all these countries which they invade one after another by following almost the same path.
  • The swarms which are coming to India (Rajasthan) have been following the same path, starting from central or western region and then Pakistan mostly in summers.
  • Apart from breaking the chain of summer attacks, the winter swarm has now posed another challenge.

Where did the current locust attack originate?

  • The locust breeds in high temperatures and high humidity, which is prevalent in areas around the Red Sea.
  • The current attack in India, which started in 2019, has its origin in Yemen, where there was internal conflict and civil war.
  • When the locust was breeding in heavy numbers there in 2018-19, the country could not take care due to its attention towards the civil war and lack of resources to control it.
  • The insect went out of control, took the route of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries located on both sides of the Red Sea where they multiplied rapidly.

Control measures

  • The chain can be broken only when the pest is killed at the time of breeding or before migration to another country.
  • Farmers used to try to drive away the locusts by lighting fires. They also dug up the eggs.
  • Now crops can be sprayed with insecticides from vehicles or airplanes.
  • Scientists are trying to improve the control of locusts, by preventing or dispersing swarms.

Also read:

Massive locust invasion threatens Gujarat farmers

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

What is the ‘Raman effect’?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Spectroscopy, Raman Effect

Mains level : Applications of Raman Effect

 

 

Yesterday, February 28th was celebrated as National Science Day. In 1986, the Govt. of India designated this Day, to commemorate the announcement of the discovery of the “Raman effect”.

CV Raman

  • Raman conducted his Nobel-prize winning research at IACS, Calcutta.
  • While he was educated entirely in India, Raman travelled to London for the first time in 1921, where his reputation in the study of optics and acoustics was known to physicists such as JJ Thomson and Lord Rutherford.
  • The Raman Effect won scientist Sir CV Raman the Nobel Prize for physics in 1930.
  • It was also designated as an International Historic Chemical Landmark jointly by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS).
  • His speciality was the study of vibrations and sounds of stringed instruments such as the Indian veena and tambura, and Indian percussion instruments such as the tabla and mridangam.

The Raman Effect

  • In 1928, Raman discovered that when a stream of light passes through a liquid, a fraction of the light scattered by the liquid is of a different colour.
  • While Raman was returning from London in a 15-day voyage, he started thinking about the colour of the deep blue Mediterranean.
  • He wasn’t convinced by the explanation that the colour of the sea was blue due to the reflection of the sky.
  • As the ship docked in Bombay, he sent a letter to the editor of the journal Nature, in which he penned down his thoughts on this.
  • Subsequently, Raman was able to show that the blue colour of the water was due to the scattering of the sunlight by water molecules.
  • By this time he was obsessed with the phenomenon of light scattering.

Observing the effect

  • The Raman Effect is when the change in the energy of the light is affected by the vibrations of the molecule or material under observation, leading to a change in its wavelength.
  • Significantly, it notes that the Raman effect is “very weak” — this is because when the object in question is small (smaller than a few nanometres), the light will pass through it undisturbed.
  • But a few times in a billion, light waves may interact with the particle. This could also explain why it was not discovered before.
  • In general, when light interacts with an object, it can either be reflected, refracted or transmitted.
  • One of the things that scientists look at when light is scattered is if the particle it interacts with is able to change its energy.

Applications

  • Raman spectroscopy is used in many varied fields – in fact, any application where non-destructive, microscopic, chemical analysis and imaging is required.
  • Whether the goal is qualitative or quantitative data, Raman analysis can provide key information easily and quickly.
  • It can be used to rapidly characterize the chemical composition and structure of a sample, whether solid, liquid, gas, gel, slurry or powder.

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

Red Snow in Antarctica

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Red snow , How it occurs

Mains level : Impact of climate change on Antarctica

 

 

Over the last few weeks, photographs of “red snow” off the coast of Antarctica’s northernmost peninsula, have gone viral. “Red snow” or “watermelon” is a phenomenon that has been known since ancient times. Now, it raises concerns about climate change.

Red snow in Antarctica: Why it happens 

  • Aristotle is believed to be one of the first to give a written account of red snow, over 2,000 years ago.
  • What Aristotle described as worms and grub, the scientific world today calls algae.
  • This alga species, Chlamydomonas Chlamydomonas nivalis, exists in the snow in the polar and glacial regions and carries a red pigment to keep itself warm.

Signs of faster melting 

  • In turn, the red snow causes the surrounding ice to melt faster. The more the algae packed together, the redder the snow.
  • And the darker the tinge, the more the heat absorbed by the snow. Subsequently, the ice melts faster.
  • While the melt is good for the microbes that need the liquid water to survive and thrive, it’s bad for glaciers that are already melting from a myriad of other causes, the study said.
  • These algae change the snow’s albedo — which refers to the amount of light or radiation the snow surface is able to reflect back. Changes in albedo lead to more melting.

Seeds, Pesticides and Mechanization – HYV, Indian Seed Congress, etc.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Doomsday Vault

Mains level : Not Much

 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault — referred to as the earth’s ‘doomsday vault’ — now contains about 1.05 million seeds.

Global Seed Vault

  • The vault — in the island of Spitsbergen, midway between Norway and the North Pole — opened in 2008 and preserves seeds for several food varieties.
  • The aim of the vault is to preserve a vast variety of crop seeds in the case of a doomsday event, calamity, climate change or national emergency.
  • The vault is artificially cooled at temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius.
  • The low temperature and limited access to oxygen will ensure low metabolic activity and delay seed ageing.
  • The permafrost surrounding the facility will help maintain the low temperature of the seeds if the electricity supply fails.

Access to seeds

  • Vault seed samples are copies of samples stored in the depositing genebanks.
  • Researchers, plant breeders, and other groups wishing to access seed samples cannot do so through the seed vault; they must instead request samples from the depositing genebanks.
  • The samples stored in the genebanks will, in most cases, be accessible in accordance with the terms and conditions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, approved by 118 countries or parties.

Issues related to Economic growth

Is RBI raising systemic risks by pushing retail credit?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Is RBI raising systemic risks by pushing retail credit?

Context

Credit driven growth may not lead to sustainable growth.

Credit driven economic boom

  • RBI and govt. acting in line: Both the government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have acted in line with their stated commitment towards the defined fiscal and monetary stability framework.
    • Given the pressures of a dwindling growth rate and limited fiscal and monetary elbow room, this is commendable.
  • Growth without increasing systemic risk: It is critical that the decisions taken to revive growth have a high likelihood of success without increasing systemic risk in the medium to long run.
    • Recent push may add to systemic risk: In this context, it may be argued that RBI’s recent push for retail credit growth would add to systemic risk, while the benefits for India’s gross domestic product growth (GDP) may be limited.
    • Credit-driven economic booms always end in economic misery.
  • Credit is a necessary evil: To pump-prime an economy, very few tools exist other than credit.
    • Thus there is all the more reason to handle it with care. In current economic growth frameworks, economic growth requires
    • Quite often, credit creation is the ultimate source of capital.
    • If the government spends by increasing its fiscal deficit, government debt increases. If the private sector borrows to invest and kick-start growth, its leverage increases.
    • What could be the best source of credit? The best use of credit is when it is used to finance real assets in the economy.
    • Creation of financial asset: When credit does not create real assets, it inevitably creates financial assets such as bonds held by investors, loans held by banks, or accounts receivables held by firms.
    • The precursor to a crisis: An overabundance of financial assets created by credit is a precursor to a crisis.

How types of loans matters for growth and risk of the system

  • How money is used matters for reviving sustainable growth: Taking a consumer loan to splurge on a vacation or celebratory dinner does very little to support long-term growth. It creates economic activity only in the immediate period.
    • Which sector should be pushed to ramp up credit and how that money is used become important if reviving sustainable growth is the objective.
  • In a paper titled Who Gets The Credit And Does It Matter, Thorsten Beck et al studied the growth dynamics of 45 countries for the period from 1994 to 2005.
    • Only loans to firms contribute to growth: The paper concluded that only loans to firms are linked to GDP growth, the argument being that firms use credit to increase their capital stock, and thus, real assets.
    • Loans to households do not add substantially to growth: Loans to households, while having desirable social outcomes in terms of boosting consumption and allowing households to tide over short-term cash flow mismatches, do not add to sustainable GDP growth.
    • It is debatable whether consumer loans need a push at all.
  • Retail and household debt growth
    • Retail loan growth, while currently below its 2016 peak of 20%, has been managing to grow at around 15%.
    • Household debt: In December 2019, RBI cautioned lenders on household debt levels and the associated risk on retail loans.
    • Relation with banking crisis: Higher growth in household debt is associated with higher chances of a banking crisis (Household Debt And Monetary Stability, IMF, 2017).
  • Consumer loans not always add to capital stocks: Another kind of consumer loan, the home loan, need not always add to incremental capital stock. Given how slowly the supply of homes responds to demand in the short term, excess credit supply is known to add to the risk.
    • Of course, consumer loans such as education loans, which upgrade human resources, are a notable exception.
    • In fact, mortgage booms have played key roles in most credit blow-ups.
  • Surprising steps by the RBI
    • Risk weight of consumer loans lowered: Surprisingly, RBI reduced the risk weight for consumer loans other than credit card debt from 125% to 100% in September 2019.
    • Waiver to CRR requirement: Recently, RBI decided to waive lenders’ cash reserve requirement against new exposure to home, auto and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) loans.
  • Futile attempts to revive commercial lending:
    • Home loan growth was hovering around 15% for the last two years.
    • Commercial credit growth falling: Growth of commercial credit (loans to industry and services as per RBI), which last exhibited 20%-plus growth in June 2012, has been falling.
    • Since 2016, its annual growth averaged around 6%, with a strong downward trend observed since March 2019.
    • Efforts to revive commercial lending have not borne fruit.
    • Misplaced belief needs to be relooked: This misplaced belief—“if not commercial, let retail loans revive the economy”—needs to be re-looked.
    • The simplistic understanding that any credit uptick can revive the economy needs to change.
  • What retails at best can achieve? India’s retail credit push, if successful, may at best check the downward trend in GDP growth.
    • The argument that it will revive growth is based on optimism.
    • The assumption here being that consumption will drive the current capacity utilization of 69% to somewhere above 85%, which will trigger capital expenditure.
    • This assumes that the consumer loan boom, already a decade old, will continue for another 3-4 years.
  • Chances of household balance sheet weakening: In an environment of low job growth, it is difficult to see how household leverage will not increase.
    • If capacity utilization does not pick up sufficiently to revive growth, then along with banking and corporate balance sheets, household balance sheets will also be weakened.
    • Over the next 3-5 years, the downside of RBI’s retail push appears at least as significant as the upside.

Conclusion

  • Polity stability needed: The government and RBI must make more determined efforts to revive corporate activity. Policy stability and confidence in the business environment may push commercial credit better than mere interest rate cuts.
  • Need to increase government spending: Among the options available, using good old government spending to stimulate infrastructure spending, and eventually, the economy, appears to be a wiser option.

 

Tax Reforms

No gains for taxpayers

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : DDT-What is dividend distribution tax?

Mains level : Paper 3- What are the steps taken in the budget in order to simplify the taxation in India.

Context

Loss expected from lower tax rates may be countered by gains from the settlement of cases, higher dividend taxes on top incomes, and the wider scope for taxing international incomes.

Simplification and providing ease to the taxpayers

  • Fiscal constraints leaving no room for a lower rate: Ahead of The Union budget, taxpayers had anticipated a wide range of measures that they hoped would stoke demand.
    • These ranged from lower tax rates to a more even tax structure on income from various sources.
    • As the former was less feasible given the fiscal constraints, the budget proposals focused on simplification and providing ease to the taxpayer.
  • Simplification in personal tax: The recalibration of personal income tax slabs was suggested as a step towards simplification.
    • However, its uptake is contingent on the preference for new slabs.
    • Who will not opt for a new slab? Switching over to the new slab rates is not beneficial to-
    • An individual currently claiming full exemptions.
    • An individual with incomes comprising largely of capital gains.
    • It is possible, however, that individuals do not claim such exemptions or deductions.
  • How switching to new slab impact revenue? An analysis of data published by the Central Board of Direct Taxes suggests that for the assessment year 2018-19, it suggest improvement in the collection.
    • 1% improvement: If individuals do switch over to the new regime, it may translate to a 1 per cent improvement in tax collections, rather than a loss.
  • Limited takers of the new slab: It can be inferred that this option may be exercised by few individuals, if at all, since the potential gains from foregoing exemptions and the intended simplification is expected to be limited.

Tax disputes

  • The new scheme proposed: A common concern among taxpayers is protracted disputes. To reduce litigation, a new scheme has been proposed.
  • Importance of precedence in disputes: 39 per cent of the cases made a reference to a similar case in the previous year. This underscores the importance of precedence.
  • In such cases, the settlement is not a superior option as the waiver of the penalty and interest does not offer any advantage against a decision that would impact future assessment.
  • Success rates of disputes: The success rate of the tax department is 27 per cent at the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) and the Supreme Court and 12 per cent in appeals filed in high courts.
    • Given the odds of success, an assessee may thus be tempted to pursue litigation.
  • Incentivising the settlement: Taxpayers may choose to settle for the waiver of interest and penalty in cases where it is one time and does not set a precedent for future transactions.

Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT)

  • What is DDT?  It is one of the significant change is in the taxation of dividends.
    • The dividend distribution tax is a unique levy on distributed profits and is payable by the distributing company.
    • What is the shortcoming in DDT? The shortcoming of such tax is that foreign investors can’t claim the credit.
    • Additional 10 % of DDT: In an effort to make the tax progressive, an additional dividend tax of 10 per cent was introduced for domestic investors receiving dividend in excess of Rs 10 lakh.
  • Dividend pay-out decreased after DDT: Changes in DDT were accompanied by a decline in dividend pay-out – the proportion of profits paid as dividends declined from 30 per cent in early 2000s to 22 per cent in 2019 (BSE 500 companies).
    • Chance of improvement in pay-outs: It is expected that the reversion to the classical system may improve dividends pay-outs.
    • However, this will benefit individual taxpayers with incomes below Rs 5 lakh as the slab rate applicable is less than the existing rate.

Taxing cross-border income

  • In the international arena, India is determined to tax cross-border incomes.
  • Taxing digital companies: The addition of explanation 3A to the Income Tax Act reinforces India’s commitment to taxing digital companies.
  • What comprises the business with nexus to India: The proposed amendment clarifies that incomes related to the advertisement, sale of data of a person residing in India and sale of goods and services based on the data of a person residing in India, may be attributed to a business with nexus in India.
  • Taxing citizen not taxable anywhere: To tax Indian citizens that are not taxable in any other jurisdiction, the Act will now deem such individuals as resident taxable in India.
    • While the application of the law may be challenged giving rise to disputes, it is a step forward.

The proposal of Citizen’s charter

  • Charter on rights and obligations: The finance minister also referred to introducing a citizen’s charter that incorporates taxpayer’s rights and obligations.
    • Limits of charters: International experience shows that charters have limited enforceability unless adopted in primary legislation.
  • Supporting charters with legislation: Introducing charter to the statutes may, therefore, prove to be a positive initiative.
    • Faith can be built through enforcement of the charter.
    • However, the penal provisions must be well-thought-out so as to avoid adding another contentious element.

Conclusion

  • Lack of uniformity: The budget proposals aimed to provide simplicity, yet much remains to be done, given the lack of uniformity in the taxation of incomes such as capital gains.
  • Limited revenue implications: The success of schemes proposed is contingent on the traction they gain. As for the revenue implications, the impact of these measures may, in fact, be limited.
  • Countering loss through gains from settlements: Loss expected from lower tax rates may be countered by gains from the settlement of cases, higher dividend taxes on top incomes, and the wider scope for taxing international incomes.

Aadhaar Card Issues

Aadhaar, no standout performer in welfare delivery

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Aadhaar- how it has fared so far?

Context

Aadhaar-based biometric authentication did not reduce PDS leakages, finds Jharkhand-based empirical study

What was the rationale behind Aadhaar?

  • What did the UIDAI’s report say? Aadhaar has curtailed leakages of government subsidies. Through Aadhaar, savings worth ₹90,000 crores have accrued to the government– UIDAI’s2017-18 annual report.
  • Plugging the leakages in the schemes: When Aadhaar was conceived a decade ago, the rationale postulated was: India spends nearly three trillion rupees a year across several core welfare programmes such as Public Distribution System (PDS), LPG, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act etc.
    • Huge leakage due to duplications: Roughly 30-40% of this three trillion is lost in leakages.
    • Leakages are largely due to ‘ghost’ and ‘duplicate’ beneficiaries using fake identities to avail these benefits; a unique identity biometric scheme can eliminate these leakages and vastly improve efficiency in welfare delivery.
  • Improve welfare delivery efficiency: In fact, the former Union Minister, Arun Jaitley, even renamed the Aadhaar Bill to ‘Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services’ Bill, making it amply clear that Aadhaar’s primary, if not sole purpose, was to improve welfare delivery efficiency.

What are the findings of study?

  • How was the study carried out?
    • Use of RCT and sample of 15 million people: They conducted a scientifically designed study of the PDS system in Jharkhand covering 15 million beneficiaries using the technique of randomised control trials (RCT).
    • In the study, one set of beneficiaries went through the Aadhaar-based biometric authentication while the other group used the old system of procuring their ration.
  • The results were then compared to see if Aadhaar-based biometric authentication had any impact in reducing leakages.
  • What were the findings of the study?
  • No measurable benefit: The study concluded that Aadhaar-based biometric authentication had no measurable benefit.
    • No reduction in leakages: Aadhaar-based biometric authentication did not reduce leakages due to elimination of ghosts and duplicates, as widely perceived.
  • Increase in transaction costs for beneficiary: On the other hand, they found that Aadhaar-based biometric authentication increased transaction costs for beneficiaries.
    • 17% extra cost: That is, to claim ration worth ₹40, beneficiaries in the Aadhaar system incurred an additional ₹7 of costs than those in the old system, because of multiple trips to authenticate themselves and the opportunity cost of time spent.
    • This is a whopping 17% extra cost burden of the value of the benefit they were entitled to receive.
  • Type 1 error of exclusion: To make matters worse, Aadhaar-based biometric authentication also introduced what empirical scientists call Type I error of exclusion.
    • Aadhaar authentication falsely rejected genuine PDS beneficiaries who were then denied their ration supplies.
    • The study finds that nearly 10% of legitimate beneficiaries were denied their ration either because they did not have their Aadhaar linked to their ration card or due to an exclusion error.
  • Summary of the finding: In summary, the study states that there was-
    • No direct impact of Aadhaar in reducing leakages.
    • 2. It denied ration to 10% of genuine beneficiaries and increased costs by 17% to those that were forced to get their ration using Aadhaar.
    • Pain with no gain: They conclude that Aadhaar authentication for PDS in Jharkhand caused “some pain with no gain”.

What premises were wrong about Addhaar?

  • No testing of empirical belief: There was a widespread belief among the policy elite that ghosts and duplicates were the scourge of India’s welfare delivery and that Aadhaar would eliminate this.
    • But this belief was never empirically tested.
    • Based on this belief, an entire story was concocted about improving welfare efficiency by eliminating ghosts and duplicates with Aadhaar and a whole new law was enacted to this effect.
  • The pilot project not carried out: Many studies now establish that ghosts and duplicates are not the significant cause of leakages.
    • It would have been better to have undertaken a robust pilot project of scale to test the belief about ghosts and duplicates, before embarking on it nationwide.

Conclusion

In a sociologist’s world and in a liberal society, a policy that could run the risk of denying welfare to just a few people, putting their lives at risk, is not worth implementing regardless of how many millions it benefits.

 

 

 

 

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

Explained: Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Terms of References for the office of CCPA

Mains level : CCPA, New Consumer Protection Laws, 2019

 

 

Recently the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs has announced that a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) will be established by the first week of April.

What is the Central Consumer Protection Authority?

  • The authority is being constituted under Section 10(1) of The Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • The Act replaced The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and seeks to widen its scope in addressing consumer concerns.
  • The CCPA, introduced in the new Act, aims to protect the rights of the consumer by cracking down on unfair trade practices, and false and misleading advertisements that are detrimental to the interests of the public and consumers.

Why need CCPA?

  • The new Act recognizes offences such as providing false information regarding the quality or quantity of a good or service, and misleading advertisements.
  • It also specifies action to be taken if goods and services are found “dangerous, hazardous or unsafe”.
  • The CCPA will have the powers to inquire or investigate into matters relating to violations of consumer rights or unfair trade practices suo motu, or on a complaint received, or on a direction from the central government.

What can the possible structure of CCPA be?

  • The proposed authority will be a lean body with a Chief Commissioner as head, and only two other commissioners as members — one of whom will deal with matters relating to goods while the other will look into cases relating to services.
  • It will be headquartered in the NCR of Delhi but the central government may set up regional offices in other parts of the country.
  • The CCPA will have an Investigation Wing that will be headed by a Director General.
  • District Collectors too, will have the power to investigate complaints of violations of consumer rights, unfair trade practices, and false or misleading advertisements.

What kind of goods and food items in particular, can be classified as “dangerous, hazardous or unsafe”?

  • This is not specified in the notification of the Act.
  • Regarding food, an official said the CCPA will ensure that all standards on packaged food items set by regulators such as the FSSAI are being followed.

What will the CCPA do if any goods or services are found not meeting these standards?

Under Section 20 of The Consumer Protection Act, the proposed authority will have powers to:

  1. recall goods or withdrawal of services that are “dangerous, hazardous or unsafe;
  2. pass an order for refund the prices of goods or services so recalled to purchasers of such goods or services and
  3. discontinuation of practices which are unfair and prejudicial to consumer’s interest

Penalties:

For manufacture, selling, storage, distribution, or import of adulterated products, the penalties are:

  1. If injury is not caused to a consumer, fine up to Rs 1 lakh with imprisonment up to six months;
  2. If injury is caused, fine up to Rs 3 lakh with imprisonment up to one year;
  3. If grievous hurt is caused, fine up to Rs 5 lakh with imprisonment up to 7 years;
  4. In case of death, fine of Rs 10 lakh or more with a minimum imprisonment of 7 years, extendable to imprisonment for life.

How will it deal with false or misleading advertisements?

  • Section 21 of the new Act defines the powers given to the CCPA to crack down on false or misleading advertisements.
  • The CCPA may order investigation that any advertisement is false or misleading and is harmful to the interest of any consumer, or is in contravention of consumer rights.
  • If dissatisfied, the CCPA may issue directions to the trader, manufacturer, endorser, advertiser, or publisher to discontinue such an advertisement, or modify it in a manner specified by the authority, within a given time.

Penalties:

  1. The authority may also impose a penalty up to Rs 10 lakh, with imprisonment up to two years, on the manufacturer or endorser of false and misleading advertisements.
  2. The penalty may go up to Rs 50 lakh, with imprisonment up to five years, for every subsequent offence committed by the same manufacturer or endorser.
  3. CCPA may ban the endorser of a false or misleading advertisement from making endorsement of any products or services in the future, for a period that may extend to one year.
  4. The ban may extend up to three years in every subsequent violation of the Act.

What other powers will the CCPA have?

  • While conducting an investigation after preliminary inquiry, officers of the CCPA’s Investigation Wing will have the powers to enter any premise and search for any document or article, and to seize these.
  • For search and seizure, the CCPA will have similar powers given under the provisions of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  • The CCPA can file complaints of violation of consumer rights or unfair trade practices before the District, State, and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
  • It will issue safety notices to alert consumers against dangerous or hazardous or unsafe goods or services.

Also read:

Five new rights you get as a consumer

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

2020 CD3: A mini-moon

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 2020 CD3, Temporarily Captured Object (TCO)

Mains level : Not Much

 

 

Astronomers have observed a small object orbiting Earth, which they have dubbed a “mini-moon” or the planet’s “second moon”.

2020 CD3

  • The mini-moon was discovered by some astronomers at NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) in Arizona.
  • It is actually an asteroid, about the size of a car; its diameter is about 1.9-3.5 m.
  • And unlike our permanent Moon, the mini-moon is temporary; it will eventually break free of Earth’s orbit and go off on its own way.
  • Orbit integrations indicate that this object is temporarily bound to the Earth.
  • 2020 CD3 was captured into Earth’s orbit over three years ago.
  • For CSS, it is only the second such discovery. It previously discovered 2006 RH120, which orbited Earth for some time that year, before it escaped in 2007.

Where do such moons come from?

  • When an asteroid’s orbit crosses Earth’s orbit, it can sometimes be captured into the latter orbit. This is what happened with 2020 CD3.
  • It is now orbiting at a distance farther from Earth. Such an asteroid is called a Temporarily Captured Object (TCO).
  • The orbit of such objects is unstable. They have to contend with the gravitational influence of our permanent Moon as well as that of the Sun.
  • Once caught in Earth’s orbit, such objects usually remain for a few years before they break free and go into independent orbit around the Sun.

Banking Sector Reforms

Enhanced Access and Service Excellence (EASE) 3.0

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EASE 3.0

Mains level : Ease and data-driven PSBs

 

 

Union Finance minister has released Enhanced Access and Service Excellence (EASE) 3.0, the new reform agenda for tech-enabled banking.

EASE 3.0

  • EASE 3.0 aims at providing smart, tech-enabled public sector banking experience for aspiring India, by establishing paperless and digitally-enabled banking at places where people visit the most such as malls, stations etc.
  • With EASE 3.0, the government is trying to enhance the customer experience with the introduction of features like Dial-a-loan, credit at a click, alternate-data-based lending or other analytics-based credit offers.

Various features

  • Palm Banking for “End-to-end digital delivery of financial service
  • “Banking on Go” via EASE banking outlets at frequently visited spots like malls, stations, complexes, and campuses
  • Digitalizing the experience at public sector bank branches

Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments

Market Intelligence and Early Warning System (MIEWS)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MIEWS, TOP

Mains level : Ensuring fair prices for TOP produce

 

 

The Union Food Processing Ministry has launched a new Market Intelligence and Early Warning System (MIEWS) portal to monitor the prices of TOP crops – Tomato, Onion and Potato.

About MIEWS

  • MIEWS portal is the first-of-its-kind platform for ‘real-time monitoring’ of prices of tomato, onion and potato.
  • The system has been designed to provide advisories to farmers to avoid cyclical production and issue early warnings in situations of gluts.
  • It will simultaneously generate alerts for price intervention under the terms of Operation Greens (OG) scheme.
  • It will generate early alerts in case there is going to be a major change in the prices of these crops.
  • This will help in planning and timely intervention for price stabilization. The portal can be accessed at this link- http://miews.nafed-india.com.

Utility of MIEWS

The MIEWS would:

  • Monitor the supply situation for timely market intervention,
  • Assist in rapid response during times of glut to move the produce from glut regions to regions with deficit supply.
  • Provide inputs for export/import decision making.

Back2Basics

Operation Greens

  • In the budget speech of Union Budget 2018-19, a new Scheme “Operation Greens” was announced on the line of “Operation Flood” to promote Farmer Producers Organizations (FPOs #), agri-logistics, processing facilities and professional management.
  • Accordingly, the Ministry has formulated a scheme for integrated development of Tomato, Onion and Potato (TOP) value chain.
  • Under the OG Scheme, during a glut situation, the evacuation of surplus production from producing areas to consumption centres will be undertaken in the following cases:
  1. When the price falls below the average market price at the time of harvest in the preceding 3 years.
  2. When the price falls more than 50 percent in comparison to the previous year’s market price at the time of harvest.
  3. When the price falls below the benchmark, if any, fixed by either the state or central government for a stipulated period.

For additional readings, navigate to:

https://mofpi.nic.in/Schemes/operation-greens

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

[pib] Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various initiaitives mentioned in the newscard

Mains level : Not Much

 

 

The INCOIS Hyderabad has launched a trio of products for users in the marine realm.

About INCOIS

  • The institute is an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • INCOIS prioritises requests for specific services from its diverse user community that ranges right from fishermen to offshore oil exploration industries.

Products launched:

Small Vessel Advisory and Forecast Services System (SVAS)  

The SVAS is an innovative impact-based advisory and forecast service system for small vessels operating in Indian coastal waters.

  • The SVA system warns users about potential zones where vessel overturning can take place, ten days in advance.
  • The advisories are valid for small vessels of beam width up to 7 m.
  • This limit covers the entire range of beam widths of the fishing vessels used in all the 9 coastal states and union territories of India.
  • The warning system is based on the  ‘Boat Safety Index’ (BSI) derived from wave model forecast outputs such as significant wave height, wave steepness, directional spread and the rapid development of wind at sea which is boat-specific.

Swell Surge Forecast System (SSFS)

SSFS is an innovative system designed for the prediction of Kallakkadal/Swell Surge that occurs along the Indian coast, particularly the west coast.

  • Kallakadal/Swell surge are flash-flood events that take place without any noticeable advance change in local winds or any other apparent signature in the coastal environment.
  • Hence the local population remains totally unaware of these flooding events until they actually occur. Such events are intermittent throughout the year.
  • Kallakkadal is a colloquial term used by Kerala fishermen to refer to the freaky flooding episodes and in 2012 UNESCO formally accepted this term for scientific use.
  • Kallakkadal are caused by meteorological conditions in the Southern Ocean, south of 30°S.
  • These swells once generated, travel northward and reach the Indian coasts in 3-5 days time, creating havoc in the coastal areas.
  • The system will now predict Kallakkadal and warnings will be given to concerned authorities at least 2-3 days in advance, which will help the local authorities for contingency plans and to reduce damage.

Algal Bloom Information Service (ABIS)

  • The increasing frequency of algal blooms is a major concern due to its ill effects on the fishery, marine life and water quality.
  • INCOIS has developed a service for “Detection and Monitoring of Bloom in the Indian Seas”.
  • The target users are fishermen, marine fishery resource managers, researchers, ecologists and environmentalists.
  • The service also complements INCOIS’ marine fishing advisories i.e. Potential Fishing Zone advisories.
  • INCOIS-ABIS will provide near-real-time information on spatio-temporal occurrence and spread of phytoplankton blooms over the North Indian Ocean.
  • In addition, four regions have been identified as bloom hotspots viz.

a) North Eastern Arabian Sea

b) coastal waters off Kerala

c) Gulf of Mannar and

d) coastal waters of Gopalpur

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] ‘1000 Springs’ Initiative

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ‘1000 Springs’ Initiative

Mains level : Conservation of aquifers

 

 

Union Tribal Affairs Ministry has launched “1000 Spring Initiatives” and an online portal on GIS-based Spring Atlas with hydrological and chemical properties of the Springs on the occasion.

‘1000 Springs’ Initiative

  • The ‘1000 Springs Initiative’ aims at improving access to safe and adequate water for the tribal communities living in a difficult and inaccessible part of rural areas in the country.
  • It is an integrated solution around natural springs.
  • It includes the provision of infrastructure for piped water supply for drinking; provision of water for irrigation; community-led total sanitation initiatives; and provision for water for backyard nutrition gardens, generating sustainable livelihood opportunities for the tribal people.
  • It will help in harnessing the potential of perennial springs’ water to address the natural scarcity of water in tribal areas.

Spring Atlas

  • Springs are natural sources of groundwater discharge and have been used extensively in the mountainous regions across the world, including India.
  • However, in the central and eastern Indian belt with more than 75% tribal population, it remains largely unrecognized and under-utilized.
  • An online portal on GIS-based Spring Atlas has been developed to make these data easily accessible from an online platform.
  • Presently, data of more than 170 springs have been uploaded on the Spring Atlas.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

[pib] Responsible AI for Social Empowerment (RAISE) 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RAISE 20202

Mains level : Creating a roadmap to harness AI

 

 

The Govt. has announced the mega event, RAISE 2020- ‘Responsible AI for Social Empowerment 2020,’ to be held in April in New Delhi.

RAISE 2020

  • RAISE 2020 is a first of its kind, a global meeting of minds on Artificial Intelligence to drive India’s vision and roadmap for social empowerment, inclusion and transformation through responsible AI.
  • It is India’s first Artificial Intelligence summit to be organized by the Government in partnership with Industry & Academia.
  • The summit will be a global meeting of minds to exchange ideas and charter a course to use AI for social empowerment, inclusion and transformation in key areas like Healthcare, Agriculture, Education and Smart Mobility amongst other sectors.
  • It will facilitate an exchange of ideas to further create a mass awareness about the need to ethically develop and practice AI in the digital era.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Species in news: Henneguya Salminicola

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Henneguya Salminicola

Mains level : NA

 

 

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered a non-oxygen breathing animal, which significantly changes one of science’s assumptions about the animal world — that all animals use aerobic respiration and therefore, oxygen.

Henneguya Salminicola

  • The organism is Henneguya salminicola, a fewer-than-10-celled microscopic parasite that lives in salmon muscle.
  • It relies on anaerobic respiration (through which cells extract energy without using oxygen).
  • In the case of this non-oxygen breathing organism, evolution turned it into a simpler organism that shed “unnecessary genes” responsible for aerobic respiration.
  • Other organisms such as fungi and amoebas that are found in anaerobic environments lost the ability to breathe over time.
  • The new study shows that the same can happen in the case of animals, too.

What is Aerobic respiration?

  • Animals, including humans, need energy to perform the various tasks that are essential for survival.
  • Aerobic respiration is one such chemical reaction through which organisms take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Through this mechanism, energy is transferred to cells, which can use it for multiple purposes — for instance, to burn food.
  • Mitochondria is the “powerhouse” of the cell, which captures oxygen to make energy — its absence in the H. salminicola genome indicates that the parasite does not breathe oxygen.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Still no finality, the third time round

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Bodo peace accord, issues involved.

Context

There are indications that the new Bodo accord does not spell closure of the statehood movement by Bodo groups.

Power-sharing experiment under the Sixth Schedule

  • Sixth Schedule expected as a panacea: The experiment of power-sharing and governance under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution was expected to be the panacea of the ethno-nationalist identity questions in the Northeastern States.
  • Complexities of exclusion: Euphoria, as well as anger over the third Bodo Accord, have, however, held the mirror reflecting the complexities of exclusion of communities in such ethnocentric power-sharing and governance model.

Specifics of the new Accord

  • The new Accord was signed by the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), United Bodo People’s Organisation and all the four factions of the insurgent outfit- National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) with Delhi and Dispur on January 27.
    • It promises more legislative, executive and administrative autonomy under the Sixth Schedule to Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and expansion of the BTC territory in lieu of statehood.
  • The Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), the autonomous region governed by BTC, will be known as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) after demarcation of the augmented territory.

The emergence of the faultlines in the new Accord

  • What went wrong in the previous Accord? The previous Bodo Accord signed by the erstwhile insurgent outfit, Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) with Delhi and Dispur on February 10, 2003, led to the creation of the BTC as a new experiment of territorial autonomy under the Sixth Schedule.
    • No assent by the Governor to any BTC legislation: The constitutionally mandated legislative power of the BTC has been reduced to a farce as the Assam Governor has not given assent to any of the legislation passed by the BTC Legislative Assembly.
  • Intensification of demand for Kamatapur State: Bodo groups have suspended their statehood movement.
    • The new Bodo Accord has triggered the intensification of the movement for Kamatapur State by organisations of the Koch-Rajbongshi community.
    • Overlapping territory: The territory of the demanded Kamatapur State overlaps with the present BTAD, proposed BTR and demanded Bodoland.
  • Demand for ST status: Clamour for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status by the Koch-Rajbongshis, Adivasis and several other non-ST communities has also grown.
  • Faultlines over ST status: Deeper ethnic faultlines in an ethnocentric power-sharing model will become exposed when the Koch-Rajbongshis and the Adivasis are granted ST status, as promised by the government.
    • For, the reservation of seats of BTC is for the STs and not exclusively for the Bodos.
    • The new accord has no clear answer to such critical questions.
    • In BTAD, the ST communities account for 33.50% of the total population and the Bodos account for over 90% of the ST population in the BTAD.
    • The ST populations are an overwhelming majority in territories overseen by nine other autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.
  • Minority governing majority: Such a demographic composition in the BTAD has allowed the space for political mobilisation of other non-Bodo communities.
    • It also allowed the articulation of the campaign that the BTC is a faulty model as it allows the minorities to govern the majorities.
    • Exclusion demand: The organisations of these communities have been demanding exclusion of villages with less than 50% Bodo population from the BTAD.
  • Counter argument by Bodos: Bodo organisations have a counter-argument that non-Bodo is a political identity construction articulated to capture power in the BTAD by certain political forces.
  • The new accord promises to increase the current strength of BTC to 60 from 40 but “without adversely affecting the existing percentage of reservation for tribal[s]”.
  • Constitutional provision for dealing with such situations: Sub-paragraph 2 of the first paragraph of the Sixth Schedule provides that, “If there are different Scheduled Tribes in an autonomous district, the Governor may, by public notification, divide the area or areas inhabited by them into autonomous regions.”
    • However, constitutional amendments were made following the previous Bodo Accord to ensure that this provision shall not apply in respect of the BTAD.
  • What could be the solution to the present situation? The provision of setting up regional autonomous councils under the Sixth Schedule can be explored to create the space for communities aggrieved by exclusion from the power-sharing model of BTC.

Provision of commission

  • The new accord promises to appoint a commission by the Assam government.
    • What the commission will deal with? It will look into the demands for inclusion of villages with ST majority and contiguous to the BTAD, and exclusion of villages which are contiguous to non-Sixth Schedule areas and have majority non-ST population.
    • However, the core area of the BTAD will continue to have many villages with majority non-ST population which were included for contiguity.

Evaporating of euphoria over the accord

  • Failure in uniting the four factions: Euphoria among the Bodos over the accord is also fast evaporating with efforts to unite all the four factions of NDFB having turned futile.
    • The factions are divided into two camps.
    • The new accord will be the pivot of political mobilisation in the BTAD during the forthcoming BTC elections due in April.
  • Revival in homeland demand: A shift in the political equilibrium in the BTC resulting from a likely expansion of the ST list in Assam has the potential to keep the Bodos out of power in the BTC and push Bodo organisations to revive their homeland demand

Conclusion

Peace will continue to be fragile in Assam’s Bodo heartland until an all-inclusive power-sharing and governance model is evolved under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule.