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Digital India Initiatives

Share the public data with public

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NDSAP

Mains level : Paper 2-Sharing of public data

Open access to public data is essential for policy analysis and evidence-based policymaking. Policy framework for sharing of public data by the government is also looked into in this article. 

How Open Data Charter came about

  • Open-source software enthusiasts and civil society activists in the U.S. and U.K. came with a demand to unlock the data gathered by governments for unfettered access and reuse by citizens.
  • Data collected at public expense must belong to the people. This is the principle for the Open Data Charter adopted by 22 countries since 2015.
  • It calls upon governments to disseminate public data in open digital formats.
  • In return, the Charter argues, governments can expect “innovative, evidence-based policy solutions”.

Steps toward making data accessible-NDSAP

  •  The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) was adopted in 2012.
  • It was a step towards making non-sensitive government data accessible online.
  • The main thrust of the policy is to “promote data sharing and enable access to Government of India owned data for national planning, development and awareness”.
  • The implementation guidelines for NDSAP include ideals such as “openness, flexibility, transparency, quality” of data.
  • It aims to facilitate “access to Government of India shareable data in machine-readable form”.
  • The guidelines prescribe open digital formats suitable for analysis and dissemination.
  • Opaque formats such as the portable document format and the image format are discouraged.
  • As part of the Open Government Data (OGD) initiative, data.gov.in was launched in 2012.
  • However, the implementation has lagged far behind its stated objectives.

How data could have helped policy making in Covid pandemic

  • The district-wise, demographic-wise case statistics and anonymous contact traces released in the public domain would have proved useful.
  • Reliable model forecasts of disease spread and targeted regional lockdown protocols could have been generated.
  • Model forecasts have limitations, but models without inputs from empirical data are even more unreliable.

Violation of OGD in data shared for pandemic

  • Principles of OGD notwithstanding, sufficiently granular infection data are not available.
  • Violating the data format guidelines, OGD portal provides COVID-19 data only as a graphic image unsuitable for any analysis.
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research and mygov.in fare no better.
  • They too do not publish district-wise statistics, and the available data are not in usable formats.

Examples from other countries

  • The data portals of Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. present district-wise COVID-19 cases data.
  • These countries also provide data about the emergent effects on mental health, jobs and education.
  • According to the latest report of the Open Data Barometer, an independent group measuring the impact of open data, these nations lead the pack.
  • India is a contender to reach the top bracket and not a laggard.

Way forward

  • The government must provide the impetus and incentive to exploit this voluminous data by invigorating the dated national data portal.
  • Every department must be mandated to share substantive data respecting privacy concerns.
  • The government should look within for examples of creative outcomes of opening up the database.
  • Start-ups have built novel applications using Indian Railways data to provide ticket confirmation prediction and real-time train status.

Consider the question “Examine the provisions for data sharing and accessibility in India. Also, elaborate how the sharing of public data could help in policymaking.”

Conclusion

Sharing public data is a way to create beneficial social impact. So, the government must ensure the implementation of policy measures and encourage the analysis of public data to come at the informed policy decision.

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

Why spending on infrastructure matters

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aggregate demand, components of India's growth

Mains level : Paper 3- Importance of spending of infrastructure

Spending on infrastructure can help kickstart the economy. This article highlights the importance of spending on infrastructure and suggests ways to find resources.

Gloomy prospects for Indian economy

  • The IMF estimates the global economy to contract by -4.9 per cent this year.
  • It could still contract should the virus not recede in the latter half of 2020.
  • As for the Indian economy, growth has been decelerating for the past eight quarters.
  • Indications by the RBI suggest that growth is contracting for the first time in four decades.
  •  We must address the elephant in the room — the need to further aid a demand recovery as the economy begins to reopen.

Components of Indias growth

  • Growth in the Indian economy has been dominated by the following components respectively-
  • 1) Consumption.
  • 2) It is followed by investments.
  • 3) Government expenditure.
  • 4) Net exports.
  • However, consumption and investment demand have been subdued for the past few quarters, dragging down overall growth.
  • Keynesian theory suggests that for aggregate demand to increase, at least one of the components of GDP needs to expand.

Declining consumption demand

  • These two components were perhaps casualties of a sharp deceleration in credit supply.
  •  The IL&FS debacle in September 2018 only made matters worse.
  • The NBFC sector, suffered from funding crunches leading to a further squeeze in credit supply.
  • Freeze in credit supply impacted consumption demand.
  • This deceleration is likely to exacerbate going forward.

Declining rate of investment

  • Broad-based utilisation levels, as represented by the RBI, dropped to 68.6 per cent in Q3FY20.
  • This is well below the 75 per cent benchmark for new capacity addition, implying suboptimal levels of fresh investments.
  • A higher rate of investments is essential for sustainable economic growth.
  • The deteriorating economic scenario and increasing levels of debt with rating downgrades for industries are likely to aggravate existing problems.

Importance of expenditure on spending on infrastructure

  • Government expenditure is the only exogenously determined element in a Keynesian framework.
  • The positive push required to aid a demand recovery has to come through the government.
  • However, with sparse resources that India has, we must deploy funds that yield a higher return.
  • One key area that can provide the necessary support is infrastructure investment.
  • A study by S&P Global estimates 1 per cent of GDP spend on infrastructure can boost real growth by 2 per cent while creating 1.3 million direct jobs.
  • Historically, countries have used infrastructure to provide counter-cyclical support to the economy.
  • Notably, infrastructure has strong links to growth and with both supply and demand-side features that help generate employment and long-term assets.
  • India already has an upper hand here.
  • Front-loading key projects with greater visibility from the recently announced National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) could aid in a quicker recovery.

Special infrastructure bond

  •  India already has several institutions for infrastructure development purposes from the likes of IIFCL, IRFC to more recently NIIF.
  • Taking a cue from China, floating special infrastructure bonds through this organisation to accelerate the funding of the NIP could aid a speedier recovery.
  • Further, taking a page from the New Deal and its Reconstruction Finance Corporation, this institution’s ability for greater leverage can be used to make amends to our credit channels.
  • This ability could also be used for the development of state government and urban local body bond markets.
  • This could help businesses and bankers overcome risk aversion and bring back trust in the system while financing new paths for growth.

Consider the question “Highlight the role of consumption and investment as the two largest contributors to India’s growth and explain how spending on the infrastructure could help revive the economy hit hard by the pandemic”

Conclusion

The exogenous component in the form of spending by the government could step-in in a greater way, perhaps because, it is the only one that can.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Resistance to China is going to be definitive moment for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China standoff

How India overcomes the challenge posed by China would have far-reaching effects. Role of Russia and the U.S. is important for India. This article discusses these factors and the significance of the outcome of the conflict started at Galwan. 

Two takes on India’s China policy

  • Following Galwan encounter, there are two views about the future of India’s China policy.
  • Some say that structural constraints would limit dramatic changes in policy once the heat of the moment dissipates.
  • While others say that the Galwan clash comes amidst the deepening crisis in bilateral relations over the last decade.
  • Stalled boundary talks, a widening trade deficit, the clash of national interests in the region, and Chinese opposition to India’s global aspirations have together strained Sino-Indian relations.
  • Galwan is the last straw, the argument goes, that broke the camel’s back.

So, what will be the outcome

  •  The relationship is likely to depend on how the current military confrontation in Ladakh is resolved.
  • If it ends with a quick return to the status quo that prevailed in April, inertia is likely to limit radical policy departures.
  • If the Ladakh crisis ends in a setback for India, the pressure on Delhi to radically reorient its China policy will mount.

What if the standoff continues?

  • In that case strengthening India’s military and political hand against China is the immediate objective of Delhi’s post-Galwan diplomacy.
  • The long term steps suggested include the construction of a military alliance with the US and other Western partner.
  • As as well as economic decoupling and diversification.
  • Short term steps are about being able to stare down the Chinese in the current military confrontation and hold its ground.

Role of Russia

  • Three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, India’s dependence on Russian arms remains substantive.
  • Rajnath Singh’s visit to Moscow amidst the crisis with China underlines the weight of the past in India’s security policy.
  • India is also pressing other major defence suppliers, including France and Israel, to accelerate deliveries on contracted defence equipment.
  • There have been reports from Russia, that China is pressing Moscow not to sell the new fighter aircraft to India.
  • Russia and China are strong strategic partners today.
  • While the past suggests India has a special claim to Russian affections, there is a Sino-Russian strategic cohabitation today in opposition to America
  • How Russia responds to India’s request will have a major bearing on the future evolution of Delhi’s ties with Moscow.

Role of the U.S.

  • Unlike Russia’s public stance of neutrality between India and China, Washington has come out in favour of Delhi.
  • There was vocal public support of the US defence and foreign policy establishment against Chinese aggression at Galwan.
  •  Media reports from Delhi say the US is already supplying valuable real-time military intelligence of value to the Indian armed forces.
  • Washington is apparently willing to do more but is letting Delhi decide the pace and intensity of that cooperation.

Challenges in the U.S. cooperation

  • The uncertain political moment in the US amidst the general election scheduled for early November can’t be underestimated.
  • A change of guard in Washington will certainly slow things down as the new administration settles down and reviews its priorities.
  • America’s stakes in China are far higher than Russia’s.
  • Profound economic interdependence of the U.S. and China is a significant political constraint on the US’s options.
  • On deeper military cooperation with Washington, Delhi would want to move with care rather than rush into it as it did in 1962.

How will outcomes of the crisis matter for India

  • If Delhi comes out of this crisis wounded, its troubles at home and the world will mount significantly.
  • A weakened India will find recasting its China policy even harder.
  • But victorious India will find its international political stock rising and its options on China expanding.
  •  Successful Indian resistance to China’s expansionism would be a definitive moment in the geopolitical evolution of Asia.
  • The stakes for India and the world, then, are far higher today than in 1962.

Consider the question “Examine the issues that introduce friction in India-China relations. Also, elaborate on the scope of India’s alliance with the U.S to counter the challenges posed by China.”

Conclusion

Outcomes of the resistance will have a profound impact on India’s standing and India’s destiny.

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

What is the STARS Project?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : STARS Project

Mains level : Read the attached story

The World Bank has approved a $500 million Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States Program (STARS) to improve the quality and governance of school education in six Indian states.

Try this question:

Q. The STARS Project recently seen in news is an initiative of:

World Bank/ Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation / UNECOSOC/ UNICEF

STARS Project

  • The STARS project will be implemented through the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the flagship central scheme.
  • The six states include- Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan.
  • It will help improve learning assessment systems, strengthen classroom instruction and remediation, facilitate school-to-work transition, and strengthen governance and decentralized management,
  • Some 250 million students (between the age of 6 and 17) in 1.5 million schools and over 10 million teachers will benefit from the STARS program.
  • STARS will support India’s renewed focus on addressing the ‘learning outcome’ challenge and help students better prepare for the jobs of the future – through a series of reform initiatives.

Reform initiatives under STARS

  • Focusing more directly on the delivery of education services at the state, district and sub-district levels by providing customized local-level solutions towards school improvement.
  • Addressing demands from stakeholders, especially parents, for greater accountability and inclusion by producing better data to assess the quality of learning.
  • Equipping teachers to manage this transformation by recognizing that teachers are central to achieving better learning outcomes. The program will support individualized, needs-based training for teachers that will give them an opportunity to have a say in shaping training programs and making them relevant to their teaching needs.
  • Investing more in developing India’s human capital needs by strengthening foundational learning for children in classes 1 to 3 and preparing them with the cognitive, socio-behavioural and language skills to meet future labour market needs.

Issues with the project

  • First, it fails to address the basic capacity issues: major vacancies across the education system from District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), district and block education offices, to teachers in schools, remain unaddressed.
  • Without capable and motivated faculty, teacher education and training cannot be expected to improve.
  • Second, the Bank ignores that decentralizing decision-making requires the devolution of funds and real decision-making power.
  • Greater decentralisation can allow accountability to flow to the people rather than to supervising officers.
  • It requires not just investment in the capacity of the front-line bureaucracy but also in increasing their discretionary powers while fostering social accountability.

Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments

PM Formalization of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (PM FME) Scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM-FME scheme

Mains level : Food processing industry and the required reforms

The Ministry for Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) has launched the PM Formalization of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (PM FME) as a part of “Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan”.

Practice question for mains:

Q.What is the PM FME Scheme? Discuss its potential to neutralize various challenges faced by India’s unorganized food industries.

PM FME Scheme

  • It aims to provide financial, technical and business support for upgradation of existing micro food processing enterprises.
  • It is a centrally sponsored scheme to be implemented over a period of five years from 2020-21 to 2024-25 with an outlay of Rs 10,000 crore.
  • The expenditure under the scheme would to be shared in 60:40 ratios between Central and State Governments, in 90:10 ratios with NE and the Himalayan States, 60:40 ratio with UTs with the legislature and 100% by Centre for other UTs.

Features of the scheme

  • The Scheme adopts One District One Product (ODODP) approach to reap the benefit of scale in terms of procurement of inputs, availing common services and marketing of products.
  • The States would identify food product for a district keeping in view the existing clusters and availability of raw material.
  • The ODOP product could be a perishable produce based product or cereal-based products or a food product widely produced in a district and their allied sectors.
  • An illustrative list of such products includes mango, potato, litchi, tomato, tapioca, kinnu, bhujia, petha, papad, pickle, millet-based products, fisheries, poultry, meat as well as animal feed among others.
  • The Scheme also place focus on waste to wealth products, minor forest products and Aspirational Districts.

Credit facility provided

  • Existing Individual micro food processing units desirous of upgradation of their unit can avail credit-linked capital subsidy @35% of the eligible project cost with a maximum ceiling of Rs.10 lakh per unit.
  • Seed capital @ Rs. 40,000/- per SHG member would be provided for working capital and purchase of small tools.
  • FPOs/ SHGs/ producer cooperatives would be provided a credit-linked grant of 35% for capital investment along the value chain.
  • Support for marketing & branding would be provided to develop brands for micro-units and groups with 50% grant at State or regional level which could benefit a large number of micro-units in clusters.

Why need such a scheme?

  • The unorganized food processing sector comprising nearly 25 lakh units contribute to 74% of employment in the food processing sector.
  • Nearly 66% of these units are located in rural areas and about 80% of them are family-based enterprises supporting livelihood rural household and minimizing their migration to urban areas.

Challenges faced

  • The unorganised food processing sector faces a number of challenges which limit their performance and their growth.
  • These challenges include lack of access to modern technology & equipment, training, access institutional credit, lack of basic awareness on quality control of products; and lack of branding & marketing skills etc.
  • Owing to these challenges; the unorganised food processing sector contributes much less in terms of value addition and output despite its huge potential.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Gold Nanoparticles and their applications

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gold Nanoparticles

Mains level : Applications of nanomaterials

Indian researchers have successfully synthesized gold nanoparticles (GNPs) using psychrotolerant Antarctic bacteria through a non-toxic, low-cost, and eco-friendly way.

Nanotechnology is a pathbreaking technology which can create many new materials and devices with a wide range of applications, such as in nanomedicine, nanoelectronics etc.   GNPs are another distinct development.

What are Gold Nanoparticles?

  • Metallic NPs have been efficiently exploited for biomedical applications and among them, GNPs are found to be effective in biomedical research.
  • And NPs are those materials that are at least one dimension smaller than 100 nanometers.
  • NPs have a high surface-to-volume ratio and they can provide the tremendous driving force for diffusion, especially at elevated temperatures.
  • GNPs are melted at much lower temperatures (300 °C) than bulk gold (1064 °C).
  • NPs have been found to impart various desirable properties to different day-to-day products.
  • For example, GNPs are found to have greater solar radiation absorbing ability than the conventional bulk gold, which makes them a better candidate for use in the photovoltaic cell manufacturing industry.

Properties of GNP

1) Biomedical

  • Genotoxicity describes the property of a chemical agent that is capable of damaging the genetic information of DNA and thus causing the mutation of the cell, which can lead to cancer.
  • The study revealed the genotoxic effect of GNPs on a sulphate reducing bacteria (SRB).
  • These GNPs can be used as composite therapeutic agent clinical trials, especially in anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-diabetic, and cholesterol-lowering drugs.

2) Optical

  • GNPs have unique optical properties too. For example, particles above 100 nm show blue or violet colour in the water, while the colour becomes wine red in 100 nm gold colloidal particles.
  • They can thus be used for therapeutic imaging.

3) Electronics

  • GNPs are also found to be useful in the electronics industry.
  • Scientists have constructed a transistor known as NOMFET (Nanoparticles Organic Memory Field-Effect Transistor) by embedding GNPs in a porous manganese oxide.
  • NOMFETs can mimic the feature of the human synapse known as plasticity or the variation of the speed and strength of the signal going from neuron to neuron.
  • These novel transistors can now facilitate better recreation of certain types of human cognitive processes, such as recognition and image processing and have their application in AI.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Kholongchhu Hydel Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kholongchhu Hydel Project

Mains level : Not Much

India and Bhutan took a major step forward for the construction of the 600 MW Kholongchhu project.

Try this question from CSP 2019:

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

Kholongchhu Hydel Project

  • The Kholongchhu project is regarded as a “milestone” in the India-Bhutan partnership, under which four hydropower projects have been built in the last 30 years totalling a capacity of 2,100 MW.
  • It is one of four additional projects agreed to in 2008, as a part of India’s commitment to helping Bhutan create a total 10,000 MW of installed capacity by 2020.
  • The project is located at the lower course of Kholongchhu just before its confluence with Drangmechu (Gongrichu) in Trashiyangtse District of Bhutan.
  • The GoI will provide, as a grant, the equity share of the Bhutanese DGPC in the JV Company.
  • Once the project is commissioned, the JV partners will run it for 30 years, called the concession period, after which the full ownership will transfer to the Bhutan government.

Whats’ so special with the project?

  • It is the first hydropower joint venture project in Bhutan’s less developed eastern region of Trashiyangtse.
  • It is the first time an India-Bhutan hydropower project will be constructed as a 50:50 joint venture and not as a government-to-government agreement.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Gynandromorphism?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gynandromorphism

Mains level : NA

Recently, a rare biological phenomenon called Gynandromorphism was observed in dragonflies at Kole wetlands of Kerala.

Gynandromorphism is a core biology concept. We can expect a prelims question in a rare scenario.

Try this question from CSP 2013:

Q.Improper handling and storage of cereal grains and oilseeds result in the production of toxins known as aflatoxins which are not generally destroyed by normal cooking process. Aflatoxins are produced by

(a) Bacteria (b) Protozoa (c) Moulds (d) Viruses

Gynandromorphism

  • Gynandromorphs are individual animals that have both genetically male and female tissues and often have observable male and female characteristics.
  • They may be bilateral, appearing to divide down the middle into male and female sides, or they may be mosaic, with patches characteristic of one sex appearing in a body part characteristic of the other sex.
  • Gynandromorphs occur in insects, spiders, crustaceans, and other arthropods as well as in birds, but they are extremely rare, and discovering one in the field or in the laboratory is a major event.
  • Estimating how frequently they occur is difficult because they usually go unnoticed in species where sexual dimorphism is less pronounced.
  • Gynandromorphs have been reported in mosquitoes, fruit flies, and in other insects, but they are most dramatic in those butterfly species in which the male and female wing colours and patterns are dramatically different.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Making sense of moves of China

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Galwan valley

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China relations, role of intelligence, limits of summit diplomacy

The role played by intelligence and emphasis on Summit diplomacy in relation with China are the two issues discussed in this article. So, what went wrong in Galwan incident from the intelligence point of view? And what are the perils of Summit diplomacy? Read to know...

Galwan-New and fractious phase

  • What occurred in the Galwan heights on June 15, must not be viewed as an aberration.
  • It would be more judicious to view it as signifying a new and fractious phase in China-India relations.
  • Even if the situation reverts to what existed in mid-April India-China relations appear set to witness a “new and different normal”.
  • China’s reaction has been consistent — India must move out of Galwan.
  • This is something that India cannot ignore any longer.
  • Galwan incident cannot be viewed as a mere replay of what took place in Depsang (2013), Chumar (2014) and Doklam (2017).
  • This is a new and different situation and India must not shrink from addressing the core issue that relations between India and China are in a perilous state.

Close and careful analysis of China’s claim is necessary

  • China’s assertion of its claim to the whole of the Galwan Valley needs close and careful analysis for following reasons-
  • 1) Point 14 gives China a virtual stranglehold over the newly completed, and strategically significant, Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road, which leads on to the Karakoram Pass.
  • 2) The strategic implications for India of China’s insistence on keeping the whole of the Galwan Valley are serious as it fundamentally changes the status quo.
  • 3) By laying claim to the Galwan Valley, China has reopened some of the issues left over from the 1962 conflict.
  • And this demonstrates that it is willing to embark on a new confrontation.

LAC and claim line of China

  • Ambiguity has existed regarding the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in this sector.
  • The Chinese “claim line” is that of November 1959.
  • For India the LAC is that of September 1962.
  • In recent years, both sides had refrained from reopening the issue, but China has never given up its claims.
  • By its unilateral declaration now, China is seeking to settle the matter in its favour. India needs to measure up to this challenge.

Importance of Aksai Chin

  • The importance of Aksai Chin for China has greatly increased of late, as it provides direct connectivity between two of the most troubled regions of China, viz., Xinjiang and Tibet.
  • This does not seem to have been adequately factored in our calculations.
  • While Indian policymakers saw the reclassification of Ladakh as purely an internal matter.
  • They overlooked the fact that for China’s military planners it posited a threat to China’s peace and tranquillity.

Intelligence capabilities

  • Admittedly, the timing and nature of China’s actions should have aroused keen interest in intelligence circles about China’s strategic calculations.
  • The Chinese build-up in the Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and Hotsprings-Gogra did not require any great intelligence effort, since there was little attempt at concealment by the Chinese.
  • India also possesses high-quality imagery intelligence (IMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities.
  • These capabilities are distributed between the National Technical Research Organisation, the Directorate of Signals Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence and other agencies.
  • Which made it possible to track Chinese movement.
  • Where intelligence can be faulted is with regard to inadequate appreciation of what the build-up meant, and what it portended for India.
  • This is indicative of a weakness in interpretation and analysis of the intelligence available.
  • And also of inability to provide a coherent assessment of China’s real intentions.
  • Intelligence assessment of China’s intentions, clearly fell short of what was required.
  • While India’s technological capabilities for intelligence collection have vastly increased in recent years, the capacity for interpretation and analysis has not kept pace with this.
  • Advances in technology, specially Artificial Intelligence have, across the world, greatly augmented efforts at intelligence analysis.

Who has the responsibility of intelligence assessment and analysis

  • The principal responsibility for intelligence assessment and analysis concerning China, rests with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
  • To a lesser extent, it remains with the Defence Intelligence Agency.
  • The decision of the NSCS to dismantle the Joint Intelligence Committee has contributed to a weakening of the intelligence assessment system.
  • In the case of the R&AW, lack of domain expertise, and an inadequacy of China specialists might also have been a contributory factor.

Adverse impact of certain policy measures

  •  The preference given recently to Summit diplomacy over traditional foreign policy making structures proved to be a severe handicap.
  • Summit diplomacy cannot be a substitute for carefully structured foreign office policy making.
  • Currently, India’s Summit diplomacy has tended to marginalise the External Affairs Ministry with regard to policy making, and we are probably paying a price for it.
  • As it is, the Ministry of External Affairs’s (MEA) stock of China experts seems to be dwindling.
  • And MEA’s general tilt towards the U.S. in most matters, has resulted in an imbalance in the way the MEA perceives problems and situations.

Conclusion

Along with the other factors, India should also focus on intelligence analysis and interpretation and make sure there are enough China experts in the MEA.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Reimagining South Asian boundaries

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Regional cooperation in South Asian countries.

State-centric politics is the issue that plagues the regional cooperation in the region. But the consequences for the lives, livelihoods and the well-being of the people located at the edges of nation-states are overlooked. This issue is discussed in this article.

State plays central role in disputes

  • One of the major problems of South Asian politics is that it has to flow from within a state-centric paradigm.
  • This state-centrism has given the state structure the propriety to be the sole arbiter of disputes.
  • It is the state that articulates, defines, and represents “national” interests in negotiations with other states.
  • States in South Asia places importance on political boundaries as the “natural” shield even in the arbitration of South Asian affairs.
  • This approach happens to be the dominant South Asian pattern.
  • In this approach territorial boundaries are valued more than lives, livelihoods and the well-being of the people located at the edges of nation states.
  • “Patriotism” looms large as and when inter-state relationships are viewed through the statist lens.
  •  Hostility, real or imagined, is used as the governing principle in the arbitration of territorial disputes across South Asia.

Lack of regional identity

  • Basically, the term “region” seems to be a contested idea in a South Asian context.
  • This is because none of the South Asian states has ever recognised and respected the idea of regional identity or regional politics.
  • They have been wary of such natural division in politics.
  • Given that this is a reality, how could one even think of South Asia as a region to reckon with?

South Asia as region of regions

  • One must understand that South Asia is perhaps the most natural regional grouping of states around the world.
  • And, at the same time, it is also the most difficult and contested grouping.
  • South Asia needs to be rethought, not as a region of states, but as a region of regions.
  • As such it demonstrates itself more as a borderland that needs to be cultivated out of contact zones.
  • Such contact zone exists beyond the limits of territorial boundaries shared by the member-states.

So, how this applies to India-Nepal border dispute?

  • There is a need to go beyond the popular debates revolving around such “troubling” questions such as: how much area has been “encroached” upon by which state and on what basis.
  • Such questions appear to be “normal” in the way a “statist paradigm” deals with the issue.
  • To those who are to maintain their lifeworld at those zones these issues are troubling.

Interconnected (fluid) life

  • South Asian life, essentially at the edges of the nation state, is bound to be fluid.
  • This is because the boundary, which confirms the territorial limits of a nation state, is at the same time the affirmed threshold of another nation state.
  • In a certain sense, the people living at the edges of nation states within South Asia do not actually belong to any of the two nation states.
  • Or in other words, they belong to both the states at the same time.
  • Plurality, differences and inclusivity bring coherence to borderland ontology.
  • They defy the logic of singular, unifying, exclusive identities that the nation states privilege.

Implications for regional cooperation

  • Unless both India and Nepal agree to see the reality beyond the gaze of the statist paradigm, they would harm regional experiments such as the BIMSTEC or the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) sub-regional initiative.
  • South Asian states need to realise the difference between “regional cooperation” merely as advocacy and as an issue that demands self-approval and self-promotion.
  • South Asian countries may claim success on regional cooperation while closing all doors of recognising difference and mutual tolerance.
  • Powerful countries operating within and beyond the orbit of South Asia might become successful in establishing their control.
  • To establish control these countries may use the token of “regional cooperation” as an issue of realpolitik.

Consider the question “South Asia is perhaps the most natural regional grouping of states around the world, yet it is also the most difficult and contested grouping. Comment.”

Conclusion

Region and regional identity are not just issues of “realpolitik” in South Asia; rather, the need is to “officially” accommodate this rather naturally drafted way of doing politics, if we are genuinely concerned about South Asian geopolitics.

RBI Notifications

Governance of the commercial banks

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Companies Act 2013

Mains level : Paper 3- Governance issue in the banks

This article discusses the nitty-gritty of the recently released discussion paper by the RBI on governance. Governance in the commercial bank has been in the news following the failures of some banks.

Discussion paper by RBI

  • Recently RBI released a discussion paper on ‘Governance in Commercial Banks in India’.
  • Recently there have been high-profile instances involving governance failures in certain banks.
  • These instances have called into question the adequacy of the existing legal regime for ensuring good governance in commercial banks.
  • Internationally, the question of governance norms in banks is treated differently given the complex nature of functions performed by banks in comparison to other businesses.
  • Functions of the banks make them critical for allocation of resources in the economy, protection of consumer interests and maintenance of financial stability.

Objectives of the discussion paper

  • The stated objective of the discussion paper is to align the current regulatory framework on bank governance with global best practices.
  • Best practices include the guidelines issued by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board.

Current regulatory framework

  • To this end, RBI adopts international standards for bank governance into the general corporate governance framework in India.
  • This general governance framework comprises the Companies Act, 2013, and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Requirements, 2015.
  • These governance norms focus on the responsibilities of the board of directors, board structure and practices.
  • And it also includes aspects of risk management, internal audit, compliance, whistle-blowing, vigilance, disclosure and transparency.

Issue of connection between management and owner

  • RBI also constituted an internal working group to review the extant regulatory guidelines relating to ownership and control in private sector banks.
  • This group is expected to submit its report by September 30, 2020.
  • But the assumption that deeper connections between the management and the owners necessarily lead to mismanagement needs to evaluated carefully and recalibrated to ensure balanced reforms.
  • The governance risks attributable to such connections might be relevant for government-owned banks as well.

Key recommendations in the paper

  • (1) The majority of a commercial bank’s board must comprise of independent directors.
  • This is a standard higher than that prescribed under the Companies Act and the SEBI Regulations.
  • (2) The chairperson of the board must be an independent director.
  • (3) Chairpersons of crucial board committees (the audit committee, the risk management committee and the nomination and remuneration committee) must be independent directors who are not chairpersons of any other board committee.
  • (4) The tenures of non-promoter CEOs and WTDs should be limited to 15 years.

Way forward

  • In order to make the reform effective, the appointment process for independent directors also needs to be re-evaluated to limit the role of controlling-shareholders.
  • The liability regime for directors on the boards of banking companies should also be revisited to balance the rights and liabilities of the directors.
  • The efficacy of implementation of norms as prescribed will depend on adequate enforcement.
  • The findings of the report of the working group have to be considered to formulate a comprehensive and effective governance framework for commercial banking in India.

Consider the question “Given the complex nature of functions performed by the banks in comparison to other businesses subjecting them to stricter norms of governance is necessary. In light of this examine the adequacy of existing governance norms and suggest ways to improve them.”

Conclusion

RBI must exercise caution to ensure that the reforms balance the interests of all the stakeholders and do not come at the cost of discouraging investments and entrepreneurship in the Indian banking industry.

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

Why India is producing less and less oil?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : OALP

Mains level : India's oil sector

India’s crude oil production fell 7.1% in May 2020 compared to May 2019 on the back of low demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Practice question for mains:

Q.Discuss the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the global crude oil dynamics.

Crude oil exploration in India

  • Crude oil production in India is dominated by two major state-owned exploration and production companies, ONGC and Oil India.
  • These companies are the key bidders for crude oil block auctions and end up acquiring most of the blocks that are put up for auction in India.

Falling production

  • Domestic production of crude has been falling every year since FY 2012.
  • This has led to a steady climb in the proportion of imports in domestic crude oil consumption from 81.8% in 2012 to 87.6% in 2020.

Why is production falling?

  • Most of India’s crude oil production comes from ageing wells that have become less productive over time.
  • A lack of new oil discoveries in India coupled with a long lead time to begin production from discovered wells has led to a steady decline in India’s crude oil production making dependency on imports.
  • The output of these ageing wells is declining faster than new wells can come up according to experts.
  • Domestic exploration companies are attempting to extend the life of currently operational wells.

Why are there not more private players?

  • There has been a lack of interest in exploration and production in India from major private players, particularly those based abroad.
  • According to experts, this is because of long delays in the operationalization of production even after an oil block is allotted due to delays in approvals.
  • Some of the key approvals which are required to begin production include environmental clearances and approval by the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons after the allottee completes a seismic survey and creates a field development plan.

What policy changes could help?

  • Existing public and private sector players have asked for reduced levies of oil production including oil cess, royalties, and profit petroleum especially when crude oil prices are below $45/barrel.
  • Experts say the requirement to pay royalties to the government at low crude prices can make it unviable for these companies to invest in further exploration and production.

OALP could help

  • The government introduced the Open Acreage Licensing Programme (OALP) in 2019 to allow companies to carve out blocks that they are interested in and with lower royalties and no oil cess.
  • However, existing players are calling for a relaxation of royalties and oil cess on block allotted under previous policies.
  • The Chinese government offered a floor price to oil producers insulating them somewhat from any sharp falls in international crude prices.
  • This kind of policy at least allows for a company to have a fixed worst-case scenario for the sale of crude oil attracts more investment in exploration and production.

Back2Basics: OALP

  • The OALP, a part of the government’s Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP), gives exploration companies the option to select the exploration blocks on their own, without having to wait for the formal bid round from the Government.
  • The company then submits an application to the government, which puts that block up for bid.
  • OALP offers single license to explore conventional and unconventional oil and gas resources to propel investment in and provide operational flexibility to the investors.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

New rules to regulate exotic animal trade

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CITES

Mains level : Illict wildlife trade and its prevention

The Environment Ministry’s wildlife division has introduced new rules to regulate the import and export of ‘exotic wildlife species’.

Practice questions for mains:

Q.What are Zoonotic Diseases? Discuss how the illicit trade in wildlife has resulted in the spread of zoonotic diseases of the scale of the ongoing COVID-19?

Which exotic species are these new regulations talking about?

  • The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is an organisation that is tasked with monitoring illegal trade.
  • The advisory says ‘exotic live species’ will cover animals under Appendices I, II and III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.
  • It will not include species from the Schedules of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

What are the new rules?

  • Currently, it is the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce that oversees such trade.
  • Under the new rules, owners and possessors of such animals and birds must also register their stock with the Chief Wildlife Warden of their States.
  • Officials of the Wildlife Department will also prepare an inventory of such species and have the right to inspect the facilities of such traders to check if these plants and animals are being housed in inhumane conditions.
  • Additionally, stockists will have six months to declare their stock.

Why such a move?

  • The illegal trade is estimated to generate revenues of up to $23 billion a year, a/c to FATF.
  • India continues to battle wildlife crime, with reports suggesting that many times such species are available for trade on online market places.

Also read:

Guidelines for Import of Exotic Species


Back2Basics: CITES

  • CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
  • It is as an international agreement aimed at ensuring “that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”.
  • It was drafted after a resolution was adopted at a meeting of the members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1963.
  • It entered into force on July 1, 1975, and now has 183 parties.
  • The Convention is legally binding on the Parties in the sense that they are committed to implementing it; however, it does not take the place of national laws.
  • India is a signatory to and has also ratified CITES convention in 1976.

CITES Appendices

  • CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls.
  • All import, export, re-exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the convention has to be authorized through a licensing system.

It has three appendices:

  • Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade-in specimens of these species are permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
  • Appendix II provides a lower level of protection.
  • Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling trade.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

What is ‘Last Glacial Maximum’?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Last Glacial Maximum

Mains level : Nature induced Climate Change

Researchers analysed simulations of this past climate and predicted that the ongoing climate change could reawaken an ancient climate pattern of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Try this question from CSP 2017:

Q.With reference to ‘Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)’, sometimes mentioned in the news while forecasting Indian monsoon, which of the following statements is/are correct?

1. IOD phenomenon is characterized by a difference in sea surface temperature between tropical Western Indian Ocean and tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean.

2. An IOD phenomenon can influence El Nino’s impact on the monsoon.

Select the correct Option using the code given below:

(a) Only 1

(b) Only 2

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

The Last Glacial Maximum

  • The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) was the most recent time during the Last Glacial Period that ice sheets were at their greatest extent.
  • Vast ice sheets covered much of North America, Northern Europe, and Asia and profoundly affected Earth’s climate by causing drought, desertification, and a large drop in sea levels.
  • Growth of ice sheets commenced 33,000 years ago and maximum coverage was between 26,500 years and 19–20,000 years ago, when deglaciation commenced in the Northern Hemisphere.
  • It caused an abrupt rise in sea level.

Shells predict IOR climate variability

  • By studying microscopic zooplankton called foraminifera, the team had published a paper in 2019 which first found evidence from the past of an Indian Ocean El Niño.
  • Foraminifera builds a calcium carbonate shell, and studying these can tell us about the properties of the water in which they lived.
  • The team measured multiple individual shells of foraminifera from ocean sediment cores and was able to reconstruct the sea surface temperature conditions of the past.
  • The Indian Ocean has the capacity to harbour much larger climate variability than observed during the last few decades or a century.

Lessons to learn

  • There are many lessons to be learnt from this cooler period about our warmer future.
  • As it is, under present-day conditions, changes in the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation strongly affect Indian Monsoon variability from year to year.
  • If the hypothesized ‘equatorial mode’ emerges in the near future, it will pose another source of uncertainty in rainfall prediction and will likely amplify swings in monsoon rainfall.
  • It could bring more frequent droughts to East Africa and southern India and increased rainfall over Indonesia.

Back2Basics

What is the Indian Ocean Dipole? Explain its connection with the Indian monsoons

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Jungle Fowl

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Jungle Fowl

Mains level : NA

A recent study by scientists has revealed new details about the earliest domestication of chicken from the Jungle Fowl.

Try this question from CSP 2012:

Q.What is the difference between the antelopes’ Oryx and Chiru?

(a) Oryx is adapted to live in hot and arid areas like Africa and Arabia whereas Chiru is adapted to live in steppes and semi-desert areas of cold high mountains of Tibetan Plateau.

(b) Oryx is poached for its antlers whereas Chiru is poached for its musk

(c) Oryx exists in western India only whereas Chiru exists in northeast India only.

(d) None of the statements (a), (b) and (c) given above is correct.

Jungle Fowl

  • The DNA sequencing of 863 genomes has shown the first domestication of chicken occurred in southwestern China, northern Thailand and Myanmar.
  • The study involved sequencing of genomes from all four species of the genus Gallus, five subspecies of Red Jungle Fowl and various domestic chicken breeds collected worldwide.
  • It revealed single domestication from Red Jungle Fowl sub-species Gallus spadiceous.
  • The study also demonstrated that all five Red Jungle Fowl sub-species were genetically differentiated from each other approximately 50,000 years ago much earlier than domestication.
  • The results contradicted the earlier claim that chickens were domesticated in northern China and the Indus Valley.

Domestication of Chicken

  • The question of domestication of chickens has intrigued scientists for centuries and has been the subject of debate.
  • Charles Darwin postulated that chickens were domesticated around 4,000 B.C. from a single ancestor, Red Jungle Fowl in the Indus Valley.
  • An important study published earlier from Uppsala University claimed the Grey Jungle Fowl had contributed to chicken domestication.
  • With this, a couple of studies from India, China and other South-Asian countries have argued the monophyletic origin of chicken.

History- Important places, persons in news

Statistics Day and P.C. Mahalanobis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PC Mahalanobis

Mains level : NA

Statistics Day will be celebrated today on 29th June 2020 to popularize the use of Statistics in everyday life and sensitize the public as to how Statistics helps in shaping and framing policies.

Try this question from CSP 2016:

A recent movie titled The Man Who Knew Infinity is based on the biography of-

(a) S. Ramanujan
(b) S. Chandrasekhar
(c) S. N. Bose
(d) C. V. Raman

Who was P.C. Mahalanobis?

  • Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis (29 June 1893 – 28 June 1972) was an Indian scientist and statistician.
  • He is best remembered for the Mahalanobis distance, a statistical measure, and for being one of the members of the first Planning Commission of free India.
  • He made pioneering studies in anthropometry (the science of obtaining systematic measurements of the human body) in India.
  • He founded the Indian Statistical Institute and contributed to the design of large-scale sample surveys.
  • For his contributions, Mahalanobis has been considered the father of modern statistics in India.

Coronavirus – Economic Issues

Is printing money an option to tide over the crises

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Monetisation of debt

Mains level : Paper 3-Option to find revenue to deal with the crises.

India has been dealing with unprecedented crises-with China on border and with economy and pandemic within. Fighting these crises require resources. So, this article examines the options to raise revenue and the consequences that come with them.

Increase in financial burden to counter China

  •  The Chinese military threat calls for immediate and strategic action by our defence and foreign affairs establishments.
  • India’s war against Pakistan in Kargil in May 1999 provides hints of the financial burden of a military threat.
  • India’s defence expenditure in the war year shot up by nearly 20% from the previous year.
  •  India’s defence budget for the next financial year was 2.7% of nominal GDP, the highest in decades.
  • China is a far mightier power than Pakistan.
  • India’s defence budget has been whittled down to just 2% of GDP for the financial year 2021.
  • China’s defence budget is nearly four times larger.
  • In all likelihood, the Chinese conflict will stretch central government finances by an additional one to two percentage points of GDP.

Economics of healthcare

  •  The combined public health expenditure of States and the central government in India is a mere 1.5% of GDP.
  • While China’s is at 3% and America’s at 9%.
  • The COVID-19 epidemic is expected to linger on for another two years.
  • There is no option other than to significantly ramp up India’s health expenditure.
  • So, government will need additional funds of the equivalent of at least one percentage point of GDP to continue the fight against COVID-19.

But economy is in bad shape

  • India’s economy has four major drivers: 1) Spending on consumption. 2) Government spending. 3) Investment. 4) external trade.
  • Spending by people is the largest contributor to India’s economic growth every year.
  • For every ₹100 in incremental GDP, ₹60 to ₹70 comes from people’s consumption spending.
  • The lockdown shut off people from spending for two full months.
  • India’s economy will contract for the first time in nearly five decades.
  • With the global economy in tatters, trade is not a viable alternative to offset the loss from consumption.
  • Investment is also not a viable option at this stage since the demand for goods and services has fallen dramatically.

So, what we want is new “New Deal”

  • There are only two options to come out of this situation.
  • 1) Either put money in the hands of the needy to stimulate immediate consumption.
  • 2) Or, the government has to embark on a massive spending spree, akin to the “New Deal”.
  • New Deal was a series of programmes and projects instituted in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • Government will need to inject incremental funds of five percentage points of GDP to absorb the economic shock and kick start the spending cycle again.

Findind resources while aoiding “junk rating”

  • Additional expenditure on health, defence and stimulus package plus making up for a shortfall in revenue will lead to a fiscal deficit of 10% of GDP.
  • The only option for the government to finance its needs is to borrow copiously.
  • Borrowing will obviously push up debt to ominous levels.
  • When government debt rises dramatically, it gives rise to a “junk” crisis.
  • With rising debt levels, international rating agencies will likely downgrade India’s investment rating to “junk”.
  • Junk rating will then trigger panic among foreign investors.
  • India thus faces a tough dilemma — save the country’s borders, citizens and economy or prevent a “junk” rating.

Is printing money an option?

  • Economic theory states that if money is printed at will, it can lead to a massive spike in prices and inflation.
  • This theory has fallen flat in the past decade in developed nations such as America.
  • The U.S dollar, by virtue of being the world’s reserve currency, has in-built protection against a currency crisis that can be triggered by at-will printing of money.
  • India don’t have that protection.
  • Hence, the Reserve Bank of India can just create money at will and transfer them to government coffers electronically, some argue.
  • Whether money is printed or borrowed from others, it will still be counted as government debt.
  • And so, cannot escape a potential downgrade to a “junk” rating.

Consider the question “As the government has been dealing with the unprecedented crises, it has to explore the option of monetisation of its debt. Examine the issues with such a move.”

Conclusion

How India emerges from this crisis will shape not just India’s destiny but the world’s. The best course of action is to borrow unabashedly to pull India out of the crisis and deal with the consequences of a potential “junk” nation label.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Online education in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MOOC

Mains level : Paper 2- Adopting online mode for education amid pandemic

What are the benefits of Online Learning in distress situations?

  • In pandemic situation like today’s, where due to nationwide lockdown, all schools, colleges, universities were shut down, online learning comes as a savior to students and provided them with an opportunity to continue learning even while at home.
  • There was anxiety, particularly about the graduating batches of students, lest the ongoing session should be declared a ‘zero semester’. There were attempts from individual teachers to keep their students engaged. A few universities made arrangements for teachers to hold their classes virtually through video conferencing services such as Zoom. These are well-meaning attempts to keep the core educational processes going through this period.
  • Many private and government colleges in the country had been conducting online classes. Very small aperture terminals (VSATs) are still used by top Business schools in the country to create a closed user group (CUGs), which offers online classes globally. However, COVID-19 has hastened
  • Online education, a result of the digital world has brought a lot to the learning table at all levels of education, beginning from preschool up to higher level institutions. The move to remote learning has been enabled by several online tech stacks such as Google Classroom, Blackboard, Big Blue Button, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, all of which play an important role in this transformation.
  • With the development of ICT in education, online video-based micro-courses, e-books, simulations, models, graphics, animations, quizzes, games, and e-notes are making learning more accessible, engaging, and contextualized.
  • To ensure that learning never stops, the online education sector, and mobile networks have become the preferred platform. Teachers are preparing lessons using distance learning tools, and parents are learning new teaching techniques at home. Providing aid are the entrepreneurs offering online learning apps like BYJU’s, Adda24x7, Duolingo, Khan Academy, Witkali and several others.
  • Universities like World University of Design, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Amity, IP University, Lovely Professional University and Mumbai University are offering online classes across different subjects.
  • Schools in 165 countries around the world have closed due to the Corona virus outbreak, according to UNESCO. And, according to the International Telecommunication Union(ITU), more than 1.5 billion school children around the world are using online education, following the global lockdown.
  • Online learning is not for everyone. Schools located in remote areas of the country with limited availability of electricity and internet is making restricted use of WhatsApp to stay connected with their classrooms.

    3.) Less intimidating

    Many students in classroom environments aren’t comfortable speaking in public. In an online environment, it can be much easier to share thoughts with others

    5.) Focus on ideas

    With an estimated 93 percent of communication being non-verbal, online students don’t have to worry about body language interfering with their message. While body language can be effective sometimes, academics are more about ideas, and online education eliminates physical judgments that can cloud rational discussion.

    5.) Focus on ideas

    With an estimated 93 percent of communication being non-verbal, online students don’t have to worry about body language interfering with their message. While body language can be effective sometimes, academics are more about ideas, and online education eliminates physical judgments that can cloud rational discussion.

    8.) Cost

    Although the cost of an online course can be as much or more than a traditional course, students can save money by avoiding many fees typical of campus-based education, including lab fees, commuting costs, parking, hostels, etc. Imagine living in Dhule but going to college in Mumbai.

Issues with draft EIA Notification 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : EIA

Mains level : Paper 3- Environment Impact Assessment

The changes made in the recent notification gives rise to several issues. These changes and issues that could arise are discussed in this article.

  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
  • UNEP defines Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making.
  • It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.
  • Environment Impact Assessment in India is statutorily backed by the Environment Protection Act, 1986 which contains various provisions on EIA methodology and process.

History of EIA in India

  • The Indian experience with Environmental Impact Assessment began over 20 years back. It started in 1976-77 when the Planning Commission asked the Department of Science and Technology to examine the river-valley projects from an environmental angle.
  • Till 1994, environmental clearance from the Central Government was an administrative decision and lacked legislative support.
  • On 27 January 1994, the then Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, promulgated an EIA notification making Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects listed in Schedule 1 of the notification.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) notified new EIA legislation in September 2006.
    • The notification makes it mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbours and airports) and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance.
    • However, unlike the EIA Notification of 1994, the new legislation has put the onus of clearing projects on the state government depending on the size/capacity of the project.

The EIA Process

EIA involves the steps mentioned below. However, the EIA process is cyclical with interaction between the various steps.

  • Screening: The project plan is screened for scale of investment, location and type of development and if the project needs statutory clearance.
  • Scoping: The project’s potential impacts, zone of impacts, mitigation possibilities and need for monitoring.
  • Collection of baseline data: Baseline data is the environmental status of study area.
  • Impact prediction: Positive and negative, reversible and irreversible and temporary and permanent impacts need to be predicted which presupposes a good understanding of the project by the assessment agency.
  • Mitigation measures and EIA report: The EIA report should include the actions and steps for preventing, minimizing or by passing the impacts or else the level of compensation for probable environmental damage or loss.
  • Public hearing: On completion of the EIA report, public and environmental groups living close to project site may be informed and consulted.
  • Decision making: Impact Assessment Authority along with the experts consult the project-in-charge along with consultant to take the final decision, keeping in mind EIA and EMP (Environment Management Plan).
  • Monitoring and implementation of environmental management plan: The various phases of implementation of the project are monitored.
  • Assessment of Alternatives, Delineation of Mitigation Measures and Environmental Impact Assessment Report: For every project, possible alternatives should be identified, and environmental attributes compared. Alternatives should cover both project location and process technologies.
    • Once alternatives have been reviewed, a mitigation plan should be drawn up for the selected option and is supplemented with an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to guide the proponent towards environmental improvements.
  • Risk assessment: Inventory analysis and hazard probability and index also form part of EIA procedures.

Importance of Precautionary Principle

  • The basis in global environmental law for the EIA is the “precautionary principle”.
  • Environmental harm is often irreparable and it is cheaper to avoid damage to the environment than to remedy it.
  • We are legally bound to the precautionary principle under international treaties and obligations, as well as by Supreme Court judgments.

What is the issue?

  • Streamlining the EIA process and bringing it in line with recent judgments are the reasons given by the government for latest notification.
  • The Draft EIA Notification disables it, shrinks its scope and removes what teeth it did have.
  • The most devastating blow to the EIA regime is the creation of an ex-post-facto clearance route. 

1.What is ex-post-facto clearance route?

  • It applies to ongoing or completed project for which an EIA clearance was never sought or granted, and the construction of the project took place regardless.[violating the norms]
  • The project now can be slapped with minor fines for the violations and get cleared.
  • Where such ex-post-facto clearances were being granted previously, the courts cracked down on them as illegal.
  • Therefore, what could not be ratified will now find itself notified.
  • The legality of sidestepping the courts is questionable and will have to be tested.

How it will affect?

  •  It will become a business decision as to whether the
  • There is an argument that this route will be an “exception”.
  • But it is difficult to believe in India. Our law has a long history of expanding the exception into the rule.

Time to furnish response shortened

  • The draft notification also shortens the time for the public to furnish responses on the project.
  • For project-affected people, who are frequently forest dwellers or otherwise do not have access to information and technology.
  • This will make it harder to put forth representations.

2.Monitoring requirements reduced

  • Monitoring requirements have been slackened.
  • The draft EIA notification halves the frequency of reporting requirements from every six months to once a year.
  • It also extends the validity period for approvals in critical sectors such as mining.

3.Scope of EIA reduced

  • Industries that previously required a full assessment have been downgraded.
  • The construction industry will be one such beneficiary, where only the largest projects will be scrutinised fully.
  • While defence and national security installations were always understandably exempt, a vague new category of projects “involving other strategic considerations” will also now be free from public consultation requirements.

4.Recent industrial mishaps

  • Oil India Limited’s oil wells in the Tinsukia district, Assam went up in flames this month.
  • It is situated only a few kilometres away from protected forest.
  • Recent processes for expansion and modification apparently took place without fresh environmental clearance.
  • There was a deadly gas leak at LG Polymers’ Visakhapatnam plant in May.
  • The plant had been operating without a valid environmental clearance for decades.

Consider the question “Examine the changes made in the draft EIA Notification and what are the issues with it? “

Way Forward

On a positive note, the 2020 draft notification has a clause dedicated to definitions to several terms related to EIA. It may be beneficial in the sense that it consolidates the EIA rules and has the potential of alleviating some ambiguity in the present law.

  • The ministry, instead of reducing the time for public consultation, should focus on ensuring access to information as well as awareness about the public hearing and its impact upon the whole EIA process.
  • In order to improve ease of doing business, the government should bring down the average delay of 238 days in granting environmental clearance, that emanates from bureaucratic delays and complex laws.
  • Grow now, sustain later should not be the policy, as the notion is dangerously tilted against the concept of sustainable development.

Conclusion

Environmental regulation must balance damage to the environment with sustainable development and possible benefits but the new notification lays more emphasis on the benefits and so must be reconsidered.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Will banning Chinese imports hurt India’s exports?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : India-China trade relations

  • Following the recent clashes with Chinese troops in Ladakh, there has been a growing clamour in the country to boycott goods from the neighbouring country.
  • However, the development has caused an alarm among various industry bodies that are concerned about the adverse impact in the event of a blanket ban on exports in several sectors.

Practice question for mains:

Q.“Curbing Chinese imports to India will do more harm than any good”. Analyse.

How dependent is India on Chinese imports?

China accounts for a sizable portion of India’s top imports, especially where intermediate products or components and raw materials are concerned.  Electronics: The neighbouring country also accounts for 45 per cent of India’s total electronics imports.

  • A third of machinery and almost two-fifths of organic chemicals that India purchases from the world come from China.
  • Automotive parts and fertilizers are other items where China’s share in India’s import is more than 25 per cent.
  • Several of these products are used by Indian manufacturers in the production of finished goods, thus thoroughly integrating China in India’s manufacturing supply chain.
  • For instance India sources close to 90 per cent of certain mobile phone parts from China.

India’s export to China

  • Even as an export market, China is a major partner for India. At $15.5 billion, it is the third-largest destination for Indian shipments.
  • At the same time, India only accounts for a little over two per cent of China’s total exports, according to the Federation of Indian Export Organisation (FIEO).

How could a blanket ban on Chinese imports hit India’s exports?

  • Across sectors from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and automobiles, industry associations have been speaking up against a complete boycott of Chinese imports.
  • A “blanket ban” may not be feasible because of India’s dependence on the country for crucial raw materials.
  • Banning the imports of raw materials from China without which products over here cannot be manufactured will make things difficult.
  • If China takes any retaliatory measures, it would impact India more negatively.

Most crucial: The Pharma sector could be worst hit

  • For instance, of the nearly $3.6 billion worth of ingredients that Indian drug-makers import to manufacture several essential medicines, China catered to around 68 per cent.
  • India is considered one of the largest pharma industries in the world and accounts for a considerable portion of imports of finished formulations by other large economies like the US.
  • While pharma consignments from China have unofficially been stopped at ports in India, and are expected to be cleared after thorough checks,
  • A ban could create shortages of medicines both for India’s domestic and export markets.

Are there any alternatives in this situation?

  • The decision to boycott non-essential products made in China can be left to the individuals.
  • However, trade-related measures like raising duties on cheaper raw materials imported from China would be better than an outright embargo.
  • This would still allow access to crucial ingredients in the short-term while India looks to build self-reliance or maybe switch to alternate trade partners.
  • It would be better to maybe raise duties on cheaper raw materials instead of going in for a blanket ban.

Alternatives to Chinese imports

  • Countries like the US, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico and certain European countries could be tapped as alternate import sources for some critical electronic, vehicular and pharmaceutical components as well.
  • It is likely that the costs of the raw materials from these alternate sources will be higher and may get passed on to consumers if the manufacturers cannot absorb them.
  • India will need to look into the totality of its trade with China and Hong Kong and implement certain short- to long-term plans to reduce its dependence on them, according to FIEO.

Way forward

  • The government’s “Atmanirbhar” focus is expected to help ministries handhold industries where self-reliance needs to be built.
  • Some measures, like the decision to push bulk drug parks in India, have to be executed.
  • While an increase in tariff can be one way to achieve import substitution, the more effective strategy would be to provide an ecosystem that addresses the cost disability of Indian manufacturing leading to such imports.