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Reform in India’s reservation system

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 14,15,16

Mains level : Paper 2- Need for reforms in India's reservation system

Context

While it is undeniable that affirmative action has been one of the protagonists of Indian democracy’s success stories, these have also accumulated a fair share of problems and call for immediate policy attention and debate.

Problems with the current policy of reservation

  • With the reservation of seats in political and public institutions of the state, it was thought that the hitherto marginalised groups would be able to find place in the power sharing and decision-making processes.
  • This strategy of removal of disabilities has not translated into an equalisation of life chances for many groups in our heterogeneous society.

What are the problems?

1) Problem of reification

  • The Justice G. Rohini Commission’s report on the sub-categorisation of OBCs based on the last five years’ data on  central government jobs and OBC admissions to central higher education institutions highlights this problem.
  • The commission concluded that 97% of central OBC quota benefits go to just under 25% of its castes.
  • As many as 983 OBC communities — 37% of the total — have zero representation in both central government jobs and admissions to central universities.
  • Also, the report states that just 10% of the OBC communities have accrued 24.95% of jobs and admissions.
  • Clearly, the assumption that the disadvantages of every sub-group within each category are the same is severely misplaced.
  • Consequently, asymmetrical distribution of reservation has severely deterred political projects of unified subaltern solidarity.

2) Insufficiency of data

  • There is a dire need of accurate data pertaining to the socio-economic condition of different social groups.
  • Though caste-based reservations have been pivotal in animating upward social mobility we hardly have sufficient data about the actual reach and access of this policy measure.
  • We do not know what liberalisation has done to castes which remained tied to more traditional sources of income and were incapable of realising the new opportunities provided by the opening of the economy.
  • What is urgently required is a mechanism that can address this lacuna and make the system more accountable and sensitive to intra-group demands.

Way forward

  • Since every further categorisation will only lead to reification and fragmentation in the long run, two things are required.
  • Evidence based policy option: We need to develop a wide variety of context-sensitive, evidence-based policy options that can be tailored to meet specific requirements of specific groups.
  • Institution: We need an institution alike the Equal Opportunities Commission of the United States or the United Kingdom which can undertake two important but interrelated things:
  • 1) Make a deprivation index correlating data from the socio-economic-based census of different communities.
  • 2) Undertake an audit on performance of employers and educational institutions on non-discrimination and equal opportunity and issue codes of good practice in different sectors.
  • This will make the formulation of policy and its monitoring simpler at an institutional level.
  • Similar suggestions were made a decade ago in the recommendations that the expert committee for an Equal Opportunities Commission (2008) made in its comprehensive report that it submitted to the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

Conclusion

As evident, a socio-economic caste-based census becomes a necessary precondition to initiate any meaningful reform in the affirmative action regime in India.

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Disinvestment in India

National monetisation pipeline has narrow outlook

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NMP

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues with National Monetisation Policy

Context

Recently, FM announced the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) to lease a slew of “brownfield” (already developed) but underutilised public sector assets to the private sector with the objective of raising Rs 6 lakh crore.

About the NMP

  • The assets identified for lease include roads, railways, ports, power, mining, aviation, oil and gas pipelines, warehouses, hotels and even two sports stadia.
  • The idea is to create “structured public-private partnerships” to unlock value from public sector assets and to recycle the revenues so raised into new infrastructure.
  • But the move raises several concerns.

3 concerns with NMP

1) Government is preferring financial value of assets over public welfare

  • The design of the NMP is out of sync with existential challenges — global warming, pandemics, geopolitical chaos and fundamentalism.
  •  The assets are valued on the basis of conventional financial metrics (enterprise value, book value, net present value, the costs of comparable assets).
  • The model seemingly absolves the government from the responsibility to unlock the intrinsic “social” (to include “smart” and “clean” ) value of these assets.

2) It will lead to concentration of capital

  • NMP is designed to attract deep-pocketed financial institutions (PE firms) and industrial conglomerates.
  • This is because the valuations are so high that few other entities will have the resources or the risk carrying capacity to respond.
  • The result will be a deepening of the concentration of capital and existing inequalities.
  • There will be economic and social implications.

3) Addressing the system problem

  • The government should have asked itself a fundamental question before placing a substantial share of public assets on the block:
  • Why have these assets been so poorly managed?
  • Was it because of bad leadership, inadequate talent within the PSEs, and/or systemic and structural shortcomings?
  • If the reason for low productivity was poor leadership or lack of talent, the transfer of these assets to a different, private sector-led organisational and investment structure would make sense.
  • Structural issues: But if the reason had to do with structural impediments, then such a change may not be warranted, at least not in the first instance.
  •  The example, gas pipelines GAIL are hugely underutilized, but this is not because of the “inefficiency” of GAIL, the PSE operator.
  • It is because of structural factors such as the shortage of domestic gas supplies; the regressive taxation system; the relatively uncompetitive price of gas and the perennial tussle between the Centre and state governments over land access.
  • A similar point can be made about most of the other assets identified for monetisation.
  • Their low productivity is because their PSE operators have faced a combination of systemic hurdles related to weak dispute resolution mechanisms; regulatory miasma; lack of transparency in governance; pricing distortions and intrusive bureaucratic intervention.
  • Way forward: So, until and unless these systemic problems are addressed, the private sector will find it difficult to harness the full value of these assets and the transfer of operatorship to them will offer at best a partial palliative.

Conclusion

Private-public investment structures make sense, but they must be modeled to also generate social value. In today’s world, there are no shortcuts to sustainable development.

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Hunger and Nutrition Issues – GHI, GNI, etc.

The nutrition-hygiene link

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Environmental enteropathy

Mains level : Paper 2- Addressing the nutrition problem through WASH

Context

A recent UNICEF report stated that nearly 12 lakh children could die in low-income countries in the next six months due to a decrease in routine health services and an increase in wasting. Nearly three lakh such children would be from India.

Problem of nutrition in India and factors responsible for it

  • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS 5) indicates that since the onset of the pandemic, acute undernourishment in children below the age of five has worsened.
  • According to the latest data, 37.9 per cent of children under five are stunted, and 20.8 per cent are wasted — a form of malnutrition in which children are too thin for their height.
  • Comparison with other countries: This is much higher than in other developing countries where, on average, 25 per cent of children suffer from stunting and 8.9 per cent are wasted.
  • Factors: Inadequate dietary intake is the most direct cause of undernutrition.
  • Several other factors also affect nutritional outcomes, such as contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation, and unhygienic living conditions.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, 50 per cent of all mal- and under-nutrition can be traced to diarrhoea and intestinal worm infections.
  • Nutrition and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are intricately linked, and changes in one tend, directly or indirectly, to affect the other.
  • Poor hygiene and sanitation in developing countries lead to a sub-clinical condition called “environmental enteropathy” in children.
  • Environmental enteropathy is a disorder of the intestine which prevents the proper absorption of nutrients, rendering them effectively useless.
  • Childhood diarrhoea is a major public health problem in low- and middle-income countries, leading to high mortality in children under five.
  • According to NFHS 4, approximately 9 percent of children under five years of age in India experience diarrhoeal disease.

Way forward

  • Investment in WASH: The link between WASH and nutrition suggests that greater attention to, and investments in, WASH are a sure-shot way of bolstering the country’s nutritional status.
  • Addressing nutrition sanitation problems together: Both WASH and nutrition must be addressed together through a lens of holistic, sustainable community engagement to enable long-term impact.
  • One of the first instances of the link between WASH and nutrition appeared in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which urges states to ensure “adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water” to combat disease and malnutrition.
  • Safe drinking water, proper sanitation, and hygiene can significantly reduce diarrhoeal and nutritional deaths.
  • Multistructural approach: What we require is a coordinated, multisectoral approach among the health, water, sanitation, and hygiene bodies, not to mention strong community engagement.
  • WHO has estimated that access to proper water, hygiene, and sanitation can prevent the deaths of at least 8,60,000 children a year caused by undernutrition.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, all sides are working towards a common goal: A safe and healthy population and the hope that the 75th year of Independence becomes a watershed moment in India’s journey.

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BRICS Summits

BRICS

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BRICS summits headed by India

Mains level : Paper 2- BRICS and challenges

Context

The 13th BRICS summit is set to be held on September 9 in digital format under India’s chairmanship

Challenges and opportunities for BRICS

  • The importance of BRICS is self-evident: it represents 42% of the world’s population, 30% of the land area, 24% of global GDP and 16% of international trade.
  • Weathering geopolitical challenges: Member states have been carrying BRICS forward in an era of complex geopolitics.
  • They have bravely continued holding dozens of meetings and summits, even as India-China relations were strained after Galwan valley incident.
  • Internal challenges: There is also the reality of the strained relations of China and Russia with the West, and of serious internal challenges preoccupying both Brazil and South Africa.
  • On the other hand, a potential bond emerged due to the battle against COVID-19.
  • Challenges to trade ties: BRICS has been busy deepening trade and investment ties among its member states.
  • The difficulty stems from China’s centrality and dominance of intra-BRICS trade flows.
  • How to create a better internal balance remains a challenge, reinforced by the urgent need for diversification and strengthening of regional value chains.
  • China’s aggression: Beijing’s aggressive policy, especially against India, puts BRICS solidarity under exceptional strain.
  • Lack of support: BRICS countries have not done enough to assist the Global South to win their optimal support for their agenda.

Does BRICS truly matter?

  • The grouping has gone through a reasonably productive journey.
  • Acts as a bridge: It strove to serve as a bridge between the Global North and Global South.
  • It developed a common perspective on a wide range of global and regional issues.
  • It established the New Development Bank; created a financial stability net in the form of Contingency Reserve Arrangement; and is on the verge of setting up a Vaccine Research and Development Virtual Center.

Immediate goals: 4 priorities

  • As the current chair, India has outlined four priorities.
  • Reforms of multilateral institutions: The first is to pursue reform of multilateral institutions ranging from the United Nations, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the World Trade Organization and now even the World Health Organization.
  • Reform needs global consensus which is hardly feasible in the current climate of strategic contestation between the U.S. and China and the devastation caused by COVID-19.
  • Nevertheless, Indian officials rightly remind us that BRICS emerged from the desire to challenge dominance (by the U.S.) in the early years of the century, and it remains committed to the goal of counter-dominance (by China) now.
  • Combating terrorism: Tragic developments concerning Afghanistan have helped to focus attention sharply on this overarching theme, stressing the need to bridge the gap between rhetoric and action.
  • China, for example, feels little hesitation in supporting clear-cut denunciations of terrorist groups and supports Pakistan, which is host to several international terrorist groups.
  • BRICS is attempting to pragmatically shape its counter-terrorism strategy by crafting the BRICS Counter Terrorism Action Plan.
  • Counter Terrorism Action Plan contains specific measures to fight radicalisation, terrorist financing and misuse of the Internet by terrorist groups.
  • Technology and digital solution: Promoting technological and digital solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals and expanding people-to-people cooperation are the other two BRICS priorities.

Conclusion

It is necessary for leaders, officials and academics of this grouping to undertake serious soul-searching and find a way out of the present predicament.

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RBI Notifications

Indian Banks join ‘Account Aggregators Network’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Account Aggregators

Mains level : Read the attached story

Eight of India’s major banks — State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, IDFC First Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, HDFC Bank, IndusInd Bank and Federal Bank has joined the Account Aggregator (AA) network that will enable customers to easily access and share their financial data.

What is an Account Aggregators (AA)?

  • According to the RBI, an AA is a non-banking financial company engaged in the business of providing, under a contract, the service of retrieving or collecting financial information pertaining to its customer.
  • It is also engaged in consolidating, organizing, and presenting such information to the customer or any other financial information user as may be specified by the bank.
  • The AA framework was created through an inter-regulatory decision by RBI and other regulators.
  • These regulators include SEBI, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, and Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) through an initiative of the Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC).
  • The license for AAs is issued by the RBI, and the financial sector will have many AAs.
  • The framework allows customers to avail themselves of various financial services from a host of providers on a single portal based on a consent method, under which the consumers can choose what financial data to share and with which entity.

What does an AA do?

  • Reduce bank traffic: It reduces the need for individuals to wait in long bank queues, use Internet banking portals, share their passwords, or seek out physical notarization to access and share their financial documents.
  • Data security: An AA is a financial utility for the secure flow of data controlled by the individual.
  • Data flow: AA is an exciting addition to India’s digital infrastructure as it will allow banks to access consented data flows and verified data.
  • Reduced cost: This will help banks reduce transaction costs, which will enable us to offer lower ticket size loans and more tailored products and services to our customers.
  • Transaction security: It will also help us reduce fraud and comply with upcoming privacy laws.

How does it work?

  • It has a three-tier structure:
  1. Account Aggregator
  2. FIP (Financial Information Provider) and
  3. FIU (Financial Information User)
  • A FIP is the data fiduciary, which holds customers’ data. It can be a bank, NBFC, mutual fund, insurance repository, or pension fund repository.
  • An FIU consumes the data from a FIP to provide various services to the consumer.
  • An FIU is a lending bank that wants access to the borrower’s data to determine if the borrower qualifies for a loan.
  • Banks play a dual role – as a FIP and as an FIU.
  • An AA should not support transactions by customers but should ensure appropriate mechanisms for proper customer identification.
  • An AA should share information only with the customer to whom it relates or any other financial information user as authorized by the customer

What purpose does it serve?

  • AA creates secure, digital access to personal data at a time when Covid-19 has led to restrictions on physical interaction.
  • It reduces the fraud associated with physical data by introducing secure digital signatures and end-to-end encryption for data sharing.
  • These capabilities in turn open up many possibilities.
  • For instance, whereas physical collateral is usually required for an MSME loan, with secure data sharing via AA, ‘information collateral’ (or data on future MSME income) can be used to access a small formal loan.
  • HDFC Bank and Axis Bank have been using AA for auto loans, Lending Kart for MSME loans, and IndusInd Bank for personal finance management.

What data can be shared?

  • An Account Aggregator allows a customer to transfer his financial information pertaining to various accounts such as banks deposits, equity, mutual fund, and pension funds to any entity requiring access to such information.
  • There are 19 categories of information that fall under ‘financial information, besides various other categories relating to banking and investments.
  • For sharing of such information, the FIU is required to initiate a request for consent by way of any platform/app run by the AA.
  • Such a request is received by the individual customer through the AA, and the information is shared by the AA, after consent is obtained.
  • The AA framework is an excellent initiative that will compile all the digital footprints of the customer in one place and make it easy for lenders like us to access it.
  • It will enable us to provide very quick turnarounds to our customers.

Can an AA see or store data?

  • Data transmitted through the AA is encrypted. AAs are not allowed to store, process and sell the customer’s data.
  • No financial information accessed by the AA from a FIP should reside with the AA.
  • It should not use the services of a third-party service provider for undertaking the business of account aggregation.
  • User authentication credentials of customers relating to accounts with various FIPs shall not be accessed by the AA.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RELOS

Mains level : Various logistics agreement mentioned

India is all set to conclude the bilateral logistics agreement with Russia soon while the agreement with the U.K. is in the final stages of conclusion.

What is Logistics Agreement?

  • The agreements are administrative arrangements facilitating access to military facilities for exchange of fuel and provisions on mutual agreement simplifying logistical support and increasing operational turnaround of the military when operating away from India.
  • India has signed several logistics agreements with all Quad countries, France, Singapore and South Korea beginning with the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the U.S. in 2016.

Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS)

  • RELOS gives India access to Russian facilities in the Arctic region which is seeing increased global activity as new shipping routes open up and India’s own investments in the Russian Far East.
  • In addition, it comes at a time when both nations are looking at significantly scaling up the already broad military-to-military cooperation.

The RELOS is likely to be signed in a month or two while the one with the U.K. is in the final stages and should see a conclusion soon.

Foundational agreements with the US

  • India has now signed all four foundational agreements with the US, LEMOA in 2016, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA)in 2020.
  • While the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was signed a long time ago, an extension to it, the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), was signed in 2019.
  • India now has access to encrypted communication systems from the U.S. under COMCASA and to geospatial information through BECA which cumulatively have been beneficial.
  • The agreements with the US and those with Australia and Japan have been especially beneficial as they also operate several common military platforms along with India’s increasing share of U.S. origin platforms.

Back2Basics:

BECA

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

LEMOA

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

COMCASA

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

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Wood Wide Web?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Wood wide web

Mains level : Not Much

Plants appear to be simple enough in their organization. Whether small shrubs or tall trees, all they seem to be made up of is leaves, flowers, fruits, stems, and roots. But simple they are not. Being rooted in one spot has required very special personality traits.

Wood Wide Web

  • Trees in the forest share resources by using an underground network.
  • A scientist from the University of British Columbia, Dr. Suzanne Simard, revealed this network and called it the wood wide web.
  • In the wood wide web, mycorrhizal fungi colonize the plant roots, and their tiny fungal filaments, or mycelia, connect hairy root tips of different trees together.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi refer to the role they play in the plant’s root system—as symbionts.
  • These root-associated fungi are harmless to plants. Instead, they form harmonious symbiotic relationships with plants.

An ancient association

  • The association between plants and fungi is ancient.
  • Fossils of plants from about 400 million years ago show the first evidence of roots, and these roots are fungus associations – rhizoids – suggesting that roots co-evolved with fungi.
  • One good example is species of Penicillium, the fungus from which Alexander Fleming isolated the antibiotic penicillin.
  • Fungus–root associations, called mycorrhizae, appear at first glance to be simple mutualisms that are beneficial to both.
  • The root-invading fungus gains nutrients made by the plant, and the plants get difficult-to-find minerals like phosphorus from the microbe. But the association is deeper.

How does it work?

  • The wood wide web works by offering a win-win situation for all parties: mycorrhizal fungi and trees.
  • The fungal filaments transport nitrogen, phosphorous, water, and other hard-to-capture nutrients from the soil to the trees, in exchange for carbon-rich sugars made by the plants.
  • The fungi also help deliver substances from one tree to its neighboring trees.
  • By using the network, mature trees feed their seedlings with nutrients to boost their survival.
  • When a plant is sick or dying, it can allocate its nutrients to the other plants nearby through the wood wide web.

Benefits offered

  • Bacteria that associate with roots are called rhizobacteria, and a very wide range of these species are plant growth promoters.
  • Like the fungi, mutualism operates in these relationships too. In exchange for sugars, these bacteria offer plants a wide range of benefits.
  • They may help plants ward off pathogens that cause diseases of the root. They may even trigger systemic resistance to a pathogen throughout the plant.

Back2Basics: Symbiotic Relationship

Parasitism

  • It is a type of interaction between two species that results in damage and harm to one member and benefit to another member.
  • Ex. As in the case of the tick-host relationship, the tick gains benefit by sucking blood while the host is harmed as it loses blood.

Commensalism

  • In this type of relationship one species benefits without affecting the other.
  • Barnacles growing on the back of the whale, orchids growing as an epiphyte on some mango branch, cattle egret and grazing cattle in close association, Sea anemone, and the Clown Fish are some of the classic examples of Commensalism.

Amensalism

  • In this relationship, one species is harmed while the other is neither harmed nor benefitted and remains unaffected.
  • When an organism excretes the chemicals as a part of the normal metabolism of its own, but which may severely impact other nearby species, this kind of relationship is seen.

Mutualism

  • In this type of relationship both the partners benefit from one another. When similar interaction occurs within a species, it is known as cooperation.
  • Lichens a mutual relationship between algae and fungus. In this mutual cooperation, fungus gives protection and raw material for the preparation of the food while Green Algae synthesizes the food for both.

Saprophytism

  • In this kind of biotic interaction, certain organisms live on dead and decaying organic matter.
  • Dung Beetles, Vultures, Fungi, Bacteria, Protozoa are the example of Saprophytism.

Predation

  • In this type of biological interaction, a predator feeds upon its prey and in this type of relationship, one species is benefitted while the other is harmed.

Competition

  • In this type of interaction both the species compete with each other for the resources like food, shelter, mating, and both the species get harmed out of the process of competition.

Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Visva-Bharati University

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Vishwa Bharati University

Mains level : Not Much

The Calcutta High Court has directed that there can be no protest by the students within 50 meters of academic buildings at Visva-Bharati University.

Visva-Bharati

  • Visva-Bharati is a central research university and an Institution of National Importance located in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, India.
  • It was founded by Rabindranath Tagore who called it Visva-Bharati, which means the communion of the world with India.
  • Until independence, it was a college.
  • Soon after independence, the institution was given the status of a central university in 1951 by an act of the Parliament.

Its history

  • The origins of the institution date back to 1863 when Debendranath Tagore was given a tract of land by the zamindar of Raipur, zamindar of Kirnahar.
  • He set up an ashram at the spot that has now come to be called chatim tala at the heart of the town.
  • The ashram was initially called Brahmacharya Ashram, which was later renamed Brahmacharya Vidyalaya.
  • It was established with a view to encouraging people from all walks of life to come to the spot and meditate.
  • In 1901 his youngest son Rabindranath Tagore established a co-educational school inside the premises of the ashram.
  • From 1901 onwards, Tagore used the ashram to organize the Hindu Mela, which soon became a center of nationalist activity.