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Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Alignment of interests in the Quad

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CAATSA

Mains level : Paper 2- India-U.S. relations

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo makes his way to India next week, exactly a week before the election. This article discusses the various aspects that could form the part of the discussion.

Difference in U.S’s and India’s position on Quad

  • He has stated that meeting in India “would include discussions about how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party”.
  • Just a few weeks ago, at the Quad Foreign Ministers meeting, U.S. Secretary of State had called for collaboration to protect people and partners from the Chinese Communist Party’s exploitation, corruption, and coercion.
  •  In contrast, India has maintained that its membership of the Quad is aligned to its Indo-Pacific policy, and by no means directed against any country.
  • While Chines aggression is changing India’s priorities, any shift in India’s position on the Quad at the U.S.’s prompting must also benefit India.

What should be the part of U.S.-India collaboration

  • It is critical to study just how India hopes to collaborate with the U.S. on the challenge that Beijing poses on each of India’s three fronts: at the LAC, in the maritime sphere, and in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region surrounding India.
  • On the maritime sphere, discussions will include strengthening ties in the Indo-Pacific, enhancing joint military exercises like the ‘Malabar’ and completing the last of the “foundational agreements” with the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA).
  • In Male, the U.S. has announced a defence agreement that will pave the way for a strategic dialogue.
  • And unlike in the past, India has not objected this agreement with Male for entering in its area of influence in the Indian Ocean Region, as it will allow the U.S. to counter Chinese influence there.
  • With Sri Lanka the U.S. is in discussions on infrastructure projects, and progress on its “Millenium Challenge Corporation” (MCC) offer of a five-year aid grant of about $480 million.
  • At a time when India is delaying Sri Lanka’s requests for debt relief, given its own economic constraints, the U.S. aid offer will be seen as one way of staving off China’s inroads into Sri Lanka.
  • Most important will be how the U.S. and India can collaborate on dealing with India’s most immediate, continental challenge from China: at the LAC.
  • Apart from enhancing and expediting U.S. defence sales to India, there is must the U.S. could promise to India.
  • The U.S. must also commit to keeping the pressure on Pakistan on terrorism, despite the U.S. need for Pakistan’s assistance in Afghan-Taliban talks.
  • A firm U.S. statement in this regard may also disperse the pressure the Indian military faces in planning for a “two-front” conflict with China.

Resolving other key issues with the U.S.

  • Resolution of Trade issues, an area the Trump administration has been particularly tough, and restoration of India’s Generalised System of Preferences status for exporters should also be priority.
  • The government could press for more cooperation on 5G technology sharing, or an assurance that its S-400 missile system purchase from Russia will receive an exemption from CAATSA sanctions.

Conclusion

By inviting Secretary of State this close to the U.S. elections, New Delhi has taken a calculated and bold gamble, however, our leaders must drive a harder bargain to consolidate the pay-offs from the visit.


Back2Basics: What is CAATSA?

  • The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a U.S. federal law that imposes economic sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea.
  • The bill came into effect on August 2, 2017, with the intention of countering perceived aggressions against the U.S. government by foreign powers.
  • It accomplishes this goal by preventing U.S. companies from doing business with sanctioned entities.

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

Promotion of nutri-cereals(Millet crop) in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cereals producer states in India

Mains level : Paper 3- Encouraging cereals production in India to deal with the health issue

Promotion of millet crops serves the dual purpose of securing health and supporting farmers. This article explains the strategy adopted by the government to achieve the same.

Millet crops in India

  • The three major millet crops currently growing in India are jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) and ragi (finger millet).
  • India also grows a rich array of bio-genetically diverse and indigenous varieties of “small millets” like kodo, kutki, chenna and sanwa.
  • Major producers include Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana.

Advantages of millet cultivation

  • Millets are good for the soil, have shorter cultivation cycles and require less cost-intensive cultivation.
  • These unique features make millets suited for and resilient to India’s varied agro-climatic conditions.
  • Millets are not water or input-intensive, making them a sustainable strategy for addressing climate change and building resilient agri-food systems.

Reasons for decline in millet production in India

  • In the 1960s before the Green Revolution, millets were extensively grown and consumed in India.
  • With the Green Revolution, the focus, rightly so, shifted to food security and high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice.
  • An unintended consequence of this policy was the gradual decline in the production of millets.
  • Millets were increasingly seen as “poor person’s food”.
  • The cost incentives provided via MSPs also favoured a handful of staple grains.

Health issues related to refined food

  • Along with declining millet production, India saw a jump in consumer demand for ultra-processed and ready-to-eat products, which are high in sodium, sugar, trans-fats and even some carcinogens.
  • This demand was again met by highly-refined grains.
  • With the intense marketing of processed foods, even the rural population started perceiving mill-processed rice and wheat as more aspirational.
  • This has lead us to the double burden of mothers and children suffering from micronutrient deficiencies and the astounding prevalence of diabetes and obesity.

Strategy for promotion of nutri-cereals

1) Rebranding the cereals as nutri-cereals

  • The first strategy from a consumption and trade point of view was to re-brand coarse cereals/millets as nutri-cereals.
  • As of 2018-19, millet production had been extended to over 112 districts across 14 states.

2) Incentive through hiking MSP

  • Second, the government hiked the MSP of nutri-cereals, which came as a big price incentive for farmers.
  • From 2014-15 to 2020 MSPs for ragi has jumped by 113 per cent, by 72 per cent for bajra and by 71 per cent for jowar.
  • MSPs have been calculated so that the farmer is ensured at least a 50 per cent return on their cost of production.

3) Providing steady markets through inclusion in PDS

  • To provide a steady market for the produce, the Modi government included millets in the public distribution system.

4) Increasing area, production and yield

  • The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare is running a Rs 600-crore scheme to increase the area, production and yield of nutri-cereals.
  • With a goal to match the cultivation of nutri-cereals with local topography and natural resources, the government is encouraging farmers to align their local cropping patterns to India’s diverse 127 agro-climatic zones.
  • Provision of seed kits and inputs to farmers, building value chains through Farmer Producer Organisations and supporting the marketability of nutri-cereals are some of the key interventions that have been put in place.

5) Intersection of agriculture and nutrition

  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development has been working at the intersection of agriculture and nutrition by -1) setting up nutri-gardens, 2) promoting research on the interlinkages between crop diversity and dietary diversity 3) running a behaviour change campaign to generate consumer demand for nutri-cereals.

Consider the question “What are the reasons for decline in the millet production in India? What are the steps taken by the government to encourage its production?”

Conclusion

As the government sets to achieve its agenda of a malnutrition-free India and doubling of farmers’ incomes, the promotion of the production and consumption of nutri-cereals seems to be a policy shift in the right direction.

Human Rights Issues

NHRC advisory on Sex Work

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NHRC

Mains level : Sex workers

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recognised sex workers as informal workers in their advisory on “Human Rights of Women in the context of COVID 19”.

Try this question for mains:

Q.Recognizing sex workers as informal workers is a myopic and moralistic objection of human rights activism. Discuss.

What is the NHRC advisory?

  • The NHRC in an effort to secure the rights of all excluded and marginalised women included sex workers as informal workers in their advisory on ‘Women at Work’.
  • The advisory asked officials to recognise sex workers as informal workers and register them so they are able to avail the benefits of a worker.
  • The Ministries have been asked to issue temporary documents so that the sex workers like all other informal workers, can access all welfare measures and health services.

Why is the advisory important?

  • The advisory included sex workers among groups that they were considered as part of vulnerable and marginal sections of society thereby consider them as citizens who are deserving of the protection of human rights.
  • To do this, NHRC had sought expert advice, and both the government and constitutional bodies had stood by the protection of the human rights and dignity of sex workers.
  • For many, it is a welcome move and an important milestone in achieving constitutional rights for sex workers.

Legality check of such work

  • The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act — lays down that the institution of prostitution is illegal.
  • Sex is either a consensual engagement between two adults or it is rape.
  • Commercial sex, if engaged through any institutional process is illegal and liable for prosecution. Hence the Government of India never recognised sex work.

Criticisms of this advisory

  • The feminists who wish to end sex slavery are critical of this NHRC’s move.
  • There has not been a single instance where a woman has voluntarily gone into prostitution.
  • Therefore they have regarded this as an absolute failure to not provide viable options to women to engage in productive work.

Back2Basics: National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

  • The NHRC is a statutory public body constituted on 12 October 1993 under the Protection of Human Rights Ordinance of 28 September 1993.
  • It was given a statutory basis by the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (PHRA).
  • This act defines Human Rights as “Rights Relating To Life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.

Functions

  • Proactively or reactively inquire into violations of human rights by the government of India or negligence of such violation by a public servant
  • Protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation

Composition

The NHRC consists of The Chairman and Four members (excluding the ex-officio members)

  • A Chairperson, who has been a Chief Justice of India or a Judge of the Supreme Court
  • One member who is, or has been, a Judge of the Supreme Court of India, or, One member who is, or has been, the Chief Justice of a High Court
  • Three Members, out of which at least one shall be a woman to be appointed from amongst persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights
  • In addition, the Chairpersons of National Commissions serve as ex officio members.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

UN Report on Gender Gap in Labour Market

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Gender gap in labor market

Gender equality across the world remains a far-fetched goal and no country has achieved it so far, according to the 2020 edition of the United Nations report on the state of gender equality in the world.

Try this question for mains:

Q.Discuss how marriage age and women’s health are linked with each other?

About the Report

  • The report titled “World’s Women: Trends and Statistics” was released by the UN-DESA.
  • The report provided a reality-check on the global status of women 25 years since the world adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
  • It presented the global state of gender equality in six critical areas: Population and families; health; education; economic empowerment and asset ownership; power and decision-making; and violence against women and the girl child as well as the impact of COVID-19.

Highlights on status of women

  • The gender gap in the labour market, for example, has not budged a bit since 1995.
  • While the status of women has improved with regard to education, early marriage, childbearing and maternal mortality, the progress has stagnated in other areas.

Participation in the labour market

  • The gender gap in the labour market has remained as it was since 1995: The gap of 27 percentage points has barely changed since then, the report showed.
  • Only 47 per cent women of working age participated in the labour market, compared to around 74 per cent men, according to the report.
  • The largest gender gap in labour force participation was observed in the prime working age (25-54).
  • This gap has remained unaddressed since 1995 and was at 32 percentage points as of 2020, according to the report. It was 31 percentage points in 1995.
  • In India, the ratio of female-to-male labour force participation rate was 29.80 in 2019 as against the desired ratio of 50 per cent.

Working for free

  • The data in the interactive UN report showed how women remained under the burden of unpaid domestic and care work.
  • On an average day, women globally spent about three times (4.2 hours) as many hours on unpaid domestic and care work as men (1.7 hours).
  • Unpaid domestic work includes activities related to the maintenance of the household, including food preparation, upkeep of the home, caring for pets etc.

Family responsibilities

  • Family responsibilities and unequal distribution of unpaid domestic and care workers were among the primary reasons for women not joining the labour force.
  • Their participation depended on their liabilities and responsibilities in their household, noted UN. It found that women living alone were more likely to be in the labour market.
  • On an average, 82 per cent women of prime working-age living alone were in the labour market, compared to 64 per cent women living with a partner and 48 per cent living with a partner and children.
  • Their participation rates in the economy were found to improve in the latter part of their lives after their responsibilities reduced — when their children grew older.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx lands on Asteroid Bennu

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Asteroids, Bennu

Mains level : NASA's feat of landing on an asteroid

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched asteroid Bennu, from where it is meant to collect samples of dust and pebbles and deliver them back to Earth in 2023.

The OSIRIS-REx mission

  • OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. This is NASA’s first mission meant to return a sample from the ancient asteroid.
  • The mission is essentially a seven-year-long voyage and will conclude when at least 60 grams of samples are delivered back to the Earth.
  • As per NASA, the mission promises to bring the largest amount of extraterrestrial material back to our planet since the Apollo era.
  • The mission was launched in 2016, it reached its target in 2018 and since then, the spacecraft has been trying to match the velocity of the asteroid using small rocket thrusters to rendezvous it.
  • This week, the spacecraft’s robotic arm called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), made an attempt to “TAG” the asteroid and collected a sample.

About Bennu

  • Bennu is a B-type asteroid, implying that it contains significant amounts of carbon and various other minerals.
  • It was discovered by a team from the NASA-funded Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research team in 1999.
  • Because of its high carbon content, the asteroid reflects about four per cent of the light that hits it, which is very low when compared with a planet like Venus, which reflects about 65 per cent of the light. Earth reflects about 30 per cent.
  • Around 20-40 per cent of Bennu’s interior is empty space and scientists believe that it was formed in the first 10 million years of the solar system’s formation, implying that it is roughly 4.5 billion years old.

Why are scientists studying asteroid Bennu?

  • Bennu is an asteroid about as tall as the Empire State Building and located at a distance of about 200 million miles away from the Earth.
  • Scientists study asteroids to look for information about the formation and history of planets and the sun since asteroids were formed at the same time as other objects in the solar system.
  • Another reason for tracking them is to look for asteroids that might be potentially hazardous. It is also relatively close to the Earth.
  • It is for these reasons that scientists are interested in gathering information about this particular asteroid.
  • Significantly, Bennu hasn’t undergone drastic changes since its formation over billions of years ago and therefore it contains chemicals and rocks dating back to the birth of the solar system.

How do chemicals and rocks offer scientists clues about the solar system?

  • Because of Bennu’s age, it is likely to contain material that contains molecules that were present when life first formed on Earth, where life forms are based on carbon atom chains.
  • Even so organic material like the kind scientists hope to find in a sample from Bennu doesn’t necessarily always come from biology.
  • It would, though, further scientists’ search to uncover the role asteroids rich in organics played in catalyzing life on Earth.

Back2Basics: Asteroid

  • Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the Sun, much smaller than planets. They are also called minor planets.
  • According to NASA, 994,383 is the count of known asteroids, the remnants from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago.
  • Asteroids are divided into three classes. First, those found in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which is estimated to contain somewhere between 1.1-1.9 million asteroids.
  • The second group is that of Trojans, which are asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet.
  • The third classification is Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA), which have orbits that pass close by the Earth. Those that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers.
  • More than 10,000 such asteroids are known, out of which over 1,400 are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).

OBOR Initiative

What is Blue Dot Network?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Blue Dot Network, BRI

Mains level : Blue Dot Network

A group of US Senators has written to India asking to join the Blue Dot Network.

Try this MCQ:

Q.The Blue Dot Network recently seen in news is a global alliance for:

a) Beaches Certification

b) Infrastructure development

c) 5G connectivity

d) Patents regulation

The Blue Dot Network

  • Blue Dot is a US-led collaboration with Australia and Japan that supports private-sector-led infrastructure financing opportunities in response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • It was formally announced on 4 November 2019 at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Bangkok, Thailand on the sidelines of the 35th ASEAN Summit.
  • It is led by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia.
  • It is expected to serve as a global evaluation and certification system for roads, ports and bridges with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region.

Fundamental difference between BRI and Blue Dot

  • While the former involves direct financing, giving countries in need immediate short-term relief, the latter is not a direct financing initiative and therefore may not be what some developing countries need.
  • The question is whether Blue Dot offering first-world solutions to third-world countries.
  • Secondly, Blue Dot will require coordination among multiple stakeholders when it comes to grading projects.
  • Given the past experience of Quad, the countries involved in it are still struggling to put a viable bloc. Therefore, it remains to be seen how Blue Dot fares in the long run.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Discovering the Tubarial Glands

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tubarial glands

Mains level : Not Much

Researchers from the Netherlands have discovered a new location of salivary glands.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With references to the scientific progress of ancient India, which of the statements given below are correct?

  1. Different kinds of specialized surgical instruments were in common use by 1st century AD.
  2. Transplant of internal organs in the human body had begun by the beginning of 3rd century AD.
  3. The concept of sine of an angle was known in 5th century AD.
  4. The concept of cyclic quadrilaterals was known in 7th century AD.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 and 4 only

(c) 1, 3 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Tubarial Glands

  • The salivary gland system in the human body has three paired major glands and over 1,000 minor glands that are spread throughout the mucosa.
  • These glands produce saliva necessary for swallowing, digestion, tasting, mastication and dental hygiene.
  • When researchers were studying scans from about 100 people, they found a bilateral structure at the back of the nasopharynx and these glands had characteristics of salivary glands.
  • Researchers have proposed the name “tubarial glands” for their discovery.
  • The researchers believe that these glands would qualify as the fourth pair of major salivary glands.
  • The proposed name is based on their anatomical location; the other three glands are called parotid, submandibular and sublingual.

Why are these glands being discovered only now?

  • The location of these glands is at a poorly accessible anatomical location under the base of the skull, which is an area that can only be visualized using nasal endoscopy.
  • Further, conventional imaging techniques such as a CT scan, MRI and ultrasound have not allowed the visualization of these glands.
  • For the scans done on the 100 patients, a new type of scan called the PSMA PET/CT scan was used, which was able to provide the high sensitivity and specificity required to detect these glands.

What is the purpose of these glands?

  • So far, researchers suspect that the physiological function of the glands is to moisten and lubricate the nasopharynx and the oropharynx.
  • However, this interpretation needs to be confirmed with additional research.

Significance of this discovery

  • The discovery is potentially good news for some cancer patients with head and neck cancers.
  • Patients with head and neck cancers and tumours in the tongue or the throat are treated with radiation therapy that can damage the new salivary glands, whose location was not previously known.
  • Oncologists will be able to circumvent these areas and protect them from the side effects of radiation which can lead to complications such as trouble speaking, swallowing and speaking.
  • Some patients may even face an increased risk of caries and oral infections that can significantly impact their life.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

The NEP 2020 must look beyond just data science and AI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NEP 2020

Mains level : Paper 2- NEP 2020's focus on mathematical and computational thinking

The article deals with the issues with the emphasis on the coding instead of understanding the basic algorithmic process.

Issues with focusing on coding in NEP 2020

  • The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) envisages putting greater emphasis on mathematical and computational thinking throughout the school years.
  • The framing in the NEP appears to put it at the same level of distinction as the more instrumental ‘coding’, and almost as a mere tool towards the utilitarian goals of artificial intelligence (AI) and data science.
  • An overemphasis on learning the nitty-gritty of specific programming languages prematurely — even from middle school — may distract from focusing on the development of algorithmic creativity.

What is coding?

Coding is basically the computer language used to develop apps, websites, and software. Without it, we’d have none of the most popular technology we’ve come to rely on such as Facebook, our smartphones, the browser we choose to view our favorite blogs, or even the blogs themselves. It all runs on code.

About computation and algorithms

  • Algorithmics is the abstract process of arriving at a post-condition through a sequential process of state changes.
  • It is among the earliest human intellectual endeavours that has become imperative for almost all organised thinking.
  • All early learning of counting and arithmetic is method-based, and hence algorithmic in nature, and all calculations involve computational processes encoded in algorithms.
  • The core algorithmic ideas of modern AI and machine learning are based on some seminal algorithmic ideas of Newton and Gauss, which date back a few hundred years.
  • Though the form of expressions of algorithms — the coding — have been different, the fundamental principles of classical algorithm design have remained invariant.

Algorithms in modern world

  • In the modern world, the use of algorithmic ideas is not limited only to computations with numbers, or even to digitisation, communication or AI and data science.
  • They play a crucial role in modelling and expressing ideas in diverse areas of human thinking, including the basic sciences of biology, physics and chemistry, all branches of engineering, in understanding disease spread, in modelling social interactions and social graphs, in transportation networks, supply chains, commerce, banking and other business processes, and even in economic and political strategies and design of social processes.
  • Hence, learning algorithmic thinking early in the education process is indeed crucial.

So, how coding is different from arithmetics?

  • Coding is merely the act of encoding an algorithmic method in a particular programming language which provides an interface.
  • AS computational process can be invoked in a modern digital computer.
  • Thus, it is less fundamental.
  • While coding certainly can provide excellent opportunities for experimentation with algorithmic ideas, they are not central or indispensable to algorithmic thinking.
  • After all, coding is merely one vehicle to achieve experiential learning of a computational process.

Way forward

  • Instead of focusing on the intricacies of specific programming languages, it is more important at an early stage of education to develop an understanding of the basic algorithmic processes behind manipulating geometric figures.
  • Indeed, this is a common outcome of the overly utilitarian skills training-based approaches evidenced throughout the country.

Conclusion

The NEP guideline of introducing algorithmic thinking early is a welcome step, it must be ensured that it does not degenerate and get bogged down with mundane coding tricks at a budding stage in the education process.

Cashless Society – Digital Payments, Demonetization, etc.

Analysing the success of NPCI

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MDR, IMPS, RTGS, NEFT

Mains level : Paper 3- Role of NPCI in transforming digital payment infrastructure in India

The article tracks the evolution of digital payments system in India and the transformational role played by the NPCI in it.

Adoption of digital payments in India

  • Digital payments have found strong ground in India reducing all other modes of payments to the background.
  • Through a faster system of simultaneous debits and credits, the money value is transferred from one account to the other across banks.
  • With such versatility and ease of settling financial transactions, the growth of digital payments is going to be phenomenal, supported by banks and Fin-Tech companies.

Evolution of digital payments in India

  • A major thrust toward large value payments was effected through the Real Time Gross Settlement System, or RTGS, launched by the RBI in March 2004.
  • The large value payments on stock trading, government bond trading and other customer payments were covered under the RTGS.
  • It substantially reduced the time taken for settlements.
  • Around the same time, the RBI introduced National Electronic Funds Transfer, or NEFT to support retail payments.
  • Now, NEFT is available round the clock and RTGS will follow from December 2020 — only a few countries have achieved this.
  • These systems were seeded and reinforced with the setting up of the umbrella retail payments institution: National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).
  • NPCI was set up by 10 lead banks at the instance of the RBI in 2009.
  •  The NPCI as a not-for-profit company

How NPCI transformed retail payment systems in India

  • The NPCI’s success against deeply entranced formidable international players, supported by innovative technology, viz. Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and Immediate Payment Service (IMPS), is well recognised by central banks in many other countries.
  • The Bank for International Settlements’s endorsement of the NPCI model in 2019 is a major accolade.
  • With digital payment being a public good like currency notes, it was necessary that the corporation was fully supported by the RBI and the government as an extended arm of the sovereign.
  • It was also necessary to contain expectations on profits, avoiding direct or indirect control by powerful private interests could dilute the public good character of the outfit.

Issue of converting NPCI into for-profit

  • Converting NPCI intro for-profit company will be a retrograde step with huge potential for loss of consumer surplus along with other strategic implications.
  • Instead the strategy should be to assist the NPCI financially, either by the RBI or the government, to provide retail payment services at reduced price (in certain priority areas).
  • This may also help support expansion of the payment system network and infrastructure in rural and semi-urban areas in partnership with Fin-Tech companies and banks.

Issue fo MDR

  • In Budget 2020-21, the government prescribed zero Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) for RuPay and UPI, both NPCI products.
  • Zero MDR on UPI and RuPay will help to popularise digital payments benefiting both customers and merchants.
  • There is justification in this zero MDR prescription by the government.
  • It is justified because depositors implicitly pay around 3% to banks as net interest margin, being the difference between saving and risk free bond rate, for enjoying certain payments services traditionally.
  • When banks enjoy such a huge amount of current account savings account (CASA) deposits, in return, is it not incumbent on them to provide such payment services?
  • The government left out other providers of digital payment products from this MDR prescription.
  • Taking advantage of this dichotomy, many issuing banks switched to mainly Visa and Master cards for monetary gains.
  • As customers were induced by such supplier banks, it created a kind of indirect market segmentation and cartel formation, though there is hardly any quality difference in payment products.
  • It may be noted that even the European Central Bank imposed a ceiling on MDR for all, protecting consumer interest.
  • It is hoped that the government will take corrective action in the next Budget to ensure a level playing field and to relieve the NPCI from such policy-induced market imperfection.

Pricing for digital payments

  • The ideal pricing for digital payments products should be based on an analysis of-(i) producer surplus (ii) consumer surplus (i.e. gain or loss of utility due to pricing) (iii) social welfare for which we need cost-volume-price data.
  • A factor which needs to be reckoned is the float funds digital payments allow (cash withdrawal is a drain on the banking system), which is a source of sizeable income for banks.
  • The RBI will do well to study and arrive at a rational structure of pricing including MDR (possibly also penalty on default by customer).

Consider the question “Elaborate on how the NPCI has been successful in transforming the digital payment landscape in the country through innovations? What are the challenges facing retail payments infrastructures?”

Conclusion

Given that the digital payment system is like a national superhighway, for which the government has a crucial role to play in protecting consumers against exploitation.


Back2Basics: RTGS and NEFT

  • With NEFT (National Electronic Funds Transfer)
    you can transfer any amount to the recipient’s account in a one-on-one transfer basis.
  • NEFT transactions don’t have a maximum limit for funds that can be transferred in a single day.
  • The NEFT system is available round the clock throughout the year on all days (24x7x365).
  • Funds are transferred in batches that are settled in 48 half-hourly time slots throughout the day.
  • There is no maximum or minimum limit on the amount of funds that could be transferred through NEFT.

RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement)

  • Business owners can use RTGS when they need to transfer large amounts instantly.
  • One advantage that RTGS has over the other methods is the transaction speed, since the entire amount is transferred in real time.
  • The available hours for RTGS transactions vary based on the individual banks and their branches.
  • There’s a minimum limit of Rs. 2 lakhs for RTGS transactions, and there’s no maximum limit as such.

What is MDR?

  • The merchant discount rate (MDR) is charged to merchants for processing debit and credit card transactions.
  • To accept debit and credit cards, merchants must set up this service and agree to the rate.
  • The merchant discount rate is a fee, typically between 1%-3%, that merchants must consider when managing business costs

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

What is ‘Infodemic’ Management?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Infodemic Management

Managing the “infodemic” has been a serious challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, says a Chief Scientist at World Health Organization (WHO).

Try this question for mains:

Q.‘Infodemic’ management these days has become a greater challenge than the actual course of pandemic management. Discuss.

Defining Infodemic

  • Infodemic implies too much information, including false or misleading information, particularly on social media.
  • It has led to confusion, risk-taking and ultimately mistrust towards governments and the public health response.

WHO framework for infodemics

  • The WHO has a framework for managing the coronavirus infodemic.
  • Infodemiology is now acknowledged by public health organizations and the WHO as an important emerging scientific field and critical area of practice during a pandemic.
  • From the perspective of being the first “infodemiolgist” who originally coined the term almost two decades ago, the author posts four pillars of infodemic management:
  1. Information monitoring (infoveillance)
  2. Building eHealth Literacy and science literacy capacity
  3. Encouraging knowledge refinement and quality improvement processes such as fact-checking and peer-review
  4. Accurate and timely knowledge translation, minimizing distorting factors such as political or commercial influences

Air Pollution

State of Global Air Report, 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Particulate Matter

Mains level : Pollution induced mortality in India

Air pollution now biggest health risk in India, says the State of Global Air 2020 Report.

State of Global Air Report

  • The State of Global Air report brings into one place the latest information on air quality and health for countries around the globe.
  • It is produced annually by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease project.

India’s exposure to pollution

  • Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases in India in 2019.
  • Overall, air pollution was now the largest risk factor for death among all health risks, the report noted.
  • Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution also contributed to the deaths of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life last year.
  • For the youngest infants, most deaths were related to complications from low birth weight and preterm birth.

A comparison with peers

  • India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure — or 83.2 μg/cubic metre — in the world.
  • It is followed by Nepal at 83.1 μg/cubic metre and Niger at 80.1.
  • Countries with the least population exposure are below 8 micrograms (μg) per cubic metre.

Back2Basics: Particulate Matter

  • PM is the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye.
  • Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.
  • Particle pollution includes:
  1. PM10 : inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometres and smaller; and
  2. PM2.5: fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometres and smaller.

Sources of PM

  • These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals.
  • Some are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires.
  • Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.

Harmful effects of PM

  • Particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.
  • Some particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream.
  • Of these, particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation System (KLIS)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kaleshwaram Project, Lift irrigation

Mains level : Kaleshwaram Project

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) wants a relook at Kaleshwaram Project since the Telangana government subsequently changed the design of the project.

Try this question from our AWE initiative:

The Kaleshwaram Project

  • The Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation System is considered to be one of the world’s largest multi-purpose projects.
  • It is designed to provide water for irrigation and drinking purposes to about 45 lakh acres in 20 of the 31 districts in Telangana, apart from Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
  • This project is unique because Telangana will harness water at the confluence of two rivers with the Godavari by constructing a barrage at Medigadda in Jayashankar Bhupalpally district.
  • It would reverse pump the water into the main Godavari River and divert it through lifts and pumps into a huge and complex system of reservoirs, water tunnels, pipelines and canals.

Records to its glory

  • The project has set many records with the world’s longest water tunnels, aqueducts, underground surge pools, and biggest pumps.
  • By the time the water reaches Kondapochamma Sagar, the last reservoir in the system, the water would have been lifted to a height of 618 metres from its source at Medigadda.
  • The total length of the entire Kaleshwaram project is approximately 1,832 km of which 1,531 km is gravity canals and 203 km comprises water tunnels.

How important is KLIS to Telangana?

  • The project will enable farmers in Telangana to reap multiple crops with a year-round supply of water wherein earlier they were dependent on rains resulting in frequent crop failures.
  • This year, Telangana farmers have already delivered bumper rabi crops of paddy and maize due to better irrigation facilities and an extended monsoon.
  • KLIS covers several districts which used to face rainfall deficit and the groundwater is fluoride-contaminated.
  • Apart from irrigation, a main component of the project is the supply of drinking water to several towns and villages and also to twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
  • Mission Bhagiratha, the Rs 43,000-crore project to supply drinking water to every household in villages, draws a large quantity of water from the KLIS and some quantity from projects on River Krishna.
  • There is a burgeoning freshwater fishing industry in the state.

Issues raised by NGT

  • The NGT has observed that the Telangana government subsequently changed the design of the project to increase its capacity.
  • By increasing its capacity to pump 3 TMC water from 2 TMC, large tracts of forest land and other land was taken over and massive infrastructure was built causing adverse impact on the environment.
  • Extraction of more water certainly requires more storage capacity and also affects hydrology and riverine ecology of Godavari River.
  • Such issues have to be examined by the statutory authorities concerned.

B2Basics

National Green tribunal

  • It is a specialised body set up under the National Green Tribunal Act (2010) for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
  • With the establishment of the NGT, India became the third country in the world to set up a specialised environmental tribunal, only after Australia and New Zealand, and the first developing country to do so.
  • NGT is mandated to make disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.
  • The NGT has five places of sittings, New Delhi is the Principal place of sitting and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai are the other four.

Structure of NGT

  • The Tribunal comprises of the Chairperson, the Judicial Members and Expert Members. They shall hold office for term of five years and are not eligible for reappointment.
  • The Chairperson is appointed by the Central Government in consultation with Chief Justice of India (CJI).
  • A Selection Committee shall be formed by central government to appoint the Judicial Members and Expert Members.
  • There are to be least 10 and maximum 20 full time Judicial members and Expert Members in the tribunal.

New Species of Plants and Animals Discovered

Medicinal plants in news

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Plants mentioned in the newscard

Mains level : NA

This newscard is an excerpt from the original article published in DownToEarth.

Explained below are the medicinal properties of 10 valuable plants known to boost natural immunity:

(1) Abrusprecatorius (Indian liquorice, Ratti)

  • The bright red ovoid seeds with a black spot weigh 1/10th of a gram, and were hence used as weighing unit called ‘Ratti’ in ancient India by goldsmiths.
  • Its seeds are said to have immune-modulating properties.

(2) Artemisia scoparia (Redstem Wormwood)

  • These plants have excellent clinical anti-malarial properties due to the presence of artemisinin.
  • They possess potent anti-inflammatory properties and help regulate both innate and adaptive immunity.

(3) Azadirachtaindica (Neem)

  • It is a well-known tree used in various systems of traditional medicine since time immemorial. In Sanskrit, it is known as Arishtha, which means ‘reliever of sicknesses’.
  • Neem bark is known to have strong immunostimulant Neem oil has been shown to possess activity by selectively activating cell-mediated immune mechanisms.

(4) Boerhaviadiffusa (Punarnava)

  • In Ayurveda, Punarnava is included in the category of rasayana herbs that possess anti-ageing properties. It helps prevent diseases.
  • This means they increase resistance by providing hepatoprotection (the ability of a substance to prevent damage to the liver) and immune-modulation.

(5) Cardaminehirsuta (Hairy Bitter Cress)

  • The plants contain vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta carotene, antioxidants and sulfur-containing compounds that boost immunity.

(6) Clerodendrumphlomidis (Sage Glory Bower, Arni, Agnimantha)

  • It is an essential medicinal plant that is also mentioned in texts since the Vedic period. It is known to boost the immune system, purify the blood and cure urinary tract infection.
  • The decoction made from the whole plant is useful in improving strength and immunity following a bout of fever or other ailments.

(7) Phyllanthus tenellus (Mascarene Island leaf-flower)

  • It is an annual herb commonly found near wetlands, ditches, wet places, edges of drains and disturbed places. It is known for immune-modulatory properties.
  • Physalis peruviana (Cape Gooseberry, Rasbhari) (Family: Solanaceae): It is used in traditional folk medicines as an immunomodulatory drug. It is rich in vitamin C and helps enhance body immunity.

(8) Portulaca oleracea (Purslane)

  • Purslane has been used in folk medicine since ancient times and is included in the World Health Organization’s list of most widely used medicinal plants.
  • The leaves of the plant are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is important in preventing heart attacks and strengthening the immune system.

(9) Withaniasomnifera (Indian Winter Cherry, Indian Ginseng, Aswagandha)

  • Ashwagandha is an important ancient herb and has been used in the indigenous medical system for over 3,000 years.
  • It is considered to be one of the best rejuvenating agents in Ayurveda that helps to maintain proper nourishment of the tissues. It possesses antioxidant, mind-boosting and immune-enhancing properties.

Now try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following statements:

  1. The Taxus tree is naturally found in the Himalayas
  2. The Taxus tree is listed in the Red Data Book.
  3. A drug called “taxol” is obtained from Taxus tree is effective against Parkinson’s disease

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 3 only

Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce

[pib] Market Intervention Scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MSP, MIP

Mains level : Fixation of MSP and its legal backing

The Union Cabinet has approved the extension of Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) for apple procurement in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for the current season.

UPSC can ask a question on the difference between MSP and MIP. All the agricultural and horticultural commodities for which Minimum Support Price (MSP) are not fixed and are generally perishable in nature are covered under Market Intervention Scheme (MIS).

Market Intervention Scheme

  • MIS is a price support mechanism implemented on the request of State Governments for the procurement of perishable and horticultural commodities in the event of a fall in market prices.
  • It is implemented when there is at least a 10% increase in production or a 10% decrease in the ruling rates over the previous normal year.
  • MIS works in a similar fashion to Minimum Support Price based procurement mechanism for food grains but is an ad-hoc mechanism.
  • Its objective is to protect the growers of these horticultural/agricultural commodities from making distress sale in the event of the bumper crop.
  • Under MIS, support can be provided in some years, for a limited but defined period, in specified critical markets and by purchasing specified quantities. The initiative has to emerge from the concerned state.

Commodities covered

  • The MIS has been implemented in case of commodities like apples, garlic, oranges, grapes, mushrooms, clove, black pepper, pineapple, ginger, red chillies, coriander seed, chicory, onions, potatoes, cabbage, mustard seed, castor seed, copra, palm oil etc.

Remuneration under MIS

  • MIS provides remunerative prices to the farmers in case of the glut in production and fall in prices.
  • Proposal of MIS is approved on the specific request of State/UT Government, if they are ready to bear 50% loss (25% in case of North-Eastern States), if any, incurred on its implementation.
  • Further, the extent of total amount of loss shared is restricted to 25% of the total procurement value which includes the cost of the commodity procured plus permitted overhead expenses.

Implementation of MIS

1) Market Intervention Price (MIP)

  • The Department of Agriculture & Cooperation is implementing the scheme.
  • Under the MIS, a pre-determined quantity at a fixed MIP is procured by NAFED as the Central agency.
  • There are other agencies designated by the state government for a fixed period or till the prices are stabilized above the MIP whichever is earlier.
  • The area of operation is restricted to the concerned state only.

2) Funds transfer

  • Under MIS, funds are not allocated to the States.
  • Instead, central share of losses as per the guidelines of MIS is released to the State Governments/UTs, for which MIS has been approved, based on specific proposals received from them.

Banking Sector Reforms

SC asks govt to implement ‘interest waiver’ scheme at the earliest

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NPA

Mains level : Paper 3- Implications of Supreme Court order in the loan waiver.

The article examines the implications of the Supreme Court order dealing with the loan waiver and ban on the recognition of the bad loan.

Significance of common man as a depositor

  • India’s Rs 144 lakh crore in bank deposits make our Rs 110 lakh crore in bank loans possible.
  • The “common man” is more likely a depositor than a borrower; banks have 21 crore deposit accounts but only 2.7 crore loan accounts.

Issues with the court order

  • The Supreme Court has weighed in on the waiver scheme and recognition of the bad loan.
  • Waiving interest dues or banning bad loan recognition is economically ignorant because more than 20 per cent of Indians are depositors while less than 2 per cent are borrowers.
  • It has nothing to with economic justice defined as the greatest good for the greatest number.
  • It sabotages economic justice because fiscally funding banking diverts money from education, health and skilling expenditure.
  •  It’s commercially ignorant because any “annualised effective rate” is adjusted for interest payment frequency.
  • Resources are finite with total central government expenditure at Rs 29 lakh crore, scarce as COVID creates a Rs 3 lakh crore GST shortfall and fragile our fiscal deficit may exceed 12 per cent.
  • Also, it is hardly what our Constitution imagined as the role of courts.
  • Our Constitution writers made a distinction between fundamental rights and directive principles was not a lack of ambition but a measured assessment of state capacity, resources and sequencing.
  • The Constitution also envisaged distinct roles for the judiciary, executive and legislature to balance samaj (society), bazaar (markets) and sarkar (government).
  • Courts have become less mindful of these two distinctions.

Cost of credit and availability issue in India

  • One of the reasons for small size of Indian enterprises in the availability and cost of credit in India.
  • India’s credit-to-GDP ratio stands at dismal  50 per cent  — Bihar is 12 per cent and Arunachal is 1 per cent.
  • The MSME lending is stuck at Rs 20 lakh crore — needs to rise to 100 per cent.
  • Despite lower inflation and fiscal discipline, most borrowers don’t get globally competitive interest rates due to high bad loans and financial statement uncertainty.
  • The availability of credit will not rise and cost will not fall till our banking system has strong competition, consistent regulation, effective supervision and non-fiscal sustainability.

Consider the question “How the crisis in the banking sector is different from the crisis in other sectors? Also, examine the issues with the Supreme Court order on the loan waiver and recongnition of bad loan ban?” 

Conclusion

Institutional immunity needs balancing of independence and accountability; rising citizen concern about mandates and appointments should trigger court introspection.

Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

Issues with dilution of offset condition for defence procurement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : The offset clause

Mains level : Paper 3- Implications of dilutions of offset clause in defence procurement

The ‘offset clause’ could help the country achieve the technological expertise and consequently self-reliance. However, India recently relaxed some norms in the policy. The article discusses the stated reasons for tweaking and its implications for the defence manufacturing industry in India.

Context

  • Recently, the government diluted the “offset” policy in defence procurement, reportedly in response to a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s report tabled in Parliament last month.

Let’s understand ‘offset’ policy

  •  In order to safeguard national interest, most countries restrict trade in defence equipment and advanced technologies.
  • Yet, for commercial gains and for global technological recognition, governments and firms do like to expand the trade through negotiated bilateral sales.
  • Restrictions are often imposed on the buyer country on use, modification and resale of such equipment and technologies.
  • The product and technology compel buyers to stick to them for: the advantages of bulk purchase, and dependence on the supplier for spares and upgrades.
  • The price and the terms of the contract often reflect the government’s relative bargaining strength and also domestic political and economic considerations.
  • Large buyers such as India seek to exercise their “buying power” to secure not just the lowest price but also try to acquire the technology to upgrade domestic production and build R&D capabilities.
  • The offset clause — used globally — is the instrument for securing these goals.

Changes in the offset policy

  • Initiated in 2005, the offset clause has following requirements:
  • 1) Sourcing 30% of the value of the contract domestically.
  • 2) Indigenisation of production in a strict time frame.
  • 3) Training Indian professionals in high-tech skills, for promoting domestic R&D.
  • However, the policy has been tweaked many times since.
  • According to the recent CAG report,  between 2007 and 2018, the government reportedly signed 46 offset contracts worth ₹66,427 crore of investments.
  • However, the realised investments were merely 8%, or worth ₹5,457 crore.
  • Reportedly, technology transfer agreements in the offsets were not implemented, failing to accomplish the stated policy objective.
  • Recently, the government has changed this policy further so that the offset clause will not be applicable to bilateral deals and deals with a single (monopoly) seller, to begin with.

Implications of the changes in offset policy

  • The dilution means practically giving up the offset clause, and a setback to India’s prospects for boosting defence production and technological self-reliance.
  • The government, however, has defended the decision by claiming a cost advantage.
  • Howver, price is but one of many factors in such deals, as explained above.
  • The higher (upfront) cost of the agreement due to the offset clause would pay for itself by: reducing costs in the long term by indigenisation of production and the potential technology spill-overs for domestic industry.
  • Hence, giving up the offset clause is undoubtedly a severe setback.

How did offset policy work for aerospace industry?

  • Despite the heft of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, India is a lightweight in global civilian aircraft manufacturing, as the public sector giant mostly devotes itself to defence production.
  • The National Civil Aircraft Development (NCAD) project — to come up with an indigenously designed Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA) — has remained a non-starter from day one.
  • However, with the introduction of the offset policy in 2005, things changed dramatically.
  • For contracts valued at ₹300 crore or more, 30% of it will result in offsets, implemented through Indian offset partners.
  • As aerospace imports rose rapidly, so did the exports via the offsets, by a whopping 544% in 2007, compared to the previous year.
  • By 2014, exports increased to $6.7 billion from a paltry $62.5 million in 2005, according to the United Nations Comtrade Database.
  • The offset clause enabled India to join the league of the world’s top 10 aerospace exporters; the only country without a major domestic aerospace firm.
  • However, exports reduced after the offset clause was relaxed, primarily when the threshold for the policy was raised from the hitherto ₹300 crore to ₹2000 crore, in 2016.
  • The offset exports fell to $1.5 billion by 2019.
  • The 2005 policy helped promote a vibrant aerospace cluster, mostly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) around Bengaluru.

Consider the question “How far has the offset clause been successful in enhancing the domestic capabilities of India in defence manufacturing? What are the challenges in achieving the objectives of the policy?”

Conclusion

There are successful examples to draw lessons from, as the aerospace industry episode demonstrates. India needs to re-conceive or re-imagine the offset clause in defence contracts with stricter enforcement of the deals, in national interest, and in order to aim for ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan’, or a self-reliant India.

Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

Reforms police in India need

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Police reforms

The article highlights the challenges facing the police force in India and suggests the measures to deal with them.

Urgency of the police reforms

  • In a well-ordered democracy, the police are supposed to be a disciplined force trained to uphold the law and enforce the functioning of democracy on constitutional lines.
  • However, police in India suffers from a triad of malaises:
  • 1) The lack of sensitisation of police personnel.
  • 2) Absence of accountability.
  • 3) Politicisation of the police.

Objectives of the reforms:

1) Police sensitisation about their role in society

  • The sensitisation module should aim at bringing about attitudinal change in police — especially pertaining to gender and power relations and police behaviour.
  • There has to be promptness of action and decency of behaviour.
  • They need to be trained in body language and strictly advised to refrain from abusive behaviour.
  • It is necessary to increase public confidence in the police by upgrading levels of police service delivery as well as by investigating and acting in cases of police misconduct.

2) Increasing accountability

  • Public confidence in police decreases when the public perceives that police abuses are not investigated effectively.
  • Enhancing accountability will improve police legitimacy and increase public confidence, which, in turn, will reinforce the integrity of the system.
  • The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland, the Danish Independent Police Complaints Authority are some examples of mechanisms for accountability of the police for acts of abuse of power.

3) De-politicisation of the police

  • Linked to accountability is de-politicisation of the police force.
  • This is a must for the effective functioning of the country’s criminal justice system.
  • The police, as the custodian of maintenance of law and order, must stay away from agenda-driven politics.

Need to resolve the structural issues

In order to achieve the above-stated objectives, structural issues within the force must be given priority.

1) Vacancies and fair representation to women

  • According to a report by Common Cause in 2019, the Indian police force is at only 77 per cent of its sanctioned strength.
  • India has 144 police personnel for one lakh population and, in some states, the figure is less than 100.
  • One in every five posts sanctioned in the Indian Police Service remains vacant.
  • In low and middle-rank posts, the vacancies of 5.28 lakh personnel account for nearly one-fourth of the total sanctioned strength of over 22 lakh.
  • A fully-staffed police force would only increase India’s police-to-population ratio to 185 against the UN recommended ratio of 222.
  • The police-to-people ratio should be improved by at least 50 per cent to meet the challenges faced by the force.
  • Women are grossly underrepresented in our police force at less than 7 per cent of our total police strength.
  • With the increase in the number of gender crimes, it has become a necessity to augment the strength of police by recruiting more and more women police personnel.
  • The situation in Uttar Pradesh is the worst where police are at roughly 50 per cent of sanctioned strength.
  • When the numbers are inadequate, police personnel are stretched, leading to shoddy policing.

2) Lack of in-service training

  • The existing police personnel are also not adequately trained. Less than 7 per cent police get in-service training.
  • Gujarat scores the lowest, with less than one per cent having received any in-service training.

3) Implementation of guidelines and recommendations

  • After the National Police Commission in 1977, several committees were set up, including the Gore Committee, Padmanabhaiah Committee and Malimath Committee.
  • These commissions and committees have made far-reaching recommendations.
  • The top police leadership should be selected by apolitical representatives and an impartial body as suggested by Dharma Vira Commission have farsighted implications.
  • It was a strong antidote to opportunistic appointments and transfers.
  • Recommendations of the commission, if implemented, along with the Supreme Court directives of 2006 by Justice Sabharwal, in true letter and spirit, will go a long way in police reform.

4) Reforms in criminal justice system

  • Reforms in the criminal justice system and separation of law and order from investigation and prosecution are the other areas that need the attention of the authorities.
  • These aspects have been highlighted by many commissions and committees constituted by the Centre.

Consider the question “What are the challenges facing the police force in the country? Suggest the measures to deal with these challenges.”

Conclusion

A new role and new philosophy have to be defined for the police to not only make it a capable and effective body but also one accountable to the law of the land and to the people whom they serve.

Electoral Reforms In India

Govt. hikes poll expenditure ceiling by 10%

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ceilings on Election expenditure

Mains level : Election expenditure and associated issues

The Law Ministry has increased the ceiling on poll expenditure for Assembly and Lok Sabha elections by 10% following a recommendation by the Election Commission in view of curbs imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Try answering this question:

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

New ceiling on poll expenditure

  • The ceiling on poll expenditure varies across States, with candidates in Assembly elections in bigger States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu now allowed to spend up to ₹30.8 lakhs as against ₹28 lakhs earlier.
  • For a candidate contesting a Lok Sabha poll in these States, the revised ceiling on poll expenditure is now ₹77 lakhs instead of the earlier amount of ₹70 lakhs.
  • Goa, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and a few Union Territories, based on the size of their constituencies and population, have a lower ceiling on poll expenditure.
  • Here while the enhanced ceiling for a Lok Sabha candidate is now ₹59.4 lakhs those contesting an Assembly can spend up to ₹22 lakhs.

How are such ceilings made?

  • Such changes are made by amending the Conduct of Elections Rules.
  • The last time the expenditure ceiling was enhanced was in 2014 just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

What doesn’t account to Election expenditure?

  • The expenditure incurred by leaders of a political party on account of travel by air or by any other means of transport for propagating programme of the political party is not considered to be the election expenditure.
  • Any expenditure which is done for service of the Government and discharge of official duty is also not considered to be election expenditure.

Role of Election Commission

  • The EC imposes limits on campaign expenditure incurred by a candidate and not political parties.
  • However, it does not cover expenses incurred either by a party or the leader of a party for propagating the party’s programme.
  • Also, candidates must mandatorily file a true account of election expenses with the EC.
  • An incorrect account or expenditure beyond the ceiling can attract disqualification for up to three years as per Section 10A of The Representation of the People Act, 1951.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Assam-Mizoram Boundary Dispute

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Special provisions for North-east India

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked Assam and Mizoram to maintain peace and display “no aggressive posturing” after violent clashes took place at the border between the two States on Saturday night.

Can you recall the chronology of reorganization of the entire North-East region?

What is the issue?

  • Assam has had a boundary dispute with Mizoram for decades and several rounds of talks have been held since 1994-95 to solve the issue.
  • Till 1972, Mizoram was a part of Assam and acquired full statehood in 1987.
  • The 164.6 km-long border between the States runs along with Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts in Assam and Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts in Mizoram.
  • There are several border areas where violence have been reported.

How complex is this dispute?

  • In the Northeast’s complex boundary equations, showdowns between Assam and Mizoram residents are less frequent than they are.
  • The boundary between present-day Assam and Mizoram, 165 km long today, dates back to the colonial era when Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam.
  • The dispute stems from a notification of 1875 that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933 that demarcates a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
  • Mizoram believes the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, which is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873.
  • Mizo leaders have argued in the past argued against the demarcation notified in 1933 because Mizo society was not consulted.

Other boundary disputes in North-East

During British rule, Assam included present-day Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya besides Mizoram, which became separate state one by one. Today, Assam has boundary problems with each of them.

  • Nagaland shares a 500-km boundary with Assam.
  • In two major incidents of violence in 1979 and 1985, at least 100 persons were killed. The boundary dispute is now in the Supreme Court
  • On the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary (over 800 km), clashes were first reported in 1992, according to the same research paper.
  • Since then, there have been several accusations of illegal encroachment from both sides, and intermittent clashes. This boundary issue is being heard by the Supreme Court.
  • The 884-km Assam-Meghalaya boundary, too, witnesses flare-ups frequently. As per Meghalaya government statements, today there are 12 areas of dispute between the two states.

Digital India Initiatives

Ghar Tak Fibre Scheme

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FTTH, Ghar tak fibre

Mains level : Internet connectivity, Digital divide

The government’s ambitious ‘Ghar Tak Fibre’ scheme — which aims to connect all the villages with high-speed internet — is off to a slow start in poll-bound Bihar.

Note the features of FTTH connections. They make a perfect case for a statement based prelims question. Also, try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following statements regarding optical fibres:

  1. A layer called the cladding, which has a refractive index more than that of the core, surrounds the core of the optical fibre.
  2. Light is propagated in an optical fibre by refraction and internal reflection.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Ghar Tak Fibre scheme

  • The Scheme will be implemented by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  • It aims to connect all 45,945 villages of Bihar with high-speed optical fibre internet by 31st March 2021.
  • Under the scheme, Bihar has to provide at least five fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections per village and at least one WiFi hotspot per village.

What is FTTH?

  • Fiber to the home (FTTH), also called fibre to the premises (FTTP), is the installation and use of optical fibre from a central point directly to individual buildings such as residences, apartment buildings and businesses to provide high-speed internet access.
  • FTTH dramatically increases connection speeds available to computer users compared with technologies now used in most places.
  • FTTH promises connection speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps).