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Digital India Initiatives

[pib] UMANG Mobile AppPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UMANG app services

Mains level : Utility of the UMANG app


To further enhance the initiatives of Digital India Programme, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) services have been brought on the “UMANG App”.

UPSC may puzzle you by asking a question such as: Which of the following services are included under UMANG App?  It would provide some ambiguous 5-6 options.

UMANG App

  • The UMANG is an acronym for Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance.
  • It is an all-in-one single, unified, secure, multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-lingual, multi-service mobile app, powered by a robust back-end platform providing access to high impact services of various organizations.
  • It was in 2017 to bring major government services on a single mobile app, with a larger goal to make the government accessible on the mobile phone of our citizens.
  • About 660 services from 127 departments & 25 states and about 180 utility bill payment services are live and more are in pipeline.
  • UMANG user base has crossed 2.1 Crore including Android, iOS, Web and KaiOS.
  • Citizens can also access their Digilocker from UMANG and give their feedback after availing any service through Rapid Assessment System (RAS) which has been integrated with UMANG.

Key features

  • Unified Platform: It brings together all government departments and their services on a single platform to provide better and easier services to citizens.
  • Mobile-First Strategy: It aligns all government services with the mobile-first strategy to leverage mobile adoption trends.
  • Integration with Digital India Services: It provides seamless integration with other Digital India Services like Aadhaar, DigiLocker, and PayGov. Any new such service will automatically be integrated with the platform.
  • Uniform Experience: It is designed to enable citizens to discover, download, access, and use all government services easily.
  • Secure and Scalable: It supports Aadhaar-based and other authentication mechanisms for service access. The sensitive profile data is saved in an encrypted format and no one can view this information.

Benefits for Citizens

  • Single-Point Ubiquitous Access: All government services are available for citizens on a unified platform for easy access through multiple online and offline channels (SMS, email, app, and web).
  • More for Less: Only a single mobile app needs to be installed instead of each app of each department.
  • Convenience: Citizens do not even need to install or update the app again to avail government services if more services are added to the platform.
  • Saving of Time and Money: Citizens can anytime and anywhere avail these services through their mobile phones, desktops, and laptops without any need for visiting the department office and standing in queues.
  • Uniform Experience: All the government services including payment-based transactions provide secure and uniform experience.
Posted on | Custom
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

[pib] Initiatives launched on International Day of BiodiversityPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Initiaitives mentioned in the newscard

Mains level : Not Much


In a virtual celebration of the International Day for Biological Diversity 2020, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has launched key initiatives towards conservation of biodiversity.

Possible prelim question:

The ‘Not all Animals Migrate by Choice’ campaign recently seen in news is an initiative by __________.

About the International Day for Biological Diversity

  • This Day is a United Nations-sanctioned international day for the promotion of biodiversity issues.
  • It is currently held on May 22.
  • The year 2020 is also the “Super Year for Biodiversity”, as the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity with 20 global Aichi targets adopted in 2010 ends in 2020.

1) Biodiversity Samrakshan Internship Programme

  • The program proposes to engage 20 students with postgraduate degrees for a period of one year through an open, transparent, online competitive process.
  • It has the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as a nodal agency.

 2) ‘Not all Animals Migrate by Choice’ campaign

  • It is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Campaign launched by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau on Illegal Trafficking of Endangered Species.
  • It aims to curb illegal trade in wildlife which carries the risk of spreading dangerous pandemics.

Back2Basics: Aichi Targets

  • The ‘Aichi Targets’ were adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at its Nagoya conference.
  • The short term plan provides a set of 20 ambitious yet achievable targets, collectively known as the Aichi Targets.
  • The IUCN Species Programme provides advice to Parties, other governments and partners on the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and it’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2011 – 2020) and is also heavily involved in work towards the Target.
Posted on | Custom
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

What are General Financial Rules (GFR)?Prelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : General Financial Rules (GFRs)

Mains level : Various moves to boost MSME sector


The union government has notified amendments to General Financial Rules (GFR) to ensure that goods and services valued less than Rs 200 crore are being procured from domestic firms, a move which will benefit MSMEs.

Possible mains question:

Q. Discuss how the nationwide lockdown to control the coronavirus outbreak has led to the resurfacing of inherent bottlenecks in India’s MSME Sector.

What are the General Financial Rules (GFRs)?

  • The GFRs are a compilation of rules and orders of the Government of India to be followed by all while dealing with matters involving public finances.
  • They are instructions that pertain to financial matters.
  • They lay down the general rules applicable to Ministries / Departments, and detailed instructions relating to the procurement of goods.
  • They are issued by the procuring departments broadly in conformity with the general rules while maintaining the flexibility to deal with varied situations.

Also read:

[Burning Issues] Fiscal Push for MSME Sector of India (Part I)

Horticulture, Floriculture, Commercial crops, Bamboo Production – MIDH, NFSM-CC, etc.

In news: International Tea DayIOCRPrelims Only


The ‘International Tea Day’ gets thumbs up from the UN. Tea is the most consumed drink in the world, second only to water.

It would be no surprise to expect a question based on worldwide tea production:

Q. Among the following, which one is the largest exporter of rice in the world in the last five years? (CSP 2019)

(a) China

(b) India

(c) Myanmar

(d) Vietnam

International Tea Day

  • While the UN has been aware of the popularity of the drink, May 21, 2020, became the first time when it recognized and gave an official nod to International Tea Day.
  • The UN General Assembly proclaimed May 21 as International Tea Day.
  • The day is aimed at promoting sustainable production, consumption and trade of tea.
  • As part of the celebrations, key players in tea production come together and make systematic plans for expansion of demand for tea, particularly in tea producing countries where per capita consumption is relatively low.
  • This day also reminds all actors at global, regional and national levels to ensure that the tea sector continues to play a role in reducing extreme poverty, fighting hunger and safeguarding natural resources.

Tea

  • Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to East Asia.
  • After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world.
  • There are many different types of tea; some, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour.
  • Tea has a stimulating effect in humans primarily due to its caffeine content.
  • China is the leading producer of tea in the world. (Ref.)

Its significance

  • In 2018, over 50 lakh tonnes of tea was consumed globally, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN.
  • The origin of tea plantations dates back to 5,000 years. Like many cultures, tea enjoys a special space in Indian culture.
  • With more than 100 varieties being consumed in the country, India is among the top four producers of tea.
  • Currently, tea is grown in more than 35 countries and supports 1.3 crore people including smallholder farmers around the globe.

Back2Basics: Tea cultivation in India

  • India is the second producer of tea in the world and second in terms of land devoted to tea growing as well.
  • Much of India’s tea production is concentrated in the areas of Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Dooars, and Assam, which is the single largest tea growing region in the world. The top 5 growing states in India, ranked by production, are:

1) Assam

2) West Bengal

3) Tamil Nadu

4) Kerala

5) Karnataka

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

Structural issues in agri-marketingop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : APMC Act

Mains level : Paper 3- Structural issues in agri-marketing.


The article discusses the structural issues that may not go away with the reforms announced by the government recently. Issues like inadequacies in APMC infrastructure, regulation of APMCs need are discussed in detail.

What is the issue?

  • The Union government signalled the intention to enact a new central law.
  • The new law would override existing state regulations that restrict the farmer from legally selling to anyone other than a buyer licensed by the local Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC).
  • The decision to push for a central law comes after dissatisfaction with two decades of partial and uneven reforms by different states.

So, will the change in the law solve the marketing problem?

  •  This will be overstating the power of legal reform in guaranteeing economic freedom and outcomes.
  • The problems farmers face are of two type-
  • 1) Problems that are a result of vested, monopolistic interests.
  • 2) Problems that are rooted in larger structural conditions that significantly weaken their terms of engagement in agricultural markets.
  • Type 1 may be addressed by regulatory intervention.
  • But type 2 will need location-specific policies, well-directed investment, and well-functioning agricultural institutions.
  • So, solving either of these problems require consensus, coordination and capacity in which the states will need to play a major role.

Why do farmers sell their produce outside APMC mandis?

  • The dominant narrative is that farmers are forced to sell their produce only to licensed APMC traders.
  • But the reality is that even today the majority of Indian farmers sell their produce to small-scale and largely unlicensed traders and intermediaries.
  • This is true, especially of small and marginal cultivators.
  • But, if farmers are bound by law to sell in APMC mandis, why are so many of them selling outside?

But, do we have enough mandis?

  • At least part of the answer to the question of why farmers sell outside mandis is that India still doesn’t have enough mandis.
  • Over the decades, most states in general, and specific regions in particular, have hugely under-invested in the basic infrastructure required to create viable, primary wholesale markets within easy physical reach of farmers.
  • The 2017 Doubling Farmers Income Report estimates that in addition to the current 6,676 principal and sub-market yards under APMCs India needs over 3,500 additional wholesale markets.
  • Approximately 23,000 rural periodic markets (or haats) have also suffered long-standing neglect.
  • So, the new allocation towards market infrastructure must be fully utilised to build up an appropriately designed physical marketing ecosystem, especially in remote regions.
  • Most importantly, unlike in the past, this process should engage deeply with farmers and traders in each location to avoid misdirected and misplaced infrastructure and assets.

Regulatory reforms in mandis needed

  • Where APMC mandis do exist and have established themselves as dominant market sites, mandi committees have typically done everything in their power to restrict competition.
  • Obtaining a licence for a new entrant — has most often proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare and a costly affair.
  • This is where regulatory reform to remove conflicts of interests, enable the entry of new buyers, and facilitate the flow of trade both within and outside the mandi system is absolutely crucial.
  • No state has done enough in this direction, but here too there are cautionary lessons.

Perils of complete deregulation: Example of Bihar

  • Complete deregulation, as we have seen in the decade following Bihar’s repeal of its APMC Act in 2006, does not necessarily transform agricultural markets and spur competition.
  • Even after all restrictions were lifted, there was little uptake in direct procurement by formal players in the state.
  • When corporations entered the maize market in a big way, they chose to buy from larger traders and aggregators and not from farmers.
  • Most farmers have seen little change in marketing practice and continue to sell to village traders as they had done before the repeal.
  • Where private markets have emerged — mainly for horticultural produce — they are constituted and run by local traders and commission agents.
  • But across the system, traders complain about deteriorating infrastructure.
  • And the regulatory vacuum has led to the proliferation of brokers to deal with counter-party risk in growing and dynamic commodity markets such as maize.

Benefits of limited degree of regulation: MP and Karnataka example

  • Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have undertaken some degree of regulatory reform instead of repeal.
  • In these states, we do observe, at least to some extent, the fruits of competition.
  • In the early 2000s, MP granted ITC a licence to set up procurement hubs outside mandi yards.
  • Establishment of ITC procurement hubs not only resulted in price competition, but also from electronic weighing and quick payments, as mandis upgraded in response.
  • But ITC’s procurement channel was understandably restricted to select commodities (and qualities), seasons and farms within its own commercial strategy.
  • These limitations revealed the mandi’s comparative advantage as a permanent multi-buyer, multi-commodity market for all local producers.
  • The key lesson to draw from studies of direct procurement and contracting is the need for a regulatory architecture that enables both new and existing systems to respond, adapt, and compete.

Issue of intermediation

  •  Small traders and intermediaries exist — and persist — because they are able to respond — in cash, credit, time and place — to the multiple needs of farmers and firms across the interconnected domains of production, marketing, processing and consumption.
  • This is not to say that they do not exploit farmers when the opportunity arises.
  • So, the organised and technologically driven procurement and marketing systems will only work if they manage to address the real constraints that farmers face on the ground, especially access to credit, inputs, storage, transport, and timely payments.
  • Most of these constraints originate in the relations of land ownership and access and the limits and exclusions they impose on smallholding farmers and landless cultivators.
  • Simply put, farmers will not be in a position to exercise any newly granted regulatory freedom in the market if they cannot overcome these constraints.
  • Equally, while increasing competition for intermediaries is desirable, their elimination is a misguided — and indeed dangerous — objective if one does not respect or replace the roles and risks that they cover.

Issue of re-regulation and new barriers to entry

  • Agriculture is at the very heart of the essential economy and our food system runs on the backs of small-scale producers, traders, commission agents, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and labourers.
  • Regulatory reform to increase competition must not degenerate into re-regulation that unduly favours large-scale consolidation and channel control by erecting new barriers to entry and operation for agro-commercial MSMEs.

The UPSC asked a direct question about the APMC Act in 2014- ” There is also a point of view that Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs) set up under the State Acts have not only impeded the development of agriculture but also have been the cause of food inflation in India. Critically examine.”

Conclusion

While going for the reforms government must consider the issues underlying the problems and try to address them. We must recognise and strengthen the diversity, dynamism, enterprise, and resilience of India’s agricultural markets.

 

 

MGNREGA Scheme

Ensuring MGNREGA lives up to its potentialop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Provisions of MGNREGA

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues and scope for improvement in MGNREGA


With migrant workers returning home, work demand under MGNREGA is bound to rise. Sensing that the government increased the allocation to MGNREGA. This article suggests some steps to make the MGNREGA more effective in catering to this surge in the wake of the pandemic. Some issues that plague the scheme are also examined at the end. So, what are the suggestion? and what are the issues? Read to know….

Acknowledgement of the importance of MGNREGA

  • The government made an allocation of an additional Rs 40,000 crore as part of the stimulus package.
  • This is an acknowledgement of the importance of MGNREGA.
  • The most important part of MGNREGA’s design is its legally-backed guarantee for any rural adult to get work within 15 days of demanding it.
  • This demand-based trigger enables the self-selection of workers and gives them an assurance of at least 100 days of wage employment.

Let’s put allocation in context of World Bank recommendations

  • Since 2012, an average of 18 per cent of the annual budgetary allocation for MGNREGA has been spent on clearing pending liabilities from the previous years.
  • Even this financial year began with pending wage and material liabilities of Rs 16,045 crore.
  • An allocation of Rs 1 lakh crore for FY 2020-21 would mean that approximately Rs 84,000 crore is available for employment generation this year.
  • This will still be the highest allocation for MGNREGA in any year since the passage of the law.
  • However, the allocation, which amounts to 0.47 per cent of the GDP continues to be much lower than the World Bank recommendations of 1.7 per cent for the optimal functioning of the programme.

Some immediate steps to ensure the MGNREGA lives up to its potential

  • First, state governments must ensure that public works are opened in every village.
  • Workers turning up at the worksite should be provided work immediately, without imposing on them the requirement of demanding work in advance.
  • Second, local bodies must proactively reach out to returned and quarantined migrant workers and help those in need to get job cards.
  • Third, at the worksite, adequate facilities such as soap, water, and masks for workers must be provided free of cost. For reasons of health safety, MGNREGA tools should not be shared between workers.
  • The government should provide a tool allowance to all workers — some states are already providing such an allowance.
  • Fourth, procedures for implementing MGNREGA must be simplified but not diluted.
  • The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of decentralised governance.
  • Gram panchayats and elected representatives need to be provided with adequate resources, powers, and responsibilities to sanction works, provide work on demand, and authorise wage payments to ensure there are no delays in payments.
  • Fifth, as per a study by the RBI, more than half the districts in the country are under-banked.
  • The density of bank branches in rural India is even more sparse.
  • At this time, payments need to not only reach bank accounts on time, but cash needs to reach the workers easily and efficiently.
  • The limited coverage of bank infrastructure in rural areas must not be made a hurdle.
  • Attempts to distribute wages in cash, sans biometric authentication, must be rolled out.
  • Sixth, there needs to be flexibility in the kinds of work to be undertaken, while ensuring that the community and the workers are the primary beneficiaries.

Issuse with MGNREGA

  • Over the last few years, MGNREGA had begun to face an existential crisis.
  • Successive governments capped its financial resources, and turning it into a supply-based programme.
  • Workers had begun to lose interest in working under it because of the inordinate delays in wage payments.
  • With very little autonomy, gram panchayats had begun to find implementation cumbersome.
  • Barring a few exceptions, state governments were only interested in running the programme to the extent funds were made available from the Centre.
  • Allocating work on demand, and not having enough funds to pay wages on time was bound to cause great distress amongst the workers and eventually for the state too.
  • As a result, state governments had begun to implement MGNREGA like a supply-driven scheme, instead of running it like a demand-based guarantee backed by law.

Consider the question “With migrant workers returning to villages in the wake of corona pandemic, demand for work is likely to increase. In light of this, discuss the utility of MGNREGA and challenges it may face.”

Conclusion

With nearly eight crore migrant workers returning to their villages, and with an additional allocation for the year, this could be a moment for the true revival of MGNREGA. A revival led by workers themselves.

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

Explained: Contract Farming and its benefitsPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Contract Farming

Mains level : Contract Farming and its feasibilty


The Odisha government has promulgated an ordinance allowing investors and farmers to enter into an agreement for contract farming in view of the continuing uncertainties due to the pandemic.

Practice question for mains:

Q. What is Contract Farming? Examine its potentials and feasibility from the perspective of farmers’ interests.

Moving on with Odisha’s law

  • The Odisha ordinance is aimed at facilitating both farmers and sponsors to develop mutually beneficial and efficient contract farming system.
  • It is argued that the new system will lead to improved production and marketing of agricultural produce and livestock while promoting farmers’ interest.
  • The agreement will be entered into between the contract farming sponsor, who offers to participate in any component or entire value chain including preproduction, and the contract farming producer (farmers), who agree to produce the crop or rear the livestock.
  • Both the loans and advances given by the sponsor to the producer can be recovered from the sale proceeds of the produce.
  • And in no case realized, recovery can be through the sale or mortgage or lease of the land in respect of which the agreement has been entered into.

What is Contract Farming?

  • Contract farming (CF) can be defined as agricultural production carried out according to an agreement between a buyer and farmers, which establishes conditions for the production and marketing of a farm product or products.
  • Typically, the farmer agrees to provide agreed quantities of a specific agricultural product.
  • These should meet the quality standards of the purchaser and be supplied at the time determined by the purchaser.
  • In turn, the buyer commits to purchase the product and, in some cases, to support production through, for example, the supply of farm inputs, land preparation and the provision of technical advice.

Some business models in CF

1) Informal model – This model is the most transient and speculative of all contract farming models, with a risk of default by both the promoter and the farmer. However, this depends on the situation: interdependence of contract parties or long-term trustful relationships may reduce the risk of opportunistic behaviour.

2) Intermediary model – In this model, the buyer subcontracts an intermediary (collector, aggregator or farmer organisation) who formally or informally contracts farmers (a combination of the centralised/ informal models).

3) Multipartite model – This model can develop from the centralised or nucleus estate models. It involves various organisations such as governmental statutory bodies alongside private companies and sometimes financial institutions.

4) Centralized model – In this model, the buyers’ involvement may vary from minimal input provision (e.g. specific varieties) to control of most production aspects (e.g. from land preparation to harvesting). This is the most common CF model.

Advantages of CF

Contract farming is looking towards the benefits both for the farm-producers as well as to the agro-processing firms.

  • Makes small scale farming competitive – small farmers can access technology, credit, marketing channels and information while lowering transaction costs
  • The assured market for their produce at their doorsteps, reducing marketing and transaction costs
  • It reduces the risk of production, price and marketing costs.
  • Contract farming can open up new markets which would otherwise be unavailable to small farmers.
  • It also ensures higher production of better quality, financial support in cash and /or kind and technical guidance to the farmers.
  • In the case of agri-processing level, it ensures a consistent supply of agricultural produce with quality, at the right time and lesser cost.

Limitations

  • Contract farming arrangements are often criticized for being biased in favour of firms or large farmers while exploiting the poor bargaining power of small farmers.
  • Problems faced by growers like an undue quality cut on produce by firms delayed deliveries at the factory, delayed payments, low price and pest attack on the contract crop which raised the cost of production.
  • Contracting agreements are often verbal or informal in nature, and even written contracts often do not provide legal protection in India that may be observed in other countries. Lack of enforceability of contractual provisions can result in a breach of contracts by either party.
  • Single Buyer – Multiple Sellers (Monopsony).
  • Adverse gender effects – Women have less access to contract farming than men.

Also read

What is contract farming? Critically analyze the features of the draft “Model Contract Farming Act – 2018”. (150 W)

With inputs from Vikaspedia

Posted on | The Hindu
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Rising incidences of Chinese TransgressionsPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : India-China border disputes


As tensions remain high between Indian and Chinese soldiers, the number of recorded Chinese transgressions across the disputed India-China border surged by 75 per cent in Ladakh in 2019, and the Chinese forays into Indian Territory in the first four months of the current year have also witnessed an increase compared to the same period last year.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Clear demarcation of the national borders is the need of the hour. Discuss.

Chinese transgression these days

  • A Chinese transgression across the border is recorded once the Indian border guarding forces in an area is “reasonably certain” that the Chinese soldiers had crossed over to the Indian side of the LAC.
  • A Chinese transgression – in air, land or the waters of Pangong Tso Lake is often recorded by the Army or the ITBP.
  • It is visually observed through the use of surveillance equipment, in face-offs by patrols, indicated reliably by locals, or based on evidence left by the Chinese in the form of wrappers, biscuit packets etc to show their presence in an unmanned area.

What does the ‘Indian side’ of the LAC mean?

  • The border is not fully demarcated and the LAC is neither clarified nor confirmed by the two countries.
  • Except for the middle sector, even the mutual exchange of maps about their respective perceptions has not taken place between India and China.
  • This has led to different perceptions of the LAC for the two sides, and soldiers from either side try to patrol the area up to their perception of the LAC.
  • Essentially, what Indians believe to be ‘their side’ is not the same as what the Chinese believe to be ‘their side’.
  • This is different from the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan where everything was agreed upon by the two armies following the 1971 War.

What are the various sectors on the India-China border?

  • India-China border is divided into three sectors.
  • The LAC in the western sector falls in the UT of Ladakh and is 1597 km long, the middle sector of 545 km length falls in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and 1346 km long eastern sector falls in the states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The middle sector is the least disputed sector, while the western sector witnesses the highest transgressions between the two sides.

Does the higher number of Chinese transgressions matter?

  • A higher number indicates that the Chinese soldiers are coming to the Indian side more often, and their movements are being observed and recorded by the Indian soldiers.
  • This can be seen as an indicator of increased Chinese assertiveness, but as long as there are no major incidents, it means that the established border mechanisms between the two sides are working.
  • So far, there has been no major standoff between the two sides after the 73-day Doklam standoff on Sikkim-Bhutan border in 2017.
  • But PM Modi and President Xi met in Wuhan, following the Doklam crisis, and passed some instructions.

Extinguished by Wuhan ‘Spirit’

  • Modi and Xi had met for their first informal summit at Wuhan in April 2018, where the two leaders had issued strategic guidance to their respective militaries.
  • These guidelines aimed to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs.
  • They had also directed their militaries to earnestly implement various confidence-building measures agreed upon between the two sides, including the principle of mutual and equal security.

Implications

  • That is hard to say that tensions between India and China have shot up suddenly in 2020, even as both countries grapple with containing the spread of COVID-19.
  • Besides tensions at Naku La in Sikkim and at Galwan river and Pangong Tso in Ladakh, India has been worried about the Nepal government’s recent behaviour on the border map issue.
  • It doesn’t leave much to our imagination that Nepal is reacting at “the behest of a third party,” (ostensibly China).

Should one be worried?

  • India and China are both nuclear-armed countries with strong militaries.
  • Although not a shot between them has been fired since 1976 or a military skirmish happened after 1967, the fact those Indian and Chinese soldiers are in an eyeball to eyeball situation at two places in Ladakh.
  • The strong statements coming from both sides can’t be construed as a very happy situation.
  • Because matters on the border have always been resolved peacefully by the two countries in the past four decades, there is hope that the tensions will soon subside.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Demo-2 Mission by SpaceXPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Demo 2 Mission

Mains level : Commercial crew programme by NASA


NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight will lift off for International Space Station (ISS) becoming the first crewed flight to launch from American soil since the conclusion of the space shuttle era in 2011.

We can get a match the pair type question in prelims asking various space missions and their purposes. Make note of similar space missions from here.

Try this:

Q. Which of the following pair is/are correctly matched? (CSP 2014)

Spacecraft Purpose
1. Cassini-Huygens Orbiting the Venus and transmitting data to the Earth
2. Messenger Mapping and investigating the Mercury
3. Voyager 1 and 2 Exploring the outer solar system

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

a) 1 only

b) 2 and 3 only

c) 1 and 3 only

d) 1, 2 and 3

Demo-2: What is the mission?

  • The Demo-2 mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with the aim of developing reliable and cost-effective access to and from the ISS.
  • Essentially, the lift-off is a flight test to certify if SpaceX’s crew transportation system can be used to ferry crew to and from the space station regularly.
  • After its launch, the Crew Dragon will perform a series of phasing manoeuvres to gradually approach and autonomously dock with the ISS.
  • After docking, the two astronauts will go aboard the ISS. They will perform tests of the Crew Dragon and conduct research with Expedition 63, the space station crew currently in residence at ISS.

About the Commercial Crew Program

  • The main objective of this program is to make access to space easier in terms of its cost, so that cargo and crew can be easily transported to and from the ISS, enabling greater scientific research.
  • Secondly, by encouraging private companies such as Boeing and SpaceX to provide crew transportation NASA wants to focus on building spacecraft and rockets meant for deep space exploration missions.
  • Boeing and SpaceX were selected by NASA in September 2014 to develop transportation systems meant to transfer crew from the US to the ISS.

Back2Basics: SpaceX

  • Space Exploration Technologies Corp., trading as SpaceX, is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation Services Company headquartered in Hawthorne, California.
  • It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars.
  • SpaceX has developed several launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft.
Indian Air Force Updates

What is the ‘Sonic Boom’ that rattled Bengaluru city?Prelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sonic Boom, Mach Number

Mains level : India's missile programme


The ‘loud sound’ heard in Bengaluru a few days back, which puzzled lakhs of city dwellers, was revealed to have emanated from an IAF test flight involving a supersonic profile. The sonic boom was probably heard while the IAF aircraft was decelerating from supersonic to subsonic speed between 36,000 and 40000 feet altitude.

Note:

We often get to hear about updates in  India’s missile programme. UPSC may ask a basic physics question asking fundamental differences between various Mach number and its differences.

What is a ‘sonic boom’?

  • Sound travels in the form of waves which are emitted outwards from its source.
  • In air, the speed of these waves depends on a number of factors, such as the temperature of the air and altitude.
  • When an aircraft travels at supersonic speed – meaning faster than sound (>1225 kmph at sea level) – the field of sound waves moves to the back of the craft.
  • A stationary observer thus hears no sound when a supersonic flight approaches since the sound waves are at the rear of the latter.
  • At such speeds, both newly created as well as old waves, are forced into a region at the aircraft’s rear called a ‘Mach cone’, which extends from the craft and intercepts the Earth in a hyperbola-shaped curve, and leaves a trail called the ‘boom carpet’.
  • The loud sound that is heard on the Earth when this happens is called a ‘sonic boom’ (resembles bomb-blast sound).

Impacts

  • When such aircraft fly at a low altitude, the sonic boom can become intense enough to cause the glass to crack or cause health hazards.
  • Overland supersonic flights have thus been banned in many countries.

Supersonic flights

  • In 1947, the American military pilot Chuck Yeager became the first to breach the sound barrier, flying the Bell X-1 aircraft at 1127 kmph.
  • Since then, many supersonic flights have followed, with advanced designs allowing speeds of over Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound.
  • According to the IAF website, India’s fastest jets include the Sukhoi SU-30 MKI (Mach 2.35) and the Mirage-2000 (Mach 2.3).

Back2Basics: Traverse of sound

  • From a stationary source, such as a television set, sound waves travel outwards in concentric spheres of growing radii.
  • When the source of sound is moving – e.g, a truck– the successive waves in front of the truck get closer together, and the ones behind it spread out.
  • This is also the cause of the Doppler effect– in which bunched waves at the front appear at a higher frequency to a stationary observer, and spread out waves that are behind are observed at a lower frequency.
  • As long as the source of the sound keeps moving slower than the speed of sound itself, this source– say a truck or a plane – remains nested within the sound waves that are travelling in all directions.

Mach number

  • The ratio of the speed of the aircraft to the speed of sound in the gas determines the magnitude of many of the compressibility effects.
  • Because of the importance of this speed ratio, aerodynamicists have designated it with a special parameter called the Mach number in honour of Ernst Mach, a late 19th-century physicist who studied gas dynamics.
  • Subsonic conditions occur for Mach numbers less than one, M < 1.
  • As the speed of the object approaches the speed of sound, the flight Mach number is nearly equal to one, M = 1, and the flow is said to be transonic.
  • Supersonic conditions occur for Mach numbers greater than one, 1 < M < 3.
  • For speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, M > 5, the flow is said to be hypersonic.
  • The Space Shuttle re-enters the atmosphere at high hypersonic speeds, M ~ 25. Under these conditions, the heated air becomes ionized plasma of gas and the spacecraft must be insulated from the high temperatures.
Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

[pib] Certification of ‘Quantum Entanglement’PIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quantum Entanglement (QE)

Mains level : Quantum mechanics and its applications


Indian scientists have developed a novel protocol to find out whether a pair of electrons are in an entangled state so that they can be safely used as resources for facilitating quantum information processing tasks.

Trending in news this year is the Quantum Technology, (As it used to be until last year were- the Internet of Things (IoT) CSP 2019, Artificial Intelligence (AI) etc.)

Must read all this news in a loop:

National Mission on QC

Quantum Coin

Quantum Supremacy

What is Quantum Entanglement (QE)?

  • QE is the name given to a special connection between pairs or groups of quantum systems, or any objects described by quantum mechanics.
  • It is one of the biggest parts of quantum mechanics that makes it hard to understand in terms of the everyday world.
  • When we look at particles, we usually say that each particle has its own quantum state. Sometimes, two particles can act on one another and become an entangled system.
  • When a pair or group of particles can only be described by the quantum state for the system, and not by individual quantum states, we say the particles are “entangled”.

Going bit technical here-

  • It is the physical phenomenon that occurs when a pair or group of particles is generated; interact, in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the pair or group cannot be described independently of the state of the others.
  • Entangled states are key resources to facilitate many quantum information processing tasks and quantum cryptographic protocols.

Why decode the Entanglement?

  • Entanglement is fragile and is easily lost during the transit of photons through the environment.
  • Hence it is extremely important to know whether a pair of photons are entangled, in order to use them as a resource.
  • Verification of entanglement requires the use of measurement devices, but such devices may be hacked or compromised.

How to secure QE?

  • Device-independent self-testing (DIST) is a method that can be used in order to overcome such a possibility.
  • This method enables the verification of entanglement in an unknown quantum state of two photons without having direct access to the state, or complete trust in the measurement devices.
  • The theory relies on the application of the quantum uncertainty principle while implementing full device independence is a difficult task.

Back2Basics: Quantum Mechanics

  • Quantum mechanics (QM) is a fundamental theory in physics which describes nature at the smallest scales of energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles.
  • It is the body of scientific laws that describe the wacky behaviour of photons, electrons and the other particles that make up the universe.
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Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[pib] Alternative Dwarfing Genes in WheatPIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rht14 and Rht18

Mains level : Alternatives to stubble burning


Scientists at Pune based Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology has mapped two dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat that can reduce stubble volume.

Note: One may wonder why the name of research institution has not been skipped here!

Q. With reference to the Genetically Modified mustard (GM mustard) developed in India, consider the following statements:

  1. GM mustard has the genes of a soil bacterium that give the plant the property of pest-resistance to a wide variety of pests.
  2. GM mustard has the genes that allow the plant cross-pollination and hybridization.
  3. GM mustard has been developed jointly by the IARI and Punjab Agricultural University.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (CSP 2018)

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Rht14 and Rht18

  • The researchers have mapped the dwarfing genes on chromosome 6A in durum wheat, and DNA-based markers were developed for a better selection of these genes in wheat breeding lines.
  • These genes are associated with better seedling vigour and longer coleoptiles (sheath protecting the young shoot tip).
  • These DNA based markers are being used at ARI for marker-assisted transfer of these genes in Indian wheat varieties, so as to make them suitable for sowing under rice stubble-retained conditions and dry environments.
  • Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.
  • Wheat lines with these alternative dwarfing genes, apart from reducing crop residue burning, can allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil under dry environments.

Significance

  • In India, close to twenty-three million tonnes of leftover rice residues are annually burnt by farmers to get rid of the straw and prepare their fields for sowing wheat, which is the next crop, resulting in air pollution.
  • Burning of leftover rice crop residue has serious implications for the environment, soil, and human health.
  • Therefore, there is a need to include alternative dwarfing genes in wheat improvement programs.
  • The dwarfing genes Rht14 and Rht18 in wheat conferred a plant height reduction comparable to the Rht1 alleles while retaining early vigour in wheat seedlings, but do not affect coleoptile length and seedling shoot length.
  • These can, therefore, be utilized as an alternative dwarfing gene to Rht1 for deep sowing conditions or in fields with retained stubble.
  • The improved wheat lines which are being developed at ARI will help reducing stubble burning incidences under the rice-wheat cropping system.
  • These lines will also allow deeper sowing of wheat seeds to avail advantage of residual moisture in the soil, therefore, saving valuable water resources and reduce the cost of cultivation to farmers.
Posted on | Custom
Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

‘Agappe Chitra Magna’ kit for COVID diagnosisPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Agappe Chitra Magna

Mains level : COVID diagnosis and treatment


Agappe Chitra Magna, a magnetic nanoparticles-based RNA extraction kit has been commercially launched.

The peculiarity of the name ‘Agappe Chitra Magna’ creates a possibility of a prelims question. One may confuse it with any sort of Artform.

Agappe Chitra Magna (ACM) Kit

  • The ACM kit is developed by the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) and manufactured by Kochi-based Agappe Diagnostics Ltd.,
  • It uses innovative technology for isolating RNA using magnetic nanoparticles to capture the RNA from the patient sample.
  • The magnetic nanoparticles beads bind to the viral RNA and, when exposed to a magnetic field, give a highly purified and concentrated RNA.
  • As the sensitivity of the detection method is dependent on getting an adequate quantity of viral RNA, this innovation enhances the chances of identifying positive cases.
  • The commercial launch of the kit is a major step to make India self-reliant in detecting COVID-19 and can help increase the rate of testing and bring down its costs, a crucial step for combating the pandemic.

Significance of the kit

  • The commercial launch of the kit is a major step to make India self-reliant in detecting COVID-19 and can help increase the rate of testing and bring down its costs, a crucial step for combating the pandemic.
  • The RNA isolation kit will reduce the dependence on imported kits and make COVID testing more cost-effective.
Posted on | The Hindu
Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

Towards self-reliance in defence manufacturingop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ordinance Factory Board

Mains level : Paper 3- Self-sufficiency in defence manufacturing


External dependence for defence equipment could turn out to be the chink in the armour of any country, literally. As one of the major importer of defence equipment, India has been struggling to wean itself away from this vulnerability. This article discusses the recent changes announced by the finance minister in defence procurement and manufacturing policy. So, what are the changes and how will these changes benefit us? Read to know more…

Promoting self-reliance: Addressing strategic and national security concern

  • Recently the Finance Minister announced measures to promote self-reliance in defence production.
  • This address long-standing strategic and national security concerns about the extent of India’s external dependence for its defence-preparedness.
  • For most of the past decade, India had the dubious distinction of being the world’s largest arms importer.
  • India accounted for about 12% of global arms imports.
  • Saudi Arabia jumped to first place in 2018 and 2019, but India still takes over 9% of global imports.
  • This external dependence for weapons, spares and, in some cases, even ammunition creates vulnerabilities during military crises.
  • COVID-19 has, once again, focused minds on the impact of supply chain disruptions on both civil and defence sectors.
  • With its security environment, its great power ambitions and its technological capacities, India should have a robust defence manufacturing capacity.
  • New Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP) 2020 are under formulation.
  • We now have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) tasked with promoting indigenous equipment in the armed forces.

Following are some of the moves declared by the government and their significance for the country

1. Encouraging  private manufacturers

  • The decision i) to notify a list of weapons systems for sourcing entirely from Indian manufacturers, ii) the promise to progressively expand this list iii) a separate Budget provision for domestic capital procurement- will encourage our private defence manufacturers.
  • The research capacities, technological skills and quality commitment of our private defence manufacturer are often better appreciated by foreign clients for whom they are subcontractors.
  • There is a range of platforms and subsystems, developed in India and qualified in trials, some of which face hurdles to their induction by our armed forces because of foreign competition.
  • These include missile systems such as Akash and Nag, the Light Combat Aircraft and the Light Combat Helicopter, artillery guns, radars, electronic warfare systems and armoured vehicles.

2. Time-bound procurement

  • The government has promised i) a time-bound defence procurement process, ii) overhauling trial and testing procedures iii) establishing a professional project management unit.
  • To understand the significance of the above measures consider the fact below-
  • Over the past five years, the Indian government has approved over 200 defence acquisition proposals, valued at over ₹4 trillion.
  • But most are still in relatively early stages of processing.
  • Of course, this delay now provides the opportunity to re-examine them and to prioritise those with indigenous research and development.
  • The CDS could also examine them from a tri-service angle, to avoid redundancy of capacities across the services.

3. Corporatisation of Ordnance Factory Board

  • Over the decades, our ordnance factories have been the backbone of indigenous supplies to our armed forces.
  • Their structure, work culture and product range now need to be responsive to technology and quality demands of modern armed forces.
  • Corporatisation, including public listing of some units, ensures a more efficient interface of the manufacturer with the designer and end-user.
  • The factories would be better integrated into the larger defence manufacturing ecosystem.

4. Realistic specifications of desired weapon platforms

  • Our defence planners will frame “realistic” specifications for their desired weapons platforms.
  • These specifications should be based on the requirements of India’s defence strategy, rather than on aspirational considerations which, the Finance Minister said, may lead to a single foreign vendor.
  • It is also imperative that when we import weapon systems, we should plan for the ammunitions and spares for them to be eventually manufactured in India.
  • This will ensure that we are not driven to seek urgent replenishments from abroad during crises.
  • The same goes for repair, maintenance and overhaul facilities and, at the next level, the upgrade of weapons platforms.

5. FDI limit increased to 74% by automatic route

  • The liberalisation of foreign direct investment in defence manufacturing, raising the limit under the automatic route to 74%, should open the door to more joint ventures of foreign and Indian companies for defence manufacturing in India.
  • It would also sustain domestic industrial activity in the research, design and manufacture of systems and sub-systems.
  • Our companies would now get the opportunity to directly contribute to Indian defence manufacturing.

Way forward

  • The development of a thriving indigenous defence industry needs an overhaul of existing regulations and practices.
  • A long-term integrated perspective plan of the requirements of the armed forces should give industry a clear picture of future requirements.
  • DPP 2020 should incorporate guidelines to promote forward-looking strategic partnerships between Indian and foreign companies.
  • This partnership should be with a view to achieving indigenisation over a period of time for even sophisticated platforms.
  • Cost evaluation has to evolve from mechanical application of the L1 (lowest financial bid) principle to prioritising indigenous content.
  • The definition of indigenisation itself needs to privilege technology over value or volume.
  • Investment, Indian or foreign, will be viable only if the door to defence exports is opened, with a transparent policy.
  • To give private industry a level playing field for developing defence technologies, conflicts of interest, created by the role of our Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as the government’s sole adviser, developer and evaluator of technologies have to be addressed.

Consider the question, “India has been aspiring to reduce its external dependence for defence equipment but has not succeeded in doing so. Examine the challenges in the way of self-sufficiency in this area. How effective will be the recent policy changes made in meeting the goal?”

Conclusion

The government has rightly clarified that self-reliance would not be taken to overzealous extremes. The thrust for indigenous research and development will coexist with the import of cutting-edge military technologies to obviate near-term defence vulnerabilities. Of the key components of any major reform — money, method and mindset — mindset is the most critical and the most intractable. It takes a crisis to change it.

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus – Economic Issues

Stimulus package aims to turn the crisis into opportunityop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aggregate demand

Mains level : Paper 3- Stimulus package to address demand side and supply side problems


Economic disruption caused by the corona crisis stems from both-demand side and supply side. So, the stimulus package announced was expected to address the issues on both sides. This article breaks downs the various elements of the package in demand-side as well as supply-side measures. We also know aggregate demand is not just consumption demand. So, this fact was also considered while deciding the demand-side measures.

Twin mantra of stimulus package

  • 1) To ensure that human cost of the crisis is minimised, especially for those at the bottom of the pyramid.
  • 2) To convert this crisis into an opportunity by implementing bold structural reforms.
  • Such reforms will go beyond repairing the damage to the production capacities and enhance the overall supply response capabilities of the economy.

Impact on demand side as well as supply side

  • The present crisis is far worse than both the Asian financial crisis of the late Nineties as well as the global financial crisis of 2008-09.
  • It has seriously impacted both the supply and demand side of the economy.
  • The government’s response has been to effectively address both these aspects.

Government’s four-fold response to address supply-side problems

1. Ensuring food security

  • To ensure that the government declared agriculture and all related activities as essential services.
  • This permitted the successful harvesting and efficient procurement of the critical Rabi crop.
  • It also implied pumping in Rs 78,000 crore as new purchasing power in the hands of the farmers.

2. Preventing cash/liquidity crunch

  • Preventing the pressing cash/liquidity crunch was necessary to avoid insolvencies and bankruptcies.
  • An immediate moratorium was announced on their debt servicing obligations to commercial banks.
  • This measure was reinforced for MSMEs, for whom an additional credit line of Rs 3 trillion without any fresh collateral was extended.
  • MSMEs could also avail of new equity from the Rs 50,000 crore fund of funds and take advantage of the subsidiary debt facility announced by the FM.
  • These measures provided succour to a large number of businesses, especially those in the services sectors like hospitality, entertainment and retail.
  • The Rs 90,000 crore credit package made available to state discoms should also be included in this set of measures.
  • It will prevent bankruptcies of state electricity utilities and the power producers, which would have had disastrous results.

3. Reforms in agriculture and manufacturing sector

  • The third set of measures were directed to significantly improve the ecosystem for private producers, both in agriculture and manufacturing.
  • Long-pending reforms to give farmers the much-needed freedom to choose their clients and for traders and exporters of agro-products to maintain necessary stocks have now been announced.
  • Defence production and exports will get a new fillip with the liberalisation measures.
  • Greater space will be given to private businesses in sectors in which public sector enterprises hitherto had either a monopoly or a predominant presence.

4. Credit to street vendors

  • Finally, this is a measure that does not have a large fiscal footprint, but touches the lives and livelihoods of more than 50 lakh families.
  • Under which street vendors all over the country have been given a credit of Rs 10,000 each for re-stocking and use as working capital.

Understanding the aggregate demand

  •  It is important to point out that aggregate demand is made up of- i) consumption, ii) investment iii) demand for intermediate goods.
  • So,  the cash-in-hand of consumers is not the only means for reversing the declining demand in the economy.
  • Therefore, additional credit lines provided to MSMEs, vendors or farmers will contribute to the strengthening of aggregate demand.

Government’s response to address demand-side problems

  • A significant number of measures were announced to hike consumption demand directly as well.
  • Among these are:
  • Rs 1.73 lakh crore for improving the incomes and welfare of the most vulnerable, including the 20 crore female Jan Dhan account holders who will receive monies directly into their bank accounts.
  • Rs 50,000 additional incomes in the hands of those whose TDS and TCS were reduced by 25 per cent.
  • Rs 40,000 crore additional allocation for MNREGA, which will provide jobs and succour to those returning to their villages from metros and cities.
  • Rs 30,000 crore for construction workers.
  • Rs 17,800 crore transferred to 12 crore farmers and Rs 13,000 crore transferred to states to finance the costs of running quarantine homes and shelters for migrant workers.
  • These measures, which will directly benefit different categories of individuals, will surely raise the flagging demand — the necessary condition for triggering a fast-paced recovery in economic activity.

Consider the question “The stimulus package announced by the government in the wake of pandemic sought to address both the demand side as well as supply-side problems. Examine the various components of package and other reforms announced in the economy.”

Conclusion

Combined with the significant number of bold structural reform measures, which hold the potential to make Indian firms attain global scales and competitiveness and give the much-needed freedoms, flexibility and financial strength to our beleaguered farmers, “the package” promises to promote India’s economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 period.

Coronavirus – Economic Issues

India and China after pandemicop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various components of the economic package

Mains level : Paper 3- Impact of pandemic on India economy.


The article broadly discusses the impact of the pandemic on the Indian economy. While the package has been declared to alleviate the economic pain, the government faces the challenge of finding the resources to plug the gaps. Though pandemic erupted from China, it successfully controlled it. This along with the its calibrated approach towards strategic progression is going to stand China in good stead.

Grappling with the “unknown unknowns”

  • Several weeks before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s Minister for External Affairs delivered a lecture.
  • In the lecture, he had observed that “what defines power and determines national standing is also no longer the same. Technology, connectivity and trade are at the heart of the new contestations.”
  • He did mention a point about “known unknowns”.
  • But the pandemic has forced us to face the “unknown unknowns”.
  • Within a few weeks, his prediction would be overtaken by a tectonic shift in the global situation thanks to a virus and a pandemic.

Impact on India’s economy

  • What distinguishes the present pandemic from earlier ones is its economic impact.
  • The economic impact is perhaps even more threatening than the human costs involved.
  • In the case of India, all forecasts have had to be shredded.
  • Job losses have been massive, specially in urban areas.
  • India’s exports in the month of April, for instance, were the worst in the past 30 years.

Finding resources for the stimulus package

  • Well before pandemic India had been witnessing a persistent economic downward slide.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a ₹20-lakh crore stimulus package was, hence, timely.
  • Even though economists now believe that in real terms it amounts to around 2% of GDP rather than 10% .
  • Finding resources for even this stimulus package will, however, not be easy.
  • The Centre’s finances are not in the best of health. It has already had to resort to a second tranche of $1 billion loan from the World Bank to support COVID-19 relief measures.
  • The finances of States are, to say the least, in a perilous state.
  • Questions are, thus, bound to be raised as to whether adequate funds would be forthcoming for relief purposes.

Important items in the the package

  • Among the more important items are-
  • Providing a stimulus to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) through a ₹3-lakh crore loan scheme.
  • Helping other stressed business sectors such as non-banking financial companies, or NBFCs, power distribution companies and the real estate industry.
  • Provisioning of free food grains to migrant workers for the next two months.
  • Provisioning of a ₹1-lakh crore subsidy to agricultural cooperative societies.
  • Hiking the allocation for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or MGNREGS, by ₹40,000 crore.
  • Extension of credit facilities to street vendors; interest subvention for small businesses, etc.

Criticism of the package

  •  Most critics affirm that it has been a financial stimulus at best, and much less likely to provide the much-needed stimulus to the economy.
  • A valid criticism is that the patchwork of stimulus packages reveals a disjointed mosaic of ideas and thoughts.
  • Also, that these ideas such as liberalisation of various sectors like defence and aerospace would be more relevant to a Budget discussion than a stimulus package.
  • Many are, hence, viewing the stimulus package as a panic reaction to an increasingly difficult situation rather than a deliberate plan of action.
  • It is indeed difficult to see how in the absence of a proper and well designed plan, a patchwork of stimulus packages would enable India to return to growth rates of 7% to 8%.

China’s calibrated approach: Strategic progression

  • Since its early recovery, China has followed a calibrated approach — one that stems from a policy of deliberate strategic progression conceived over the years.
  • It may be worthwhile to understand the facts so as to underscore the gap that currently exists between China and India.
  • In 2015, China’s President, Xi Jinping, had floated the idea of “a Community of Common Destiny of Mankind”.
  • In this, he outlined China’s viewpoint on aspects such as economic globalisation and the information technology revolution.
  • The Belt and Road Initiative — which encompasses policy, infrastructure, trade, financial, and people-to-people connectivity, and, implicitly also, security ties — was an adjunct to it.
  • The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (2017), thereafter, gave its assent, considering it essential to enable China to achieve pre-eminence status within the global order.
  • Ever since, China has focused on-
  • i) attaining economic and technological progress.
  • ii) defining how power would be determined in the new globalised era through devising new international norms in many emerging domains such as cyber, space, artificial intelligence, etc.
  • China also set about rewriting international rules, premised not so much on governing where global goods are made, but on setting standards that define production, exchange and consumption.
  • China Standards 2035 plans to set new standards with regard to the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and define next-generation information technology and biotechnology infrastructure.
  • China is hoping, to reap the “early bird” advantage, even as other industrial nations struggle to recover from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Internationalisation of Chinese standards would provide China a clear advantage by providing it an opportunity to set the standards in emerging industries such as high-end equipment manufacturing, unmanned vehicles, new materials, cybersecurity and the like.
  • This would enable it gain a dominant position in the global economy.

India must plan well to cope with the China challenge

  • Mounting an effective challenge to China at this time would require a well-conceived and carefully calibrated plan of action by India.
  • As of now, this is not evident.
  • India and China will certainly emerge from the pandemic more diminished than previously, but to varying extents.
  • Each country will, no doubt, suffer an economic setback.
  • But while both nations would be among the very few that would still have a positive growth rate in the near future.
  • Which is 1% in the case of China and 1.8% in the case of India, according to the International Monetary Fund.
  • Given the size of China’s economy, it does not translate into a massive shift in India’s favour.

Consider the question “Economies across the world have been bruised by the corona pandemic. There have also been talks of India being the beneficiary of changes in the global supply chains. In light of this, examine the issues and challenges that India may face in this regard.”

Conclusion

India would more than welcome some of the entities exiting China, but there are no “green shoots” to suggest that such a shift has, or is, about to take place. Many alternatives are available to these companies and it would be excessively optimistic on our part to hold on to the belief that India is the only alternative choice for most of them.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

What is Solar Minimum?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solar minima and maxima

Mains level : Solar minima and maxima, its impact on space weather and earth


The sun is said to have gone into a state called the ‘solar minimum’ and is about to enter the deepest period of ‘sunshine recession’ as sunspots are virtually not visibly at all.

Practice question for Mains:

Q. What are Solar minima and maxima? Discuss its impact on space weather and the Earth.

What is a solar minimum and why is it happening now?

  • Sun has a cycle that lasts on average 11 years, and right now we are at the peak of that cycle.
  • Every 11 years or so, sunspots fade away, bringing a period of relative calm.
  • This is called the solar minimum. And it’s a regular part of the sunspot cycle.
  • While intense activity such as sunspots and solar flares subside during solar minimum, that doesn’t mean the sun becomes dull. Solar activity simply changes form.

What about Solar Maximum?

  • Solar minima and maxima are the two extremes of the Sun’s 11-year and 400-year activity cycle.
  • At a maximum, the Sun is peppered with sunspots, solar flares erupt, and the Sun hurls billion-ton clouds of electrified gas into space.
  • Sky watchers may see more auroras, and space agencies must monitor radiation storms for astronaut protection.
  • Power outages, satellite malfunctions, communication disruptions, and GPS receiver malfunctions are just a few of the things that can happen during a solar maximum.

What are its effects on Earth?

a) On space weather

  • The Solar wind from coronal holes will temporarily create disturbances in the Earth’s magnetosphere, called geomagnetic storms, auroras, and disruptions to communications and navigation systems.
  • The space weather during solar minimum will also affect Earth’s upper atmosphere on satellites in low Earth orbit changes.
  • This means that the Earth’s upper atmosphere will cool down which is generally heated and puffed up by ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
  • However, the heat at the upper atmosphere of our planet helps Earth to drag debris and keep the low Earth orbit clear of manmade space junk.
  • Apart from this, the solar minimum will change the space weather significantly which will lead to an increase in the number of galactic cosmic rays that reach Earth’s upper atmosphere.
  • These Galactic cosmic rays are high energy particles which are a result of distant supernova explosions and other violent events in the galaxy.

b) On astronauts

  • According to NASA the sun’s magnetic field weakens and provides less shielding from these cosmic rays during a solar minimum which will directly increase the threat to astronauts travelling through space.
  • This may cause health risks to astronauts travelling through space as the sun’s magnetic field weakens and provides less shielding from these cosmic rays.
Posted on | Custom
Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

India to chair ‘WHO Executive Board’IOCR

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WHO

Mains level : Losing credibility of WHO in COVID-19 times


India would now be playing a more prominent role at the World Health Organisation (WHO), with Union Health Minister taking charge as chairman of the WHO Executive Board at its 147th session.  Dr Harsh Vardhan would succeed Dr Hiroki Nakatani of Japan.

Practice question for Mains:

Q. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had “missed the call” on the COVID-19 pandemic. Critically comment with context to the ongoing spat between the US and China.

About WHO

  • The WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.
  • It is part of the U.N. Sustainable Development Group.
  • The WHO Constitution, which establishes the agency’s governing structure and principles, states its main objective as ensuring “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”
  • It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with six semi-autonomous regional offices and 150 field offices worldwide.

The WHO Executive Board

  • The WHO is governed by two decision-making bodies — the World Health Assembly and the Executive Board.
  • The Board is composed of 34 members technically qualified in the field of health, with members being elected for three-year terms.
  • The Health Assembly is the WHO’s decision-making body and consists of 194 Member States.
  • The Board chairman’s post is held by rotation for one year by each of the WHO’s six regional groups: African Region, Region of the Americas, South-East Asia Region, European Region, Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Western Pacific Region.

Functions of the Board

  • The main functions of the Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.
  • The Board and the Assembly create a forum for debate on health issues and for addressing concerns raised by the Member States.
  • Both the Board and the Assembly produce three kinds of documents — Resolutions and Decisions passed by the two bodies, Official Records as published in WHO Official publications, and Documents that are presented “in session” of the two bodies.

Back2Basics: India at the WHO

  • India became a party to the WHO Constitution on 12 January 1948.
  • The first session of the South East Asia Regional Committee was held on October 4-5, 1948 in the office of the Indian Minister of Health, and was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first PM.
  • The first Regional Director for South-East Asia was an Indian, Dr Chandra Mani, who served between 1948-1968.
  • Currently, the post has again been occupied by an Indian appointee, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, who has been in office since 2014.
  • Since 2019, Dr Soumya Swaminathan has been the WHO’s, Chief Scientist.

Also read:

[Burning Issue] World Health Organization (WHO) And Coronavirus Handling

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

[pib] New ports and routes added under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit between India and BangladeshPIBPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Protocol on Inland Water Transit

Mains level : India's north-east connectivity through Bangladesh


India and Bangladesh have opened a new chapter in regional connectivity by expanding the scope of inland water transport mechanism that would enable to boost trade in the region.

Note all the ports mentioned in the newscard and the image. Also, keep a tab on river systems of North east India.

What is the news?

  • The Standing Committee on the Protocol and the Shipping Secretary level Talks are the institutional arrangements to discuss and make the Protocol more effective.
  • During the latest discussions key decisions were taken on the extension of protocol routes, the inclusion of new routes and declaration of new Ports of Call to facilitate trade between the two countries.

New routes

The number of Indo Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) routes is being increased from 8 to 10 and new locations are also added to the existing routes: –

1) Inclusion of Sonamura- Daudkhandi stretch of Gumti river (93 Km) as IBP route:

  • It will improve the connectivity of Tripura and adjoining States with Indian and Bangladesh`s economic centres and will help the hinterland of both the countries.

2) Rajshahi-Dhulian-Rajshahi Routes and its extension up to Aricha (270 km)

  • It will help the augmentation of infrastructure in Bangladesh as it would reduce the transportation cost of stone chips/aggregate to northern part of Bangladesh through this route. It will also decongest the Land Custom Stations on both sides.

Ports of Call

  • Port of call means an intermediate stop for a ship on its scheduled journey for cargo operation or taking on supplies or fuel.
  • The following are existing Ports of Call in the two countries on Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) route:
India Kolkata Haldia Pandu Karimganj Silghat Dhubri
Bangladesh Narayanganj Khulna Mongla Sirajganj Ashuganj Pangaon
  • Newly added: Two more extended Ports of Call have been added
  • Inclusion of Jogigopha in India and Bahadurabad in Bangladesh as new Port of Call will provide connectivity to Meghalaya, Assam and Bhutan.

About the Protocol on Inland Water Transit

  • Bangladesh and India have a long-standing and time-tested Protocol on Transit and Trade through inland waterways of both countries.
  • This Protocol, which was first signed in 1972 (immediately after independence of Bangladesh), is a reflection of shared history and friendship between the two countries.
  • It was last renewed in 2015 for five years with a provision for its automatic renewal for a further period of five years giving long term assurance to various stakeholders.
Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments

[pib] Scheme for formalization of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (FME)Govt. SchemesPIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Scheme for formalization of Micro Food Processing Enterprises (FME)

Mains level : Food processing industry and the required reforms


The Union Cabinet has given its approval to a new Centrally Sponsored Scheme – “Scheme for Formalization of Micro food processing Enterprises (FME)” for the Unorganized Sector on All India basis.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Discuss the scope and significance of Food Processing Industries in India.  Also discuss how can it benefit India becoming the global food store.

Background

  • There are about 25 lakh unregistered food processing enterprises which constitute 98% of the sector and are unorganized and informal.
  •  Nearly 66 % of these units are located in rural areas and about 80% of them are family-based enterprises.
  • This sector faces a number of challenges including the inability to access credit, high cost of institutional credit, lack of access to modern technology, inability to integrate with the food supply chain and compliance with the health & safety standards.
  • Strengthening this segment will lead to a reduction in wastage, creation of off-farm job opportunities and aid in achieving the overarching Government objective of doubling farmers’ income.

Details of the Scheme for FME

  • The Union Cabinet has sanctioned an outlay of Rs.10,000 crore.
  • The expenditure will be shared by GOI and the States in the ratio of 60:40.

Salient features

  • It will be a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. Expenditure to be shared by the Government of India and States at 60:40.
  • 2, 00,000 micro-enterprises are to be assisted with credit linked subsidy.
  • The scheme will be implemented over a 5 year period from 2020-21 to 2024-25.
  • Cluster approach.
  • Focus on perishables.

Support for Individual micro-units:

  • Micro enterprises will get credit-linked subsidy @ 35% of the eligible project cost with a ceiling of Rs.10 lakh.
  • The beneficiary contribution will be a minimum of 10% and balance from the loan.
  • On-site skill training & Handholding for DPR and technical upgradation.

Implementation strategy

  • The scheme will be rolled out on All India basis.
  • Seed capital will be given to SHGs (@Rs. 4 lakh per SHG) for the loan to members for working capital and small tools.
  • Grant will be provided to FPOs for backward/forward linkages, common infrastructure, packaging, marketing & branding.

Administrative and Implementation Mechanisms

  • The Scheme would be monitored at Centre by an Inter-Ministerial Empowered Committee (IMEC) under the Chairmanship of Minister, FPI.
  • A State/ UT Level Committee (SLC) chaired by the Chief Secretary will monitor and sanction/ recommend proposals for expansion of micro-units and setting up of new units by the SHGs/ FPOs/ Cooperatives.
  • The States/ UTs will prepare Annual Action Plans covering various activities for implementation of the scheme, which will be approved by the Government of India.
  • A third-party evaluation and mid-term review mechanism would be built in the programme.
  • The State/ UT Government will notify a Nodal Department and Agency for implementation of the Scheme.

Establishment of a National Portal & MIS

  • A National level portal would be set-up wherein the applicants/ individual enterprise could apply to participate in the Scheme.
  • All the scheme activities would be undertaken on the National portal.

Benefits of the Scheme

  • Nearly eight lakh micro-enterprises will benefit through access to information, better exposure and formalization.
  • Credit linked subsidy support and hand-holding will be extended to 2,00,000 micro-enterprises for expansion and upgradation.
  • It will enable them to formalize, grow and become competitive.
  • The project is likely to generate nine lakh skilled and semi-skilled jobs.
  • The scheme envisages increased access to credit by existing micro food processing entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in the Aspirational Districts.
  • Better integration with organized markets.
  • Increased access to common services like sorting, grading, processing, packaging, storage etc.