NPA Crisis

What is a Bad Bank, and why is a proposal to set it up being floated?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bad Banks

Mains level : Asset reconstructions post NPA buzz

The idea of setting up a bad bank often comes up for debate, especially when stress in the banking sector is projected to rise in the near term.

Practice question for mains:

Q. What is a Bad Bank? Discuss how it can rescue the covid induced bad loans in India.

COVID induced NPAs

  • Several economists and agencies project a recession in the Indian economy this year, due to the adverse effects of Covid-19 on economic activity.
  • This will hit the banking and financial sector in particular, as a slump in earnings of companies and individuals could lead to a jump in NPAs, reversing the early trends.
  • Various analysts suggest that in a couple of years, the proportion of stressed assets in the banking system could jump to as high as 18 per cent from around 11 per cent at present.
  • To tackle this upcoming challenge, the banking industry has proposed the setting up of a government-backed bad bank.

What is the Bad Bank?

  • A bad bank is a bank set up to buy the bad loans and other illiquid holdings of another financial institution.
  • The entity holding significant NPAs will sell these holdings to the bad bank at market price.
  • By transferring such assets to the bad bank, the original institution may clear its balance sheet—although it will still be forced to take write-downs.
  • A bad bank structure may also assume the risky assets of a group of financial institutions, instead of a single bank.

What is the recent proposal of a bad bank?

  • The banking sector, led by the Indian Banks Association (IBA), had in May submitted a proposal for setting up a bad bank to the finance ministry and the RBI.
  • The IBA proposed for having equity contribution from the government and the banks.
  • This was based on an idea proposed by a panel on faster resolution of stressed assets in public sector banks headed by former PNB Chairman Sunil Mehta.
  • This panel had proposed an asset management company (AMC), ‘Sashakt India Asset Management’, for resolving large bad loans two years ago.
  • There were talks about creating a bad bank in 2018 too, but it never took shape.

What kind of NPA spike is expected during this outbreak?

  • The impact of Covid-19 and the associated policy response is likely to result in an additional Rs 1,67,000 crore of debt from the top 500 debt-heavy private sector borrowers turning delinquent between FY21 and FY22.
  • Given that 11.57 per cent of the outstanding debt is already stressed, the proportion of stressed debt is likely to increase to 18.21 per cent of the outstanding quantum.

What is the government’s view over Bad Banks?

  • While the finance ministry has not formally submitted its view on the proposal, senior officials have indicated that it is not keen to infuse equity capital into a bad bank.
  • The government’s view is that bad loan resolution should happen in a market-led way, as there are many asset reconstruction companies already operating in the private space.
  • The government has significantly capitalized state-owned banks in recent years and pursued consolidation in the PSU banking space.
  • In the last three financial years, the government has infused equity of Rs 2.65 lakh crore into state-owned banks.
  • These steps, along with insolvency resolution under the IBC, are seen as adequate to tackle the challenge of bad loans.

What is the RBI view?

  • The RBI has so far never come out favourably about the creation of a bad bank with other commercial banks as main promoters.
  • Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had opposed the idea of setting up a bad bank with a majority stake by banks, arguing it would solve nothing.
  • Rajan argued that a government-funded bad bank would just shift loans “from one government pocket (the public sector banks) to another (the bad bank) and did not see how it would improve matters”.
  • Indeed, if the bad bank were in the public sector, the reluctance to act would merely be shifted to the bad bank.
  • Alternatively, if the bad bank were to be in the private sector, the reluctance of public sector banks to sell loans to the bad bank at a significant haircut would still prevail.

Alternatives to a bad bank

  • Many experts argue that the enactment of IBC has reduced the need for having a bad bank, as a transparent and open process is available for all lenders to attempt insolvency resolution.
  • The view is that an IBC-led resolution, or sale of bad loans to ARCs already existing, is a better approach to tackle the NPA problem rather than a government-funded bad bank.

Former RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya has proposed two models:

1) Private Asset Management Company

  • The first model is a Private Asset Management Company (PAMC) which would be suitable for sectors where the stress is such that assets are likely to have economic value in the short run, with moderate levels of debt forgiveness.

2) Setting up National Asset Management Company (NAMC)

  • The second model is a NAMC for sectors where the problem is not just of excess capacity, but possibly also of economically unviable assets in the short- to medium-term, such as in the power sector.
  • The NAMC would raise debt for its financing needs, keep a minority equity stake for the government, and bring in asset managers such as ARCs and private equity to manage and turn around the assets.

Electoral Reforms In India

Postal Ballots in Elections

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Postal ballot

Mains level : Ensuring transparency in elections

The Election Commission has announced that it will allow those above the age of 65 as well as those under home or institutional quarantine to vote using postal ballots during the Bihar elections. Opposition parties are unhappy with the move and termed it unconstitutional.

Try this question from CSP 2017:

Q.Consider the following statements:

  1. The Election Commission of India is a five-member body.
  2. Union Ministry of Home Affairs decides the election schedule for the conduct of both general elections and bye-elections.
  3. Election Commission resolves the disputes relating to splits/mergers of recognized political parties.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 and 3 only

(d) 3 only

What is Postal Voting?

  • A restricted set of voters can exercise postal voting.
  • Through this facility, a voter can cast her vote remotely by recording her preference on the ballot paper and sending it back to the election officer before counting.

Who can avail of this facility?

  • Members of the armed forces like the Army, Navy and Air Force, members of the armed police force of a state (serving outside the state), government employees posted outside India and their spouses are entitled to vote only by post.
  • In other words, they can’t vote in person. Voters under preventive detention can also vote only by post.
  • Special voters such as the President of India, Vice President, Governors, Union Cabinet ministers, Speaker of the House and government officers on poll duty have the option to vote by post.
  • But they have to apply through a prescribed form to avail this facility.

What about absentee voters?

  • Recently, the Law Ministry, at the Election Commission’s behest, introduced a new category of ‘absentee voters’, who can now also opt for postal voting.
  • These are voters employed in essential services and unable to cast their vote due to their service conditions.
  • Currently, officials of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Northern Railway (Passenger and Freight) Services and media persons are notified as absentee voters.
  • Last month, senior citizens above the age of 65 and voters who test positive for COVID19 or are suspected to be COVID-affected were allowed to cast their vote by post.

How are votes recorded by post?

  • The Returning Officer is supposed to print ballot papers within 24 hours of the last date of nomination withdrawal and dispatch them within a day.
  • This is done so that the ballot papers reach the concerned voter well before the polling date and she has enough time to send it back before the counting day.
  • Postal ballot papers for members of the Armed Forces are sent through their record offices.
  • For members of the armed police force of a state (serving outside the state), government employees posted outside India and their spouses, the ballot paper can be sent through post or electronically.
  • For remaining categories ballot papers can be delivered personally or through the post.

Why political parties are divided over postal ballots?

  • Opposition parties are not against postal ballots.
  • They have objected to the EC’s decision to allow voters aged 65 and above and those infected or suspected to be infected with COVID19 to vote via postal ballots.
  • This change was effected without consulting political parties.
  • They fear that the move will lead to malpractices and foul play by those parties which are in power and having resources.

Issues with the recent move

  • Allowing those aged 65 and above to vote by postal ballot violates secrecy in voting as a large segment of the population is uneducated and they might seek assistance from others.
  • This will end up disclosing their preferred candidate.
  • This also exposes them to “administrative influence or influence by the Government or the ruling party”.

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Raman Spectroscopy?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Scattering of light

Mains level : Paper 3- Raman spectroscopy

Mumbai-based researchers have turned to Raman Spectroscopy to detect RNA viruses present in saliva samples.

Try this question from CSP 2017
Q.Which Indian astrophysicist and Nobel laureate predicted rapidly rotating stars emit polarized light?
(a) Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
(b) CV Raman
(c) Ramanujan
(d) Amartya Sen

The Raman Spectroscopy

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

How does it work?

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

Applications

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

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Explained: In India-China, the Russia role

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RIC

Mains level : India-China border skirmishes and its de-escalation

Russia has emerged, all of a sudden, as a key diplomatic player amid the tension between India and China. It is set to host the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting.

Practice question for mains:

Q. In pursuit of a ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ with the US, India has compromised its ties with Russia. Discuss.

Raksha Mantri stepping in at RIC

  • Tensions being at the peak, India will discuss supply and purchase of new defence systems — like the S-400 missile defence system — with the Russian top brass in the military and government.
  • India has made this decision to reach out to Russia not just out of choice, but also out of necessity.
  • Moscow has leverage and influence to shape and change Beijing’s hard stance on the border issue.

Russia: A mediator for both

  • While India and China have been talking at each other — and not to each other — the outreach to Moscow is noteworthy.
  • It is widely known that Russia and China have grown their relationship in the past few years.
  • The Moscow-Beijing axis is crucial, especially since Washington has been at loggerheads with China in recent months and Russia much more calibrated, even in its response on the Covid-19 outbreak.

Sino-Russian ties: A response to US

  • Russia and China have had a rocky start to their relationship after Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China.
  • When Mao made his first visit to Moscow after winning control of China, in 1949, he was made to wait for weeks for a meeting with the Soviet leader.
  • During the Cold War, China and the USSR were rivals after the Sino-Soviet split in 1961, competing for control of the worldwide Communist movement.
  • There was a serious possibility of a major war in the early 1960s and a brief border war took place in 1969.
  • This enmity began to reduce following Mao’s death in 1976, but relations were not very good until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

India and Russia

  • India has a historical relationship with Russia, spanning over seven decades.
  • While the relationship has grown in some areas and atrophied in some others, the strongest pillar of the strategic partnership is of the defence basket.
  • Although New Delhi has consciously diversified its new purchases from other countries, the bulk of its defence equipment is from Russia.
  • Estimates say 60 to 70 per cent of India’s supplies are from Russia, and New Delhi needs a regular and reliable supply of spare parts from the Russian defence industry.
  • In fact, Prime Minister Modi has held informal summits with only two leaders — Xi and Putin.

Russia position: then & now

  • During the Doklam crisis in 2017, Russian diplomats in Beijing were among the few briefed by the Chinese government.
  • While Russia’s position during the 1962 war was not particularly supportive of India, New Delhi takes comfort in Moscow’s support during the 1971 war.
  • On the events in Galwan, Moscow responded in a much-calibrated manner.
  • Kremlin has expressed its concerns over a clash between the military on the border between China and India but believes that the two countries could resolve this conflict themselves.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Explained: How are elections to the Rajya Sabha held?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rajya Sabha and associated facts

Mains level : Significance of the Rajya Sabha

Another round of Rajya Sabha elections has been completed. There are several features that distinguish elections to the Council of States, or the Upper House of Parliament, from the general elections.

Do you know?

  • Only two UTs elect members to the Rajya Sabha, not all.
  • Polling is held only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies.
  • Independent members can also be elected etc.

Read this newscard for all such interesting facts which can be directly asked in the prelims.

What is so peculiar about the Rajya Sabha polls?

  • A third of MPs in the Rajya Sabha (which is a permanent House and is not subject to dissolution), from each State, retire once in two years and polls are held to fill up the vacancies.
  • Only elected members of the State Legislative Assemblies can vote in a Rajya Sabha election.
  • The legislators send a batch of new members to the Upper House every two years for a six-year term.
  • In addition, vacancies that arise due to resignation, death or disqualification are filled up through by-polls after which those elected serve out the remainder of their predecessors’ term.

Composition of Rajya Sabha

  • A bloc of MPs belonging to one or more parties can elect a member of their choice if they have the requisite numbers.
  • This is to avoid the principle of majority, which would mean that only candidates put up by ruling parties in the respective States will be elected.
  • The Delhi and Puducherry Assemblies elect members to the Rajya Sabha to represent the two UTs.

What is the election process?

  • Polling for a Rajya Sabha election will be held only if the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies.
  • Since the strength of each party in the Assembly is known, it is not difficult to estimate the number of seats a party would win in the Rajya Sabha poll.
  • In many states, parties avoid a contest by fielding candidates only in respect to their strength. Where an extra candidate enters the fray, voting becomes necessary.
  • Candidates fielded by political parties have to be proposed by at least 10 members of the Assembly or 10% of the party’s strength in the House, whichever is less.
  • For independents, there should be 10 proposers, all of whom should be members of the Assembly.

Voting procedure

  • Voting is by single transferable vote, as the election is held on the principle of proportional representation.
  • A single transferable vote means electors can vote for any number of candidates in order of their preference.
  • A candidate requires a specified number of first preference votes to win. Each first choice vote has a value of 100 in the first round.
  • To qualify, a candidate needs one point more than the quotient obtained by dividing the total value of the number of seats for which elections are taking place plus one.

Example: If there are four seats and 180 MLAs voting, the qualifying number will be 180/5= 36 votes or value of 3,600.

Why do not the Rajya Sabha polls have a secret ballot?

  • The Rajya Sabha polls have a system of the open ballot, but it is a limited form of openness.
  • As a measure to check rampant cross-voting, which was taken to mean that the vote had been purchased by corrupt means.
  • There is a system of each party MLA showing his or her marked ballots to the party’s authorised agent (called Whip), before they are put into the ballot box.
  • Showing a marked ballot to anyone other than one’s own party’s authorised agent will render the vote invalid.
  • Not showing the ballot to the authorised agent will also mean that the vote cannot be counted.
  • And independent candidates are barred from showing their ballots to anyone.

Is there any NOTA option in voting?

  • The ECI issued two circulars, on January 24, 2014, and November 12, 2015, giving Rajya Sabha members the option to press the NOTA button in the Upper House polls.
  • However, in 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the provision, holding that the ‘none of the above’ option is only for general elections.
  • It cannot be applied to indirect elections based on proportional representation.

Does cross-voting attract disqualification?

  • The Supreme Court, while declining to interfere with the open ballot system, ruled that not voting for the party candidate will not attract disqualification under the anti-defection law.
  • As voters, MLAs retain their freedom to vote for a candidate of their choice.
  • However, the Court observed that since the party would know who voted against its own candidate, it is free to take disciplinary action against the legislator concerned.

Can a legislator vote without taking oath as a member of the Assembly?

  • While taking oath as a member is for anyone to function as a legislator, the Supreme Court has ruled that a member can vote in a Rajya Sabha election even before taking oath as a legislator.
  • It ruled that voting at the Rajya Sabha polls, being a non-legislative activity, can be performed without taking the oath.
  • A person becomes a member as soon as the list of elected members is notified by the ECI, it said.
  • Further, a member can also propose a candidate before taking the oath.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

Permafrost and the hazards of its Thawing

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Permafrost

Mains level : Paper 1-Permafrost thaw.

The principal reason that led to the recent 20,000-tonne oil leak at an Arctic region power plant in Russia that is now being recognised is the sinking of ground surface due to permafrost thaw.

Try this question from Mains 2017:
Q. What is Cryosphere? How does the Cryosphere affect global climate?

What is Permafrost?

  • Permafrost is ground that remains completely frozen at 0 degrees Celsius or below for at least two years.
  • It is defined solely based on temperature and duration.
  • The permanently frozen ground, consisting of soil, sand, and rock held together by ice, is believed to have formed during glacial periods dating several millennia.

Where are they found?

  • These grounds are known to be below 22 per cent of the land surface on Earth, mostly in polar zones and regions with high mountains.
  • They are spread across 55 per cent of the landmass in Russia and Canada, 85 per cent in the US state of Alaska, and possibly the entirety of Antarctica.
  • In northern Siberia, it forms a layer that is 1,500 m thick; 740 m in northern Alaska.
  • At lower latitudes, permafrost is found at high altitude locations such as the Alps and the Tibetian plateau.

How climate change is eating away at these grounds?

  • The Earth’s polar and high altitude regions — its principal permafrost reservoirs — are the most threatened by climate change.
  • Arctic regions are warming twice as fast compared to the rest of the planet, its current rate of temperature change being the highest in 2,000 years.
  • In 2016, Arctic permafrost temperatures were 3.5 degrees Celsius higher than at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • A study has shown that every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature can degrade up to 39 lakh square kilometre due to thawing.
  • This degradation is expected to further aggravate as the climate gets warmer, putting at risk 40 per cent of the world’s permafrost towards the end of the century– causing disastrous effects.

The threat to infrastructure

  • Thawing permafrost is also ominous for man-made structures overhead.
  • The Russian oil leak occurred recorded temperatures in Siberia at more than 10 degrees Celsius above average, and called them “highly anomalous” for the region where the power plant is located.
  • As temperatures rise, the binding ice in permafrost melts, making the ground unstable and leading to massive potholes, landslides, and floods.
  • The sinking effect causes damage to key infrastructure such as roads, railway lines, buildings, power lines and pipelines.
  • These changes also threaten the survival of indigenous people, as well as Arctic animals.

A ticking time bomb

  • Beneath its surface, permafrost contains large quantities of organic leftover from thousands of years prior — dead remains of plants, animals, and microorganisms that got frozen before they could rot.
  • It also holds a massive trove of pathogens.
  • When permafrost thaws, microbes start decomposing this carbon matter, releasing greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.
  • Researchers have estimated that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature, these grounds could release GHGs to the tune of 4-6 years’ of emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas.
  • Along with greenhouse houses, these grounds could also release ancient bacteria and viruses into the atmosphere as they unfreeze.

Back2Basics
https://www.civilsdaily.com/news/thawing-of-permafrost/

Also read:

Ambarnaya River Oil spill in Russia

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Explained: How can Inter-State workers be protected?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Inter-state workers migration

Context

  • Following the novel coronavirus pandemic, the nationwide lockdown announced on March 24 at short notice has caused immense distress to migrant workers around the country.
  • Hundreds have been seen trying to walk home to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha from their places of work in Rajasthan, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat and so forth.

Try a mains question on this issue:

Inter state migrants face social, economic and cultural shocks. Discuss some steps taken by center and state governments. Also suggest further reforms.

Inter-State workers: Where is their almighty?

  • Recently, 16 migrant labourers who were trying to return to Madhya Pradesh, their home State, on foot were killed when a goods train ran over them.
  • Questions are being raised about their welfare and the lack of legal protection for their rights.
  • Those working in the field of labour welfare have recalled a 1979 law to regulate the employment and working conditions of inter-State migrants.
  • The lack of serious implementation has led to their rights being ignored.

What about occupational safety?

  • As part of the present regime’s efforts towards consolidating and reforming labour law, a Bill has been introduced in Parliament called the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019.
  • The proposed code seeks to merge 13 labour laws into a single piece of legislation.
  • The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, is one of them.
  • Activists fear that specific safeguards given to migrant workers may be lost as a result of this consolidation.

Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979: What does the law envisage?

  • The Act seeks to regulate the employment of inter-State migrants and their conditions of service.
  • It is applicable to every establishment that employs five or more migrant workmen from other States; or if it had employed five or more such workmen on any day in the preceding 12 months.
  • It is also applicable to contractors who employed a similar number of inter-State workmen.
  • The Act would apply regardless of whether the five or more workmen were in addition to others employed in the establishment or by the contractors.
  • It envisages a system of registration of such establishments. The principal employer is prohibited from employing inter-State workmen without a certificate of registration from the relevant authority.
  • The law also lays down that every contractor who recruits workmen from one State for deployment in another State should obtain a licence to do so.

What are the beneficial provisions for inter-State migrants in it?

  • The provision for registration of establishments employing inter-State workers creates a system of accountability and acts as the first layer of formalizing the utilization of their labour.
  • It helps the government keep track of the number of workers employed and provides a legal basis for regulating their conditions of service.
  • As part of the licensing process, contractors are bound by certain conditions.
  • These include committing them to provide terms and conditions of the agreement or any other arrangement on the basis of which they recruit workers.
  • In no case, shall the wages be lower than what is prescribed under the Minimum Wages Act.

What does the proposed Code say on migrant workers?

  • The attempt to consolidate laws relating to occupational safety, health and working conditions means that many separate laws concerning various kinds of workers and labourers will have to be repealed.
  • The proposed law seeks to repeal 13 Acts such as the Factories Act, Mines Act, Dock Workers’ Act, the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, and other enactments relating to those working in plantations, construction, cinema, beedi and cigarette manufacture, motor transport, and the media.

What does the news law promise for migrant workers?

  • Regarding inter-State migrant workers, the Act includes them in the definition of ‘contract labour’.
  • At the same time, an inter-State migrant worker is also separately defined as a person recruited either by an employer or a contractor for an establishment situated in another State.
  • The Code has a chapter on ‘contract labour and inter-State migrant workers’, but the Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended that the provisions relating to migrant workers be covered in a separate chapter.
  • The Code contains provisions similar to the 1979 Act regarding registration of establishments, licensing of contractors and the inclusion of terms and conditions on hours of work, wages and amenities.
  • Further, both the old Act and the proposed Code envisage the payment of a displacement allowance and a journey allowance to inter-State migrant workers.

Trade Union’s response

  • Even though the Code seeks to preserve many of the protections and rights are given to inter-State workers, trade unions feel that it is always better to have a separate enactment.
  • The unprecedented distress and misery faced by migrant workers due to the current lockdown have drawn attention to beneficial legislation dedicated to their welfare.
  • The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has highlighted the fact that both the States where they work and home States have obligations cast upon them in the existing law.
  • Despite the fact that it has been poorly implemented at all, labour unions feel that preserving the separate enactment and enforcing it well is a better option than subsuming it under a larger code.

Policy Wise: India’s Power Sector

Explained: 9 minutes light-out and its impact on grids

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : 9 minutes light-out and its impact on grids

In his address to the nation, our PM has urged people across to turn off the lights in their homes for 9 minutes on April 5, starting at 9 pm. In response to this appeal, grid managers across states have flagged some risks.

Why is the 9-minute exercise a problem?

  • India is one of the largest synchronous interconnected grids in the world, with an installed capacity of about 370 GW (3,70,000 MW), and a normal baseload power demand of roughly 150 GW.
  • The big worry is that just before 9 pm there may be unprecedented load reduction, followed by a sudden increase in load post at 9.09 pm.
  • The concern is that grid frequency should not swing beyond permissible limits and that all generators across the country must give frequency response as per the Grid Code.
  • During this 9-minute lights out exercise, up to 10,000-15,000 MW of power demand could to drop suddenly and then come on stream a few minutes later.

How does grid function normally?

  • Power System Operation Corporation Ltd (POSOCO), the national electricity grid operator, projects daily demand for power and regulates supply from power generators based on these projections.
  • Frequency reflects the load generation balance in the grid at a particular instant and is one of the most important parameters for assessment of the security of the country’s power system.
  • The nominal frequency is 50 hertz and POSOCO endeavours to maintain frequency within a permissible band (49.9- 50.5 hertz), primarily by balancing the demand-supply equation.

Impacts of light-out

  • The frequency needs to be maintained within this range as all the electrical equipment and appliances at our homes are designed to perform safely and efficiently in a certain power supply band.
  • An increase in frequency results in an increase in the voltage and a decrease in frequency results in a decrease in voltage.
  • Exigency does occur during an outage at a power plant or the tripping of a transmission line or a sudden change in electrical demand.
  • The grid operator needs to ensure that there is an automatic corrective response manually by curtailing demand or ramping generation from another source within a really short period of time.
  • Handling imbalances are the most crucial function of the grid operator.

What are the key areas of concern?

While the possibility of the grid tripping on account of this is highly unlikely, operators expect a “jerk”. While the system is generally planned for an outage of the single largest unit outage, there are two riders:

1) Lockdown has severed domestic consumption

  • One, the grid load is primarily on account of the domestic load now, especially since the lockdown implemented.
  • The normal baseload power demand of roughly 150 gigawatts has already dropped by 20 per cent since the lockdown announcement as most of the industry and commercial establishments are not operational.
  • With hotels and factories, malls, railway stations, airports closed, the domestic load is the predominant load.
  • So the lighting load as a percentage of total loads is much higher now and the impact of a sudden drop in lighting load could be more accentuated than during regular times.

2) Fear of complete power-offs

  • The second concern is if housing clusters and societies switch off mains, or if overzealous discoms switch off street lighting or even feeders to show compliance.
  • During this part of the year, domestic load peaks at about 9 pm.
  • This load could then be impacted much more than what’s being anticipated in the normal course, a concern that grid operators are flagging.

Why is this demand of significance in such a big grid?

  • The domestic load is about 30-32 per cent of total load during normal times.
  • Of India’s total electricity demand load pattern, industrial and agricultural consumption accounts for 40 per cent and 20 per cent load, while commercial electricity consumption accounts for 8 per cent of demand.
  • So, theoretically, if only lighting load goes off, it should not have a major impact on grid frequency during normal times.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Explained: Notified Disaster

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SDRF/NDRF

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation

The Ministry of Home Affairs has decided to treat COVID-19 as a notified disaster for the purpose of providing assistance under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).

What is a Disaster?

According to the Disaster Management Act, 2005 a disaster is defined as-

  • A catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.
  • The MHA has defined a disaster as an “extreme disruption of the functioning of a society that causes widespread human, material, or environmental losses that exceed the ability of the affected society to cope with its own resources.

What is the State Disaster Response Fund?

  • The SDRF is constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and is the primary fund available with state governments for responses to notified disasters.
  • The Central government contributes 75 per cent towards the SDRF allocation for general category states and UTs, and over 90 per cent for special category states/UTs (which includes northeastern states, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand).
  • For SDRF, the Centre releases funds in two equal instalments as per the recommendation of the Finance Commission.
  • The disasters covered under the SDRF include cyclones, droughts, tsunamis, hailstorms, landslides, avalanches and pest attacks among others.

The NDRF

The National Disaster Response Fund, which is also constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 supplements the SDRF of a state, in case of a disaster of severe nature, provided adequate funds are not available in the SDRF.

Categories of disaster

  • A High Power Committee on Disaster Management was constituted in 1999 to identify disaster categories.
  • It identified 31 disaster categories organised into five major subgroups, which are: water and climate-related disasters, geological related disasters, chemical, industrial and nuclear-related disasters and biological related disasters, which includes biological disasters and epidemics.

Have there been such instances in the past?

  • In 2018, in view of the devastation caused by the Kerala floods, political leaders in Kerala demanded that the floods be declared a “national calamity”.
  • As of now, there is no executive or legal provision to declare a national calamity.
  • In 2001, the National Committee on Disaster Management under then PM was mandated to look into the parameters that should define a national calamity.
  • However, the committee did not suggest any fixed criterion.
  • In the past, there have been demands from states to declare certain events as natural disasters, such as the Uttarakhand flood in 2013, Cyclone Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh in 2014, and the Assam floods of 2015.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Social Distancing and Flattening the Curve

The last two days, a number of states in India have enforced measures aimed at reducing public gatherings. This is called “social distancing”.

How does social distancing work?

  • To stem the speed of the coronavirus spread so that healthcare systems can handle the influx, experts are advising people to avoid mass gatherings.
  • Offices, schools, concerts, conferences, sports events, weddings, and the like have been shut or cancelled around the world, including in a number of Indian states.
  • An advisory by the US Centers for Disease Control recommends social distancing measures such as: reducing the frequency of large gatherings and limiting the number of attendees; limiting inter-school interactions; and considering distance or e-learning in some settings.

What is the objective of such restrictions?

  • Compared to deadlier diseases such as bird flu, or H5N1, coronavirus is not as fatal —which ironically also makes it more difficult to contain.
  • With milder symptoms, the infected are more likely to be active and still spreading the virus.
  • For example, more than half the cases aboard a cruise ship that has docked in California did not exhibit any symptoms.
  • In a briefing on March 11, WHO officials said, “Action must be taken to prevent transmission at the community level to reduce the epidemic to manageable clusters.”
  • The main question for governments is to reduce the impact of the virus by flattening the trajectory of cases from a sharp bell curve to an elongated speed-bump-like curve.
  • This is being called “flattening the curve”. How does ‘flattening the curve’ help?
  • Limiting community transmission is the best way to flatten the curve.

What was the curve like in China?

  • The numbers show that the virus spread within Hubei exponentially but plateaued in other provinces.
  • Some say it’s because many of these countries learnt from the 2003 SARS epidemic.
  • Just as Chinese provinces outside of Hubei effectively stemmed the spread in February, three other countries —South Korea, Italy, and Iran — were not able to flatten the curve.

Flattening The Curve

  • In epidemiology, the idea of slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time is known as “flattening the curve.”
  • It explains why so many countries are implementing “social distancing” guidelines — including a “lockdown” order that affects 1.3 billion people in India, even though COVID-19 outbreaks in various places might not yet seem severe.

What is the curve?

  • The “curve” researchers are talking about refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time.
  • To be clear, this is not a hard prediction of how many people will definitely be infected, but a theoretical number that’s used to model the virus’ spread. Here’s what one looks like:

  • The curve takes on different shapes, depending on the virus’s infection rate.
  • It could be a steep curve, in which the virus spreads exponentially (that is, case counts keep doubling at a consistent rate), and the total number of cases skyrockets to its peak within a few weeks.
  • Infection curves with a steep rise also have a steep fall; after the virus infects pretty much everyone who can be infected, case numbers begin to drop exponentially, too.
  • The faster the infection curve rises, the quicker the local health care system gets overloaded beyond its capacity to treat people.
  • As we’re seeing in Maharashtra or Ahmedabad, more and more new patients may be forced to go without ICU beds, and more and more hospitals may run out of the basic supplies they need to respond to the outbreak.
  • A flatter curve, on the other hand, assumes the same number of people ultimately get infected, but over a longer period of time.
  • A slower infection rate means a less stressed health care system, fewer hospital visits on any given day and fewer sick people being turned away.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Explained: Sir Creek Dispute

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sir Creek

Mains level : Disputes over Sir Creek

 

 

Former Pakistan Minister recalls plan for Sir Creek pact.

Sir Creek

  • Sir Creek is a 96-km strip of water disputed between India and Pakistan in the Rann of Kutch marshlands. Originally named Ban Ganga, Sir Creek is named after a British representative.
  • The Creek opens up in the Arabian Sea and roughly divides the Kutch region of Gujarat from the Sindh Province of Pakistan.

What’s the dispute?

  • The dispute lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between Kutch and Sindh. Before India’s independence, the provincial region was a part of the Bombay Presidency of British India.
  • But after India’s independence in 1947, Sindh became a part of Pakistan while Kutch remained a part of India.
  • Pakistan claims the entire creek as per paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Bombay Government Resolution of 1914 signed between then the Government of Sindh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch.
  • The resolution, which demarcated the boundaries between the two territories, included the creek as part of Sindh, thus setting the boundary as the eastern flank of the creek popularly known as Green Line.
  • But India claims that the boundary lies mid-channel as depicted in another map drawn in 1925, and implemented by the installation of mid-channel pillars back in 1924.

The Genesis 

  • The marshland of Sir Creek first became disputed in the early 20th century when the Rao of Kutch and the Chief Commissioner of Sindh Province of British India, due to different perceptions of the boundaries, laid claims over the creek.
  • The case was taken up by then Government of Bombay, which conducted a survey and mandated its verdict in 1914.
  • This verdict has two contradictory paragraphs, which make the India and Pakistan contenders on the same issue.
  • Paragraph 9 of this verdict states that the boundary between Kutch and Sindh lies ‘to the east of the Creek,’ (Green Line) which effectively implied that the creek belonged to Sindh and, therefore, to Pakistan.
  • On the other hand, Paragraph 10 states that since Sir Creek is navigable most of the year.
  • According to international law and the Thalweg principle, a boundary can only be fixed in the middle of the navigable channel, which meant that it has be divided between Sindh and Kutch, and thereby India and Pakistan.
  • India has used this para to consistently argue that the boundary needs to be fixed in the middle of the creek.
  • Pakistan, however, claims that Sir Creek isn’t navigable but India claims that since it’s navigable in high tide, the boundary should be drawn from the mid channel.

What’s the importance of Sir Creek?

  • Apart from the strategic location, Sir Creek’s core importance is fishing resources. Sir Creek is considered to be among the largest fishing grounds in Asia.
  • Another vital reason for two countries locking horns over this creek is the possible presence of great oil and gas concentration under the sea, which are currently unexploited thanks to the impending deadlock on the issue.

UNCLOS supports India’s stand

  • If Thalweg principle is to be upheld, Pakistan would lose a considerable portion of the territory that was historically part of the province of Sindh.
  • Acceding to India’s stance would mean shifting of the land/sea terminus point several kilometres to the detriment of Pakistan, leading in turn to a loss of several thousand square kilometres of its Exclusive Economic Zone under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

War in 1965 and tribunal

  • After the 1965 war, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson successfully persuaded both countries to end hostilities and set up a tribunal to resolve the dispute.
  • The verdict of the tribunal came in 1968 which saw Pakistan getting 10% of its claim of 9,000 km (3,500 sq. miles).
  • Since 1969, 12 rounds of talks have been held over the issue of Sir Creek, but both sides have denied reaching any solution.
  • The region fell amid tensions in 1999 after the Pakistan Navy shot down a MiG-21 fighter plane, but the last rounds of talks were held in 2012. Since then it’s been status quo.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

Explained: Cycle 25/ Solar Cycle

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Solar Cycle, Sunspots, Solar Dynamo

Mains level : Read the attached story

 

 

The sunspots identified by researchers from IISER Kolkata herald the start of a new solar cycle called Cycle 25.

What are Sunspots?

  • Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the Sun’s photosphere that appear as spots darker than the surrounding areas. They are relatively cooler spots on the Sun’s surface.
  • They are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field flux that inhibit convection.
  • Sunspots usually appear in pairs of opposite magnetic polarity with a leader and a follower.

What is Solar Cycle?

  • From our safe distance of about 148 million km, the Sun appears to be sedate and constant. However, huge solar flares and coronal mass ejections spew material from its surface into outer space.
  • They originate from sunspots, an important phenomenon that people have been following for hundreds of years. They originate deep within the Sun and become visible when they pop out.
  • Their number is not constant but shows a minimum and then rises up to a maximum and then falls again in what is called the solar cycle.
  • Every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips. This means that the Sun’s north and south poles switch places. Then it takes about another 11 years for the Sun’s north and south poles to flip back again.
  • So far, astronomers have documented 24 such cycles, the last one ended in 2019.

How do they occur?

  • Given the high temperatures in the Sun, matter exists there in the form of plasma, where the electrons are stripped away from the nuclei.
  • The Sun is made of hot ionized plasma whose motions generate magnetic fields in the solar interior by harnessing the energy of the plasma flows.
  • This mechanism is known as the solar dynamo mechanism (or magnetohydrodynamic dynamo mechanism).
  • Simply stated, it is a process by which kinetic energy of plasma motions is converted to magnetic energy, which generates the magnetised sunspots, giving rise to the solar cycle..
  • Because of the nature of the solar dynamo, the part of its magnetic field that gives rise to sunspots reverses direction when it moves from one solar cycle to another.
  • This can be inferred by observing when the relative orientation of the sunspot pairs flips.

Features

  • The solar cycle affects activity on the surface of the Sun, such as sunspots which are caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields. As the magnetic fields change, so does the amount of activity on the Sun’s surface.
  • One way to track the solar cycle is by counting the number of sunspots.
  • The beginning of a solar cycle is a solar minimum, or when the Sun has the least sunspots. Over time, solar activity—and the number of sunspots—increases.
  • The middle of the solar cycle is the solar maximum, or when the Sun has the most sunspots. As the cycle ends, it fades back to the solar minimum and then a new cycle begins.
  • Giant eruptions on the Sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, also increase during the solar cycle. These eruptions send powerful bursts of energy and material into space.

Impacts of Solar Cycle

  • This activity has effects on Earth. For example, eruptions can cause lights in the sky, called aurora, or impact radio communications. Extreme eruptions can even affect electricity grids on Earth.
  • Solar activity can affect satellite electronics and limit their lifetime.
  • Radiation can be dangerous for astronauts who do work on the outside of the International Space Station.
  • Forecasting of the solar cycle can help scientists protect our radio communications on Earth, and help keep satellites and astronauts safe.

Start of cycle 25

  • Following a weakening trend in activity over the last few cycles, there were predictions that the Sun would go silent into a grand minimum in activity, with the disappearance of cycles.
  • However, a team from IISER Kolkata has shown that there are signs that cycle 25 has just begun.
  • They used the data from the instrument Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager aboard NASA’s space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory for their calculations.

Why is this so important to us on earth?

  • After all the sunspots look small and are hardly even visible to us. Contrary to this, sunspot activity may be correlated with climate on earth.
  • In the period between 1645 and 1715, sun spot activity had come to a halt on the Sun – a phenomenon referred to as the Maunder minimum.
  • This coincided with extremely cold weather globally. So sunspots may have a relevance to climate on earth.
  • Such links are tenuous, but definitely solar activity affects space weather, which can have an impact on space-based satellites, GPS, power grids and so on.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Explained: Behind Meghalaya violence

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Ethnic turmoil in North East

 

 

Last week, ethnic violence left three dead in Meghalaya. The violence underlined the ethnic complexities of Meghalaya, with tensions coming back to the fore following the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Multi-ethnic Meghalaya

  • Meghalaya became a state in 1972 when it was carved out of Assam. Before that, Shillong, now Meghalaya’s capital, used to be the capital of Assam.
  • Sharing a 443-km border with Bangladesh, Meghalaya has seen decades of migration from areas that are now in Bangladesh, as well as from various Indian states via Assam.
  • Besides the indigenous groups, Meghalaya’s residents include Bengalis, Nepalis, Marwaris, Biharis and members of various other communities.
  • Meghalaya is a tribal majority state, and the indigenous Khasis, Jaintias and Garos are entitled to 80% reservation in government jobs.
  • Various groups have continuously expressed concerns that illegal migration from Bangladesh and the growth of “outsiders” from other states would overwhelm the indigenous communities.

Meghalaya violence: The CAA context

  • The CAA relaxes the norms for Hindus from Bangladesh (among six religious groups from three countries) for eligibility to apply for Indian citizenship.
  • Long before that, the legislation was already facing protests in the Northeast, including Meghalaya. Eventually, the Centre decided the CAA will not apply in Sixth Schedule areas.
  • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution has special provisions for administration of certain areas in the Northeast, including almost the whole of Meghalaya.
  • Despite the large exemption, the concerns have persisted in Meghalaya, and demands for an Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime have gathered fresh momentum.
  • If the ILP system is introduced, every Indian citizen from any other state would require a time-bound permit to visit Meghalaya.

Signals simmering tensions

  • The last four decades have seen numerous incidents of violence in Meghalaya targeted at non-tribals, including from Bengal and Nepal.
  • The latest bout follows a sustained campaign over the implementation of the Inner Line Permit and unrest in the Northeast over the CAA that led to six deaths in Assam two months ago.
  • The violence last week has an immediate context in the anti-CAA campaign and ILP demand.

Shillong, then and now

  • Shillong has seen violence against “outsiders” several times in the last four decades.
  • The targets were Bengalis in 1979, Nepalis in 1987, and Biharis in 1992.
  • In 2018, Shillong saw clashes between Khasis and Punjab-origin Dalit Sikhs whose ancestors had settled there over 100 years ago.
  • All that began collapsing after Independence, Constitutional institutions set up to safeguard the interest of the tribes came to be popularly perceived as opportunities to convert these tribal areas into exclusive zones of tribal hegemony.
  • The issue of ‘foreigners’ illegally residing in the state of Meghalaya was one of the most important issues which dominated state politics in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • In 1979, the state was plunged into a crisis for the first time since it was created.

Human Rights Issues

Explained: Why UN Human Rights Commission intends to intervene in a SC case against CAA?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNHRC

Mains level : Global intervention over CAA

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “intends to file” an Intervention Application in the Supreme Court of India seeking to intervene in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1474 of 2019 and praying that it be allowed to make submissions.

On what grounds is a UN body seeking to intervene in a case regarding a domestic Indian law?

  • The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) is the leading UN entity on human rights.
  • The UN General Assembly entrusted both the High Commissioner and her Office with a unique mandate to promote and protect all human rights for all people.
  • As the principal United Nations office mandated to promote and protect human rights for all, OHCHR leads global human rights efforts speaks out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide.
  • This resolution, adopted by the UNGA in 1994, created the post of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Its jurisdiction

  • The application says that successive High Commissioners have filed amicus curiae briefs on issues of particular public importance within proceedings before a diverse range of international and national jurisdictions.
  • It includes the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, and at the national level, the United States Supreme Court and final appeal courts of States in Asia and Latin America.

What exactly does the intervention application say?

  • The OHCHR has welcomed as “commendable” the CAA’s stated purpose, “namely the protection of some persons from persecution on religious grounds.
  • It also “acknowledges the history of openness and welcome that India has exhibited to persons seeking to find a safer, more dignified life within its borders”.
  • However the examination of the CAA raises important issues with respect to international human rights law and its application to migrants, including refugees, says the OHCHR.
  • The CAA, it says, raises “important human rights issues, including its compatibility in relation to the right to equality before the law and nondiscrimination on nationality grounds under India’s human rights obligations”.
  • The application acknowledges that “the issue of nondiscrimination on nationality grounds falls outside the scope of this intervention”, but insists that “this in no way implies that there are not human rights concerns in this respect”.

Why intervene?

  • The application questions the reasonableness and objectivity of the criterion of extending the benefits of the CAA to Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan alone.
  • It points out that while the Indian government has suggested that persons of Muslim faith, regardless of denomination or ethnicity, are protected there.
  • However recent reports by UN human rights show that Ahmadi, Hazara and Shia Muslims in these countries warrant protection on the same basis as that provided in the preferential treatment proposed by the CAA.

Is there a specific basis on which the OHCHR has faulted the CAA?

The application flags some central principles of international human rights law:

  1. the impact of the CAA on some migrants
  2. the enjoyment of human rights by all migrants and the rights of all migrants (non-citizens) to equality before the law and
  3. the principle of non-refoulment, which prohibits the forcible return of refugees and asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to be persecuted
  • The application mentions that all migrants “regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, nationality and/or immigration status enjoy human rights and are entitled to protection”.
  • It cites international human rights instruments to urge the inclusion of non-discrimination, equality before the law, and equal protection before the law into the foundation of a rule of law.
  • International human rights law, the application says, does not distinguish between citizens and non-citizens or different groups of non-citizens for the purposes of providing them protection from discrimination, “including in respect of their migration status”.

India’s stance

  • The Citizenship Amendment Act is an internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws.
  • MEA spokesperson insisted that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty.
  • The CAA was “constitutionally valid and complies with all requirements of (India’s) constitutional values”, and “is reflective of our long-standing national commitment in respect of human rights issues arising from the tragedy of the Partition of India”.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Explained: US-Taliban Pact

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : US-Taliban pact and its implications on India-Afghanistan relationship

 

 

  • The US and Taliban signed an agreement for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, which will enable the US and NATO to withdraw troops in the next 14 months.
  • The pact is between the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban” and the US.
  • The four-page pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban.

Key elements of the deal

Troops Withdrawal

  • The US will draw down to 8,600 troops in 135 days and the NATO or coalition troop numbers will also be brought down, proportionately and simultaneously.
  • And all troops will be out within 14 months — “all” would include “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (could be interpreted to mean “intelligence” personnel).

Taliban Commitment

  • The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that “It will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US and its allies”.
  • While Miller said the reference to al-Qaeda is important, the pact is silent on other terrorist groups — such as anti-India groups Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed.
  • Again, India, not being an US ally, is not covered under this pact.

Sanctions Removal

  • UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months (by May 29) and US sanctions by August 27.
  • The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Prisoner’s release

  • This is a possible trouble spot because the US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government is on board with this big up-front concession to Taliban.
  • The joint declaration says the US will facilitate discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides.
  • While there are no numbers or deadlines in the joint declaration, the US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March.
  • The intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start in Oslo.

Ceasefire

  • This is identified as another potential “trouble spot”.
  • The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicate actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.

Implications of the Deal

An adieu to democracy in Afghanistan

  • The Taliban have got what they wanted: troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions, release of prisoners.
  • This has also strengthened Pakistan, Taliban’s benefactor, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise.
  • It has made it unambiguous that it wants an Islamic regime.
  • The Afghan government has been completely sidelined during the talks between the US and Taliban.
  • The future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain and will depend on how Taliban honours its commitments and whether it goes back to the mediaeval practices of its 1996-2001 regimes.

Implications for India

  • India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his victory.
  • India’s proximity to Ghani also drew from their shared view of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
  • There has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion.
  • Due to So, although Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, South Block insiders insist that it is not all that grim for New Delhi.
  • these high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.

Way Forward

  • The joint declaration is a symbolic commitment to the Afghanistan government that the US is not abandoning it.
  • Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.
  • Like in 1989, 1992, 1996, and in 2001, Pakistan has the opportunity to play a constructive role. It frittered away the opportunities in the past.

Back2Basics

India and the Taliban

  • India and the Taliban have had a bitter past.
  • New Delhi nurses bitter memories from the IC-814 hijack in 1999, when it had to release terrorists — including Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks as such on Parliament, Pathankot and in Pulwama.
  • Quite predictably, Mullah Baradar did not name India among the countries that supported the peace process, but specially thanked Pakistan for the “support, work and assistance” provided.
  • The Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
  • India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001.
  • But its foreign policy establishment has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly.

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

Explained: Marine Heatwave (MHW)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Marine Heatwave

Mains level : Read the attached story

 

 

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

What are MHWs?

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

When do they occur?

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

What causes marine heatwaves?

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

Impacts of the MHWs

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

How do we measure marine heatwaves?

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

Why study MHWs?

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

Way Forward

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

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

Explained: Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Terms of References for the office of CCPA

Mains level : CCPA, New Consumer Protection Laws, 2019

 

 

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

What is the Central Consumer Protection Authority?

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

Why need CCPA?

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

What can the possible structure of CCPA be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penalties:

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

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

How will it deal with false or misleading advertisements?

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

Penalties:

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

What other powers will the CCPA have?

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

Also read:

Five new rights you get as a consumer

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Explained: Assam-Mizoram Boundary Dispute

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Assam as the centre-stage of disputes

 

Assam is at the centre of a fresh inter-State border row in the northeastern region. The Mizoram government has sought the revision of the boundary with Assam, based on the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) of 1873 and the Inner Line of the Lushai Hills Notification of 1993.

Background

  • Since 1962 most of the state borders of states carved out of Assam were divided following the myopic vision of the Central government.
  • On ground these borders still do not run in sync with the tribal territories and identities, creating repetitive conflicts in the region and disturbing its peace.
  • Assam finds itself at the center of all the conflicts since most of the neighboring states were carved out of its territory since independence.
  • This was done to consolidate the Indian Union at the time by catering to the aspirations of the local tribes and including them in the mainstream by giving them independent statehoods.

What is the dispute?

  • Mizoram shares a 123-km border with southern Assam and has been claiming a 509-square mile stretch “occupied” by the neighbouring State.
  • Mizoram used to be the Lushai Hills district of Assam before being made a Union Territory in 1972 and a State in 1987.
  • Both States have been disputing an extensive stretch of this boundary.

About Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation

  • The Inner Line Regulations, commonly referred to as the Inner Line Permit system (ILP), first gained legal effect through the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.
  • At present the BEFR continues to apply, but only in present-day Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.
  • It had been lifted in the whole of Assam, as well as the entirety of present-day Meghalaya.
  • The BEFR allows Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland not to let non-resident Indians in without an inner-line permit for a temporary stay.

Present status of ILP

  • The Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958 is the modern embodiment of the ILP.
  • This Order was passed in furtherance of the Foreigners Act, 1946.
  • The Order defined the ‘inner line’ throughout present-day India starting from Jammu and Kashmir and ending at Mizoram.
  • This inner line is different from the one envisioned in the Bengal Frontier Regulations.
  • This line represents the furthest point up to the international border where a foreigner can visit on the strength of a visa alone.

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

Explained: How to unify defence resources

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Joint Commands of the tri-services

Mains level : Need for Joint Commands

  • The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Rawat said his office is working on a tentative timeline for the establishment of joint commands among the three defence services.
  • With the creation of the CDS post on December 31, the government has set the ball rolling for bringing jointness and integration among the services.

What are joint commands?

  • Simply put, it is a unified command in which the resources of all the services are unified under a single commander looking at a geographical theatre.
  • It means that a single military commander, as per the requirements, will have the resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to manage a security threat.
  • The commander of a joint command will have the freedom to train and equip his command as per the objective and will have logistics of all the services at his beckoning.
  • The three services will retain their independent identities as well.
  • A committee headed by Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar had earlier recommended three new commands: Northern, for China; Western, for the Pakistan border’ and Southern, for maritime security.

Present commands

  • There are two tri-services commands at the moment.
  • The joint command at the moment, the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), is a theatre command, which is headed by the chiefs of the three services in rotation.
  • It was created in 2001 after a Group of Ministers had given a report on national security following the Kargil War.
  • The Strategic Forces Command was established in 2006 and is a functional tri-services command.

What is the structure right now?

  • There are 17 commands, divided among the three services. The Army and the Air Force have seven commands each, while the Navy has three commands.
  • The commands under the Army are Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, Central, Southwestern and the Army Training Command.
  • The Air Force has Eastern, Western, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Maintenance and Training commands, and the Navy is divided into Western, Eastern and Southern commands.
  • These commands report to their respective services and are headed by three-star officers.
  • Though these commands are in the same regions, they are no located together.

Advantages of  joint commands

  • One of the main advantages is that the leader of unified command has control over more varied resources, compared to the heads of the commands under the services now.
  • For instance, the head of one of the proposed commands, Air Defence Command, will have under him naval and Army resources, too, which can be used as per the threat perception.
  • And the officer commanding the Pakistan or China border will have access to the Air Force’s fighter jets and can use them if needed.
  • However, that not all naval resources will be given to the Air Defence Command, nor will all resources of the Air Force come under another proposed command, Peninsula Command, for the coasts.
  • The Peninsula Command would give the Navy Chief freedom to look at the larger perspective in the entire Indian Ocean Region in which China’s presence is steadily increasing.
  • The other key advantage is that through such integration and jointness the three forces will be able to avoid duplication of resources.
  • The resources available under each service will be available to other services too. The services will get to know one another better, strengthening cohesion in the defence establishment.

How many such commands are expected to roll out?

  • While the number of commands India needs is still being studied, the CDS has envisaged that there could be between six to nine commands. It is not certain how many land-based theatre commands on the borders will come up.
  • The CDS said it will be studied, and the study group will be given the options for creating two to five theatre commands.
  • One possibility is to have single commands looking at the China and Pakistan borders respectively, as they are the two major threats.
  • The other option is to have a separate command for the border in the J&K region, and another command looking at the rest of the western border.
  • There could be independent commands looking at the border with China which is divided by Nepal.
  • A proposed Logistics Command will bring the logistics of all the service under one person, and the CDS is also looking at a Training and Doctrine Command so that all services work under a common doctrine and have some basic common training.

Do militaries of other countries have such commands?

  • Several major militaries are divided into integrated theatre commands.
  • China’s People’s Liberation Army has five theatre commands: Eastern, Western, Northern, Southern and Central. Its Western Theatre Command is responsible for India.
  • The US Armed Forces have 11 unified commands, of which seven are geographic and four functional commands. Its geographic commands are Africa, Central, European, Indo-Pacific, Northern, Southern and Space.
  • Cyber, Special Operations, Transportation and Strategic are its functional commands.

Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU

Explained: The EU data strategy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Read the attached story

The European Commission has recently released a “European strategy for data… to ensure the human-centric development of Artificial Intelligence” and a white paper on artificial intelligence.

EU data strategy

  • The new documents present a timeline for various projects, legislative frameworks, and initiatives by the European Union, and represent its recognition that it is slipping behind American and Chinese innovation.
  • The strategy lays out “why the EU should act now”.
  • The blueprint hopes to strengthen Europe’s local technology market by creating a “data single market” by 2030 to allow the free flow of data within the EU.
  • To aid a “data-agile economy”, the Commission hopes to implement an “enabling legislative framework for the governance of common European data spaces” by the latter half of the year.
  • By the beginning of 2021, the Commission will make high-value public sector data available free through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) — a pathway for two different applications to speak to each other.
  • Between 2021 and 2027, the Commission will invest in a High Impact Project to jump-start data infrastructure. Several other initiatives are laid out, including a cloud services marketplace.

Why such strategy?

  • The EU has the potential to be successful in the data-agile economy. It has the technology, the know-how and a highly skilled workforce.
  • However, competitors such as China and the US are already innovating quickly and projecting their concepts of data access and use across the globe, the strategy states.
  • With American and Chinese companies taking the lead on technological innovation, Europe is keen to up its own competitiveness.

What does the EU move mean for legislation?

  • Europe has been a frontrunner when it comes to technology regulation.
  • Its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) released in 2018 was a game-changer across the industry. In the recent strategy, the GDPR is seen as giving the “solid framework for digital trust.”
  • Parliamentarians are discussing India’s current Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill in a Joint Select Committee.
  • The recent draft of the PDP introduced a clause on non-personal data, mandating entities to hand over such data to the government on command.
  • This was not included in the draft proposed by the Justice B N Sri Krishna Committee in October 2018.
  • Some of the movement around the PDP Bill comes from a desire to strengthen India’s own data economy, similar to the EU’s desire.

Has India done anything similar?

  • The Union Cabinet approved the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) in 2012.
  • As part of the initiative, the government worked with the US government to release data.gov.in, a site of government data for public use.
  • The Economic Survey of 2018 envisioned a similar use of non-personal data.
  • Just as the EU’s strategy discusses “data for public good”, the chapter titled “Data ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People’” advocated that the government step in to sectors that private players ignore, marking the first time India’s Economic Survey has isolated “data” as a strategic focus.
  • Other data integration efforts have been announced or implemented by NITI Aayog (the National Data & Analytics Platform), the Smart Cities Mission (India Urban Data Exchange), and the Ministry of Rural Development (DISHA dashboard).
  • In 2018, the National Informatics Centre worked with PwC and other vendors to create a Centre of Excellence for Data Analytics aimed at providing data analysis help to government departments.