Gravitational Wave Observations

Black Holes Merger

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Black Holes

Mains level : Black holes merger

Billions of years ago, a collision between two black holes sent gravitational waves rippling through the universe. In 2019, signals from these waves were detected at the gravitational wave observatory LIGO (United States) and the detector Virgo (Italy).

Try this PYQ:

Q.Recently, scientists observed the merger of giant ‘blackholes’ billions of light-years away from the Earth. What is the significance of this observation?

(a) ‘Higgs boson particles’ were detected.

(b) ‘Gravitational waves’ were detected.

(c) Possibility of inter-galactic space travel through ‘wormhole’ was confirmed.

(d) It enabled the scientists to understand ‘singularity’.

Why in news?

  • The cause of curiosity is the mass of one of the parent black holes, which defies traditional knowledge of how black holes are formed.

What exactly was detected?

  • It was a signal from a gravitational wave, a relatively new field of discovery.
  • Gravitational waves are invisible ripples that form when a star explodes in a supernova; when two big stars orbit each other; and when two black holes merge.
  • Travelling at the speed of light, gravitational waves squeeze and stretch anything in their path.

Detecting gravitational waves

  • Gravitational waves were proposed by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity over a century ago.
  • It was only in 2015, however, that the first gravitational wave was actually detected — by LIGO. Since then, there have been a number of subsequent detections of gravitational waves.
  • The signal detected at LIGO and Virgo, as described by the LIGO Collaboration, resembled “about four short wiggles” and lasted less than one-tenth of a second.

Where did it come from?

  • Subsequent analysis suggested that GW190521 had most likely been generated by a merger of two black holes. The signal likely represented the instance that the two merged.
  • It was calculated to have come from roughly 17 billion light-years away, and from a time when the universe was about half its age.

Some questions to verify

  • The findings led to further questions.
  • One of the two merging black holes falls in an “intermediate-mass” range — a misfit that cannot be explained by traditional knowledge of how black holes form.

Why is it unusual?

  • All the black holes observed so far belong to either of two categories.
  • One category ranges between a few solar masses (one solar mass is the mass of our Sun) and tens of solar masses. These are thought to form when massive stars die.
  • The other category is of supermassive black holes. This range from hundreds of thousands, to billions of times that of our sun.
  • According to traditional knowledge, stars that could give birth to black holes between 65 and 120 solar masses do not do so — stars in this range blow themselves apart when they die, without collapsing into a black hole.

Observing for the first time

  • In the merger leading to the GW190521 signal, the larger black hole was of 85 solar masses —well within this unexpected range, known as the pair-instability mass gap.
  • It is the first “intermediate-mass” black hole ever observed. (In fact, the smaller black hole to is borderline, at 66 solar masses.)
  • The two merged to create a new black hole of about 142 solar masses. Energy equivalent to eight solar masses was released in the form of gravitational waves, leading to the strongest ever wave detected by scientists so far.

Possible reasons for its formation

  • The researchers suggest that the 85-solar-mass black hole was not the product of a collapsing star, but was itself the result of a previous merger.
  • Formed by a collision between two black holes, it is likely that the new black hole then merged with the 66-solar-mass black hole — leading to gravitational waves and the signal received by LIGO and Virgo.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What are Question Hour and Zero Hour?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Question hour, Zero Hour

Mains level : Not Much

The Lok Sabha Secretariat officially released the schedule for the monsoon Parliament session with Question Hour being dropped. Zero Hour will also be restricted in both Houses.

This newscard is very narrative in its form and scope.

Q.Discuss the various instruments of Parliamentary Control in India.

What is Question Hour, and what is its significance?

  • Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that MPs ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
  • Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.
  • The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
  • Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning.
  • Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain.
  • With the broadcasting since 1991, Question Hour has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.

And what is Zero Hour?

  • While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian innovation. The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
  • The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
  • During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm.
  • Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch.
  • This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.
  • Its importance can be gauged from the support it receives from citizens, media, MPs and presiding officers despite not being part of the rulebook.

How is Question Hour regulated?

  • Parliament has comprehensive rules for dealing with every aspect of Question Hour.
  • And the presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.
  • For example, usually, Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting.

What kinds of questions are asked?

  • Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the kind of questions that can be asked by MPs.
  • Questions have to be limited to 150 words. They have to be precise and not too general.
  • The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the GoI.
  • Questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
  • It is the presiding officers of the two Houses who finally decide whether a question raised by an MP will be admitted for answering by the government.

How frequently is Question Hour held?

  • The process of asking and answering questions starts with identifying the days on which Question Hour will be held.
  • At the beginning of Parliament in 1952, Lok Sabha rules provided for Question Hour to be held every day. Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, had a provision for Question Hour for two days a week.
  • A few months later, this was changed to four days a week. Then from 1964, Question Hour was taking place in Rajya Sabha on every day of the session.
  • Now, Question Hour in both Houses is held on all days of the session.
  • But there are two days when an exception is made. There is no Question Hour on the day the President addresses MPs from both Houses in the Central Hall.
  • Question Hour is not scheduled either on the day the Finance Minister presents the Budget.

How does Parliament manage to get so many questions answered?

  • To streamline the answering of questions raised by MPs, the ministries are put into five groups. Each group answers questions on the day allocated to it.
  • For example, in the last session, on Thursday the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Labour, Housing, and Youth Affairs and Sports were answering questions posed by Lok Sabha MPs.
  • MPs can specify whether they want an oral or written response to their questions.
  • They can put an asterisk against their question signifying that they want the minister to answer that question on the floor. These are referred to as starred questions.
  • After the minister’s response, the MP who asked the question and other MPs can also ask a follow-up question.
  • This is the visible part of Question Hour, where you see MPs trying to corner ministers on the functioning of their ministries on live television.

How do ministers prepare their answers?

  • Ministries receive the questions 15 days in advance so that they can prepare their ministers for Question Hour.
  • They also have to prepare for sharp follow-up questions they can expect to be asked in the House.
  • Governments’ officers are close at hand in a gallery so that they can pass notes or relevant documents to support the minister in answering a question.
  • When MPs are trying to gather data and information about government functioning, they prefer the responses to such queries in writing.
  • These questions are referred to as unstarred questions. The responses to these questions are placed on the table of Parliament.

Are the questions only for ministers?

  • MPs usually ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide them with a mechanism for asking their colleagues a question.
  • Such a question should be limited to the role of an MP relating to a Bill or a resolution being piloted by them or any other matter connected with the functioning of the House for which they are responsible.
  • Should the presiding officer so allow, MPs can also ask a question to a minister at a notice period shorter than 15 days.

Is there a limit to the number of questions that can be asked?

  • Rules on the number of questions that can be asked in a day have changed over the years.
  • In Lok Sabha, until the late 1960s, there was no limit on the number of unstarred questions that could be asked in a day.
  • Now, Parliament rules limit the number of starred and unstarred questions an MP can ask in a day.
  • The total numbers of questions asked by MPs in the starred and unstarred categories are then put in a random ballot.
  • From the ballot in Lok Sabha, 20 starred questions are picked for answering during Question Hour and 230 are picked for written answers.
  • Last year, a record was set when on a single day, after a gap of 47 years, all 20 starred questions were answered in Lok Sabha.

Have there been previous sessions without Question Hour?

  • Parliamentary records show that during the Chinese aggression in 1962, the Winter Session was advanced.
  • The sitting of the House started at 12 pm and there was no Question Hour held. Before the session, changes were made limiting the number of questions.
  • Thereafter, following an agreement between the ruling and the Opposition parties, it was decided to suspend Question Hour.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Explained: Pakistan-Saudi Rift

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : OIC

The rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over Jammu and Kashmir is out in the open after a delegation led by Pak Army Chief was denied a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Try this question:

Q. Discuss the new geopolitical realignment in the Arab world and India’s role in it.

Take a look after how the ties emerged and deteriorated:

Saudi-Pakistan ties: A Recap

  • The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan was most prominent during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan.
  • Saudi Arabia is also reported to have transferred arms and equipment including the loan of some 75 aircraft to Pakistan.
  • After the war, Saudi Arabia consistently supported the call for the return of Pakistan’s prisoners of war and for dropping the Dacca (Dhaka) Trial against 195 of them.
  • After the war, Saudi Arabia gave loans to Pakistan enabling it to buy arms worth about $1 million by 1977, including F-16s and Harpoon missiles from the US.
  • Saudi oil and dollars have kept Pakistan’s economy on its feet after sanctions following the nuclear tests.
  • Over the last two decades, Saudi Arabia has provided oil on deferred payments to Pakistan whenever it ran into economic difficulty.
  • Saudi funding of madrasas has also led to their mushrooming, later giving rise to religious extremism.
  • In 1990, Pakistan sent its ground forces to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Alignment over Kashmir

  • The alignment over Kashmir at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) crystallized since 1990 when the insurgency in J&K began.
  • While the OIC has issued statements over the last three decades, it became a ritual of little significance to India.
  • Last year, after India revoked Article 370 in Kashmir, Pakistan lobbied with the OIC for its condemnation of India’s move.
  • To Pakistan’s surprise, Saudi Arabia and the UAE issued statements that were nuanced rather than harshly critical of New Delhi.
  • Over the last year, Pakistan has tried to rouse the sentiments among the Islamic countries, but only a handful of them — Turkey and Malaysia — publicly criticised India.

The Saudi perspective

  • Saudi Arabia’s change in position has been a gradual process under Crown Prince MBS.
  • As it seeks to diversify from its heavily oil-dependent economy, it sees India as a valuable partner in the region.
  • New Delhi, for its part, has wooed the Arab world over the last six years.
  • From Saudi Arabia to the UAE, it worked the diplomatic levers through high-level visits and dangled opportunities for investment and business
  • MBS, who is looking to invest in India, has taken a realistic view, along with UAE’s crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Energy connection to India

  • Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trade partner (after China, US and Japan) and a major source of energy: India imports around 18% of its crude oil requirement from the Kingdom.
  • Saudi Arabia is also a major source of LPG for India.
  • And, with India stopping oil imports from Iran due to the threat of US sanctions, Saudi Arabia is key in this respect as well.

Saudi-Pakistan tension

The tension between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has been brewing for some time.

  • In 2015, Pakistan’s Parliament decided not to support the Saudi military effort to restore an internationally recognised government in Yemen.
  • Later, Pakistan’s then army chief General Raheel Sharif led the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, comprising 41 Muslim countries.
  • In February 2019, after the Pulwama terror attack, it was Saudi Arabia and the UAE that pulled their weight to get Wing Commander Abhinandan released, apart from the US.
  • The Saudi Crown Prince visited Pakistan and India at that time and made it clear that he valued economic opportunities. He did not wade into the Kashmir issue in India or the terrorism issue in Pakistan.

Frustration over Kashmir

A year after Article 370 was revoked, Qureshi belled the cat.

  • Pak accuses that Saudi Arabia has failed to deliver on the Kashmir and OIC had not played a leadership role in backing Pakistan against India.
  • This angered Saudi Arabia, which in November 2018 had announced a $6.2 billion loan package for Pakistan.
  • The package included $3 billion in loans and an oil credit facility amounting to $3.2 billion.
  • Riyadh demanded the return of the $3 billion loans and refused to sell oil to Islamabad on deferred payment. Pakistan immediately returned $1 billion, displaying the rift.
  • But, in the current economic situation, Pakistan is unable to pay the next tranche.
  • What has also angered Saudi Arabia is that Pakistan has been trying to pander to Turkey and Malaysia.

The China factor

  • Pakistan and China have called themselves “all-weather allies” and “iron brothers” (during FMs meet).
  • Over the last year, Beijing has supported Pakistan on Kashmir, raising the issue at the UN Security Council thrice.
  • China has also emerged as Pakistan’s biggest benefactor through its funding of the CPEC.
  • Saudi Arabia too has invested in CPEC projects, to the tune of $10 billion, but Pakistan now looks towards Beijing for both diplomatic and economic support.

Implications for India

  • Saudi’s silence on J&K as well as CAA-NRC has emboldened the Indian government.
  • At a time when India and China are locked in a border standoff, India has to be wary of Pakistan and China teaming up.
  • But with Saudi Arabia in its corner, for now, it may have leverage over Pakistan — Riyadh would not want a conflict and regional instability.
  • What is key to India’s calculus is that the Pakistan-China and the Pakistan-Saudi axes are not fused together at the moment: It is not a Saudi-Pakistan-China triangle.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

China twist in Teesta Challenge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Teesta River

Mains level : Recent trends in India-Bangladesh ties

Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river. These discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.

Try this question from our AWE initiative:

Teesta River has become an important factor in India – Bangladesh relations. What are the hindrances in successful implementation of river water sharing agreement and what are its possible implications on India-Bangladesh relations? What could be the possible solutions?

Teesta Project

  • The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
  • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta.

How has the Teesta dispute progressed?

  • The two countries were on the verge of signing a water-sharing pact in September 2011, when PM Manmohan Singh was going to visit Bangladesh.
  • But, West Bengal CM objected to it, and the deal was scuttled.
  • After the regime change in 2014, the government hoped that it could reach a “fair solution” on the Teesta through cooperation between central and state governments.
  • Five years later, the Teesta issue remains unresolved.

Trends in India’s relationship with Bangladesh

  • New Delhi has had a robust relationship with Dhaka, carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the Sheikh Hasina government at the helm.
  • Security: India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and Northeast states.
  • Trade: Bangladesh has benefited from its economic and development partnership. Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia.
  • Bilateral trade has grown steadily over the last decade: India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion, and imports from Bangladesh at $1.04 billion.
  • Visas:India also grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work, and just entertainment.

Recent irritants in ties

  • There have been recent irritants in the relationship.
  • These include the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.
  • Bangladesh had insisted that while the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC were “internal matters” of India, the CAA move were “not necessary”.

Chinese affinity with Bangladesh

  • China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
  • In 2019, the trade between the two countries was $18 billion and the imports from China commanded the lion’s share. The trade is heavily in favour of China.
  • Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
  • This move has been widely welcomed in Bangladesh, with the expectation that Bangladesh exports to China will increase.
  • China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh.
  • Additionally, Bangladesh’s strong defence ties with China make the situation complicated. China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh and it has been a legacy issue — after its liberation.
  • Recently, Bangladesh purchased two Ming class submarines from China.

India’s engagement post CAA

  • Over the last five months, India and Bangladesh have cooperated on pandemic-related moves.
  • Hasina supported Modi’s call for a regional emergency fund for fighting Covid-19 and declared a contribution of $1.5 million in March 2020. India has also provided medical aid to Bangladesh.
  • The two countries have also cooperated in railways, with India giving 10 locomotives to Bangladesh.
  • The first trial run for trans-shipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh to Northeast states under a pact on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports took place in July.
  • Bangladesh gave its readiness to collaborate in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, including its trial, and looks forward to early, affordable availability of the vaccine when ready.

Among other issues

  • The two sides agreed that Implementation of projects should be done in a timely manner and that greater attention is required to development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit.
  • Bangladesh sought the return of the Tablighi Jamaat members impacted by the lockdown in India.
  • Bangladesh requested for the urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, particularly since many Bangladeshi patients need to visit India.
  • India was also requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port which has been halted by the West Bengal government in the wake of the pandemic.

Way forward

  • While the Teesta project is important and urgent from India’s point of view, it will be difficult to address it before the West Bengal elections due next year.
  • What Delhi can do is to address other issues of concern, which too are challenging.
  • Now, the test will be if India can implement all its assurances in a time-bound manner.
  • Or else, the latent anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh, which has been revived after India’s CAA -NRC push can permanently damage the historic ties.

Back2Basics: Teesta Water Dispute

Interstate River Water Dispute

Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sutlej Yamuna Link

Mains level : Inter-state water disputes

Opposing the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal project and staking claim to Yamuna’s waters, Punjab CM warned about the repercussions. Here is a look at the decades-old issue and why it has come up again now.

Try this PYQ:

Q. Which one of the following pairs is not correctly matched? (CSP 2017)

Dam/Lake River

(a) Govind Sagar: Satluj

(b) Kolleru Lake: Krishna

(c) Ukai Reservoir: Tapi

(d) Wular Lake: Jhelum

What is the SYL canal issue?

  • At the time of reorganization of Punjab in 1966, the issue of sharing of river waters between both the states emerged.
  • Punjab refused to share waters of Ravi and Beas with Haryana stating it was against the riparian principle.
  • Before the reorganization, in 1955, out of 15.85 MAF of Ravi and Beas, the Centre had allocated 8 MAF to Rajasthan, 7.20 MAF to undivided Punjab, 0.65MAF to Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Out of 7.20 MAF allocated, Punjab did not want to share any water with Haryana.
  • In March 1976, when the Punjab Reorganization Act was implemented, the Centre notified fresh allocations, providing 3.5 MAF To Haryana.

Inception of the canal project

  • Later, in 1981, the water flowing down Beas and Ravi was revised and pegged at 17.17 MAF, out of which 4.22 MAF was allocated to Punjab, 3.5 MAF to Haryana, and 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan.
  • Finally, to provide this allocated share of water to southern parts of Haryana, a canal linking the Sutlej with the Yamuna, cutting across the state, was planned.
  • Finally, the construction of 214-km SYL was started in April 1982, 122 km of which was to run through Punjab and the rest through Haryana.
  • Haryana has completed its side of the canal, but work in Punjab has been hanging fire for over three decades.

Why has the SYL canal come up again now?

  • The issue is back on centre stage after the Supreme Court directed the CMs of Punjab and Haryana to negotiate and settle the SYL canal issue.
  • The apex court asked for a meeting at the highest political level to be mediated by the Centre so that the states reach a consensus over the completion of the SYL canal.
  • The meeting remained inconclusive with the Centre expressing the view that the construction of the SYL canal should be completed. But Punjab CM refused categorically.

Punjab’s resentment with the project

  • The dispute is based on the bloody history around the SYL canal. The trouble-torn days of terrorism in Punjab started in the early 1980s when work on the SYL started.
  • Punjab feels it utilized its precious groundwater resources to grow the crop for the entire country and should not be forced to share its waters as it faces desertification.
  • It is feared that once the construction of the canal restarts, the youth may start feeling that the state has been discriminated against.
  • The Punjab CM fears Pakistan and secessionist organisations could exploit this and foment trouble in the state.

Water crisis in Punjab

  • Punjab is facing severe water crisis due to over-exploitation of its underground aquifers for the wheat/paddy monocycle.
  • According to the Central Underground Water Authority’s report, its underground water is over-exploited to meet the agriculture requirements in about 79 per cent area of the state.
  • Out of 138 blocks, 109 are “over-exploited”, two are “critical” five are “semi-critical” and only 22 blocks are in “safe” category.

Punjab expects a new tribunal

  • The state wants a tribunal seeking a fresh time-bound assessment of the water availability.
  • The state has been saying that till date there has been no adjudication or scientific assessment of Punjab river waters.

Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

Online Pharmacy Regulation in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pharma sector regulations

Mains level : E pharmacy and its benefits

In the last week, India’s online pharmacy market saw two significant merger and acquisition deals. This has suddenly caused activity in a sector from which large investors have shied away due to lack of proper regulations.

Try this easy question:

Q. Discuss the prospects and benefits of online pharmacy in India. (150W)

How is the pharmacy market in India currently shaped?

  • Unlike the US, where the top three pharmaceutical distributors have a 90 per cent share in the market, India’s is a fragmented market with over 8 lakh pharmacies.
  • This gives online pharmacies an opportunity to capture their space without opposing large traditional retailers.
  • Currently, companies in the Indian e-pharmacy space mainly operate three business models — marketplace, inventory-led hybrid (offline/online) and franchise-led hybrid (offline/online) — depending on the way the supply chain is structured.

Rules governing the pharma sector

  • Work on regulations specifically for e-pharmacies has been in progress for several years now.
  • In the absence of clear regulations, online pharmacies currently operate as marketplaces and cater to patients as a platform for ordering medicines from sellers that adhere to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules of India.
  • Other regulations, like the Information Technology Act and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, also apply.

What do the draft e-pharmacy regulations propose?

  • Draft rules for e-pharmacies sought to define the online sale of medicines, what an e-prescription means and what type of licences online firms would need to get from regulators to operate.
  • The draft had proposed to allow e-pharmacies to get a central licence to operate from the country’s apex drug regulator, which could be used to allow it to operate across the country.
  • It also proposed to define e-pharmacies in a way that would allow them to distribute, sell and stock medicines.
  • The proposed regulations prevent them from selling habit-forming drugs like cough syrups specified in Schedule X of the Indian drug regulations.

Current status

  • Regulations for online pharmacy players have been in the works since 2016 but are yet to come out.
  • The last attempt to clear these regulations saw the draft rules being pushed through two expert committees under the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation–India’s apex drug regulatory body–in June 2019.

Online pharma is growing in scale

  • While Covid-19 and the subsequent behavioural shift towards e-commerce may have catalyzed growth for online pharmacies, the sector was already poised to grow seven-fold by 2023 to $2.7 billion.
  • This was mainly on account of the challenges faced by physical pharmacies that gave their online counterparts a problem to solve.
  • Experts believe that e-pharmacies will be able to solve the problems that traditional pharmacies couldn’t.
  • But for this, they need to have a large-scale presence that calls for either huge investments or consolidation.

Conclusion

  • The e-pharmacy sector holds immense potential to address the persisting issue of affordability and accessibility of medicines in India.
  • Steps should be taken to foster the e-pharmacy sector with sufficient safeguards and under regulatory control to protect the interest of the consumers.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

Debate: Minimum age of marriage for women

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Marriage age issues and its discrimination nature

PM in his I-Day speech has announced that the central government has set up a committee to reconsider the minimum age of marriage for women during his address to the nation on the 74th Independence Day.

Try this question for mains:

Q.The different minimum age of marriage for women and men is a discriminatory provision. Analyse.

Back in debate

  • The minimum age of marriage, especially for women, has been a contentious issue.
  • The law evolved in the face of much resistance from religious and social conservatives.
  • Currently, the law prescribes that the minimum age of marriage is 21 years and 18 years for men and women respectively.

Issue over majority

  • The minimum age of marriage is distinct from the age of majority which is gender-neutral.
  • An individual attains the age of majority at 18 as per the Indian Majority Act, 1875.
  • The law prescribes a minimum age of marriage to essentially outlaw child marriages and prevents the abuse of minors.

What is the committee that the PM mentioned?

  • The Union Ministry for WCD had set up a task force to examine matters pertaining to the age of motherhood, imperatives of lowering Maternal Mortality Ratio and the improvement of nutritional levels among women.
  • The task force would examine the correlation of age of marriage and motherhood with health, medical well-being, and nutritional status of the mother and neonate, infant or child, during pregnancy, birth and thereafter.
  • It will also examine the possibility of increasing the age of marriage for women from the present 18 years to 21 years.

How common are child marriages in India?

  • UNICEF estimates suggest that each year, at least 1.5 million girls under the age of 18 are married in India.
  • It makes our country home to the largest number of child brides in the world — accounting for a third of the global total.
  • Nearly 16 per cent adolescent girls aged 15-19 are currently married.

Provisions for the minimum age for marriage

  • Personal laws of various religions that deal with marriage have their own standards, often reflecting custom.
  • For Hindus, Section 5(iii) of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, sets 18 years as the minimum age for the bride and 21 years as the minimum age for the groom.
  • However, child marriages are not illegal — even though they can be declared void at the request of the minor in the marriage.
  • In Islam, the marriage of a minor who has attained puberty is considered valid.
  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 also prescribe 18 and 21 years as the minimum age of consent for marriage for women and men respectively.
  • Additionally, sexual intercourse with a minor is rape, and the ‘consent’ of a minor is regarded as invalid since she is deemed incapable of giving consent at that age.

Evolution of the law

  • The IPC enacted in 1860 criminalised sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 10.
  • The provision of rape was amended in 1927 through The Age of Consent Bill, 1927, which declared that marriage with a girl under 12 would be invalid.
  • The law faced opposition from conservative leaders of the Indian National Movement, who saw the British intervention as an attack on Hindu customs.
  • A legal framework for the age of consent for marriage in India only began in the 1880s.

Comes in: The Sarda Act

  • In 1929, The Child Marriage Restraint Act set 16 and 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys respectively.
  • The law, popularly known as the Sarda Act after its sponsor Harbilas Sarda, a judge and a member of Arya Samaj, was eventually amended in 1978 to prescribe 18 and 21 years as the age of marriage for a woman and a man respectively.

Contention over different legal standards

  • There is no reasoning in the law for having different legal standards of age for men and women to marry. The laws are a codification of custom and religious practices.
  • The Law Commission consultation paper has argued that having different legal standards “contributes to the stereotype that wives must be younger than their husbands”.
  • Women’s rights activists have argued that the law also perpetuates the stereotype that women are more mature than men of the same age and, therefore, can be allowed to marry sooner.
  • The international treaty Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also calls for the abolition of laws that assume women have a different physical or intellectual rate of growth than men.

Why is the law being relooked at?

  • Despite laws mandating minimum age and criminalizing sexual intercourse with a minor, child marriages are very prevalent in the country.
  • From bringing in gender-neutrality to reduce the risks of early pregnancy among women, there are many arguments in favour of increasing the minimum age of marriage of women.
  • Early pregnancy is associated with increased child mortality rates and affects the health of the mother.

Upholding the Constitution

  • Petitioners, in this case, had challenged the law on the grounds of discrimination.
  • It is argued that Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, which guarantee the right to equality and the right to live with dignity, were violated by having different legal ages for men and women to marry.
  • Two significant Supreme Court rulings can act as precedents to support the petitioner’s claim.
  • In 2014, in the ‘NALSA v Union of India’ case, the Supreme Court, while recognising transgenders as the third gender, said that justice is delivered with the “assumption that humans have equal value and should, therefore, be treated as equal, as well as by equal laws”.
  • In 2019, in ‘Joseph Shine v Union of India’, the Supreme Court decriminalized adultery, and said that “a law that treats women differently based on gender stereotypes is an affront to women’s dignity”.

The Crisis In The Middle East

Why has the Israel-UAE pact unsettled Palestine and Iran?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : West Bank and its location

Mains level : Israeli claims over West Bank and Gaza

Last week Mr Trump has announced that Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had reached a peace agreement. Many countries, including the European powers and India, have welcomed it, while the Palestinian leadership, as well as Turkey and Iran, have lashed out at the UAE.

The strategic location of Gaza strip, West Bank, Dead Sea etc. creates a hotspot for a possible map based prelims question. 

Consider this PYQ:

Q. The area is known as ‘Golan Heights’ sometimes appears in the news in the context of the events related to: (CSP 2015)

a) Central Asia
b) Middle East
c) South-East Asia
d) Central Africa

The Israel-UAE Pact

  • The UAE and Israel would establish formal diplomatic relations and in exchange, Israel would suspend its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
  • Israeli PM Netanyahu had earlier vowed to annex the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
  • But now, as part of the agreement, Israel “will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas” of the West Bank and “focus its efforts on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world”.

A timeline of Israel-Arab Conflict

Arab-Israeli ties have historically been conflict-ridden.

  • Arab countries, including Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Iraq, fought their first war with Israel in 1948 after the formation of the state of Israel was announced.
  • The war ended with Israel capturing more territories, including West Jerusalem than what the UN Partition Plan originally proposed for a Jewish state.
  • After that, Israel and Arab states fought three more major wars — the 1956 Suez conflict, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
  • After the 1967 war in which Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.
  • Arab countries convened in Khartoum and declared their famous three “‘Nos’ — no peace with Israel, no talks with Israel and no recognition of Israel.
  • But it did not last long. After the death of Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser, his successor Anwar Sadat started making plans to get Sinai back from Israel.
  • His efforts, coupled with American pressure on Israel, led to the Camp David Accords of 1978 with Israel’s withdrawal.

Significance of the deal

  • It’s a landmark agreement given that the UAE is only the third Arab country and the first in the Gulf region to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
  • In 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
  • The UAE-Israel agreement comes after 26 years. If more countries in the Gulf follow the UAE’s lead, it would open a new chapter in Arab-Israel ties.

Why did the UAE sign the agreement?

  • The old enmity between Arab countries and Israel has dissipated.
  • The Sunni Arab kingdoms in the Gulf region such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE had developed backroom contacts with Israel over the past several years.
  • One of the major factors that brought them closer has been their shared antipathy towards Iran.
  • Arab countries have signalled that they are ready to live with Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

What do Arab countries want from Israel?

  • Arab countries expect a major change in the status quo on West Bank annexation which would put Israel under political and diplomatic pressure.
  • The UAE-Israel agreement has averted that outcome.
  • If a Democratic Party (Trump’s opposition and Obama’s allegiance) comes to power and restores the Iran deal, both the Israeli and the Arab blocs in West Asia would come under pressure to live with an empowered Iran.
  • A formal agreement and enhanced security and economic ties make the Arab and Israeli sides better prepared to face such a situation.
  • So there is a convergence of interests for the UAE, Israel and the U.S. to come together in the region.

Where does it leave the Palestinians?

  • Unlike the past two Arab-Israeli peace agreements, Palestinians do not figure prominently in the current one.
  • In the present UAE-Israel deal, Israel has not made any actual concession to the Palestinians.
  • The Palestinians are understandably upset. They called the UAE’s decision “treason”.

Geopolitical implications of the deal

  • The agreement could fast-track the changes that are already underway in the region.
  • The Saudi bloc, consisting of Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and others, see their interests being aligned with that of the U.S. and Israel and their support for Palestine, which Arab powers had historically upheld.
  • Turkey and Iran now emerge as the strongest supporters of the Palestinians in the Muslim world.
  • This tripolar contest is already at work in West Asia. The UAE-Israel thaw could sharpen it further.

Also read:

West Bank Annexation Plan

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

Expansion of the National Cadet Corps (NCC)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NCC

Mains level : NCC and its mandate

In his I-Day speech, PM spoke about the expansion of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) in coastal and border districts of India.

Try this question:

Q.The Shekatkar Committee recommendations sometimes seen in the news are related to:

a) Modernization of Railways b) Modernization of Defence c) Road Infrastructure d) Cashless Payments

About NCC

  • The NCC, which was formed in 1948, has its roots to British era uniformed youth entities like University Corps or University Officer Training Corps.
  • It enrols cadets at the high school and college level and also awards certificates on completion of various phases.
  • Headed by a Director-General of three-star military rank, the NCC falls under the purview of MoD and is led by serving officers from the Armed forces at various hierarchical positions.
  • The NCC currently has 17 regional directorates which govern the NCC in units in various states or groups of states and union territories.
  • Each school and college units have Associate NCC Officers and cadets are also assigned various leadership roles in the form of cadet appointments.
  • NCC has a dual funding model where both the centre and states or union territories provide budgetary support.

Training the cadets

  • The NCC cadets receive basic military training at various levels and also have academic curriculum basics related to Armed forces and their functioning.
  • Various training camps, adventure activities and military training camps are an important aspect of NCC training.
  • NCC cadets have played an important role over the years in relief efforts during various emergency situations.
  • During the ongoing pandemic, over 60,000 NCC cadets have been deployed for voluntary relief work in coordination with district and state authorities across the country.

PM’s announcement

  • Expansion of NCC in the border and coastal area has been under consideration of the Ministry of Defence for quite some time.
  • PM took this I-Day to announce that from the 173 coastal and border districts, one lakh cadets, a third of them girls, will be trained.
  • Currently, the NCC has the strength of around 14 lakh cadets from Army, Navy and Air Force wings.
  • Border and coastal areas will get trained manpower to fight with disasters. Youth will acquire the required skills for careers in armed forces.

Significance of expansion

  • In the coastal regions, where youth are already familiar with the sea, the training will increase interest in careers in Navy, Coast Guard and also Merchant shipping avenues.
  • In the border area, the trained cadets can play an important role in various contingencies and also in supporting roles to the Armed forces in various roles.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

HRD Ministry to be renamed as ‘Education Ministry’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HRD Ministry revamp, National Education Policy 2020

Mains level : National Education Policy 2020

The Union Cabinet has approved the renaming of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) to the Ministry of Education to more clearly define its work and focus.

Before reading this newscard, try this PYQ from CSP 2019:

Q.The Ninth Schedule was introduced in the Constitution of India during the Prime Ministership of:

(a) Jawaharlal Nehru

(b) Lal Bahadur Shastri

(c) Indira Gandhi

(d) Morarji Desai

A flip-back

  • With the renaming, the Ministry got back the name that it had started out with after Independence, but which was changed 35 years ago when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister.

Who were some of India’s early Education Ministers?

  • The Ministry which was focussed on education from the primary classes to the level of the university was headed by some of the stalwarts of Indian politics in its early years.
  • For more than a decade after Independence, the Ministry was led by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
  • He was followed by Kalulal Shrimali and the eminent jurist M C Chagla, with the poet-educationist Humayun Kabir holding the portfolio for a short while in between.
  • Later Education Ministers of India included Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who went on to become President.
  • The last Education Minister of India was KC Pant, who served in the post in 1984-85, after which the name of the Ministry was changed.

Under what circumstances did the Ministry of Education become HRD?

  • Upon becoming PM in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi, who had surrounded himself with a new crop of advisers, showed restlessness for change and innovation in a number of areas.
  • He accepted a suggestion that all departments related to education should be brought under one roof.
  • There was some opposition from academic circles who complained that the country no longer had a Department with ‘education’ in its name. Some newspapers wrote editorials criticizing the change of name.
  • But the decision had been made, and subsequently, in 1986, the government cleared a new education policy – the second in the country’s history, and one that was to survive until now.

Under HRD roof

  • On September 26, 1985, the Ministry of Education was renamed as the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and P V Narasimha Rao was appointed Minister.
  • Related Departments such as those of Culture and Youth & Sports were brought under the Ministry of HRD, and Ministers of State were appointed.
  • Even the Department of Women and Child Development – which became a separate Ministry with effect from January 30, 2006 – was a Department under the Union HRD Ministry.

Were changes made in the Ministry even afterwards?

  • Yes, changes were made from time to time. After Atal Bihari Vajpayee became PM in 1998, the government decided to separate the Department of Culture from the Ministry of HRD.
  • In October 1999, a new Ministry of Culture came into being, with the late Ananth Kumar in charge.
  • The Department of Youth too was separated from the Ministry of HRD, and Ananth Kumar was given charge of this new Ministry as well.
  • With these decisions of the Vajpayee government, the HRD Ministry remained ‘HRD’ only in name – for all practical purposes, it was back to being a ministry for education.

Electronic System Design and Manufacturing Sector – M-SIPS, National Policy on Electronics, etc.

Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme for electronics manufacturers

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Production Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI)

Mains level : Electronic manufacturing promotion under Make in India

Global electronics giants are set to expand their presence in India under the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme for making mobile phones and certain other specified electronic components.

Try this question for mains:

Q. What is the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme? Describe its various features and benefits.

What is the PLI scheme?

  • As a part of the National Policy on Electronics, the IT ministry had notified the PLI scheme on April 1 this year.
  • The scheme will, on one hand, attract big foreign investment in the sector, while also encouraging domestic mobile phone makers to expand their units and presence in India.
  • It would give incentives of 4-6 per cent to electronics companies which manufacture mobile phones and other electronic components.
  • A/c to the scheme, companies that make mobile phones which sell for Rs 15,000 or more will get an incentive of up to 6 per cent on incremental sales of all such mobile phones made in India.
  • In the same category, companies which are owned by Indian nationals and make such mobile phones, the incentive has been kept at Rs 200 crore for the next four years.

Tenure of the scheme

  • The PLI scheme will be active for five years with financial year (FY) 2019-20 considered as the base year for calculation of incentives.
  • This means that all investments and incremental sales registered after FY20 shall be taken into account while computing the incentive to be given to each company.

Which companies and what kind of investments will be considered?

  • All electronic manufacturing companies which are either Indian or have a registered unit in India will be eligible to apply for the scheme.
  • These companies can either create a new unit or seek incentives for their existing units from one or more locations in India.
  • Any additional expenditure incurred on the plant, machinery, equipment, research and development and transfer of technology for the manufacture of mobile phones and related electronic items will be eligible for the incentive.
  • However, all investment done by companies on land and buildings for the project will not be considered for any incentives or determine the eligibility of the scheme.

Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

What are Pre-packs under the present insolvency regime?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pre-Pack

Mains level : Asset reconstructions process under IBC

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) has set up a committee to look into the possibility of including what is called “pre-packs” under the current insolvency regime to offer faster insolvency resolution.

Practice question for mains:

Q.What are the key features of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code? Discuss how operationalization of IBC is hindered by the slower resolutions of insolvency cases. Suggest measures for faster resolution.

What is Pre-pack?

  • A pre-pack is an agreement for the resolution of the debt of a distressed company through an agreement between secured creditors and investors instead of a public bidding process.
  • This system of insolvency proceedings has become an increasingly popular mechanism for insolvency resolution in the UK and Europe over the past decade.

Why need Pre-packs?

  • Slow progress in the resolution of distressed companies has been one of the key issues raised by creditors regarding the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) under the IBC.
  • Under the IBC, stakeholders are required to complete the CIRP within 330 days of the initiation of insolvency proceedings.

A case for India

  • In India’s case, such a system would likely require that financial creditors agree on terms with potential investors and seek approval of the resolution plan from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
  • This process would likely be completed much faster than the traditional CIRP which requires that the creditors of the distressed company allow for an open auction for qualified investors to bid for the distressed company.
  • The process needs to be completed within 90 days so that all stakeholders retain faith in the system and cases that take more than this time should be taken through the normal CIRP.

What are the other key benefits of a pre-pack?

  • Pre-packs would mostly be used for businesses that are running; the investors would likely need to maintain good relations with operational creditors.
  • In the case of pre-packs, the incumbent management retains control of the company until a final agreement is reached.
  • The transfer of control from the incumbent management to an insolvency professional as is the case in the CIRP leads to disruptions in the business and loss of some high-quality human resources and asset value.

Some limitations

  • The key drawback of a pre-packaged insolvency resolution is the reduced transparency compared to the CIRP.
  • Financial creditors would reach an agreement with a potential investor privately and not through an open bidding process.
  • This could lead to stakeholders such as operational creditors raising issues of fair treatment when financial creditors reach agreements to reduce the liabilities of the distressed company.

Anti Defection Law

When can a Governor use his discretion, how has the SC ruled?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Governor’s Discretionary Powers

Mains level : State legislature issues

Rajasthan Governor returning the fresh proposal by the state Cabinet – seeking to convene a session of the Assembly has raised fresh legal questions on the powers of the Governor.

Try this question for mains:

Q. “Time and again, the courts have spoken out against the Governor acting in the capacity of an all-pervading super-constitutional authority.” Analyse.

Who has the powers to summon the House?

  • It is the Governor acting on the aid and advice of the cabinet.
  • Article 174 of the Constitution gives the Governor the power to summon from time to time “the House or each House of the Legislature of the State to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit…”
  • However, the phrase “as he thinks fit” is read as per Article 163 of the Constitution which says that the Governor acts on the aid and advice of the cabinet.
  • Article 163(1) essentially limits any discretionary power of the Governor only to cases where the Constitution expressly specifies that the Governor must act on his own and apply an independent mind.

What has the Supreme Court said in the past about the Governor’s power to summon the House?

  • It is settled law that the Governor cannot refuse the request of the Cabinet to call for a sitting of the House for legislative purposes or for the chief minister to prove his majority.
  • In fact, on numerous occasions, including in the 2016 Uttarakhand case, the court has clarified that when the majority of the ruling party is in question, a floor test must be conducted at the earliest available opportunity.
  • In 2016, the Supreme Court in Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix vs Deputy Speaker expressly said that the power to summon the House is not solely vested in the Governor.

What did the SC say in the Arunachal case?

  • Referring to discussions in the Constituent Assembly, the court noted that the framers of the Constitution expressly and consciously left out vesting powers to summon or dissolve the House solely with the Governor.
  • It said that the powers of the Governor were substantially altered to indicate that the framers did not want to give Governors the discretion.
  • The Governor can summon, prorogue and dissolve the House, only on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers (CoM) with the Chief Minister as the head and not at his own, said the Court.

When can a Governor use his discretion?

  • Article 163(1) of the Constitution says that “there shall be a CoM with the CM at the head to aid and advice the Governor in the exercise of his functions, except some conditions for discretion.
  • However, in the 2016 case, the apex court has defined the circumstances if the aid and advice of CoM are binding on the Governor.
  • When the chief minister has lost the support of the House and his strength is debatable, then the Governor need not wait for the advice of the CoM to hold a floor test.

Novel situations are created these days

  • Generally, when doubts are cast on the chief minister that he has lost the majority, the opposition and the Governor would rally for a floor test.
  • The ruling party may attempt to stall the process to buy time and keep its flock together.
  • In a puzzling situation, in Rajasthan’s case, despite requests from CM, the Governor has returned requests to call for a session.
  • However, in the current case, the rebel MLAs have not defected from their party but have repeatedly stated before the Rajasthan HC that they are merely expressing their dissent within the party.

Back2Basics: Governor’s Discretionary Powers

The governor can use his/her discretionary powers:

  • When no party gets a clear majority, the governor has the discretion to choose a candidate for the chief minister who will put together a majority coalition as soon as possible.
  • He can impose president’s rule.
  • He submits reports on his own to the president or on the direction of the president regarding the affairs of the state.
  • He can withhold his assent to a bill and send it to the president for his approval.
  • During emergency rule per Article 353, he can override the advice of the council of ministers if specifically permitted by the president.

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

What are Strategic and Non-strategic Sectors of Industries?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Strategic and non-strategic sectors

Mains level : Disinvestment of CPSEs

The government will soon come out with a policy on strategic sectors and simultaneously kick into motion a process of complete privatization for companies in the non-strategic sectors.

Try this question for mains:

Q. “Privatisation of CPSEs can lead to the conversion of public monopoly to a private monopoly.” Analyse.

What are Strategic and Non-strategic Sectors of India?

  • An industry is considered strategic if it has large innovative spillovers and if it provides a substantial infrastructure for other firms in the same or related industries.
  • Earlier, the strategic sectors were defined on the basis of industrial policy.
  • The government classified Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) as ‘strategic’ and ‘non-strategic’ on the basis of industrial policy that keeps on changing from time-to-time.

According to this, the Strategic sector PSUs are:

  • Arms & Ammunition of defence equipment
  • Defence aircraft & warships
  • Atomic energy
  • Applications of radiation to agriculture, medicine and non-strategic industry
  • Railways

Banking, insurance, defence, and energy are likely to be part of the strategic sector list. All other PSUs apart from the strategic sectors fall under Non-strategic Sector including Power Discoms.

A change in policy post-Atmanirbhar

  • Under the Self-sufficiency move, the proposed policy would notify the list of strategic sectors requiring the presence of at least one state-owned company along with the private sector.
  • In all other sectors, the government plans to privatize public sector enterprises, depending upon the feasibility.
  • The number of enterprises in strategic sectors will be only one to four, and others would be privatized/merged/brought under a holding company structure.

Will it help privatization?

  • The government has already set in motion privatization plans for large PSU companies BPCL, Air India, Container Corporation of India, and Shipping Corporation of India.
  • Budget 2020-21 had announced plans to sell part of the Centre’s stake in LIC through an initial public offer (IPO), and the sale of equity in IDBI Bank to private, retail and institutional investors.
  • The emphasis on privatization could see companies in chemicals and infrastructure space being privatized, while the government has stated its intent to reduce the number of state-owned banks.
  • This could see some smaller banks being privatized in due course.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

What is a Serological Survey?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Serological survey

Mains level : Paper 2- Health and pandemic control measures

A Serological Survey was recently conducted in New Delhi to determine the exposure of the novel coronavirus among the population.

Try this question from CSP 2019:

Which one of the following statements is not correct?

(a) Hepatitis B virus is transmitted much like HIV.
(b) Hepatitis B, unlike Hepatitis C, does not have a vaccine.
(c) Globally, the number of people infected with Hepatitis B and C viruses is several times more than those infected with HIV.
(d) Some of those infected with Hepatitis Band C viruses do not show the symptoms for many years.

Serological Survey

  • A serological survey seeks to assess the prevalence of the disease in a population by detecting the presence of specific antibodies against the virus.
  • A serological test is performed to diagnose infections and autoimmune illnesses. It can also be conducted to check if a person has developed immunity to certain diseases.
  • The survey included the IgG Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test which estimates the proportion of the population exposed to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • The IgG test is not useful for detecting acute infections, but it indicates episodes of infections that may have occurred in the past.
  • The test has been approved by ICMR for its high sensitivity and specificity.

Highlights of the Survey

  • The study found the presence of antibodies in 22.86 percent of the people surveyed.
  • It indicated that a large number of infected persons remain asymptomatic.

Why needed such survey?

  • Since it is not possible to test everyone in the population, serological studies are used as a tool to make an estimate of the extent of disease spread in the community.

Conclusions from the survey

  • Results show that a significant proportion of the population is still vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus infection.
  • Containment measures need to continue with the same rigour.
  • Non-pharmacological interventions such as physical distancing, use of face mask/cover, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and avoidance of crowded places etc. must be followed strictly.

Judicial Pendency

What is Plea Bargaining and how does it work?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Plea Bargaining

Mains level : Various judicial remedies

Many members of a religious faction belonging to different countries have obtained release from court cases in recent days by means of plea bargaining. They were accused of violating visa conditions by attending a religious congregation in Delhi.

Try this question for mains:

Q.What is Plea Bargaining and how does it work? Discuss the rationale behind and benefits in reducing the burden on Judiciary.

What is Plea Bargaining?

  • Plea bargaining refers to a person charged with a criminal offence negotiating with the prosecution for a lesser punishment than what is provided in law by pleading guilty to a less serious offence.
  • It is common in the US and has been a successful method of avoiding protracted and complicated trials.
  • As a result, conviction rates are significantly high there. It primarily involves pre-trial negotiations between the accused and the prosecutor.
  • It may involve bargaining on the charge or in the quantum of sentence.

When was it introduced in India?

  • In India, the concept was not part of law until 2006. It was introduced in 2006 as part of a set of amendments to the CrPC as Chapter XXI-A, containing Sections 265A to 265L.
  • There has always been a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure for an accused to plead ‘guilty’ instead of claiming the right to a full trial, but it is not the same as plea bargaining.
  • The Law Commission of India, in its 142nd Report, mooted the idea of “concessional treatment” of those who plead guilty on their own volition but was careful to underscore that it would not involve any plea bargaining or “haggling” with the prosecution.

How does it work?

  • Unlike in the U.S. and other countries, where the prosecutor plays a key role the Indian code makes plea bargaining a process that can be initiated only by the accused.
  • Further, the accused will have to apply to the court for invoking the benefit of bargaining.

In what circumstances is it allowed?

  • Cases for which the practice is allowed are limited.
  • Only someone who has been charge-sheeted for an offence that does not attract the death sentence, life sentence or a prison term above seven years can make use of the scheme under Chapter XXI-A.
  • It is also applicable to private complaints of which a criminal court has taken cognizance.
  • Other categories of cases that cannot be disposed of through plea bargaining are those that involve offences affecting the “socio-economic conditions” of the country or committed against a woman or a child below 14.

How to avail this?

  • The applicant should approach the court with a petition and affidavit stating that it is a voluntary preference and that he has understood the nature and extent of punishment provided in law for the offence.
  • The court would then issue a notice to the prosecutor and the complainant or victim, if any, for a hearing.
  • The voluntary nature of the application must be ascertained by the judge in an in-camera hearing at which the other side should not be present.
  • Thereafter, the court may permit the prosecutor, the investigating officer and the victim to hold a meeting for a “satisfactory disposition of the case”.
  • The outcome may involve payment of compensation and other expenses to the victim by the accused.

After approval

  • Once mutual satisfaction is reached, the court shall formalize the arrangement by way of a report signed by all the parties and the presiding officer.
  • The accused may be sentenced to a prison term that is half the minimum period fixed for the offence.
  • If there is no minimum term prescribed, the sentence should run up to one-fourth of the maximum sentence stipulated in the law.

What is the rationale for the scheme? What are its benefits?

  • The Justice Malimath Committee on reforms of the criminal justice system endorsed the various recommendations of the Law Commission with regard to plea bargaining.
  • Some of the advantages it culled out from earlier reports are that the practice would ensure a speedy trial, end uncertainty over the outcome of criminal cases, save litigation costs and relieve the parties of anxiety.
  • It would also have a dramatic impact on conviction rates.
  • Prolonged incarceration of undertrials without any progress and overcrowding of prisons were also other factors that may be cited in support of reducing pendency of cases and decongesting prisons.
  • Moreover, it may help offenders make a fresh start in life.

Do courts have reservations?

  • Case law after the introduction of plea bargaining has not developed much as the provision is possibly not used adequately.
  • However, earlier judgments of various courts in cases in which the accused enter a ‘guilty’ plea with a view to getting lesser sentences indicate that the judiciary may have reservations.
  • Some verdicts disapprove of bargaining with offenders, and point out those lenient sentences could be considered as part of the circumstances of the case after a regular trial.
  • Courts are also very particular about the voluntary nature of the exercise, as poverty, ignorance and prosecution pressure should not lead to someone pleading guilty of offences that may not have been committed.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Issues over Delimitation in the Northeast

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Delimitation Commission

Mains level : Delimitation of constituencies

The Election Commission has red-flagged the Union government’s order setting up a Delimitation Commission for Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland, calling it “unconstitutional” and “illegal”. When delimitation last took place in the rest of the country in 2002-08, these states had been left out.

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 delimitation and why is it needed?

  • Delimitation is the act of redrawing boundaries of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats to represent changes in population.
  • In this process, the number of seats allocated to a state may also change.
  • The objective is to provide equal representation for equal population segments and a fair division of geographical areas so that no political party has an advantage.
  • The Delimitation Commission’s orders cannot be questioned before any court.

Legal status

  • Delimitation is carried out by an independent Delimitation Commission (DC).
  • The Constitution mandates that its orders are final and cannot be questioned before any court as it would hold up an election indefinitely.

How is delimitation carried out?

  • Under Article 82, the Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act after every Census.
  • Once the Act is in force, the Union government sets up a DC made up of a retired Supreme Court judge, the Chief Election Commissioner and the respective State Election Commissioners.
  • The Commission is supposed to determine the number and boundaries of constituencies in a way that the population of all seats, so far as practicable, is the same.
  • The Commission is also tasked with identifying seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; these are where their population is relatively large.
  • All this is done on the basis of the latest Census and, in case of difference of opinion among members of the Commission, the opinion of the majority prevails.

Northeast’s concerns

  • In the last delimitation exercise, completed in 2008, Arunachal, Manipur, Assam, Nagaland were kept out due to apprehensions overuse of the 2001 Census.
  • The Centre’s move to club the four with J&K comes in the backdrop of unrest in the region over CAA.

Why were these four states left out in 2002-08?

  • In Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, various organisations had moved the Gauhati High Court against the 2002-08 exercise, challenging the use of the 2001 Census for reference.
  • From Assam, an all-party delegation met then Home Minister pleading that delimitation is called off because the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was yet to be updated.
  • The Delimitation Act was amended in 2008, and on February 8, 2008, Presidential orders were issued to defer delimitation in these four states.

So, when did the government decide to resume delimitation?

  • In February this year, President Kovind cleared the decks for the resumption of the delimitation exercise in the four states by cancelling the earlier order.
  • It noted that there had been a reduction in insurgency incidents, making the situation conducive for carrying out delimitation.

Will delimitation change the number of seats in these states?

  • Not in the four Northeast states. There is a freeze until 2026 on the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in any state.
  • Delimitation will only redraw the boundaries of seats in each state and can rework the number of reserved seats for SCs and STs.
  • However, because of exceptional past circumstances, Jammu & Kashmir’s Assembly seats will now increase from 107 to 114, which is expected to increase the Jammu region’s representation.

History- Important places, persons in news

How the US’ Trinity Test led to the dawn of the atomic age?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Manhattan Project, WW2 and related stories

On this day, exactly 75 years ago, US scientists tested ‘Gadget’— the world’s first atomic bomb — in what was dubbed as the ‘Trinity Test’.

Practice question for mains:

Q.What is the Manhattan Project? Describe its consequences on the post-world war scenario.

The Trinity Test

  • The super bomb, nicknamed ‘Gadget’, was built by a team of scientists at a top-secret site in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
  • It was developed as part of the US-led Manhattan Project, which sought to build nuclear weapons to give the allied forces an edge over Germany, Japan and Italy in World War 2.
  • Very soon after the Trinity test, an identical nuclear bomb called ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of people.
  • Before it detonated, the scientists had placed bets on what could happen. Some believed that the bomb would be a dud and would fail to explode.

What was the Manhattan Project?

  • Germany initiated World War II by invading Poland.
  • A letter signed by Nobel prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein warned then-US President Franklin D Roosevelt of the potential threat posed by an atomic weapon being developed by Adolf Hitler.
  • Soon after, the US launched a secret atomic research undertaking, code-named the Manhattan Project, which sought to develop an atomic weapon to end the war.

Execution of the project

  • The Project remained a relatively small-scale initiative for the next two years.
  • It was only after the bombing of Pearl Harbour the project was officially kicked into gear.
  • By December 1942 facilities were established in remote locations across the US, as well as in Canada.
  • However, the superbomb was finally designed and conceptualized by a team of scientists at a top-secret laboratory in Los Alamos.
  • The Los Alamos team developed two types of bombs — one was uranium-based, which was later code-named ‘the Little Boy’ before it was dropped on Hiroshima; the other had a plutonium core.

Looping-in nuclear physicists

  • The project brought together some of the country’s leading atomic experts as well as exiled scientists and physicists from Germany and other Nazi-occupied nations.
  • The team at Los Alamos was headed by J Robert Oppenheimer, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Oppenheimer later came to be known as the “father of the atomic bomb”.
  • His team included famous Danish scientist Niels Bohr and Italian scientists Enrico Fermi.

What were the repercussions of the Trinity Test?

  • New Mexico residents were pointedly not warned before the test, to ensure that it was carried out secretly.
  • Data collected by the New Mexico health department, which showed the adverse impact of radiation caused by the detonation, was ignored for years after the test.
  • A sudden rise in infant mortality was reported in the months after the explosion. Several residents also complained that the number of cancer patients went up after the Trinity Test.
  • The dust outfall from the explosion was expected to have travelled nearly 100 miles from the test site, posing a serious threat to residents in the area.
  • Many families complained that their livestock suffered skin burns, bleeding and loss of hair.

Impact of bombing on Japan

  • The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are known to have killed well over 200,000 people — many of whom succumbed to radiation poisoning in the weeks after the blasts.
  • The uranium bomb in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroyed around 70 per cent of all buildings and caused around 140,000 deaths by the end of 1945.
  • The plutonium bomb explosion over Nagasaki, which took place three days later, killed 74,000 people that year, according to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICANW) data.
  • After seeing the destruction caused to the two Japanese cities, Oppenheimer publicly admitted that he regretted building a bomb that could cause an apocalypse.

Nuclearisation of the world thus began

  • Seventy-five years after the Trinity Test, as many as nine countries around the world are currently in possession of nuclear weapons.
  • These include the US, the UK, Russia, France, India, China, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
  • At least eight countries have detonated over 2,000 nuclear test explosions since 1945.
  • The most recent instance of nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by India, were the series of five explosions done as part of the Pokhran-II tests in May 1998.
  • The first test, code-named Smiling Buddha, took place in May 1974.

Right To Privacy

What is Non-Personal Data?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Non-personal data

Mains level : Data privacy issues

A government committee headed by Infosys co-founder has suggested that non-personal data generated in the country be allowed to be harnessed by various domestic companies and entities.

Practice question for mains:

Q.What is Non-Personal Data? Discuss its utility and various privacy concerns associated with it.

What is non-personal data?

  • In its most basic form, non-personal data is any set of data which does not contain personally identifiable information.
  • This, in essence, means that no individual or living person can be identified by looking at such data.
  • For example, while order details collected by a food delivery service will become non-personal data if the identifiers such as name and contact information are taken out.
  • The government committee, which submitted its report, has classified non-personal data into three main categories, namely public non-personal data, community non-personal data and private non-personal data.

Types of non-personal data

Depending on the source of the data and whether it is anonymised in a way that no individual can be re-identified from the data set, the three categories have been divided:

1) Public

All the data collected by government and its agencies such as census, data collected by municipal corporations on the total tax receipts in a particular period or any information collected during execution of all publicly funded works have been kept under the umbrella of public non-personal data.

2) Community

Any data identifiers about a set of people who have the same geographic location, religion, job, or other common social interests will form the community non-personal data. For example, the metadata collected by ride-hailing apps, telecom companies, electricity distribution companies among others have been put under the community non-personal data category by the committee.

3) Private

Private non-personal data can be defined as those which are produced by individuals which can be derived from the application of proprietary software or knowledge.

How sensitive can non-personal data be?

  • Unlike personal data, which contains explicit information about a person’s name, age, gender, sexual orientation, biometrics and other genetic details, non-personal data is more likely to be in an anonymised form.
  • However, in certain categories such as data related to national security or strategic interests such as locations of government laboratories or research facilities, even if provided in anonymised form can be dangerous.
  • Similarly, even if the data is about the health of a community or a group of communities, though it may be in anonymised form, it can still be dangerous, the committee opined.
  • Possibilities of such harm are obviously much higher if the original personal data is of a sensitive nature.
  • Therefore, the non-personal data arising from such sensitive personal data may be considered as sensitive non-personal data.

What are the global standards on non-personal data?

  • In May 2019, the EU came out with a regulatory framework for the free flow of non-personal data.
  • It suggested that member states of the union would cooperate with each other when it came to data sharing.
  • Such data, the EU had then ruled would be shared by member states without any hindrances.
  • The authorities must inform the commission of any draft act which introduces a new data localisation requirement or makes changes to an existing data localisation requirement.
  • The regulation, however, had not defined what non-personal data constituted of and had simply said all data which is not personal would be under its category.

What areas does India’s non-personal data draft miss?

  • Though the non-personal data draft is a pioneer in identifying the power, role, and usage of anonymised data, there are certain aspects such as community non-personal data, where the draft could have been clearer.
  • Non-personal data often constitute protected trade secrets and often raises significant privacy concerns.
  • The paper proposes the nebulous concept of community data while failing to adequately provide for community rights.
  • Other experts also believe that the final draft of the non-personal data governance framework must clearly define the roles for all participants, such as the data principal, the data custodian, and data trustees.

Conclusion

  • Regulation must be clear, and concise to provide certainty to its market participants, and must demarcate the roles and responsibilities of participants in the regulatory framework.
  • The report is unclear on these counts and requires public consultation and more deliberation.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

India’s Military Ties with Nepal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ex. Surya Kiran

Mains level : India-Nepal military ties

Soldiers from Nepal form a significant part of the Indian Army’s legendary Gurkha regiment. Here is a brief explainer on the origin and evolution of these ties.

Practice question for mains:

Q.“India has special and time-tested military ties with Nepal”. Analyse.

India’s military ties with Nepal: The origin

  • India’s military connection with the Himalayan country goes back to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh whose army in Lahore enlisted Nepalese soldiers called Lahure or soldiers of fortune.
  • British India raised the first battalion of the Gurkha Regiment as the Nasiri regiment on April 24, 1815.
  • By the time the First World War started, there were 10 Gurkha regiments in the British Indian Army.
  • When India got freedom, these regiments were divided between the British and Indian armies as per the Britain–India–Nepal Tripartite Agreement signed in November 1947.
  • Six Gurkha regiments with a lakh-odd soldier came to India, which went on to raise another regiment called 11 Gurkha Rifles who chose not to transfer to the British Army.

Can Nepali citizens join the Indian Army?

  • Yes, any Nepali can join the Indian Army, both as a jawan and as an officer.
  • A citizen of Nepal can take the NDA or CDS exams and join the Indian Army as an officer.
  • Col Lalit Rai, who received a Vir Chakra for the bravery of his battalion, the 1/11 Gurkha Rifles, during the Kargil war, is one such officer of Nepalese descent.
  • The Nepalese army also sends its officers for training to India’s military academies and combat colleges.

Do the soldiers from Nepal enjoy the same rights as the Indian troops?

  • Yes, they enjoy the same benefits as the India troops both during service and after retirement.
  • They get the same medical facilities as the Indian soldiers, and often medical teams from the Indian Army tour Nepal.
  • Unlike the British, who started giving the Nepalese soldiers pension only a few years ago, the Indian Army has never discriminated against the Nepalese soldiers, who can avail of healthcare facilities in India as well.
  • The Indian Army also runs welfare projects in Nepal villages, including small water and power projects.

The honorary chief of the Nepalese army

  • Yes, this convention dates back to 1972 when then Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, a Gurkha regiment officer, fondly called Sam Bahadur by his troops, was made the honorary chief of the Nepalese army.
  • Ever since the Army chief of India is the honorary chief of the Nepalese army and vice-versa.

Joint exercises

  • Joint military exercise ‘SURYA KIRAN is an annual event which is conducted alternatively in Nepal and India.
  • It is an important exercise in terms of the security challenges faced by both nations in the realm of changing facets of global terrorism.