Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Analysis of Declining CAG Audits Tabled in Parliament

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • In 2023, only 18 audits prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) were tabled in the Indian Parliament, continuing a trend of decreasing numbers in recent years.

Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)

  • Constitutional Office: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) is an independent constitutional authority responsible for overseeing financial administration in India.
  • Key Responsibilities: As the head of the Indian Audit and Accounts Department, the CAG is the guardian of the public purse, monitoring the financial system at both central and state levels.

History of the Office of CAG

  • Origins in British India: The role of the CAG evolved with administrative reforms initiated by Lord Canning before the Mutiny of 1857.
  • Establishment and Evolution: The office was formalized under the Government of India Act 1858, with Sir Edward Drummond becoming the first Auditor General in 1860. The title ‘Comptroller and Auditor General of India’ was first used in 1884.
  • Independence and Strengthening: The Montford Reforms of 1919 and the Government of India Act 1935 further solidified the CAG’s independence and role in a federal setup.

Constitutional Provisions Related to CAG

  • Articles Governing CAG: The Constitution outlines the CAG’s appointment, duties, and powers in Articles 148 to 151.
  • Duties and Powers: The CAG is responsible for auditing all government accounts and advising on financial matters.
  • Audit Reports: The CAG submits audit reports on Union accounts to the President and on state accounts to respective Governors.

Types of Audits Performed by CAG

  • Regulatory Audit: Ensures authorized and rule-compliant expenditure.
  • Supplementary Audit: Conducted in PSUs for detecting financial leakages.
  • Propriety Audit: Focuses on the public interest and proper expenditure.
  • Efficiency Audit: Assesses optimal utilization of investments.
  • Performance Audit: Evaluates government programs for effectiveness.
  • Environmental Audit: Addresses issues related to conservation and environmental management.

Independence of the CAG

  • Constitutional Safeguards: The CAG’s independence is protected by various constitutional provisions, including security of tenure, ineligibility for further government office, and non-varying service conditions.
  • Financial Autonomy: The CAG’s administrative expenses are charged upon the Consolidated Fund of India, ensuring financial independence.

Audit Mandate Sources

  • Constitutional Basis: Articles 148 to 151 of the Constitution.
  • Statutory Framework: The Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service Act, 1971.
  • Regulations: Audit and accounts regulations as notified.

Duties and Functions of the CAG

  • Audit Responsibilities: CAG audits all government accounts, including the Consolidated Fund, Contingency Fund, and Public Account.
  • Advisory Role: Advises on financial matters and assists parliamentary committees.
  • Reporting: Submits audit reports to the President and state Governors.

Limitations on the Powers of CAG

  • Post-Facto Reporting: Audits are conducted after expenditures have occurred.
  • Exclusions: Certain expenditures like secret service expenses are outside CAG’s purview.
  • Challenges with PPP Investments: Limited authority to audit public-private partnerships.
  • Limited Audit of NGOs and Local Bodies: No provision for auditing funds given to NGOs and elected local bodies.
  • Document Accessibility Issues: Challenges in obtaining necessary documents for audits.
  • Appointment Process: The selection process for CAG lacks external transparency.
  • Undefined Audit Scope: The term ‘audit’ is not explicitly defined in the Constitution or CAG Act.

CAG Audits over the Years

  • Recent Trends: Between 2019 and 2023, an average of 22 reports were tabled annually, a significant decrease from the 40 reports tabled on average between 2014 and 2018.
  • Peak and Decline: The number of reports peaked in 2015 with 53 audits but has since declined, with four of the past six years seeing 20 or fewer reports tabled.

Factors Contributing to the Decline

  • Staffing and Budget Cuts: The decline in the number of CAG reports tabled in Parliament coincides with reductions in staff strength and budget allocations for the CAG.
  • Budget Allocation: In the fiscal year 2023-24, the allocation for the Indian Audit and Accounts Department constituted only 0.13% of the Union Budget.

Conclusion

  • Impact on Oversight and Transparency: The reduction in the number of CAG audits tabled in Parliament could have implications for governmental oversight and transparency.
  • Need for Adequate Resources: Ensuring the CAG is adequately staffed and funded is crucial for maintaining effective audit practices and upholding the accountability of government operations.

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Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Hindutva Rate of Growth: Debates and Comparisons in the Indian Economy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Hindutva Rate of Growth

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • A popular orator and a Parliamentarian, introduced the term “Hindutva rate of GDP growth” during the discussion.
  • This term is distinct from the ‘Hindu rate of growth’, a phrase coined by economist Raj Krishna in 1982 to describe India’s modest growth rate of 3.5%.

Understanding the ‘Hindutva Rate of Growth’

  • Argument: The MP attributed India’s recent economic growth, including a 6.3% GDP growth rate, to the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aligning spending with ‘Dharma (the order)’.
  • Historical and Religious Context: He linked economic transformations to key events in India’s history, including the Ram Temple movement and the Supreme Court’s Babri Masjid judgment.

Comparative Analysis of Growth Rates

  • Per Capita Income Disparity: Despite high GDP growth rates, India’s per capita income remains low compared to developed countries.
  • Post-Covid Growth Calculation: 7.8% ‘Hindutva rate of growth’ refers to the average GDP growth post-Covid, excluding the year of the pandemic.
  • Comparison with ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’: Including the Covid year in calculations, the growth rate closely resembles the criticized ‘Hindu rate of growth’.

Economic Growth during Different Governments

  • Growth under Modi vs. UPA: The average GDP growth rate under PM Modi is 5.8%, compared to 6.8% under the Congress-led UPA.
  • Impact of Global Crises: Both governments faced major global crises, with the UPA dealing with the Global Financial Crisis and the Modi government facing the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Historical Growth Trends: Comparing growth rates across different eras, including PM Vajpayee’s and PM Narasimha Rao’s tenures, provides a broader perspective on India’s economic trajectory.

Conclusion

  • Similarity to Historical Growth Rates: The ‘Hindutva rate of growth’ closely aligns with historical growth rates, challenging its portrayal as a significant departure from the past.
  • Electoral Implications: The discussion raises questions about the role of economic performance in India’s electoral politics, especially in the context of the BJP’s focus on ‘Hindutva’.

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Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Global Implications

Is Russia winning the Ukraine War?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Outcome of the Rusisan Invasion of Ukraine

ukraine war russia

Central Idea

  • It has been six months since Ukraine launched its counteroffensive against Russian forces.
  • Despite initial expectations, Ukraine has failed to achieve significant advancements on the battlefield.
  • President Zelensky is actively touring Western capitals, including Washington, to secure ongoing military assistance.

Ukraine’s Counteroffensive: Progress and Challenges

  • Initial Strategy and Targets: The counteroffensive focused on three fronts, aiming to disrupt Russia’s land bridge to Crimea and make gains in the south and east.
  • Challenges in Advancement: Despite receiving advanced weaponry and training from Western allies, Ukrainian forces struggled against Russia’s fortified defenses, particularly in the south.
  • Setbacks and Losses: Ukrainian advances were hindered by minefields, electronic warfare, and lack of air power, leading to significant losses and little change in the frontline.

Russia’s Current Position in the War

  • Recovery and Defense Building: After initial retreats, Russia has fortified its defensive positions and is on the offensive in certain areas like Avdiivka.
  • Mobilization and Military Production: Russia has mobilized additional troops and ramped up its military production, countering Western sanctions and supply challenges.
  • Economic Stability Despite Sanctions: Despite Western sanctions, Russia has managed to maintain economic stability by diversifying its energy trade, particularly with China and India.

Waning Western Support for Ukraine

  • Shift in U.S. and EU Stance: There are indications that the U.S. and EU might be encouraging Ukraine to initiate talks with Russia.
  • Political and Financial Challenges: In the U.S., Republican opposition and declining public support are affecting aid to Ukraine, with potential implications for the 2024 presidential elections.
  • Uncertainty Over Continued Aid: The future of Western support is uncertain, especially if Ukraine fails to achieve significant military successes.

Future Outlook: No End to the Conflict in Sight

  • Putin’s Stance on Peace Talks: Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed no urgency in peace talks, focusing instead on achieving Russia’s objectives.
  • Ukraine’s Position on Negotiations: Ukraine, similarly, is not considering negotiations at the moment.
  • Potential Strategies and Challenges Ahead: As winter sets in, the conflict is expected to see a temporary freeze in frontline movements, with both sides possibly preparing for future offensives and counteroffensives.

Conclusion

  • Continued Dependence on Western Aid: Ukraine’s prospects in the conflict remain heavily reliant on sustained Western military and financial support.
  • Uncertain Future for Ukraine: The ongoing war, coupled with geopolitical and economic dynamics, leaves Ukraine in a precarious position as it navigates a complex and evolving conflict landscape.

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Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Explained: Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi Case

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi

Mains level: Read the attached story

Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi

Central Idea

  • On December 14, the Allahabad High Court allowed an application for the inspection of the Shahi Idgah mosque complex, reigniting the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah Masjid dispute.
  • Hindu petitioners assert that the mosque, constructed by Emperor Aurangzeb in 1670, was built over Lord Krishna’s birthplace in Mathura. The mosque is adjacent to the Krishna Janmasthal Temple, a significant pilgrimage site.

Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi: Latest Legal Plea

  • Nature of the Application: The application is part of a petition initiated by eight individuals including the “next friend” of Bhagwan Shree Krishna Virajman.
  • Survey Approval: Allahabad High Court approved the survey of the Shahi Idgah mosque on December 14.
  • Petition’s Demands: The petitioners seek the removal of structures allegedly encroaching on the disputed land by the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board and the mosque committee, and the transfer of this land to the Shree Krishna Janmbhoomi Trust.
  • Challenge to the 1968 Agreement: The plea contests the legality of a compromise agreement dated October 12, 1968, between the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and the Trust Shahi Masjid Idgah.

Historical Background and Claims

  • Aurangzeb’s Alleged Demolition: The Hindu petition cites historical records, claiming Aurangzeb ordered the demolition of Hindu temples, including one at Lord Krishna’s birthplace, to construct the Idgah Mosque in 1669-70.
  • Reference to Official Records: The petition mentions the Official Court Bulletin (Akhbaraat) from January to February 1670 as evidence of Aurangzeb’s orders.

Counterclaims by the Muslim Side

  • Legal Arguments: Representatives of the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board and the mosque committee argue in the High Court that the mosque does not fall within the disputed 13.37 acres and dispute the location of Krishna’s birthplace.
  • Challenging the Hindu Claims: They assert that the Hindu claims are based on speculation and lack documentary evidence.

Historical Ownership and Management

  • Land Ownership Changes: The site, originally nazul land, was auctioned by the East India Company in 1815 to Raja Patni Mal of Benaras.
  • Subsequent Transactions: The land was later sold to Jugal Kishore Birla, and the ownership rights were transferred to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust, established by Birla.
  • Temple Management: In 1956, the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Sewa Sangh, later renamed as Sansthan, was established for temple management.

Parallel with the Gyanvapi Case

  • Similar Legal Proceedings: The Mathura case is comparable to the Gyanvapi Mosque dispute in Varanasi, where a court-ordered survey led to the discovery of a structure claimed as a “shivling” by Hindus and a “fountain” by Muslims.
  • Archaeological Surveys and Legal Challenges: The Varanasi district court’s order for a scientific survey of the Gyanvapi mosque and the subsequent legal hurdles reflect similar developments in the Mathura case.

Conclusion

  • Continuation of Legal Battles: The dispute, rooted in deep historical and religious significance, continues to unfold through legal channels.
  • Broader Implications: These cases underscore the complexities of addressing historical claims, legal processes, and maintaining communal harmony in the context of religiously significant sites in India.

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Goods and Services Tax (GST)

GST Rates Rationalisation back on table

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • The government has revived its focus on Goods and Services Tax (GST) rate rationalization by reconstituting the ministerial group of the GST Council.

About Goods and Services Tax (GST)

  • Launch and Purpose: GST, implemented on 1 July 2017, is a comprehensive indirect tax across India, replacing multiple cascading taxes levied by the central and state governments.
  • Consumption-Based Tax: It is charged at the point of supply and is based on the destination of consumption, benefiting the state where the goods or services are consumed.

GST Slabs and Their Distribution

  • Tax Slabs: GST in India is categorized into five main slabs: 0%, 5%, 12%, 18%, and 28%, with an additional cess on certain luxury and ‘sin’ goods.
  • Product and Service Coverage: The GST system covers over 1300 products and 500+ services, categorized under these slabs.
  • Periodic Revision: The GST Council revises the slab rates periodically, ensuring essential items are taxed lower, while luxury items attract higher rates.
  • 28% Slab and Cess: The highest slab of 28% is reserved for demerit goods like tobacco and luxury automobiles, with an additional cess for revenue generation.

Issues with the Current GST Structure

  • Complexity: The multi-slab structure and varying rates lead to confusion and increased compliance costs for businesses.
  • Rate Heterogeneity: Diverse rates across different goods and services complicate the tax system.
  • Dual GST System: The coexistence of CGST and SGST adds to the complexity and compliance burden.
  • Cascading Effect: Despite being a value-added tax, GST sometimes leads to cascading taxation, increasing the cost of goods and services.
  • Lack of Transparency: Invoicing under GST often lacks clarity on tax breakdown, affecting consumer awareness.
  • Collection Infrastructure: Inadequate infrastructure for GST collection leads to administrative challenges and delays.

Rationale behind GST Rationalization

  • Simplifying Tax Structure: Reducing the number of slabs can simplify the tax system, making it easier for businesses to comply.
  • Addressing Aberrations: Rationalization can correct anomalies where inputs are taxed higher than final products.
  • Revenue Concerns: Merging slabs like 12% and 18% could lead to revenue loss, necessitating careful consideration.

Benefits of GST Rationalization

  • Easier Compliance: A simplified GST structure would ease the compliance burden on businesses.
  • Equitable Tax Distribution: Rationalization ensures a fair distribution of tax burden and efficient use of revenue.
  • Improved Tax Collection: Streamlining GST slabs can lead to more efficient tax collection and reduced compliance costs.

Conclusion

  • Need for Reform: Rationalizing GST rates is crucial for enhancing the efficiency of the tax regime.
  • Expected Outcomes: A reformed GST system is anticipated to be simpler, leading to easier compliance, better revenue collection, and overall efficiency in the taxation system.

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Organ & Tissue Transplant- Policies, Technologies, etc.

Kidney Transplants in India: Law, Demand and Alleged Rackets

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act, 1994

Mains level: Read the attached story

Kidney Transplants

Central Idea

  • The government has initiated an investigation into allegations that poor villagers from Myanmar were coerced into selling their kidneys to wealthy patients, with Delhi’s Apollo hospital implicated in the scheme.

India’s Transplant Law and Kidney Scams

  • India’s Transplantation Law: The Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act, 1994, in India allows organ donations from living persons, primarily close relatives, and deceased donors.
  • Curb on organ trade: It strictly prohibits organ trade to prevent exploitation of the poor.
  • Previous Allegations: This isn’t the first instance of alleged kidney scams in India, with most rackets reportedly using forged documents to establish fake donor-recipient relationships.

Procedure for Legal Transplants

  • Documentation for Close Relatives: For living donations involving close relatives, both Indian and foreign nationals must submit identity proofs, family trees, relationship evidence, and financial status documents.
  • Scrutiny for Unrelated Donors: Donations from non-relatives require additional evidence of long-term association and undergo rigorous examination by an external committee to prevent illegal transactions.
  • Penalties for Illegal Organ Trade: The law imposes severe punishments, including imprisonment and hefty fines, for any involvement in organ trade or related illegal activities.

Kidney Transplants: High Demand and Target for Illegal Trade

  • High Demand: Approximately 2 lakh Indians annually reach end-stage kidney failure, necessitating transplants or dialysis, but only about 12,000 transplants occur each year.
  • Low Risk and Accessibility: Kidney transplants pose the least risk to donors and are relatively affordable and widely available in India, making kidneys a common target for illegal trade.
  • Organ Viability: Kidneys can survive outside the body for 24-36 hours, longer than lungs or liver, increasing their viability for transplants.

Addressing the Organ Supply Gap

  • Promoting Deceased Donations: Increasing awareness and promoting donations from brain-dead individuals can significantly enhance the organ pool.
  • Government Initiatives: The government has introduced an Aadhaar-linked donor registry to encourage deceased donations, which currently constitute only 16% of total transplants in India.
  • Reducing Transplant Necessity: Efforts are also needed to decrease the number of people requiring organ transplants.

Conclusion

  • Combating Illegal Organ Trade: The ongoing investigation into the alleged kidney racket highlights the need for stringent vigilance and adherence to legal procedures in organ transplants.
  • Enhancing Legal Organ Donation: Increasing public awareness and promoting legal avenues for organ donation are crucial steps in addressing the organ supply-demand gap and preventing exploitation in organ trade.

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Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

What does Unabated Fossil Fuels mean?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Unabated Fossil Fuels

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • At the ongoing COP28 climate summit, the term “unabated” fossil fuels has become a focal point in discussions about climate change mitigation.
  • The draft climate agreement mentions phasing down unabated coal, and US climate envoy John Kerry emphasized the need to phase out all unabated fossil fuels.

Understanding ‘Unabated’ Fossil Fuels

  • Definition: “Unabated” fossil fuels refer to the use of coal, oil, and natural gas without reducing the associated CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Contrast with ‘Abated’: “Abated” fossil fuels involve efforts to decrease emissions to an acceptable level, though the specifics of this level are not clearly defined.
  • IPCC’s Definition: The UN IPCC defines unabated fossil fuels as those without substantial reduction interventions for greenhouse gas emissions, suggesting capturing significant percentages of CO2 and methane.

Role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Technologies

  • CCS Technologies: These technologies capture emissions from power stations or industrial facilities and store them underground.
  • Polarized Views: Oil and gas producers view CCS as essential for emission reduction, while climate activists and experts argue its effectiveness is limited.
  • EU and Nations’ Stance: The EU and several nations stated that CCS should not replace significant fossil fuel cuts and must not be overused.

Effectiveness of Carbon Capture and Storage

  • IEA Report: The International Energy Agency reports that modern CCS technologies can capture about 90% of CO2.
  • IEEFA Study: A study by the IEEFA found that many flagship CCS projects underperformed or failed.
  • Climate Analytics Analysis: This analysis indicated that reliance on CCS could lead to substantial greenhouse gas emissions, potentially doubling CO2 emissions in 2023 if capture rates are lower than expected.

Cost and Sustainability of CCS

  • High Costs: CCS technologies are expensive, with alternatives like wind, solar, and batteries being more cost-effective than retrofitting coal plants with CCS.
  • Sustainability Concerns: Scenarios achieving the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit show a near-complete phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050, with minimal use of fossil CCS.

Implications for COP28 and Beyond

  • Potential COP28 Declaration: The summit’s final declaration might include phasing out or down of unabated fossil fuels, raising concerns about continued fossil fuel use with CCS.
  • Risks of ‘Abated’ Fossil Fuels: Experts like Claire Fyson from Climate Analytics warn that promoting ‘abated’ fossil fuels could misdirect climate finance and greenwash emissions from fossil fuel use.

Conclusion

  • Balancing Act: The COP28 discussions highlight the complexities of balancing fossil fuel use, technological solutions like CCS, and achieving climate targets.
  • Need for Caution: The debate underscores the need for cautious approaches to fossil fuel use and CCS, ensuring they align with broader climate goals and do not undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Ethics and Compensation in Controlled Human Infection Studies (CHIS)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Controlled Human Infection Studies (CHIS)

Mains level: Not Much

chis

Central Idea

  • A recent paper from August 2023 discusses the ethical and financial aspects of Controlled Human Infection Studies (CHIS), where participants are deliberately infected with pathogens.
  • The paper argues that $20,000 for a six-month hepatitis C virus challenge study in the U.S. is reasonable, based on participant experiences and responses from potential participants.

Ethical Considerations in CHIS

  • Contentious Issues: One major ethical concern in CHIS is the potential for disproportionate payment, which could be seen as an inducement for participation.
  • ICMR’s Bioethics Unit Stance: Emphasizes altruism in CHIS participation, suggesting compensation should cover lost wages, incidental expenses, time, and effort.

Views on Altruism and Compensation

  • Jake D Eberts’ Perspective: Disagrees with the ICMR’s emphasis on altruism, arguing that monetary motivation, if accompanied by informed consent and risk understanding, isn’t inherently negative.
  • Compensation in Past Studies: Eberts received $7,350 for a Shigella study and less than $5,000 for a Zika study. He advocates for higher compensation in CHIS in the U.S.

Compensation Models and Ethical Frameworks

  • Dr. Anna Durbin and Dr. Wilbur H. Chen’s Approaches: Compensation based on time, specimen collection, and regional study pay standards. Dr. Chen uses a Wage-Payment model, aligning compensation with unskilled labor wages in somewhat risky jobs.
  • Compensation Calculation: For the Shigella study, compensation totaled $7,350, based on various factors like visit duration, risk level, and activities completed.

Differing Opinions on CHIS Compensation

  • Paul Zimmer-Harwood’s Experience: Participated in malaria and COVID-19 CHIS, with compensation based on study duration, visits, and inconvenience, not risk.
  • COVID-19 CHIS Concerns: Dr. Chen questions the rationale for COVID-19 CHIS, citing the absence of effective therapies and the risk of Long COVID.

Participant Perspectives and Decisions

  • Paul’s Decision-Making: Chose to participate in the COVID-19 CHIS due to low perceived risk, previous infection, and vaccination status. Compensation was higher but proportional to study demands.
  • Risk Assessment: Paul viewed the risks as acceptable compared to the potential scientific contributions, emphasizing that his decision was informed and measured.

Conclusion

  • Complex Ethical Landscape: CHIS presents a nuanced ethical landscape where compensation, risk, and participant motivation must be carefully balanced.
  • Importance of Informed Consent: Ensuring participants are fully informed and understand the risks is crucial in maintaining ethical standards in CHIS.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) Breakthrough

Europe agrees landmark AI Regulation Deal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: EU's AI Legal Framework

Mains level: Read the attached story

AI

Central Idea

  • European Commissioner Thierry Breton announced on the provisional deal on the world’s first comprehensive AI regulation.
  • Finally, the EU becomes the first continent to set clear rules for AI use, following a long negotiation between the European Parliament and EU member states.

EU’s AI Legal Framework

  • Safeguards and Restrictions: The legislation includes strict guidelines on AI use by law enforcement and consumer rights to file complaints against violations.
  • Facial Recognition and Manipulation: Strong restrictions are placed on facial recognition technology and AI that manipulates human behavior.
  • Biometric Surveillance: Governments are limited to using real-time biometric surveillance in public areas only under serious threats, like terrorist attacks.
  • Breton’s Vision: The legislation is seen as a launch pad for EU startups and researchers to lead in AI, aiming for technology development that respects safety and rights.

Details of the EU AI Act

  • Risk-Based Classification: AI applications are divided into four risk classes, ranging from largely banned applications to high-risk and medium-risk categories.
  • High-Risk Applications: Includes AI tools for self-driving cars, subject to certification and public scrutiny.
  • Medium-Risk Applications: Such as generative AI chatbots require detailed documentation and transparency obligations.

Europe’s Leadership in Tech Regulation

  • Contrast with the US: Europe has led in tech regulation, with laws like GDPR, DSA, and DMA, focusing on privacy and curbing tech majors’ dominance.
  • US Approach: The White House Executive Order on AI and an AI Bill of Rights aim to provide a blueprint for AI regulation.

Different Approaches to AI Regulation

  • Global Policy Scrutiny: Policymakers worldwide are increasingly focusing on regulating generative AI tools, with concerns over privacy, bias, and intellectual property.
  • EU’s Stringent Stance: The EU adopts a tougher approach, categorizing AI based on invasiveness and risk.
  • UK’s Light-Touch Approach: Aims to foster innovation in AI.
  • US’s Intermediate Position: The US approach lies between the EU and the UK.
  • China’s Regulatory Measures: China has also released its guidelines to regulate AI.

India’s Approach to AI

  • Focus on Sovereign AI: India emphasizes developing its sovereign AI, particularly for real-life applications in healthcare, agriculture, governance, and language translation.
  • Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) Model: India’s DPI approach involves government-sanctioned technology offered to private entities for various use cases.
  • Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s Vision: The goal is to leverage AI for economic development, with a focus on Indian startups and companies driving the AI ecosystem.

Conclusion

  • Worldwide Impact: The EU’s AI Act sets a precedent for global AI regulation, influencing how countries approach AI governance.
  • Balancing Innovation and Regulation: The challenge lies in fostering AI innovation while ensuring ethical use and safeguarding individual rights.

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J&K – The issues around the state

Story of Kashmir’s Accession to India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Post-independent reorganization

kashmir

Central Idea

  • Union Home Minister recently criticized Jawaharlal Nehru’s handling of the Kashmir issue, citing two major blunders.
  • In response, opposition highlighted Nehru’s commitment to integrating Kashmir into India, contrasting with Sardar Patel’s initial willingness to cede Kashmir for Hyderabad.

Nehru, Patel, and the Accession Conundrum

  • Post-Colonial Challenges: After British departure in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir, and Hyderabad, with their distinct demographic compositions, initially sought independence.
  • Nehru’s Firm Stance on Kashmir: Nehru was resolute about Kashmir’s integration into India, differing from Patel’s initial stance, as noted in V Shankar’s “My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel.”
  • Shift in Patel’s Viewpoint: Patel’s perspective on Kashmir changed after Pakistan accepted Junagadh’s accession on September 13, 1947.

The Junagadh Accession Episode

  • Nawab’s Decision and India’s Reaction: The Nawab of Junagadh opted for Pakistan in 1947, leading to India’s military intervention and a subsequent plebiscite in November, favouring India with 91% votes.
  • Influence on Kashmir Policy: Junagadh’s accession impacted India’s policy towards princely states, particularly Kashmir.

Hyderabad’s Complex Scenario

  • Suggested Hyderabad-Kashmir Barter: The idea of trading Hyderabad for Kashmir, citing Victoria Schofield’s “Kashmir in Conflict,” was deemed impractical.
  • Patel’s Approach to Hyderabad: Patel’s initial leniency towards Hyderabad’s Nizam was influenced by his international stature and the complex political landscape.
  • Military Action in Hyderabad: The Indian Army’s Operation Polo in September 1948 ended the Nizam’s rule amid growing internal dissent.

Accession of Jammu and Kashmir

  • Maharaja Hari Singh’s Reluctance: Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, initially preferred independence.
  • Mounting Tensions and Pakistani Actions: Blockades and revolts in 1947, along with suspected Pakistani support for infiltrators, compelled Hari Singh to seek India’s assistance.
  • Conditional Accession to India: Hari Singh’s request for military aid led to Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India in October 1947.

Analyzing Nehru’s Alleged “Blunders”

  • UN Involvement Controversy: The minister’s critique centers on Nehru’s decision to involve the UN and agree to a ceasefire.
  • Factors Influencing Nehru’s Decisions: Nehru’s decisions were influenced by international diplomacy, financial constraints, and strategic considerations.
  • Perspectives on the Ceasefire: While some view the ceasefire as a missed chance, others regard it as a necessary measure under the circumstances.

Conclusion

  • The historical decisions regarding Kashmir’s accession continue to be a topic of debate in Indian politics.
  • The roles of Nehru and Patel in shaping India’s territorial integrity remain subjects of intricate historical scrutiny.
  • Understanding these historical events is essential for informed discussions on contemporary policies and political narratives.

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Judicial Reforms

Supreme Court makes video on Kesavananda Bharati Verdict

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Kesavananda Bharati Verdict (1973), Basic Structure

Mains level: Read the attached story

kesav

Central Idea

  • The Supreme Court of India released a video in 10 Indian languages, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Kesavananda Bharati judgment delivered on April 24, 1973.
  • The Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala case is a cornerstone in Indian constitutional law, redefining the relationship between Parliament and the Constitution.

Kesavananda Bharati Case (1973)

  • Basic Structure Doctrine: The judgment introduced the basic structure doctrine, asserting that the Constitution has an inherent framework that cannot be altered by parliamentary amendments.
  • 7-6 Decision: The Supreme Court, in a narrow decision, established its authority to invalidate constitutional amendments violating this basic structure.
  • Key Outcomes:
    1. Limitation on Parliamentary Power: The doctrine restricts Parliament’s ability to amend key constitutional features like the separation of powers.
    2. Judicial Review Reinforcement: It built upon the Golaknath v. State of Punjab case, allowing for the review of amendments affecting the Constitution’s basic structure.
    3. Article 31-C and Judicial Review: The Court upheld the constitutionality of Article 31-C’s first provision, stating that amendments implementing Directive Principles, which do not disturb the basic structure, are not subject to judicial review.

Criticism of the Basic Structure Doctrine

  • Dilution of Parliamentary Powers: Critics argue that the doctrine undermines parliamentary sovereignty and disrupts the separation of powers.
  • Ambiguity Concerns: The doctrine’s perceived vagueness and subjectivity in judicial review have also been points of contention.

Landmark Cases Involving the Doctrine

  • Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain (1975): The Court applied the Kesavananda doctrine to strike down the 39th Amendment, which sought to immunize the elections of top officials from judicial scrutiny.
  • Minerva Mills Ltd vs. Union of India (1980): The Court invalidated a clause in Article 368, asserting that Parliament’s constituent power had no limitations.
  • P Sambamurthy v State of Andhra Pradesh (1986): The Court struck down part of the 32nd Amendment related to the establishment of an Administrative Tribunal in Andhra Pradesh.
  • L Chandra Kumar v Union of India (1997): The Court nullified a portion of the 42nd Amendment that established administrative tribunals and excluded High Court judicial review.

Significance of the Judgment and the Doctrine

  • Empowerment of Judicial Review: The doctrine underpins the judiciary’s authority to review and potentially override constitutional amendments by Parliament.
  • Clarification of Article 368: It distinguishes Article 368 as a procedural mechanism for amendment, not a power to alter the Constitution’s core or basic structure.
  • Harmony with Legislative Authority: Justice Shastri emphasized that judicial review is a constitutional duty, not an attempt to undermine legislative power.
  • Checks and Balances System: The Kesavananda Bharati verdict underscored that judicial review serves as a check and balance, ensuring constitutional functionaries remain within their prescribed limits.

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Sugar Industry – FRP, SAP, Rangarajan Committee, EBP, MIEQ, etc.

Centre’s Ethanol Policy Shift: Impact on Sugar and Ethanol Industries

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • The Centre has taken significant steps to increase domestic sugar availability, including banning sugar exports and restricting the diversion of sugar for ethanol production.
  • On December 7, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution directed mills and distilleries not to use sugarcane juice/syrup for ethanol production.

Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme

  • Programme’s Success: The EBP programme, a key achievement of the government, has seen ethanol blending with petrol increase from 1.6% in 2013-14 to 11.8% in 2022-23.
  • Feedstock Diversification: The success is attributed to diversifying feedstocks, including C-heavy molasses, B-heavy molasses, sugarcane juice/syrup, and grains.

Ethanol Production from Different Feedstocks

  • C-heavy Molasses: Traditionally used for ethanol production, yielding 220-225 litres of ethanol per tonne.
  • B-heavy Molasses: Provides higher ethanol yield (290-320 litres per tonne) compared to C-heavy molasses.
  • Direct Fermentation of Sugarcane: Fermenting the entire sugarcane without sugar extraction yields 80-81 litres of ethanol per tonne.

Centre’s Ethanol Blending Scheme: Food vs. Fuel Debate

  • Increased Ethanol Production Post-2017: The use of B-heavy molasses and sugarcane juice/syrup, along with new substrates like surplus rice, broken grains, and maize, boosted ethanol production.
  • Differential Pricing Policy: The government incentivized ethanol production from non-C-heavy molasses feedstocks with higher prices.
  • Impact on Industry: Companies like Triveni Engineering & Industries Ltd (TEIL) adapted to multiple feedstocks, including grain during the off-season.

Challenges and Setbacks for the Industry

  • Directive’s Impact: The December 7 directive is a setback, especially for companies with capacities to produce ethanol from cane juice/syrup.
  • Tender for Ethanol Supply: The OMCs’ tender for 825 crore litres of ethanol for 2023-24 might be affected, particularly the 135 crore litres from sugarcane juice/syrup.
  • Uncertainty in Pricing: The Centre has not announced prices for various ethanol feedstocks for 2023-24, despite the ethanol supply year aligning closer to the sugar year.

Sugar Supply Concerns and Policy Implications

  • Low Sugar Stocks: The 2022-23 sugar year ended with low stocks, prompting the government to prioritize domestic sugar supply.
  • Uncertain Production Forecasts: The National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories predicts a decrease in sugar production for 2023-24.
  • Government’s Prioritization: The latest decisions reflect the government’s focus on domestic supply and consumer needs over exports and fuel production.

Conclusion

  • Shift in Government Policy: The Centre’s recent actions indicate a shift towards prioritizing domestic sugar availability over ethanol production.
  • Broader Implications: These decisions impact both the sugar and ethanol industries, reflecting the complex balance between food security and renewable energy initiatives.

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Coal and Mining Sector

Strategic Auction of Critical Mineral Blocks  

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Critical Minerals, Types of Licences

Mains level: Read the attached story

Critical Mineral

Central Idea

  • The Centre is auctioning twenty blocks of critical minerals for commercial mining by the private sector.
  • These blocks contain lithium ore and 10 of the 30 minerals declared as “critical” by the government in July.

What are Critical Minerals?

  • Critical minerals are elements that are crucial to modern-day technologies and are at risk of supply chain disruptions.
  • These minerals are used in making mobile phones, computers, batteries, electric vehicles, and green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Minerals such as antimony, cobalt, gallium, graphite, lithium, nickel, niobium, and strontium are among the 22 assessed to be critical for India.
  • Many of these are required to meet the manufacturing needs of green technologies, high-tech equipment, aviation, and national defence.
  • List of critical minerals includes:
  1. Identified Minerals: The assessment resulted in a list of 30 critical minerals, including antimony, beryllium, cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, rare earth elements, silicon, tin, titanium, tungsten, and others.
  2. Fertilizer Minerals: Two minerals critical for fertilizer production, phosphorous and potash, are also included.

Significance of Lithium Ore Auction

  • First Instance: This auction marks the first time that rights for lithium ore mining are being offered to private parties in India.
  • Other Critical Minerals: The blocks also include nickel, copper, molybdenum, and rare earth elements (REEs), crucial for various industries.

Location and Rights of Mineral Blocks

  • Distribution: The 20 blocks are spread across eight states, including Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Types of Licenses: Four blocks are for a Mining License (ML), allowing immediate mining post-clearance. The remaining 16 blocks are for a Composite License (CL), permitting further exploration before potentially converting to an ML.
  • Approvals Required: Licensees must obtain various approvals, including forest clearance and environmental clearance.
  • Forest Land: Approximately 17% of the total concession area, or 1,234 hectares, is forest land.

Reserve Estimates and Key Minerals

  • Lithium Reserves: The two lithium reserve blocks, one each in J&K and Chhattisgarh, are auctioned for CL.
  • Nickel and Copper Reserves: Nickel ore reserves are found in Bihar, Gujarat, and Odisha, with the Odisha block also containing copper reserves.

India’s Current Mineral Imports

  • Lithium Imports: In FY23, India imported 2,145 tonnes of lithium carbonate and lithium oxide, costing Rs 732 crore.
  • Nickel and Copper Imports: The country imported 32,000 tonnes of unwrought nickel and 1.2 million tonnes of copper ore, costing Rs 6,549 crore and Rs 27,374 crore, respectively.
  • Import Dependence: India relies entirely on imports for lithium and nickel, and 93% for copper.

Post-Auction Plans and Policy Initiatives

  • Future Auctions: A second tranche of critical mineral blocks, including new lithium reserves in Rajasthan and Jharkhand, is expected.
  • Geological Surveys: The Geological Survey of India is conducting 125 projects to explore critical mineral reserves.
  • Centre of Excellence: A recommendation to establish a Centre of Excellence for Critical Minerals aims to develop a complete value chain in the country.

Conclusion

  • The auction of critical mineral blocks is a significant step towards reducing India’s reliance on imported minerals, particularly lithium, nickel, and copper.
  • This initiative aligns with the #AatmanirbharBharat vision and is expected to bolster India’s position in vital industries like battery manufacturing and electric vehicles.
  • The success of these auctions will be crucial in shaping India’s resource independence and industrial future.

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Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments

Hidden Costs of Agri-Food Systems  

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Agri-Food Systems

Central Idea

  • A recent United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report highlights the enormous hidden costs of global agri-food systems, totalling over $10 trillion.
  • In countries like India, these costs, amounting to nearly 11% of GDP, manifest in various forms such as increased poverty, environmental damage, and health issues.
  • The report suggests a transformation of agri-food systems, advocating for multi-cropping systems as a solution to enhance farmer well-being, community nutrition, and ecological health.

About Agri-Food Systems 

  • “Agri-food systems” refer to the complex network of activities, processes, and actors involved in the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food.
  • This system encompasses everything from agricultural production (farming) to the final food products consumed by individuals.

Intensive Agriculture: Impacts and Trends

  • Green Revolution Legacy: India’s agricultural productivity boost over the past five decades has largely been due to mono-cropping and chemical-intensive farming, particularly in paddy and wheat cultivation.
  • Nutritional and Ecological Consequences: This shift has led to a decline in crop diversity, impacting household nutrition and causing ecological issues like groundwater depletion.
  • Economic Viability: The privatization of agricultural inputs has increased farmer indebtedness, making agriculture increasingly unviable in India.

Crop Favoritism and Food Security Concerns

  • Public Distribution System (PDS): The National Food Security Act 2013 ensures food security for a significant portion of the Indian population, but the procurement policy heavily favours rice and wheat.
  • Decline in Coarse Grains: The focus on rice and wheat has led to a reduction in the cultivation of nutritionally rich coarse grains.
  • Water-Intensive Crops: Policies have also encouraged the cultivation of water-intensive cash crops like sugarcane, impacting biodiversity and water resources.
  • Impact of Global Trade: International market fluctuations and trade relations have historically influenced food production systems in countries like India, affecting local agricultural practices and crop choices.

Promise of Crop Diversification

  • Agroecology Principles: Multi-cropping systems, rooted in agroecology, can revitalize land and soil health while providing diverse crop yields.
  • Ecosystem Services: These systems offer multiple benefits, including cash provision, food production, and ecosystem services like nitrogen fixation and biodiversity support.
  • Nutritional and Environmental Benefits: Diversified farming can improve soil health and provide a more nutritious food basket, addressing the hidden costs of current agricultural practices.

Challenges and Transition Strategies

  • Gradual Transition: A systematic shift from mono-cultivation to diversified farming is necessary, involving stages like non-pesticide management and natural farming practices.
  • Economic Modelling: Preliminary economic models suggest that diversified farming can sustain farm incomes and improve ecological outcomes in both the short and long term.
  • Addressing Transition Challenges: Overcoming hurdles related to local seeds, market access, labor requirements, and institutional support is crucial for a successful transition.

Conclusion

  • The FAO report underscores the urgent need to transform agri-food systems to address their hidden costs.
  • Multi-cropping systems offer a viable path forward, promising to enhance ecological health, farmer well-being, and community nutrition.
  • However, this transition requires concerted efforts from various stakeholders, including institutions, policymakers, and farmers, to create economic incentives and support mechanisms for adopting sustainable agricultural practices.

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Government Budgets

Off-Budget Borrowing in India and its Fiscal Implications

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Off-Budget Borrowings

Mains level: Not Much

Central Idea

  • In recent years, India’s fiscal management has faced the significant challenge of off-budget borrowings by various states.
  • These borrowings, while providing short-term financial relief, have raised concerns regarding the overall fiscal health and transparency of the country’s finances.

Understanding Off-Budget Borrowings

  • Definition: Off-budget borrowings are debts incurred not directly by the government but by public sector units or special purpose vehicles, with principal and interest serviced from the budget.
  • Legislative Oversight: These borrowings are not subject to legislative scrutiny and are outside the budget.
  • FRBM Act Bypass: They allow governments to circumvent borrowing limits set under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, 2003.

How are off-budget borrowings raised?

  • Issuance of Bonds: The government can ask an implementing agency to raise the required funds from the market through loans or by issuing bonds.
  • Utilizing savings: For example, the food subsidy is one of the major expenditures of the Centre. In the Budget presentation for 2020-21, the government paid only half the amount budgeted for the food subsidy bill to the Food Corporation of India. The shortfall was met through a loan from the National Small Savings Fund.
  • Borrowing: Other PSUs have also borrowed for the government. For instance, public sector oil marketing companies were asked to pay for subsidized gas cylinders for PM Ujjwala Yojana beneficiaries in the past.
  • Bank sources: Public sector banks are also used to fund off-budget expenses. For example, loans from PSU banks were used to make up for the shortfall in the release of fertilizer subsidy.

Prevalence of Off-Budget Borrowings

  • Recent Trends: Off-budget borrowings were rampant until recently, with significant amounts in states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, and Sikkim.
  • Magnitude: Estimates show ₹2.79 trillion in 2020-21 and ₹1.71 trillion in 2021-22.
  • Fiscal Transparency Concerns: The 15th Finance Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) have flagged these borrowings for undermining fiscal transparency and sustainability.

Centre’s Stance on Off-Budget Borrowings

  • Past Practices: The Centre had substantial off-budget borrowings, reaching ₹1.62 trillion in 2018-19.
  • Recent Changes: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the end of such borrowings in the Union Budget for 2020-21, reducing them significantly in subsequent years.

Centre’s Measures against State Off-Budget Borrowings

  • New Policy: In March 2022, the Centre declared that state off-budget borrowings would count towards their regular borrowing ceiling.
  • Impact on States: This policy limited states’ borrowing capacity, leading to cash flow issues in some states and prompting protests and threats of legal action.

Current State of India’s Balance Sheet

  • Reduction in Off-Budget Borrowings: States’ off-budget borrowings are expected to decrease to ₹18,499 crore in 2022-23.
  • Overall Fiscal Health: True fiscal sustainability requires both the Centre and states to align their deficits with FRBM Act targets.
  • Deficit Targets: The FRBM Act aims for the elimination of a revenue deficit and a fiscal deficit of 3% of GDP. However, in 2023-24, 11 states are projected to have a revenue deficit, and the aggregate fiscal deficit of all states is expected to be 3.1%. The Centre’s revenue and fiscal deficits are anticipated to be 2.9% and 5.9% of GDP, respectively.

Conclusion

  • The clampdown on off-budget borrowings is a step towards greater fiscal discipline in India.
  • While it has led to immediate challenges for some states, the long-term goal is to enhance fiscal transparency and sustainability in line with the FRBM Act.
  • Achieving these targets will be crucial for the overall health of India’s economy.

Try this PYQ:

With reference to the Union Government, consider the following statements:

  1. The Department of Revenue is responsible for the preparation of Union Budget that is presented to the Parliament.
  2. No amount can be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund of India without the authorization from the Parliament of India.
  3. All the disbursements made from Public Account also need authorization from the Parliament of India.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 2 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

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Sugar Industry – FRP, SAP, Rangarajan Committee, EBP, MIEQ, etc.

Pressmud for Green Energy and CBG Production

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Pressmud

Mains level: NA

pressmud

Central Idea

  • Leading Sugar Producer: Since 2021-22, India has surpassed Brazil to become the world’s leading sugar producer.
  • Second-Largest Exporter: India also holds the position of the second-largest sugar exporter globally.
  • Ethanol Biofuel Sector Growth: The expansion of this sector has bolstered the sugar industry and improved the financial health of sugar mills.

Pressmud: A Valuable Byproduct

  • Pressmud, also known as filter cake or press cake, is an agricultural waste product from sugar production.
  • It is obtained during the repeated filtration of cane juice before sugar extraction.
  • Approximately 3-4 percent of press mud is produced per tonne of crushed cane.
  • Traditionally, pressmud is recycled as manure through composting and supplied to local farmers.
  • Recognized as a resource for green energy, pressmud can be used to produce biogas through anaerobic digestion, leading to compressed biogas (CBG) creation.
  • It is beneficial for crops and horticulture due to its richness in micronutrients.

Challenges with Pressmud

  • Storage Issues: Pressmud undergoes gradual decomposition, complicating long-term storage and increasing production costs.
  • Price Increase: The recognition of its potential has led to a substantial rise in pressmud prices.

Pressmud as CBG Feedstock: Advantages and Challenges

  • Supply Chain Simplification: Using pressmud eliminates complexities associated with agricultural residue supply chains.
  • Quality and Pre-treatment: Unlike municipal solid waste, pressmud’s quality is consistent, and it lacks lignin, reducing pre-treatment costs.
  • Conversion Efficiency: Pressmud is more efficient and economical as a feedstock for CBG production compared to cattle dung and agricultural residue.
  • Economic and Competitive Factors: The increasing price of pressmud and competition for its use in fertilizers and bio-composting pose challenges.

Regional Production and Sugar Mills in India

  • Primary Sugarcane States: Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra contribute significantly to India’s sugarcane cultivation.
  • Operational Sugar Mills: As of 2022-23, India had 531 operational sugar mills.
  • Sugar and Pressmud Production: The total sugar production was 32.74 million tonnes, with approximately 11.4 million tonnes of pressmud.

Potential and Future Steps

  • CBG Potential: The available pressmud can generate significant quantities of CBG, valued at substantial economic returns.
  • Required Interventions: To maximize this potential, states need to implement bioenergy policies, control pressmud prices, and establish long-term agreements with sugar mills.
  • Research and Training: Developing storage technologies for pressmud and conducting training for CBG plant operators are essential.

 Back2Basics: Sugarcane By-products

Description Uses
Bagasse Fibrous residue left after sugarcane crushing. – Biofuel for energy production

– Raw material for paper, board, building materials

Molasses Thick, dark syrup produced during sugar refining. – Alcohol production (e.g., rum)

– Sweetener in animal feed

– Base for fermentation products

– Ingredient in food products

Vinasse (Distillery Waste) Liquid waste from ethanol production using molasses. – Liquid fertilizer

– Biogas production

Carbon Dioxide Gas produced during fermentation in sugar manufacturing. – Carbonation in beverages

– Enhancing plant growth in greenhouses

Fly Ash Ash produced from burning bagasse. – Material in cement and concrete

– Soil amendment in agriculture

Heat Energy Thermal energy generated from manufacturing processes. – Cogeneration for electricity and heating

 

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Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

India plans to develop its own ‘Sovereign AI’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Sovereign AI Initiative

Mains level: Read the attached story

Sovereign AI

Central Idea

  • In a strategic move towards bolstering its technological prowess, India is set to extend its Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) model to artificial intelligence (AI), aiming for sovereign AI capabilities.

Sovereign AI Initiative

  • Strategic Direction: Minister of State for Electronics and IT has articulated India’s commitment to developing its own sovereign AI, diverging from solely relying on ecosystems driven by global tech giants.
  • Focus Areas: The government’s AI strategy is based on practical applications in sectors like healthcare, agriculture, and governance, aiming for broader economic impact.

Tech Governance Solutions so far

  • Global Positioning: India is showcasing itself as a leader in using technology for large-scale governance solutions.
  • Prominent Examples: The country highlights its Aadhaar bio-metric identity program and the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) as key achievements.
  • Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI): This concept involves government-backed technology frameworks that are later expanded upon by private entities for various applications.

India’s Strategy for AI Control

  • Policy Framework: The National Data Governance Framework Policy, proposed by MeitY, aims to create an India Datasets platform, aggregating non-personal and anonymized government data.
  • Empowering Innovation: This initiative is designed to provide startups and researchers with access to valuable data for AI development and research.
  • Objective: The policy’s goal is to modernize data collection to enhance governance and stimulate an AI-centric startup ecosystem.

Unified National Data Sharing Platform

  • Report Findings: A recent IT Ministry report highlighted the India datasets program as a key to enabling diverse data sharing and exchange use cases.
  • Data Monetization: The potential monetization of non-personal data is seen as a catalyst for innovation and growth in the AI sector.

Regulating AI in India

  • Legislative Outlook: India’s future AI governance laws are expected to reflect the significant role AI plays in the digital economy.
  • Regulatory Approach: The government plans a hybrid regulatory model, incorporating elements of both European and American frameworks.
  • Tech Giants’ Data Sharing: A proposed directive, part of the draft Digital India Bill, may require major tech companies to contribute non-personal data to a government database.
  • Legislative Timeline: The Digital India Bill is anticipated to be a focus for the government post the 2024 general elections.
  • Committee Recommendations: A MeitY-appointed committee suggested utilizing aggregated non-personal data for economic gains, identifying specific high-value datasets for this purpose.

Conclusion

  • In its pursuit of sovereign AI and robust digital public infrastructure, India is positioning itself as a key player in the global AI domain.
  • The focus on practical AI applications, combined with a balanced regulatory approach, aims to foster innovation, ensure effective data governance, and drive economic growth.

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North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Centre and Manipur signs Peace Agreement with UNLF

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UNLF, Meitei Tribe

Mains level: Read the attached story

UNLF

Central Idea

  • The Union and Manipur governments have signed a peace agreement with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a banned Meitei extremist organisation.
  • UNLF is the oldest armed group based in the Manipur valley, marking this agreement as a notable event in the region’s history.

Understanding the UNLF

  • Formation: Established on November 24, 1964, under Arembam Samarendra Singh‘s leadership, the UNLF is the oldest valley-based insurgent group in Manipur.
  • Diverse Leadership: Initially led by a mix of ethnicities, including Naga and Kuki leaders.
  • Armed Wing and Activities: The Manipur People’s Army, formed in 1990, and has been responsible for multiple attacks against Indian security forces.
  • Current Status: The UNLF, now split into two factions, is estimated to have 400-500 cadres, operating primarily in the valley areas of Manipur and some Kuki-Zomi hill districts.
  • Base of Operations: Largely operating from Myanmar, the group has faced setbacks due to conflicts with the Myanmar military and other Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs).

Precedent for the Peace Agreement

  • Historical Context: This is a significant development as Meitei Extremist Organisations (VBIGs) have traditionally not engaged in peace talks with the Centre.
  • Previous Instances: Smaller groups like UPPK, KCP, and Maoist Communist Group have disbanded or diminished in influence, but the terms of their agreements are unclear.
  • UNLF’s Internal Dynamics: The group underwent splits in the mid-1990s and 2021, leading to the formation of factions under different leaders. The faction led by Khundongbam Pambei has been open to negotiations since 2020.

Status of Other Insurgent Groups

  • Broader Insurgency Landscape: The UNLF is one of several Meitei insurgent groups and is among the seven banned by the Union government.
  • Opposition to Talks: The UNLF faction under NC Koireng remains opposed to peace talks.
  • Agreements with Other Groups: A Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement was reached in 2008 with Kuki-Zomi insurgent groups, but the Manipur government withdrew from agreements with some groups in 2022.

Conclusion

  • The peace agreement with the UNLF marks a critical step in addressing the long-standing insurgency in Manipur.
  • It reflects a shift in the approach of Meitei insurgent groups towards dialogue and potential reconciliation.
  • The success of this agreement could pave the way for further peace initiatives in the region, contributing to stability and development in Manipur.

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Terrorism and Challenges Related To It

US Allegations on India in Terrorist Execution Plot

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Read the attached story

terror

Central Idea

  • US Allegations: The US has implicated an Indian official in a plot to assassinate a Khalistani terrorist, raising serious concerns for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
  • Indian Government’s Stance: While the MEA acknowledges the gravity of the situation, it refutes the claims of the Indian diplomat’s involvement.

Backdrop and Timing of the Allegations

  • Concurrent Events: The indictment period coincided with PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the G7 and Quad leaders’ summit and the India-US Defence Industrial Cooperation Roadmap’s conclusion.
  • Profile of the Accused Official: Described as a “Senior Field Officer” with a background in security management, intelligence, and military training, the official is also noted to have served in the Central Reserve Police Force.

terror

Pre-Indictment Measures by India

  • Proactive Steps: Anticipating the indictment, India formed a high-level inquiry committee on November 18.
  • Committee Composition: Likely includes officials from intelligence, investigative, law enforcement agencies, and the MEA.
  • Prior Diplomatic Engagements: The indictment followed months of diplomatic and intelligence discussions between the US and India, including meetings between US NSA Jake Sullivan and NSA Ajit Doval, and CIA Director William Burns’ visit to India.

India’s Diplomatic Response

  • Contrast with Canada’s Allegations: India’s response contrasts with its reaction to Canada’s allegations regarding the killing of another Khalistani separatist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, where it accused Canada of being a “safe haven” for extremists.
  • Previous Incident with the US: Recalls the 2013 incident involving Devyani Khobragade (IFS), which led to diplomatic tensions but was later resolved.
  • Current Approach: India is showing restraint, prioritizing its relationship with the US, and aiming to prevent the situation from escalating into a diplomatic crisis.

US-India Relations: A Complex Dynamic

  • Strategic and Values-Based Partnership: The relationship has evolved over decades, marked by significant trade and strategic interests, and a debate over shared values versus strategic interests.
  • Historical Perspective: The relationship has weathered various challenges, including the Nixon-Kissinger era, nuclear tests sanctions, and the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Way Forward

  • Commitment to Investigation: India’s thorough investigation is crucial for maintaining its credibility and managing its relationship with the US.
  • Extradition Considerations: India must question why the US is not keen on extraditing a man facing terror charges to India.
  • Global Diplomatic Impact: The outcome will affect India’s relations with the “Five Eyes” intelligence partner countries.
  • India’s reputation: India’s reputation as a consistent and credible power is at stake, necessitating a wise and principled approach.

Conclusion: Navigating a Diplomatic Tightrope

  • The Indian government faces a delicate diplomatic challenge in addressing the US allegations.
  • Balancing national integrity with maintaining robust international relations, especially with a key partner like the United States, is crucial for India’s diplomatic posture and global standing.

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Terrorism and Challenges Related To It

How UAPA has become more draconian over the years?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UAPA

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • Students in Jammu & Kashmir were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) after allegations of abuse and threats during the World Cup final, along with raising pro-Pakistan slogans.
  • Jammu & Kashmir police invoked a ‘softer provision’ of UAPA, citing the act of ‘terrorizing’ others with pro-India or anti-Pakistan sentiments.

What is UAPA?

  • Purpose: UAPA empowers the government to investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism, and to designate entities as “unlawful” or “terrorist” organizations or individuals.
  • Enactment: Introduced in 1967, based on recommendations from the National Integration Council to counter national divisiveness. Initially focused on secessionist activities without explicit mention of terrorism.
  • Evolution of UAPA:
  1. Introduction of Terrorism (2004): Post-repeal of POTA, UAPA was amended to include terrorism. It defined terrorism, associated punishments, and introduced provisions for seizing ‘proceeds of terrorism’.
  2. Post-26/11 Amendments (2008): Expanded the definition of terrorism, introduced stringent bail conditions, and extended police and judicial custody durations. It also made bail more difficult to obtain and shifted the burden of proof to the accused in certain cases.
  3. Economic Security (2012): Included economic security under terrorism, categorizing activities like counterfeiting currency as terrorist acts. It also increased the duration for which an organization could be declared unlawful.
  4. Individual Designation (2019): Allowed the government to designate individuals as terrorists and expanded the NIA’s powers.

The ‘Softer’ Provision: Section 13

  • Section 13 of UAPA: Deals with punishment for ‘unlawful activities’ rather than ‘terrorist activities’. It includes imprisonment up to seven years for participating in, advocating, abetting, or inciting unlawful activities.
  • Implications: Although termed ‘softer’, this section still carries significant penalties and makes bail challenging to obtain.

Criticism and Concerns

  • Vague Definitions: The act’s broad and vague definitions, especially post-2008 amendments, allow for a wide interpretation of what constitutes terrorism or unlawful activities.
  • Human Rights Concerns: The act has been criticized for potentially violating human rights, including the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.
  • Use against Dissenters: There have been instances where UAPA has been used against activists, journalists, and protestors, raising concerns about its use to suppress dissent.

Conclusion: Balancing Security and Rights

  • Need for Scrutiny: The use of UAPA, especially its ‘softer’ provisions, requires careful scrutiny to ensure it doesn’t infringe on fundamental rights while addressing security concerns.
  • Debate on Amendments: Ongoing debates about UAPA focus on finding a balance between national security needs and the protection of individual rights and freedoms.

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