Digital India Initiatives

SC introduces FASTER system to send records

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FASTER system

Mains level : Resolving judicial pendency

The Supreme Court has given its nod for e-transfer of orders to jails through the FASTER system for quick prisoner release.

What is the FASTER system?

  • FASTER is an acronym form Fast and Secured Transmission of Electronic Records.
  • The system is meant to ensure that undertrials are not made to wait for days on end behind bars to be released because the certified hard copies of their bail orders took time to reach the prison.
  • It is conceived for delivery of orders to concerned prisons, District Courts, High Courts, as the case may be, for instantaneous delivery of orders passed by apex court through a secure communication channel.
  • The process to develop the FASTER system began with the CJI’s observations in court on July 16 this year.

Benefits offered

  • With FASTER, crucial decisions, including orders on bail and stay of arrest, can be communicated electronically to prison authorities and investigating agencies through a secure channel.
  • The system would also prevent unnecessary arrests and custody of people even after the court had already granted them its protection.
  • It may even communicate a stay on an execution ordered by the final court on time.

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Air Pollution

WHO tightens Global Air Quality norms

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) 2021

Mains level : Air pollution

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its first-ever update since 2005 has tightened global air pollution standards.

Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) 2021

  • WHO announces limits for six pollutant categories —particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and 10, ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Air quality standards in India

  • India aligns with the WHO guidelines only in the case of ozone and carbon monoxide, as these have not changed. But both NO2 and SO2 guidelines are tighter than the current Indian standard.
  • The move doesn’t immediately impact India as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) don’t meet the WHO’s existing standards.
  • The government has a dedicated National Clean Air Programme that aims for a 20% to 30% reduction in particulate matter concentrations by 2024 in 122 cities, keeping 2017 as the base year.

Significance of WHO’s AQG

Ans. It sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy

  • WHO move sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy in the government towards evolving newer stricter standards.
  • This will soon become part of policy discussions — much like climate targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions keep getting stricter over time.
  • Once cities and States are set targets for meeting pollution emission standards, it could lead to overall changes in national standards.

Challenges for India

  • The current challenge in India is to meet its national ambient air quality standards in all the regions.
  • The hard lockdown phases during the pandemic have demonstrated the dramatic reduction that is possible when local pollution and regional influences can be minimised.
  • This has shown that if local action is strengthened and scaled up at speed across the region, significant reduction to meet a much tighter target is possible.
  • The influence of geo-climatic attributes is quite pronounced in all regions of India, which further aggravates the local build-up of pollution.
  • This is further worsened due to the rapid proliferation of pollution sources and weak air quality management systems.
  • India may require a more nuanced regional approach to maximise benefits and sustain air quality gains.

Conclusion

  • Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low- and middle-income countries the hardest.
  • WHO’s new Air Quality Guidelines are an evidence-based and practical tool for improving the quality of the air on which all life depends.

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Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

Centre announces uniform norms for Fortified Rice

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fortification of food

Mains level : Isuses with fortified food

Days after the Prime Minister’s announcement of a rice fortification plan, the Centre has issued “uniform” parameters for fortified rice kernels (FRK) for grade ‘A’ and common rice.

Plan for fortified rice

  • The fortified rice is to be distributed under various government schemes, including the public distribution system (PDS) and midday meals in schools, by 2024.
  • The specifications for such rice have been issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
  • Department of Food and Public Distribution (DFPD) under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution for the first time issued uniform specifications for Fortified Rice Kernels (FRK).

What are the norms announced?

  • Common Rice have in case of procurement of Fortified Rice Stocks, of which 1% of FRK (w/w) should be blended with normal rice stock.
  • These specifications as per standard practice have been issued in respect of Paddy, Rice and other coarse grains namely Jowar, Bajra, Maize, Ragi.

What is Fortification?

  • FSSAI defines fortification as “deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients in a food so as to improve the nutritional quality of food and to provide public health benefit with minimal risk to health”.

What is Fortified Rice?

  • Rice can be fortified by adding a micronutrient powder to the rice that adheres to the grains or spraying the surface of ordinary rice grains with a vitamin and mineral mix to form a protective coating.
  • Rice can also be extruded and shaped into partially precooked grain-like structures resembling rice grains, which can then be blended with natural polished rice.
  • Rice kernels can be fortified with several micronutrients, such as iron, folic acid, and other B-complex vitamins, vitamin A and zinc.
  • These fortified kernels are then mixed with normal rice in a 1:100 ratio, and distributed for consumption.

Note: Biofortification is the process by which the nutritional quality of food crops is improved through agronomic practices, conventional plant breeding, or modern biotechnology. It differs from conventional fortification in that Biofortification aims to increase nutrient levels in crops during plant growth rather than through manual means during the processing of the crops.

What is the plan announced by the PM?

  • Malnutrition and lack of essential nutrients in poor women and poor children pose major obstacles in their development.
  • In view of this, it has been decided that the government will fortify the rice given to the poor under its various schemes.
  • Be it the rice available at ration shops or the rice provided to children in their mid-day meals, the rice available through every scheme will be fortified by the year 2024.

Why such a move?

  • The announcement is significant as the country has high levels of malnutrition among women and children.
  • According to the Food Ministry, every second woman in the country is anemic and every third child is stunted.
  • India ranks 94 out of 107 countries and is in the ‘serious hunger’ category on the Global Hunger Index (GHI).
  • Fortification of rice is a cost-effective and complementary strategy to increase vitamin and mineral content in diets.
  • According to the Food Ministry, seven countries have mandated rice fortification – the USA, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and the Solomon Islands.

Advantages offered

  • Health: Fortified staple foods will contain natural or near-natural levels of micro-nutrients, which may not necessarily be the case with supplements.
  • Taste: It provides nutrition without any change in the characteristics of food or the course of our meals.
  • Nutrition: If consumed on a regular and frequent basis, fortified foods will maintain body stores of nutrients more efficiently and more effectively than will intermittently supplement.
  • Economy: The overall costs of fortification are extremely low; the price increase is approximately 1 to 2 percent of the total food value.
  • Society: It upholds everyone’s right to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger

Issues with fortified food

  • Against nature: Fortification and enrichment upset nature’s packaging. Our body does not absorb individual nutrients added to processed foods as efficiently compared to nutrients naturally occurring.
  • Bioavailability: Supplements added to foods are less bioavailable. Bioavailability refers to the proportion of a nutrient your body is able to absorb and use.
  • Immunity issues: They lack immune-boosting substances.
  • Over-nutrition: Fortified foods and supplements can pose specific risks for people who are taking prescription medications, including decreased absorption of other micro-nutrients, treatment failure, and increased mortality risk.

Adhering to FSSAI standard

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) sets standards for food items in the country.

  • According to FSSAI norms, 1 kg fortified rice will contain iron (28 mg-42.5 mg), folic acid (75-125 microgram), and Vitamin B-12 (0.75-1.25 microgram).
  • In addition, rice may also be fortified with micronutrients, singly or in combination, with zinc(10 mg-15 mg), Vitamin A (500-750 microgram RE), Vitamin B1 (1 mg-1.5 mg), Vitamin B2 (1.25 mg-1.75 mg), Vitamin B3 (12.5 mg-20 mg) and Vitamin B6 (1.5 mg-2.5 mg) per kg.

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Goods and Services Tax (GST)

GST Council not for inclusion of Petroleum Products

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Taxing of fuels

Mains level : Limitations of GST

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council has decided to keep petroleum products out of the GST regime.

Present taxation of Fuels

  • Currently, taxes on petroleum products are levied by both the Centre and the states.
  • While the Centre levies excise duty, states levy value added tax (VAT).
  • For instance, VAT on petroleum products is as high as 40% in Maharashtra, contributing over ₹25,000 crore annually.
  • By being able to levy VAT on these products, the state governments have control over their revenues.

Impact of inclusion of fuel under GST

  • If petroleum products are included under the GST, there will be a uniform price of fuel across the country.
  • However, petroleum products coming under GST not necessarily means that taxes or prices will come down.
  • If the GST council decides to opt for a lower slab, taxes may come down.
  • At present, India has four primary GST rates – 5 percent, 12 percent, 18 percent and 28 percent.
  • Levying a standard rate of GST on petrol would mean that the prices increase dramatically in Andaman and Nicobar, but on the flip side, they would fall in Maharashtra if the cumulative rate is lower than the current rate.

Key takeaways from States VAT

  • Among the states, Rajasthan levies the highest tax across the country keeping VAT on petrol at 36 percent, followed by Telangana at 35.2 percent.
  • Other states with more than 30 per cent VAT on petrol include Karnataka, Kerala, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.
  • On diesel, the highest VAT rates are charged by states like Odisha, Telangana, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
  • So far, five states, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Assam and Nagaland have cut taxes on fuel this year.

Back2Basics: Petroleum Pricing Mechanism

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Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Four-year moratorium for AGR dues

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AGR

Mains level : Stress in the telecom sector

In big bang reforms, the Union Cabinet approved a relief package for the telecom sector that includes a four-year moratorium on payment of statutory dues by telecom companies as well as allowing 100% foreign investment through the automatic route.

What is AGR?

  • Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
  • It is divided into spectrum usage charges and licensing fees, pegged between 3-5 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

Why is AGR important?

  • The definition of AGR has been under litigation for 14 years.
  • While telecom companies argued that it should comprise revenue from telecom services, the DoT’s stand was that the AGR should include all revenue earned by an operator, including that from non-core telecom operations.
  • The AGR directly impacts the outgo from the pockets of telcos to the DoT as it is used to calculate the levies payable by operators.
  • Currently, telecom operators pay 8% of the AGR as licence fee, while spectrum usage charges (SUC) vary between 3-5% of AGR.

Why do telcos need to pay out large amounts?

  • Telecom companies now owe the government not just the shortfall in AGR for the past 14 years but also an interest on that amount along with penalty and interest on the penalty.
  • While the exact amount telcos will need to shell out is not clear, as in a government affidavit filed in the top court, the DoT had calculated the outstanding licence fee to be over ₹92,000 crore.
  • However, the actual payout can go up to ₹1.4 lakh crore as the government is likely to also raise a demand for shortfall in SUC along with interest and penalty.
  • Of the total amount, it is estimated that the actual dues is about 25%, while the remaining amount is interest and penalties.

Is there stress in the sector?

  • The telecom industry is reeling under a debt of over ₹4 lakh crore and has been seeking a relief package from the government.
  • Even the government has on various occasions admitted that the sector is indeed undergoing stress and needs support.
  • Giving a ray of hope to the telecom companies, the government recently announced setting up of a Committee of Secretaries to examine the financial stress in the sector, and recommend measures to mitigate it.

Issue of lower tariff

  • Currently, telecom tariffs are among the lowest globally, driven down due to intense competition following the entry of Reliance in the sector.
  • The TRAI examines the merits of a “minimum charge” that operators may charge for voice and data services.

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

Can Thawing Permafrost cause another pandemic?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Permafrost

Mains level : Thawing of Permafrost

The latest IPCC report has warned that increasing global warming will result in reductions in Arctic permafrost and the thawing of the ground is expected to release greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.

What is Permafrost?

  • ‘Permafrost’ or permanently frozen ground is land that has been frozen at or below 0 degrees Celsius for two or more consecutive years.
  • A staggering 17 per cent of Earth’s entire exposed land surface is comprised of permafrost.
  • Composed of rock, sediments, dead plant and animal matter, soil, and varying degrees of ice, permafrost is mainly found near the poles, covering parts of Greenland, Alaska, Northern Canada, Siberia and Scandinavia.
  • The Arctic region is a vast ocean, covered by thick ice on the surface (called sea ice), surrounded by land masses that are also covered with snow and ice.

Permafrost thawing

  • When permafrost thaws, water from the melted ice makes its way to the caves along with ground sediments, and deposits on the rocks.
  • In other words, when permafrost thaws, the rocks grow and when permafrost is stable and frozen, they do not grow.

Why thawing?

  • The link between the Siberian permafrost and Arctic sea ice can be explained by two factors:
  • One is heat transport from the open Arctic Ocean into Siberia, making the Siberian climate warmer.
  • The second is moisture transport from open seawater into Siberia, leading to thicker snow cover that insulates the ground from cold winter air, contributing to its warming.
  • This is drastically different from the situation just a couple of decades ago when the sea ice acted as a protective layer, maintaining cold temperatures in the region and shielding the permafrost from the moisture from the ocean.
  • If sea ice (in the summer) is gone, permafrost start thawing.

Impact on Climate Change

  • Due to relentlessly rising temperatures in the region, since the late-twentieth century, the Arctic sea ice and surrounding land ice are melting at accelerating rates.
  • When permafrost thaws due to rising temperatures, the microbes in the soil decompose the dead organic matter (plants and animals) to produce methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), both potent greenhouse gases.
  • CH4 is at least 80 times more powerful than CO2 on a decadal timescale and around 25 times more powerful on a century timescale.
  • The greenhouse gases produced from thawing permafrost will further increase temperatures which will, in turn, lead to more permafrost thawing, forming an unstoppable and irreversible self-reinforcing feedback loop.
  • Experts believe this process may have already begun. Giant craters and ponds of water (called ‘thermokarst lakes’) formed due to thawing have been recorded in the Arctic region. Some are so big that they can be seen from space.

Why a matter of concern?

  • An estimated 1,700 billion tonnes — twice the amount currently present in the atmosphere — of carbon is locked in all of the world’s permafrost.
  • Even if half of that were to be released to the atmosphere, it would be game over for the climate.
  • Scientific estimates suggest that the Arctic Ocean could be largely sea ice-free in the summer months by as early as 2030, based on observational trends, or as late as 2050, based on climate model projections.

Potential to cause another pandemic

Ans. Permafrost has many secrets.

  • When the permafrost was formed thousands of years ago, there weren’t many humans who lived in that region which was necessarily very cold.
  • Researchers recently found mammoths in the permafrost in Russia.
  • And some of these mammoth carcasses when they begin to degrade again may reveal bacteria that were frozen thousands of years ago.
  • So there will be surprises. But whether they will be lethal surprises is just not possible to say.

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Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

Container shortage and its impact on international trade

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Read the attached story

The government is in talks with exporters to help them deal with an international container shortage that has led to freight rates rising by over 300 per cent in the past year for key shipping routes.

Why is there an international container shortage?

  • The reduction in the number of shipping vessels operating as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to fewer empty containers being picked up.
  • This has left many containers in inland depots and stuck at ports for long durations.
  • Long waiting times at key ports such as those in the US due to congestion are also contributing to lengthening turnaround time for containers.
  • A sustained global economic recovery has added to the impetus to trade.
  • Some countries are willing to pay a premium for empty containers and that this was further adding to the container shortage.

Freight rate impact

  • The lack of availability of containers and the faster than expected recovery in international trade has pushed up freight rates significantly over the past year.
  • Some key international routes are seeing an increase in freight rates of over 500 per cent compared to September last year.
  • Structural problems such as the high turnaround time for ships in India also add to the container shortage issue that exporters are currently facing.

How is the container shortage impacting Indian exporters?

  • Delay: Indian exporters are facing major delays in their shipments and consequent liquidity issues as they have to wait longer to receive payment for exported goods.
  • Liquidity crunch: Exporters noted that shipments that used to take 45 days are now taking 75-90 days leading to a 2–3-month delay in payments leading to liquidity crunch particularly for small exporters.

How can the government help address this issue?

  • Exporters are calling on the government to regulate the export of empty containers.
  • Exporters have asked the government to curb the export of empty containers at all Indian ports in line with a move by the Kolkata port which restricted the number of empty containers permitted to be exported to 100 per vessel for a three month period.
  • Exporters are also calling on the government to release about 20,000 containers that have been abandoned or are detained by government agencies so that they can augment supply.
  • Indian exporters has also called on the government to notify a freight support scheme for all exports till the end of the fiscal when freight rates are expected to normalise.
  • They are also asking the government to push back on a move by shipping lines to offer priority bookings at higher rates, asking that shipping lines revert to taking bookings on a first come first serve basis.
  • In the medium term, exporters have called on the government to take steps to boost the manufacturing of containers in India.

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ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Tasks accomplished by the Chandrayaan-2

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Chandrayaan-3 Mission

Mains level : Accomplishments of India's Lunar Mission

The failure of Chandrayaan-2, India’s second mission to the Moon, to make a soft landing on the lunar surface had led to much disappointment.  But that did not mean the entire mission had been wasted.

Chandrayaan-2: A quick recap

  • Chandrayaan-2 consisted of an Orbiter, Lander and Rover, all equipped with scientific instruments to study the moon.
  • The Orbiter would watch the moon from a 100-km orbit, while the Lander and Rover modules were to be separated to make a soft landing on the moon’s surface.
  • ISRO had named the Lander module as Vikram, after Vikram Sarabhai, the pioneer of India’s space programme, and the Rover module as Pragyaan, meaning wisdom.

Utility of the Orbit

  • The Orbiter part of the mission has been functioning normally. It is carrying eight instruments.
  • Each of these instruments has produced a handsome amount of data that sheds new light on the moon and offers insights that could be used in further exploration.

Some of the most significant results so far:

(a) Water

  • The presence of water on the Moon had already been confirmed by Chandrayaan-1, India’s first mission to the Moon that flew in 2008.
  • Using far more sensitive instruments, the Imaging Infra-Red Spectrometer (IIRS) onboard Chandrayaan-2 has been able to distinguish between hydroxyl and water molecules and found unique signatures of both.
  • This is the most precise information about the presence of H2O molecules on the Moon to date.
  • Previously, water was known to be present mainly in the polar regions of the Moon.
  • Chandrayaan-2 has now found signatures of water at all latitudes, although its abundance varies from place to place.

(b) Minor elements

  • The Large Area Soft X-ray Spectrometer (CLASS) measures the Moon’s X-ray spectrum to examine the presence of major elements such as magnesium, aluminum, silicon, calcium, titanium, iron, etc.
  • This instrument has detected the minor elements chromium and manganese for the first time through remote sensing, thanks to a better detector.
  • The finding can lay the path for understanding magmatic evolution on the Moon and deeper insights into the nebular conditions as well as planetary differentiation.
  • CLASS has mapped nearly 95% of the lunar surface in X-rays for the first time.
  • Sodium, also a minor element on the Moon surface, was detected without any ambiguity for the first time.

(c) Study of Sun

  • One of the payloads, called Solar X-ray Monitor (XSM), besides studying the Moon through the radiation coming in from the Sun, has collected information about solar flares.
  • XSM has observed a large number of microflares outside the active region for the first time.
  • This has great implications on the understanding of the mechanism behind the heating of the solar corona, which has been an open problem for many decades.

Utility of this Data

  • While the Orbiter payloads build upon existing knowledge of the Moon in terms of its surface, sub-surface and exosphere, it also paves the path for future Moon missions.
  • Four aspects — mineralogical and volatile mapping of the lunar surface, surface and subsurface properties and processes involved, quantifying water in its various forms across the Moon surface, and maps of elements present on the moon — will be key for future scope of work.
  • A key outcome from Chandrayaan-2 has been the exploration of the permanently shadowed regions as well as craters and boulders underneath the regolith, the loose deposit comprising the top surface extending up to 3-4m in depth.
  • This is expected to help scientists to zero in on future landing and drilling sites, including for human missions.

Who is going to use it?

  • Some key future Moon missions that hope to make use of such data include the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)-ISRO collaboration Lunar Polar Exploration (LUPEX) mission scheduled for launch in 2023/2024.
  • Its aim is to obtain knowledge of lunar water resources and to explore the suitability of the lunar polar region for setting up a lunar base.
  • NASA’s Artemis missions plan to enable human landing on the Moon beginning 2024 and target sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.
  • The Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme too plans to establish a prototype of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) at the lunar south pole and build a platform supporting large-scale scientific exploration.

What was missed because of the crash-landing?

  • The most obvious miss has been the opportunity to demonstrate the technology to make a soft landing in outer space.
  • The lander Vikram and rover Pragyaan were carrying instruments to carry out observations on the surface.
  • These were supposed to pick up additional information about the terrain, and composition, and mineralogy.
  • While the instruments onboard the Orbiter is making “global” observations, those on the lander and rover would have provided much more local information.
  • The two diverse sets of data could have helped prepare a more composite picture of the Moon.

Future with the Chandrayaan-3

  • ISRO scientists maintain that the accident was caused by a relatively small error that has been identified and corrected.
  • But, to demonstrate this technology all over again, ISRO would have to send a fresh mission, Chandrayaan-3, planned for next year.
  • It is expected to have only a lander and rover, and no Orbiter.

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

Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment Centres

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Drug rehabiliation

The state government in Punjab is banking on Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment Centres (OOAT) to curb the drug menace in the state.

What are the OOAT Centres?

  • The move to set up OOAT centres in Punjab began in October 2017.
  • The centres administer de-addiction medicine, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, to the opioid-dependent people registering there.
  • Administered in the form of a pill, the treatment is primarily for addicts of opioid drugs, including heroin, poppy husk and opium.
  • There are such private and state-run centres in Punjab.

Why is the Punjab government planning?

  • Punjab is planning to open OOAT linked extension centres and clinics in rural areas to broaden the outreach of this treatment.
  • The idea is that patients get medicine nearer their place of residence.
  • It will also reduce pressure on existing OOAT centres which cater to patients from far-off places.

Administering medicine at OOAT Centres

The patients are broadly put into three categories or phases.

  • In the induction phase, the newly-registered patients are administered medicine at the OOAT centres for a week or two to manage withdrawal symptoms in the presence of the doctor and counselor.
  • In the second, stabilization, phase, which extends between two to four months.
  • The patient is put on watch for taking any opioid-based “super-imposed” illicit drug and accordingly maximum tolerated dose is administered to nullify the kick of the “super-imposed” drug.
  • In the third, maintenance, phase, the patient is given take-home medicine and it continues for a year and a half before an assessment is done to see whether the medicine can be tapered off.

Why is Punjab banking so much on OOAT therapy?

There are two major approaches to wean away opioid-dependent persons.

  • One is the abstinence approach and another alternate medication approach.
  • There are more chances of relapse in an abstinence-based approach as compared to alternate medication for de-addiction.
  • In the abstinence approach, it would have taken years to rehabilitate patients by admitting them to facilities and there would have been increased chances of relapse.
  • On the other hand, the alternate medication approach has been acknowledged as better in various scientific studies worldwide.

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Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rights of River

Mains level : River conservation

Activists have highlighted the plight of rivers as well as the support building up for according rights to them under the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers.

What constitutes the Rights of Rivers?

  • Flow: If we look at a river as an ecosystem instead of cubic metres of water, then the ambit of rights gets broadened.
  • Flora and fauna: It includes aquatic flora and fauna, the biodiversity in its catchment areas, forests, its tributaries, groundwater, the rocks and soil in its bed and banks.
  • Human settlements: The rights of rivers in a sense would mean the ecological causes and conditions making up the natural habitat. Human settlements dependent is the prime factor.
  • Economy: Such rights should not put an end to fishing or other localized, subsistence-based human needs related to the river, but rather push for a healthy relationship respecting the river as an ecosystem.

Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers

  • The declaration is a civil society initiative to define the basic rights to which all rivers are entitled, according to a note by non-profit, International Rivers.
  • This trend of granting rights to nature, taking place across the world, signals the beginnings of a radical shift from an extractive mindset to one where conservation safeguards are being extended to nature.
  • The right to recognize rivers as living entities rather than mere human property started in 2008.
  • That year, Ecuador became the first country to constitutionally recognize the Rights of Nature.

Present campaigns

  • In the one year since the declaration, rights have been recognised or declared for the Boulder Creek watershed in the US, the Magpie River in Canada, the Alpayacu river in Ecuador and the Paraná river and its wetlands in Argentina.
  • Several campaigns calling for rights to be accorded to rivers have also incorporated the declaration.
  • These include campaigns for the Lempa river in El Salvador, Tavignanu river in France, Ethiope river in Nigeria, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Frome river in the UK.
  • In 2017, a treaty agreement between the Whanganui Iwi (a Māori tribe) and the New Zealand government recognized the Whanganui River as a legal person.

Recognition of such rights in India

  • In 2017, the Uttarakhand HC ruled that the Indian rivers Ganga and Yamuna, the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers, as well as other related natural elements are “legal persons” with all corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person.
  • Subsequently, in 2018, the same high court ruled that the entire animal kingdom has rights equivalent to that of a living person.

Challenges

  • Cultural practices: Activists and communities have been arguing for a need of cultural change that can bring about the ethic of care with regard to the rest of nature. Indigenous people have had such an ethic in their worldviews and ways of living.
  • Development paradigm: The most critical challenge is whether can rights be protected without changing the current development paradigm. Any paradigm shift also needs questioning of fundamental forms of injustices, including capitalism, statism, anthropocentrism, and patriarchy.
  • Cross-boundary issues: Rivers don’t necessarily follow human-made political boundaries. Indus, one of the longest that runs through China, Pakistan, and India, doesn’t flow as per political boundaries. Its contiguity demands a cross-boundary approach.
  • Cooperation deficit: There is still very limited understanding across the world on how a law on the rights of rivers can be implemented. What would be the best ways to ensure custodianship, restitution, compensation.

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

Right to Sit to be mandated in Tamil Nadu

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Right to Sit

Mains level : Labour reforms

The Tamil Nadu government has tabled a Bill in the Legislative Assembly making it mandatory for establishments to provide seating facilities for employees.

Right to Sit

  • The Right to Sit is aimed to benefit thousands of employees of large and small establishments, particularly those working in textile and jewelry showrooms.
  • Persons employed in shops and establishments in the State are made to stand throughout their duty time resulting in varied health issues.
  • The bill mandates for every premises of establishments to have suitable seating arrangements for all employees so that they may take advantage of any opportunity to sit in the course of their work.
  • This would avoid the ‘on their toes’ situation throughout the working hours.

Inspired from Kerala

  • A few years ago, workers of textile showrooms in Kerala had gone on a protest demanding the ‘Right to Sit’, prompting the government there to amend the Kerala Shops and Establishments Act in 2018.
  • This in turn provided seating arrangements for them.

A move for women

  • Most owners of shops and other retail outlets forbid women, the bulk of the shop workforce, to sit.
  • Even leaning against a wall was punished. They have varicose veins and joint pain from standing.
  • Toilet breaks were strictly limited. This has led to urinary infections, kidney problems.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RELOS

Mains level : Various logistics agreement mentioned

India is all set to conclude the bilateral logistics agreement with Russia soon while the agreement with the U.K. is in the final stages of conclusion.

What is Logistics Agreement?

  • The agreements are administrative arrangements facilitating access to military facilities for exchange of fuel and provisions on mutual agreement simplifying logistical support and increasing operational turnaround of the military when operating away from India.
  • India has signed several logistics agreements with all Quad countries, France, Singapore and South Korea beginning with the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the U.S. in 2016.

Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS)

  • RELOS gives India access to Russian facilities in the Arctic region which is seeing increased global activity as new shipping routes open up and India’s own investments in the Russian Far East.
  • In addition, it comes at a time when both nations are looking at significantly scaling up the already broad military-to-military cooperation.

The RELOS is likely to be signed in a month or two while the one with the U.K. is in the final stages and should see a conclusion soon.

Foundational agreements with the US

  • India has now signed all four foundational agreements with the US, LEMOA in 2016, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA)in 2020.
  • While the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was signed a long time ago, an extension to it, the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), was signed in 2019.
  • India now has access to encrypted communication systems from the U.S. under COMCASA and to geospatial information through BECA which cumulatively have been beneficial.
  • The agreements with the US and those with Australia and Japan have been especially beneficial as they also operate several common military platforms along with India’s increasing share of U.S. origin platforms.

Back2Basics:

BECA

  • BECA will help India get real-time access to American geospatial intelligence that will enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones.
  • Through the sharing of information on maps and satellite images, it will help India access topographical and aeronautical data, and advanced products that will aid in navigation and targeting.

LEMOA

  • LEMOA was the first of the three pacts to be signed in August 2016.
  • LEMOA allows the militaries of the US and India to replenish from each other’s bases, and access supplies, spare parts and services from each other’s land facilities, air bases, and ports, which can then be reimbursed.
  • LEMOA is extremely useful for India-US Navy-to-Navy cooperation since the two countries are cooperating closely in the Indo-Pacific.

COMCASA

  • COMCASA was signed in September 2018, after the first 2+2 dialogue during Mrs. Swarajs’ term as EAM.
  • The pact allows the US to provide India with its encrypted communications equipment and systems so that Indian and US military commanders, and the aircraft and ships of the two countries, can communicate through secure networks during times of both peace and war.
  • The signing of COMCASA paved the way for the transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India to facilitate “interoperability” between their forces.

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

Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mumbai Climate Action Plan

Mains level : Sea level rise and threats to coastal cities

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is drafting a Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP) in a bid to tackle climate challenges.

What is the Mumbai Climate Action Plan?

  • Amid warnings of climate change leading to extreme weather events in the city, the civic body has started preparing the Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP).
  • It will look at climate resilience with mitigation and adaptation strategies by focusing on six areas —
  1. Sustainable waste management
  2. Urban greening and Biodiversity
  3. Urban flooding and Water Resource Management
  4. Building Energy Efficiency
  5. Air Quality and
  6. Sustainable Mobility
  • The plan is expected to be ready by November ahead of the United Nations Climate Change (COP26) conference at Glasgow, Scotland.

Why does Mumbai need a climate action plan?

Mumbai’s climate action plan will help set a vision and implement strategies to fight these climate challenges with mitigation and adaptation steps.

  • Flash floods: As per a study conducted by the World Resource Institute (WRI) India, the city will face two major climate challenges — the rise in temperature, and extreme rain events which will lead to flooding.
  • Temperature rise: The city has seen a constant rise in temperature after 2007, and a substantial increase in intense rainfall and storm events in the last five years.
  • Sea level rise: A recent report from the IPCC has warned that at least 12 Indian coastal cities including Mumbai will face a sea rise of 0.1 metres to 0.3 metres in the next three decades due to climate change.

What is the greenhouse gas emission of the city?

  • The data show that Mumbai’s greenhouse gas emission was 34.3 million tonnes in 2019, and of which 24.23 million tonnes or 71 per cent came from the energy sector which is mainly based on coal.
  • At least 24 per cent or 82,21,902 tonnes is from transport, and the remaining 5 per cent or 18,53,741 tonnes from solid waste management.
  • The maximum contribution from the energy sector was mainly due to domestic and commercial usage of electricity.
  • As per the data, 95 percent of Mumbai’s electricity is coal-based and needs to be shifted to renewable energy to bring down emissions.

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Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

What is the School Bubble Concept?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : School bubbles

Mains level : Not Much

The Karnataka government has proposed the ‘school bubble’ concept to mitigate the spread of the disease among children (aged below 18) attending offline classes at schools and pre-university colleges across the state.

It takes a village to raise a child.

-Anonymous

What are school bubbles?

  • School bubbles are physical classifications made between groups comprising a small number of students.
  • As per the concept, each such bubble will include students who tend to remain as a group during school hours throughout the term or an academic year.
  • The concept would help managements easily isolate a fewer number of students in case anyone gets infected.
  • For instance, a school bubble can include 30 students. If one among them gets infected, the others can self-isolate but the school need not be closed completely.
  • This would allow uninterrupted learning to others as well.

Why are school bubbles significant?

  • The concept of school bubbles, experts feel, will be more relevant to students studying in primary school or below.
  • These students will have more chances of peer-to-peer interactions on a daily basis.
  • With school bubbles in place, the risk assessment process to identify close contacts of a Covid-positive student will also get easier.

Is this concept completely new?

  • This has been successfully implemented at schools in the United Kingdom.
  • The government there has further relaxed social-distancing measures for students within a particular school bubble.
  • However, all members of the bubble are mandatorily subjected to RT-PCR tests if a student is infected.

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Corporate Social Responsibility: Issues & Development

Govt’s clarifications on CSR Expenditure

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CSR Expenditure rules

Mains level : CSR

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs has clarified that companies have to ensure that funds transferred to implementing agencies are actually utilized for them to be counted towards mandatory CSR expenditure.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

  • CSR is a type of business self-regulation that aims to contribute to the societal goals of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices.
  • It rests on the ideology of “give and take” i.e. to take scarce resources from the environment for running a business, and in turn to contribute towards economic, social, and environmental development.

CSR in India

  • India is the first country in the world to make corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandatory, following an amendment to the Companies Act, 2013 in April 2014.
  • Businesses can invest their profits in areas such as education, poverty, gender equality, and hunger as part of any CSR compliance.

All companies with a net worth of Rs 500 crore or more, a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or more, or net profit of Rs 5 crore or more, are required to spend 2 per cent of their average profits of the previous three years on CSR activities every year.

What is the recent clarification?

  • The MCA has clarified that excess Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expenditure prior to FY21 cannot be set off against future CSR expenditure requirements.
  • Corporate donations to government schemes cannot be counted as CSR.
  • The ministry has also clarified that companies have to ensure that funds transferred to implementing agencies are actually utilized for them to be counted towards mandatory CSR expenditure.

Impact of the move

  • This clarification may impact donations to state government schemes which are often done for the sake of managing relationships with the government.

Earlier changes

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Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Arresting a Cabinet Minister

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Immunities of ministers

Mains level : Parliamentary privileges

The Maharashtra Police has arrested the Union Minister for MSMEs for allegedly making derogatory remarks against the CM.

Procedure to arrest a Cabinet Minister

  • If Parliament is not in session, a cabinet minister can be arrested by a law enforcement agency in case of a criminal case registered against him.
  • As per Section 22 A of the Rules of Procedures and Conduct of Business of the Rajya Sabha, the Police, Judge, or Magistrate would, however, have to intimate the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha about the reason for the arrest, the place of detention or imprisonment in an appropriate form.

What is the procedure to be followed by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha in case of an arrest?

  • The Chairman is expected to inform the Council if it is sitting about the arrest.
  • If the council is not sitting, he/she is expected to publish it in the bulletin for the information of the members.

What about the privileges of the Rajya Sabha members vis-a-vis arrests?

  • As per the main privileges of Parliament, in civil cases, they have freedom from arrest during the continuance of the House and 40 days before its commencement and 40 days after its conclusion, as per section 135 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
  • The privilege of freedom from arrest does not extend to criminal offences or cases of detention under preventive detention.

Can a person be arrested from the precincts of the House?

  • No arrest, whether of a member or of a stranger, can be made within the precincts of the House without the prior permission of the Chairman/Speaker and that too in accordance with the procedure laid down by the Home Ministry in this regard.
  • Similarly, no legal process, civil or criminal, can be served within the precincts of the House without obtaining the prior permission of the Chairman/Speaker whether the House is in session or not.

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Back2Basics: Parliamentary Privileges

  • Article 105 and Article 194 grant privileges or advantages to the members of the parliament so that they can perform their duties or can function properly without any hindrances.
  • Such privileges are granted as they are needed for democratic functioning.
  • These powers, privileges, and immunities should be defined by the law from time to time.
  • These privileges are considered special provisions and have an overriding effect in conflict.

Freedom from being arrested

  • The member of parliament cannot be arrested 40 days before and 40 days after the session of the house.
  • If in any case a member of Parliament is arrested within this period, the concerned person should be released in order to attend the session freely.

Right to exclude strangers from its proceedings and hold secret sessions 

  • The object of including this right was to exclude any chances of daunting or threatening any of the members.
  • The strangers may attempt to interrupt the sessions.

Right to prohibit the publication of its reporters and proceedings 

  • The right has been granted to remove or delete any part of the proceedings that took place in the house.

Right to regulate internal proceedings

  • The House has the right to regulate its own internal proceedings and also has the right to call for the session of the Legislative assembly.
  • But it does not have any authority in interrupting the proceedings by directing the speaker of the assembly.

Right to punish members or outsiders for contempt

  • This right has been given to every house of the Parliament.
  • If any of its members or maybe non-members commit contempt or breach any of the privileges given to him/her, the houses may punish the person.
  • The houses have the right to punish any person for any contempt made against the houses in the present or in the past. 

Article 105(3) and Article 194(3) states that the parliament should from time to time define the laws or pass the laws on the powers, privileges and immunities of the members of the parliament and members of the legislative assembly.

Air Pollution

Delhi’s new Smog Tower

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Smog Tower

Mains level : Air quality issue in New Delhi

Ahead of its infamous smog season, Delhi has got a ‘smog tower’, a technological aid to help combat air pollution.

What are Smog Towers?

  • Smog towers are structures designed to work as large-scale air purifiers. They are fitted with multiple layers of air filters and fans at the base to suck the air.
  • After the polluted air enters the smog tower, it is purified by the multiple layers before being re-circulated into the atmosphere.

Structure of the Delhi smog tower

  • The structure is 24 m high, about as much as an 8-storey building — an 18-metre concrete tower, topped by a 6-metre-high canopy. At its base are 40 fans, 10 on each side.
  • Each fan can discharge 25 cubic metres per second of air, adding up to 1,000 cubic metres per second for the tower as a whole. Inside the tower in two layers are 5,000 filters.
  • The filters and fans have been imported from the United States.

How does it work?

  • The tower uses a ‘downdraft air cleaning system’ developed by the University of Minnesota.
  • Polluted air is sucked in at a height of 24 m, and filtered air is released at the bottom of the tower, at a height of about 10 m from the ground.
  • When the fans at the bottom of the tower operate, the negative pressure created sucks in air from the top.
  • The ‘macro’ layer in the filter traps particles of 10 microns and larger, while the ‘micro’ layer filters smaller particles of around 0.3 microns.
  • The downdraft method is different from the system used in China, where a tower uses an ‘updraft’ system — air is sucked in from near the ground, and is propelled upwards by heating and convection.
  • Filtered air is released at the top of the tower.

Likely impact

  • Computational fluid dynamics modelling suggests the tower could have an impact on the air quality up to 1 km from the tower.
  • The actual impact will also determine how the tower functions under different weather conditions, and how levels of PM2.5 vary with the flow of air.

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

National Monetization Pipeline

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Asset Monetization

Mains level : National Monetization Pipeline (NMP)

The Union Finance Minister has launched the National Monetization Pipeline for the brownfield infrastructure assets.

What is Asset Monetization?

  • Asset Monetization involves the creation of new sources of revenue by unlocking of the value of hitherto unutilized or underutilized public assets.
  • Internationally, it is recognized that public assets are a significant resource for all economies.
  • Many public sector assets are sub-optimally utilized and could be appropriately monetized to create greater financial leverage and value for the companies and of the equity that the government has invested in them.
  • This helps in the accurate estimation of public assets which would help in the better financial management of government/public resources over time.

National Monetization Pipeline (NMP)

  • The NMP comprises a four-year pipeline of the Central Government’s brownfield infrastructure assets.
  • It will serve as a medium-term roadmap for the Asset Monetization initiative of the government, apart from providing visibility for the investors.
  • Incidentally, the 2021-22 Union Budget, laid a lot of emphasis on Asset Monetization as a means to raise innovative and alternative financing for infrastructure.
  • It has to be noted that the government views asset monetization as a strategy for the augmentation and maintenance of infrastructure, and not just a funding mechanism.

What is the plan?

  • NMP is envisaged to serve as a medium-term roadmap for identifying potential monetization-ready projects, across various infrastructure sectors.
  • It estimates aggregate monetization potential of Rs 6.0 lakh crores through core assets of the Central Government, over a four-year period, from FY 2022 to FY 2025.

Objectives of the program

  • NMP aims for universal access to high-quality and affordable infrastructure to the common citizen of India.
  • Asset monetization, based on the philosophy of Creation through Monetization, is aimed at tapping private sector investment for new infrastructure creation.
  • This is necessary for creating employment opportunities, thereby enabling high economic growth and seamlessly integrating the rural and semi-urban areas for overall public welfare.
  • The strategic objective of the programme is to unlock the value of investments in brownfield public sector assets by tapping institutional and long-term patient capital.

Framework

The framework for core asset monetization has three key imperatives:

  • The pipeline has been prepared based on inputs and consultations from respective line ministries and departments, along with the assessment of total asset base available therein.
  • Monetization through disinvestment and monetization of non-core assets have not been included in the NMP.
  • Further, currently, only assets of central government line ministries and CPSEs in infrastructure sectors have been included.
  • Process of coordination and collation of asset pipeline from states is currently ongoing and the same is envisaged to be included in due course.

Estimated Potential

  • The aggregate asset pipeline under NMP over the four-year period, FY 2022-2025, is indicatively valued at Rs 6.0 lakh crore.
  • The estimated value corresponds to ~14% of the proposed outlay for Centre under NIP (Rs 43 lakh crore). This includes more than 12-line ministries and more than 20 asset classes.
  • The sectors included are roads, ports, airports, railways, warehousing, gas & product pipeline, power generation and transmission, mining, telecom, stadium, hospitality and housing.
  • The top 5 sectors (by estimated value) capture ~83% of the aggregate pipeline value. These top 5 sectors include: Roads (27%) followed by Railways (25%), Power (15%), oil & gas pipelines (8%) and Telecom (6%).

Implementation & Monitoring Mechanism

  • As an overall strategy, significant share of the asset base will remain with the government.
  • The programme is envisaged to be supported through necessary policy and regulatory interventions by the Government in order to ensure an efficient and effective process of asset monetisation.
  • These will include streamlining operational modalities, encouraging investor participation and facilitating commercial efficiency, among others.
  • Real time monitoring will be undertaken through the a separate dashboard.

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FDI in Indian economy

RBI, IRDAI nod must for FDI in bank-led insurance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : FDI in insurance

Applications for foreign direct investment in an insurance company promoted by a private bank would be cleared by the RBI and IRDAI to ensure that the 74% limit of overseas investment is not breached.

What does one mean by Insurance?

  • Insurance is a contract, represented by a policy, in which an individual or entity receives financial protection or reimbursement against losses from an insurance company.
  • The company pools clients’ risks to make payments more affordable for the insured.
  • Insurance is a capital-intensive business so has to maintain a solvency ratio. The solvency ratio is the excess of assets over liabilities.
  • Simply put, as an insurance company sells more policies and collects premiums from policyholders, it needs higher capital to ensure that it is able to meet future claims.
  • In addition, insurance is a long gestation business. It takes companies 7-10 years to break even and start becoming profitable.

Types of Insurance

Insurance sector of India

  • The insurance regulator, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), mandates that insurers should maintain a solvency ratio of at least 150 percent.
  • The insurance industry of India has 57 insurance companies 24 are in the life insurance business, while 34 are non-life insurers.
  • Among the life insurers, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) is the sole public sector company.
  • In addition to these, there is a sole national re-insurer, namely the General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC Re).
  • Other stakeholders in the Indian Insurance market include agents (individual and corporate), brokers, surveyors, and third-party administrators servicing health insurance claims.
  • In India, the overall market size of the insurance sector is expected to be $280 billion in 2020.

Recent developments

The chronological order of events:

  1. Nationalization of life (LIC Act 1956) and non-life sectors (GIC Act 1972)
  2. Constitution of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) in 1999
  3. Opening up of the sector to both private and foreign players in 2000
  4. Increase in the foreign investment cap to 26% from 49% in 2015
  5. Increase in FDI limit from 49% to 74% in March 2020

Issues with India’s insurance sector

Insurance is considered a sensitive sector as it holds the long-term money of people. Various attempts were made in the past to open up the sector but without much success.

  • Lower insurance penetration due to various economic reasons such as poverty, etc.
  • Domination of the Public Sector ex. LIC
  • Trust issues in private insurances due to insolvency of private players
  • Saving habits of the public

Significance of the recent amendment

  • The current amendment is an enabling amendment that gives companies access to foreign capital if they need it.
  • It is an important shift instance as the increase in the FDI cap means insurance companies can now be foreign-owned and -controlled as against the current situation wherein they are only Indian-owned and -controlled.
  • The move is expected to increase India’s insurance penetration or premiums as a percentage of GDP, which is currently only 3.76 percent, as against a global average of more than 7 percent.

What does this mean for Indian insurance companies?

  • India has more than 60 insurance companies specializing in life insurance, non-life insurance, and health insurance.
  • The number of state-owned firms is only six and the remaining are in the private sector.
  • A higher FDI limit will help insurance companies access foreign capital to meet their growth requirements.

How does this impact Indian promoters of insurance companies?

  • Most of the Indian promoters of insurance companies are either Indian business houses or financial institutions like banks.
  • Many entered into the insurance space when they were financially strong but are now struggling to cater to the constant need to infuse capital into their insurance joint ventures.
  • Over the years, the sector has seen large-scale consolidation and exits of many promoters.
  • A higher FDI cap will mean that more promoters could now completely exit or bring down their stakes in their insurance joint ventures.

What higher does FDI mean for policyholders?

  • Higher FDI limits could see more global insurance firms and their best practices entering India.
  • This could mean higher competition and better pricing of insurance products.
  • Policyholders will get a wide choice, access to more innovative products, and a better customer service and claims settlement experience.

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Back2Basics: Foreign Direct Investment

  • An FDI is an investment in the form of controlling ownership in a business in one country by an entity based in another country.
  • It is thus distinguished from a foreign portfolio investment by a notion of direct control.
  • FDI may be made either “inorganically” by buying a company in the target country or “organically” by expanding the operations of an existing business in that country.
  • Broadly, FDI includes “mergers and acquisitions, building new facilities, reinvesting profits earned from overseas operations, and intra company loans”.
  • In a narrow sense, it refers just to building a new facility, and lasting management interest.

FDI in India

  • Foreign investment was introduced in 1991 under Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), driven by then FM Manmohan Singh.
  • There are two routes by which India gets FDI.

1) Automatic route: By this route, FDI is allowed without prior approval by Government or RBI.

2) Government route: Prior approval by the government is needed via this route. The application needs to be made through the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal, which will facilitate the single-window clearance of the FDI application under the Approval Route.

  • India imposes a cap on equity holding by foreign investors in various sectors, current FDI in aviation and insurance sectors is limited to a maximum of 49%.
  • In 2015 India overtook China and the US as the top destination for Foreign Direct Investment.

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

Sugarcane Pricing in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sugarcane pricing mechanism

Mains level : Not Much

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court issued notices to States and major sugar producers to develop a mechanism to ensure that farmers are paid on time.

Who determines Sugarcane prices?

Sugarcane prices are determined by the Centre as well as States.

  1. The Centre announces Fair and Remunerative Prices which are determined on the recommendation of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) and are announced by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, which is chaired by Prime Minister.
  2. The State Advised Prices (SAP) are announced by key sugarcane producing states which are generally higher than FRP.

Minimum Selling Price (MSP) for Sugar

  • The price of sugar is market-driven & depends on the demand & supply of sugar.
  • However, with a view to protecting the interests of farmers, the concept of MSP of sugar has been introduced since 2018.
  • MSP of sugar has been fixed taking into account the components of Fair & Remunerative Price (FRP) of sugarcane and minimum conversion cost of the most efficient mills.

Basis of price determination

  • With the amendment of the Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1966, the concept of Statutory Minimum Price (SMP) of sugarcane was replaced with the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP)’ of sugarcane in 2009-10.
  • The cane price announced by the Central Government is decided on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
  • This is done in consultation with the State Governments and after taking feedback from associations of the sugar industry.

Try this PYQ:

Q.The Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) of sugarcane is approved by the:

(a) Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs

(b) Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices

(c) Directorate of Marketing and Inspection, Ministry of Agriculture

(d) Agricultural Produce Market Committee

 

Post your answers here.

What is FRP?

  • FRP is fixed under a sugarcane control order, 1966.
  • It is the minimum price that sugar mills are supposed to pay to the farmers.
  • However, states determine their own State Agreed Price (SAP) which is generally higher than the FRP.

Factors considered for FRP:

  • The amended provisions of the Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1966 provides for fixation of FRP of sugarcane having regard to the following factors:

a) cost of production of sugarcane;

b) return to the growers from alternative crops and the general trend of prices of agricultural commodities;

c) availability of sugar to consumers at a fair price;

d) price at which sugar produced from sugarcane is sold by sugar producers;

e) recovery of sugar from sugarcane;

f) the realization made from the sale of by-products viz. molasses, bagasse, and press mud or their imputed value;

g) reasonable margins for the growers of sugarcane on account of risk and profits.

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