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[oped of the day] A cost-effective way to power generation

Mains Paper 3 : Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Power generation and energy security


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

India has been aggressively expanding its power generation capacity. Today’s installed capacity of 358 GW is about four times what it was in 1997-98. It shows a doubling of capacity in each of the past two decades. 

Sources of energy

    • Drivers – The major growth drivers have been renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, and investment from the private sector. 
    • Private – The private sector accounts for almost half the installed generation capacity. 
    • Renewables – For the last three years, growth in generation from renewables has been close to 25%. 
    • Aggressive targets – India aims to have the capacity of renewable of 175 GW by 2022 and 500 GW by 2030. Solar and wind power plants would account for much of the targeted capacity from renewables. 

Realising the renewable targets – Thermal challenge

    • %share – the thermal generation capacity accounts for about two-thirds of the installed generation capacity in the country. Though there is increasing awareness about the environmental impact of fossil fuels, the reliance on thermal plants is unlikely to end any time soon. 
    • Capacity
      • Plant capacities are large and therefore targeted capacity additions can be achieved by constructing fewer such plants. 
      • It would take 18 solar or wind projects to generate the same quantity of power as one thermal plant. 
      • Administrative overheads that would have to be incurred in setting up the multiple projects could significantly add to the cost.
    • Cost of projects – infrastructure projects have an inverse relationship between size and unit cost, indicating economies of scale. 
        • As the capacity of power plants increases, the average cost of power per MW reduces. 
        • The average cost per MW for a thermal plant is about 25% lower than that of a solar plant. 
        • focus on developing larger solar and wind power plants that can also exploit similar economies of scale.

Project ownership

    • Private sector – Over the last two decades, 63% of the total planned generation capacity has come from the private sector. 
      • Private investment in renewables accounts for almost 90% of investment in wind and solar projects. 
    • Cost of private solar power – Private sector plants have an average cost per MW that is 12-34% lower for all categories except solar. 
      • Lower capacity cost has a direct impact on electricity tariffs.
      • Capacity costs account for more than 90% of the levelized cost of electricity, irrespective of the fuel type. 
    • Creating additional capacity at a lower cost will play a big role in keeping electricity tariffs low. 

Marginal capacity costs

    • Additional capacity – Even as total capacity in generation has been growing, the cost of installing additional capacity has fallen. 
    • Reasons for the decline could be as follows :
      • Advances in technology have resulted in the construction of larger power plants. 
      • Compared to the 15-year period before 2013, power plants installed in the past six years have on average been significantly bigger
      • The economies of scale in power generation. 
      • An increasing share of private sector investment. The share of the private sector in capacity creation has been 70% in the last decade as compared to 46% in the decade before that.

Conclusion and way ahead

    • With economic growth, the demand for power in India is only going to increase further. 
    • China added generation capacity that was equal to a third of India’s total installed capacity in 2018. 
    • India should create generation assets with the lowest unit cost by optimising plant capacities and encouraging private sector investment
    • The declining marginal cost for capacity can be used to replace existing capacity with newer capacity that are more efficient.
Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

[op-ed snap] The gender digital divide

Mains Paper 1 : Role Of Women & Women Organization |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Gender Digital Divide


Context

India’s digital divide between men and women is huge.

Data

  • At a recent session at the Indian Mobile Congress, it was pointed out that only 35% of Indian women have access to the internet. 
  • According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, male users account for 67% of India’s online population; women account for just 29%.
  • A large proportion of Indian women remain cut off from the world’s most significant phenomenon of recent decades.
  • The Internet has become a great enabler. The gap is not just socially appalling, it is also terrible for the country’s economic prospects. 
  • According to GSMA’s The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019, closing the gender gap in mobile internet use in developing countries could add $700 billion to their combined economy over the next five years.

Internet as an enabler

  • The impact isn’t just about money but also the empowerment of women through information. 
  • Those who have the means to cross-check assertions made in social settings are that much more likely to exercise greater agency in their lives. 
  • Greater female presence online could also make the internet a nicer place, given the bad civic sense—trolls, fake news, and various misdeeds—that prevails in large parts of cyberspace. 

Conclusion

The divide may mirror India’s structural inequities. A failure to address the gap will hurt us all.

Women empowerment issues: Jobs,Reservation and education

[op-ed snap] There is a contradiction in trying to attract foreign investors before reforming labour, land acquisition laws

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : FDI India - challenges


Context

India launched the Make in India campaign in 2014 with these words: “Sell anywhere but manufacture here.” 

Objectives

    • Emulate China — India wanted to emulate China in attracting foreign investment to industrialise India. 
    • Manufacturing growth – to increase the manufacturing sector’s growth rate to 12-14% per annum.
    • Manufacturing share – to increase this sector’s share in the economy from 16 to 25% of the GDP by 2022.
    • Employment – to create 100 million additional jobs by then.

Status of FDI & exports

    • FDI – Foreign direct investment has increased from $16 billion in 2013-14 to $36 billion in 2015-16. 
    • Stagnant – FDIs have plateaued since 2016 and are not contributing to India’s industrialisation. 
    • Declining – FDIs in the manufacturing sector are on the wane. In 2017-18, they were just above $7 billion, as against $9.6 billion in 2014-15. 
    • Services – they cornered most of the FDIs — $23.5 billion, more than three times that of the manufacturing sector.
    • Export-led growth – Few investors have been attracted by this prospect. India’s share in the global exports of manufactured products remains around 2% — China’s is around 18%.

Reasons for failure

    • Shell companies – a large fraction of the Indian FDI is neither foreign nor direct but comes from Mauritius-based shell companies. Most of these investments were “black money” from India, which was routed via Mauritius. 
    • Productivity – The productivity of Indian factories is low.
      • According to a McKinsey report, workers in India’s manufacturing sector are almost four and five times less productive than their counterparts in Thailand and China. 
      • This is not just because of insufficient skills, but also because the size of the industrial units is too small for attaining economies of scale, investing in modern equipment and developing supply chains. 
    • Small companies – Labour regulations are more complicated for plants with more than 100 employees. Government approval is required under the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 before laying off any employees and the Contract Labour Act of 1970 requires government and employee approval for simple changes in an employee’s job description or duties.
    • Infrastructure is also a problem area. 
    • Although electricity costs are about the same in India and China, power outages are much higher in India.
    • Transportation takes much more time in India. 
      • According to Google Maps, it takes about 12.5 hours to travel the 1,213 km distance between Beijing to Shanghai. A Delhi to Mumbai trip of 1,414 km takes about 22 hours. 
      • Average speeds in China are about 100 km per hour, while in India, they are about 60 km per hour. 
      • Railways in India have saturated while Indian ports have constantly been outperformed by many Asian countries.
      • The 2016 World Bank’s Global Performance Index ranked India 35th among 160 countries. Singapore was ranked fifth, China 25th and Malaysia 32nd. 
      • The average ship turnaround time in Singapore was less than a day; in India, it was 2.04 days.
    • Governance – Bureaucratic procedures and corruption continue to make India less attractive to investors.
      • In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, India is ranked 77 among 190 countries. 
      • India ranks 78 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index
      • To acquire land to build a plant remains difficult. 
      • India has slipped 10 places in the latest annual Global Competitiveness Index compiled by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF).

Outcomes

    • There is clearly a contradiction in the attempt to attract foreign investors to Make in India before completing the reforms of labour and land acquisition laws. 
    • Liberalization is not the panacea for all that ails the economy, but it is a prerequisite if India intends to follow an export-oriented growth pattern.

Steps in the direction

    • Reduction of the company tax from about 35 to about 25% comparable with most of India’s neighbors. 
    • This is also consistent with the government’s effort to compete with Southeast Asian countries, to attract FDIs. 
    • In the context of the US-China trade dispute, several companies will shift their plants from China to other Asian countries. 
    • According to the Japanese financial firm Nomura, only three of the 56 companies that decided to relocate from China moved to India. Of them, Foxconn is a major player which will be now assembling its top-end iPhones in India.

New challenge

India will have to face another external challenge too as it sees capital fleeing the country. The net outflow of capital has jumped as the rupee has dropped from 54 a dollar in 2013 to more than 70 to a dollar in 2019.

FDI in Indian economy

[oped of the day] For a wider food menu

Mains Paper 2 : Poverty & Hunger |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hunger Index

Mains level : India - Malnutrition


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

The Prime Minister announced in Mann Ki Baat address that September is to be observed as ‘Rashtriya Poshan Maah’. He urged people to support the government’s nutrition campaign to ensure a healthier future for women and children. 

State of malnutrition

    • Across income strata – Both poor and affluent families are affected by malnutrition due to lack of awareness.
    • Decline – Efforts by the government have led to a decline in malnutrition by 2% per annum. 
    • Leading cause of death – According to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study by the University of Washington, malnutrition is among the leading causes of death and disability in India, followed by dietary risks including poor diet choices. 
    • Large no of undernourished – FAO estimates that 194.4 million people in India, about 14.5% of the total population, are undernourished. 
    • Global Hunger Index 2018 – it ranks India 103 out of 119 countries on the basis of three leading indicators: 
      • the prevalence of wasting and stunting in children under five years of age
      • child mortality rate under five years of age
      • the proportion of undernourished in the population

Poshan Abhiyaan

    • Flagship program – aims to improve nutritional outcomes for children, adolescents, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.
    • An integrated approach – It is an amalgamation of scientific principles, political fortitude, and technical ingenuity. 
    • Zero Hunger – The key nutrition interventions and strategies contribute to the targets of the World Health Assembly for nutrition and the SDGs on “zero hunger”.

Zero Hunger – challenges

    • Dimensions of malnutrition – Achieving zero hunger requires not only addressing hunger, but also the associated aspect of malnutrition. 
    • Healthy diet – Healthy diets are an integral element of food and nutrition security. Food consumption patterns have changed and resulted in the disappearance of many nutritious native foods such as millets. 
    • Foodgrain productionWhile foodgrain production has increased over five times since Independence, it has not sufficiently addressed the issue of malnutrition. 
    • The focus of agriculture on staplesAgriculture sector focused on increasing food production, particularly staples, which led to lower production and consumption of indigenous traditional crops/grains, fruits, and other vegetables.  
    • Food monotony – FAO’s work has demonstrated that dependence on a few crops has negative consequences for ecosystems, food diversity and health. Food monotony increases the risk of micronutrient deficiency. 
    • Overreliance on a few staple crops coupled with low dietary diversity is a leading cause of persistent malnutrition. 
    • Intensive monoculture agricultural practices can perpetuate the food and nutrition security problem by degrading the quality of land, water and the food derived through them.
    • Lifestyles in cities pose other dietary problems. 
    • Urban food planning needs to incorporate nutritional security and climate resilience.

Agricultural biodiversity 

    • It ensures a wider food menu to choose from. 
    • Small farmers, livestock and seed keepers in India are on the front-line of conserving the unique agrobiodiversity of the country. 
    • The loss of globally significant species and genetic diversity has an adverse impact on diets.

[op-ed snap] Let’s focus on demand for education

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : A new approach to Education


Context

The work, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty draws insights from various ground-level experiments that involve field trials in poverty-stricken areas. They offer policy advice based on their learnings. 

Applying to education in India

    • India should go beyond the mere supply of schools, getting children into classrooms and focus on the demand for education.
    • The generation of demand is not always easy, especially in remote areas that aren’t exposed to the modern economy. 
    • School enrolment depends on the returns that families foresee on their investment. 
    • A study was conducted in three randomly selected villages in northern India. 
    • Exposed to job opportunities for women at business process outsourcing (BPO) centers, families began to re-evaluate their returns and the school enrolment of girls went up significantly.

Quality of education

    • Education quality is essential for demand to rise, and supply lacunae act as a hindrance. 
    • Due to the exposure via the internet, demand appears to be increasing, but the government’s supply of education is at odds with new patterns of demand. 
    • Very few state-run schools in India are English medium while education in English is what the country’s have-nots are increasingly looking for. 

Conclusion

India needs to work on both demand and supply. And the latter may still be what it’s best equipped to reform.

[oped of the day] India needs to pay close attention to deepening of Nepal-China cooperation

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : China security; India-Nepal


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

Xi Jinping’s visit to Kathamandu was defined by the determination to accelerate the development of an ambitious trans-Himalayan corridor between China’s Tibet and Nepal. 

Chinese security diplomacy 

    • It has emerged as a major element of China’s international relations in all geographies.
    • Reasons :
      • Globalisation and digitalisation of the Chinese economy
      • the growing movement of people across Chinese borders
      • expanding capital and human assets beyond borders
    • Need for cooperation – This has made law enforcement cooperation with the rest of the world a major priority for China. 
    • Security issues – The range of issues involved in security diplomacy include
      • tracking down fugitives from Beijing’s anti-corruption campaign
      • criminals seeking safe haven in other countries
      • countering terrorism
      • preventing drug trafficking
      • assisting Chinese citizens and tourists abroad
      • reining in political dissidents active in other countries
    • Neighbors – Across neighborhood, security diplomacy has added dimensions due to interaction between internal political stability and the situation across the frontiers.
      • Xinjiang – three Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan share a border with the province. 
      • Tibet – India and Nepal
      • Yunnan – Myanmar
    • Far flung provinces – China’s far flung provinces with significant religious and ethnic minorities has been a priority for the People’s Republic of China with neighbouring countries. 
    • Trouble within or across the borders of Xinjiang, Tibet and Yunnan has demanded greater cooperation with the neighbouring states.
    • Xi’s emphasis on internal security was evident in his remarks: “Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones”. 
    • He also warned other countries against interfering in the internal affairs of China. 
    • The protests in Hong Kong that have taken a violent turn in recent days. The CPC is angry with attempts in the US to link trade negotiations with the situation in Hong Kong

China – Nepal security relations

    • Security cooperation – India needs to pay attention to the deepening of bilateral security cooperation between Nepal and China. 
    • Increasing engagement – This is seen in the expanding engagement between the police forces, intelligence agencies, border management organisations and law-enforcement authorities of the two nations. 
    • China’s sees “security diplomacy” as separate from “defence diplomacy”.
    • 4 of the 20 documents signed in Kathmandu relate to law enforcement – on border management, supply of border security equipment, mutual legal assistance, and collaboration between Nepal’s Attorney General and China’s “Supreme People’s Procurator”.

Nepal – China

    • Border – Nepal’s northern border with China is entirely with Tibet. 
    • People’s movement – China sees security cooperation with Kathmandu as critical in controlling the movement of people across this frontier. 
    • Tibetan refugees – Nepal was once hospitable to Tibetan refugees fleeing China. It now supports Chinese law enforcement agencies in tracking and deporting them. 
    • Cooperation on Tibet – Growing friendship between Chinese and Nepalese political leaders has provided a more permissive environment for this cooperation. 
    • Access to Nepalese side of border – Chinese security agencies have gained effective access to border areas on the Nepali side in dealing with Tibetan exiles.
  • Joint statement – to “respect and accommodate each other’s concerns and core interests”. 
    • Nepal “reiterated its firm commitment to One-China policy” and acknowledged that Tibetan matters “are China’s internal affairs”. 
    • It also promised not to allow “any anti-China activities on its soil”. 
    • China declared its firm support to Nepal in upholding the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
    • It also assured its firm support to Nepal’s social system and development path chosen in the light of Nepal’s national conditions. 
    • Signing of the “Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and hoped for an early conclusion of the Treaty on Extradition.” 
    • China has promised to enhance the capacities of Nepal’s law enforcement agencies.

Chinese efforts at security – Steps taken

    • Massive modernisation of internal administrative structures
    • Significant investments in new technologies
    • Effective integration of law enforcement into China’s foreign policy
    • Spread across all geographies – from developed countries in North America and Europe to the developing world in Asia and Africa. 
    • International rules – China is also participating in the development of new international rules on law enforcement and seeking leadership positions in multilateral organisations dealing with law enforcement. 

Conclusion

Like the other great powers that preceded it, China sees security diplomacy and law enforcement cooperation as important tools of statecraft.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Nobel for poverty warriors

Mains Paper 3 : Inclusive Growth & Issues |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel in Economics

Mains level : New approach to Poverty


Context

So far, development economics has treated the poor either as lifeless objects that could be moved around or seen as unable to make the best of opportunities that governments offered them. 

Novel approach

    • The three development economists who have been awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics have overturned that status quo. 
    • They have redeveloped the field of development economics with the aid of new experimental methods that put researchers in direct contact with the poor. 
    • This was started by Angus Deaton, who won the Economics Nobel in 2015 for his work on the consumption choices of the poor as well as how to accurately measure poverty

Vanguards of change

    • From the view of poor – Development challenges are now viewed through an appropriate lens, the lives of the poor rather than large statistical models, with a special focus on how incentives, information, and constraints shape actual choices. 
    • RCTs – Their use of randomized control trials has lent credibility to poverty research and helped solve old riddles of causality. 
    • Evidence-based – Their expertise has led to the formulation of policies that go by evidence, not assumptions.

Result

    • Huge insights – The result has been a burst of insights and fresh answers to good questions. 
    • Few examples
      • Does microfinance actually boost entrepreneurship among the poor? 
      • Why do the poor spend so much on entertainment? 
      • How does subsidized healthcare impact the investment that have-nots make in their own health? 

Critics

    • Universality – Some argue that the findings may not be universally applicable. 
    • Policy maker’s challenge – Tracing the causal links of one phenomenon to another could baffle those who frame policy. It really doesn’t help knowing if today’s farm investments in technology depend on whether the area’s land tenure system was based on zamindari or ryotwari a hundred years ago.
    • Field trials – Field trials tend to miss the big structural changes that influence the political economy of a country.

The  big lesson – Developing Economies

    • They published a 2005 paper Growth Theory through the Lens of Development Economics
    • They argue that people and firms in developing economies are unable to adopt modern tools and make the most of all that’s available.
    • They are held back by things such as government failure, lack of access to credit, behavioral snags and factors beyond their control. 
    • Aim of development policy – It should be to identify these constraints and figure out how to ease them. 

Conclusion

Banerjee, Duflo, and Kremer have shifted the spotlight from grand plans to actual poverty as a lived reality in all its microscopic detail.

Nobel and other Prizes

[oped of the day]

Mains Paper 3 : Food Processing & Related Industries In India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TOP scheme

Mains level : Food processing; TOP; rise in prices


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

Last month, onion retail prices crossed Rs 40/kg in Delhi. 

Government response

    • The government imposed a minimum export price (MEP) of $850/tonne. 
    • Later on, as prices went further up to Rs 50-60/kg, stocking limits were imposed on traders and exports of onions were banned. 
    • It created problems in neighboring countries, especially Bangladesh.
    • These knee jerk reactions like export bans or stocking limits on traders only show the hollowness of our policies. 
    • A lot can be improved in addressing large price volatility of basic vegetables.

TOP

    • Tomatoes-onions-potatoes (TOP) are the three basic vegetables that face extreme price volatility.
    • The government is often on the edge in fulfilling dual objectives of ensuring remunerative prices for farmers and affordable prices for consumers
    • Onion is the most volatile, followed by tomatoes and potatoes. 
    • Potato is the least volatile because of higher processing-to-production share than onions and tomatoes. Also, there are large storage facilities for potatoes.
    • Of the total 8,000 plus cold storages in India, 90% are used for storing potatoes. Tomatoes can’t be stored for long. 
    • The current spike in tomato prices is due to lower supply from major tomato producing states like Maharashtra and Karnataka owing to heavy rains.

Operation Green-TOP 

    • It was started with an allocation of Rs 500 crore in the budget of 2018. 
    • The idea was to build value chains of TOP on the lines of “Operation Flood” (AMUL model) for milk.
    • The aim is to ensure a higher share of consumer’s rupee goes to farmers and stabilises their prices

AMUL model

    • The AMUL model is based on large procurement of milk from farmers’ cooperatives, processing, storing of excess milk in skimmed milk powder form during the flush season and using it during the lean season, and distributing milk through an organised retail network. 
    • Milk does not pass through any APMC, involves no commissions, and farmers normally get 75-80% of the consumer’s rupee, as per AMUL’s claims.

TOP – success

    • TOP is mostly traded in APMC markets, with layers of mandi fees and commissions, and farmers get less than one-third of the consumer’s rupee. 
    • An ICRIER-NABARD study on “Deconstructing Value Chains of Tomatoes, Onions, and Potatoes”, the farmer’s share is found to be 32.1%, 29.1% and 26.6% of a consumer’s rupee for TOP respectively. 

Way ahead

    • Massive reforms in APMC.
    • Ample storage for buffer stocks has to be created. Potatoes and onions can be stored. But, repeated stocking limits on onion traders discourages private investments in modern cold storages. 
    • For inviting large private investment in storages, the Essential Commodities Act has to go. If the traders are colluding to rig the market, then the Competition Commission of India should look into it. 
    • The government banning exports or imposing stocking limits is not a solution.
    • Increase processing capacities for TOP. Buffer stocking for tomatoes is not possible. Processing remains the only solution. 
    • GST for tomato puree and juice should be reduced from 12% to 5%. Milk and most milk products attract 0 to 5% GST.
    • To propagate the use of processed products (tomato puree, onion flakes, powder) among urban and bulk consumers (hospitals, schools, armed forces), the government should run campaigns in association with industry organisations, as was done for eggs. 
    • India needs to have time bound targets to process and export at least 10-15% of TOP production. India exports 10-12% of onion production in fresh and dehydrated form, it exports less than 1% of tomatoes and potatoes production.
    • Direct buying by organised retailers from farmer producer organisations (FPOs) through contract farming, bypassing the mandi system, should be encouraged. 
    • TOP cooperatives and retail outlets like Safal across the country should be opened. With over 400 Safal outlets across Delhi-NCR, onions are being sold at Rs 25/Kg when retail prices are hovering between Rs 50-60/Kg. 
    • Need for value chain development starting with market reforms along with overhauling the infrastructure of existing APMC mandis in the country. 
    • Kolar mandi, one of the largest tomato mandi in the country, revealed that the operations of the mandi have spread to adjoining areas. It requires at least two to three times more land and much better infrastructure. 
    • These reforms and investments can be undertaken on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis, commissions can be reduced, contract farming can be encouraged, along with setting up of private mandis for better efficiency.

Conclusion

The government needs to find a sustainable solution for price stabilisation of TOP, rather than taking temporary ad hoc measures. It is time to TOP up.

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

[op-ed snap] Prize for peace

Mains : Ethics | Paper 4 |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Nobel Peace Prize


Context

The Norwegian Nobel Committee’ awarded this year’s Peace Prize to Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

Reasons for the prize

  • It is a recognition of his efforts for peace in East Africa.
  • Mr. Abiy, became Prime Minister in April 2018 after his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn resigned amid a political crisis and social unrest.
  • He has taken steps to politically stabilise the country and establish peace on its borders
  • The committee recognised his “decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”. 

Conflict with Eritrea

  • Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991 and has fought a disastrous border war during 1998-2000 with its big neighbour. 
  • It split thousands of families and killed about 80,000 people. 
  • In Eritrea, the dictatorship used the prolonged border conflict as a convenient excuse for conscription and repression of its critics leading to a mass refugee outflow. 
  • Mr. Abiy took steps to resume the stalled peace process. He led Ethiopia’s first state visit to Eritrea and met its President, Isaias Afwerki. Within days both countries declared the end of the border war.

Reforms at home

  • He also initiated reforms at home, such as lifting the ban on opposition political parties, releasing political prisoners and jailed journalists and removing media curbs. 
  • Half of his Cabinet members are women and his government has welcomed the dissidents who were living in exile to return. 
  • Mr. Abiy, himself hailing from the Oromo ethnic group, persuaded the Oromo Liberation Front to join a wide-ranging peace process with the government. 

Challenges ahead

  • His biggest challenge is to calm ethnic tensions in his conflict-ridden country. 
  • Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic federation ruled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front with a tight grip. 
  • Mr. Abiy has loosened this grip and called for a pan-Ethiopian identity and a freer economy and polity
  • His reform agenda was challenged by ethno-nationalists both within and outside his party. 
  • His government remained a spectator when ethnic violence was unleashed in several parts of the country over the past year, and sub-nationalisms emerged stronger. 
  • The Oromia and Amhara regions remain tense. Ethnic Gedeos and Gujis are in conflict in the south. Earlier this year, at least 5,22,000 Ethiopians were displaced by ethnic conflicts. 
  • The country is set to go to elections next year. Many fear that violence could escalate. 

Conclusion

Being a Nobel peace prize winner, he should come up with a national action plan to end violence, ease ethnic tensions and resettle the thousands displaced by the violence. 

Nobel and other Prizes

[op-ed snap] In his company

Mains Paper 1 : Role Of Women & Women Organization |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Women and the glass ceiling


Context

If national societies were brands, “diversity” would certainly be the buzzword for India. So would hierarchy and inequality. 

Facts

  • The CS Gender 3000 report, released by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, points to the lack of equal or even adequate representation of women in the upper echelons of corporate India. 
  • According to the report, India’s female representation on corporate boards has increased by 4.3% over the past five years to 15.2%. 
  • This growth is well below the global average of over 20%
  • India also has the third-lowest rank in the Asia Pacific region with regard to female CEO representation – at 2%.
  • It also has the second-lowest rank for female CFO representation at just 1%.

Mere confirmation

  • The report merely confirms what has long been known anecdotally.
  • Apart from a few high-profile corporate leaders, by and large, the upper echelons and even senior management positions in the private sector continue to be dominated by men. 
  • At the time of intake, there is far greater gender parity, but the number of women reduces exponentially as we move higher on the pyramid of the corporate hierarchy. 
  • The report surveyed 3,000 companies across 56 countries and found that, globally, the number of women in leadership has doubled. 
  • The countries that lead — Norway, France, Sweden, and Italy — either have formal quotas or informal targets for gender parity in place. 
  • India’s private sector has long resisted government-imposed quotas for affirmative action.

Attempts to resolve the inequalities

  • Since Independence, various attempts have been made to resolve the contradiction between diversity and inequality.
  • Reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, 25% quota for students from economically weaker sections in private schools are such attempts.
  • Though the private sector resists legislation that circumscribes it in matters of hiring and promotion, there can be no case for the continuing glass ceiling that women and marginalised social groups face.
  • The private sector accounts for over 95% of the labour force. Corporate leaders and boards must seriously consider institutionalised mechanisms to ensure diversity and equality. 
  • Government regulation is best stymied by proactive action from companies themselves

Conclusion

Keeping half the population from roles that could allow them to change the nature of India Inc can only be counterproductive in the long run.

Women empowerment issues: Jobs,Reservation and education

[oped of the day] On AI, various government agencies have conflicting and confusing strategies

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : National AI strategy and action


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

To be a $5-trillion economy by 2025, India needs to build a cohesive national strategy around artificial intelligence. 

Status of AI application

  • The government is vocal about its intention to mainstream AI applications for social good, and ensure that AI research in India keeps pace with global developments.
  • There is little evidence to show that even the basic building blocks to achieve this have been put in place.
  • Multiple calls taken by various governmental agencies have led to confusing strategies, resulting in a very real danger of ineffective execution. 
  • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy), the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), and the Niti Aayog have all released national strategy documents on governing structures, policy, and creation of new agencies. 
  • There is no mention of how these structures will co-exist towards the goal of a unified AI strategy for the country.

Work done so far – NITI

  • Niti Aayog’s “National Strategy for AI” report allocates a budget of Rs 7,500 crore.
  • It recommends setting up Centers for Research Excellence (COREs) in conjunction with academic institutions. 
  • It also recommends setting up International Centers for Transformational AI (ICTAIs) in association with leading industry players. 
  • Limitation – It falls short of clearly recommending the governance framework under which this should happen. 

DIPP

  • With a budget of Rs 1,200 crore towards setting up the National AI Mission (N-AIM). 
  • The N-AIM is supposed to be the nodal agency for all “AI related activities” in India which will also set up their own “centers of excellence” to promote interdisciplinary research, and assess the performance of various AI-based products in India.

MEITy

  • It plans to allocate a Rs 400-crore budget for new technology initiatives as part of the Digital India Programme, including working with the Digital India Corporation to set up yet another apex body for AI called the National Center for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI). 

Sector-specific AI

  • Sector-specific AI applications such as facial recognition and crop classification are being supervised by different state and central-level ministries with no consolidation around the strategies. 
  • This can lead to fragmented adoption of technology, duplication of effort, and a wasteful use of financial resources.

Indian AI policy – Limitations

  • India is heading in a direction where both the private and public sectors are unified in their commitment to promote and upscale AI.
  • Most of these commitments have been made on paper, in budget speeches, proposals and heavily researched reports
  • None of the recommendations highlighted earlier have yet been implemented in any useful form.
  • Countries like Taiwan went from announcing a $36-million project to build a supercomputing platform to boost AI research in June 2018, to launching the National Public Cloud Computing platform, based on the Taiwania 2 supercomputer, in June 2019.

Way ahead

  • Policy-makers and agencies should converge their ideas around the groundwork that has been laid. 
  • There is also a need for greater transparency in the timelines and roadmaps associated with these announcements.
  • India’s AI strategy narrative needs to change from being a reactionary step to “counter the charge” of countries like China, to a proactive one where policies and infrastructure serve as “a beacon of inspiration” to other countries. 

Conclusion

As the DIPP policy recognises, “people, process and technology” are non-negotiable for AI to proliferate in India, but in the absence of the first two, much will still left to be achieved in the third.

[op-ed snap] What PMC means

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Regulatory supervision over banking


Context

In at least three of the major financial sector scams in the last couple of months in India, featuring Punjab National Bank, IL&FS, Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank, apart from poor governance and fraudulent practices, a common thread has been a supervisory failure

Supervision

  • The country’s leading financial sector regulator, RBI, has been responding only after the event
  • As in IL&FS, in the PMC case too, there appears to be culpability on the part of the management and the board of the bank. 
  • Bank’s loan exposure to a single firm, HDIL, alone constituted 73% of its assets and several dummy accounts were created to camouflage this. 
  • The issue of dual control by the RBI and state governments has been cited as a hurdle by the regulator for its inability to effectively supervise cooperative banks.
  • Limitations in superseding the board of directors or removing directors of these banks, unlike in commercial banks. 

Cooperative banks & Credit delivery

  • The role of co-operative banks in ensuring credit delivery to the unorganised sector and last-mile access, to small businesses, is huge, as the large banks continue to focus on bigger cities and towns. 
  • A recent RBI report shows that fund flows to the commercial sector have declined by 88% in the first six months of this current fiscal. That would have hurt small businessmen, traders, and the farm sector.
  • Since liberalisation, the resilience of India’s financial sector is seen many times. This may have to do with the dominance of government-owned institutions or lenders and a strong central bank. 

Regulation – RBI

  • The central bank has already started building an internal cadre for the supervision of banks and other entities aimed at enhancing its oversight capabilities. 
  • This should be complemented by legislative changes which could lead to greater regulatory control and powers for the RBI. 
  • An insolvency regime for financial firms is the need of the hour. 
  • India needs not just a few large banks and lenders with a national or regional presence but also other players such as cooperative banks, small finance, and payment banks. 
  • There is a need for greater accountability on the part of India’s financial regulators.
  • Carving out a separate authority for supervision may only lead to regulators working in silos.
RBI Notifications

[op-ed snap] The policy way out

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Structural slowdown; Regulatory supervision


Context

India is in the middle of a sharp growth slowdown. The debate surrounding the slowdown is whether it is a cyclical downturn or a structural correction. Diagnosing the problem is key for devising policy responses. 

Slowdown

  • Cyclical slowdowns can be dealt with using temporary fiscal and monetary stimulus. 
  • Structural problems require long-run policy responses.

The slowdown is structuralOil imports

  • Most of the growth between 2014 and 2017 was sparked by a sharp increase in government spending
  • Given India’s oil imports, the decline in the world price of oil by almost $50 a barrel between 2014 and 2016 represented a windfall revenue gain of 3% of GDP. 
  • Since the fiscal deficit barely moved, the government effectively used the windfall to finance various government schemes
  • Now that oil prices have reverted towards their previous levels, a stable fiscal deficit demanded a reduction in government expenditures.
  • If there is no oil windfall, Indian growth over this period would have been 2-3% lower annually. The economic slowdown has been ongoing for almost four years now. 
  • Cyclical downturns last a few quarters, maybe a year. Negative growth pressures for four years indicate structural problems.

Structural slowdown – investment demand

  • Throughout the period 2016-2018, there was a criticism of the Monetary Policy Committee’s refusal to cut rates. 
  • It was argued that high real interest rates, along with the restrictions by RBI on banks’ lending to deal with the NPA problem, were jointly responsible for low investment demand. 
  • Since the beginning of 2019, both the monetary policy stance, as well as PCA norms, have been relaxed by the RBI
  • However, investment demand has barely moved in response.

Dealing with structural slowdown – 

  • Dealing with structural problems doesn’t require fiscal spending. It involves non-pecuniary costs. 
  • The government has to expend some of its considerable political capital in order to usher in long-term labor and land reforms
  • For these, the state governments have to be roped in to get these reforms going.

Corporate tax reduction

  • The move to lower the corporate tax rate is a good one. It is like a capital market structural reform as long as it is not used as a temporary fiscal measure. 
  • The government needs to signal unambiguously to markets that this is a permanent reduction of the base rate.

Financial Infrastructure

  • The public sector banking network accounts for 75% of India’s banking assets. 
  • Public sector banks introduce two complications to the financial system.
    • They allow for the capture of the credit allocation system by non-market forces. 
    • Regulatory capture – Since the regulator of banks is the RBI which is itself owned by the government, this amounts to the regulator regulating the entity that it itself is reporting to. 
  • The government can induce regulatory changes by just changing the personnel it appoints to the upper management of the RBI or to its board.
  • India needs to urgently begin reducing the importance of public sector banks in the economy. 
  • This can be done either through privatisation of existing public sector banks or through the granting of banking licenses to private operators
  • On-tap banking licenses have attracted little interest so far suggests that the privatisation of public sector banks needs to be prioritised.

Sovereign bonds

  • The idea needs to be pursued for multiple reasons.
  • Sovereign bonds would force government debt to be priced in a more competitive setting. Currently, it is priced in a sheltered domestic bond market.
  • Issuing sovereign bonds will force greater clarity and transparency of macroeconomic data since international creditors will demand that.
  • Things like failure to achieve policy targets or reticence in releasing data will attract rapid punishment by markets. This will provide greater discipline for policymaking.

Way ahead

  • The government should revisit the appointments process to key technical and regulatory bodies. 
  • Functions like monetary policy, banking supervision, data collection and dissemination, the audit of government financial accounts need to be independent of government direction.
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

[oped of the day] Let’s use cognitive science insights for better learning

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Teaching and education methods based on neuroscience


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

Insights about how the human brain gathers and stores information have been accumulating for over a hundred years. But there’s a gap in mainstream education: good pedagogical practice—applying cognitive science has often taken a back-seat to convenience, scale and tradition. 

Better learning – redesign of existing education systems

    • We learn best in about 10-minute chunks
      • This is related to the way we form short-term memories in the brain. 
      • If learning exceeds that time, the mind begins to wander.
      • Lectures need to be extremely short to be effective. 
      • Recorded lectures, enabling viewers to pause, rewind or speed up a video, offer personalization, where students can learn at their own pace.
      • Learning through regular in-person lectures does not offer this flexibility.
    • Testing effect – When a learner is tested frequently about the material that she has just learnt, learning is better
      • For example, a learner who is given weaker cues for the test, and therefore struggles more to recall material, will learn better.
    • Spaced practice – Testing is best when spaced out over weeks or months.
      • This flies in the face of a prevalent approach of mass practice, in which a student might address a number of problems at the end of a chapter in a short span of time. 
      • This applies not just to academic learning, but also to sports and motor driving.
    • Fourth, content is best absorbed when topics are interspaced with one another.
      • A common practice in education is to take up topics in blocks: multiplication one day, say, followed by division a week later. 
      • Research points to the benefits of interleaving practice. 
    • Fill in the blankNovices have fewer predefined schema to digest new information. They suffer from high cognitive load because the working memory available is limited.
    • Tactile experience – in which a student physically feels angular momentum, or gestures to capture a phenomenon, have been shown to result in better learning than if the learning is purely abstract. 
    • Prototyping technologies such as 3D printing, Lego Mindstorms, the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi, App Inventor, and even the programming language Python, enable hands-on learning. 
    • Project-based learning, problem-based learning, and task-oriented learning are all techniques that give students more agency and purpose. 
    • Techniques such as game-based learning can lead a student through a series of tasks and create an environment where learning occurs naturally. An example is World Without Oil, an alternate reality game that leads players through a post-oil world, forcing them to think about the implications of an oil shock.

Conclusion

We know far more about how we learn today than we did some decades ago. Yet, we are not applying these insights to education. Modern schools and universities must adopt newer pedagogical models and break away from centuries-old norms.

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[op-ed snap] The efficiency promise of the bankruptcy code

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : IBC - analysis


Context

It has been 3 years since the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) is passed, and it remains a work in progress. 

Background to IBC

  • It had envisaged a mechanism by which creditors could wholly or partially recover their dues from a company unable to pay back.
  • The insolvent business taken over is to be revived or sold off so that its assets could swiftly get back to generating value under new ownership
  • In theory, it’s about capital moving to the best hands. 

Updates – Online Bidding

  • Recent reports suggest the government may bring in a short, time-bound online bidding process to resolve corporate bankruptcy cases. 
  • This is likely to improve transparency and reduce litigation over business failures.
  • This would be an efficient way to deal, which is crucial for an economy to optimize its allocation of resources

Amendments

  • Last year, it was amended to protect homebuyers, placing them at par with financial creditors. 
  • 8 changes were made to ease the resolution process, the most important one being an extension of the maximum time that can be taken to a more realistic 330 days.

Outcomes – Drawbacks

  • At the heart of the IBC legislation was its time-bound approach to resolving insolvency cases. But the initial 270-day deadline proved inadequate
  • Several lenders unsure of their stance; some promoters trying every legal device to retain their firms, and the very process frequently getting caught in a judicial quagmire
  • Some high-profile cases have been plodding along for years now.
  • Bankruptcy courts have been stormed with realty cases because even a lone homebuyer can file one.
  • So far, creditors of a company undergoing insolvency proceedings have been at liberty to negotiate with bidders on a case-to-case basis. This leads to a drama of bids and counter-bids and bank officials are chased leading to litigation. 

What lies ahead – with new proposals

  • In case the assets or shares of a bust company are being auctioned, a clear time window would be specified for eligible bidders to place financial bids. 
  • Moving to bid online should speed up resolutions. 

What needs to be done

  • The tribunals that deal with IBC cases could do with stricter guidelines to distinguish between financial and operational creditors
  • Secured lenders need to be marked apart from unsecured lenders with greater clarity. 
  • Resolution orders should not end up casting the basis on which banks lend money in doubt.
Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

[op-ed snap] Privacy rights & wrongs

Mains Paper 2 : Indian Constitution - historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Right to Privacy vs Technology Surveillance


Context

TRAI had commenced a process of consultations to bring over the top (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Telegram under “lawful interception”. 

Objectives

  • The objective of the exercise is public security since criminals and terrorists are known to use end-to-end encryption offered by such services to fly under the radar. 
  • Parity has always been an issue since telecom providers complain that they are regulated and must respond to requests for information from governments and agencies. But the OTT sector is untrammeled. 

Is interception technologically feasible, at all?

  • Technology companies have argued that end-to-end encryption is completely private between the correspondents in the conversation.
  • It is encrypted by a pair of security keys which their devices exchange, and which are available to no one else, not even the OTT provider. 
  • Providers are unable to provide governments with any communications content, except metadata like the frequency of contact. 
  • The US Attorney General’s, along with his counterparts in Australia and the UK, has requested Mark Zuckerberg not to deploy systems that preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.

Need for such technologies

  • Concerns about crime, terrorism and lethal mischief-making using encrypted communications are legitimate.
  • Worldwide, the pressure is developing on providers and platforms to make content available for inspection. 

Weighing against privacy 

  • Privacy concerns are equally legitimate because compromising security would degrade privacy across platforms.
  • Blackberry had kept a copy of encrypted communications and provided it to the governments of India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Now, it is an inconsequential player. 
  • Privacy is now recognised as a right. It would open the door to situations like the NSA mass surveillance scandal.
Right To Privacy

Can the government intercept WhatsApp?

Mains Paper 3 : Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Over the Top services; End to End encryption

Mains level : State surveillance; Social Media


News

The TRAI is studying the possibility of bringing platforms such as WhatsApp under the ambit of “lawful interception”.

Lawful Interception

  • Lawful interception of online communications platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Signal or Telegram has been a long-running debate.
  • It has ranged governments and regulators across the world against technology companies and privacy activists. 
  • The authorities want such platforms to provide access to messages, calls, and their logs to law-enforcement agencies to aid them with investigations. 
  • India, too, has made demands for traceability of communications from instant messaging platforms.

Why is TRAI looking at the lawful interception of online messaging apps?

  • Issue of OTTs – The telecom sector watchdog has been carrying out consultations to build a regulatory framework for over-the-top service providers (OTTs).
    • OTTs are the platforms that use the infrastructure of traditional telecom companies like the Internet to offer their services. 
    • TRAI has been looking at the regulation of OTTs since 2015 when mobile companies first raised concerns over services such as WhatsApp and Skype causing loss of revenues by offering free messaging and call services.
  • Regulatory regime – The other argument made at the time was that these services do not fall under the licensing regime prescribed by the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and operated in a regulatory dark spot.
  • There are concerns about the lack of a level playing field between telecom companies and OTT service providers, including the economic aspect. 
  • With the boom of data consumption in the country over the last two or three years, the regulator began looking at the security facet of the regulatory imbalance between the two kinds of players. 
  • While telecom players are subjected to lawful interception as per the telegraph law, OTT platforms, as they are not licensed, are not subject to interception by law enforcement agencies.

How will the regulator proceed with the proposal now?

  • TRAI will submit its views to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which will decide on the next course of action. 
  • Currently, the regulator is studying global practices as far as a lawful interception on online platforms is concerned. 
  • It is also looking into whether other regulators and authorities have been provided any facilities for interception of communications, and could suggest that the platforms should provide the same facilities to the Indian government.

Under which laws are telecom firms currently subject to lawful interception?

  • The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 states that on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of public safety, 
    • the central government or a state government can take temporary possession as long as the public emergency exists or the interest of the public safety requires the taking of such action 
    • of any telegraph established, maintained or worked by any person licensed under the Act. 
  • This mandates telecom companies to provide access to messages, calls, and logs of these in case a court order or a warrant is issued. 
  • However, the government is not relying on The Telegraph Act to meet this objective. It wants the platforms to come up with a solution to enable traceability.

So, are messages sent and received on these platforms not traceable?

  • Apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, etc. claim to provide end-to-end encryption of their messages. 
  • This has caused some uncertainty among the authorities on how they can seek access to messages.

The case of WhatsApp

On the FAQ page on its website, WhatsApp states: 

  • We will search for and disclose information that is specified with particularity in an appropriate form of the legal process and which we are reasonably able to locate and retrieve. 
  • We do not retain data for law enforcement purposes unless we receive a valid preservation request before a user has deleted that content from our service.
  • It also says that in the ordinary course, WhatsApp does not store messages once they are delivered. 
  • Undelivered messages are deleted from servers after 30 days. 
  • As per the WhatsApp Privacy Policy, they may collect, use, preserve, and share user information if it is reasonably necessary to
    • keep users safe
    • detect, investigate, and prevent illegal activity
    • respond to legal process, or to government requests
  • They also offer end-to-end encryption for the services. End-to-end encryption means that messages are encrypted to protect against WhatsApp and third parties from reading them.

And what is the situation elsewhere?

  • Currently, there is no jurisdiction anywhere in which messaging apps have been known to provide access to their messages. 
  • Pressure on such services to provide access for law-enforcement purposes has been rising everywhere. 
  • The United States Department of Justice has made fresh arguments for access to encrypted communications. The New York Times reported that Attorney General William P Barr has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pointing out that companies should not “deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes”.
  • In India, Law and IT has repeatedly stressed the need to be able to trace messages to prevent serious crimes. 
  • The Indian government has conceded that encrypted messages may not be accessible. 
  • It has asked the platforms to provide the origin of messages that could possibly incite violence or other mischievous acts.
Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

[op-ed snap] How things work

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nobel Prize winners and discoveries

Mains level : Frontiers of science


Context

The first Nobel prizes of this year are announced.

The prize

  • The prize honors fundamental discoveries of the processes which run the universe and living things in it. 
  • The prizes also look ahead to a better and more interesting future

Physiology

  • William G Kaelin Jr, Sir Peter J Ratcliffe, and Gregg L Semenza have won the prize for physiology or medicine for discovering the pathways by which cells adapt to oxygen availability.
  • It is of considerable medical use towards understanding cellular respiration.
  • It is the most significant step since 1937 when Hans Adolf Krebs and William Arthur Johnson discovered the cycle mediated by ATP, which powers life.

Physics

  • Half of the prize in physics went to James Peebles, whose theoretical framework describing the universe from the Big Bang to the present underpins all of physical cosmology. 
  • He concluded that we can sense only 5% of the universe. The rest is dark matter and dark energy, whose presence can only be inferred by their influence on phenomena. 
  • The other half of the physics Nobel prize is shared by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, for the discovery in 1995 of the first exoplanet, orbiting the star 51 Pegasi
  • Their technique, using Doppler spectroscopy, supplemented the traditional transit method and has led to the discovery of 4,000 planets circling distant suns.

Conclusion

Is there life on exoplanets? Peebles appears to be convinced that even if there is, we may not recognise it, because it may not use Hans Krebs’ cycle at all.

Nobel and other Prizes

[op-ed snap] The minimum wage solution

Mains Paper 2 : Government Scheme/Policies |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Minimum wage & Inequalities


Context

The government made two recent announcements to mitigate the economic crisis. 

Announcements

  • One is a new indexation of NREGA wages to increase rural incomes. 
  • Second is a reduction in the corporate tax rate.

Indexation of wages

  • Prices of commodities increase each year.
  • So it’s important to accurately estimate how much NREGA labourers should earn in 2020 if she earned ₹179 (national daily average NREGA wage) in 2019.
  • This needs a good index to benchmark and revises the wages. 
  • The index must be based on the main items of consumption for rural households
  • NREGA daily wages are to be indexed with an updated inflation index called the Consumer Price Index-Rural (CPI-R) instead of the older Consumer Price Index-Agricultural Labourers(CPI-AL). 
  • The calculation of CPI-AL involved more food items in the consumption basket. Calculation of CPI-R involves more non-food items such as healthcare and education. 
  • CPI-R better reflects the rural consumption basket compared to CPI-AL.

Challenge with the indexation

  • This new indexation will have a sizeable impact on the increase in rural incomes only if the base NREGA wages are high. 
  • If we assume a 10% increase in wages due to the new indexation, then NREGA wages in Kerala at ₹271 per day would become ₹298. If NREGA wages were equal to the State minimum wages, the wages in Kerala would increase from ₹490 to about ₹540. 
  • A substantial increase in NREGA wages and subsequent indexation with CPI-R would be meaningful for the workers and the economy. 

Minimum wages

  • Barring three States/UTs, NREGA wages are still lower than the State minimum wages in violation of the law.
  • Minimum wages are neither a dole nor an act of charity. They are  arrived at by calculating the minimal nutritional requirement and basic needs of an individual. 
  • The Fair Wages Committee of the Ministry of Labour noted in a report that a “living wage” should also include education, healthcare and insurance besides the bare essentials. 
  • In Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan (1983), the Supreme Court held that paying less than minimum wages is akin to “forced labour”
  • In Workmen v. Management of Raptakos Brett (1991), it said that the aforementioned provisions must be added to arrive at a moral “living wage” to ensure basic dignity of life. 
  • The current daily NREGA wages are just a quarter of the minimum daily living wage of ₹692 as outlined in the 7th Pay Commission.
  • The last annual NREGA budget is ₹60,000 crore. The budget allocation for NREGA gets exhausted by October of each financial year, leading to delays in payment of wages. These are all legal violations.
  • In circumstances of unsustainable wages, the poor would be forced to become part of the migrant labour force. 

Corporate tax cuts & Inequalities

  • The current corporate tax cut will only widen economic inequality
  • According to the Oxfam Inequality Report 2018, in one year, the wealth of the richest 1% in India grew by ₹20.91 lakh crore, which is equivalent to the 2017-18 Budget. 
  • According to estimates by CRISIL, due to the recent tax cut, 1,000 companies would have annual savings of around ₹37,000 crore
  • According to a 2015 IMF report, “if the income share of the top 20% increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, while an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% is associated with higher GDP growth.

Challenges if not matched with rural needs

  •  Corporate tax cuts and lower interest rates would give corporations some liquidity, it is unlikely that rural demand will increase.
  • Without a substantial increase in NREGA wages, the wages would barely match inflation levels leading to wage stagnation in real terms. 

Way ahead

  • It is economically prudent to substantially increase the budget for public programmes such as NREGA.  This would lead to higher disposable income for the poor and have positive multiplier effects in the economy.
  • Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen’s poignant imagery of India having pockets of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa is still eerily true.
MGNREGA Scheme

[oped of the day] Techno-Politics: Focus on China’s facial recognition technologies

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Chinese state surveillance


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

The new round of US sanctions against China have turned the light on surveillance technologies including facial recognition that gained much traction in recent years.

US sanctions on Chinese tech companies

    •  US announced measures against around two-dozen entities.
    • Some of them are leading companies in China’s artificial intelligence industry. 
    • They manufacture surveillance cameras as well as work on facial recognition.
    • The rest are public security agencies in China. 
    • These entities will no longer be able to access US technology products without a license. 
    • China’s top technology company, Huawei, is already under US sanctions.

New centers of tensions

    • Over the last couple of years, technology issues have emerged at the front and centre of the deepening Sino-US trade tensions. 
    • There is an additional dimension to the trade war— human rights and the treatment of China’s Muslim minorities.
    • So far the US administration has been criticised for downplaying human rights considerations in America’s external relations. But, now, bringing human rights into the arguments on technology could mark a decisive moment in the unfolding conflict.

The misuse of technology by China – Within China

    • Beijing has used facial recognition technologies to establish a surveillance state beyond Xinjiang to stamp out any potential dissent across China. 
    • These entities have been accused of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.

The misuse of technology by China – outside China

    • A growing facial recognition industry has also created the basis for China’s export of surveillance systems around the world.
    • According to a recent report of Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Chinese companies have exported surveillance technologies based on AI to 63 countries. 36 of these countries are participants in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
    • China’s exports come with soft loans and the promise of better law and order. When Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena visited Beijing, weeks after the Easter bombings, China reportedly offered to share surveillance technologies to strengthen Colombo’s war on terror.
    • Many developed countries have allowed Chinese companies to set up surveillance systems as part of ‘smart city’ projects, improve border controls and control illegal immigration

Apprehensions about the technologies

    • It has implications for privacy and freedom.
    • There is a genuine apprehension in North America and Europe that China’s surveillance companies are sucking up data on Western populations and might weaponise it in the future. 
    • There is also the question of democratic rights including privacy and freedom.
    • California approved a law banning the police departments in the state from using facial recognition software on surveillance cameras. It highlighted the fact that facial recognition technology is prone to significant errors
    • The European Union too is considering regulations that impose strict limitations on the use of facial recognition technologies.

Two sides of technology

    • Like all technologies, facial recognition too can be deployed for either good and bad. 
    • It can be used for better law enforcement or promote political repression. 
    • It can be deployed to prevent terrorism or curb political protest
    • Many technology companies already use facial recognition for commercial use. Some brands of smartphones and laptops now use facial recognition technology for logging you in. 

Way ahead

    • The challenge in democracies is about defining appropriate norms for their use and finding a balance between multiple imperatives.
    • China’s expansive use of surveillance technologies and the US challenge to it mark the beginning a wider global debate on the use of facial recognition as a political, security and commercial tool.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China