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Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

Poverty and its measurementPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Poverty measurement, MPI , Various committees

Mains level : Poverty measurement


US President recently praised India for having lifted “over 270 million people out of poverty” in “a single decade”, and said that “12 Indian citizens are lifted out of extreme poverty every single minute of every single day”.

What is poverty?

  • Poverty can be defined as a condition in which an individual or household lacks the financial resources to afford a basic minimum standard of living.
  • Economists and policymakers estimate “absolute” poverty as the shortfall in consumption expenditure from a threshold called the “poverty line”.
  • The “depth” of poverty indicates how far the poor are below the poverty line.

Defining the poverty line

  • The official poverty line is the expenditure incurred to obtain the goods in a “poverty line basket” (PLB).
  • Poverty can be measured in terms of the number of people living below this line (with the incidence of poverty expressed as the head count ratio).

Committees for poverty estimates

  • Six official committees have so far estimated the number of people living in poverty in India — the working group of 1962; V N Dandekar and N Rath in 1971; Y K Alagh in 1979; D T Lakdawala in 1993; Suresh Tendulkar in 2009; and C Rangarajan in 2014.
  • The government did not take a call on the report of the Rangarajan Committee; therefore, poverty is measured using the Tendulkar poverty line.
  • As per this, 21.9% of people in India live below the poverty line.

Poverty Line Basket (PLB)

  • The PLB comprises goods and services considered essential to a basic minimum standard of living — food, clothing, rent, conveyance, and entertainment.
  • The price of the food component can be estimated using calorie norms or nutrition targets.
  • Until the 1990s, the calorie norms method was used — it was based on the minimum number of calories recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for a household of five members.
  • However, this method does not consider the different food groups that are essential for health — this is why the Tendulkar Committee targeted nutritional outcomes.
  • The Lakdawala Committee assumed that health and education is provided by the state — therefore, expenditure on these items was excluded from the consumption basket it proposed.
  • Since expenditure on health and education rose significantly in the 1990s, the Tendulkar Committee included them in the basket.
  • As a result of revisions to the basket and other changes in the method of estimation, the percentage of people living below the poverty line in 1993-94 rose from 35.97% to 45.3%.

Issues with PLB

  • The PLB has been the subject of much debate. The 1962 group did not consider age and gender-specific calorie requirements.
  • Expenditure on health and education were not considered until the Tendulkar Committee — which was criticized for setting the poverty line at just Rs 32 per capita per day in urban India (and at Rs 27 in rural India).
  • And the Rangarajan Commission was criticized for selecting the food component arbitrarily — the emphasis on food as a source of nutrition overlooks the contribution of sanitation, healthcare, access to clean water, and prevalence of pollutants.

Why are poverty numbers important?

  • Poverty numbers matter because central welfare schemes like Antyodaya Anna and Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana use the definition of poverty given by the NITI Aayog or the erstwhile Planning Commission.
  • The Centre allocates funds for these schemes to states based on the numbers of their poor.
  • Errors of exclusion can deprive eligible households of benefits.

Alternate measures of poverty: The MPI

  • In 2011, Oxford University researchers Sabina Alkire and James Foster devised the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) to capture poverty using 10 indicators.
  • These indicators include nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, ownership of assets, and access to proper house, electricity, drinking water, sanitation, and clean cooking fuel.
  • Poverty is measured in terms of deprivation in at least a third of these indicators.
  • The MPI is a more comprehensive measure of poverty because it includes components that capture the standard of living more effectively.
  • However, uses “outcomes” rather than expenditure — the presence of an undernourished person in the household will result in it being classified as “poor”, regardless of the expenditure on nutritious food.

MPI measures of India

  • In 2015-16, 369.546 million (nearly 37 crore) Indians were estimated to meet the deprivation cut-off for three or more of the 10 indicators.
  • While the overall headcount multidimensional poverty ratio in 2015-16 was 27.9%, the number was 36.8% for rural and 9.2% for urban India.
  • There were wide variations across states — poverty was the highest for Bihar (52.5%), followed by Jharkhand (46.5%), Madhya Pradesh (41.1%), and Uttar Pradesh (40.8%).
  • It was the lowest for Kerala (1.1%), Delhi (4.2%), Punjab (6.1%), Tamil Nadu (7.3%) and Himachal Pradesh (8.1%).

So what is the current “level” of poverty in India?

  • The National Statistical Office (NSO) Report on Household Consumer Expenditure for 2017-18 was junked in 2019 — so there are no data to update India’s poverty figures.
  • Even the MPI report published by Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative used data from the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey, figures for which are available only until 2015-16.
  • Social scientists used data from a leaked version of the consumer expenditure data to conclude that the incidence of poverty in India increased from 31.15% to 35.1% between 2011-12 and 2017-18.
  • The absolute number of poor people also increased from 270 million to 322.22 million over the same period, which translates to 52 million more poor people in six years.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Blue Dot NetworkPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Blue Dot Network

Mains level : Blue Dot Network


 

With US President Donald Trump on his maiden visit to India, the two countries are expected to have discussed the Blue Dot Network, a proposal that will certify infrastructure and development projects.

Blue Dot Network

  • Led by the US’s International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the Blue Dot network was jointly launched by the US, Japan (Japanese Bank for International Cooperation) and Australia (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) in November 2019 on the sidelines of the 35th ASEAN Summit in Thailand.
  • It is meant to be a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to bring governments, the private sector and civil society together to promote “high quality, trusted standards for global infrastructure development”.
  • The network is like a “Michelin Guide” for infrastructure projects.
  • This means that as part of this initiative, infrastructure projects will be vetted and approved by the network depending on standards, as per which, the projects should meet certain global infrastructure principles.
  • The projects that are approved will get a “Blue Dot”, thereby setting universal standards of excellence, which will attract private capital to projects in developing and emerging economies.

Countering China’s BRI?

  • Observers have referred to the proposal as a means of countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was launched over six years ago.
  • While Blue Dot may be seen as a counter to BRI, it will need a lot of work for two reasons.

Fundamental difference between BRI and Blue Dot

  • While the former involves direct financing, giving countries in need immediate short-term relief, the latter is not a direct financing initiative and therefore may not be what some developing countries need.
  • The question is whether Blue Dot offering first-world solutions to third-world countries.
  • Secondly, Blue Dot will require coordination among multiple stakeholders when it comes to grading projects.
  • Given the past experience of Quad, the countries involved in it are still struggling to put a viable bloc. Therefore, it remains to be seen how Blue Dot fares in the long run.
The Crisis In The Middle East

Location in news: Idlib ProvincePriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Location of Idlib Province

Mains level : Usual turmoil in Syria


 

The nine-year-old war in Syria is currently raging in the northwestern province of Idlib, with rapidly escalating tensions between government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the Turkish military.

Background

  • President’s Assad’s forces are backed by Russia, who are clashing with thousands of Turkish troops south of its border with Syria.
  • Turkey has closed the border and is trying to seal itself from waves of displaced refugees as Assad presses forth with a brutal campaign to take back Idlib.

Why is Idlib important?

  • Assad has been pushing to recapture Idlib, which, along with parts of neighbouring Hama, Latakia and Aleppo, are the last remaining strongholds of the rebel opposition and other groups that have been attempting to overthrow Assad since 2011.
  • At one point, the opposition held large parts of Syria under its control, but that changed after Assad, with Russian military support, slowly regained control over most of the country.
  • In 2015, Idlib province was overtaken by opposition forces.
  • Now, Syrian government forces are attempting to capture the strategic M4 and M5 national highways that connect Idlib, Aleppo and Damascus, the capital of the country.
  • Idlib skirts the two national highways and lies between Aleppo in the north and Damascus in the south.
  • It’s proximity to the Turkish border makes Idlib strategically important to the Syrian government.

Who controls Idlib now?

  • Since the province fell to opposition forces, there is no one group that controls Idlib, but rather, several separate factions.
  • International watchdogs say that the dominant faction in Idlib is the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a UN-designated terrorist organization set up in 2017, with links to al-Qaeda.
  • Also operating in Idlib is the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, an armed opposition group. Included in the mix are the remnants of the Islamic State.
  • Watch groups say that other factions in Idlib strongly oppose the presence of IS fighters in the province.

Why is Idlib important for Turkey?

  • Idlib’s proximity to the Turkish border makes it not only important for the Syrian government, but also a cause of concern for Turkey.
  • Since the war started in Syria, thousands of displaced Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey over the years.
  • According to the latest known figures, Turkey presently hosts some 3.6 million refugees and is feeling the socio-economic and political strain of their presence in the country.
  • More conflict in Idlib would only serve to displace more people, pushing them towards the Turkish border.
  • Turkey has been witnessing a surge in hostility among its citizens towards refugees and a fresh wave of refugees will only exacerbate the situation.
Global Geological And Climatic Events

Yongle Blue Hole (YBH)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Yongle Blue Hole (YBH)

Mains level : Signifcance of Blue Holes


 

Carbon more than 8,000 years old has been found inside the world’s deepest blue hole — the Yongle Blue Hole (YBH).

Yongle Blue Hole (YBH)

  • The deepest known marine cavern is the Yongle blue hole, which measures roughly 300 metres from top to bottom.
  • Blue holes are marine caverns filled with water and are formed following dissolution of carbonate rocks, usually under the influence of global sea level rise or fall.
  • Its waters are mostly isolated from the surrounding ocean and receive little fresh water from rainfall, making it a rare spot to study the chemistry of oxygen-deprived marine ecosystems.
  • What distinguishes them from other aquatic caverns is that they are isolated from the ocean and don’t receive fresh rainwater.
  • They are generally circular, steep-walled and open to surface.

Significance of YBH

  • YBH has a depth of 300 metres, far deeper than the previously recorded deepest blue hole, Dean’s Blue Hole in Bahamas, which had a depth of 202 metres.
  • However, like most blue holes, it is anoxic i.e. depleted of dissolved oxygen below a certain depth. This anaerobic environment is unfavorable for most sea life.
  • Such anoxic ecosystems are considered a critical environmental and ecological issue as they have led to several mass extinctions.
  • Concentrations of carbon, usually found in deep marine holes like YBH, provide a natural laboratory to study carbon cycling and potential mechanisms controlling it in the marine ecosystem.
  • The transition from aerobic to anaerobic environment adversely affects the biogeo-chemistry of the ocean.
History- Important places, persons in news

Taj Mahal ComplexPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Taj Mahal

Mains level : Conservation of historical monuments


The Taj Mahal complex has been spruced up for the visit of US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.

About Taj

  • The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the city of Agra.
  • It was commissioned in 1632 by Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658) to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal; it also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself.
  • The tomb is the centrepiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall.
  • The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2015 would be approximately 52.8 billion rupees (U.S. $827 million).
  • The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
  • The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”.

Various threats to Taj

  • The Supreme Court had earlier expressed concern over the marble of the Taj changing colour, and asked how the white marble, which had first become yellowish, was now turning brownish and greenish.
  • Firstly, the polluting industries and the vehicular emissions in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) area are a major source of pollution.
  • The second reason is that the Yamuna River, which flows behind the Taj, has become highly polluted.
  • There is no aquatic life in it, and has caused insect and algae infestation on the Taj Mahal and other monuments situated on its banks.

Use of mud packs

  • Increasing pollution in the air over the Gangetic Valley affecting the Taj has been a reason for concern for archaeologists and conservationists for long now.
  • Mud packs were applied on the surface of the monument first in 1994, and then again in 2001, 2008, and, most recently, beginning 2014.
  • Mud packs have been one of the ASI’s favoured ways to remove the yellow stains that have appeared over the years on the Taj Mahal’s white marble facade.
  • The clay is applied in the form of a thick paste that absorbs the grime, grease and bird droppings on the marble, before being washed off using distilled water.
  • The process is slow and tortuous, but is believed to leave the marble cleaner and shinier.
  • The intricate parts are applied with special “multani mitti’ (Fuller’s clay) treatment.
Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

Delhi’s ‘Happiness Class’Priority 1States in News

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Happiness Curriculum

Mains level : Happiness Curriculum and its significance


 

On the upcoming visit to India, US President Trump will visit a Delhi government school, where they will attend a happiness curriculum class.

What is Delhi’s ‘happiness curriculum’?

  • The curriculum calls for schools in India to promote development in cognition, language, literacy, numeracy and the arts along with addressing the well-being and happiness of students.
  • It further says that future citizens need to be “mindful, aware, awakened, empathetic, firmly rooted in their identity…” based on the premise that education has a larger purpose, which cannot be in isolation from the “dire needs” of today’s society.
  • For the evaluation, no examinations are conducted, neither will marks be awarded.
  • The assessment under this curriculum is qualitative, focusing on the “process rather than the outcome” and noting that each student’s journey is unique and different.

Objectives of the curriculum

The objectives of this curriculum include:

  • developing self-awareness and mindfulness,
  • inculcating skills of critical thinking and inquiry,
  • enabling learners to communicate effectively and
  • helping learners to apply life skills to deal with stressful and conflicting situations around them

Learning outcomes of this curriculum

The learning outcomes of this curriculum are spread across four categories:

  • becoming mindful and attentive (developing increased levels of self-awareness, developing active listening, remaining in the present);
  • developing critical thinking and reflection (developing strong abilities to reflect on one’s own thoughts and behaviours, thinking beyond stereotypes and assumptions);
  • developing social-emotional skills (demonstrating empathy, coping with anxiety and stress, developing better communication skills) and
  • developing a confident and pleasant personality (developing a balanced outlook on daily life reflecting self-confidence, becoming responsible and reflecting awareness towards cleanliness, health and hygiene).

How is the curriculum implemented?

  • The curriculum is designed for students of classes nursery through the eighth standard.
  • Group 1 consists of students in nursery and KG, who have bi-weekly classes (45 minutes each for one session, which is supervised by a teacher) involving mindfulness activities and exercise.
  • Children between classes 1-2 attend classes on weekdays, which involves mindfulness activities and exercises along with taking up reflective questions.
  • The second group comprises students from classes 3-5 and the third group is comprised of students from classes 6-8 who apart from the aforementioned activities, take part in self-expression and reflect on their behavioural changes.
Biofuel Policy

Biojet fuel that powered the IAF aircraftPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : An-32, Biojet Fuel

Mains level : Biojet Fuel and its feasiblity


 

In his monthly Mann ki Baat radio address, PM hailed the use of biofuel in an Indian Air Force transport aircraft.

What did PM cite?

  • IAF’s An-32 aircraft successfully used a 10% blend of Indian biojet fuel and took off from Leh’s Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport on January 31.
  • This was the first time that this mix was used in both engines of an aircraft.
  • Leh is at an altitude of 10,682 ft above mean sea level and is among the world’s highest and most difficult operational airfields.
  • Even during clear weather, operating an aircraft at Leh is a challenge, given the reduced power output of the engines in the rarefied atmosphere, turbulent winds, and proximity of the mountains.

What is Biojet fuel?

  • Biojet fuel is prepared from “non-edible tree borne oil” and is procured from various tribal areas of India.
  • This fuel is made from Jatropha oil sourced from Chattisgarh Biodiesel Development Authority (CBDA) and then processed at CSIR-IIP, Dehradun.
  • Generally, it is made from vegetable oils, sugars, animal fats and even waste biomass, and can be used in existing aviation jet engines without modification.
  • Jatropha oil is suitable for conversion to jet fuel. This biojet fuel has received wide acceptance from the airline industry.

Why it matters?

  • Evaluating the performance of biojet fuel under conditions prevalent in Leh was considered extremely important from an operational perspective.
  • The success of the flight validated the capability of the aircraft’s engines to operate smoothly with biojet fuel at the extremities of the operational envelope.
  • The tests were conducted by a team comprising test pilots from the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE), Bengaluru and pilots from the operational squadrons.
  • The successful test flight also demonstrated the IAF’s capability to absorb newer technology, while sponsoring indigenization.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF), Spectrograph

Mains level : HPF and its applications


 

At 100 light-years from Earth, a low-mass star was sending signals in a pattern that suggested that an exoplanet was orbiting the star confirmed the Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF).

Habitable-zone Planet Finder

  • NASA’s Kepler mission observed a dip in the host star’s light, suggesting that the planet was crossing in front of the star during its orbit.
  • To confirm, researchers turned to an instrument called Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF). It has confirmed that there is indeed an exoplanet.
  • HPF is an astronomical spectrograph, built by Penn State University scientists, and recently installed on the 10m Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in Texas.
  • The instrument is designed to detect and characterize planets in the habitable zone — the region around the star where a planet could sustain liquid water on its surface — around nearby low-mass stars.
  • The newly confirmed planet, called G 9-40b, is the first one validated by HPF. It is about twice the size of Earth and orbits its star once every six Earth-days.

How it works

  • A spectrograph is an instrument that splits light into its component wavelengths.
  • Scientists then measure the properties of light over a specific portion of the spectrum and draw conclusions on what is responsible for the trends they observe.

Why need HPF?

  • Kepler’s observations alone were not enough to confirm a planet. It was possible that a close stellar companion was responsible for the dip in the star’s light.
  • Precision spectroscopic observations from HPF ruled out this possibility.
  • Shooting a high-power laser into the air, researchers generated a “laser guide star”, and subsequent observations found no evidence of blending of light or other stellar companions.
  • Finally, using HPF, an analysis of a set of radial velocities helped provide estimates for the planet’s mass.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Why trade with the US matters to India?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : India-US trade disputes


 

Context

  • US President Trump arrives in India months after he went on stage with PM Modi at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Texas.
  • Both countries have repeatedly resolved to strengthen trade ties — however, attempts at working out a short-term agreement have fallen apart in the past, and tensions have risen over tariffs.
  • The US often accuses India of taking decisions over the previous few years that prevented “equitable and reasonable access” for Americans to its markets.
  • Let’s have a look at the current state of play:

Why trade with the US matters to India?

  • India’s existing and stalled bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) started to receive attention from the government last year, even as the country worked to conclude the seven-year negotiations to join the RCEP, the world’s “largest” regional trade pact.
  • But by backing out of the RCEP in November, India shut the door on the large “integrated market” that the deal was offering.
  • Instead, it increased the pressure on itself to strengthen existing separate trade agreements with each member of the RCEP bloc.
  • Without these, it may not be able to tap a sizeable portion of the global market; also, it may not be able to easily access the products and services of these countries.

Need for more bilateral activities

  • In the backdrop of the global economic slowdown, where India’s global exports have fallen consistently, it is important for the country to diversify and strengthen bilateral relations with other markets.
  • It has set its sights on “large developed markets”, improved access to which would help its industry and services sectors.
  • These include the US, which has, over the last two decades, become a crucial trading partner in terms of both goods and services.

Trump’s advent

  • In March 2017, soon after taking office with election campaign focussing on “making America great again”, Trump ordered “first-ever comprehensive review” of trade deficits of the United States.
  • India was among the countries that exported more to the United States than it imported, and the latter was left with a trade deficit of over $21 billion in 2017-18.
  • While the US’s deficit with India is only a fraction of its deficit with China (over $340 billion in 2019), American officials have repeatedly targeted the “unfair” trade practices followed by India.
  • These include the tariffs that India imposes, which the Trump administration feels are too high — and over which the President has personally called New Delhi out on several occasions.

Locating the main sticking points

  • Negotiations on an India-US trade deal have been ongoing since 2018, but have been slowed by “fundamental” disagreements over tariffs subsidies, intellectual property, data protection, and access for agricultural and dairy produce.
  • The office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) has underlined India’s measures to restrict companies from sending personal data of its citizens outside the country as a “key” barrier to digital trade.
  • The US wants India to strengthen patent regulations, and to ease the limitations American companies investing in India face.

India’s tariffs

  • India is a “tariff king” that imposes “tremendously high” import duties, Trump has complained repeatedly.
  • The health cess on imported medical devices announced in the Budget for 2020-21 too, is seen as a negative for the American side, as the US is among the top three exporters of these categories of products to India.
  • However, India is working to finalise a proposal to move from caps on prices of medical devices to limiting the margins of those involved in the supply of the products.

Agri sector

  • The US has long demanded greater access for American agriculture and dairy products.
  • For India, protecting its domestic agriculture and dairy interests was a major reason to walk out of the RCEP agreement.

US retaliation

1) Tariff on steel

  • In 2018, the US imposed additional tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imports from various countries, including India.
  • While India’s government claims the impact is “limited”, they brought down the US share in India’s steel exports to 2.5% in 2018-19 from 3.3% in 2017-18.
  • In March 2018, India challenged the US decision at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • India held off on imposing retaliatory tariffs until the US struck again — by removing it from a scheme of preferential access to the American market.

2) GSP axe and response 

  • In June 2019, the US decided to terminate India’s benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, which provides preferential, duty-free access for over $6 billion worth of products exported from this country to the US.
  • The decision followed a warning earlier that year, after negotiations on a potential trade agreement had broken down.

3) Labelling India as developed country

  • India was the largest beneficiary of the US GSP programme.
  • While duty-free benefits accrued to only around $200 million for the billions of dollars worth of exports, India is understood to have asked for restoration of these benefits in the ongoing trade negotiations.
  • Most recently, the USTR classified India as a “developed” country based on certain metrics. It is not clear whether the upgrade from “developing” will impact the restoration of benefits under the GSP scheme.

The WTO tussle

  • India is one of the largest importers of almonds from the US, having imported fresh or dried shelled almonds worth $615.12 million in 2018-19.
  • Imports from the US of fresh apples stood at $145.20 million, of phosphoric acid at $155.48 million, and of diagnostic reagents at nearly $145 million that year.
  • Removal from the GSP list amidst rising trade tensions prompted India to finally impose retaliatory tariffs on several American imports, including almonds, fresh apples, and phosphoric acid.
  • This was a significant move — and the US approached the WTO against India.

Whats’ next?

  • US administration appeared to suggest that while no deal was imminent, work on a longer-term agreement was progressing well, and that his personal chemistry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi might help.
  • India and the US could begin with some “low-hanging fruit” to indicate their willingness for a deeper economic commitment.
  • This includes the US reinstating India’s benefits under the GSP programme, and India doing away with duties on motorcycles.
Surrogacy in India

Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, 2020Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ART

Mains level : Read the attached story


 

The Union Cabinet has approved the Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, 2020 to monitor medical procedures used to assist people to achieve pregnancy.

What is ART?

  • Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is used to treat infertility.
  • Assisted reproductive technology includes medical procedures used primarily to address infertility.
  • This subject involves procedures such as in vitro fertilization, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, cryopreservation of gametes or embryos, and/or the use of fertility medication.

Highlights of the bill

  • National Board: The Bill provides for a national Board which will lay down a code of conduct to be observed by those operating clinics.
  • Standardization: It will also formulate minimum standards for laboratory and diagnostic equipment and practices to be followed by human resources employed by clinics and banks.
  • National registry: Under the proposed law, a national registry and registration authority will maintain a database to assist the national Board to perform its functions.
  • Confidentiality clause: The Bill will also ensure confidentiality of intending couples and protect the rights of the child.

Strict punishment:

  • India has one of the highest growths in the number of ART centres and ART cycles performed every year.
  • India has become one of the major centres of this global fertility industry, with reproductive medical tourism becoming a significant activity.
  • This has also introduced a plethora of legal, ethical and social issues; yet, there is no standardisation of protocols and reporting is still very inadequate.
  • The Bill thus proposes stringent punishment for those who practise sex selection; indulge in sale of human embryos or gametes and those who operate rackets.

Other such Bills

Taken together, theses proposed legislations create an environment of safeguards for women’s reproductive rights, addressing changing social contexts and technological advances.

Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2020

  • The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2020 proposes to regulate surrogacy in India by establishing National Board at the central level and State Boards and Appropriate Authorities in the States and Union Territories.
  • The major benefit of the Act would be that it will regulate the surrogacy services in the country.
  • While commercial surrogacy will be prohibited including sale and purchase of human embryos and gametes, ethical surrogacy to the Indian Married couple, Indian Origin Married Couple and Indian Single Woman (only widow or Divorcee) will be allowed on fulfillment of certain conditions.
  • As such, it will control the unethical practices in surrogacy, prevent commercialization of surrogacy and will prohibit potential exploitation of surrogate mothers and children born through surrogacy.

Medical Termination Pregnancy Amendment Bill 2020

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (34 of 1971) was enacted to provide for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  • The said Act recognised the importance of safe, affordable, accessible abortion services to women who need to terminate pregnancy under certain specified conditions.
  • Besides this, several Writ Petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court and various High Courts seeking permission for aborting pregnancies at gestational age beyond the present permissible limit on the grounds of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to sexual violence faced by women.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Northern European Enclosure Dam (NEED)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NEED

Mains level : Sea level rise and its impact


 

An extraordinary measure to protect 25 million people and important economic regions of 15 Northern European countries from rising seas has been proposed. It is called Northern European Enclosure Dam (NEED) enclosing all of the North Sea.

Northern European Enclosure Dam (NEED)

  • The scientists have proposed the construction of two dams of a combined length of 637 km — the first between northern Scotland and western Norway.
  • It would be 476 km and with an average depth of 121 m and maximum depth of 321 m; the second between France and southwestern England, of length 161 km, and average depth of 85 m and maximum depth of 102 m.
  • A/c to scientists, separating the North and Baltic Seas from the Atlantic Ocean is considered to be the “most viable option” to protect Northern Europe against unstoppable sea level rise (SLR).
  • They have also identified other regions in the world where such mega-enclosures could potentially be considered, including the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Irish Sea, and the Red Sea.

The rationale behind

  • The concept of constructing NEED showcases the extent of protection efforts that are required if mitigation efforts fail to limit sea level rise.
  • While NEED may appear to be “overwhelming” and “unrealistic”, it could be “potentially favourable” financially and in scale when compared with alternative solutions to fight SLR, the research argues.
  • The researchers classify the solutions to SLR into three categories of taking no action, protection, and managed retreat — and submit that NEED is in the second category.
  • While managed retreat, which includes options such as managed migrations, may be less expensive than protection (NEED), it involves intangible costs such as national and international political instability, psychological difficulties, and loss of culture and heritage for migrants.
  • NEED, the paper says, will have the least direct impact on people’s daily lives, can be built at a “reasonable cost”, and has the largest potential to be implemented with the required urgency to be effective.

Viability of NEED

  • The researchers have estimated the total costs associated with NEED at between €250 billion and €550 billion.
  • They referred to the costs of building the 33.9-km Saemangeum Seawall in South Korea and the Maasvlakte 2 extension of the Rotterdam harbour in the Netherlands as examples,
  • If construction is spread over a 20-year period, this will work out to an annual expense of around 0.07%-0.16% of the GDP of the 15 Northern European countries that will be involved.
  • Also the construction will “heavily impact” marine and terrestrial ecosystems inside and outside the enclosure, will have social and cultural implications, and affect tourism and fisheries.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Aditya L1 MissionPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Parker Probe. Aditya L1 Mission, Lagranges points

Mains level : Read the attached story


 

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched on August 12, 2018 has completed its fourth close approach — called perihelion very recently, whizzing past at about 3.93 lakh km/h, at a distance of only 18.6 million km from the Sun’s surface.

Aditya L1: Exciting ahead

  • The ISRO is preparing to send its first scientific expedition to study the Sun.
  • Named Aditya-L1, the mission, expected to be launched early next year, will observe the Sun from a close distance, and try to obtain information about its atmosphere and magnetic field.
  • ISRO categorizes Aditya L1 as a 400 kg-class satellite that will be launched using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in XL configuration.
  • The space-based observatory will have seven payloads (instruments) on board to study the Sun’s corona, solar emissions, solar winds and flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), and will carry out round-the-clock imaging of the Sun.
  • Aditya L1 will be ISRO’s second space-based astronomy mission after AstroSat, which was launched in September 2015.

What is L1?

  • L1 refers to Lagrangian/Lagrange Point 1, one of five points in the orbital plane of the Earth-Sun system.
  • Lagrange Points, named after Italian-French mathematician Josephy-Louis Lagrange, are positions in space where the gravitational forces of a two-body system (like the Sun and the Earth) produce enhanced regions of attraction and repulsion.
  • These can be used by spacecraft to reduce fuel consumption needed to remain in position.
  • The L1 point is home to the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Satellite (SOHO), an international collaboration project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
  • The L1 point is about 1.5 million km from Earth, or about one-hundredth of the way to the Sun.

But why is studying the Sun important?

  • Every planet, including Earth and the exoplanets beyond the Solar System, evolves — and this evolution is governed by its parent star.
  • The solar weather and environment, which is determined by the processes taking place inside and around the sun, affects the weather of the entire system.
  • Variations in this weather can change the orbits of satellites or shorten their lives, interfere with or damage onboard electronics, and cause power blackouts and other disturbances on Earth.
  • Knowledge of solar events is key to understanding space weather.
  • To learn about and track Earth-directed storms, and to predict their impact, continuous solar observations are needed.
  • Every storm that emerges from the Sun and heads towards Earth passes through L1, and a satellite placed in the halo orbit around L1 of the Sun-Earth system has the major advantage of continuously viewing the Sun without any occultation/eclipses.

Why are solar missions challenging?

  • What makes a solar mission challenging is the distance of the Sun from Earth (about 149 million km on average, compared to the only 3.84 lakh km to the Moon).
  • More importantly the super hot temperatures and radiations in the solar atmosphere make it difficult to study.
  • NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has already gone far closer — but it will be looking away from the Sun.
  • The earlier Helios 2 solar probe, a joint venture between NASA and space agency of erstwhile West Germany, went within 43 million km of the Sun’s surface in 1976.

Problem of Heat

  • The Parker Solar Probe’s January 29 flyby was the closest the spacecraft has gone to the Sun in its planned seven-year journey so far.
  • Computer modelling estimates show that the temperature on the Sun-facing side of the probe’s heat shield, the Thermal Protection System, reached 612 degrees Celsius, even as the spacecraft and instruments behind the shield remained at about 30°C, NASA said.
  • During the spacecraft’s three closest perihelia in 2024-25, the TPS will see temperatures around 1370°C.

Hurdles for Aditya L1

  • It will stay much farther away, and the heat is not expected to be a major concern for the instruments on board. But there are other challenges.
  • Many of the instruments and their components for this mission are being manufactured for the first time in the country, presenting as much of a challenge as an opportunity for India’s scientific, engineering, and space communities.
  • One such component is the highly polished mirrors which would be mounted on the space-based telescope.
  • Due to the risks involved, payloads in earlier ISRO missions have largely remained stationary in space; however, Aditya L1 will have some moving components, scientists said.
RBI Notifications

RBI’s accounting yearPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RBI's accounting year

Mains level : Read the attached story


The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is aligning its July-June accounting year with the government’s April-March fiscal year in order to ensure more effective management of the country’s finances.

How did the RBI’s July-June accounting year come to be?

  • When it commenced operations on April 1, 1935, with Sir Osborne Smith as its first Governor, the RBI followed a January-December accounting year.
  • On March 11, 1940, however, the bank changed its accounting year to July-June.
  • Now, after nearly eight decades, the RBI is making another switch: the next accounting year will be a nine-month period from July 2020 to March 31, 2021 and thereafter, all financial years will start from April, as it happens with the central and state governments.

Why are RBI’s accounts important?

  • The RBI’s balance sheet plays a critical role in the functioning of the country’s economy — largely reflecting the activities carried out in pursuance of its currency issue function, as well as monetary policy and reserve management objectives.
  • The RBI Act says the central bank “shall undertake to accept monies for account of the Central Government and to make payments up to the amount standing to the credit of, and to carry out (its exchange), remittance and other banking operations, including the management of the public debt”.
  • The RBI is the country’s monetary authority, regulator, and supervisor of the financial system, manager of foreign exchange, issuer of currency, regulator and supervisor of payment and settlement systems, banker to the central and the state governments, and also banker to banks.

But why is the system being changed?

  • The Bimal Jalan Committee on Economic Capital Framework (ECF) of the RBI had proposed a more transparent presentation of the RBI’s annual accounts, and a change in its accounting year to April-March from the financial year 2020-21.
  • It said the RBI would be able to provide better estimates of projected surplus transfers to the government for the financial year for budgeting purposes.
  • It is also expected to result in better management of transfer of dividend or surplus to the government. Moreover, as governments, companies, and other institutions follow the April-March year, it will help with effective management of accounting.

What will be impact of the change?

  • The change in the fiscal year could reduce the need for interim dividend being paid by the RBI, and such payments may then be restricted to extraordinary circumstances.
  • It will obviate any timing considerations that may enter into the selection of open market operations or Market Stabilization Scheme as monetary policy tools.
  • It will also bring greater cohesiveness in monetary policy projections and reports published by the RBI, which mostly use the fiscal year as the base.
  • In RBI’s balance sheet, while capital and reserve fund are explicitly shown, other sources of financial resilience are grouped under ‘Other Liabilities and Provisions’ and enumerated via Schedules, making it difficult to arrive at total risk provisions, the Jalan panel said.
History- Important places, persons in news

Battle of Çanakkale/GallipoliPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Battle of Çanakkale/Gallipoli

Mains level : Paper 1: World History


India issued a strong demarche to Turkey over its outspoken President Erdogan’s comments in Pakistan. Erdogan has criticised India’s policy in Jammu and Kashmir and compared it with that of Turkey during World War I.

Gallipoli campaign

  • The Battle of Çanakkale, also known as the Gallipoli campaign or the Dardanelles campaign, is considered to be one of the bloodiest of World War I, during which the Ottoman army faced off against the Allied forces, leading to the slaughter of tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides.
  • In March 1915, with the war in Europe stalemated in the trenches, Winston Churchill, then Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, devised a plan to take control of the Dardanelles.
  • The plan was to capture strategic strait connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, and thus reach Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) at the mouth of the Bosporus.
  • By taking Constantinople, the Allies hoped to break the Turks, who had recently entered the war on the side of Germany.

The massacre

  • The Allies carried out a heavy naval bombardment of Turkish forts along the shores of the Dardanelles, and when that failed, followed up with what was the biggest amphibious landing in military history at the time.
  • However, what the British and their allies had hoped would be the turning point in the war ended up as a catastrophe.
  • In the nine months upto January 1916, when the Allies called off the campaign and evacuated, more than 40,000 British soldiers had been killed, along with 8,000 Australians. On the Turkish side, some 60,000 had perished.

Legacy of the battle

  • The battle resulted in a demotion for Churchill and the emergence on the Turkish side of the young military hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
  • But the legacy of Gallipoli goes far beyond its military aspects — the event is today one of the central pillars of the modern Turkish identity.
  • The campaign is also seen to have seeded Australian and New Zealand national consciousness — April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, is observed as ANZAC Day, the day of national remembrance for the war dead.
Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Why have LPG prices seen a sharp rise?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LPG, PM Ujjwala Scheme

Mains level : Pricing mechanism of LPG in India


 

Recently, LPG prices, which are revised on a monthly basis, went up yet again.

What influences LPG prices in India?

  • Domestic prices of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are based on a formula — the import parity price (IPP), which is based on international LPG prices.
  • Saudi Aramco’s LPG price acts as the benchmark for the IPP and includes the free-on-board price, ocean freight, customs duties, port dues and the like.
  • This dollar-denominated figure is converted into rupees before local costs — such as local freight, bottling charges, marketing costs, margins for oil marketing firms and dealer commissions and the GST — are added.
  • This helps the government arrive at the retail selling price for LPG.
  • The government resets the LPG price every month, the decision being influenced by international prices and how the rupee has behaved against the dollar in the immediately preceding weeks.

Who will the price rise affect?

  • The price increase will affect retail consumers who have given up the subsidy.
  • The government has said that for those who avail subsidy, the increase would be mostly absorbed by the rise in subsidy.
  • The Centre said the price of an unsubsidized cylinder would increase from ₹714 to ₹858.50 in Delhi, for example, and that the subsidy offered would go up from ₹153.86 to ₹291.48.
  • Of the 27.76 crore retail consumers, 26.12 crore consumers avail LPG subsidy. Likewise, for Ujjwala consumers, the subsidy would go up from ₹174.86 to ₹312.48 per cylinder.

Does this help the government move to an open pricing regime?

  • Prior to the latest round of the price increase, the government had raised LPG cylinder prices by ₹62, starting from August 2019.
  • Compare this with the increase of ₹82 that had taken place over five years to mid-2019, indicating a penchant for increasingly lesser subsidy.
  • In the latest round, though, the Centre has sought to absorb much of the increase for those availing subsidy.
  • It looks like the most recent increase has been beyond its control and it is hence raising the subsidy levels to protect consumers, given that the economy is reeling from lack of consumer spending.

What is the outlook?

  • With international crude prices on the downtrend, it is plausible the LPG prices too would see a slump.
  • Aramco has lowered its propane price for February to $505 per metric tonne.
  • Assuming we receive no surprises from the rupee-dollar tango, a softening of LPG prices in the domestic context may be expected.

What are the implications for the broader economy?

  • At a time when consumer demand, in general, for goods and services in the country has slumped, more cash in the hands of the retail consumer may have helped spur demand.
  • It is ironic that the government has had to raise LPG prices now.
  • This sucks away even more disposable income from those consumers who pay market rates for LPG. As a result, household budgets are bound to go up, especially for those not availing the subsidy.
  • The increase in LPG price could spur headline inflation even further. As it is, the consumer price index inflation has seen a rise over the past few months.
Railway Reforms

Corporate Model of Indian RailwaysPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IRCTC, Train18 etc.

Mains level : Corporate Model of Indian Railways


 

The Kashi Mahakal Express is the country’s third ‘corporate’ train after the two Tejas Express trains between Delhi-Lucknow and Mumbai-Ahmedabad started over the past few months.

A new model

  • This is a new model being actively pushed by Indian Railways- to ‘outsource’ the running of regular passengers’ trains to its PSU, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
  • This has been dubbed an ‘experiment’ as a natural extension of this model is to lease out 100 routes to private players to run 150 trains, something that is in the works.

How does the model work?

  • In this model, the corporation takes all the decisions of running the service– fare, food, onboard facilities, housekeeping, complaints etc.
  • Indian Railways is free from these encumbrances and gets to earn from IRCTC a pre-decided amount, being the owner of the network. This amount has three components- haulage, lease and custody.
  • The haulage charge IRCTC is paying for the Tejas trains is in the range of Rs 800 per kilometer.
  • This includes use of the fixed infrastructure like tracks, signalling, driver, station staff, traction and pretty much everything needed to physically move the rake.

Finances

  • On top of that IRCTC has to pay the lease charges on the rake as Indian Railways coaches are leased to its financing arm, the Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC).
  • Added to that there is a per-day custody charge, of keeping the rake safe and sound while it is in the custody of the PSU.
  • Roughly each of these components works out to be around Rs 2 lakh per day for the New Delhi-Lucknow Tejas rake.
  • In other words, IRCTC has to pay Indian Railways a sum total of these three charges, roughly Rs 14 lakh for the Lucknow Tejas runs in a day (up and down) and then factor in a profit over and above this.
  • This money is payable even if the occupancy is below expectation and the train is not doing good business.

What powers does IRCTC have?

  • Being a corporate entity with a Board of Directors and investors, IRCTC insists that the coaches it gets from Railways are new and not in a run-down condition, as is seen in many trains.
  • The quality of the coaches has a direct bearing on its business.
  • In this model, IRCTC has full flexibility to decide the service parameters and even alter them without having to go to Railway ministry or its policies.
  • To that end, the business of running trains can be run with the independence needed to run a business with profit motive.
  • This, policymakers believe creates the environment for enhanced service quality and user experience for the passengers.
  • IRCTC gets the freedom to decide even the number of stoppages it wants to afford on a route, depending on the needs of its business model.

What is Indian Railways’ benefit from this model?

  • The bright side for Indian Railways is that it doesn’t have to suffer the losses associated with running these trains thanks to under-recovery of cost due to low fares and its own hefty overheads.
  • The lease on its coaches is also taken care of.

Is this the same model for private train operators?

  • The model in which private train operators are sought to be engaged is different wherein along with haulage of Rs 668 per kilometer the operator needs to agree to revenue sharing with Railways.
  • The company willing to share the highest percentage of revenue will win the contract.
  • Private players may not need to pay lease and custody charges as it is expected that they will bring in their own rolling stock.
  • All this is because over the next five years, after the two dedicated freight corridors are operationalised and a lion’s share of freight trains move to the corridors, a lot of capacity will free up in the conventional railway lines for more passenger trains to run to cater to the demand.
  • The government wants private players and maybe also its own PSU, along with Indian Railways, to share the load of pumping in more trains into the system.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Urban Heat Islands in IndiaPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UHU effect

Mains level : UHU effect


 

A recent study from IIT Kharagpur called “Anthropogenic forcing exacerbating the urban heat islands in India” noted that the relatively warmer temperature in urban areas, compared to suburbs, may contain potential health hazards due to heat waves apart from pollution.

About the study

  • The research did study the difference between urban and surrounding rural land surface temperatures, across all seasons in 44 major cities from 2001 to 2017.
  • It found evidence of mean daytime temperature of surface urban heat island (UHI Intensity) going up to 2 degrees C for most cities, as analysed from satellite temperature measurements in monsoon and post monsoon periods.
  • Other researchers from elsewhere have also noticed similar rise in daytime temperatures in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai.

What is an Urban Heat Island?

  • An urban heat island (abbreviated as UHI) is where the temperature in a densely populated city is as much as 2 degrees higher than suburban or rural areas.
  • This happens because of the materials used for pavements, roads and roofs, such as concrete, asphalt (tar) and bricks, which are opaque, do not transmit light, but have higher heat capacity and thermal conductivity than rural areas, which have more open space, trees and grass.
  • Trees and plants are characterised by their ‘evapotranspiration’— a combination of words wherein evaporation involves the movement of water to the surrounding air, and transpiration refers to the movement of water within a plant and a subsequent lot of water through the stomata (pores found on the leaf surface) in its leaves.
  • Grass, plants and trees in the suburbs and rural areas do this. The lack of such evapotranspiration in the city leads to the city experiencing higher temperature than its surroundings.

Latent impacts

  • UHI s also decrease air quality in the cities, thanks to pollution generated by industrial and automobile exhaust, higher extent of particulate matter and greater amounts of dust than in rural areas.
  • Due to this higher temperature in urban areas, the UHI increases the colonization of species that like warm temperatures, such as lizards and geckos.
  • Insects such as ants are more abundant here than in rural areas; these are referred to as ectotherms.
  • In addition, cities tend to experience heat waves which affect human and animal health, leading to heat cramps, sleep deprivation and increased mortality rates.
  • UHIs also impact nearby water bodies, as warmer water (thanks to the pavements, rooftops and so on) is transferred from the city to drains in sewers, and released into nearby lakes and creeks, thus impairing their water quality.

Control of UHIs and mitigation

  • Industrialization and economic development are vital to the country, but the control of UHIs and their fallouts are equally vital. Towards this, several methods are being, and can be, tried.
  • One of them is to use greener rooftops, using light-coloured concrete (using limestone aggregates along with asphalt (or tar) making the road surface greyish or even pinkish (as some places in the US have done); these are 50% better than black, since they absorb less heat and reflect more sunlight.
  • Likewise, we should paint rooftops green, and install solar panels there amidst a green background.
  • The other is to plant as many trees and plants as possible

Why plant more trees?

Relevant to the present context are:

  • they combat climate change; clean the surrounding air by absorbing pollutant gases (NXOy, O3, NH3, SO2, and others) and trapping particulates on their leaves and bark;
  • they cool the city and the streets; conserve energy (cutting air-conditioning costs by 50%); save water and help prevent water pollution; help prevent soil erosion; protect people and children from UV light;
  • they offer economic opportunities; bring diverse group of people together; encourage civic pride by giving neighborhoods a new identity; mask concrete walls, thus muffling sounds from streets and highways, and eye-soothing canopy of green; and the more a business district has trees, more business follows.
Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Back in news: Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AGR

Mains level : AGR disputes of Telecom companies


The Supreme Court came down heavily on the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for issuing a notification that asked for no coercive action against telecom companies even though they had not paid the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues by the stipulated deadline.

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.

What does SC order on AGR mean?

  • The order by the top court means that the telecom companies will have to immediately clear the pending AGR dues, which amount to nearly Rs 1.47 lakh crore.
  • Vodafone Idea, which has to pay up nearly Rs 53,000 crore, faces the prospect of shutting down business.
  • Bharti Airtel, which faces a payout of more than Rs 21,000 crore, could also be in trouble for not paying the AGR dues on time.
  • Other than the telcos, non-telecom companies could also be facing huge payouts individually, which amount to total of Rs 3 lakh crore.

What exactly did the government notification say?

  • The Licensing Finance Policy Wing of the DoT last month directed all government departments to not take any action against telecom operators if they failed to clear AGR-related dues as per the Supreme Court’s order.
  • The order came as a huge relief for operators — mainly Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea — that would have otherwise faced possible contempt action for not paying dues by the deadline that ran out on that same day.

No more relief to telecoms

  • Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea together owe the telecom department Rs 88,624 crore.
  • Prior to the DoT order restraining coercive action, the companies had told the government that they would wait for the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing.
  • Reliance Jio paid up its dues of Rs 195 crore on January 23.
  • As things have turned out, however, the companies have got no relief from the Supreme Court.

What is the background of SC’s AGR order?

  • On October 24, 2019, the court had agreed with DoT’s definition of AGR, and said the companies must pay all dues along with interest and penalty.
  • Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea had tried to persuade DoT to relax the deadline and, after failing, moved the court seeking a review of its judgment.
  • The court dismissed the review petition in mid-January, and also did not extend the deadline for paying AGR dues.
  • It had, however, agreed to hear the companies’ modification plea.

Where does the government stand in this situation?

  • The payout by telecom and non-telecom companies is likely to lead to windfall gains for the central government, which could help it close some of the fiscal deficit gap for the current financial.
  • At the same time, however, the government will be under pressure to ensure that the telecom market does not turn into a duopoly if Vodafone Idea does indeed decide to shut shop.
  • It will also have to manage the payouts to be done by non-telecom companies as most of them, such as Oil India, Power Grid, Gail, and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation are public sector units.

What does this situation mean for customers and lenders?

  • If Vodafone Idea does exit, an Airtel-Jio duopoly will be created, which could lead to bigger bills, considering it was the cutthroat competition in the sector that made mobile telephony and Internet almost universally affordable.
  • The AGR issue has triggered panic in the banking industry, given that the telecom sector is highly leveraged.
  • Vodafone Idea alone has a debt of Rs 2.2 lakh crore that it has used to expand infrastructure and fund spectrum payments over the years.
  • The mutual fund industry has an exposure of around Rs 4,000 crore to Vodafone Idea.

Assist this newscard with:

Explained: Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) in Telecom Sector

Right To Privacy

System Risk Indicator (SyRI)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SyRI

Mains level : Debate over right to privacy


  • In a first anywhere in the world, a court in the Netherlands recently stopped a digital identification scheme for reasons of exclusion.
  • This has a context for similar artificial intelligence (AI) systems worldwide, especially at a time when identity, citizenship and privacy are pertinent questions in India.

SyRI

  • Last week, a Dutch district court ruled against an identification mechanism called SyRI (System Risk Indicator), because of data privacy and human rights concerns.
  • It held SyRI was too invasive and violative of the privacy guarantees given by European Human Rights Law as well as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
  • The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs developed SyRI in 2014 to weed out those who are most likely to commit fraud and receive government benefits.
  • Legislation passed by Dutch Parliament allowed government agencies to share 17 categories of data about welfare recipients such as taxes, land registries, employment records, and vehicle registrations with a private company.
  • The company used an algorithm to analyse data for four cities and calculate risk scores.

What were the arguments in court?

  • After taking into account community concerns, civil society groups and NGOs launched a legal attack on this case of algorithmic governance.
  • Legal criticism mounted, alleging that the algorithm would begin associating poverty and immigrant statuses with fraud risk.
  • The Dutch government defended the programme in court, saying it prevented abuse and acted as only a starting point for further investigation instead of a final determination.
  • The government also refused to disclose all information about how the system makes its decisions, stating that it would allow gaming of the system.
  • The court found that opaque algorithmic decision-making puts citizens at a disadvantage to challenge the resulting risk scores.
  • The Netherlands continuously ranks high on democracy indices.

How relevant is this for India?

  • Similar to the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment setting limits on the ID’s usage, the Hague Court attempted to balance social interest with personal privacy.
  • However, the Aadhaar judgment was not regarding algorithmic decision-making; it was about data collection.
  • The ruling is also an example of how a data protection regulation can be used against government surveillance.
  • India’s pending data protection regulation, being analysed by a Joint Select Committee in Parliament, would give broad exemptions to government data processing in its current form.
  • India’s proposed regulation is similar to the US in the loopholes that could be potentially exploited.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

India’s Scientific Expedition to the Southern OceanPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Southern Ocean

Mains level : Role of Southern Ocean in Climate dynamics


 

A South African oceanographic research vessel SA Agulhas set off from Port Louise in Mauritius, on a two-month Indian Scientific Expedition to the Southern Ocean 2020. Recently the vessel was at Prydz Bay, in the coastal waters of “Bharati”, India’s third station in Antarctica.

India’s polar mission

  • This is the 11th expedition of an Indian mission to the Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean.
  • The first mission took place between January and March 2004.

About the Southern Ocean expedition

  • The researchers from IITM Pune are collecting air and water samples from around 60 stations along the cruise track.
  • These will give valuable information on the state of the ocean and atmosphere in this remote environment and will help to understand its impacts on the climate.
  • A key objective of the mission is to quantify changes that are occurring and the impact of these changes on large-scale weather phenomenon, like the Indian monsoon, through tele-connection.

Why study Southern Ocean?

  • We know that carbon dioxide is getting emitted into the atmosphere, and through atmospheric circulation goes to the Antarctic and Polar Regions.
  • Since the temperature is very low there, these gases are getting absorbed and converted into dissolved inorganic carbon or organic carbon, and through water masses and circulation it is coming back to tropical regions.
  • All oceans around the world are connected through the Southern Ocean, which acts as a transport agent for things like heat across all these oceans.
  • The conveyor belt that circulates heat around the world is connected through the Southern Ocean and can have a large impact on how climate is going to change due to anthropogenic forces.

Core projects of the expedition

  • Study hydrodynamics and biogeochemistry of the Indian Ocean sector of the Southern Ocean; involves sampling seawater at different depths. This will help understand the formation of Antarctic bottom water.
  • Observations of trace gases in the atmosphere, such as halogens and dimethyl sulphur from the ocean to the atmosphere. This will help improve parameterizations that are used in global models.
  • Study of organisms called coccolithophores that have existed in the oceans for several million years; their concentrations in sediments will create a picture of past climate
  • Investigate atmospheric aerosols and their optical and radiative properties. Continuous measurements will quantify the impact on Earth’s climate.
  • Study the Southern Ocean’s impact on Indian monsoons. Look for signs in a sediment core taken from the bottom of the ocean
  • Dynamics of the food web in the Southern Ocean; important for safeguarding catch and planning sustainable fishing