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[op-ed snap] Reforming higher education

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Higher Education Commission of India, Higher Education Funding Agency

Mains level: Creation of HECI and its impact on higher education governance


Context

Draft Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill

  1. The draft Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill is now in the public domain
  2. The HECI will replace the main regulatory authority, the University Grants Commission (UGC)
  3. This is being done to provide for more autonomy and facilitate the holistic growth of this sector and offer greater opportunities to Indian students at more affordable cost

Expanse of HECI

  1. The new commission will cover all fields of education except medical and, presumably, agriculture, and institutions set up under the Central and State Acts, excluding those of national importance

Separating grant giving & academic functions

  1. There will now be a clear separation between academic functions and grant-giving ones
  2. HECI will deal with academic functions & Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) with grant-giving ones
  3. The academic functions include
  • promoting the quality of instruction and maintenance of academic standards and,
  • fostering the autonomy of higher education institutions for a comprehensive and holistic growth of education and research in a competitive global environment in an inclusive manner

Why the need for HECI?

  1. The need for a single regulatory body arose largely in the context of multiple bodies set up over the years trying to cope with the ever-increasing complexity of the sector
  2. The regime of multiple regulators started in the mid-1980s and various professional bodies also started asserting themselves as regulators from around the early 1990s when the country embraced the new challenges of liberalization, privatization, and globalization
  3. The heavy hands of multiple regulators (like the UGC and All India Council for Technical Education), together with the empowerment of professional bodies (like the Bar Council of India and Council of Architecture) have not yielded the desired dividends
  4. Mushrooming of institutions and a steady decline of standards in most of them have not done much good to the image of the government and the architecture of regulation

Ambiguity in functions

  1. On the one hand, the HECI is being conceived as an overarching regulator and on the other, it is sought to develop mechanisms so that more institutions are encouraged to move out of its regulatory ambit
  2. The proposed Bill has to be situated in the context of certain new initiatives like granting near complete autonomy to the Indian Institutes of Management, providing graded autonomy to other institutions to free them from the clutches of regulations to enable them to develop into institutions of excellence

Recent initiatives for sustainability across the higher education system

  1. There have been recent initiatives to encourage public institutions to raise user charges so that they become self-sustaining
  2. This will also allow such institutions to take a loan from the Higher Education Funding Agency to meet developmental costs
  3. These initiatives might lead to:
  • institutions to abandon courses that have hardly any job prospects and starting ones that are market-friendly which is against the very idea of higher education
  • the high fees to be paid by students for such courses might compel them to take concessional student loans which may result in the student loan crisis reaching alarming proportions on account of delay in payment and default

Structure of HECI and associated loopholes

  1. There will be a chairperson, vice-chairperson and 12 members
  2. The chairperson will be of the rank of Secretary to the Government of India
  3. The secretary of the HECI will be an officer of the rank of joint secretary and above or a reputed academic and will serve as its member-secretary
  4. The secretary, higher education is envisaged to don many hats, serving as a member of the search-cum-selection committee of the chairperson and vice-chairperson, then processing their appointment as a key functionary of the government, and finally acting as a member of the HECI
  5. Such multiplicity of roles may create difficulties and conflict of interest

Way forward

  1. Despite some apparent infirmities, the proposed Bill shows the resolve of the government to move forward in reforming the sector
  2. Major issues like making the universities the hub of scientific and technological research, restoring the value of education in social sciences and the humanities, ensuring that poor and meritorious students can afford to be educated in subjects of their choice, improving the quality of instruction to enhance the employability of the students, addressing the concerns of faculty shortage, etc. need to be addressed
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Govt accepts 5-point plan to resolve NPAs, rules out bad bank

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets- Project Sashakt

Mains level: NPA problem and solution


News

The government agreed to a five-pronged strategy to resolve toxic loans, with the larger ones among them going to an asset management company (AMC) or an alternative investment fund (AIF).

I. Project Sashakt to resolve NPA crisis

  1. Finance minister accepted the report by a committee of bankers set up in this regard, that the strategy, called Project Sashakt.
  2. It will help retain the value of the asset through an operational turnaround.

II. No Bad Banks

  1. There is no proposal to create a bad bank, and Project Sashakt does not require any regulatory forbearance.
  2. A bad bank is a new company created to buy poorly-performing assets from another bank.

III. Project Sashakt outlines the resolution of bad loans depending on their size

  1. Bad loans of up to ₹50 crore will be managed by a focused vertical to be set up at the bank level itself, which will ensure the loan is resolved within 90 days.
  2. For bad loans of ₹50-500 crore, banks will enter into an inter-creditor agreement, authorizing the lead bank to implement a resolution plan within 180 days, which includes appointing turnaround specialists. If the lead bank does not complete the process in time, the asset would be referred to National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
  3. For loans above ₹500 crore, the committee has recommended setting up an independent AMC supported by institutional funding in stressed assets or an AIF.

IV. AMCs to consolidate Stressed Assets

  1. The idea is to help consolidate stressed assets under the AMC model for better and faster decision making.
  2. There can be more than one AMC, completely market-driven with small equity required.
  3. No capital is required from the government. Investors can come and invest. It would be an open process.

V. New role for NCLT

  1. Bigger loans which cannot be resolved through any of the above methods will be transferred to the NCLT for resolution under the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code (IBC)
  2. The committee also recommended an asset trading platform for both performing and non-performing assets.
NPA Crisis

A 216-foot-tall celebration of Ramanuja

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Arts and Culture| Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of Ramanujacharya’s philosophy

Mains level:  Bhakti Movement and Contribution of Ramanujacharya


News

Millennium Celebration of Ramanujacharya

  1. The world’s second tallest statue of a seated figure, at 216 feet of Bhakti saint Ramanujacharya is to be inaugurated in Hyderabad, named as “Statue of Equality”
  2. Currently, the Great Buddha of Thailand is the tallest statue, at 302-feet.
  3. Once the Ramanujacharya statue is unveiled, it will become the second tallest, a distinction now held by the Guanyin figure on Mount Xiqiao in China’s Guangdong region, at 203 feet.

Back2Basics

Ramanuja (1017–1137 AD)

  1. Rāmānuja’s philosophical foundation was qualified monism and is called Vishishtadvaita in the Hindu tradition.
  2. His ideas are one of three subschools in Vedānta, the other two are known as Ādi Shankara’s Advaita (absolute monism) and Madhvāchārya’s Dvaita (dualism)
  3. Important writings include:
  • Vedārthasangraha (literally, “Summary of the Vedas meaning”),
  • Sri Bhāshya (a review and commentary on the Brahma Sutras),
  • Bhagavad Gita Bhāshya (a review and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita), and
  • the minor works titled Vedāntapida, Vedāntasāra, Gadya Trayam (which is a compilation of three texts called the Saranāgati Gadyam, Sriranga Gadyam and the Srivaikunta Gadyam), and Nitya Grantham.
History- Important places, persons in news

2021 census data to be stored electronically

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Population & associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Census of India

Mains level: Read the attached story


News

Electronic format

  1. The data collected during the 2021 Census will be stored electronically, the first time since the decennial exercise was conducted in 1951 in Independent India.
  2. According to an amended rule notified by the Registrar General of India (RGI), “The schedules and other connected papers shall be disposed of totally or in part by the Director of Census Operations, after creating an electronic record of such documents.”

Any tampering will be a Punishable Offence

  1. Till now the “schedules” (a tabular form containing details of individuals), carried by enumerators to households, were being stored in a physical form at the government’s storehouse in Delhi.
  2. It is based on these schedules that the relevant statistical information on population, language, and occupation are sorted and published.
  3. The records running into crores of pages were occupying space in the government office and it has now been decided that they will be stored in an electronic format.
  4. Any tampering with the data will invite punishment under the Information Technology Act, 2000

Gearing Up for 2021 Census

  1. Enumerators will start “house listing” in 2020 and the headcount will begin from February 2021 onwards.
  2. An individual’s household data is not published by the RGI. They are published in the form of tables on the Census website. The data is preserved for 10 years and then it is destroyed.
  3. From 2021 Census it will be stored forever in electronic format.
Digital India Initiatives

[pib] India gets its 37th UNESCO World Heritage Site

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Arts and Culture| Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Intangible Cultural Heritage, UNESCO

Mains level: India’s rich cultural treasure and ways to preserve it


News

  1. India’s nomination of the “Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai” has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
  2. The decision was taken at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO at Manama in Bahrain today.
  3. This achievement is especially remarkable in the view of the successive inscription of another Indian city after Ahmedabad last year

About the Ensembles

  1. Together, this architectural ensemble represents the most remarkable collection of Victorian and Art Deco buildings in the world which forms the unique character of this urban setting, unparalleled in the world.
  2. The Ensemble consists of 94 buildings primarily of 19th century Victorian Gothic revival and early 20th century Art Deco style of architecture with the Oval Maidan in the centre.
  3. The 19th century Victorian buildings form part of the larger Fort precinct situated to the east of the Oval Maidan.
  4. These public buildings include the Old Secretariat (1857-74), University Library and Convention Hall (1874-78), the Bombay High Court (1878), the Public Works Department Office (1872), Watson’s Hotel (1869), David Sasoon Library (1870), the Elphinstone College(1888), etc.
  5. The Art Deco styled buildings to the west of the Oval Maidan were raised in early 20th century on the newly reclaimed lands at Marine Drive and symbolised the shift in expression to represent contemporary aspirations.

Criteria for Inscription:

  1. The inscription has been done under Criteria (ii) and (iv) as defined in the UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines.
  2. Criterion (ii) refers to the important interchange of human values, over a span of time on development of architecture, monumental arts, town planning and landscape.
  3. Criterion (iv) refers to being an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage (s) in human history.

UNESCO World Heritage Properties in India

  1. In the past 5 years alone, India has managed to get inscribed seven of its properties/sites on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
  2. India now has overall 37 World Heritage Inscriptions with 29 Cultural, 07 Natural and 01 Mixed sites.
  3. While India stands second largest in number after China in terms of number of World Heritage properties in ASPAC (Asia and Pacific) region, it is overall sixth in the world.

Benefits of this International Recognition

This achievement is expected to give a tremendous fillip to domestic and international tourism leading to increased employment generation, creation of world-class infrastructure and augmentation of sale of local handicrafts, handlooms and heritage memorabilia.


Back2Basics

UNESCO

  1. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris.
  2. Its declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms etc.
  3. UNESCO implements its activities through the five programme areas: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information.
  4. It designates projects and places of cultural and scientific significance, such as:
  • Global Geoparks Network
  • Biosphere reserves (Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB), since 1971)
  • City of Literature
  • Endangered languages and linguistic diversity projects
  • Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
  • Memory of the World International Register, since 1997
  • Water resources management (International Hydrological Programme (IHP), since 1965)
  • World Heritage sites
  • World Digital Library

UNESCO World Heritage Committee

  1. The World Heritage Committee selects the sites to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger.
  2. It monitors the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties.
  3. It is composed of 21 states parties that are elected by the General Assembly of States Parties for a four-year term.
  4. India is NOT a member of this Committee.
  5. Recently, its 42nd meeting in 2018 was held in Manama Bahrain.
Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

[pib] PM reviews progress towards holistic development of islands

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: IDA

Mains level: Development of Islands


News

Holistic development of Islands

  1. NITI Aayog made a presentation on the elements of holistic development, including key infrastructure projects, digital connectivity, green energy, desalination plants, waste management, promotion of fisheries, and tourism-based projects.
  2. PM asked for exploring the possibility of seaweed cultivation, and other initiatives which could be of help for the agriculture sector.
  • Status of work on Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  1. Reviewing the work done in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, PM emphasized on the need for developing an integrated tourism-centric ecosystem, in the areas identified for tourism development.
  2. He called for expeditious pursuit of energy self-sufficiency in the islands, which could be based on solar energy.
  3. Ministry of Home Affairs dispenses the requirement of Restricted Area Permit for foreigners visiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  4. Greater connectivity of these islands with South East Asia was also discussed.
  • Status of work on Lakshadweep Islands

During the review of development work in Lakshadweep, the PM was apprised of the steps taken to boost Tuna fishing and the promotion of “Lakshadweep Tuna” as a brand.


 Back2Basics

Island Development Agency

  1. IDA was set up in June 2017 following Prime Minister’s review meeting for the holistic development of islands.
  2. The meetings of the agency are chaired by the Union Home Minister.
  3. Members of IDA include cabinet secretary, the home secretary, secretary (environment, forests and climate change), secretary (tourism) and secretary (tribal welfare)

First Meeting

  • Its first meeting directions were given to identify and execute infrastructure and connectivity projects together with provisioning of water and electricity.
  • 10 islands namely Smith, Ross, Aves, Long and Little Andaman in Andaman & Nicobar and Minicoy, Bangaram, Suheli, Cherium and Tinnakara in Lakshadweep have been identified for holistic development in the first phase.

Second Meeting

  • It reviewed concept development plans and detailed master plans for holistic development of 9 islands.
  • These 9 islands include four in Andaman & Nicobar Islands (Smith, Ross, Long, Avis) and five in Lakshadweep (Minicoy, Bangaram, Thinnakara, Cheriyam, Suheli).

Third Meeting

  • It reviewed the progress made towards the preparation of Development Plans for identified Islands (four in A&N Islands i.e. Smith, Ross, Long, Avis and five in Lakshadweep i.e. Minicoy, Bangaram, Thinnakara, Cheriyam, Suheli).
  • For these Islands, Final Site Suitability Reports have been prepared, Carrying Capacity determined and Environmental zoning carried out to ensure sustainable development.

[pib] NITI Aayog partners with GNFC Ltd to implement Fertilizer Subsidy Disbursement through Blockchain Technology

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Issues related to direct & indirect farm subsidies & minimum support prices

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Application of Blockchain Technology

Mains level: Use of Blockchain Technology in transferring Fertilizer Subsidy and its benefits.


News

Use of Blockchain Technology (BCT) in Subsidy Disbursement

  1. NITI Aayog and Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers & Chemicals Limited (GNFC) have signed a Statement of Intent (SOI) today to work towards implementing a Proof-of-Concept (“PoC”) application using Blockchain Technology for fertilizer subsidy management.
  2. They will jointly develop the use case, undertake research, interact with multiple stakeholders, develop Blockchain solutions, exchange learnings, organize forums, and disseminate learnings across their networks.
  3. This will enable NITI Aayog to suggest policy recommendations and actions in strengthening the subsidy mechanism, making it more transparent and immune to leakages.

Present Fertiliser situation in the country

  1. Fertilizer units manufacture approximately 31 Million MT of fertilizers across country, where total approximately Rs. 70,000 Cr. of subsidy is disbursed to the manufacturing units.
  2. The subsidy disbursal takes two to three months’ time.
  3. There are multiple entities involved in the verification process, and the transaction process is very cumbersome which has the potential to be automated to give significant efficiency gains.

How would Blockchain Technology help?

  1. Blockchain platform has inherent characteristics of distributed computing and ledger keeping of transactions i.e. confidentiality, authenticity, non-repudiation, data integrity, and data availability.
  2. Overall implementation ensures that there is no dependence on intermediary agencies to prove the validity of transactions and resulting subsidy claims.
  3. The blockchain based process will also use Smart Contracts which will enable quick and accurate reconciliation of transactions between multiple parties with minimal human intervention.
  4. Implementation platform is such that process transparency is evident, transactions cannot be altered and audit trails of transactions are available.
Fertilizer Sector reforms – NBS, bio-fertilizers, Neem coating, etc.

IMF suggests India three steps to sustain high growth rate

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions, agencies & fora, their structure, mandate

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Monetary Fund

Mains level: Steps that need to be taken to sustain high growth momentum in India


News

Projections for India

  1. The International Monetary Fund suggested India can sustain high growth rate by carrying out banking sector reforms, simplifying and streamline GST, and renewing impetus on reforms
  2. Growth is projected at 7.4% in FY 2018-19 and 7.8 percent in FY 19-20, respectively

Suggested measures

To revive a bank credit and enhance the efficiency of credit provision

  • by accelerating the cleanup of the bank and corporate balance sheets and enhancing the governance of public sector banks

To continue fiscal consolidation and to lower elevated public debt levels

  • This needs to be supported by simplifying and streamlining the goods and services tax (GST) structure

Over the medium-term, renew impetus to reforms of key markets

  • Labor and land, as well as improving the overall business climate would be crucial to improving competitiveness maintaining high level of growth in India
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

Global funding watchdog hands 10-point plan to Pakistan

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions, agencies & fora, their structure, mandate

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: FATF

Mains level: International initiatives to combat terror financing and black money


News

FATF action on Pakistan

  1. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has unanimously agreed to put into effect its February decision to place Pakistan in the greylist for inaction against terror funding
  2. It has laid out a 10-point action plan for compliance with its guidelines
  3. Pakistan’s failure in implementing the elaborate action plan may result in it being included in the blacklist next year

Important highlights of the plan

  1. The country has been instructed to take measures demonstrating that UN-designated terrorists and banned terror outfits are deprived of their resources and their sources of funding are choked
  2. Pakistan will have to take steps to ensure that terror funding risks are properly identified, assessed and that supervision is applied on a risk-sensitive basis
  3. It will also be required to show that remedial measures are being taken to prevent financial institutions from indulging in money laundering and terror funding
  4. The country will have to take stringent action against illegal financial operations, identify cash couriers and enforce controls on illicit movement of currency

Back2Basics

Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

  1. FATF is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 by the Ministers of its Member jurisdiction
  2. The FATF is a “policy-making body” which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in these areas
  3. The objectives of the FATF are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system
  4. The FATF has developed a series of Recommendations that are recognised as the international standard for combating of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
  5. The FATF monitors the progress of its members in implementing necessary measures, reviews money laundering and terrorist financing techniques and counter-measures, and promotes the adoption and implementation of appropriate measures globally
  6. The FATF’s decision-making body, the FATF Plenary, meets three times per year
Black Money – Domestic and International Efforts

RBI steps in as rupee hits record low

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Effects of liberalization on the economy

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RBI tools for maintaining the value of rupee, current vs capital account convertibility

Mains level: Impact of global factors on the price of Indian currency & overall economy


News

Rupee hits a record low

  1. The rupee breached the 69-a-dollar mark for the first time ever in early trade
  2. This prompted the central bank to intervene in the currency market that enabled the domestic unit to cut losses
  3. It is estimated to have sold dollars about $700-800 million through state-owned banks

Reasons for fall of rupee

  1. Rising crude oil prices
  2. Looming trade war fears
  3. Capital outflows from the emerging markets
  4. Markets were partly under pressure due to the derivatives expiry

RBI intervention

  1. India’s $ 413 billion foreign exchange reserves act as a cushion
  2. RBI intervenes to cut volatility in currency prices

Back2Basics

Read more about Capital & Current account convertibility here:

Capital and Current Account Convertibility in India

Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

Rising temperature to cut living standards of 600 million Indians

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Geography | changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies & ice-caps) & in flora & fauna & the effects of such changes.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Actual impact of climate change on India in coming years


News

One-third Indians at risk

  1. Six hundred million Indians could see a dip in living standards by 2050 if temperatures continue to rise at their current pace
  2. India’s average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1°C to 2°C by 2050, even if preventive measures are taken along the lines of those recommended by the Paris climate change agreement of 2015
  3. If no measures are taken, average temperatures in India are predicted to increase by 1.5°C to 3°C

Impact on states

  1. Seven of the 10 severest or most vulnerable ‘hotspots’ in India would be located in Maharashtra
  2. The rest would be in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh
  3. In the absence of major climate mitigation, nearly 148 million Indians will be living in these severe hotspots in 2050

Basis for study

  1. Economists at the World Bank correlated these climate projections with household consumption data (a proxy for living standards) in Nepal, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and extrapolated it to 2050
  2. Using publicly available climate models that project how rising temperatures will affect rainfall and seasons, the researchers conclude that if emissions continued at the current pace, India could see a 1.5% decline in its GDP by 2030
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[pib] Development without Felling/Cutting of Trees

Note4students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NBCC

Mains level: Example of re-location and transplantation of trees at mass level 


News

  1. Last weekend, over 1,500 people protested in South Delhi against the proposed cutting of over 14,000 trees for a project by the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC).
  2. The NBCC/CPWD will re-work the design and plans for the remaining redevelopment of the 7 GPRA colonies to avoid felling/cutting of trees.

Tree Re-location and Transplantation

  1. NBCC has already floated an Expression of Interest for the acquisition of tree re-location/transplantation equipment and for engaging services of trained professional entities in this respect.
  2. Further, Citizens groups will be invited to suggest where transplanted trees will be planted.
  3. It may be clarified that these will not be saplings but trees of 8-12 feet height.
  4. The LG of Delhi has been advised to set up a Group of Experts/concerned citizens to interact on environmental issues and for specific further actions to be taken in respect of these colonies.

Back2Basics

National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited (NBCC)

  1. It is a Navratna organization under category I, is a Central Public Sector undertaking which trades publicly in the market and is largely owned by Government of India.
  2. It engages in the Real Estate Development & Construction business and also provides Project Management Consultancy.
  3. NBCC has also undertaken overseas projects in countries like Iraq, Libya, Nepal, Mauritius, Turkey, Botswana, Republic of Maldives, Republic of Yemen et al.
  4. NBCC is also designated as the implementing agency for executing projects under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY), Solid Waste Management (SWM) and developmental work in North Eastern Region.
Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

[pib] NITI Aayog to Release First Delta Ranking under the Aspirational Districts Programme

Note4students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Aspirational District Programme, Delta Ranking

Mains level: Read the attached story.


 News

Delta Ranking

  1. NITI Aayog will release the First Delta Ranking of the Aspirational Districts Programme
  2. The ranking will measure the incremental progress made by districts between March 31, 2018, and May 31, 2018.
  3. The districts have been ranked in a transparent basis on parameters across Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure through 49 key performance indicators.
  4. The rankings are publicly available through the Champions of Change Dashboard, which includes data entered on a real-time basis at the district level.
  5. The Delta ranking seeks to highlight the Districts who have achieved incremental progress between the months of March 2018 and May 2018.

Back2Basics

Aspirational District Programme

  1. The Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) is a essential retreat from India’s previous development strategies in its ownership, scope, and scale based on “One-size-fits-all” approach.
  2. 115 districts were chosen by senior officials of the Union government in consultation with State officials on the basis of a composite index of the following:
  • deprivation enumerated under the Socio-Economic Caste Census,
  • key health and education performance indicators and the state of basic infrastructure
  1. A minimum of one district was chosen from every State.
  2. The areas under the programme that have been targeted for transformation are education, health and nutrition, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion, basic infrastructure and skills.
  3. There is no financial package or large allocation of funds to this programme
  4. Its aim is to leverage the resources of the several government programmes that already exist but are not always used efficiently.
NITI Aayog’s Assessment

Centre proposes new body to replace UGC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the draft HECI, UGC, TSR Subramanian Committee Reforms

Mains level: Considering the ineffectiveness of UGC, the idea of setting up HECI has come forward to improve the scope of regulation of Educational Institutions.


 News

The Centre has placed in the public domain a draft Bill for a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) – aimed at replacing the University Grants Commission – for eliciting suggestions from educationists.

Draft Higher Education Commission of India – a Regulator

  1. HECI is tasked with the mandate of improving academic standards with specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers, promote use of educational technology.
  2. The draft HECI India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Act, 2018, takes away funding powers from the proposed regulator and gives it powers to ensure academic quality and even close down bogus institutions.
  3. HECI will be in charge of ensuring academic quality in universities and colleges, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) – or another mechanism that will be put in place later – will be responsible for funding universities and colleges.
  4. Once UGC is replaced by HECI, the technical education regulator AICTE and the teachers’ education regulator NCTE will also be reformed on similar lines.
  5. The new regime separates the academic and funding aspects of higher education.

Shutting Bogus Institutions

  1. The Regulator will have powers to enforce compliance to the academic quality standards and will have the power to order closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions.
  2. It will develop norms for setting standards for opening and closure of institutions, provide for greater flexibility and autonomy to institutions, lay standards for appointments to critical leadership positions at the institutional level irrespective of university started under any law (including state list).
  3. Non-compliance could result in fines or even a jail sentence.
  4. Till now, the UGC had no such powers. All it could do was to release a list of bogus institutions and not recognise their degrees.

Who will be the new staff?

  1. UGC staff would be retrained to adapt to the HECI regime, which will be fully digital and would do away with file work.
  2. The HECI will have a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and 12 other members, including ex-officio members, eminent academics and a doyen of industry.

Back2Basics

UGC (University Grants Commission)

  1. The University Grants Commission of India (UGC India) is a statutory body set up by the Indian Union government in accordance to the UGC Act 1956 under Ministry of Human Resource Development.
  2. The UGC has two primary responsibilities:
  • providing funds to educational institutions; and
  • coordinating, determining and maintaining standards in institutions of higher education.

Its main functions are:

  • promoting and coordinating education in universities,
  • determining and maintaining standards for teaching, examination and research in universities,
  • framing regulations on minimum standards for education,
  • disbursing grants to universities and colleges,
  • liaising between the CG, State governments and higher educational institutions, and
  • advising the CG and State governments on possible policy measures to improve higher education in India.
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[pib] Additional 6.5MMT Strategic Petroleum Reserves at Chandikhol in Odisha and at Padur, Karnataka

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Indian Economy| Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, and Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Locations of SPR

Mains level: Initiatives for ensuring energy security


 News

  1. The Union Cabinet has approved establishment of additional 6.5 Million Metric Tonne (MMT) Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) facilities at two locations, i.e. Chandikhol in Odisha and Padur in Karnataka, including construction of dedicated SPMs (Single Point Mooring) for the two SPRs.
  2. The SPR facilities at Chandikhol and Padur will be underground rock caverns and will have capacities of 4 MMT and 2.5 MMT respectively.

Generating more employment through PPP

  1. The in-principle approval is to take up the project under PPP model to reduce budgetary support of Government of India.
  2. The terms and conditions of such participation would be determined by M/oP&NG in consultation with Ministry of Finance after conducting road shows to elicit requirements of the market, including prospective investors.
  3. The construction phase of the SPRs is likely to generate significant direct & indirect employment opportunities in the states of Odisha and Karnataka.

Back2Basics

Strategic Petroleum Reserve Programme

  1. The Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserve (ISPR) is an emergency fuel store.
  2. Strategic crude oil storages are at 3 underground locations in Mangalore, Visakhapatnam and Padur (near Udupi).
  3. All these are located on the east and west coasts of India which are readily accessible to the refineries.
  4. These strategic storages are in addition to the existing storages of crude oil and petroleum products with the oil companies and serve in response to external supply disruptions.
  5. FM Arun Jaitley in his 2017-18 budget speech has announced that two more such caverns will be set up Chandikhole in Jajpur district of Odisha and Bikaner in Rajasthan as part of the second phase.
Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Maternity perks may cost 1.8 million Indian women their jobs

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Role of women & women’s organization

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Maternity Benefits Law

Mains level: Impact of increased duration of maternity leave on the indusctrial sector as well as women workforce and reasons behind low participation of women in workforce


News

Opposite effect of Maternity law

  1. A new law to improve maternity benefits for women in India’s workforce and encourage them to further their careers is likely to have the opposite effect
  2. The law, which makes India the most progressive country after Canada and Norway in enabling women to stay on in the workforce, will probably lead to job losses and discourage smaller businesses and start-ups from hiring women
  3. Maternity Benefits Law entitles women working in the organized sector to 26 weeks paid maternity leave, up from 12 weeks

Job losses to happen

  1. An estimated 1.1 million to 1.8 million women will lose their jobs across 10 sectors in the financial year to March 2019 because of the law
  2. If this estimate is computed across all the sectors, the job loss number would be an estimated 10-12 million across all sectors
  3. Post-maternity retention could cost 80 percent to 90 percent of the annual salary for white-collar employees, and up to 135 percent of annual salary for blue-collar employees

Share of women in workforce decreasing

  1. The share of women in the workforce has shrunk to around 24 per cent in the fiscal year ended 2016 from 36 percent a decade earlier
  2. McKinsey and Co. estimates more than $700 billion could be added to the country’s gross domestic product by 2025 if more women were in jobs

Reasons behind shrinking women workforce

  1. In socially conservative India, women are often discouraged from pursuing a career
  2. Better-educated women from wealthier families aren’t encouraged to work and it’s usually when a man’s salary falls short that a woman seeks a job
  3. Many drop out to take care of older family members or children
Women empowerment issues: Jobs,Reservation and education

India votes against draft decision on chemical weapons use at OPCW meet

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions, agencies & fora, their structure, mandate

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Chemical Weapons Convention

Mains level: India’s track record in nuclear disarmament and its current position across various international groupings and organizations


News

Addressing the threat from chemical weapons

  1. India has voted against the draft decision on addressing the threat from chemical weapons use at a special conference of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
  2. India has a view that the draft decision of such far-reaching importance and implications should be the end result of a comprehensive and extensive consultation
  3. India believes that on an issue of such grave importance, the consultations conducted by the sponsors remain incomplete

About the conference

  1. The conference has been called by the UK, the US and the West to have discussions on upholding the global ban against the use of chemical weapons
  2. The UK has reportedly proposed to consider empowering the OPCW to identify the organization or government responsible for chemical attacks in addition to its existing power of carrying out the investigation into such cases
  3. The special session is being held in the backdrop of the widespread concern over reports of use of chemical weapons in Malaysia, the UK, Northern Ireland, Syria and Iraq

Chemical Weapons Convention

  1. The global ban against chemical weapons is the fundamental goal for which the Chemical Weapons Convention has been adopted
  2. The use of chemical weapons is reprehensible and contrary to the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention

Back2Basics

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

  1. OPCW is an intergovernmental organization and the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force on 29 April 1997
  2. The OPCW, with its 193 member states, has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands, and oversees the global endeavor for the permanent and verifiable elimination of chemical weapons
  3. The organization promotes and verifies the adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the use of chemical weapons and requires their destruction
  4. Verification consists both of evaluation of declarations by member states and onsite inspections
  5. The OPCW has the power to say whether chemical weapons were used in an attack it has investigated
  6. The organization was awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons”
Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

India prepares quest to find a trillion-dollar nuclear fuel on the Moon

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science and Technology| Awareness in the fields of Space

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Helium-3

Mains level: Read the attached story


News

India’s hunt for Helium-3 Isotope on Moon

  1. India’s space program wants to go to the south side of the moon.
  2. India is planning to study the potential for mining a source of waste-free nuclear energy that could be worth trillions of dollars.
  3. The mission would solidify India’s place among the fleet of explorers racing to the moon, Mars and beyond for scientific, commercial or military gains.
  4. The rover landing is one step in an envisioned series for ISRO that includes putting a space station in orbit and, potentially, an Indian crew on the moon.
  5. The government has yet to set a timeframe.

Helium-3

  1. Solar winds have bombarded the moon with immense quantities of helium-3 because it’s not protected by a magnetic field like Earth is.
  2. The presence of helium-3 was confirmed in moon samples returned by the Apollo missions, and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who walked on the moon in December 1972, is an avid proponent of mining helium-3.
  3. That isotope is limited on Earth yet so abundant on the moon that it theoretically could meet global energy demands for 250 years if harnessed.
  4. It is thought that this isotope could provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor since it is not radioactive and would not produce dangerous waste products.
  5. That’s enough to meet the world’s current energy demands for at least two, and possibly as many as five centuries.
  6. An estimated value of helium-3 is about $5 billion a ton, meaning 250,000 tons would be worth in the trillions of dollars.

Initiative by other countries

  1. China is the only country to put a lander and rover on the moon this century with its Chang’e 3 mission in 2013. The nation plans to return later this year by sending a probe to the unexplored far side.
  2. In the U.S., President Donald Trump signed a directive calling for astronauts to return to the moon, and NASA’s proposed $19 billion budget this fiscal year calls for launching a lunar orbiter by the early 2020s.
  3. The US equivalent of NASA will launch a rover in October to explore virgin territory on the lunar surface and analyze crust samples for signs of water and helium-3.

ISRO’s budget more economic than any other

  1. ISRO’s estimated budget is less than a 10th of US – about $1.7 billion – as accomplishing feats on the cheap has been a hallmark of the agency since the 1960s.
  2. The upcoming mission will cost about $125 million – or less.

What is India’s mission

  1. The Chandrayaan-1 craft, launched in October 2008, completed more than 3,400 orbits and ejected a probe that discovered molecules of water in the surface for the first time.
  2. The upcoming launch of Chandrayaan-2 includes an orbiter, lander and a rectangular rover.
  3. The six-wheeled vehicle, powered by solar energy, will collect information for at least 14 days and cover an area with a 400-meter radius.
  4. The rover will send images to the lander, and the lander will transmit those back to ISRO for analysis.
  5. A primary objective, though, is to search for deposits of helium-3.

Major Hurdles

  1. To be sure, there are numerous obstacles to overcome before the material can be used – including the logistics of collection and delivery back to Earth and building fusion power plants to convert the material into energy.
  2. Those costs will be very high.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

ICSSR’s new vision: make research relevant to policy

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ICCSR and its vision document IMPRESS

Mains level: The newscard highlights the need of policy imperatives to accurately target its beneficiaries. This can be achieved with the help of making social researches more tactful.


News

For Policies to be impactful and ‘IMPRESS’ive

  1. For making research projects move from “pure ideological research” to one that is in sync with policy imperatives, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) has suggested key measures
  2. The apex social science research body has formulated a blueprint of key areas for future research.
  3. It has sent a vision document called IMPRESS (Impactful Policy Research in Social Sciences) to the government.

Why such move?

  1. Social science research should focus on areas that can link research to pressing policy needs of the time.
  2. Social science is close to society and research in it should contribute to solving the problems we face.

Identifying Thrust areas

  1. The document shared with the government identifies many thrust areas.
  2. These include research proposals on public-private partnerships, food security, Make In India (a key policy initiative of the present government), federalism, regionalism and its implications, etc.
  3. Significantly, one of the thrust areas mentioned in the document is the idea of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies, another idea supported by the present government.
  4. Fake news, paid news and media ownership also figure among the thrust areas for research.
  5. These also include agrarian issues, farmers’ distress, agricultural growth, poverty alleviation, revitalization of manufacturing, trade and investment policy, liberalization and lost opportunities, etc.

Back2Basics

Indian Council of Social Science

  1. Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) was established in the year of 1969 by the Government of India to promote research in social sciences in the country.
  2. Its one of the important function is to advise the Government of India on all matters pertaining to social science research as may be referred to it from time to time, and take such measures generally as may be necessary from time to time to promote social science research and its utilization.

[op-ed snap] Plastic-free India is a nudge away

 Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Plastic Waste Management Rules (2016), Nudge theory

Mains level: The editorial discusses how nudge theory can be implemented in reducing usage of plastic


Context

Change in Plastic Waste Management Rules

  1. The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change amended the Plastic Waste Management Rules (2016)
  2. According to the amendment, manufacturers, suppliers, and sellers of plastic (and plastic products) across the nation will now be required to phase out, over a period of two years, all such products which have no alternative use or are non-recyclable and non-energy recoverable
  3. This move was preceded by a state-wide ban in Maharashtra on the manufacture, usage, sale (wholesale and retail), distribution, storage and import of plastic bags and all disposable products made out of plastic

Impact of the ban on average Indian citizen

  1. To the people employed in the industry, it could mean the shutdown of factories and potential job losses
  2. To the consumer, it would mean choosing between alternatives that are either too expensive, impractical or not as easily available
  3. The unrealistic timeline for the implementation of the plastic ban has caught all stakeholders unawares, making it extremely difficult to comply with

An end-to-end approach to eradicate the use and sale of plastic

NUDGING CONSUMERS

  • The government can nudge rather than coerce citizens to demand and use less plastic
  • A “nudge”, as Nobel laureate Richard Thaler defines it, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives
  • One way of doing this would be to give discounts to customers who bring their own bags, or reward points for not requesting a plastic bag—as opposed to fining, penalizing, or charging high prices
  • Normative social influence bias can be leveraged to nudge Indian citizens away from plastic
  • This bias taps into people’s intrinsic urge to conform and be liked by those around them
  • Another nudge, which has been extremely successful globally in donation scenarios, is the “opt-out model”
  • Here, customers would by default be considered as opted-in for non-plastic items, forcing them to manually opt-out to choose otherwise

Way forward

  1. In 2025, it is estimated that the annual input of plastic waste from land to ocean will be over 16 million metric tons—almost 100 bags of plastic per foot of coastline in the world
  2. Estimated 60-95% of this marine pollution comes from land-based sources (primarily plastic), resulting in the death of 100,000 marine mammals annually, apart from killing millions of birds and fish
  3. India has indeed taken a step in the right direction, with 18 states and Union territories having imposed a complete ban on plastic
  4. But we also need to realize that a ban can only be a means to an end, and not the end itself
Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc