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.

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

[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

Air Pollution

Toxic air is causing malnutrition in trees

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Mycorrhizal fungi

Mains level: The newscard discusses impacts of air pollution on Trees.


News

Trend in Europe is alarming

  1. Besides affecting human health, air pollution is also causing malnutrition in trees by harming a fungus that is important for providing mineral nutrients to tree roots, finds a new study.
  2. Mycorrhizal fungi are hosted by the trees in their roots to receive nutrients from the soil.
  3. These fungi provide essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from soil in exchange for carbon from the tree.
  4. This plant-fungal symbiotic relationship is crucial for the health of the tree.
  5. However, high levels of the nutrition elements like nitrogen and phosphorus in the mycorrhizae change them to act as pollutants rather than nutrients.

Impact of the malnutrition

  1. The signs of malnutrition can be seen in the form of discolored leaves and excessive falling of leaves.
  2. This leaves forests vulnerable to pests, disease and climate change.
  3. The researchers noted that ecosystem changes can negatively affect tree health.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] Outcomes of 13th Executive Committee meeting of National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG)

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Clean Ganga Mission, Ganga Mitra

Mains level: Enhancing Clean Ganga Mission


News

2019 Kumbh Mela, Allahabad

  1. In the run-up to the upcoming Kumbh Mela 2019 in Allahabad, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) in its 13th Executive Committee meeting approved two projects for community toilets and procurement of dustbins.
  2. More than 12 crore people are expected to attend the Mela and NMCG is committed to ensuring that pollutants are not dumped into river Ganga.

Cultivation of Medicinal Plants

  1. A project for the promotion of cultivation of medicinal plants indigenous to the Ganga Basin, along the River Ganga in Uttar Pradesh has been approved.
  2. So far, 8 species of medicinal plants have been identified which will be planted during the project. These are Vach, Kalmegh, Shatavari, Tulsi, Arjuna, Khas-Khas grass, Bel and Sarpgandha.
  3. The expected outcomes of the project are improved soil health, reduction in water pollution, livelihood and increase in farmers income through diversification for high-value medicinal plants.

Training of the Ganga Mitras

  1. In an attempt to develop a self-sufficient cadre for the Clean Ganga Mission at the grassroots level, one pilot project for training of the Ganga Mitras has been approved.
  2. Once trained, the main task of Ganga Mitras will be to promote eco-tourism, spread public awareness among school children in particular and local people in general, develop green belts in their localities etc.
  3. The Ganga Mitras will be trained in specialized water testing, sources of pollution and the adverse impact of pollution on health etc.
  4. The nomenclature of the Ganga Mitras is also used by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) who has trained some local people. The development of Ganga Mitras by NMCG will be an addition to the WWF efforts.

Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

[op-ed snap] Reduce, segregate: On plastic ban

 Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Environment Day, Bureau of Indian Standards

Mains level: Scourge of plastic waste in India & world and methods that can reduce it


Context

Plastic ban in Maharashtra

  1. Maharashtra has put a ban on several consumer articles made of plastic, after a three-month notice period to industry and users
  2. It is being termed as naturally disruptive and extreme

Need for reducing plastic usage

  1. Today, stemming the plastic tide is a national imperative
  2. India hosted this year’s World Environment Day and PM Modi made a high-profile pledge, to international acclaim, that it would do away with all single-use plastics by 2022
  3. Worldwide, the problem has got out of hand, with only 9% of about nine billion tonnes of plastic produced getting recycled

What led to the ban?

  1. India has an uninspiring record when it comes to handling waste
  2. India’s plastic waste is estimated officially at 26,000 tonnes a day
  3. If the Centre and the States had got down to dealing with the existing regulations on plastic waste management and municipal solid waste, a ban would not even have become necessary
  4. Specifications for the recycling of different types of plastics were issued two decades ago by the Bureau of Indian Standards

What needs to be done?

  1. There has to be an effort on a war footing to segregate this waste at source
  2. Priority should be given to stop the generation of mixed waste, which prevents recovery of plastics
  3. Companies covered by extended producer responsibility provisions must be required to take back their waste
  4. Incentives to reduce the use of plastic carry bags, single-use cups, plates and cutlery must be in place
  5. Retailers must be required to switch to paper bags
  6. Carry bag production using cloth can create more jobs than machines using plastic pellets
  7. The Urban Development Secretary in each State, who heads the monitoring committee under the rules, should be mandated to produce a monthly report on how much plastic waste is collected, including details of the types of chemicals involved, and the disposal methods
  8. Such compulsory disclosure norms will maintain public pressure on the authorities, including the State Pollution Control Boards

Way Forward

  1. Plastics became popular because they are inexpensive, can be easily produced and offer great convenience
  2. Their wild popularity has turned them into a scourge
  3. We need substitutes for plastic, incentives to re-use, and better waste disposal

Solar Energy – JNNSM, Solar Cities, Solar Pumps, etc.

ISA plans global solar bank to finance $150 billion of power projects

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Solar Alliance, World Solar Bank

Mains level: India’s renewable energy commitments and efforts in that direction


News

ISA plans SPV for new projects

  1. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) plans to approach multilateral development banks (MDBs) such as Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to specifically finance solar projects.
  2. This SPV aimed at financing $150 billion would become a World Solar Bank.
  3. The concept note for the solar bank will be shortly circulated by ISA to all eight MDBs with which the first treaty-based international government organization based in India has signed joint declarations.

Proposed World Solar Bank

  1. The proposal for a World Solar Bank comes against the backdrop of ISA’s mission to undertake joint efforts required to reduce the cost of finance and the cost of technology.
  2. It needs to mobilize more than $1,000 billion of investments by 2030 for massive deployment of solar energy and pave the way for future technologies.
  3. ISA has inked joint declarations with the World Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, AIIB, New Development Bank, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for enhancing cooperation in the solar energy area.

Seeking help from AIIB

  1. China has a 31.02% stake in AIIB, while India, with 8.72% stake, is the second-largest stakeholder.
  2. ISA also plans to leverage AIIB’s reach to build a global solar energy ecosystem.
  3. According to the contours of the initial plan, five common member countries between ISA and AIIB will be identified for financing more solar projects by the Beijing-headquartered bank.
  4. ISA also plans to draw up a two-year playbook for training manpower, thereby creating local employment in countries where AIIB has financed solar projects.

Other works by ISA

  1. ISA has also been working on a $300-billion risk mitigation fund as part of a strategy to create a sustainable financing architecture for solar projects worldwide.
  2. India has sought project financing totaling $2.40 billion from the AIIB. The bank will also invest $200 million in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India.
  3. The fund will be used to insure solar power projects against risks such as default in payment by electricity procurers, foreign exchange fluctuations and regime change.
  4. This, in turn, will help attract investors to space.

Blueprint of the ISA Plan

  1. The idea is that ISA aims to tie up with those member countries, where AIIB has sanctioned projects for the training of people who will look after these project
  2. Why projects fail is because there is nobody to take care of them. Hence ISA is establishing backward linkages.
  3. ISA is trying to identify their member countries of AIIB and ISA member countries who are common.
  4. Out of those countries, it will select five countries, where AIIB can actually give more projects (financing).

Back2Basics

International Solar Alliance

  1. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is an alliance of more than 121 countries, most of them being sunshine countries, which lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn
  2. The primary objective of the alliance is to work for efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels
  3. The alliance is a treaty-based inter-governmental organization
  4. The alliance is also called International Agency for Solar Policy and Application (IASPA)
  5. The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is to be headquartered in India
  6. The initiative was launched by PM Narendra Modi at the India Africa Summit and a meeting of member countries ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015

Indian Ocean Power Competition

India, Seychelles talk of ‘mutual welfare’ on Assumption Island project

Image result for assumption island map

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Location of Assumption Island and other archipelagos in IOR

Mains level: India-Seychelles defense cooperation


News

U-turn on Assumption Islands

  1. National Assembly of Seychelles last week refused to ratify the naval base that India has been planning to build on the island of Assumption.
  2. The island has been at the centre of high profile maritime diplomacy between India and Seychelles, which was boosted with Prime Minister Modi’s 2015 visit.
  3. It is not clear how both sides would take the project forward in the absence of a parliamentary ratification.

Enhancing cooperation through security and infrastructure

  1. PM Modi announced several initiatives for the strategically located country that included the grant of a major Line of Credit (LoC) for the purchase of defense hardware of $100 million.
  2. He also declared that both sides would intensify cooperation to carry out hydrographical studies of the maritime region and have declared exchange of necessary oceanic maps between two sides.
  3. India also gifted a Dornier aircraft to Seychelles.
  4. India is ready to finance three civilian infrastructure projects in Seychelles under Special Grant. Government House, New Police Headquarters and the Office of the Attorney General is included in this.

Other details

  1. Seychelles will soon be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Indian origin people to the archipelago.
  2. Visiting Seychelles President gifted two large Aldabra turtles that are unique and are known to live for centuries.
  3. Both sides sealed six agreements including one that will twin Panjim in Goa with Victoria of Seychelles.

UDAY Scheme for Discoms

Centre cannot guarantee power supply to all villages, says official

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: UDAY and stats related to it.

Mains level: The newscard discusses the issue of discoms and highlights the role of states to give financial support to the stressed state discoms.


 News

State DISCOMS be responsible for power supply in rural areas

  1. The Centre has claimed 100% electrification of all villages and 83% of all households across the country. It has said that all households will be electrified by the year-end.
  2. While it is the Centre’s responsibility to connect households and villages to the power grid or provide them alternative sources of electricity, it cannot guarantee the supply of electricity to them.
  3. Access to electricity also means consistent supply but that has to be done by the State governments and the discoms, said Power Ministry official.

Discrepancies in claims

  1. In some cases, the electrification infrastructure such as cables and transformers were stolen days after they were installed, leaving the target village unelectrified in reality but connected on paper.
  2. In other cases, electricity was supplied for just a few hours a day.

Rampant power cuts

  1. Despite the government pegging India as a power surplus nation, almost every State in the country reels under power cuts, especially during peak summer.
  2. This, according to power sector analysts, is because discoms are still very inefficient, with the costs they incur in the transmission far outweighing revenue.
  3. Government data show discoms across the country, on an average, lose ₹0.22 a unit of electricity supplied.

UDAY for rescue

  1. However, the Power Ministry has claimed that this situation is improving rapidly under the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY).
  2. Power Minister recently said that discom losses have drastically reduced to ₹17,352 crore in 2017-18 from ₹51,096 crore in the previous year.

Way Forward

  1. While the performance of discoms is improving, they are still not at the performance level to supply electricity 24×7. The only hope of the utilities is continued assistance from the State governments.
  2. On their own, the many of the discoms right now are not ready to provide 24×7 power, for two reasons
  3. The first is their financial health. Most of them are not financially capable to do this.
  4. Secondly, only some of the discoms have the infrastructure to supply good quality power on a sustained basis.
  5. But if the respective State governments continue to give financial support and assurances to the discoms, then this could definitely improve.

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

[op-ed snap] The tools for counting

 Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Salient features of Indian Society

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC),  Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR)

Mains level: Lacunae in current data available for population and how the inclusion of caste in census data collection can help in better planning


Context

Census & SECC 2011

  1. As the 2011 Census approached, demands for inclusion of data on caste in Census reached a crescendo
  2. The government at that time was opposed to collecting caste data and blocked it by claiming that it was logistically impossible for the Census
  3. It said that caste information could be collected via the planned Below Poverty Line (BPL) Census, later renamed the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC)
  4. The hasty inclusion of the caste question in the SECC has resulted in largely unusable data

Caste data collection: Differing views

  1. The simple act of asking about caste creates a chasm within society
  2. Colonial Censuses, beginning with the first Census in 1871, included questions about caste and used these data to divide and conquer India by first privileging Brahmins as interpreters of Indian culture and then targeting them as the roots of caste-based oppression and inequality
  3. This passion for classification has also been termed as the source of anti-Brahmin movements
  4. The colonial Censuses via the process of recording caste generated a conception of community as a homogeneous and classifiable community and thereby influenced the processes of political representation

Change that has happened

  1. Indian society has undergone a tremendous transformation since 1931
  2. Dalits, Adivasis, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and upper castes are still being defined largely using data from 1931 Census
  3. Land ownership that bolstered the power of upper castes has lost its hold
  4. Land fragmentation and decades of agricultural stagnation have turned many upper caste landowners into marginal farmers barely eking out a subsistence

Effects of landlessness

  1. Landlessness, once the bane of Dalit existence, has left the landless better poised to take advantage of rising rural wages, particularly construction wages
  2. According to NSS data, the bottom fourth of forward castes are poorer than the top half of Dalits
  3. India Human Development Survey shows that 56% of Dalit children ages 8-11 cannot read but neither can 32% of forward caste and 47% of OBC children
  4. Economic growth of the past century, combined with strong affirmation action undertaken by successive governments of the independent nation, may have changed relative fortunes of various groups

Caste data collection

  1. Collection of caste data is not easy
  2. The SECC asked interviewers to write down the name of the caste exactly as articulated by the respondent
  3. By some reports, it has revealed as many as 46 lakh castes
  4. This is because sometimes the same caste is spelt in different ways, at other times some individuals report their jati and others upjati making it difficult to create mutually exclusive categories

Preparing for 2021

  1. We have nearly three years before the Census of 2021 and are fortunate to have data from the SECC and technologies rooted in machine learning at our disposal
  2. It would be possible to set up an expert group that uses the SECC data in conjunction with other data sources such as matrimonial advertisements and State-specific Scheduled Castes/OBC lists to make a comprehensive list of castes and condense them into meaningful categories via machine learning tools
  3. These categories could then be validated by domain experts from the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) institutions in various States to come up with a district-specific list of castes that would cover more than 90% of individuals in any given district
  4. Interviewers could use this precoded list to allow respondents to self-classify with a small residual group’s responses being recorded verbatim and categorized later
  5. This is very similar to the technique through which occupational and industrial classification systems are created

Way forward

  1. Collection of data on castes is inherently risky
  2. A caste Census could easily roil the waters in ways that are hard to predict
  3. Without better and more current data, our discourse on caste and affirmative action remains dominated by decisions made by the colonial administration
  4. If we really want to collect data on caste in India and not let the discourse about Indian society be shaped by the political exigencies of colonial India, the time to plan is now

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

India, Bangladesh Navies to join hands

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CORPAT

Mains level: India’s defense cooperation with Bangladesh


 News

Annual CORPAT with Bangladesh

  1. India and Bangladesh have agreed to institute a Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) as an annual feature between the two Navies.
  2. It is aimed to consolidate bilateral defense relations between India and Bangladesh and to explore new avenues for naval cooperation.

India-Bangladesh Naval Cooperation

  1. The commencement of CORPAT is a major step towards the enhanced operational interaction between both Navies.
  2. Naval cooperation between India and Bangladesh has been traditionally strong, encompassing a wide span which includes operational interactions through port calls, passage exercises along with capacity building, capability enhancement and training initiatives.

Widening cooperation through CORPAT

  1. Over the last few years, the Indian Navy has expanded its assistance to countries in the region through material support, training, EEZ surveillance, provisioning of platforms, hydrographic assistance, joint exercises and offering slots in professional training courses.
  2. The Navy regularly conducts CORPATs with Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. It also conducts EEZ surveillance of Maldives, Mauritius, and Seychelles on their request.

US policy wise : Visa, Free Trade and WTO

GSP: win-win for Indo-U.S. trade

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: GSP

Mains level: Read the attached story


News

Big impact for Exporters to US

  1. For over 40 years, GSP has fulfilled its purpose of promoting economic growth in a large number of developing countries by allowing increased exports of eligible products.
  2. This tremendous benefit to the global economy is a small aspect of the U.S. trade balance; for example, of the total $2.4 trillion U.S. imports in 2017, only amounting to less than 1% of total U.S. imports.
  3. Despite GSP’s low significance in the U.S. trade balance, its benefits ultimately help U.S. consumers and exporters by contributing to lower pricing of final products.
  4. It is important to note that Indian exports to the U.S. under the GSP programme are mostly intermediaries, and are not in direct competition with U.S. producers — ultimately, these goods benefit the U.S. economy.

Role of Indian Exports

  1. Most of the 3,500 Indian products imported by the U.S. under the GSP are raw materials or important intermediaries of value chains.
  2. In many cases, Indian exports are less-expensive, high-quality alternatives that reduce the costs of final products, thereby creating value that is subsequently exported the world over by U.S. companies or directly conveyed to the U.S. consumer.
  3. Most of these products are intermediate goods, many of which are not competitively produced in the U.S. given their lower role in manufacturing value chains.
  4. Indeed, this enables the U.S. economy to be more globally competitive.

GSP should be continued

  1. Despite continued economic growth over the last two decades or so, India is a lower middle-income country.
  2. GSP allows Indian exporters a certain competitive edge and furthers the development of the country’s export base.
  3. It also allows India to integrate with global value chains (GVC) and hence, with global markets.
  4. These advantages provide opportunities for small enterprises and help in the overall livelihood creation endeavor in India.
  5. In addition to the economic perspective, the U.S. should consider continuing India’s GSP eligibility as a gesture of goodwill that reaffirms its commitment to the mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries.
  6. The India-U.S. relationship has continued to grow stronger as India liberalizes along a positive and steady trajectory.

Way Forward: Balancing Trade with the US

  1. India has made systematic efforts to reduce trade imbalance with the U.S. and has enhanced purchases of shale gas and civilian aircraft.
  2. Adhering to the rules-based international trading system, India is in the process of examining its export subsidies.
  3. As per a CII survey, the U.S. remains a favored destination for Indian companies which have invested $18 billion in the U.S. and support as many as 1.13 lakh jobs.
  4. Today, our two countries engage in countless areas of mutual cooperation, and a supportive stance in recognition of our greater goals and shared values would promise significant progress in the future.
  5. The GSP remains a central aspect of the overall trade engagement and must remain available for Indian exporters keen to address the U.S. markets.

Back2Basics

Generalised System of Preferences

  1. The GSP is one of the oldest trade preference programmes in the world and was designed to provide zero duties or preferential access for developing countries to advanced markets.
  2. The U.S. GSP programme was established by the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 and promotes economic development by eliminating duties on thousands of products when imported from one of the 129 designated beneficiary countries and territories.
  3. In April 2018, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it would review the GSP eligibility of India, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan.
  4. The proposed review for India was initiated in response to market access petitions filed by the U.S. dairy and medical device industries due to recent policy decisions in India, which were perceived as trade barriers.

Festivals, Dances, Theatre, Literature, Art in News

Celebrating the goddess who bleeds

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Arts and Culture | Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Ambubachi Mela and some terminologies used in the newscard

Mains level: Popular culture symbolizing awareness about menstrual health


News

Four-day Ambubachi Mela begins in Guwahati

  1. Ambubachi Mela, a four-day fair to mark the annual menstruation of the goddess at Kamakhya temple in Guwahati has begun.
  2. Ambubachi Mela is also an occasion to promote awareness on menstrual hygiene.
  3. Priests at the temple said doors of the temple were shut for visitors at 4 p.m. to let the goddess go through her period.

About Kamakhya Temple

  1. Kamakhya, atop Nilachal Hills in Guwahati, is one of 51 shaktipeeths or seat of Shakti followers, each representing a body part of the Sati, Lord Shiva’s companion.
  2. The temple’s sanctum sanctorum (garbhgriha) houses the yoni — female genital — symbolized by a rock.

Menstruation – a celebration in Assam 

  1. The ritualistic fair celebrating the goddess’ period is one of the reasons why the taboo associated with menstruation is less in Assam compared with other parts of India.
  2. The attainment of womanhood of girls in Assam is celebrated with a ritual called ‘Tuloni Biya’, meaning small wedding.

Popular Culture

  1. The only ones that avoid the temple are the descendants of the medieval Koch royalty, who had reconstructed the Kamakhya temple in 1565.
  2. This is because the goddess is believed to have cursed the royalty after the king and his brother Chilarai — one of Assam’s revered generals — had secretly watched her dance.
  3. Researchers said there are legends about the goddess dancing when Kendukoli, a priest during Naranarayan’s reign, performed puja with his eyes shut.

Aadhaar Card Issues

Aadhaar biometric data cannot be used for crime investigations, UIDAI clarifies

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Basics of cyber security

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Aadhaar Act

Mains level: Various issues related to data security and privacy in connection with Aadhar


News

Only identification is permissible via Aadhar

  1. The biometric data collected by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) cannot be used for any other purpose except for generating Aadhaar and authenticating the identity of cardholders
  2. Invoking section 29 of the Act, the UIDAI issued a statement after reports emerged about the purported use of Aadhaar biometric data for the purpose of investigating a crime

Exceptions to this clause

  1. The section 33 of the Aadhaar Act allows a very limited exception and permits the use of or access to Aadhaar biometric data in cases involving national security after pre-authorisation by an oversight committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary
  2. This is also the consistent stand taken by the Union of India in the ongoing Aadhaar case in the Supreme Court

Section 29 of the Aadhaar (Targeted delivery of financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016

  1. No core biometric information, collected or created under this Act, shall be—(a) shared with anyone for any reason whatsoever; or (b) used for any purpose other than generation of Aadhaar numbers and authentication under this Act.
  2. The identity information, other than core biometric information, collected or created under this Act may be shared only in accordance with the provisions of this Act and in such manner as may be specified by regulations
  3. No identity information available with a requesting entity shall be—(a) used for any purpose, other than that specified to the individual at the time of submitting any identity information for authentication; or (b) disclosed further, except with the prior consent of the individual to whom such information relates
  4. No Aadhaar number or core biometric information collected or created under this Act in respect of an Aadhaar number holder shall be published, displayed or posted publicly, except for the purposes as may be specified by regulations

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Nasa unveils program to defend Earth from asteroid attack

Image result for international asteroid warning network

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Asteroid Warning Network, Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission

Mains level: Threat posed by Near-Earth objects and scientific measures to counter it


News

Countering NEOs

  1. The US and other nations have long sought to track “near-earth objects,” or NEOs, coordinating efforts through the International Asteroid Warning Network and the United Nations
  2. The Trump Administration now wants to enhance those efforts to detect and track potential planet killers and to develop more capable means to deflect any that appear to be on a collision course
  3. The government unveiled new goals this week for Nasa’s work on countering NEOs over the next decade

NEO threat

  1. Nasa has documented roughly 96% of the objects large enough to cause a global catastrophe since work began in 1998
  2. More than 300,000 objects larger than 40 meters (131 feet) wide orbit the sun as NEOs, according to Nasa estimates
  3. Many of these were difficult to detect more than a few days in advance
  4. Forty meters is about the average size an object must be to make it through the atmosphere without burning up

Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission

  1. The goal of this mission is to impact the smaller “moonlet” of a binary asteroid called Didymos, to learn how well we may be able to alter the course of a future killer rock
  2. It is expected to be complete by 2021-2022

Back2Basics

International Asteroid Warning Network

  1. The International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) was established in 2014 to address the recommendations for an international response to the near-Earth Object impact threat
  2. It was endorsed by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of
    Outer Space and the General Assembly resolution 68/75
  3. It forms an international association of institutions involved in detecting, tracking, and characterizing NEOs (Near Earth Objects) to provide the best information available on the NEO hazard and any impact threat
  4. The IAWN is also tasked to use well-defined communication
    plans and protocols to assist Governments in the analysis of asteroid impact
    consequences and to support the planning of mitigation responses
  5. IAWN serves the global community as the authoritative source of accurate and up-to-date information on near-Earth objects and NEO impact risks. Information is freely available to all interested parties

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

India to teach satellite tech to students from abroad

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life, Achievements of Indians in science & technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: UNSSP, UNISPACE+50

Mains level: The newscard highlights the prestige of India at the global level for its unique satellite building methodology.


 News

ISRO to teach foreign students

  1. India has thrown open its satellite-building expertise to engineering graduates chosen from other countries.
  2. Starting this year, and for three years, a total of 90 qualifying engineers from various countries will be taught to build and test three small satellites each year.
  3. ISRO’s Bengaluru-based U.R. Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) — until recently known as ISAC — will train the overseas students in November and December this year through 2020.
  4. India is also ready to launch the small satellites built during the programme if they are good.

Indo-UN Small Satellites Programme

  1. Indian start-ups and participants at the meeting shared the details of the training proposal, called the Indo-UN Small Satellites Programme (UNSSP).
  2. The capacity-building programme was India’s contribution to the world in response to a request that the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs had made to space-faring nations last year.
  3. The countries are marking the 50th year of the first UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space — called UNISPACE+50.
  4. Three such conferences held earlier recognized the potential of space and laid the guidelines for human activities and international cooperation related to outer space.

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Anti-profiteering under GST: A leap of faith for consumers and industry

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Anti Profiteering Provisions under GST

Mains level:  Businesses in various sectors have received notices under anti-profiteering for non-compliance. This is due to unclear guidelines on records. The newscard suggests measures to counter such incidences.


News

Inflationary Effect of the GST

  1. Historically, many countries who introduced GST or value-added tax found to it to have an inflationary effect in the initial years.
  2. This inflationary effect has largely been attributed to the benefit accruing due to GST was not being passed on through the transaction chain to the ultimate customer.

GST anti-profiteering provisions

  1. Anti-profiteering provisions have been enacted under the GST regime to curb undue profiteering by businesses and ensure that the benefits by way of a reduction in the price of the goods/services are passed on to the consumer.
  2. The provisions require businesses to pass on the benefit arising on account of
  • reduction in the rate of GST
  • increase in input tax credit, to the consumer.

National Anti-Profiteering Authority

  1. A National Anti-Profiteering Authority has been constituted for the efficient administration of these provisions
  2. Any consumer can approach the Authority with documentary evidence against any supplier who has not passed on the specified benefit.
  3. The Authority is entrusted with the power to determine whether the benefit of GST is passed on:
  • to identify persons who have not passed on the benefit;
  • to order reduction of prices;
  • to repay the customer an amount which is not passed on along with interest/imposition of penalty on the supplier;
  • cancellation of registration etc.

Ambiguities in Anti Profiteering provisions

Various challenges are being faced by the business community in complying with anti-profiteering rules:

  1. The anti-profiteering provisions do not prescribe the specific guidelines on records or documentation to be maintained to prove compliance with the rules.
  2. A definite method for computing the benefit on implementing GST has also not been prescribed.
  3. Absence of clear guidelines could lead to ambiguity and businesses will be constrained in proving the compliance with these provisions.
  4. Absence of specific time limit with respect to operation makes it unclear for the industry as to how long the specified benefits need to be passed on.
  5. Businesses are very dynamic and pricing is determined based on the market forces in most of the cases.
  6. Even though the regular price increase does not come under the purview of anti-profiteering, justifying the same could become a difficult task for the businesses.

Dilemma of Business community

  1. Under the anti-profiteering provisions, businesses are required to pass on the benefit of reduction in tax rate and increase in input tax credit on any supply of goods or services.
  2. This implies that benefit needs to be passed on at each supply level and not at the entity level.
  3. If an entity is engaged in supplying more than one product or service then for each such supply the benefits, if any, needs to be computed and passed on to the recipient.
  4. There could be cases where losses are incurred in certain products, even in such cases the benefit may have to be passed on if applying GST has resulted in a reduction in losses.
  5. In the recent past, businesses in various sectors have received notices under anti-profiteering provisions.

The Way Forward

  1. Businesses should consider evaluating the likely impact of the anti-profiteering clause and review its pricing policy for the product and/or services.
  2. Even where there is no benefit accruing to the company, the same has to be properly documented so that it can be explained to the authorities if the need arises.
  3. Anti-profiteering provisions are a positive step towards protecting consumer interests and rein in undue profiteering so that GST does not add to inflation in the economy.
  4. However, GST is a new and evolving law, hence, there’s still a sense of confusion and lack of clarity on many aspects.
  5. One step may be to adopt a soft approach vis-à-vis the businesses where there is no prima facie mala fide intent. This would go a long way in building the confidence and trust among the businesses.

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

[op-ed snap] Tighter is better

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Current account deficit, Fiscal profligacy

Mains level: Risks associated with India’s CAD and factors affecting it


Context

Sudden reversal of capital flows

  1. Since April, emerging markets (EMs) have been rudely shocked by the sudden reversal of capital flows without any apparent change in economic fundamentals
  2. Financial buffers in EM are much stronger today than they were before the 2013 taper tantrum

Which economies are under pressure?

  1. The ones with large current account deficits and, in turn, high foreign borrowing
  2. Why? There has been a steady decline in policy space because of loose fiscal and, in some cases, monetary policy
  3. Without adequate policy space, the buffers have turned ineffective

Factors influencing Capital inflows

  1. The growth differential with developed markets (DM)
  2. The strength of the US dollar
  • Higher EM-DM growth differential increases inflow, a stronger US dollar lowers it
  • Why? Investing in EM is riskier, higher growth will compensate the risk
  • A stronger dollar raises the cost of funding and therefore investors scale back investment

What happened in April 2018?

  1. Incoming data from the Euro Area and Japan pointed to growth disappointment, but above par growth in the US
  2. The altered dynamics forced the market to reprice US interest rates and the dollar
  3. The consequent tightening of global financial conditions caught investors off guard
  4. Capital outflows from EM ensued and their currencies depreciated

Why are economies struggling even after having buffers?

  1. Along with buffers, Foreign exchange liabilities have also risen and there are limits to the use of reserves
  2. In several, if not all, vulnerable economies, the current account deficit is rising because of growing fiscal and quasi-fiscal deficits
  3. Fiscal profligacy is restraining the space for the economies to grow without increasing foreign borrowing

What needs to be done?

  1. If an EM economy is to maintain or widen the growth differential with DM, it needs to grow faster, requiring more funding
  2. If the government does not reduce its deficit to provide the additional funds, the private sector is forced to borrow more externally, that is, the current account deficit has to widen
  3. The way out is to tighten fiscal policy, even when it might not have been part of the problem so that the private sector has the domestic space to grow

Risks for India

  1. India’s overall fiscal deficit (Centre plus state) has remained virtually constant, around 7 percent of GDP since 2013-14
  2. This year also, both the Centre and state deficits are likely to be under pressure with GST collections running below the budgeted run rate
  3. A continued decline in private investment in last 4 years provided the excess domestic savings needed to keep the current account deficit (foreign borrowing) contained at around 1 percent
  4. With the higher budgeted fiscal deficit, even the hint of a recovery in private investment is raising fears of the current account deficit rising sharply

Way forward

  1. Loose fiscal and monetary policies pushed India to the brink of crisis in 2013
  2. If India doesn’t tighten fiscal and monetary policies early and sufficiently, then it too could be heading down the path of its peers

Organic Farming – Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojna (PKVY), NPOF etc.

[op-ed snap] The seeds of sustainability

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Zero Budget Natural Farming

Mains level: ZBNF and its advantages


Context

Andhra, first to implement ZBNF Policy

  1. Andhra Pradesh will fully embrace Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), a chemical-free method that would cover all farmers by 2024.
  2. Even though this revolution has been in the works for several years, this is still a momentous occasion and highlights the way to improve the welfare of farmers, reduce the cost of farm inputs, cut toxins in food, and improve soils.
  3. By 2021-22, the programme is to be implemented in every panchayat, with full coverage by 2024.
  4. More encouraging is that the programme is having a positive effect on many of the sustainable development goals through improvements in soil, biodiversity, livelihoods, water, reduction in chemicals, climate resilience, health, women’s empowerment and nutrition.

Natural farming

  1. Natural farming is “do nothing farming”
  2. It promotes no-till, no chemical use in farming along with the dispersal of clay seed balls to propagate plants.
  3. It is important to apply nature’s principles in farming and developed a deep-rooted philosophy around the process.

Zero Budget Natural Farming

  1. Subhash Palekar, a farmer in the distressed Vidarbha region developed the ZBNF.
  2. He identified some aspects that are now integral to his process and which require locally available materials:
  • seeds treated with cow dung and urine;
  • soil rejuvenated with cow dung,
  • cow urine and other local materials to increase microbes;
  • cover crops, straw and other organic matter to retain soil moisture and build humus;
  • and soil aeration for favorable soil conditions.

These methods are combined with natural insect management methods when required.

 Benefits of ZBNF

  1. In ZBNF, yields of various cash and food crops have been found to be significantly higher when compared with chemical farming.
  2. Input costs are near zero as no fertilizers and pesticides are used.
  3. Profits in most areas under ZBNF were from higher yield and lower inputs.
  4. Model ZBNF farms were able to withstand drought and flooding, which are big concerns with regard to climate change.
  5. The planting of multiple crops and border crops on the same field has provided varied income and nutrient sources.
  6. As a result of these changes, there is reduced use of water and electricity, improved health of farmers, flourishing of local ecosystems and biodiversity and no toxic chemical residues in the environment.

Model for other States

  1. Andhra Pradesh is one of the top five States in terms of farmer suicides.
  2. The changes taking place in AP are a systematic scaling up of farming practices based on agro-ecological principles in opposition to the dominant chemical agriculture.
  3. Changes at this scale require many different elements to come together, but open-minded enlightened political leaders and administrators are fundamental.
  4. As ZBNF is applied in India’s various agro-ecological zones, making farmers the innovators is essential.
  5. Resilient food systems are the need of the day given the variability of the monsoons due to global warming and declining groundwater in large parts of India.
  6. The drought-prone Rayalaseema region (Andhra Pradesh) is reportedly seeing promising changes already in farms with the ZBNF.

The Way Forward- Listen to our Farmers

  1. ZBNF is a technology of the future with a traditional idiom.
  2. Agricultural scientists in India have to rework their entire strategy so that farming is in consonance with nature.
  3. The dominant paradigm of chemical-based agriculture has failed and regenerative agriculture is the emerging new science.
  4. The world is at critical junctures on many planetary boundaries, and establishing a system that shows promise in improving them while supporting people sustainably is surely one worth pursuing.

Policy Wise: India’s Power Sector

Govt plans ‘Pariwartan’ scheme for power sector revival

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SAMADHAN, Pariwartan Schemes

Mains level: Read the attached story


News

Stressed Power Projects

  1. Stressed projects have drawn bids for around Rs 1-2 crore per MW under the insolvency and bankruptcy code, a fraction of the Rs 5 crore per MW needed to build them.
  2. Issues faced by the stressed projects include a paucity of funds, lack of power purchase agreements and fuel shortages.

Plan for PARIWARTAN

  1. The government plans to warehouse stressed power projects totaling 25,000 MW under an asset management firm to protect the value of the assets (Similar to SAMADHAN Scheme)
  2. This will prevent their distress sale under the insolvency and bankruptcy code until the demand for power picks up.
  3. State-run Rural Electrification Corp. Ltd (REC) has identified projects with a total debt of around Rs 1.8 trillion as part of the scheme, which is under government consideration
  4. It has been tentatively named Power Asset Revival through Warehousing and Rehabilitation, or ‘Pariwartan’.
  5. The ‘Pariwartan’ scheme is inspired by the Troubled Asset Relief Programme, or TARP, which was introduced in the US during the 2008 financial crisis.
  6. The proposed plan also aims to stem the rise in bad loans in the power sector.

Key Propositions

  1. These stressed power projects will be housed under an asset management and rehabilitation company (AMRC) that will be owned by financial institutions.
  2. While the promoter’s equity will be reduced to facilitate a transfer of management control to the financial institutions, the lenders will convert their debt into equity.
  3. The AMRC will manage the projects and may ask utilities such as NTPC Ltd to operate and maintain them. The AMRC will charge a fee and help complete projects that are stranded for lack of funds.
  4. These projects will be transferred to the AMRC at net book value, wherein it will own a 51% stake in the projects and the balance 49% will be held by the lenders,” said the government official cited above.

Back2Basics

Scheme of Asset Management and Debt Change Structure (SAMADHAN)

  1. Under Samadhan, the bankers’ consortium shortlisted 11 power plants with an overall capacity of over 12 gigawatts, which are either complete or nearing completion.
  2. The debt order will be reduced to a manageable level and converted into equities which are held by banks.
  3. That equity would be bid out to any players who want to buy those assets.

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

Govt may scrap trials for some IVD devices

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: In-Vitro Diagnostics (IVD) Devices, DTAB, Medical Devices Rule

Mains level: New rules seek to remove regulatory bottlenecks to Make in India while ensuring availability of better medical devices.


News

Clinical Trials of Medical Devices

  1. Medical devices under local rules are classified based on associated risks, into Class A (low risk), Class B (low moderate risk), Class C (moderate high risk) and Class D (high risk).
  2. The manufacturers of medical devices are required to meet risk proportionate regulatory requirements that have been specified in the rules and are based on best international practices.
  3. As of now, all medical devices that fall under regulation have to undergo single or multiple clinical trials to prove their performance and quality in comparison to products currently available in the market.
  4. Conduct of clinical investigations while following the international practices is conducted in a manner that ensures objectives of patient safety and welfare and discovery of new medical devices.

Proposed Amendment in Medical Devices Rules

  1. IVDs include all blood testing techniques, tests that can detect diseases, conditions or infections for major conditions such as HIV, HBV (Hepatitis B), HCV (Hepatitis C).
  2. The government has proposed to do away with clinical trials for in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) devices with the aim of speeding up availability of such devices in India.
  3. The Union health ministry will now release a notification to this effect, after a meeting of the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) at which the board agreed to the proposal to amend the provisions of the Medical Devices Rules

What are the amendments?

  1. The board deliberated the matter and agreed to the proposal to amend the provisions in Rule 64 making it identical for waiver of clinical performance evaluation of in-vitro diagnostic medical devices.
  2. This is in line with a waiver given for medical devices under Rule 63 of the Medical Device Rules.

What are the benefits of doing so?

  1. The new rules seek to remove regulatory bottlenecks to make in India, facilitate ease of doing business while ensuring availability of better medical devices for patient care and safety.
  2. Medical device experts believe that the move will help importers to a large extent as the exemption of trials would also mean accelerating approval of state-of-the-art devices.

But it raises few questions as well

  1. The question is whether the US, Japan and EU (European Union) will give a similar reciprocal advantage to Indian exporters and waive off the need for clinical evaluation if such devices are sold in India.
  2. Regulation is not only about patient’s safety. It is also about parity.