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GS: 1

Society related issues:

‘Skill India’ urgently needs reforms(The Hindu Opinion) 

Context

Salvaging the Indian demographic dividend 

Background

Sharada Prasad Committee: In 2016, the Government of India formed the Sharada Prasad Committee to rationalise the Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) and improve ‘Skill India’.

Main point stressed in the suggestions by the Committee

Focus on youth and need for vocational education not just for underprivileged communities but for all 

Suggestions of the committee in detail

  • Streaming for students
  • It suggests concrete steps to ensure a mindset change, such as having a separate stream for vocational education (in secondary education), creating vocational schools and vocational colleges for upward mobility, and having a Central university to award degrees and diplomas
  • A global alignment
    • The second recurring theme is the realisation of human potential
    • This means aligning the courses to international requirements, ensuring a basic foundation in the 3Rs, and life-long learning
    • It implies national standards for an in-demand skill set with national/global mobility that translates into better jobs
  • Accountability The third theme is to do what is right when no one is watching you, because, as in other industries, the regulator has displayed a limited capacity to regulate. Cases of a conflict of interests, of rigged assessments and of training happening only on paper are not new.

Policy measures needed

Unification of the entire VET system:

  • An NSDC-centric focus has left the skill development efforts of 17 ministries out of the same scrutiny.
  • ‘Skill India’ can have an impact only when all of them work together and learn from each other
  • SSCs, which are supposedly industry representatives, should be engaging themselves with each pillar of the system, and not just NSDC-funded VTPs 

To enhance employer ownership, responsibility 

Only 36% of India’s organised sector firms conduct in-firm training (mostly large ones, which are also the only ones that take on apprentices under a Government of India Act)

Committee’s recommendation: reimbursable industry contribution model

  • It could ensure reimbursements for those companies undertaking training while rewarding industry for sharing and undertaking skilling until everyone in the company is skilled
  • This will lay the foundation for making at least our organised workforce 100% skilled.

Question raised

Does the government, which is not generating much employment in the public sector, really know what industry’s skill requirements are in the private sector?

Government should try to gather data

Private employers do know industry’s skill requirements but there has been no serious effort by them to gather data

Regular surveys for policy making  

  • One such role is to have surveys, once every five years, through the National Sample Survey Office, to collect data on skill providers and skill gaps by sector
  • Such data can guide evidence-based policy-making, as against the current approach of shooting in the dark.

Value addition should be measured

NSDC: The NSDC, which was envisioned as a public-private partnership, receives 99% of its funding from government, but its flagship scheme has a less than 12% record of placement for trainees

NSQF: The NSQF framework has seen little adoption in private sector. And, more than two-thirds of courses developed have not trained even one student so far.

Conclusion

India can surely become the world’s skill capital but not with what it is doing right now. The reforms suggested by the committee can be a good starting point for we cannot let another generation lose its dreams.

GS: 2

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Expanding the SC/ST Act(The Hindu Opinion)

What has happened?

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, was highlighted in the Supreme Court by the government as a significant step taken to affirm the trust of the SC/STs in the law. The amendments, which came into effect in January 2016, expand the original Act of 1989.

The 2015 amendments

  • New offences:

These include forcible tonsuring of head, garlanding with footwear, denying a SC/ST member access to irrigation facilities, using or permitting manual scavenging, dedicating SC/ST women as devadasis, abusing in the name of caste, committing atrocities by dubbing someone a witch, social or economic boycott, preventing SC/ST candidates from filing nomination to contest elections, hurting a SC/ST by removing his or her clothes, forcing a SC/ST member to leave his or her house, village or residence, and so on

  • Offences under PoA

It adds certain IPC offences like hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation and kidnapping, attracting less than 10 years (earlier was 10 years or more) of imprisonment, committed against SCs and STs as offences punishable under the Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA Act)

  • Special courts under PoA:
    • The Amendment Act introduced the establishment of exclusive special courts and special public prosecutors to try offences under the PoA Act, so that cases are disposed of expeditiously
    • The law requires these courts to take direct cognisance of an offence, and complete the trial of the case within two months from the date of filing of the charge sheet
  • Wilful negligence at all levels:
  • The new law defines the term ‘wilful negligence’ in the context of public servants at all levels, starting from the registration of the complaint to dereliction of duty under this Act
  • Presumption as to offences

It adds a section called the ‘presumption as to offences’ that is, if an accused is acquainted with the victim or his family, the court may presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.

  • Section 18 unchanged

The new law, however, does not touch Section 18 of the original Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. This provision does not allow an accused person, who is alleged to have caused injury to and insulted a Dalit, to apply for anticipatory bail

SC raps govt for passsing ordinance(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The Supreme Court on Thursday rapped the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government for promulgating an ordinance to “blatantly nullify” last year’s apex court order freezing illegal medical admissions made in the State.

SC observed

  • It stayed the operation of the ordinance and made it clear that no student shall be permitted to reap any benefit of any action taken and they shall not be permitted to attend the college or the classes or continue in medical colleges in any manner pursuant to the ordinance
  • Violation would be treated seriously: It warned that any violation of the order “shall be treated seriously by this court.

Zero tolerance

The apex court had ordered the termination of 150 admissions in the Kannur college and 30 in the Karuna college, thus sending a strong message to private professional colleges that there would be zero tolerance if irregularities were found in admissions even at the cost of derailing the academic future of the students involved.

Was the SC right on the anti-atrocities law?(The Hindu Opinion) 

Context

The recent Supreme Court ruling on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities)

Author is in agreement with the SC’s view

It directs the police to verify all the facts of a case before registering a complaint under the Act so as to ensure that justice is done to both the complainant and the accused.

Misuse of the law happens

If a complaint is registered under the said Act, without verifying the facts of a case, isn’t one going against the very principles of natural justice? Shouldn’t every citizen get a fair opportunity to defend herself?

Rural and urban areas

  • Complaint without verification leads to low conviction rate: The reasons behind the low conviction, which is 15%, is because cases are registered without proper investigation and a simple accusation leads to an FIR which does not stand scrutiny in a court of law
  • Way of Harassing people: This exercise is a way to harass people and is a complete waste of time of both the police and the court
  • A way of settling personal disputes in rural areas
    • More cases under the Act are filed in rural areas as opposed to urban areas where caste identities are blurred
    • It is easier to falsely implicate people in rural areas
    • Every time there is a fight or a dispute in rural pockets, it is given a caste angle and someone or the other gets implicated under the Atrocities Act

GS: 3

Economy:

Surprise softening(The Hindu Opinion)

What has happened?

The Reserve Bank of India’s policymakers have acted predictably in opting to keep interest rates unchanged and in retaining the ‘neutral’ stance. Price stability, after all, remains the Monetary Policy Committee’s primary remit, and trend line retail inflation continues to run above its medium-term target of a durable headline inflation reading of 4%. But as with all central bank policy statements, it is not only the action but also what is said that is closely scrutinised for clues on what may lie ahead. 

Mixed messages

The RBI’s bimonthly monetary policy statement, ends up sending mixed messages as its outlook for inflation and assessment of the factors contributing to price gains are at variance.

Lower projections for CPI

  • The MPC has appreciably lowered its projections for CPI (consumer price index) inflation for the fourth quarter of 2017-18, and for the new fiscal year
  • It sees price gains having slowed to 4.5% over January-March, a full 60 basis points lower than the 5.1% pace it had projected in February
  • Forecasts for the first and second halfs of 2018-19 have also been substantially trimmed
  • Price gains in the first half are now in the 4.7-5.1% range (as against 5.1-5.6% projected in February), with inflation slowing in the second half to 4.4%

Reasons for lower projections on inflation

  • Sharp decline in vegetable prices
  • Significant moderation in fuel group inflation

GVA removed- switch to GDP

Gross Value Added as the main measure of economic output is replaced with Gross Domestic Product

Conclusion

While the assertion that GDP growth will strengthen this fiscal has given investors cause for cheer, the forecast of 7.4% is unchanged from the implicit projection from February. The messaging on the economy could have been clearer and more consistent.

Wilful default of loans hits honest taxpayers, says Kovind(The Hindu)

Context

President calls for more women to join India’s work force 

What has happened?

President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday said wilful and criminal default on bank loans had hurt innocent citizens and honest taxpayers had to bear the brunt of such frauds.

Background

Inaugurating the 34th annual general meeting of FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO), one of the top industry bodies

Very low NPAs amongst MUDRA entrepreneurs

  • MUDRA entrepreneurs are striving to pay back their loans. These are hard-working Indians, many of them women
  • They are borrowing small sums as capital to set up little businesses
  • Only 8% of the 117 million MUDRA loans have turned non-performing assets (NPAs).

‘Tax on alcohol, tobacco to benefit poor’(The Hindu ) 

What has happened?

Levying taxes on unhealthy products can produce major health gains for the poorest in society, especially if tax revenues are used to fund pro-poor programmes, noted a study published in the Lancet on Thursday. These unhealthy products include soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco.

Poor households most affected by diseases

Poor and uninsured households are more likely to incur catastrophic healthcare costs from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and are more likely to forgo care for chronic health problems compared to higher income households

Why this study is important?

The evidence helps counter fears that such taxes will necessarily disproportionately harm the poor

RBI bars banks from dealing with virtual currencies(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has asked banks to stop providing service to any entity dealing with virtual currencies, with immediate effect.

Three-month deadline

  • Regulated entities that are already providing such services should exit the relationship within three months.
  • After advising all stakeholders about the risks of virtual currencies, the central bank had decided to ring-fence the RBI regulated entities from the risk of dealing with entities associated with virtual currencies

New digital currency

RBI will explore introducing digital currency and had formed an interdepartmental group to study and provide guidance on the desirability and feasibility to introduce a central bank digital currency. The report will be submitted by end-June 2018.

RBI fiat on payment system operators’ data(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has said all payment system operators’ data must be stored only within the country.

To ensure data access for supervision

  • Deadline: The central bank gave the operators six months to comply with the directive.
  • Access to data: The move is intended to give unfettered access to all payment data for supervisory purposes

Ind AS norms deferred

  • The RBI also deferred the implementation of Indian Accounting Standards (Ind AS) for banks by one year
  • Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs), excluding regional rural banks (RRBs), were required to implement Ind AS from April 1, 2018.

Can DNA be taken for Aadhaar, asks judge(The Hindu)

Context

An executive authority may even expand the meaning of biometrics

What has happened?

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud pointed out how the Aadhaar Act could allow the State, in future, to seek DNA, hair and even semen samples from citizens as “biometric information.”

Where the law is unclear?

In the Section 2(g) of the Aadhaar Act which defines biometrics.

Definition of biometric information:  photograph, finger print, iris scan, or such other biological attributes of an individual as may be specified by regulations.

The ambiguity

  • The Act does not specify what the phrase ‘other biological attributes’ means
  • Nor does the Act prescribe any limit to biometric information

Question raised by the Court

Whether Section 2(g) did not amount to “excessive delegation” of power to an executive authority

Internal security:

Consent is crucial (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Data protection

Backdrop

Data science and data protection are in news due to two recent incidents

  • Data breach at Facebook, which saw allegations of the U.K.-based Cambridge Analytica (CA) illegally accessing over 87 million users’ information for personalisation of digital campaigns
  • Allegations are being made that the official mobile apps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress party had sent user data without consent to foreign companies for analytical purposes.

Utility of Data Science

Data science generally tends to produce win-win scenarios for the practising organisations and their end users

  • For example, its application in election processes can make it possible for various political parties to understand their voters better, and to reach out to them more effectively
  • The insights derived after analysing feedback from the electorate can be used while creating manifestos, formulating policies, and selecting candidates — steps that can essentially usher in a more transparent and participatory democracy

Negatives of Data Science

Applications of data science, along with large social media platforms with hundreds of millions of active users, could unduly subvert our democratic processes, and turn our elections into mere marketing campaigns

Way forward

We should move towards a strong data privacy and data protection framework

Govt. forms committee to regulate news portals (The Hindu)

What has happened?

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has instituted a committee to regulate online portals, including news websites, entertainment sites and media aggregators

Who shall be the members of the committee?

The 10-member committee will include

  • Secretaries of the departments of Home, Legal Affairs, Electronics and Information and Technology, and Industrial Policy and Promotion
  • The CEO of MyGov
  • A representative each of the Press Council of India and National Broadcasters’ Association will also be part of the committee

Backdrop

Information and Broadcasting Minister had announced on Twitter that her ministry was working on bringing online news too under regulation mechanism. The ministry has been consulting both National Broadcasters’ Association and Press Council of India for over a month on the issue

Regulation for Print and electronic media

  • The content telecast on television channels are regulated in terms of the programme and advertisement codes under the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994
  • Similarly, the autonomous body Press Council of India regulates the print media

What is the mandate of the committee?

The committee, broadly, will look at three things

  • One is to bring online information dissemination under regulation
  • Second is to propose a policy for foreign direct investment in this media
  • Third is to look at international best practices on such existing regulatory mechanism

Science and Technology:

Milky Way core may have thousands of black holes (The Hindu)

What has happened?

Astrophysicists have detected a dozen black holes around Sagittarius A (the black hole at the center of the milky way), at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. They say that there could be as many as 10,000 black holes there

Significance

The finding provides the first evidence for a long-held theory that the massive black hole at the core of every large galaxy should be surrounded by thousands of smaller ones

Over 100 tiny plastic fibres present in every meal: study (The Hindu)

Context

A study conducted by scientists from Heriot-Watt University

What they did?

They put petri dishes containing sticky dust traps on the table next to dinner plates in three homes

What did they find?

Up to 14 bits of plastic were found in the petri dishes at the end of a 20-minute meal — the equivalent of 114 plastic fibers falling on the average dinner plate given their much larger size

Source of the particles

The plastic fibers found in the home-cooked meals did not come from the food or the cooking environment, but from household dust

Conclusions

The average person swallows up to 68,415 potentially dangerous plastic fibers a year simply through sitting down to eat

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