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GS: 1


Society related issues:

Megalithic-era sarcophagus unearthed in Kerala (The Hindu)

Context

A rare sarcophagus (stone coffin), said to be 2,000-year old from the Iron Age–Megalithic era, was discovered from a rock-cut cave at Viyur village of Kollam, near Koyilandy, in Kozhikode district on Monday

Man or woman

The bone fragments could be of either a man or a woman

  • Carbon dating: They will be sent for carbon dating using accelerator mass spectrometry at the Beta Analytical Laboratory in California

Discovery

Excavation at the site commenced after a hemispherical rock-cut chamber was discovered in a compound while flattening land using an earthmover

  • Dimensions: The cave, with an inside pillar, measuring 1.9 metres in diameter, has a height of 90 centimetres
  • The entrance of the cave was on the eastern side
  • Pottery found: The square-shaped door has equal length of 50 centimetres on all sides. Different types of pottery, mostly four-legged jars and iron implements, were found in the cave

Implication

It confirms that a rich Megalithic culture existed in the region following the discoveries of pre-Iron age civilisation earlier

36% rural youth cant name India’s capital, finds survey (The Hindu)

Context

2017 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)

Focus of the survey

The survey looks ‘Beyond Basics’, exploring a wider set of domains beyond foundational reading and arithmetic in an attempt to throw light on the status and abilities of youth in this age group.”

What is ASER?

Established in 2008, ASER Centre is Pratham’s autonomous research and assessment unit. ASER Centre promotes a culture of evidence-based decision making, and seeks to develop and use simple yet rigorous methods to generate evidence on scale on the outcomes of social sector programs, especially education

ASER report

ASER Centre’s flagship activity is the Annual Status of Education Report (commonly known as the ASER report), a household-based survey that collects information on children’s schooling status and basic learning outcomes in almost every rural district in the country

  • The ASER survey is an enormous participatory exercise that has involved about 500 organizations and upwards of 25,000 volunteers every year since 2005. Estimates of children’s schooling and learning status are generated at district, state and national levels
  • ASER is the only annual source of data on children’s learning outcomes available in India today, and is often credited with changing the focus of discussions on education in India from inputs to outcomes
  • The ASER model has been adapted for use by thirteen other countries across three continents. These countries came together organically to form the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network, with a secretariat housed in Nairobi

Findings of the latest ASER report

  • Fourteen per cent of rural youth in the age group of 14-18 failed to identify the map of India
  • 36% of those surveyed did not know that Delhi is the capital of India
  • 79% answered the questions ‘Which State do you live in?’ and 42 % could point to their home State on the map
  • Most 14-18 year olds are in the formal education system — only 14.4% are not currently enrolled in school or college. However, this number varies a lot with age
    • Poor enrolment ratio: At age 14, only 5.3% are not enrolled, but by age 17 this percentage quadruples to 20.7% and further increases to 30.2% at age 18. With almost 10% of India’s population in this age group, these percentages translate into large numbers of youth who are not in the formal education system
  • Gender aspect in enrolment: The report also highlights the gender aspect of enrolment, with the number of girls falling sharply with age. While the enrolment ratios for boys and girls are almost the same at 14, at 18 years 32% of girls are not enrolled, as against 28% for boys.
  • About 25% of this age group still cannot read basic texts fluently in their own language. More than half struggle with division (3 digit by 1 digit) problems. Only 43% are able to do such problems correctly
  • 53% of all 14 year-olds in the sample can read English sentences

Difference b/w ASER 2017 report an previous ASER reports

Whereas previous ASER reports have reached almost all rural districts in the country to generate estimates that are considered representative at district, State, and national levels, ASER 2017 was conducted in 28 districts spread across 24 States and generated only district level estimates

1.2 lakh fewer deaths in under-5 category in 2016 (The Hindu)

Context

Figures from the Sample Registration Survey (SRS)

Findings

  • Sharpest decline in U5 mortality rate: India has posted its sharpest, year-on-year decline in the under-5 infant mortality rate (u5) since 2010. The u5, at 39 deaths per 1,000 live births, recorded a 5-point decline from the 2015 figure of 43
    • Implication: It translates to nearly 1,20,000 fewer deaths in 2016 as compared to 2015
    • Variations:At the national level, the u5 varies from 43 in rural areas to 25 in urban areas and ranges from 11 in Kerala to 55 in Madhya Pradesh. Except Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, all the “bigger States/Union Territories” have higher u-5mortality rates among girls than boys
    • In Kerala the number of children dying between 1 and 5 years is very low, at just one per 1,000 live births
    • Maharashtra too has recorded a dip. From 23 in 2014 and 24 in 2015, the State has gone down to 21 deaths per 1,000 children in the age group of 1 to 5 years in 2016
  • One in every 29 infants nationally, one in every 26 infants in rural areas and one in every 43 infants in urban areas continues to die within the first year of their lives. Moreover, the sex ratio at birth —the SRS found — continued a steady decline that began in 2013 with only 898 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2016 compared to 909 girls for 1,000 boys in 2013

SRS Data

The latest round of data builds on the SRS numbers made public last September that showed India had registered a significant 8% (3 point) decline in infant deaths per 1,000 live births (IMR) over the previous year. The IMR refers to death in infants who were yet to turn one. The decline from 37 to 34 per 1,000 live births translated to 90,000 fewer infant deaths in 2016 compared to 2015

Govt holds firm on disability pensions (The Hindu)

Context

The Defence Ministry has no proposal to withdraw pending appeals against disability pensions and benefits. This was conveyed by Defence Minister NirmalaSitharaman in a letter to RajyaSabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Background

Former Defence Minister ManoharParrikar had attempted to reduce litigations against veterans and serving personnel and had appointed an expert committee to study the issue.

Ms.Sitharaman said 16 of the 75 recommendations of the panel have been accepted

  • Another 16 were accepted in-principle requiring follow-up action in consultation with Service Headquarters (SHQ). “The remaining 43 require further examination in consultation with the SHQ, the Department of Personnel and Training and the Finance Ministry

Water scarcity may hit thermal power (The Hindu)

Context

New report by the World Resources Institute (WRI)

Findings of the report

  • Risk of outages to Thermal power plants: India’s thermal power plants, about 90% of which rely on fresh water for cooling, risk facing serious outages because of shortage of water
  • Shutdowns: Between 2013 and 2016, 14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utility companies experienced one or more shutdowns due to water shortages and this cost the power producers more than ₹91 billion ($1.4 billion) in potential revenue from the sale of power
  • India lost about 14 terawatt-hours of thermal power generation due to water shortages in 2016, cancelling out more than 20% of growth in the country’s total electricity generation from 2015
  • Water stress in water abundant areas: Some of the most disruptive water shortages occurred in India’s most water-abundant areas. Even in water-abundant or low water-stress regions, thermal plants can still face water shortage-related risks during droughts or when monsoons are delayed. Some of those plants — for example, Farakka, Raichur, and Tiroda — experienced significant, if not the biggest, disruptions in generation caused by water shortages

Problem of Water stress

  • Water stress is the ratio of total water withdrawal over available supply
  • About 40% of the country’s thermal power plants are facing great stress in terms of water availability
  • According to the report, not only does high water stress result in equipment shutting down, it also results in a lower level of efficiency when it is running
  • When power plants rely on water sourced from scarce regions, they put electricity generation at risk and leave less water for cities, farms and families. Without urgent action, water will become a choke point for India’s power sector
  • Freshwater-cooled thermal power plants that are located in high water-stress areas have a 21% lower average capacity factor, compared to the ones in low and medium water-stress areas

Predictions of WRI’s report

  • Water stress is set to worsen as India’s thermal power sector expands and demand for water from other sectors increases. It says that by 2030, 70% of India’s thermal power plants are likely to experience increased competition for water from agriculture, industry and municipalities

Positive step

The Government of India has recently mandated limits for specific water consumption at thermal power plants, which is a critical step forward

Way forward

Government should also create policy incentives for water conservation. This will help encourage water efficiency and innovation across the power sector

Online degree in non-tech courses (The Hindu)

Context

The Centre would soon finalise regulations enabling universities with high National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) scores to offer degree, certificate and diploma courses for non-technical subjects in online mode

Eligibility criteria

Only institutions with a NAAC grade of A plus and A plus plus – meaning, a NAAC score of 3.26 or above on a scale of 4 – would be permitted to start these courses, which would essentially be open and distance learning in online mode

Other rules

  • The UGC will approve their course structure
  • There will be online lectures, tutorials and also a weekly online discussion forum where professors will answer queries of the enrolled candidates
  • There will be an online examination in six months or one year. They will be granted certificates if they pass

Significance

  • It would open an additional choice for people who want to earn degrees, certificates or diplomas, but cannot enrol for regular courses
  • While existent distance learning courses were subject to territorial jurisdictions of the universities concerned, the very nature of online education would mean freeing up these courses from such constraints
  • Online education would help improve Gross enrolment ratio figures in higher education

What is GER?

Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher education in India is calculated for 18-23 years of age group. Total enrolment in higher education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage to the eligible official population (18-23 years) in a given school year

  • The GER is widely used to show the general level of participation in and capacity of higher education. Data includes details on gender wise gross enrolment ratio in higher education for all categories, SC and ST

GS: 2


International relations:

The people connection (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is accompanied on his visit to India by a large delegation drawn from the defence, cyber, and agricultural sectors; he intends to boost trade, investment, and tourism between the two nations.

Young Israelis visit India in huge numbers each year, forging a stronger acquaintance

This year, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism will spend $5-6 million in India in a bid to boost tourism to Israel. The goal is to have one lakh tourists visiting Israel in 2018.

Once distant

Most Israelis knew little about India until about the mid-1990s

Opening embassy

  • India recognised the state of Israel in 1950, and in 1953 permitted it to open a consulate in Mumbai
  • Full diplomatic relations were established between India and Israel until 1992 when India opened its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Large invisible Indian Jews in Israel

Though there are many Indian Jews living in Israel – over 80,000 – they have remained a relatively quiet and somewhat “invisible” community

Mizrahi

In Israel, Indian Jews are largely subsumed into the larger “Mizrahi” community of non-white Jews from North Africa and West Asia

Settlements in peripheral towns

Few in Israel know about the Jews of India, their varied histories, and the marked cultural and ethnic distinctions between them. This is largely due to where in Israel the Indian Jews settled, which, for economic and political reasons, was primarily in peripheral towns.

History:

Bene and Cochin Jews from India

  • When Jews from India first arrived in the 1940s and ’50s, the darker-skinned Bene Israel and Cochin Jews faced discrimination from the predominantly powerful European (Ashkenazi) Jews.
  • The Jews from Cochin settled mostly in “moshavs”, or community farms, in southern Israel. There, they became very successful at flower growing and export
  • The Bene Israel Jews from the Konkan were in a range of middle-class, modestly-paying professions
  • They settled in smaller towns such as Ashdod, Ramla, and Lod
  • In the 1960s, the Bene Israelis fought and won a major case to be fully accepted as Jews.
  • Far fewer in numbers were the Baghdadi Jewish arrivals from Mumbai, Pune, and Kolkata
  • They became part of the much larger Iraqi Jewish community or integrated with other English-speaking immigrants to Israel. In the last few years, about 2000 BneiMenashe Jews from Manipur and Mizoram have made aliyah as well; many of them have been placed in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Strong ties with India

The Indian Jews in Israel have always held strong ties to India

  • They celebrate Indian Independence Day and Republic Day, and many of them, especially the Bene Israelis, listen to Indian music and watch Indian films, hold Indian cultural events for community members, and open Indian stores which stock the groceries and spices
  • They have formed their own associations, issue their own community publications, and keep their Indian Jewish traditions alive

However, very few Israelis in the past came to know about India from the Indian Jews who lived there.

‘A human bridge’

  • Indian Jews were feted during Prime Minister NarendraModi’s visit to Israel last year
  • This visit commemorated 25 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations

Young Israelis visit in large numbers

  • Netanyahu called the Indian diaspora “a human bridge” between the two nations. I would argue that it is young Israelis who have flocked to India over the last 25 years, and who have come to know India first-hand, who have played a more significant role in familiarising Israelis with India.
  • More than 40,000 Israelis visit India each year. For a country with a population of 6.5 million, that is a considerable number. India is now almost an obligatory visit for Israelis after finishing their compulsory army service. They live in the smaller towns and villages of India for as long as their money can last them, and revel in the freedom India offers them after their rigorous term of service.

Open trafficking (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Employment opportunities should be created in Nepal to prevent cross-border trafficking between Nepal and India

What

  • Following the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that human trafficking from Nepal to India witnessed “a three-fold jump”
  • The SashastraSeemaBal (SSB) reported that most of the victims were minors, with girls and boys in equal numbers, and many were from the earthquake-affected districts of Nepal

Women gone to other countries

A large number of women from this district left the country after the earthquake to find employment abroad, either through Rasuwagadhi or some other transit point along the India-Nepal border, said Asha from an NGO.

Open Border

The Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950 provides for an open border between Nepal and India

Easy to cross

At the Gauriphanta border in LakhimpurKheri district and Sanuali border in Maharajganj district of U.P. bordering Nepal, was easy to cross over to Nepal

People not stopped from entering India

  • An official from SSB at Gauriphanta, which guards the Indian side of the border, said that those entering India are not stopped, but “those with luggage or any suspicion are stopped and questioned.”

Closing the borders not a solution

Closing the border may prevent cross-border trafficking, but it could also engender or accentuate economic vulnerabilities for those who have jobs or own businesses along the border

The way forward

It is imperative to create economic opportunities, particularly for the youth, within the country. Further, the Nepal-India border needs to be equipped with enhanced intelligence networks and effective monitoring mechanisms.

No rohingya entry since 2014 (The Hindu)

Context

Minister of State for Home KirenRijiju said on Tuesday that no Rohingya entered India since 2014 after the BharatiyaJanata Party government came to power.

Sharp decline in insurgency-related incidents in Northeast, says Rijiju

Mr.Rijiju also said that insurgency-related incidents in the Northeast had come down to 308 in 2017, the lowest since 1997.

The Minister said 1963 incidents were reported in 2000, and the overall decline was 85%.

‘Fresh entry prohibited’

  • The Centre’s move led to an uproar with two Rohingya moving the Supreme Court against the decision.
  • Rijiju said on Tuesday, “The illegal immigrants like the Rohingya who came to India, came before 2014. Fresh entry of Rohingya has been prohibited by the border guarding forces.”
  • The Minister said no insurgency-related incidents were reported in Tripura and Mizoram last year. No security forces were killed in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
  • A report presented at the meeting said abductions were down by 36% last year when compared to 2016.
  • An official said 168 incidents of abductions were reported in 2016, which fell down to 102 in 2017.

US deported 460 Indians in 2017 (The Hindu)

Context

Tougher implementation of immigration laws in the U.S in the first year of Donald Trump presidency has resulted in 30 percent increase in arrests, compared to the previous year, but deportations have come down. While the overall number of undocumented people deported from the U.S in 2017 decreased from 2016, the number of Indians increased — 460 were deported last year compared to 353 in 2016.

New report links immigration control to terrorism, assimilation

  • In 2015, 311 undocumented Indians were deported from the U.S, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Number of undocumented Indians in the US

  • According to a Pew Research Centre study in 2016, there could be as many as five lakh undocumented Indians in the United States
  • Tougher enforcement of immigration laws could affect them. They have entered the country by crossing the border illegally or have overstayed their visas, and there is not much India can do for them diplomatically, officials familiar with the situation told The Hindu

Travel Documents issued by the Indian consulate increased

  • Indian consulates in the U.S issue travel documents for them on an urgent basis, when sought, said officials. In 2017, Indian consulates issued 1229 travel documents, compared to 1000 in 2016 and 850 in 2015
  • Deportation and issuance of emergency travel documents cannot be directly correlated.

South Asian community affected

“It’s clear from the numbers that any large scale immigration raids, detentions and deportations deeply impact the South Asian community in the U.S. With 450,000 undocumented Indians — in addition to at least 23,000 Indians and Pakistani DREAMers — these raids, detentions and the lack of movement on DACA and a DREAM Act continue to implicate and impact South Asian communities in the U.S,” a statement by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said

Dreamers

‘Dreamers’ are children who came to the U.S with their undocumented parents.

Among the cases cited by the administration’s report on Tuesday, is of one Indian-origin citizen of the U.S. Khaleel Ahmed came to India in 1998 as a family member of a naturalized United States citizen from India

  • He subsequently became a United States citizen through naturalisation – the process called ‘chain migration’ that the Trump administration wants to end.
  • In 2010, Mr. Ahmad was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for being part of an international terror conspiracy.

Rohingya refugees to return in 2 years (The Hindu)

Context

Bangladesh and Myanmar  have agreed to repatriate 650,000 Rohingya refugees, who fled Myanmar’s crisis-hit Rakhine province, in two years, according to an agreement signed between the two countries.

Bangladesh, Myanmar sign deal

  • The countries held the first meeting of a joint working group on the issue in Naypyidaw where the deal was signed
  • Under the deal, Bangladesh would establish five transit camps from which returnees would be received initially in two reception centres on the Myanmar side
  • Myanmar would shelter them in a temporary accommodation at the Hla Pho Khung and expeditiously rebuild the houses for the returnees to move in
  • According to the arrangement, Myanmar would consider resettling the displaced people staying at the zero line on a priority basis and reiterated its commitment to the stop outflow of its residents to Bangladesh.
  • The two countries also finalised the “form” for verification of the returnees
  • Modalities for repatriation of orphans and children born out of unwarranted incidents have been incorporated in the arrangement.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

CJI meets judges, initiates dialogue (The Hindu)

As the Chief Justice of India met the four senior-most dissenting judges, political parties welcomed the initiative.

Govt to revisit Malimath report (The Hindu)

Context

A 2003 report of a Committee on reforms in the criminal justice system that recommended admissibility of confessions made before a police officer as evidence in a court of law is being revisited by the Centre, a senior government official said.

The Malimath panel had made 158 recommendations but these were never implemented.

  • The Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, or the Justice Malimath Committee, was constituted by the Home Ministry in 2000 by then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who also held the Home portfolio
  • It was headed by Justice V.S. Malimath, former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Kerala High Courts.

Discussed at DGP Conference

The Commitee’s report was discussed at the annual Directors General of Police (DGP) conference held at Tekanpur in Madhya Pradesh earlier this month at which Prime Minister NarendraModi was present.

Judges’ impeachment

  • The Committee also suggested constituting a National Judicial Commission and amending Article 124 to make impeachment of judges less difficult.
  • It had suggested that Section 54 of Evidence Act be substituted by a provision to the effect that in criminal cases, evidence of bad character and antecedents is relevant.
  • Just as evidence of good character of the accused is relevant, evidence regarding bad character of the accused should also be relevant. There is no good reason why evidence regarding bad character of the accused should be made relevant only when evidence is led about his good character. This is quite illogical and irrational.

Colour-coded passports draw flak in Kerala (The Hindu)

Context

The Central government’s decision to issue orange colour passports to persons requiring emigration check has evoked an angry reaction from leaders and organisations cutting across political lines in Kerala.

Says Central govt decision is discriminatory and violative of human rights

In a Facebook post, the Chief Minister said the passport reform would divide Indian citizens into two classes in gross violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Articles 14 to 17 of the Constitution

Creating a class

  • The decision to issue orange passports to those require emigration check and blue passports to those who do not require such check would make those who had not cleared Class 10 second class citizens
  • The Central government’s decision would prove particularly hurtful when those carrying the orange passports visit other countries.
  • This might result in their being treated as second class citizens and some even losing out in the process.

Many businessmen too

While a large number of labourers might be those who had not cleared Class 11, there could also be many from the business community who had not had formal education beyond that level.

Haj subsidies to be phased out: Naqvi (The Hindu)

Context

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday announced the Centre would phase out subsidies for the annual Haj pilgrimage, two months after his Ministry had taken the decision.

Dignity without appeasement

It is part of the Modi government’s efforts to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement

SC Order

The Centre’s decision followed a 2012 Supreme Court order asking that subsidies for the Haj be phased out by 2022 and the money saved (around ₹450 crore annually) diverted to more welfare-oriented activities.

For Education of the girl child

The money saved from the Haj subsidy withdrawal would be used for the education of the girl child.

New Haj Policy

  • A new Haj policy, formulated by a committee headed by former bureaucrat Afzal Amanullah had also suggested that women Hajis be allowed to perform the pilgrimage without male escort, or mehram.
  • In a first, a batch of over 1300 women will perform the annual pilgrimage of Haj from India without a mehram this year.
  • Woman Haj assistants would accompany them and arrangements have been made

Goa plea against Mahadayi dams misleading: Karnataka(The Hindu)

Context

Terming the Goa submission challenging Karnataka’s trans-basin diversion of Mahadayi waters into the Malaprabha reservoir as “misleading and contradictory”, State Water Resources Minister M.B. Patil said water has been shared with Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra from the Krishna basin by the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT) in the past.

No diversion

Plea against allowing the diversion of the Mahadayi river water by the governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Earlier

KWDT has allocated 98.2 tmcft water to the Koyna dam in Maharashtra for generation of power and 25 tmcft for the Telugu-Ganga project (under KWDT-II).

Mahadayi basin

About 200 tmcft water is available in Mahadayi basin, according to a 2003 Central Water Commission report. Unfortunately, Goa uses only around 10 tmcft while the remaining goes into the sea


GS: 3


Economy:

Following the grain trail(The Hindu)

Context

Many States have initiated ‘reforms’ of the public distribution system that are hurting millions of people

India’s public distribution system (PDS) is in danger of being derailed in several States across the country.

Biometric mix-ups: Jharkhand

Jharkhand is a prime example of this problem

Specific Reforms were undertaken

By mid-2016, the PDS in Jharkhand had greatly improved, partly due to a series of reforms inspired by Chhattisgarh’s experience and intensified under the National Food Security Act (NFSA)

But Aadhaar made mandatory

Instead of completing these reforms, for instance by removing private dealers, the Jharkhand government made Aadhaar-based biometric authentication compulsory for PDS users

So the Consequences:

  • Large numbers of people, especially among vulnerable groups such as widows and the elderly, found themselves excluded from the PDS
  • Those who were still able to buy their food rations faced considerable inconvenience due to connectivity and biometric failures
  • Worse, there was a revival of corruption, as PDS rice meant for those who failed the biometric test was siphoned off with abandon.

Mass cancellation of Ration cards

  • The damage was made worse in mid-2017, when the Jharkhand government mass-cancelled ration cards not linked with Aadhaar
  • Many of the cancelled ration cards actually belonged to families that had been unable to link their card with Aadhaar for no fault of their own.
  • The family of SantoshiKumari, an 11-year old Dalit girl who died of hunger on September 28, was among them.

State Government criticized

The mass-cancellation of Aadhaar-less ration cards, without verification and without even informing the victims, was both inhuman and illegal

But does it again

But far from learning from this mistake, or doing anything to repair it, the Jharkhand government launched a further attack on people’s food entitlements

  • The monthly PDS rations of 5 kg per person were restricted to those whose individual names had been linked with Aadhaar in the ration-cards database
  • This restriction, incidentally, is a flagrant violation of the instructions issued by the Food Ministry in Delhi on October 24, in response to the uproar that followed SantoshiKumari’s death.

But the worst still to come

The transition to so-called “direct benefit transfer”.

What is it?

  • Under the DBT system, people have to collect their food subsidy in cash from the bank before using it to buy rice from the ration shop at ₹32 per kg
  • Until now, they were able to buy rice from the ration shop at ₹1 per kg

Blind government

  • The DBT system was initiated in Nagri Block of Ranchi district last October, on an experimental basis
  • In Nagri, it does not take long to discover that the new system is a disaster, and that most people are angry with it

Problems with DBT

  • Time wasted

The main problem with DBT is that people waste enormous time shuttling between the banks, pragyakendras (common service centres) and ration shops to get hold of their money and then use it to buy rice at the ration shop

  • Long Queues

At every step, there are long queues, and for many people the bank or pragyakendra is also far away

  • Mobility problems

For people with mobility problems, like the elderly or disabled, this entire process is a nightmare.

  • Food subsidy difficult to distinguish from other credits

This is all the more difficult as the food subsidy is not always easy to distinguish from other bank credits.

  • Multiple bank accounts

Many families have several bank accounts, but apparently, they were not told where to look for their subsidy As a result, many people had to run from bank to bank to find out where their subsidy had been deposited

A 3 step process

For many of them, this is a three-step process

  • First, they go to the bank to find out whether the subsidy has been credited and update their passbook
  • Second, they go to the pragyakendra to withdraw the cash, as the bank often insists on their doing so from these centres
  • Third, they take the cash to the ration shop to buy rice at ₹32 per kg

People don’t’ have cash

  • If people had cash reserves, the system might work better: PDS purchases would not be contingent on bank transactions.
  • So many people in rural Jharkhand, even in a relatively developed block like Nagri, have so little cash. And even those who have some cash, it seems, prefer to use the DBT subsidy to buy rice from the ration shop, partly because they are not clear about the rules of the game.

Beyond Jharkhand

  • Even as the people of Nagri fume and protest against the DBT experiment, the State government is trying its best to project it as a success and justify its extension to the whole State
  • If this happens, millions of people will face renewed food insecurity.

Other States

Most of them are under tremendous pressure from the Central government to impose Aadhaar-based biometric authentication or move towards DBT

Bihar

In Bihar, DBT failed in the pilot block (Kasba in Purnia district), but the failure went largely unreported

Rajasthan

In Rajasthan, the biometric authentication has caused enormous damage, evident even in the government’s own transactions data.

Chhattisgarh

Even Chhattisgarh, known for its model PDS, is under pressure to follow the diktats of the Central government and adopt Aadhaar-based technology

Growing Centralisation and technocracy

In all these States, we know senior officers in the Food Department who understand the inappropriateness of this technology and privately oppose it. Yet, they have no choice but to follow the Central government’s instructions. This is symptomatic of a larger malady in India’s social sector: growing centralisation and technocracy.

Lack of Concern

The most disturbing aspect of this trend is a lack of concern for the hardships that people face

Examples

  • Aadhaar-less ration cards are cancelled without notice
  • Pensions are discontinued without the victims being told what the problem is
  • Job cards are cancelled just to meet the “100% seeding” targets
  • Elderly persons with rough fingerprints are deprived of food rations without compensation. Cash payments are automatically redirected to Aadhaar-linked bank accounts that people sometimes know nothing about

The Supreme Aadhaar must prevail

In effect, they are treated as guinea pigs for undependable technologies, without any effective arrangements for grievance redressal or even information sharing. Let people perish if need be, Aadhaar must prevail.

Centre to seek comments on farm export policy draft (The Hindu)

Context

The Commerce Ministry will soon put out a draft Agricultural Export Policy for comments from the public, according to a senior official.

Policy aims to boost produce shipments, value addition’

The proposed policy, which aims to boost shipments of farm items by identifying niche products and new markets, also has a focus on value addition and reduction of wastage through pre and post-harvest interventions

‘Indus Food’ starting January 18

  • Two-day mega international food and beverage trade show
  • More than 400 exhibitors are expected to participate in the event, besides buyers from about 43 countries
  • About $2.5 billion worth of business is expected to be finalised during the event, as per government estimates.

Exports rise

  • Exports from the segment rose 18% to $21 billion in April-October 2017-18 period as against just 5% in 2016-17.
  • The proposed agricultural export policy will also help develop agricultural clusters
  • The proposed policy would also cover issues such as logistics, certification and traceability to increase shipments of farm produce including coffee, tea, fruits and vegetables.

Environment:

Australia seeks rescue ideas for reef (The Hindu)

Context

Australia is calling on the world’s top scientific minds to help save the Great Barrier Reef, offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund research into protecting the world’s largest living structure.

Factors damaging Coral Reef

  • Coral bleaching
  • Farming runoff
  • Development
  • Predatory crown-of-thorns starfish

Fund announced

Australian government announced a Aus$2 million ($1.6 million) funding pot available to people with bright ideas on how to save the reef

  • Up to Aus$250,000 is available for an initial feasibility stage, where researchers can test the technical and commercial viability of their proposals for up to six months
  • A further Aus$1 million will then be made available to the best solutions at the proof of concept stage, where applicants develop and test their prototypes for up to 12 months.
  • Those that are successful will retain intellectual property rights and will be able to try to commercialise their innovation.

Suggested solutions

  • Reducing the exposure of corals to physical stressors
  • Boosting coral regeneration rates by cultivating reef-building coral larvae that attract other important marine species

Technocracy

  • A technocracy is a form of government where decision-makers are chosen for a governing office based on their technical expertise and background.
  • Technocracy became a popular movement in the United States during the Great Depression when it was believed that technical professionals, like engineers and scientists, would have a better understanding than politicians regarding the economy’s inherent complexity.
  • There is some criticism that is levelled at technocratic governments. One complaint is that following such a structure is undemocratic, as it favors and rewards those with technical expertise over the choice and will of the populous
  • The focus on science and technical principles in governance might also be seen as separate and disassociated from the humanity and nature of society
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