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GS: 2

International Relations:

Vice-President to leave for South America tomorrow(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The tour to Panama is significant because of growing engagement between China and Panama. The country also has the highest presence of Indian diaspora of 15,000. In Peru, Mr. Naidu will participate in the celebration of 55 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

China, Security Council membership will be topics of talks

  • The tour is especially significant. China has been aggressively expanding its presence in Panama and Peru and India has very limited influence over these two countries
  • The tour to Guatemala is to reassert Indian influence. Guatemala has supported India’s permanent membership in the United Nation’s Security Council. It also has strained relations with both China and Pakistan

China, U.S. have agreed on some trade issues: reports(The Hindu)

What has happened?

China and the U.S. have reached “agreements” on some issues, but both sides were still “very divided” on several others during the economic and trade talks held here to end the tariff spat between the trading partners, according to a media report on Friday.

Work mechanism

Both sides agreed to set up a work mechanism to keep close communication

GS: 3

Economy:

GST Council approves single form for filing of returns(The Hindu) 

What has happened?

The Goods and Services Tax Council on Friday decided to convert the GST Network into a 100% government enterprise, and implement a single form for GST filing from the current three. 

Background

27th meeting of GST Council

Cess on sugar

  • The Council also decided to create a Group of Ministers to review the plan for imposition of a cess on sugar
  • The cess was meant to subsidise sugarcane farmers as their production cost is much higher than the selling price.

Returns filing reconciled

The Council has also decided to create another GoM to consider implementation of a 2% incentive for digital transactions

Single form

The Council approved a single, monthly return form that would become applicable in six months. The current system of filing the GSTR-1 and GSTR-3B forms would continue till then

Internal Security:

Architecture for privacy(Indian Express) 

Context: Privacy protection

Data protection requires a strong regulatory framework with a hierarchy of regulators to protect basic rights

Fear of Digitization: Mass surveillance

  • Databases linked by unique identities can possibly create an infrastructure for totalitarian observation of citizens’ activities across different domains
  • The mere existence of such infrastructure, if unrestricted, can potentially disturb the balance of power between the citizens and the state, stifle dissent and be a threat to civil liberty and democracy

Data misuse

  • Not only can personal information leach out and be used by unpredictable entities in unpredictable ways, but one can also be mis-profiled, wrongly assessed or even influenced using out-of-context data, without being able to control such actions or sometimes even being aware of them
  • Exclusions and denials because of poorly thought out use cases, like perhaps because fingerprints do not match, are more direct violations.

What India needs to do?

  • We should have stricter provisions than the sector-specific standards in the US
  • India should ideally have a more innovation-friendly setup than what the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can offer, which perhaps is unduly restrictive but is unlikely to be commensurately effective
  • Our designs need to be especially sensitive to our large under-privileged population, which may not have the necessary cultural capital to deal with overly complex digital setups
  • Not only do the data regulators require independent authority, but they also need to actively participate in the data protection architecture
  • Apart from determining the fairness of algorithms and use cases, they need to play two other main roles
  • The first should be to determine, and explicitly list out, authorisations for data access for various data processing functions based on a rights-based principle in addition to consent
  • Purpose limitation needs to be built into such authorisations, and all-purpose extension requirements must be explicitly considered
  • The second role should be to ensure that data can be accessed only through audited, pre-approved and digitally signed computer programs after online authentication and verification of the authorisations presented
  • Both the data regulator and the data controller should maintain non-repudiable logs of all data accesses, and neither should be able to access the data independent of the other 

Conclusion

The technology to support such regulatory functions exists, what is necessary now is an effective and rights-based data protection law, and the will to build the required regulatory capacity 

Ministry fast-tracks security clearance(The Hindu)

What has happened?

Among the foreign countries, U.S., China (including Hong Kong), Mauritius, U.K. has received the green signal for the maximum number of projects at 10 each, followed by Germany 6, Bangladesh 3 and two each for Italy, Israel, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Overseas investment proposals are getting the nod in 40 days as against nine months

  • Earlier the time taken for security clearance for a project was eight-nine months on an average. This has been brought down to 40 days since last year
  • The Ministry had formulated a new national security clearance policy in 2015 after the government decided to speed up projects, which were stuck for lack of approval by Intelligence Bureau (IB) or other agencies including the State police. 

15 parameters

The policy has 15 parameters on which inputs from security agencies are sought

Once it has got an application from an investor, the Ministry decides on the status of security clearance to the company within 4-6 weeks.

Science and Technology:

‘Fasting may boost stem cell regeneration’(The Hindu) 

What has happened?

A 24-hour fast may reverse the age-related loss of stem cell function that regenerates new intestinal cells, according to a study.

It breaks down fatty acids, not glucose

  • Researchers, including those from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S., found that fasting dramatically improves stem cells’ ability to regenerate, in both aged and young mice
  • In fasting mice, cells begin breaking down fatty acids instead of glucose, a change that stimulates the stem cells to become more regenerative.
  • The researchers found that they could also boost regeneration with a molecule that activates the same metabolic switch.
  • Such an intervention could potentially help older people recovering from gastrointestinal infections or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy
  • Pharmacological targeting of this pathway may provide a therapeutic opportunity to improve tissue homeostasis in age-associated pathologies

Environment:

Sting in the air(Indian Express)

What has happened?

The WHO’s global pollution database, that was released this week, is not the first worldwide survey to give Indian cities a poor report card on air quality indicators. In what should be worrying news for policymakers, the survey counts 13 Indian cities, other than Delhi, as among the top 20 hotspots of PM 2.5.

Policymakers need to pay attention to smaller cities as well

More than a fourth of the automatic air quality pollution monitoring centres in the country are located in Delhi. Kanpur, the worst performer on the WHO index, has just one centre to monitor real-time air quality

Different solutions for India’s differing geologies of different states

  • North India, the hub of pollution in the country, is landlocked, which means that the bad air does not find a quick release, unlike say, in Mumbai, where the sea absorbs a lot of the pollutants
  • In many areas in the region, including Kanpur, a substantial chunk of the particulate matter is transported from the up-wind states
  • It then remains trapped in the city for long periods. Policies must be devised keeping such constraints in mind. 

Worrying factors

  • The draft NCAP does not set any pollution reduction target
  • The draft takes a city-specific approach

Conclusion

The WHO report should alert the government to the fact that the city-specific approach needs to be synchronized with one that takes the regional landscape into consideration.

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