9 PM Current Affairs Brief – March 22nd, 2018

Download the compilation of all summaries of all the news articles here

GS: 2

Southern pride

Southern pride


At a press conference last week, when Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam working president M.K. Stalin was asked what he thought of the southern States combining to form “Dravida Nadu,” he replied, “If this happens, it is welcome and it will happen I believe.” Given the brouhaha (an overexcited reaction) around his remark, it deserves to be properly contextualised historically and in the backdrop of Tamil politics of recent years

Not a new demand

The Tamil demand for a separate State is not new. The idea of Dravida Nadu, named for the ethnicity of its original inhabitants, initially gathered momentum with the support of the Justice Party led by Periyar E.V. Ramasamy

The origins of the demand

Various events spurred the demand

  • Introduction of Hindi in Tamil Nadu schools in 1937, during the early- to mid-20th century
  • Fear that Brahminism as a socially dominant force, Hindi, as an official language, and north Indian cultural mores would be afforded hegemonic status, relegating Tamil ethnic sentiment to a secondary position

Periyar’s voice & 16th amednment

Consequently, from around 1938, Periyar gave voice to the demand for Dravida Nadu and it continued to find articulation in various forms via his successors at the head of the Dravidian movement, including DMK Chief Ministers C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi

  • This went on until October 1963, when the Government of India, helmed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, enacted the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, effectively outlawing what it considered to be secessionist slogans by those seeking to occupy public office

Local parties gain power

Consequently many local parties including Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu came to power and the demand for Dravida nadu lost momentum

Recent events

Death of sitting Chief Minister Jayalalithaa of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 2016, and the stepping back from active politics of the DMK supremo, Mr. Karunanidhi, owing to ill health has created a political vacuum which BJP is vying to fill out, thereby prompting the call for a Dravida Nadu

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Aadhaar data safe, govt. asserts in SC

Aadhaar data safe, govt. asserts in SC


The government has assured the Supreme Court that Aadhaar is not a “fly-by-night effort to score some brownie points” and personal data collected from millions of people is safe from breach in storage facilities barricaded behind five-foot thick walls

SC’s observations vs government’s views

Chief Justice’s views

  • Why persons, who prefer anonymity and consider their identity as a treasure, should also be compelled to part with their personal data to access services

Government’s views

  • Aadhaar provides a right to physically exist without lying on the pavement without food. Only Rs 17 of Rs. 100 spent on anti-poverty projects actually reaches the poor. The rest is eaten up by middlemen and public servants. The right to a dignified and meaningful life for the poor far outweighed the right to privacy
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BJP, Cong. trade charges over use of data analytics firm

BJP, Cong. trade charges over use of data analytics firm


Days after data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica (CA), a subsidiary of the U.K.-based SCL Group, was suspended by social media company Facebook for not deleting user data obtained from an app developer for the platform, the controversy reached Indian shores with both the BJP and the Congress trading charges of the other having used the firm’s services

What is Cambridge Analytica?

Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a UK-based data analytics firm, whose parent company is Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). It claims to build psychological profiles of voters to help its clients win elections

Accusation against CA

  • The company is accused of buying millions of Americans’ data from a researcher who told Facebook he was collecting it strictly for academic purposes
  • It then tapped that data to build psychographic profiles of users and their friends, which were utilized for targeted political ads in the UK’s Brexit referendum campaign, as well as by Trump’s team during the 2016 US election

The Breach

  • Facebook allowed Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge who owns a company called Global Science Research, to harvest data from users who downloaded his app (thisisyourdigitallife)
  • The app asked users to log in using their Facebook account. As part of the login process, it asked for access to users’ Facebook profiles, locations, what they liked on the service
  • The problem was that Facebook users who agreed to give their information to Kogan’s app also gave up permission to harvest data on all their Facebook friends as well
  • The breach occurred when Kogan then sold this data to Cambridge Analytica, which is against Facebook’s rules. Facebook says it has since changed the way it allows researchers to collect data from the platform as a result
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Behind a growing social fissure 

Behind a growing social fissure


Anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka


  • Majority with a minority complex: Due to various historical and geographical reasons, Sinhala Buddhists are a majority with a minority complex, existentially fearful of losing majority status in Sri Lanka either to Tamil Hindus or to Muslims
  • Muslims are seen as aliens: The majority often sees Muslims as a growing, united and economically persevering group, having an unshakeable faith in Islam, and asserting the Islamic identity. In contrast, the Sinhala-Buddhists are seen to be lacking unity — unlike Muslims, they are relaxed and liberal about religious practices/observances. These differences and fear often get translated into violence
  • Complaints against Muslims:
    • Rise in radicalisation of Muslims in the Eastern province (Islamic State inspired) and the alleged promotion of anti-Buddhist propaganda by fundamentalist forces
    • There are allegations against Muslim politicians of being engaged in land acquisitions and the illegal resettlement of Muslims
    • There are concerns which are meant to promote fear and hatred. These range from the absurd accusations about Muslim promotion of birth control pills and concerns about the growth in the Muslim population, expansion of Muslim-owned businesses, and Sinhala families being driven away from villages by Muslims

What can be done?

  • There is a list of different complaints, and of varying degrees of seriousness. While some of them need to be exposed for what they truly are (myths and untruths), and some defy any meaningful action (the expansion of businesses or the population), some others would need to be taken up for serious examination by the political leadership
  • Emphasis on ensuring accountability through the prosecution of all persons, including Buddhist monks, who have caused and incited violence. Simultaneously, there should be a constant dialogue between Sinhala Buddhist groups, the Muslim religious/political leadership and the government
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‘Assam rhinoceros data may have been doctored for funds’

‘Assam rhinoceros data may have been doctored for funds’


An organization of whistleblowers in Assam armed with an RTI reply from the authorities of a national park, has said that rhinoceros census data may be getting doctored for ensuring the flow of foreign funds

Info relevant from Pre 2018 perspective

Indian Rhino Vision 2020 initiative

IRV 2020 is a partnership between the Assam Forest Department, the Bodoland Territorial Council, WWF, IRF, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Goal: Its goal is to have a wild population of at least 3,000 Greater one-horned rhinos in the Indian state of Assam – spread over seven protected areas – by the year 2020. IRV 2020 is an ambitious rhino range and population expansion programme
  • Rhinos from overcrowded areas, like Kaziranga National Park and Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, are being moved to other protected areas where they can breed

Orang national Park

Orang National Park is also known as Rajiv Gandhi National park, located in the Darrang and Sonitpur districts of the state of Assam. It was declared as a National Park in 1999

  • The park has a rich flora and fauna, including great Indian one-horned Rhinoceros, Leopard, Elephant, Sambar, Barking Deer, Tiger, varieties of water birds, Green Pigeon, Florican, Teal , Goose, etc. It is an important breeding ground for varieties of Fishes
  • The park is also famous for its migratory birds like milky white pelicans
  • The river is also home to the rare Ganges Dolphin

Pobitora Wild life Sanctuary

Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in the flood plains of River Brahmaputra in the district of Morigaon and about 45 kms from Guwahati, the capital of Assam. Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in the flood plains of River Brahmaputra in the district of Morigaon and about 45 kms from Guwahati, the capital of Assam, India

  • Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary harbors the highest density of Rhino in the world and second highest concentration of Rhino in Assam after Kaziranga National Park
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Conserve every drop 

Conserve every drop


The grave water situation in Cape Town in South Africa is a wake-up call to everybody across the globe — from policymakers to the common man — that it cannot be business as usual when it comes to water usage. A similar crisis is looming large in other cities in the world as people continue to be reckless in their use of water

Threats to water security in India

  • A growing population
  • Lack of adequate planning
  • Crumbling infrastructure
  • Indiscriminate drilling of borewells
  • Large-scale consumption of water
  • A false sense of entitlement in using water carelessly
  • Leakage of pipes providing water, particularly in urban areas
  • Poor utilization of rainwater:  India receives an average rainfall of 1,170 mm per year, it is estimated that only 6% of rainwater is stored

Fighting the water crisis

  • The World Bank’s Water Scarce Cities Initiative seeks to promote an integrated approach to managing water resources and service delivery in water-scarce cities as the basis for building resilience against climate change
  • Micro irrigation practices like drip and sprinkler systems have to be promoted in a big way for efficient use of water for agriculture
  • Both in urban and rural areas, digging of rainwater harvesting pits must be made mandatory for all types of buildings
  • Conscious efforts need to be made at the household level and by communities, institutions and local bodies to supplement the efforts of governments and non-governmental bodies in promoting water conservation

Future situation in India

According to a forecast by the Asian Development Bank, India will have a water deficit of 50% by 2030

What is the position of UN wrt access to sufficient water?

In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized the right of every human being to have access to sufficient water for personal and domestic uses (between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day). It has to be safe, acceptable and affordable (water costs should not exceed 3% of household income) and also physically accessible (within 1,000 metres of home).

Pre 2018 relevant data

Atal Bhujal Yojana

It is aimed at sustainable ground water management with community participation in select over-exploited and ground water stressed areas in seven States (Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh)

  • ABHY is designed as a Central Sector Scheme with a total outlay of Rs. 6,000 Crore and is proposed to be implemented with World Bank assistance
  • The scheme will be implemented and looked over by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation

Water being a State subject, steps for augmentation, conservation and efficient management of water resources to ensure sustainability and availability are primarily undertaken by the respective State Governments

National Rural Drinking Water Programme

The aim and objective of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) is to provide every rural person with adequate safe water for drinking, cooking and other basic domestic needs on a sustainable basis, with a minimum water quality standard, which should be conveniently accessible at all times and in all situations

  • This programme was launched after merging the three erstwhile programmes on Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme-ARWSP; Swajaldhara and National Rural Water Quality Monitoring & Surveillance
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US Fed hikes key interest rate; says economic outlook stronger

US Fed hikes key interest rate; says economic outlook stronger


The Federal Reserve on Thursday increased the benchmark interest rate a quarter point to a target range of 1.5 % to 1.75 %, citing a stronger US economic outlook in recent months

Basis of hike

  • Fiscal policy has become more simulative
  • ongoing job gains are boosting incomes and confidence
  • foreign growth is on a firm trajectory
  • Inflation below 2% target

Also, overall financial conditions remain accommodating

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Tremendous’ response to OALP: DGH

Tremendous’ response to OALP: DGH


Interest in the Open Acreage Licensing Programme (OALP) and Discovered Small Fields (DSF), two key components of the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy, has been considerable as India works to reduce oil imports by at least 10%, by 2022, according to a senior government official

What has happened?

  • OALP: The OALP Bid Round-1 — under which almost 60,000 square kilometre of exploration area is to be added — has seen a “tremendous response.  It should be noted that 55 onshore and offshore blocks in 10 sedimentary basins across 11 States would be awarded through a bidding process
  • DSF: 30 contracts had been signed with 23 companies in the first round

Present situation

Existing area under oil and gas exploration in the country was a little over 1 lakh sq. km.


Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) gives an option to a company looking for exploring hydrocarbons to select the exploration blocks on its own, without waiting for the formal bid round from the Government

  • Under Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP), a bidder intending to explore hydrocarbons like oil and gas, coal bed methane, gas hydrate etc., may apply to the Government seeking exploration of any new block (not already covered by exploration)
  • The Government will examine the Expression of Interest and justification. If it is suitable for award, Govt. will call for competitive bids after obtaining necessary environmental and other clearances
  • OALP was introduced vide a Cabinet decision of the Government dated 10.03.2016, as part of the new fiscal regime in exploration sector called HELP or Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy, so as to enable a faster survey and coverage of the available geographical area which has potential for oil and gas discovery

DSF policy

  • The Government had approved the Discovered Small Field policy in 2015 with its main objective to bring Discovered Small Fields to production at the earliest so as to enhance the domestic production
  • There areas has been discovered long back but these reserve could not be put into production due to various reasons such as Isolated locations of  oil field; Small size of hydrocarbon reserve; high development costs and constraint in technology etc
  • These small fields have been discovered by National Oil Companies i.e. Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) and Oil India Ltd (OIL)
  • In the bidding of discovered small field both oil and non-oil companies participated. The biggest pulling factor was the prospect of owning an oilfield without having to invest in discovery. This has provided many companies an opportunity to invest in the lucrative business of hydrocarbons.

Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP)

Four main facets of this policy are:

  • uniform license for exploration and production of all forms of hydrocarbon,
  • an open acreage policy,
  • easy to administer revenue sharing model and
  • Marketing and pricing freedom for the crude oil and natural gas produced

An ‘Open Acreage Licensing Policy’ will be implemented whereby a bidder may apply to the Government seeking exploration of any block not already covered by exploration. This will enable a faster coverage of the available geographical area.

What’s the problem with NELP?

  • The New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) has been in existence for 18 years. Over the years, various issues have arisen in NELP.
  • Presently, there are separate policies and licenses for different hydrocarbons.
  • There is overlapping of resources between different contracts.
  • Unconventional hydrocarbons (shale gas and shale oil) were unknown when NELP was framed.
  • While exploring for one type of hydrocarbon, if a different one is found, it will need separate licensing, thus, adding further to the cost.
  • The Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs) under NELP are based on the principle of “profit sharing”.
  • When a contractor discovers oil or gas, he is expected to share with the Government the profit from his venture, as per the percentage given in his bid. Until a profit is made, no share is given to Government, other than royalties and cesses
  • The process of approval of activities and cost gives the govt a lot of discretion and has become a major source of delays and disputes.
  • Another feature of the current system is that exploration is confined to blocks which have been put on tender by the govt.
  • Currently, the producer price of gas is fixed administratively by the Government. This has led to loss of revenue and a large number of disputes.
  • The current policy regime, in fixing royalties, does not distinguish between shallow water fields and deep/ultra-deep water fields where risks and costs are much higher.
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Union Cabinet approves Ayushman Bharat health scheme 

Union Cabinet approves Ayushman Bharat health scheme


The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the launch of the Ayushman Bharat — National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM), which was announced in the Budget

Features of the scheme

  • The scheme will provide a cover of ₹5 lakh per family per year
  • It would take care of almost all secondary care and most of the tertiary care procedures
  • There will be no cap on family size and age
  • The benefits cover will include pre and post-hospitalization expenses
  • All pre-existing conditions will be covered from day one of the policy
  • A defined transport allowance per hospitalization will also be paid to the beneficiary
  • AB-NHPM will be an entitlement based scheme with entitlement decided on the basis of deprivation criteria in the SECC database
  • The beneficiaries can avail benefits in both public and empanelled private facilities. All public hospitals in the States implementing AB-NHPM, will be deemed empanelled for the Scheme
  • States will be free to choose the modalities for implementation. They can implement through insurance company or directly through Trust/ Society or a mixed model
  • Bodies to be set up:
    1. AB-NHPMC: For giving policy directions and fostering coordination between Centre and States, it is proposed to set up Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission Council (AB-NHPMC) at apex level Chaired by Union Health and Family Welfare Minister
    2. AB-NHPMGB: It is proposed to have an Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission Governing Board (AB-NHPMGB) which will be jointly chaired by Secretary (HFW) and Member (Health), NITI Aayog with Financial Advisor, MoHFW, Additional Secretary & Mission Director, Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission, MoHFW (AB-NHPM) and Joint Secretary (AB-NHPM), MoHFW as members
    3. AB-NHPMA: It is proposed to establish an Ayushman Bharat – National Health Protection Mission Agency (AB-NHPMA) to manage the AB-NHPM at the operational level in the form of a Society. AB-NHPMA will be headed by a full time CEO of the level of Secretary/ Additional Secretary to the Government of India
  • To ensure that the funds reach SHA on time, the transfer of funds from Central Government through AB-NHPMA to State Health Agencies may be done through an escrow account The State has to contribute its matching share of grants within defined time frame.
  • Implementation by: At the national level to manage, an Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission Agency (AB-NHPMA) would be put in place. States/ UTs would be advised to implement the scheme by a dedicated entity called State Health Agency (SHA)

Major impact

In-patient hospitalization expenditure in India has increased nearly 300% during last ten years. (NSSO 2015). More than 80% of the expenditure are met by out of pocket (OOP). Rural households primarily depended on their ‘household income / savings’ (68%) and on ‘borrowings’ (25%), the urban households relied much more on their ‘income / saving’ (75%) for financing expenditure on hospitalizations, and on ‘(18%) borrowings. (NSSO 2015)

  • Out of pocket (OOP) expenditure in India is over 60% which leads to nearly 6 million families getting into poverty due to catastrophic health expenditures. AB-NHPM will have major impact on reduction of Out Of Pocket (OOP) expenditure
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Read the distress signals 

Read the distress signal


Reducing agrarian distress

What should be done to alleviate agrarian distress in India?

  • Accelerating industrial growth and improving the ease of doing business: The biggest priority is to reduce the workforce which depends on agriculture for its livelihood. This can only be done if ample job opportunities exist outside
  • Banning Agricultural produce market Committees (APMCs): Farmer and buyer should be directly linked via elimination of middlemen. APMCs were established for that purpose but they themselves have proved to be inefficient and ineffective
  • Providing access to formal Credit: Most of the farmers do not have access to institutional credit
  • Reforming the flawed MSP regime: Assured MSPs in the areas where weather conditions are suited to other crops has resulted in little incentive to diversify crops

Some recent positive steps taken by government

To its credit some recent initiatives of the government are laudable

  • Neem-coated fertilizer has reduced leakage, and direct benefit transfer to the farmer-buyer will reduce subsidy further
  • Soil cards ensure appropriate matching of inputs to soil conditions
  • Giving tax holiday to the farmer producer companies is also the right fiscal incentive
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