9 PM Daily Brief – September 23rd, 2020

Daily current affairs summaries

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9 PM for Mains examination

GS-2

  1. E learning in India
  2. Uniting to combat COVID-19

GS-3

  1. India’s jobs conundrum
  2. Farmer’s protest on new farm bills
  3. Agriculture sector and the benefits of the farms bills

9 PM for Preliminary examination

FACTLy


1.E learning in India

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS-2- Education

Context:  Online learning may not guide a revolution in poorly performing educational systems.

What is the state of education during COVID-19?

  • Our education system was never very efficient even in the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced it to be extremely biased and faulty.
  • There are several sets of guidelines and plans issues by the government, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) for online education.
  • The Internet space is crowded with learning schemes, teaching videos, sites and portals for learning opportunities.

What are  the key issues in the education system during pandemic ?

  1. Exacerbation of inequality
  • The plight of millions of migrant labourersproved the point adequately.
  • The children of the same people will be at a disadvantage as they are deprived of resources.
  • Government plans:The government began plans for students with no online access only by the end of August.
  • These plans assume that semi-literate or illiterate parents will teach their children, community involvement, mobile pools which is not possible.
  • Inaccessibility:Whatever online or digital education is available is for students with only online access. Thus, digital India may become even more unequal and divided than it already is.
  • The quality of online teaching-learning: The NCERT declares in its Learning Enhancement or LEG that 60-70% students, teachers and parents consider learning satisfactory.
  • However, its survey asks a single question on the feeling of students using the criteria of ‘joyful to burdensome’. But it says nothing about the quantum and depth of learning.
  • Technical issues:Listening to lectures on the mobile phone, copying from the board where the teacher is writing, frequent disconnections and/or having blurred video/audio can hardly and naturally connect the child’s present understanding with the logically organised bodies of human knowledge.
  1. No focus on concepts
  • Conceptual understanding missing: In the science and mathematics videos, in particular, there are many misconceptions and doubts. The emphasis is more on ‘tricks’ to remember for success in an examination than laying the stress on conceptual understanding.
  • Khan academy:The government of Delhi uses videos from here and American educators have questioned the quality of teaching and have pointed out inadequate or plainly wrong concepts, particularly in mathematics.
  1. The thrust, post-COVID-19
  • The NCERT’s LEGstates that “COVID-19 has created a situation which demands transformation in school education and the transaction mechanisms in school education may go through a drastic change.
  • Alternative modes:It recommends that “alternative modes of education for the whole academic session including Internet-based, radio, podcast, community radio, IVRS, TV DTH Channels, etc.” should be developed.
  • Increasing inadequacy:This transformation of schools in the current understanding of pedagogy, suitability of learning material and quality of learning provided through IT will further devastate the already inadequate system of school education in the country.
  1. Institutional environment
  • The institutions function sub-optimally, students themselves create an environment that supports their growth morally, socially and intellectually in conversations and interactions with each other. The online mode of teaching completely shut out this opportunity.

What should be the way forward ?

  • It requires well-connected, regular efforts that are incrementally building to help the child focus his attention and to provoke him to distinguish and to discriminate, and develop a habit of staying on task.
  • This requires help from someone who knows the child as well as understands the objective of education.

2.Uniting to combat COVID-19

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: Gs2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health.

Context: The growth prospects for the world’s fastest-growing region, South Asia, appear grim due to the pandemic.

What is the current scenario?

  • In April, the World Bank predicted that growth in the region would be 1.8%-2.8% this year.
  • According to World meter, in South Asia, the Maldives has the highest number of tests per million population followed by Bhutan.
  • Countries facing a surge in cases, such as India, could have flattened the curve by increasing the number of tests.
  • The countries that have conducted more tests have been more successful in containing the pandemic.

Low mortality in south Asian region

  • India has the second largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world (over 55 lakh) after the U.S.  whereas Bangladesh has around 3.5 lakh cases.
  • However, South Asian countries are experiencing a lower mortality rate despite having a higher infection rate.
  • Probable reason could be due to the region’s tropical climate, protection offered by a tuberculosis vaccine (BCG), exposure to malaria, and a weaker strain of the virus.
  • Epidemiological studies and the World Health Organization’s reviews have been sceptical about the hypotheses of low mortality doubting Issues of data reliability and under-reporting:

Government responses in South Asia:

  • Lock down measure:
    • India resumed its economic activities on a limited scale following a strict lockdown imposed in late March and lasting through April.
    • Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka did the same after an extended lockdown.
    • Bhutan and the Maldives have managed to largely contain community transmission and avoid prolonged lockdowns due to a higher testing rate.
  • Stimulus Packages:
  • India announced a $22.5 billion relief package to ensure food security and cash transfers to save the livelihoods of an estimated 800 million people living in poverty.
  • Bangladesh announced a stimulus package worth about $8 billion in addition to an earlier $595 million incentive package for export-oriented industries.
  • Pakistan unveiled a comprehensive fiscal stimulus package of $6.76 billion.
  • Monetary measures:The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slashed the repo and reverse repo rate to create liquidity for businesses. Pakistan’s central bank also slashed the interest rate.
  • Regional cooperation: the Maldives government mobilised a $161.8 million emergency fund. It also announced a short-term financing facility for the tourism industry. Sri Lanka signed an agreement with the RBI for a currency swap worth $400 million to support domestic financial stability. The Afghan government allocated about $25 million to fight COVID-19.

Issues in Implementation

  • Issue of distribution: India and Bangladesh announced financial and material stimulus packages, distribution concerns remain unaddressed. For instance, the Open Market Sale in Bangladeshappears ineffective as there is no physical distancing.
  • Political tampering and poor governance: In India, the announcement of the lockdown gave citizens less than four hours to prepare.
  • Hoarding of supplies: In India, it caused a shortage in the market. The lockdown disrupted supply chains. It was a similar situation in Nepal and Pakistan.

What needs to be done?

  • Coordinated response mechanism: leaders of the region need to look beyond narrow geopolitical rivalry and come together to work towards a well-coordinated response mechanism.
  • Operationalise SAARC COVID-19 fund: It was created following Indian Prime Minister’s call to South Asian leaders, but governments are yet to decide on its modus operandi.
  • Leverage existing institutional framework: For instance, SAARC Food Bankscould be activated to tackle the imminent regional food crisis, and the SAARC Finance Forum can be activated to formulate a regional economic policy response.

3.India’s jobs conundrum

Source: LiveMint

Syllabus: GS3: Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning, Mobilization of Resources, Growth, Development and Employment.

Context: A country progresses when small and mid-sized firms grow, and create jobs alongside.  India over the years is facing the problem of inadequate mid-sized firms.

How are job creation and firms’ size related?

  • Contribution of Large firms: McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) in a recent report titled India’s turning point, an economic agenda to spur growth and jobs points out that India has around 600 large firms which earn a revenue of more than $500 million per year.
  • Higher productivity:The labour productivity of large firms is 11 times higher than that of the overall economy.
  • Growth in export and employment generation:These firms are also responsible for 40% of exports and employ 20% of the people in the direct formal workforce.

Why does India have fewer large firms?

  • India’s missing middle of mid-sized firms: It’s the mid-sized firms which grow into large firms, and create jobs and competition along the way.
  • Slow corporate growth:slow corporate growth led to slow economic growth and a situation where only 77 mid-sized firms became large between 2012 and 2018.
  • Chain reaction: since 2017, India’s GDP is free falling and in 2018, the revenues of large Indian firms amounted to 48% of nominal GDP compare to 58% in 2012.
  • Comparison with Other countries:
  • The contribution made by large firms in other emerging economies like China, Malaysia and Thailand was 1.5 to 1.6 times that of India.
  • India has fewer large firmsrelative to gross domestic product (GDP) than China, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand.
  • As per MGI, India’s 1,500 mid-sized firms per $1 trillion of GDP, with revenue between $40 million and $500 million, are only about half the number in peer emerging economies relative to their GDP.

What are the possible reasons for mid-sized firms?

  • India’s high cost of compliance.
  • The small and mid-sized firms lack the organizational resourcesto manage costly procedures.
  • Due to cumbersome procedure, it takes 1,445 days to enforce a contract in India. However, in South Korea it takes 290 days.
  • Lack of access to low-cost capital stops firms from growing bigger.

What steps should be taken to tackle this?

  • Lack of capital problem can be tackled by deepening India’s capital markets.
  • India needs to triple the size of its large firms by 2030.
  • Unlocking land supply and allow prices to fall by 20% to 25%.
  • Creation of flexible labour markets, privatizing the 30 largest PSU firms.
  • Efficient power distribution.
  • Improving ease of doing business and sector specific policies to improve productivity.

4.Farmer’s protest on new farm bills

Source- The Indian Express

Syllabus- GS 3- Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support price

Context- There have been a strong protests from farmers, especially from the states Punjab and Haryana against three Bills on agriculture reforms introduced in the Parliament to replace the ordinances issued during the lockdown.

What are the new Farm Bills?

Three Farm Bills that are bond for contention-

  • The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020.
  • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.
  • The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

Why are these bills being opposed?

  1. Against the spirit of cooperative federalism-
  • Since agriculture and markets are State subjects – entry 14 and 28 respectively in List II – the ordinances are being seen as a direct encroachment upon the functions of the States.
  • The three ordinances passed by the Centre are viewed as against the spirit of cooperative federalism enshrined in the Constitution.
  1. Absence of any regulation in non-APMC-
  • According to farmers, the proposed bills give the preference for corporate interests at the cost of farmer’s interests.
  • In the absence of any regulation in non-APMC, the farmers may find it difficult to deal with corporates, as they solely operate on the motive of profit seeking.
  1. End of MSP [Minimum Support Price]– By allowing trade zones to come up outside the APMC area, as a sign of ending the assured procurement of food grains at minimum support price.
  • There is no mention whatsoever of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime, which is the lifeline of poor farmers and their key to survival, as also the survival of the nation’s agriculture sector.
  1. Lack of consultation– Farmers have argued that there is hastily attempt to pass the bills without proper consultation with any major stakeholders, farmer’s representatives or any state governments before bringing the ordinances.
  2. Non-Favourable Market Conditions- While retail prices have remained high; data from the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) suggest a deceleration in farm gate prices for most agricultural produce.
  • With rising input costs, farmers do not see the free market based framework providing them remunerative prices.
  • These fears gain strength with the experience of States such as Bihar which abolished APMCs in 2006. After the abolition of mandis, farmers in Bihar on average received lower prices compared to the MSP for most crops.
  1. Food security undermined-
  • Easing of regulation of food items would lead to exporters, processors and traders hoarding farm produceduring the harvest season, when prices are generally lower, and releasing it later when prices increase.
  • This could undermine food security since the States would have no information about the availability of stocks within the State.
  1. Deregulation of food items-
  • The Essential Commodities [Amendment] bill removes cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities, which deregulate the production, storage, movement and distribution of these food commodities.

Way forward-

Centre needs to prevent the farmers from falling into the clutches of the monopolistic big corporates and need to enlarge the market for agriculture produce while preserving the safety net principle through MSP and public procurement. Government must provide MSP not just on wheat and rice but all other crops so that farmers are encouraged to diversify.

5.Agriculture sector and the benefits of the farms bills

Source- The Indian Express

Syllabus- GS 3- Transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints

Context- The will to implement the long-pending transformative reforms has been finally demonstrated by the PM..

How is the agriculture sector working on India’s Independence and till present?

  • 1947-Agriculture contributed 50 per cent to the national income and employed more than 70 per cent of the nation’s workforce.
  • 2019-Agriculture contributed 16.5 per cent to the national income while the sector still employs more than 42 per cent of the workforce.

What are the challenges in the Indian Agriculture market and what are the methods to address these challenges?

The Challenges-

Therefore, this makes agriculture risky and inefficient with respect to both input and output management.

The challenges need to be addressed by-

What are the steps taken by the government?

1.The government has taken various steps including the implementation of the Swaminathan committee’s recommendations, such as-

    1. Fixing MSP at least 50 per cent profits on the cost of production.
    2. Increasing the agri budget by more than 11 times in the past 10 years.
    3. The establishment of e-NAM mandis.
    4. An Agriculture Infrastructure Fund of Rs 1 lakh crore under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Package.
    5. The scheme for the formation of 10,000 FPOs.
    6. The removal of the mandi tax.
    7. The creation of a single market.
    8. Facilitating contract farming.

2.Farm bills provides for-

    1. Alternative trading channel-It will create an ecosystem where farmers and traders enjoy the freedom of choice of sale and purchase of farming produce to facilitate remunerative prices to farmers through competitive alternative trading channels.
    2. Tax free market-It will promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce of farming produce outside the physical premises of markets notified under state agricultural produce marketing legislation. Thus, they will facilitate farmers with more buyers for their produce at their doorsteps.
    3. Transparency in the system
    • This framework will facilitate greater certainty in quality and price, adoption of quality and grading standards, linkage of farming agreements with insurance and credit instruments to transfer the risk of market unpredictability from the farmer to the sponsor and also enable the farmer to access modern technology and better inputs.

What are the precautions which are taken by the government to secure the farmers from fraud?

In order to ensure that our farmers are not short changed or cheated by anyone, the bills have several safeguards such as-

  1. Protection of land- The prohibition of sale, lease or mortgage of farmers’ land and farmers’ land is also protected against any recovery.
  2. Farming agreements-Cannot be entered into, if they are in derogation of the rights of a sharecropper.
  3. Flexible prices-Farmers will have access to flexible prices subject to a guaranteed price in agreements.
  4. Sponsor’s active role-The sponsor has to ensure the timely acceptance of delivery and payment of produce to farmers and farmers’ liability is limited to only the advance received and cost of inputs provided by the sponsor.
  5. In case of any dispute-It will be resolved through a Conciliation Board, to be constituted by the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), failing which an aggrieved party may approach the concerned SDM for the settlement of the dispute.
  6. Power of the SDM– SDM can order the recovery of the amount in dispute, impose penalties and also pass an order restraining the trader for the trade and commerce of scheduled farmers’ produce for such a period as deemed fit.

Way Forward

The people of India must not allow falsehood and political opportunism to overshadow the key measures and mechanisms enunciated through this landmark reform, which finally puts the farmers first. These farm bills will bring transformative changes in our agricultural sector and reduce wastage, increase efficiency, unlock value for our farmers and increase farmers’ incomes for the sustainable growth of the farming sector.


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