9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – February 12, 2021

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List of  9 PM Current Affairs Articles

  1. Privatization of banking sector: Issues and analysis
  2. Issues in Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020
  3. Challenges related to regulations of cryptocurrencies in India
  4. Disinformation issue in Cyber Space: Issues and Way forward
  5. Disengagement agreement in Pangong Tso region
  6. Reasons behind Sino- Indian disengagement agreement along LAC

Privatisation of banking sector: Issues and analysis

Source: The Indian Express

Syllabus: GS -3 Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Synopsis: The government has decided to privatise two public sector banks. The move will give the private sector a key role in the banking sector.

Introduction 

The government has announced the disinvestment policies for four strategic sectors including banking, insurance, and financial services. The government will have a bare minimum presence in these sectors.

  • Earlier, the government merged ten PSU banks into four.
  • The government is now left with 12 state-owned banks, from 28 earlier.
  • The government will select 2 banks for privatization, based on the NITI Aayog’s recommendations. These recommendations will be considered by a core group of secretaries on disinvestment. 

What were the reasons for the nationalization of Private banks?

In the Mid-1960s, the commercial banking sector was most profitable, especially after the consolidation of 566 banks in 1951 to 91 in 1967. However, some issues were present in these sectors at that time:

  • Branches were mostly opened in the urban areas. Rural and semi-urban areas were not served by commercial banks.
  • Banks were not willing to take any social responsibilities. They were more concerned with the profits and afraid to diversify their loan portfolios.
  • Nationalisation was done with an intention to align the banking sector with a socialistic approach of the government.

Thus, from 1969, the process of nationalization of the 14 largest private banks started.

Why government is privatizing the PSBs?

However, at present, PSBs are suffering from many issues:

  • First, Public Sector Banks continue to have high Non-Performing Assets and stressed assets as compared to private banks.
  • Second, banks are expected to report higher NPAs and loan losses after the Covid-related regulatory relaxations have been lifted. As a result, the government would need to inject funds into weak public sector banks. 
  • Third, Governance reforms have not been able to improve the financial position of public sector banks. 

The profitability, market capitalization, and dividend payment record of PSBs are not improving, despite efforts of reform by the government.

How are the private banks performing currently?

  • Private banks’ market share in loans has risen to 36% in 2020, while public sector banks’ share has fallen to 59.8% in 2020 (from 74.28% in 2015). 
  • They are expanding their market share through new products, technology, and better services. They have attracted better valuations in stock markets. 
    • For example, HDFC Bank has a market capitalization of Rs 8.80 lakh crore while SBI commands just Rs 3.50 lakh crore.
  • However, in private sector also, everything is not well. CEOs of ICICI and Yes bank are facing the investigation for doubtful loans and other illegal activities. Lakshmi Vilas Bank merged with DBS Bank of Singapore after operational issues.
  • Moreover, an Asset quality review of banks in 2015, found that many private sector banks were under-reporting NPAs.

Thus, the privatization drive this time should be thoughtful. Lessons should be learnt from the past. An adequate mechanism to ensure accountability must be established in the commercial banking sector.


Issues in Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS 2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Synopsis: The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2020 (MTP Bill) does not confer women the rights over their own bodies.

Background

  • Recently termination of pregnancy was legalised up to the 14th week of pregnancy by Argentina’s Congress.
  • Parliament of India will also debate the abortion law in this budget session.
  • However, the proposed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (MTP Bill) is also not providing autonomy to women, unlike Argentina.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971

  1. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 was enacted to reduce the maternal mortality ratio due to unsafe abortions.
  2. The MTP Act only allows termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Further, it requires a second doctor’s approval if the pregnancy is beyond 12 weeks.
  3. The grounds on which a pregnancy can be terminated are-
    • If there is a grave risk to the physical or mental health of the woman.
    • If the pregnancy results from a sexual offense such as rape or intercourse with a mentally challenged woman.

Issues in the MTP Act:

  • First, the act provides the State with control over women’s rights through legal and medical methods. It gives no regard to the woman’s choice of keeping or terminating her pregnancy.
  • Second, it promotes arbitrary interpretation. In one case, the Court held that there were no grounds for abortion since the pregnancy was the outcome of a voluntary act. The woman knew the consequences of her Act.

Thus, due to such circumstances women recourse to the unsafe method of abortion. This is the third-largest cause of maternal deaths in India.

Now, the draft MTP Bill 2020 is under consideration. But it is also not providing women with the required autonomy.

Issues in the proposed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  1. First, The Bill continues the legacy of hetero-patriarchal population control. Thus, men’s control over women’s bodies will continue.
  2. Second, It still requires the signature of one doctor on termination of pregnancies up to 20 weeks old. For pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks old, approval of two doctors is required.
  3. Third, The Bill mandates the setup of a Medical Board in every state. The Medical Boards require giving opinions based on the facts regarding the termination of pregnancies. However, their personal beliefs could impact their opinion.
  4. Fourth, The Bill allows safe abortions in case of ‘foetal abnormalities’ at any stage of pregnancy. However, it does not consider valid situations for abortion like personal choice, sudden separation or death of a partner or domestic violence.
  5. Fifth, the word ‘women’ has been used in the proposed bill. This can deny access to safe abortion to transgender, intersex, and gender diverse persons.  

Way Forward

Termination of pregnancy is a woman’s choice to decide her life’s decision as an adult. Women can be responsible for their own choices.

The Government needs to understand the fact that States or doctors have no right to deny a woman a safe abortion. Otherwise, it will put questions on women’s empowerment in the nation.


Challenges related to regulations of Crypto currencies in India

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS 3. Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development, and employment.

Synopsis: The government should ensure a smart regulation of cryptocurrencies instead of putting a ban on them.

Background

The government has given a statement to bring a law on cryptocurrencies. It is a positive step considering the fact that there is a doubt about the legality of cryptocurrencies in India.

  • The doubt exists despite the government has suggested that it does not consider cryptocurrency to be a legal tender.
  • The reason behind this disapproval is that such currencies are highly volatile, used for illegal Internet transactions.
  • Also, these currencies cannot be regulated as it is completely lying outside the domain of the state.

RBI’s decision on cryptocurrencies

  • The RBI sent a circular to banks and asked them not to provide services to those trading in cryptocurrencies in 2018.
  • However, the Supreme Court found the circular to be disproportionate. This is for the reason that the virtual currencies were not banned in India.
  • RBI was not able to provide strong evidence that units regulated by RBI were harmfully impacted by the exchanges dealing in virtual currencies.

What are the challenges in regulating cryptocurrencies in India?

The Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur highlighted the difficulty in the regulation of cryptocurrencies.

  • Regulatory bodies like RBI and SEBI etc. don’t have a legal framework to directly regulate cryptocurrencies.
  • Cryptocurrencies are difficult to regulate as they are neither currencies nor assets or securities or commodities issued by an identifiable user.
  • Cryptocurrencies have a growing client base in India despite having legal uncertainty. Their attraction may only grow now as Bitcoin has hit new peaks in price and is gaining influential followers such as Tesla founder Elon Musk.

Suggestions on cryptocurrency:

  • Smart Regulation of the cryptocurrency is a much better option than getting banned directly. Because a ban on blockchain-based technology (having scattered record) cannot be implemented practically.
    • For example, China has banned cryptocurrencies and has a controlled internet; even then trading in cryptocurrencies were happening in a small amount.
  • The inter-ministerial committee has recommended an outright ban. On the other hand, it highlighted the need for an official digital currency and for the promotion of the underlying blockchain technology. So, the government can ban the cryptocurrency and release an official digital currency.

The way forward

The government must resist the idea of a ban and push for smart regulation.


Disinformation issue in Cyber Space: Issues and Way forward

Source – The Hindu

Syllabus – GS 3 – Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cybersecurity; money-laundering and its prevention.

Synopsis – Society needs protection from disinformation. The best approach to deal with it, is to take advantage of the mechanisms already developed for cyber-security.

Cyber-attack and disinformation

  • Cyber-attacks are aimed at computer infrastructure, while disinformation exploits inherent cognitive biases and logical fallacies.
  • Cyber-attacks are executed using viruses, botnets, and social engineering. Disinformation attacks use manipulated information through deep fakes, and cheap fakes.
  • Cyber-attacks and disinformation attacks have always been handled individually.  But it is time to accept that disinformation is a cyber-security issue.

What is Cognitive Hacking?

Cognitive hacking is an attack that seeks to manipulate the perception of people by taking advantage of their psychological vulnerabilities. The purpose of the attack is behavioural changes, induced through exposure to disinformation.

  • Examples of Cognitive hacking-  unfounded concern were induced about US 2020 presidential election fraud by disinformation.

How DDoS and disinformation are linked?

  1. Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks target websites and online services. The aim is to flood them with more traffic than the server or network can handle. It prevents the completion of legitimate requests and disrupts the services.
  2. Similarly, a well-coordinated disinformation campaign floods disinformation to an extent that people start to deny the truth.
  3. Disinformation is used as psychological manipulation of people into performing an action on a mass scale.

Countermeasure for disinformation attacks

The cyber-security experience can be used to develop disinformation defense systems to mitigate disinformation risks.

  • First, this can be done by analyzing the tactics of disinformation. It helps to understand the identities of malicious actors, their activities, and behaviors from the cyber-security domain.
  • Second, Layered Security- Mechanisms such as Defence-in-Depth can be used to mitigate disinformation threats. A series of proactive filters are required to filter out the fake information.
    • Authenticity at the time of login should be the first layer. If the disinformation is still posted, Human and AI can be used for its detection.
Defense in Depth (DiD) is an approach to cyber-security. In it, a set of defensive mechanisms are layered to secure valuable data and information. If one system fails, another steps up immediately to thwart an attack. For example, Firewall is the first layer, antivirus is the 2nd, Regular patching is the 3rd layer.
  • Third, an Information sharing framework like ISACs is required to collect and exchange information about the identity, content, actions, and behaviors of disinformation actors.
Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) –  An industry-specific organization that collects and shares information on cyber threats to critical infrastructure.

Way forward

    • The technology sector, civil society, and the government should collaborate to make consumers aware of cyber-attacks.
    • Media should be used for spreading awareness among common people.
    • Taking advantage of existing cybersecurity frameworks, norms, and tactics is the optimum way to meet this threat.

Disengagement agreement in Pangong Tso region

Source: The Indian Express

Syllabus: GS 2 –  India and its Neighborhood- Relations. 

Synopsis: Both India and China have agreed to withdraw troops from Pangong Tso region. Both the countries will return to the position of April 2020 (before the stand-off took place). 

Introduction: 

As per the agreement reached by the 9th corps commanders meeting on 24th January, both Indian and Chinese troops began systematic disengagement on the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso located in eastern Ladakh. 

Background: 

pongong tso

Source: Indian Express  

  • The North and South banks of Pangong Tso are one of the most sensitive points. These points mark the onset of the standoff that began in May 2020. 
  • During the stand-off, Chinese troops marched to the ridge line of finger 3 and 4. Whereas, India’s perceived LAC (Line of Actual Control) was at finger 8. 
  • In August 2020, India obtained some strategic advantages in the region by occupying certain peaks. After that, Indian troops started positioning in Magar Hill, MukhpariGurung Hill, etc. It pressurized China to enter into a negotiation.  
  • Recently, India and China finally reached an agreement on disengagement at Pangong Lake.  

About the agreement: 

  1. The agreement calls for disengagement along the Pangong Tso region. It includes the pulling of tanks and troops from both sides.
  2. The forward deployment will return to pre standoff status quo in a gradual manner, along north and south banks. 
  3. In the north bank, China will pull back to finger 8 and India will get back to its Dhan Singh Thapa post near finger 3. 
  4. The area between finger 3 and 8 will become a no patrolling zone for a temporary period. 
  5. Any construction done post-April 2020 is to be removed by both sides.

Significance: 

  • The agreement is expected to restore the pre-standoff position and sustain peace in the region. 
  • It would be an initial step. Based on that, future negotiations will take place.  

Concerns in negotiation: 

  • There is a lack of trust between both India and China. It will prevent the attainment of lasting peace in the region. 
  • The probability of escalation of violence by China still persists. For example, Both the countries were involved in the Galwan Valley clash after a pull-back of their troops in June 2020.   
  • Pangong Tso is just one point of friction. Focus on other areas is also required. Else the efficacy of this disengagement would also be questionable. The other areas that require focus, are:  
    • Gogra Post at Patrolling Point 17A (PP17A)  
    • Hot Springs area near PP15 
    • PP14 in Galwan Valley 
    • Depsang Plains, which is close to India’s strategic Daulat Beg Oldie base

Way forward: 

  • The focus should now be on the disengagement and gradual withdrawal in the entire region, not only the Pangong Tso region 
  • The unresolved issues must be solved based on 3 principles: 
    1. Mutual acceptance and respect of LAC 
    2. No unilateral alteration of LAC 
    3. Mutual adherence of bilateral agreements 

Reasons behind India-China disengagement agreement along LAC

Source- Indian Express 

Syllabus: GS 2 –  India and its Neighbourhood- Relations.

Synopsis: The Sino- Indian disengagement agreement in Pangong Tso region is the first step towards ending hostilities along LAC (Line of Actual Control). Focus should now be on other areas of friction like Kailash heights and Depsang plateau to bring lasting peace.

Background:

  • India and China have finally agreed to enter into a disengagement agreement along Pangong Tso region. This agreement has been reached after nine months of hostility.
  • The agreement was reached in the 9th corps commander meeting that was held on 24th January 2021.
  • It was mutual understanding and changing world scenarios that helped in this agreement.   

What are the possible reasons behind this disengagement agreement?

Experts are of the view that the Chinese aggression was a response to the rising strategic confidence of India in the region, since 2015. A lesson was to be taught to India and the vulnerable situation during the pandemic, gave Chinese just the right opportunity to execute its move. The following changing world scenarios are behind this agreement: 

  1. The new Biden-Harris alliance in the US promised greater stability in the South China Sea. Now, Chinese won’t like to further deteriorate its global image. They might be trying to deliver the message of cooperation.
  2. On the part of India, the sensible diplomacy coupled with strategic advantage obtained at Kailash heights improved its bargaining power. It assured that China sits on the negotiation table and cooperate.
  3. The discipline showed by India in the economic and trade domain also refrained China from using its media warfare doctrine. It induced China to engage in constant talks.
    • Media Warfare Doctrine-It is a doctrine that involves action to deny, exploit, corrupt or destroy the enemy’s information and its functions.

Suggestions:

  • The disengagement terms should be respected so that agreement leads to conflict resolution and not a postponement. It was seen in the earlier Doklam and Nathula stand-off, after reaching disengagement.
  • Trust needs to be established between frontline commanders else there is a possibility of escalation due to new friction, as seen in Galwan valley in July 2020.
  • Talks on other areas of friction are ongoing at Depsang plateau and Kailash heights. The present agreement should be used as a step towards lasting peace.
    • China has an upper hand in the Depsang plateau and India commands an edge over Kailash heights.

Future engagement must be guided by showing mutual respect towards each other’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.

Factly :-News Articles For UPSC Prelims | Feb 12, 2021

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