9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – July 21st, 2021

Dear Friends,

We have initiated some changes in the 9 PM Brief and other postings related to current affairs. What we sought to do: 

  1. Ensure that all relevant facts, data, and arguments from today’s newspaper are readily available to you.
  2. We have widened the sources to provide you with content that is more than enough and adds value not just for GS but also for essay writing. Hence, the 9 PM brief now covers the following newspapers:  
    1. The Hindu  
    2. Indian Express  
    3. Livemint  
    4. Business Standard  
    5. Times of India 
  3. We have also introduced the relevance part to every article. This ensures that you know why a particular article is important.
  4. Since these changes are new, so initially the number of articles might increase, but they’ll go down over time.
  5. It is our endeavor to provide you with the best content and your feedback is essential for the same. We will be anticipating your feedback and ensure the blog serves as an optimal medium of learning for all the aspirants.  

  • For previous editions of 9 PM BriefClick Here
  • For individual articles of 9 PM BriefClick Here

Mains Oriented Articles 

GS Paper 1

GS Paper 2

GS Paper 3

Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)


Mains Oriented Articles


GS Paper 1

Accepting radical otherness

SourceThe Hindu

Syllabus: GS 1 – Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.

Relevance: Religious tolerance is essential to preserve and protect Indian diversity.

Synopsis: The U.S.-based Pew Research Center’s survey has thrown up an interesting finding on religious tolerance in India.

Introduction:

Pew Research Center has recently released the results of the survey titled ‘Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation’. The survey takes a closer look at religious identity, nationalism, and tolerance in Indian society.

Key findings of the survey:
  • Most Indians (84%) surveyed said that respecting all religions is very important to them and all religious groups must be allowed to practise their faith freely.
  • Yet, a considerable number of them also said they preferred to have religious groups segregated and live and marry within their own community.
Read more: The Pew study’s glazed picture of our religious tolerance
Impact of the survey:
  • This curious finding has resulted in a BBC Asia report stating that India is neither a melting pot (diverse cultures blending into one common national identity) nor a salad bowl (different cultures retaining their specific characteristics while assimilating into one national identity) but a thali (an Indian meal comprising separate dishes on a platter).
How to preserve Indian Diversity?

Sociologist Ashis Nandy had developed a framework in the 2000s to understand Religious diversity.

  • In his framework, he said that, in regions that have to accommodate not just diversities but “radical diversities everyday mechanisms of coping have to be evolved.
  • This has resulted in a unique form of cosmopolitanism where differences can be accommodated without pressuring members of one community to be like the other based on a notion of universal brotherhood.
Kochi model of diversity observed by Ashis Nandy:
  • On the other hand, another aspect is also possible, where members of one community can go to extraordinary lengths to help members of the other community maintain their own customary practices including their separate dining and dietary habits.
  • This type of diversity is based on tolerance that is built into people’s everyday rhythms, is not backed by any ideological justification. He termed it an “unheroic form of tolerance”.
  • He observed this kind of cosmopolitanism in Kochi. Furthermore, he said this is the reason why the city, which has close to 15 diverse communities, had not witnessed any major religious strife in its 600 years of recorded history.
  • This model of cosmopolitanism, where people accept “the otherness of the others” is different and easy to achieve than the Enlightenment version which teaches us to divest ourselves of all prejudices.

GS Paper 2

The role that industry could play in India’s Indo-Pacific outreach

Source: Livemint

Syllabus: GS2 – International Relations (IR)

Relevance: Understanding industry’s role in furthering India’s outreach in Indo-Pacific

Synopsis: Industry’s contribution towards bolstering India’s interests in the Indo-pacific in the light of the recently held Indo-pacific business summit.

Background

The geostrategic relevance of the Indo- Pacific expanse, has gained prominence over the past year. Nations are seeking to expand their engagement in the region based on the principles of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based architecture with security as a core pillar.

  • The Indo-Pacific region is a vast maritime zone where the interests of many players are engaged: India, Japan, France, and the United States, as well as medium and smaller powers like Australia, Indonesia, and South Africa; there are stakeholders from beyond the region, too.
India’s Indo-pacific strategy
  • India’s Indo-Pacific strategy was articulated by our Prime Minister at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018 under the ‘SAGAR’ concept of Security and Growth for All in the Region.
  • This was further developed at the East Asia Summit of November 2019, where seven pillars of the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative were enunciated. These seven pillars are:
    • Maritime security
    • Maritime ecology
    • Maritime resources
    • Capacity building and resource sharing
    • Disaster risk reduction and management
    • Science, technology and academic cooperation
    • Trade connectivity and maritime transport
  • To take forward its call for a free, open, inclusive and connected region, New Delhi has joined and created new partnerships, such as the Quad, Supply Chain Resilience Initiative and various plurilateral configurations.
Also Read: India in the Indo-pacific – Explained
Relevance of Indo-Pacific Business Summit

The recently held Indo-pacific business summit was important in three ways:

  • First event focusing on industry partnerships in the region: It reiterated the relevance of economic engagement and highlighted trade and investment as a common pillar of an overall strategy.
  • Wide participation of govt & pvt sector: The summit saw a wide participation of governments and private sectors across 21 countries. This highlighted how the Indo-Pacific is central to their foreign policies and their desire to deepen their partnership with India.
    • India’s trade with the participating countries has risen by about eight times over the last two decades, with the US, UAE and Singapore as our top export destinations in the region.
  • It outlined the scope of emerging economic partnerships beyond the usual areas of trade and investment.
Areas of cooperation

India highlighted three important areas that the region’s private industry must capitalize on, namely

  • Healthcare, Healthcare infra and medical supplies
  • Digital sector: This includes both physical as well as soft digital infrastructure. Such as Cross-border e-commerce, Data management, cybersecurity and capacity building
  • Green & sustainable development
Way forward

The seven identified pillars of India’s Indo- Pacific strategy centered around maritime engagements can benefit greatly from the participation of industry across the region.


How a four-minister MEA could amplify India’s diplomatic power?

Source: Livemint

Syllabus: GS2 – Structure, Organization and Functioning of the Executive

Relevance: Impact of recent MEA expansion on India’s diplomatic strength

Synopsis: The ministry’s expansion signals an intent to ramp up our global profile and gain greater influence.

Introduction:
  • Recently cabinet expansion added two new ministers of state to join the ministry of external affairs (MEA).
  • The MEA now has a record total of four ministers catering to India’s foreign relations.
  • Only the ministries of home affairs, education and social justice have a similar strength of four ministers each.
  • Four ministers manning ‘Team MEA’ is a historic development.
Significance of the move:
  • Firstly, in India’s competitive governmental environment, the wisdom of committing more resources to external affairs is often under-appreciated.
  • Secondly, the link between domestic and foreign interests has convinced India’s public about the utility of external commitments.
    • It is a clear demonstration of the high priority to foreign policy and international engagement.
    • A failure to grasp the benefits that accrue from investing in external relations had in the past held back the rise of our country.
  • Thirdly, it will enable India to show a high-level presence in key parts of the world on a sustained basis.
    • In diplomacy, partner nations respect a country when its interlocutors are of a certain standing in protocol and hierarchy.
  • Fourth, due to the paucity of political emissaries of a certain stature, India often has to make do with representation by bureaucrats in gatherings of the United Nations’ agencies, the World Trade Organization, the G20, and several regional and sub-regional groupings.
    • While bureaucrats do the essential nitty-gritty work.
    • But there is no better way to emphasize India’s international leadership than to have a minister at a marquee podium speak about politically sensitive issues.
    • Hence, the symbolic multiplier effects of the four ministers cannot be underestimated. India will come across globally as prepared to lead on big issues.
  • Fifth, it will ensure broader leadership oversight of our foreign policy towards particular regions and management of Indian projects abroad.
    • For example, building plurilateral connectivity corridors and enhancing strategic coordination with partner countries through innovative ideas.
  • Lastly, ministerial expansion is only one way to beef up the MEA.
    • For 2021-22, the MEA got barely 0.52% of the central government’s overall budget.
    • The Parliamentary Standing Committee observed that the allocation is inadequate.
Way forward:
  • The size of the of Indian Foreign Service (IFS) cadre must be considerably enhanced.
  • Initiating short-term contractual appointments of experts under ministers so that India has sufficient personnel and supplementary diplomatic amplifiers to befit a ‘leading power’ in the world.

The MEA should bring in further reforms so that India could one day match China and the US in global presence and impact.


Legislature won’t act criminalisation of politics: SC

Source – Times of India

Syllabus –  GS 2 – Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

Synopsis – According to the Supreme Court, the legislature has no power to prevent criminal from entering into politics.

Introduction 
  • Recently, the Supreme Court stated that no political party was interested in enacting legislation to decriminalize politics by prohibiting candidates against whom grave charges have been framed by the courts.
  • Moreover, the legislative wing of the government has not been keen on taking a step in this direction.
    • According to data, there were 427 candidates with criminal antecedents who contested the assembly elections in Bihar in 2020.
About the SC ruling

The bench was hearing a contempt plea seeking action against political parties which failed to declare and publicise criminal antecedents of their candidates in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections.

  • The plea has alleged that the Election Commission (EC) and political parties disobeyed the Supreme Court judgment in February 2020 wherein it had made it mandatory for all political parties to put up on their websites and also publish in two newspapers information regarding the pending criminal cases against candidates being fielded by them and the reasons for selecting them.
  • The plea also contended that several parties failed to put in the public domain the details of criminal antecedents of their candidates, apart from just citing their winnability as the factor for picking them.
Challenges and Limitations of SC directions
  • The directions cannot bar a candidate against whom charges for heinous offences are framed from contesting.
  • The election symbol of the party cannot be suspended or withdrawn– The symbol of a national party cannot be cancelled because directions haven’t been followed in the state of a panchayat level.

GS Paper 3

Progressive drone policy that facilitates regtech

Source: Livemint, Business Standard

Syllabus: GS3 – S&T

Relevance:  understanding various dimensions of the newly released draft drone rules

Synopsis: Most important feature of draft drone rules 2021 is the stress on integrating technology with the regulatory framework (regtech)

Regtech

One of the most important features of the draft drone rules 2021 is how deeply technology has been integrated into the regulatory framework. If implemented as described, this could well be the country’s first working example of ‘regtech’.

How do new drone rules facilitate regtech?

Various features of the draft drone rules signify the integration of technology with the regulatory framework:

Digital Sky platform: Central to this futuristic regulatory framework is the Digital Sky platform, a portal through which almost all compliances relevant to the drone ecosystem are intended to be managed.

Also Read: Draft Drone Rules 2021

The new drone regulations also refer to a number of technologies, which, even though unlikely to be in place when the rules come into force, could well be implemented soon. For instance,

  • Geo-fencing: to ensure that a drone only flies within a specified set of geospatial coordinates
  • Real-time tracking beacons to constantly transmit the live-action speed, location and altitude of a drone
  • No-permission-no-take-off technology will completely automate flight approvals in yellow and red zones.
  • A framework for drone traffic management that will facilitate the creation of drone corridors—potentially even through red and yellow zones—that can be used by drone delivery companies and emergency services. Once in place, these dedicated corridors will greatly improve the automated delivery of everything, from daily groceries to life-saving medicines, and enable emergency services to rapidly reach people in remote locations.
Issues

There are still a number of issues that need to be addressed:

  • Large restriction zones: Red zones are defined as those areas over which drone flight will be permitted only under exceptional circumstances, while yellow zones are those within which drone pilots have to coordinate their operations with a relevant air traffic controller.
    • If these definitions are interpreted so broadly as to have large restricted zones, drone flights in virtually every part of the country will need prior approvals.
  • Sweeping penal consequences in the draft drone regulations: According to Rule 33, any failure to comply is punishable under Section 10(2) of the Aircrafts Act, 1934, a provision that stipulates up to three months imprisonment for offenders.
    • Even a minor infraction could land a drone operator in jail. This is a risk that is bound to have a chilling effect on the industry.
  • Implementation of digital sky platform: While almost all compliance obligations are intended to be fulfilled through a portal until we actually see Digital Sky in operation, we will not know if the procedures will be automatic and truly presence-less, or still make space for regulatory discretion.
Suggestions
  • Prohibition over airports: It is only over airports—where drones can interfere with aircraft operations—that drone operations should be prohibited.

Terms to know:


What the Pegasus surveillance scandal means for Indian democracy?

Source: Indian Express, Indian Express 2, Livemint

Syllabus: GS3 – Cyber Security

Relevance: Implication of the Pegasus spyware issue

Synopsis: The Pegasus scandal is a matter of grave concern for Indian democracy. Implications and future course of action.

Implications of Pegasus spyware issue
  • Allegations against Supreme Court: There are allegations that the phones of the woman who had complained of sexual harassment against a former Chief Justice, and her family, might have been subject to surveillance. If true, it casts a serious doubt on the sanctity of the Supreme Court’s proceedings.
  • Integrity of democratic institutions: A system in which political opponents, officials of the Election Commission, and political colleagues could be subject to this kind of surveillance, will inspire less confidence in the democratic institutions too.
  • National security implications: The explosive growth of surveillance technology vendors is a global security and human rights problem.
    • Even if authorized (which is doubtful), the use of Pegasus poses a national security risk. Who else will have access to that information? How much geopolitics is now influenced by these shadowy cyber weapons?
  • The issue also indicates that surveillance rules in India are not as per global standards. This hinders India’s ability to enter data sharing agreements, which allow government agencies to access data stored overseas when required, with other countries.
    • Surveillance rules in sync with the global standards would allow India to enter into executive data sharing agreements with countries like the US which require judicial review of surveillance-thereby solving the inequitable present data access scenarios where law enforcement authorities in India have to deal with a long process to access data stored abroad,
What needs to be done?
  • Global agreement: It is not primarily China, but democratic states like Israel and UK, that are selling technologies for deepening the surveillance powers of states. There needs to be a global compact, or at least one amongst democratic states, on regulating these technologies.
  • Role of the court: The Pegasus allegations are debilitating in their potential effect on the trust that underpins the pact between government and people. The court must play its role in ensuring that the questions are answered, and due process is followed, no matter where it might lead to.
  • Surveillance reforms: Following reform measures need to be implemented –
    • The review committee consists of officers of the executive branch of the government. The oversight committee, to enable a working separation of powers, must consist of other branches of government, i.e. the legislative and judiciary
    • Neither the IT Act nor the 2009 Interception Rules, provide a grievance redressal mechanism for surveilled persons. Due to the strict confidentiality provisions, surveilled persons find it impossible to ascertain and prove whether they were being surveilled.
    • Checks and balances on discretionary powers: The law allows for surveillance for reasons including the interest of public safety where it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India” and for “public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence”. This is a lot of discretion here, which often leads to abuse of these powers. Hence, laws should be amended and narrowed by providing an indicative list of what constitutes abuse of surveillance or interception powers, with stringent penal consequences.

India improves score in ease of cross-border trade

Source – Live Mint

Syllabus –  GS 3 – Indian economy.

Synopsis – India has improved its ease of cross border trade ranking, the overall score is higher than many OECD nations and the average of the EU.

Introduction 
  • India has made significant progress in the ease of cross-border trade as per the latest UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation, which studied 143 different economies over a period of two years,
  • As per UN Survey, India’s rank moved up from 78.49% in 2019 to 90.32% in 2021. India was among the best-performing country in the South and South-West Asia region and in the Asia Pacific region.
    • In South Asia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were far behind India with a score of 64.5% and 60.2%.
The key parameter in the UN survey

The survey tracks 58 measures identified with trade facilitation which are seen as the global best practices, For example-

  • Electronic submission of declarations
  • Electronic payment of duties and fees
  • Electronic application for refunds

What steps were taken by India to improve cross border trade?

  • Faster clearance at customs such as
    • Electronic submission of custom declaration
    • Electronic issuance of import and export permits.
    • Facilitate processing of shipments without direct interaction with merchants.
  • Paperwork to be done within a specified time frame
  • Constant checking of smuggling and tax evasion
  • Facilitate trade in times of emergencies
Way forward

The improvement in cross-border trade facilitation is a promising indicator of post-pandemic economic recovery.

  • The findings are particularly encouraging for policymakers who are attempting to increase the country’s appeal as a business destination

This will also help India to grab a greater share in the global supply chain of goods and services


For Cairns dispute, international arbitration is not the way forward

Source: Indian Express

Syllabus: GS 3 – Effects of Liberalization on the Economy.

Relevance: Various dimensions of the Cairn issue

Synopsis: The recent move by Cairn to seize India’s sovereign assets has many grey areas of law that need due consideration.

Background:

Britain’s Cairn Energy Plc has secured an order from a French court authorizing the freezing of 20 Indian government properties in Paris valued at over 20 million euros.

Evolution of Bilateral Investment Treaties:

  • After the World Wars countries tended to look at foreign investments as a form of neo-colonialism.
  • For many years, policies in developing countries turned inward-looking.
  • As a result, developed countries sought to guard their investments against expropriation.
  • Bilateral investment treaties became the primary tool to forge relationships between developed and developing countries.
  • Some argue that the US signed BITs mainly to adopt standards for prompt, adequate and effective compensation in case of expropriation.
  • With the advent of globalisation, BITs became the means for foreign investment in developing countries.
Issues with International arbitration:
  • Firstly, the question is about the jurisdiction of the International Arbitration Tribunal as the most appropriate forum to preside over a matter pertaining to tax planning.
    • Taxing offshore indirect transfers, a structuring device to gain tax advantage from the indirect sale of assets is not unique to India (336 tax treaties contain such an article).
  • Secondly, retrospective tax is challenged on grounds of denial of fair and equitable treatment.
    •  In 2012, the Indian government then retrospectively amended the tax code, giving itself the power to go after mergers and acquisitions(M&A) deals all the way back to 1962 if the underlying asset was in India.
    • But the principle, retrospective amendments are not unusual.
    • For example, in the UK such an amendment was introduced in 2008 to check the use of avoidance arrangements via the Isle of Man.
  • Thirdly, the option of arbitration upon an unsuccessful Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP) resolution is not available in India.
    • Even when the OECD published its multilateral instrument for tax treaty amendment, India reserved the application of binding arbitration.
  • Fourthly, many developing countries view arbitration of tax matters as a breach of their sovereign right to tax.
    • Taxation of cross-border incomes is resolved either through domestic dispute mechanisms or by competent authorities appointed to agree on an outcome not binding on the taxpayer.
  • Lastly, all investments have tax implications and the acceptance of distinction could create problems even where tax is explicitly carved out from the bilateral investment treaties.
    • Over the years, there has been a rising trend in tax disputes involving BITs.
    • The Cairn case is one such instance where arbitration was invoked especially since MAP was not an option.
    • The UK-India tax treaty allowed for taxation of capital gains as per Indian law. India challenged the admissibility of the case before the arbitration tribunal. However, the case rests on a distinction between tax and tax-related investment.
Read more: Cairn Energy dispute and Government disputes with private entities – Explained, pointwise

Hence, given the complexity, the only reasonable solution would be a negotiated settlement. Even if there’s a resolution in the Cairns case, questions of law would remain.

Terms to know


India needs an economic stimulus that can also aid green energy transition

Source: Indian Express

Syllabus: GS3 – Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Relevance: Areas where India can direct its economic stimulus for maximum effect.

Synopsis: Some innovative and affordable pathways for a green stimulus which would create dispersed demand and jobs with large multiplier effects.

Background
  • A large demand stimulus seems necessary in getting the V-shaped economic recovery that India need right now.
  • A green stimulus can create demand, address air pollution and accelerate the green energy transition.
Innovative Ideas for Green stimulus

Conversion of crop waste into briquettes

  • Within a few months from now, the burning of rice crop residue in northern India will create an air pollution crisis. This can be avoided by procuring all the crop waste at a remunerative price.
  • The waste can be converted into briquettes, which can be substituted for coal in thermal power stations.
  • NTPC has already done this successfully without adding to the cost of generation, as the cost of briquettes is comparable to that of coal in energy terms.
  • The crop waste can be given for conversion into briquettes to private entrepreneurs.
  • Dispersed private investment for conversion would take place, creating demand for the conversion equipment, labour and transport. Air pollution would be reduced without any cost to the government.

Investments in EV charging Infrastructure:

  • Electric vehicles are eco-friendly and are cheaper to run on a life cycle per km basis.
  • But demand is not rising because of the lack of charging infrastructure.
  • Till a critical mass of charging infrastructure is created, demand for EVs will not pick up and the investment on charging stations would not generate returns.
  • A national programme for building charging stations in all cities with a population of over a million is needed. It can be financed fully through a central government-guaranteed debt.
  • The purchase of electric buses for city bus services may also be fully financed through government-guaranteed debt.
  • These measures, in addition to creating a demand stimulus, would also lead to substantial improvement in air quality in our highly polluted cities.

Policy Guidelines to support Solar Power

  • India has made an ambitious commitment under the Paris Agreement to aim for 450 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030.
  • To achieve this, electricity distribution companies should be persuaded by states to announce a remunerative price for solar power in rural areas. This does not need any transmission investments.
  • Rather, Distribution companies would save money.
  • Solar power generated in a village would make it much easier to provide electricity in the day to farmers for irrigation. This would also facilitate more efficient use of water.
  • If generating 1 MW from a village is realistic, with 6 lakh villages, there is a potential of 600 GW capacity creation.
  • Such a programme would generate widely dispersed private investment and increased incomes.
  • Germany used a feed-in tariff with great effect to become a global leader in the use of solar power.

Conversion of cow dung into useful commercial energy

  • With increased access to LPG stoves and cylinders and electrification in rural households, cow dung is no longer required for cooking.
  • It can be converted in small village-level plants to gas which can be used as a fuel for cooking and transport, or, to generate electricity.
  • India has the largest cattle population in the world and the goal should be to convert all the cow dung into useful commercial energy.
  • A government-promoted system for procurement of this gas, at a remunerative price, would create the right incentives for private investment and income generation across all villages.

Hope fades for PSBs

Source: Business Standard

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

Relevance: Resolving problems faced by PSBs

Synopsis: Govt cannot keep infusing capital constantly. Hence privatization of PSB’s will be the ideal route.

Background:
  • Public sector banks (PSBs) are reported to have written off about Rs 8 trillion worth of loans over the last seven years.
  • It is more than twice the Rs 3.37 trillion capital infused by the government in the same period.
  • The last four years have been particularly bad for PSBs as they wrote off loans worth over Rs 1 trillion every year.
  • This is clearly an unsustainable position, and the government cannot constantly keep infusing large sums of capital into the banking system.
Why government need to recapitalize PSB’s?
  • Most PSBs command low valuations and are not in a position to raise capital from the market.
  • This forces the government to keep infusing funds at a time when it needs to increase public spending to support the economy affected by the pandemic.
  • Not infusing capital will affect the flow of credit to the productive sectors of the economy, which will delay full economic recovery.
Increasing Bad loans
  • Bad loans started rising during the early part of the last decade as a result of excessive lending, both before and after the global financial crisis.
  • Owing to the impact of the Pandemic, the gross non-performing assets (GNPAs) for PSBs are expected to go up to 12.52 per cent by March 2022, according to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
  • The government has taken several steps to improve the functioning of state-run banks, but they don’t seem to have had any significant impact.
  • The government has also put in place a bankruptcy law, which has strengthened the position of lenders though the recovery has been muted so far.
Reasons for Bad loans
  • The RBI conducted an asset quality review during 2015-16, which led to a surge in bad loans.
  • One of the big reasons for higher stress in PSBs is their inability to properly evaluate businesses and track progress.
  • Further, bankers in the public sector are reluctant to recognise bad loans in time because of the fear of investigative agencies.
Way forward
  • Since it is clear that there are limits to the extent PSBs can be reformed and are likely to remain a drag on government finances, the government should speed up their privatisation.
  • The government intends to privatise two PSBs in the current fiscal year and the NITI Aayog has reportedly made its recommendations.
  • Immediate steps must be taken to take this forward and make way for privatising more banks in the coming years.
  • This will not only help strengthen the banking system but also allow the government to stop throwing good money after bad.

Pegasus spyware issue – concerns and way forward

Source: The Hindu 1, The Hindu 2

Syllabus: GS3 – Cyber Security

Relevance: Possible future course of action for India after the recent revelations under Pegasus spyware issue.

Synopsis: Dealing with the implications of the Pegasus spyware issue and the policy challenges involved in existing laws.

Background

Under the revelations made in the Pegasus spyware issue, it is clear that many Indian citizens were targets of a vicious surveillance campaign by a government entity, Indian or foreign. The composition of the people targeted include journalists, politicians, probably a Supreme Court judge and a former Election Commissioner

Is surveillance necessary?

Yes and no.

  • To enjoy liberties provided to us by the Constitution we need national security to be maintained. This requires a small degree of surveillance. But, that national security is not meaningful if it comes at the cost of the very liberties such security is supposed to allow us to enjoy.
  • Excessive and unaccountable surveillance is dangerous to privacy, freedom of thought, of speech, and has a chilling effect on people’s behaviour. It also shatters the very foundation of the rule of law upon which a constitutional liberal democracy is built. Like with everything, balance is necessary.
Laws & programmes dealing with surveillance

Currently, the laws authorizing interception and monitoring of communications are

  • Section 92 of the CrPC (for call records, etc)
  • Rule 419A of the Telegraph Rules
  • Rules under Sections 69 and 69B of the IT Act
  • Programmes such as CMS, TCIS, NETRA, CCTNS, and so on exist (They have not been authorized by any statute as of now)

Issue: It is unclear when the Telegraph Act applies and when the IT Act applies.

Who can monitor?
  • A limited number of agencies are provided powers to intercept and monitor. The Intelligence Organisations Act, which restricts the civil liberties of intelligence agency employees, only lists four agencies, while the RTI Act lists 22 agencies as “intelligence and security organisations established by the central government” that are exempt from the RTI Act.
  • In 2018, the Srikrishna Committee on data protection noted that post the K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, most of India’s intelligence agencies are “potentially unconstitutional”, since they are not constituted under a statute passed by Parliament — the National Investigation Agency being an exception

Thus, it is unclear which entities count as intelligence and security agencies.

Suggestions

The intelligence agencies in India must be provided with a legal framework for their existence and functioning; their functioning must be under Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny”. This will also ensure civil liberties and rule of law are protected.

Conclusion

The truth about these revelations must be unearthed through an investigation by a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) or by the Supreme Court or any other credible mechanism.

Terms to know


Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)


SMILE – Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise formulated

Source: PIB

What is the news?

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has formulated a scheme “SMILE – Support for Marginalized Individuals for Livelihood and Enterprise”.

About SMILE
  • Two Central Sector Schemes namely Comprehensive Rehabilitation of persons engaged in the Act of begging and Comprehensive Rehabilitation for Welfare of Transgender Persons have been merged in a single scheme named SMILE.
  • Focus areas: Rehabilitation, provision of medical facilities, counselling, basic documentation, education, skill development, economic linkages and so on.
  • The scheme would be implemented with the support of State/UT Governments/Local Urban Bodies, Voluntary Organizations, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), institutions and others.
  • Features:
    • The scheme provides for the use of the existing shelter homes available with the State/UT Governments and Urban local bodies for rehabilitation of the persons engaged in the act of Begging.
    • In case of the non-availability of existing shelter homes, new dedicated shelter homes are to be set up by the implementing agencies.
    • Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has also initiated pilot projects on Comprehensive Rehabilitation of Persons engaged in the act of Begging in ten cities namely Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Indore, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, Patna and Ahmadabad. These pilots are being implemented in these cities by State Governments/UTs/Local Urban Bodies and Voluntary Organizations.
    • Several comprehensive measures including survey and identification, mobilization, basic hygiene and medical facilities, providing basic documentation, etc for persons engaged in begging are undertaken under these pilots.
Also Read: Beggary law in India – Explained

Eco Circuit is one of the 15 thematic circuits under Swadesh Darshan Scheme

Source: PIB

What is the news?

Ministry of Tourism has said that it is developing Eco Tourism as one of the Niche Tourism areas for development in the country.

Eco Tourism

As per The International Eco Tourism society (TIES), it is defined as

“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015).

Note: Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.

Relevant points
  • Recognizing the potential for the development of Eco Tourism in the country, the Ministry of Tourism has identified “Eco Circuit” as one of the 15 thematic circuits under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme.
  • Eco Tourism, is the primary responsibility of the State Governments/UT Administrations. However, the Ministry of Tourism provides financial assistance under Swadesh Darshan Scheme for the development of tourism-related infrastructure and facilities in the country.
  • The Ministry of Tourism has evolved Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India (STCI) for major segments of the tourism industry, namely accommodation, tour operators, beaches, backwaters, lakes and river sectors, etc., applicable for the entire country.
    Ministry of Tourism has also made it mandatory for the approved tourism service providers such as tour operators, adventure tour operators, etc., to follow the Code of Conduct for safe and sustainable Tourism.

Blue Origin launch: Jeff Bezos & crew complete successful space flight

Source: Livemint

What is the news?

Jeff Bezos and three passengers reached the edge of space and safely returned after a flight of just over 10 minutes.

  • The Amazon.com Inc. founder and his fellow passengers were launched to the edge of space from a remote West Texas site on the New Shepard and enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness aboard the rocket-powered spacecraft developed by his company Blue Origin LLC.
Relevant points
  • Space flight was Blue Origin’s first with passengers on board.
  • By ferrying the four passengers to an altitude of more than 62 miles and getting them back to Earth on the craft, Blue Origin demonstrated some of the engineering and rocketry prowess it has been developing.
  • Risks: Space flights are risky, and the vehicles that companies have designed to ferry humans to space have been tested a fraction of the number of times that are typical for commercial planes.
  • The flight was timed to coincide with the date in 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon.
Growth of space flight sector

Space flight has long been dominated by government agencies. However, more companies are working to position themselves for a sector that some analysts believe may grow rapidly in the coming decades in parallel with technological advances. Morgan Stanley has estimated that space-related revenue could triple to more than $1 trillion by 2040.

  • On July 11, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and five others undertook a trip to the “edge of space”, and reached an altitude of 85 km from Earth before returning. Such a trip is called a Suborbital Flight.
  • Later this year, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, plans to take four commercial passengers into orbit on one of the company’s Crew Dragon capsules. SpaceX also has been completing launches for commercial customers and government agencies.

Explained: ICMR’s fourth serosurvey and its findings

Sources: The Indian Express, The Hindu, The Mint, Times of India and Down to Earth

About the news:

The fourth nationwide serological survey was conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in June-July. Its findings are significant because this is for the first time children aged 6-17 years were included in the national serosurvey.

What is the ICMR serosurvey?

The ICMR has conducted the fourth round of the national blood serum survey which tests for antibodies, known as a serosurvey, for Covid-19. The aim of the survey was to estimate the sero-prevalence of SARS-C0V-2 antibodies. Few important points to consider,

  • The survey only indicates past infections (which triggered an immune response) and is not used to detect active infections.
  • The survey was conducted using IgG Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay(ELISA) test which has been approved by ICMR.
Key findings of the survey:

ICMR serological survey

  • The survey shows that one-third of the population does not have antibodies, which suggests that about 40 crore people are still vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. The survey also shows that two-thirds of Indians have been exposed to novel coronavirus.
  • The overall seroprevalence in the country was 67.6% in June and July, which is higher than the seroprevalence rate recorded during the three earlier surveys.
    • The sero-prevalence is similar in rural and urban areas for all age groups.
    • 85% of healthcare workers had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and one-tenth of the healthcare workers were unvaccinated.
    • The seroprevalence among vaccinated individuals is high as compared to those who are not vaccinated.
  • Findings of Survey about Children: Antibody exposure is also similar in children as adults. More than half of the children (6 -17 years) were seropositive. It means they have been exposed to Covid-19 in the past months.
Suggestions of the survey:
  • India needs to maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour and impose a curb on community engagements.
  • The governments should continue tracking Covid infection in severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) cases in district hospitals and identify clusters and clinical severity, while the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics is tracking variants of concern.
  • The ICMR also suggested that it would be wise to consider reopening primary schools first, as children can handle viral infection much better (as they have a lower number of ace receptors). But this can be done only after the full vaccination of all the school staff. For instance, Some Scandinavian countries didn’t shut their primary schools in any wave of Covid-19 waves

India’s health inequality made worse by reduced health budget: Oxfam report

SourceThe Business Standard

What is the news?

Recently, Oxfam India released “Inequality Report 2021: India’s Unequal Healthcare Story”. Oxfam India’s inequality report draws attention to the county’s unequal healthcare story hit further by Covid-19.

The report shows that the constant underfunding of the public healthcare system in the last decade have worsened health infrastructure.

Key findings of the report

Inequality Report 2021 - India’s Unequal Healthcare Story

  • The report says that the absence of universal health coverage has starkly and disproportionately affected marginalised groups at a time when socio-economic inequalities in India are growing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to healthcare,
    • People in the general category are better off than Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) households;
    • The rich do better than the poor; men are better off than women, and
    • The urban population fares better than the rural.
  • The disastrous second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic further exposed the weakness of India’s public healthcare system. Such as,
    • Currently, India ranks 155 out of 167 countries on bed availability and has five beds and 8.6 doctors per 10,000 of its population.
    • Rural India, which makes for 70 per cent of the population, has barely 40 per cent of the beds.
    • The number of hospital beds per thousand population in India (at 0.5) is lower than some of the lesser developed countries such as Bangladesh (0.87), Kenya (1.4), and Chile (2.1).
  • Persistent underfunding of (the) public health system, especially primary health care and inadequate health infrastructure in India remain to be addressed.
  • Over the years, a better health system has, for instance, helped increase life expectancy, but outcomes have varied across gender, caste and income levels. For instance,
    • The rich, on average, live seven-and-a-half years more than the poor
    • A woman from the general category lives, on an average, 15 years longer than a Dalit woman
  • Oxfam India findings show that higher public health allocations have a positive effect on health outcomes in a pandemic. For instance, States such as Odisha and Goa, with higher expenditure on health, also had higher recovery rate from Covid-19.

Expenditure on health

  • In Oxfam’s “Commitment to Reducing Inequality Report 2020”, India ranks 154th in health spending, fifth from the bottom.
    • In the 2021-22 Union Budget, a year following a pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) budget was allocated with a 9.8 percent decline from the Revised Estimates of 2020-21.
Recommendations of the report

The report recommends the implementation of universal health coverage (UHC) supported by a strong public health sector.


Space Rice: China harvests first batch of rice that travelled around the moon

Source: Hindustan Times

What is the News?

China has harvested its first batch of ‘Space Rice’ at the space breeding research centre of the South China Agricultural University in Guangdong province.

What is Space Rice?

  • Space Rice is the rice harvested from seeds that went on a 23-day moon mission with China’s Chang’e-5 in November 2020.
  • After being exposed to cosmic radiation and zero gravity, these seeds weighing around 40 grams returned and were harvested.

Why were the seeds taken to space?

  • China has been taking seeds of rice and other crops to Space since 1987.
  • It is believed that once the seeds are exposed to the environment in Space. They may mutate and produce higher yields once planted on Earth.
  • Hence, the move is basically aimed at boosting China’s grain harvest and thereby safeguarding the country’s food security.

Explained: What makes NASA’s new spacecraft NEA Scout special?

Source: Indian Express

 What is the News?

NASA has announced that its new spacecraft named NEA Scout has completed all required tests and has been safely tucked inside the Space Launch System(SLS) rocket.

NEA Scout is one of several payloads that will launch on Artemis I which is expected to be launched in November 2021.

Artemis I: It is a planned uncrewed test flight for NASA’s Artemis program. Under the Artemis program, NASA has aimed to land the first woman on the Moon in 2024 and also establish sustainable lunar exploration programs by 2030.

About NEA Scout Spacecraft:

  • Near-Earth Asteroid Scout or NEA Scout is a small spacecraft developed under NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Program.
  • Aim: Its main mission is to fly by and collect data from a near-Earth asteroid.
    • It will take about two years to cruise to the asteroid and will be about 93 million miles away from Earth during the asteroid encounter.
  • Significance: It will also be the USA’s first interplanetary mission using special solar sail propulsion.
    • A solar sail, simply put, is a spacecraft propelled by sunlight. Whereas conventional rockets are propelled by the combustion of rocket fuel, a solar sail is pushed forward by light from the Sun.

Why should we study Near-Earth Asteroids?

  • Despite their small size, some of these near-earth asteroids could pose a threat to Earth.
  • Hence, understanding their properties could help us develop strategies for reducing the potential damage caused in the event of an impact.
  • Moreover, scientists will use this data to determine what is required to reduce risk, increase effectiveness and improve the design and operations of robotic and human space exploration.

What are Near Earth Objects(NEO)?

  • These are comets and asteroids pushed by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits which allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
  • They are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles.

IIT Ropar develops first-of-its-kind Oxygen rationing device – AMLEX

Source: PIB

What is the News?

Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), Ropar has developed a first-of-its-kind Oxygen Rationing Device called AMLEX.

About AMLEX Device:

  • AMLEX is an Oxygen Rationing Device that increases the life of medical oxygen cylinders threefold.
  • The device can be easily connected between the oxygen supply line and the mask worn by the patient.
  • It uses a sensor that senses and successfully supplies a required volume of oxygen to the patients (while inhaling) and trips when the patient is exhaling Carbon dioxide(CO2).
  • This process would help save oxygen, which gets unnecessarily wasted otherwise.

What was the need for an AMLEX device?

  • Generally during exhalation, the oxygen in the cylinder or pipe is pushed out along with the exhaled Co2 by the patient. This results in a large amount of oxygen wastage in the long run.
  • Also, a huge amount of oxygen escapes from the openings of the mask to the environment in the resting period (between inhalation and exhalation) due to the continuous flow of life-saving gas in the mask.
  • Hence, as the demand for medical oxygen jumps manifold amid the second wave of coronavirus, the device would save oxygen which gets unnecessarily wasted.

India emerges as 5th largest forex reserves holder in the world

Source: PIB

What is the News?

The Minister of State for Finance has informed Lok Sabha about the state of India’s Forex Reserves.

State of India’s Forex Reserves:

  • India’s forex reserves currently stand at $608.99 billion as on June 25, 2021.
  • India has emerged as the fifth largest foreign exchange reserves holder in the world after China, Japan, Switzerland and Russia.
  • Further, India’s foreign exchange reserves position is comfortable in terms of import cover of more than 18 months and provides a cushion against unforeseen external shocks.

Steps taken by RBI: RBI takes regular steps for diversification of forex reserves by:

  • Scaling up operations in forex swap and repo markets
  • Acquisition of gold and
  • Exploring new markets/products

Reasons for Variation in Forex Reserves: Variation in India’s forex reserves is primarily due to:

  • RBI’s intervention in the foreign exchange market to smoothen exchange rate volatility
  • Valuation changes due to the movement of the US dollar against other international currencies in the reserve basket
  • Movement in gold prices
  • Interest earnings from the deployment of foreign currency assets and
  • The inflow of aid receipts.

Factors on which External Sector Stability Depends: The overall stability of the external sector depends on the following components of the balance of payments:

  • Exports and imports of goods and services
  • Remittances (transfers)
  • Income in the current account,
  • The size of net capital flows and
  • External debt.

Note: India is comfortable in most of these external sector vulnerability indicators.


Pegasus spyware: The stealth with which it infects phones

Source: Business Standard

What is the News?

India’s name has figured among countries that used Pegasus spyware to potentially target politicians, journalists, and activists.

About Pegasus:
  • Pegasus is a type of malicious software or malware classified as a spyware.It has been developed by Israeli security firm NSO Group.
  • Purpose: Pegasus is designed for three main activities:
    • collection of historic data on  a device without user knowledge
    •  continuous  monitoring of activity and gathering of personal information and
    • transmission of this data to third parties.
How does Pegasus infiltrate devices?
  • Pegasus is part of a tier called “zero click exploits” that do not require the victim to do anything. Instead, the spyware is designed to take advantage of bugs in popular apps such as iMessage and WhatsApp to infiltrate the system.
  • Pegasus can also use unsecured websites to infiltrate a device. These are called network injection attacks and also happen without the victim’s intervention. The device is infiltrated within milliseconds of visiting such a website.
Who can use Pegasus?
  • NSO claims it only sells the software to verified government agencies with a contractual clause that the spyware can only be used in cases of suspected crime or terrorist activity.
  • In practice, the clause is unenforceable — any buyer can then use it as they please.
What can Pegasus spyware do?
  • Once installed, Pegasus takes a wide range of permissions allowing it to monitor location, emails, grab contact lists, access browser history, take control of the phone’s mike and cameras etc.
  • Pegasus can also be deleted remotely. It’s very hard to detect and once it’s deleted, leaves few traces.
  • It can also be used to plant messages/mails which is why there are theories it may have been used to plant fake evidence to implicate activists in the Bhima Koregaon case.

Ministry of Defence (MoD) tenders for six more submarines at $1 billion each

Source – The Business Standard

What is the news?

The Ministry of Defence has request for proposals for the establishment of an eco-system in India for the indigenization and incentivization of critical submarine technology.

Introduction 
  • The MoD issued the formal tender under project 75(I) to domestically build six conventional submarines for the Navy at a cost of $1 billion each [Rs. 40000 crore each],
About the Project 75 (I)
  • The project envisages indigenous construction of submarines equipped with
    • Contemporary equipment,
    • Weapons and sensors including fuel-cell based AIP [Air Independent Propulsion system]
    • Advanced torpedoes
    • Modern missiles and state-of-the-art countermeasure systems.
  • Project 75(I) will be the first project to be implemented under the strategic partnership (SP) model that allows domestic firms to collaborate with foreign OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) to produce high-end military platforms in India.
Advantages of AIP System
  • AIP system generates power through the reverse electrolysis of oxygen and hydrogen. The two elements, carried on board the submarine, chemically combine to produce electricity. This eliminates the need for a diesel generator by charging the submarine’s batteries.
    • Submarines with AIP can remain underwater for 10-14 days, reducing its vulnerability to detection.
  • A conventional diesel-electric submarine, on the other hand, is powered by electric batteries. Since the batteries get discharged, the submarine must surface every day or two to recharge them by running diesel generators (which require atmospheric air). During this process, the surfaced submarines are visible to radar and vulnerable to attack.
Significance of the project
  • Make in India approach – It will help India absorb technology more quickly and effectively, as well as build a multi-tiered industrial environment for submarine construction in the country.
  • Transfer of technology– The Foreign OEMs will enable SP for the construction of submarines, achieving high levels of indigenization, and transfer of technology (ToT).
  • Develop indigenous capabilities in the public/private sector to design, develop and manufacture complex weapon systems for the future demands of the Armed Forces
  • To tackle china’s threat– This is keeping in mind the rapid increase of nuclear submarine arsenal by China and to protect the Indo-Pacific region from future domination.

Terms to know:


Govt  may  hike  OBC creamy layer slab

Source: Livemint

What is the news?

The Union government is considering raising the creamy layer income threshold for other backward classes (OBCs) beyond the current Rs 800,000 per annum.

Introduction

The Union government is said to be considering raising the barrier to Rs 1.2 million, bringing more people under the OBC reservation who may have fallen beyond the income limit.

  • Currently, OBCs are eligible for 27 percent of government positions and places in academic institutions; however, individuals with yearly family incomes exceeding rupees 8 lakh are deemed the “creamy layer” and are not eligible for these privileges.
    • The income barrier is meant to be adjusted every three years; nevertheless, the most recent increase occurred in 2017, and the previous threshold was set at Rs. 6 lakh in 2013.

Government steps to hike the creamy layer

  • Firstly, the Justice Rohini committee is debating the sub-categorization of OBC quotas, as well as whether or not any particular community or set of communities benefits the most from the quota, and how to address any irregularities.
  • Secondly, the government also seeks to remove certain middle-class OBC persons working for the government and PSUs, whose children aspire to study at top government institutions like IITs and IIMs and gain government employment, by including wage income.
  • Thirdly, the creamy layer threshold is currently calculated using high property income and revenue from entrepreneurial activities, but not salary income. So, the government is also considering that.

Counter-arguments on slab hike:

  • There is however a counter-argument that a person making rupees 70,000 or rupees 80,000 per month is already powerful and should not be entitled to any form of reservation since it would be unfair to economically disadvantaged members of the community.
  • According to Article 342A of the Constitution, states do not have the jurisdiction to keep a distinct state list of OBCs. According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, “For all purposes of the Constitution, the central list notified under Article 342A shall be the only list“.

Terms to know: Creamy layer 


SC junks part of 97th amendment

Source: Hindu

What is the news?

The Supreme Court has knocked down portions of a constitutional amendment that limited states’ exclusive control over cooperative organizations.

Introduction

Part IXB, added to the Constitution in 2012 by the 97th Amendment, outlined the rules for operating cooperative organizations.

  • The amendment’s provisions, which were passed by Parliament without being ratified by state legislatures as needed by the Constitution, established the number of directors a society should have their tenure and even the essential eminent domain powers.
  • The decision could be noteworthy in light of concerns expressed by states that the new Central Ministry of Cooperation would disempower them.
Read More: Ministry of Cooperation – Explained, pointwise
What were the court’s observations?

The court concluded that cooperative societies fall under the “exclusive legislative jurisdiction” of the state legislature. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, stated that the Centre has authority over multi-State cooperative groups.

  • Firstly, the court held that under Entry 32 of the State List and Part IX B has “seriously and considerably harm the State legislature‘s “exclusive legislative jurisdiction” over their cooperative sector.
    • In fact, the court noted that Article 243ZI specifies that a state may only enact legislation concerning the incorporation, regulation, and dissolution of a society if it complies with the provisions of Part IXB of the 97th Constitution Amendment.
  • Secondly, parliament, as the recipient of limited power, can only exercise it in conformity with the procedural and substantive constraints set forth in the Indian Constitution.
  • Thirdly, the parts of Part IXB of the Amendment dealing with “Multi-State Cooperative Societies” were not struck down by the court due to a lack of ratification. When it comes to Multi-State Co-operative Societies (MSCS) with objectives that are not limited to a single state, the Union of India’s legislative power is included in Entry 44 List I. (Union List).
    • Part IXB of the Constitution is deemed to be in effect only in so far as it relates to multi-State cooperative societies inside the several States and in the Union Territories.
  • There is no doubt that our Constitution has been described as quasi-federal in that, in terms of legislative powers, the States have exclusive power to legislate on topics reserved exclusively to them within their own sphere.
  • Though an amendment to the Constitution is the exercise of constituent power, which differs from ordinary legislative power, such constituent power does not convert Parliament into an original constituent assembly.

Terms to know

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