9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – July 23rd, 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
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Mains Oriented Articles 

GS Paper 2

GS Paper 3

Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)


Mains Oriented Articles


GS Paper 2

Federalism and cooperatives

Source1: Business Standard ; Source 2: The Hindu

Gs2: Development Processes and the Development Industry — the Role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.

Synopsis: SC verdict has brought clarity in the regulation of co-operatives. Also, it has firmly stated that Reforms in the cooperative sector should not be at the cost of federal principles.

Background

  • In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court this week struck down certain provisions of the Constitution (97th Amendment) Act, 2011, which had added Part IX(B) to the Constitution of India.

The 97th Constitution Amendment & Part IX(B)

  • The 97th Constitution Amendment came into effect in 2012. It was a major step towards infusing autonomy, democratic functioning, and professional management.
  • Part IXB delineated the contours of what State legislation on cooperative societies ought to contain, such as
    • Provisions on the maximum number of directors in each society,
    • Reservation for seats for SCs, or STs, and women,
    • Besides, the duration of the terms of elected members, among others.

Why the Constitution (97th Amendment) Act, 2011 was struck down?

  • The Parliament had passed the 97th Amendment without sending it to the states for ratification by at least half the state legislatures.
  • Since co-operative societies were part of the State List of the Constitution, the 97th Amendment violated the basic structure of the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court, by a 2:1 majority, upheld the judgment holding the amendment invalid, but only in relation to cooperatives under the States.
  • The elaborate amendment would hold good for multi-State cooperative societies, on which Parliament was competent to enact laws.

Principle of Checks and Balance

  • The Supreme Court is the ultimate check on the powers of the Union government, particularly in matters pertaining to the balance of power between the Union and the states.
  • The judgment has reiterated that the Parliament cannot make laws on state subjects without shifting them to the Concurrent List or the Union List. Except in cases of national interest, under Article 249.
  • The court reasoned that even well-intentioned efforts towards reforms cannot be at the cost of the quasi-federal principles underlying the Constitution. Permitting such an action would undermine the entire federal structure of the country.

What would be the impacts of this judgment?

  • The Union government will now have to revisit the management and regulation of cooperative societies while respecting the Supreme Court’s judgment.
  • Recently, Senior Maharashtra politician Sharad Pawar, had written to the prime minister, arguing against the September 2020 amendments to the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.
  • The act strengthens the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) powers to regulate cooperative banks.
  • These regulatory changes will now have to be re-examined in light of the judgment on the 97th Amendment.
  • It may be necessary to do the full task of properly obtaining ratification from the states for an amendment.

What is the Way forward?

  • The functioning of the Cooperative sector is hampered by political interference, lack of regular elections, etc. The cooperative movement certainly needs reform and revitalisation.
  • There is no denying that the scope for democratising the functioning of cooperative societies and enhancing their autonomy remains unchanged.
  • It is vital that the RBI continue to be able to treat cooperative banks as fully regulated participants in the financial sector.
  • Otherwise, they have the power to create systemic crises, given that their poor governance builds up many bad loans and that they are chronically under-capitalized. It is also necessary for consumer protection.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court’s order may have made it harder to ensure cooperative banks are properly regulated. Nonetheless, the Centre must find another way to do so in keeping with constitutional principles.


The direction that the NCF needs to take

SourceThe Hindu

Syllabus: GS 2 – Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education.

Relevance: National Curriculum Framework has to include democratic principles.

Synopsis:

Shaping a National Curriculum Framework using only the National Education Policy will be shortsighted.

About the National Curriculum Framework:

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has tasked the State Councils of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs) to develop four State Curriculum Frameworks (SCFs).

They pertain to School Education, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), Teacher Education (TE) and Adult Education (AE). This is as in the recommendations of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

At the first level, the NCERT will provide templates to the States to develop four draft SCFs, the drafts will feed into formulating the National Curriculum Frameworks, or NCFs, and the final version of the NCFs will be used as guiding documents to finalise the SCFs.

The cycle seems to be designed to take on board suggestions from all States, thereby making the NCFs representative and inclusive documents.

The NCERT will also provide e-templates for each of these tasks, survey questionnaires/multiple-choice questions to conduct surveys, etc. Thus, massive data collection seems to be in progress.

Advantages of NCF:

NCF provides the following advantages. Such as,

  • Flexibility in secondary education, examination reform, more exposure to Indian languages, and taking on board Indian knowledge systems can make our education system better.

What are the challenges with the NCF?

  • The kind of questionnaires and template that one develops can emphasise certain kinds of recommendations while muting some others.
  • A huge opinion gathering exercise preceded NEP 2020. But these opinions are just heaps of words, devoid of any organising principle to decide priorities. A similar unorganised list is repeated in the name of pedagogical recommendations.
  • Similarly, the NEP 2020 fails to provide appropriate criteria to choose pedagogy at different stages and for different curricular areas. Thus, the people developing NCFs have to deal with these issues in addition to finding a method of making proper sense of gathered public opinion.

If the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE) is purely guided by the NEP 2020, this is likely to ensure the unsound development of our schoolchildren.

How to improve National Curriculum Framework?

  • The NCF can take help from the Secondary Education Commission Report (SECR) in the 1950s and Zakir Hussain’s Basic National Education (BNE) report.
    • The SECR had all three necessary elements of education. Such as the overall framework of values and future direction, current issues and problems of the education system, and public opinion.
    • The BNE has the rigorous derivation of educational aims from the vision of society, curricular objectives from the aims, and content from the objectives in a clear manner.
    • Both the BNE and the SECR make democracy the basis for working out the school curriculum. But they do not philosophically argue or give the detailed exposition of the method; they make practical use of this approach.
  • The curriculum frameworks developed after the 1980s in our country are completely overwhelmed by the current problems or by the pedagogical ideals of child-centrism. This should be avoided in the present one.

The only way to wrest the judgment from the hands of the powerful is to have the curricular debates rooted in democratic values.


Bringing skills and education closer

SourceBusiness Standard

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

Relevance: Skill development and education need to be integrated to provide better results.

Synopsis:

Skill development is a multi-dimensional problem. But the linking skilling and education is one of the crucial ones.

The situation of skill development in India:

  • Over 70 percent of India’s workforce is concentrated in firms with less than 20 employees. Studies carried out in 2016 as part of an Asian Development Bank report suggest that micro-firms are 72 percent less likely to train their workers.
  • Similarly, while 80 percent of India’s workforce is employed in informal firms, only 3 percent of workers are formally trained.

The link between education and skill development:

The ultimate purpose of education is not only employment and employability, but something far more impressive. It is generally agreed that access to early, holistic, and life-long skilling and learning opportunities are crucial to improving employability, entrepreneurship, and workforce adaptability.

  • General education should mean the attainment of an integrated set of foundational and transferable skills.
    • Foundational skills are basic cognitive skills such as numeracy, literacy, etc.
    • Transferable skills are social, communication, and behavioural skills that help navigate the work environment
  • Increasingly, it is evident from various studies that skills have a strong impact on labour market outcomes, including wages, productivity, and adaptability to the changing work environment.
  • Hence, there is a strong argument for developing a holistic skill focus that is not only limited to vocational education.

Advantages of integrating education with skill development:

  • Imparting holistic skills can help make school-to-work transition smoother. Recognising and imparting technical skills can make education more attuned to market and employer demand.
  • Further, In addition, integration of education and skilling pathways can ensure that learners who enter the workforce with limited school education receive training that is crucial to succeeding in the labour market.
  • With the increased contractualisation of labour, the incentives for formal firms to train workers are declining even more. In such a situation, the primary and foremost opportunity to skill young people are when they are still a part of the educational system.

Integrating education with skilling is therefore the easiest path forward.

The impact of the pandemic on skill development and education:

Education:

The pandemic has had an enormous impact on the education sector (leading to learning losses, increase in school dropouts). The poorest and most vulnerable children lost out, as the site of learning shifted from the classroom to online platforms.

Skill development:

In addition, the pandemic has also rapidly altered the nature of work. As workplaces increasingly shift to a hybrid mode of functioning. New kinds of skills have become more valuable. For example, digital skills have now become a core foundational skill.

As workplaces are rapidly changing, a key skill needed for the future is the ability to “learn to learn” and “adapt” to new modes of working.

Suggestions:

Strong foundational skills are necessary to ensure that workers are adaptive to change. The challenges (and opportunities) posed by the Covid-19 crisis make it the right time to bring formal education and vocational education and training closer together. It can be done by the following steps,

  • Mandate a holistic skills provision across ITIs, schools, and colleges.
  • Develop a common vocational skills curriculum and adopt a credit framework that helps improve mobility between skilling and general education

Hopefully, the recent decision to place these two crucial ministries(Education and skill development) under the charge of one cabinet minister is the first step in this long-overdue integration, which is necessary for better outcomes.


China-led South Asian Initiative

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS2 – IR

Relevance: Understanding China’s strategy in undermining India’s role in South Asia

Synopsis: China-led South Asian initiative feels like yet another attempt by China to create a parallel bloc in South Asia to counter India.

Background

Bangladesh has said that India too can join the China-led South Asian initiative for COVID-19 vaccines and poverty alleviation if it desires. It denied that a six-nation grouping launched recently was meant to exclude India.

  • The Chinese initiative comes also at a time when India has been reluctant to revive SAARC, turning its focus more on yet another regional bloc–BIMSTEC.
About China-led South Asian initiative

The initiative includes China-South Asian Countries Emergency Supplies Reserve, and a Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre. They were set up in China on July 8.

  • Member countries: China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
  • India, Bhutan, and the Maldives are the only SAARC countries not a part of the China-led initiative.
  • The Emergency Supplies Reserve is a joint stockpile of emergency supplies as part of efforts to tackle the covid-19 pandemic and other crises.
  • The Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Center aims to pool strength, integrate resources, and exchange wisdom to support and help the South Asian countries’ economic development and livelihood improvement, jointly promoting the cause of poverty reduction.
Issues/Concerns
  • A new regional bloc in Asia: This might be an attempt by the Chinese to counter India and carve a totally new regional bloc in Asia minus India. If poverty alleviation in South Asia is its major objective, then why is India left out? After all, it has the highest number of poor people, equal to those in the Sub-Saharan region. Also, only those South Asian nations which are part of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative are its members. Sooner, Maldives will also join the initiative as it has also signed up under BRI.
  • Counter to SAARC: China is targeting South Asia and wants to counter SAARC, so it is now connecting with South Asian nations in the name of different initiatives. SAARC is coping with several problems within the region and is mostly distracted by the long-standing rivalry between India and Pakistan. After Nepal hosted its 18th summit in 2014, the 19th summit, which was scheduled to be held in 2016 in Pakistan, is still in limbo.
  • Counter to QUAD: The China-led bloc could be Beijing’s plan to create what some call a northern Himalayan QUAD aimed at countering the Washington-led Quad, of which India is an active member.
India’s stand

Given continuing tensions over Chinese army aggression in Ladakh and New Delhi’s firm stand that other bilateral relations cannot move ahead without a resolution of the boundary stand-off, it is unlikely that India would consider a new grouping involving China, especially one that could be seen to dilute its role in the SAARC region.

Also Read: What India can learn from China’s foreign policy?

How Open Network for Digital Commerce could disrupt India’s e-commerce space?

Source: Indian Express

Syllabus: GS2 – Govt policies and interventions

Relevance: Important for understanding the impact of ONDC on India’s ecommerce sector.

Synopsis: Dominated by a few players, ecommerce presents a legitimate case for intervention. But government should proceed with caution as it comes with risks.

Background

The central government has recently set up an advisory council for Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC). This latest intervention is aimed at curbing digital monopolies in the e-commerce sector by making the e-commerce process open-source. This, will result in a platform that can be utilized by all online retailers.

Also Read: Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) 
Why government’s move is justified?

Following market conditions necessitated this move by the government:

  • Market dominance by few players: The market is dominated by a few players who are facing investigations for unfair trade practices in many countries.
  • Existence of multiple smaller players: The sector is characterised by many small players who individually do not have the capacity to have an equitable bargain with e-commerce companies.

Economists call this a “market failure”, and it presents a legitimate case for intervention.

However, in general, governments should intervene only when there is a clearly identifiable market failure or massive societal benefits from creating shared infrastructure.

Designing a system

A system should be designed such that it has the greatest chance of success.

The three “layers” of an open digital ecosystem — tech, governance and community — provide a useful conceptual framework in terms of both adoption and safeguards.

Tech layer

The “tech layer” should be designed for minimalism and decentralisation.

  • A facilitating role for the govt: The government should restrict its role to facilitating standards and protocols that provide open access, and in getting them adopted organically.
  • Privacy should be inbuilt: If built, the platform should be built on “privacy by design” principles. It should collect minimal amounts of data (especially personal data) and store it in a decentralised manner.
  • Using blockchain: Tools like blockchain could be used to build technical safeguards that cannot be overridden without active consent.

Governance layer

The “governance layer” around this should alleviate business fears of excessive state intervention in e-commerce.

  • Standards or tech should be accompanied by law or regulation that lays out the scope of the project.
  • If collection of any personal data is envisaged, passing the data protection bill and creating an independent regulator should be a precondition.
  • To assure the industry of fairness, the government could hand over the reins of the standards or platform to an independent society or non-profit.

Community layer

Finally, a “community layer” can cultivate a truly inclusive and participatory process.

  • Ensuring inclusivity: This may be achieved by making civil society and the public active contributors. This can be done by, for example, making recordings or minutes of the meetings of this committee public, and seeking wide feedback on drafts of the proposal.
  • Redressal of grievances: Once the framework is implemented, ensuring quick and time-bound redressal of grievances will help build trust in the system.
How to encourage adoption?

Creation of ONDC is just one aspect. Its adoption in a sector with dominant players is a difficult task. Here is a possible solution:

  • Creating non-mandatory “reference applications”, and financial or non-financial incentives. For eg: The government supported the rollout of BHIM as a reference app, and offered financial rewards through a lottery scheme to drive early adoption.
Way forward

An infra-led approach will not be sufficient. We need to supplement infrastructure with tightly-tailored regulation. Many countries are exploring the concept of “interoperability”, that is, mandating that private digital platforms like e-commerce firms to enable their users and suppliers to seamlessly do business on other platforms.


GS Paper 3

The laws for surveillance in India, and the concerns over privacy

Source: Indian ExpressIndian express 

Syllabus: GS 3 – Cybersecurity

SynopsisThe recent Pegasus attack has raised questions over the degree of protection awarded to an individual’s privacy. 

Relevance – Article highlights laws governing surveillance in India. 

Background:

According to the report of a global collaborative investigative project, Pegasus spyware may have been used by Israeli based NSO group to conduct surveillance on about 300 Indians. 

Why is the Pegasus attack a concerning issue?

If the allegation is true that the government can misuse the critical information for electoral gains, it undermines the spirit of democracy. 

However, the government has claimed that all interception in India takes place lawfully. So, what are the laws covering surveillance in India?

Laws Covering surveillance in India:

Communication surveillance in India takes place primarily under two laws — the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Telegraph Act, 1885:

  • It deals with interception of calls. Section 5(2) allows for the interception.
  • The section states that the Central Government or a State Government or any officer specially authorized by them may order interception of any telegraph. 
  • He/she can direct that any message or class of messages shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained, or shall be disclosed to the Government making the order. The reasons for such an order should be recorded in writing.
  • Such an order can be made in the interests of 
    • the sovereignty and integrity of India, 
    • the security of the State, 
    • friendly relations with foreign states or 
    • public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence.
  • Additionally, a proviso in Section 5(2) states that even this lawful interception cannot take place against journalists.
  • Public Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India (1996): The SC pointed out the lack of procedural safeguards in the provisions of the Telegraph Act and laid down certain guidelines for interceptions.
    • It called for setting up a review committee that can look into authorisations made under Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act.
    • These guidelines formed the basis of introducing rule 419A in the Telegraph Rules in 2007 and later in the rules prescribed under the IT Act in 2009.
  • Rule 419A states that a Central Home Secretary and State Home Secretary can issue interception orders on behalf of the center and state governments, respectively.
    • In unavoidable circumstances, Rule 419A adds, such orders may be made by an officer, not below the rank of a Joint Secretary. 
    • However, such an officer should be duly authorised by the Union Home Secretary or the state Home Secretary.

Information Technology Act, 2000:

  • It was enacted to deal with surveillance of all electronic communication, following the Supreme Court’s intervention in 1996.
  • The Information Technology (Procedure for Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 were enacted to further the legal framework for electronic surveillance
  • Under Section 69 of the IT Act, all electronic transmission of data can be intercepted. Apart from the restrictions provided in Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act and Article 19(2) of the Constitution, the section adds another aspect that makes it broader.
    • It broadens the scope of interventions as it allows interception, monitoring and decryption of digital information “for the investigation of an offence”.
    • Further, it dispenses with the condition precedent set under the Telegraph Act that requires “the occurrence of public emergency in the interest of public safety” which widens the ambit of powers under the law.

Way Ahead:

  • The current legal framework on surveillance has a wide divergence amongst themselves as pointed out by Justice A P Shah committee
    • They differ on “type of interception”, “granularity of information that can be intercepted”, the degree of assistance from service providers etc. 
  • Thus, there is a need to test the wide reach of these laws in the court against the cornerstone of fundamental rights.
    • IT intermediary rules 2021 and the government’s 2018 order are being already challenged in the SC.
    • The order authorised 10 security and intelligence agencies to intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource.
  • Further, a comprehensive data protection law to address the gaps in existing frameworks for surveillance should be enacted as recommended by the B.N Srikrishna Committee.

We should be thankful for the economy’s liberation

 Source: Live Mint, Live Mint, Live Mint

 GS3: Effects of Liberalization on the Economy

Relevance – This article analyzes the performance of economic liberalization.

Synopsis: Economic liberalisation of 1991 is viewed with Skepticism. However, we should be thankful for P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh for liberating the economy from the dead hand of bureaucratic control.

India Before Liberalization:

  • The important sectors of the economy were reserved for the public sector, and the private sector could not invest in them even if it wanted.
  • In all other sectors, private companies could make new investments, but only if they got industrial licenses from the government.
  • However, these were given on a very non-transparent basis and were especially difficult for large companies, lest it increases economic dominance.
  • Imports of consumer goods were completely banned, effectively insulating producers from foreign competition.
  • Imports of capital and intermediate goods needed for production were allowed, but only with import licenses.

Criticism leveled against Economic Liberalisation

  • First, some developing countries that retained significant state control (like China) did much better.
    • India’s HDI rank slipped from rank 114 to 131.
    • The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) shows 28% of India’s population in multidimensional poverty, with another 20% vulnerable to it.
  • Second, the stated goals of the 1991 reforms were higher rates of income growth with more employment generation and diversification into higher value-added activities.
    • Of these, only higher-income growth was achieved at the expense of massive environmental destruction and without enabling structural change.
    • Industrialization did not take off beyond what was already achieved before 1991.
    • Most workers remain stuck in low-paying informal work.
    • Women’s employment participation declined significantly.
    • Declining per capita calorie consumption.
  • Third, Extreme crony capitalism: Big business demanded ever more incentives and next-generation ‘reforms’,
    • Only large corporations or extremely rich people were benefiting from subsidies and access to ‘cheap’ natural resources.
  • Fourth, growing disparities: The non-agricultural part of the economy for the 30-year period ended 31 March 2020 grew by 7.1% per year.
    • Employment in agriculture as of 2019 still formed 42.6% of overall employment, against 63.3% in 1991.

Why the criticisms are unfounded?

Economic liberalization has resulted in increased Economic growth, Inclusive development, and improved lifestyle for Indian citizens.

  • Economic growth:
    • The major objective of the reforms was to lift the economy’s growth rate, and this was achieved.
    • In the period of four decades up to the fiscal year 1990-91, the Indian economy grew by an average of 4.1% annually.
    • However, In the last 23 years, India’s economic growth averaged about 7%.
  • Inclusive Development
    • Growth was not the only objective. As growth accelerated, the government  adopted a strategy of ‘inclusive growth’, to ensure that the benefits of growth also reached the poor.
    • The strategy included accelerating growth in agriculture and supporting incomes of rural wage earners through rural employment guarantee programmes.
    • The result was that agricultural growth did accelerate, and there was also greater poverty reduction.
    • Between 2004 and 2011, the last year for which data is available, about 140 million people were pulled above the poverty line.
  • Conditions for most Indians have improved.
    • Per capita income went up more rapidly than before.
    • India’s overall Human Development Index (HDI) score improved from 0.433 in 1991 to 0.645 in 2019.
  • Wider choices for consumers and greater economic activity.
    • In the 1990s, one could withdraw money from a bank only for a few hours during the day.
    • Now one can walk over to an ATM at any point in time.

Gudalur’s Gene Pool Garden is an example of participatory forest management

SourceDown To Earth

Syllabus: GS 3 – Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Relevance: The success of Gene Pool Garden highlights the need for Participatory forest management.

Introduction:

The Gene Pool Garden was established in 1989 under the Hill Area Development Programme at the Gudalur forest division in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.

About the Gene pool garden:

  • It is located in the Western Ghats, one of the 25 biological diversity hotspots of the world.
  • The Gene Pool Garden was created with the following objectives:
    • In situ conservation of available endemic plant species;
    • Ex-situ conservation of rare, endangered, and threatened plant species;
    • Reintroduction and recovery of endangered plant species;
    • Propagation of fast disappearing plant species and education, research, and awareness.
  • The plant species collected from various parts had been assembled under different zones for easy identification. These included thalophytes, hydrophytes, etc.
  • The forest department is also managing the center through the Eco-Development Committee (EDC) formed with the involvement of the local Paniya tribal community.
    • The tribal community has been made in charge of the cafeteria and other shops. Thus, the indigenous community will be benefited economically through the EDC.

Participatory forest management with the involvement of forest stakeholders is a real success in managing a special project like this.

Advantages of Participatory Forest Management:

The failure on the part of the forest department in managing the plant conservation center through the traditional method was overcome by the joint forest management model. This is a clear indication that forests can no longer be managed through Acts and Rules alone.

Managing natural resources through people’s participation is the right way forward.

 

 


Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)


Geospatial Technologies for the Water Sector in India

Source: PIB

What is the news?

  • The Director-General of the National Mission for Clean Ganga has recently released a report titled ‘Potential of Geospatial Technologies for the Water Sector in India’.
    • Geospatial technology is a term used to describe the range of modern tools contributing to the geographic mapping and analysis of the Earth.
  • The report has been prepared by the Association of Geospatial Industries – a geospatial technology industry body.

About the report:

  • The report outlines key water sector programs and projects in the country. 
  • It provides an overview of how each of these programs is currently using geospatial technologies, and how to improve technology adoption in the future.
    • For instance, technologies are used in the Namami Gange Mission for mapping different attributes of the Ganga basin. 
    • Various other missions such as Jal Jeevan Mission, Atal BhujalYojna, also have set up projects using these technologies
  • As per the report, a plethora of Geospatial and Digital technologies can be effectively used to combat the water crisis. This includes: 
    • Geospatial – Satellite-based Remote Sensing, Surveying and Mapping, GPS based equipment and sensors, GIS and Spatial Analytics, 
    • Digital – Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics, Internet of Things, 5G, Robotics and Digital Twin.
  • The report has also listed several case studies highlighting the use of geospatial technologies in different contexts related to water problems.
  • It also provides a list of openly available geospatial and digital tools that are widely used by the global, national, and sub-national level agencies.

Why should the government adopt Geospatial Technology in the water sector?

  • Given the population density and requirement of water for agriculture, India is heavily dependent on groundwater.
  • Further, it is one of the worst-hit countries as far as the water crisis is concerned.
  • The use of the latest and best digital and spatial technologies will help in taking data-based informed decisions.
    • It will ensure better measurement, management, and maintenance of assets. 
    • It will improve monitoring of resources and even provide predictive and prescriptive analysis for forecasting and planned interventions.

Hence, a focus on Geospatial technology is desired to combat this pervasive challenge and to ensure better water management in the country. 


Union Cabinet approves Production-linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme for Specialty Steel

Source: PIB

What is the News?

The Union Cabinet has approved the Production Linked Incentive(PLI) Scheme for specialty steel.

About PLI Scheme for Speciality Steel:

  • The PLI Scheme aims to boost the production of high-grade specialty steel in the country.
  • Coverage: The five categories of specialty steel that have been chosen in the PLI Scheme are: Coated/Plated Steel Products, High Strength/Wear-resistant Steel, Specialty Rails, Alloy Steel Products, and Steel wires, and Electrical Steel.
  • Incentives: There are 3 slabs of PLI incentives under the scheme. The lowest being 4% and the highest is 12%, which has been provided for electrical steel (CRGO).
  • Eligibility: Any company registered in India engaged in the manufacturing of the identified Specialty Steel are eligible to participate under the scheme.
  • Duration: The duration of the scheme will be five years from 2023-24 to 2027-28.

Expected Benefits of the scheme:

  • The scheme is expected to bring in an investment of approximately ₹40,000 crores and capacity addition of 25 MT for specialty steel.
  • The scheme will give employment to about 5 lakh people, of which 68,000 will be direct employment.

What is Specialty Steel?

  • Specialty steel is value-added steel wherein normal finished steel is worked upon by way of coating, plating, heat treatment, etc. to convert it into high-value-added steel.
  • This steel can be used in various strategic applications like Defense, Space, Power, apart from the automobile sector, specialized capital goods among others.

Why was Speciality Steel chosen for the PLI Scheme?

  • Speciality steel has been chosen as the target segment under the PLI Scheme. It is because out of the production of 102 million tonnes of steel in India in 2020-21, only 18 million tonnes of value-added steel/specialty steel was produced in the country.
  • Apart from this, out of 6.7 million tonnes of imports in 2020-21, about 4 million tonnes import was of specialty steel alone resulting in Forex expenditure of Rs.30,000 crores.
  • Hence, by becoming Atma Nirbhar in producing speciality steel, India will move up the steel value chain and come at par with advanced steel-making countries like Korea and Japan.

Analysis by NGO reveals microplastics in Ganga

Source: The Hindu

What is the News?

A Study titled ‘Quantitative analysis of Microplastics along River Ganga’ has been released by a Delhi-based environment NGO, Toxics Link.

About the Study:
  • The study was carried out in collaboration with the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa.
  • It studied the water samples at Haridwar, Kanpur, and Varanasi along River Ganga.
Key Findings of the study:
  • Ganga is heavily polluted with microplastics at Varanasi, Haridwar, and Kanpur.
  • Among the three cities, the water samples at Varanasi showed the maximum load of microplastics as compared to the other two cities.
    • This might be due to cumulative downstream pollution as well as industrial and human activities.
What are Microplastics?
  • Microplastics are defined as synthetic solid particles sized ranging from 1 micrometre to 5 millimetre (mm) which are insoluble in water.

Source of Microplastics in Ganga River: Microplastics are recognised as a major source of marine pollution. Several sources of it include:

  • Untreated sewage from many cities along the river’s course enters into the river.
  • Industrial waste and religious offerings wrapped in non-degradable plastics pile pollutants enter into the river as it flows through several densely populated cities.
  • The plastic products and waste materials released or dumped in the river break down and are eventually broken down into microparticles.

India breaks into the top 10 list of agri produce exporters

Source: Livemint

What is the News?

The World Trade Organization(WTO) has released a report on the trends in World Agricultural Trade in the past 25 years.

Key Findings of the Report:

 Agricultural Exports:

  • India has entered into the top 10 list of agricultural produce exporters in 2019 with a sizable share in the export of rice, cotton, soya beans, and meat.
    • In 2019, India with a 3.1% share in global agri exports replaced New Zealand as the ninth largest agri exporter.
  • The US, which was the largest Agri exporter in 1995(22%), was overtaken by the European Union in 2019(16.1%). The US’s share fell to 13.8% in 2019.
  • Brazil maintained its ranking as the third-largest exporter increasing its share from 4.8% in 1995 to 7.8% in 2019.
  • China climbed from the sixth spot in 1995 (4%) to fourth in 2019 (5.4%).
Rice Exports:
  • The top rice exporters in 1995 included Thailand (38%), India (26%), and the US (19%).
  • In 2019, India (33%) overtook Thailand (20%) to top the list while Vietnam(12%) overtook the US to the third spot.
  • The top 10 exporters accounted for more than 96% of exports in both 1995 and 2019.
Other Agri Exports:
  • Cotton: India was the third-largest cotton exporter (7.6%) and the fourth-largest importer (10%) in 2019. It had not featured in the top 10 list in 1995.
  • Soya Bean: Soya Bean is the largest traded agri product. India (0.1%) has a meager share in the Soya Bean trade but was ranked ninth in the world.
  • Meat and Edible Meat: India has been ranked eighth in the world with a 4% share in global trade.
  • Wheat and Meslin: While India was the seventh-largest wheat and meslin exporter in 1995, it does not feature in the top 10 list in 2019.
Concerns:
  • India lagged behind as a value-added contributor to world agri exports.
  • India’s share of foreign value-added content in its agri exports was also low at 3.8% primarily due to high tariffs on agri imports to protect the domestic market.

India tough place for business: US report

Source: TOI

What is the News?

The US State Department has released a report titled ‘2021 Investment Climate Statements: India’.

Key Findings of the Report: India remains a challenging place to do business despite taking up many reforms and improving its position in the ease of doing business index. This is because:

  • Protectionist Measures: New protectionist measures including increased tariffs, procurement rules that limit competitive choices, sanitary and phytosanitary measures restrict the expansion in bilateral trade.
  • FDI Rule for Aviation: Under FDI rules for aviation, 100% overseas flows have been permitted. But the substantial ownership and effective control (SOEC) rules that mandate majority control by Indian nationals have not been clarified yet.
  • FDI Rule for Insurance Sector: The report was also critical of discriminatory FDI policy for the insurance sector where the FDI ceiling has been increased to 74% but with the Indian management and control rider.
  • Data Localisation Norms: RBI’s order on storing data on payment transactions within the country has led to significant compliance costs and increased risk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
  • Equalisation Levy: US had threatened retaliatory action over the equalisation levy on US tech companies.
  • Political Risk: The report also referred to the removal of the special constitutional status from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Way Forward:

  • The report has urged India to foster an attractive and reliable investment climate by reducing barriers to investment and minimising the bureaucratic hurdles.

What is H5N1 avian influenza, its symptoms, and how fatal can it be?

Source: Indian Express

What is the News?

An 11-year-old boy in Delhi died of H5N1 avian influenza. This is the first recorded death due to the bird flu in India in 2021.

About Bird Flu:
  • Bird flu or avian influenza is a disease caused by avian influenza Type A viruses found naturally in wild birds worldwide.
  • The virus can infect domestic poultry including chickens, ducks, turkeys and there have been reports of H5N1 infection among pigs, cats, and even tigers in Thailand zoos.

Types:

  • Avian Influenza type A viruses are classified based on two proteins on their surfaces – Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA).
  • There are about 18 HA subtypes and 11 NA subtypes. Several combinations of these two proteins are possible e.g., H5N1, H7N2, H9N6, H17N10 among others.
Symptoms:
  • Symptoms of avian influenza include – Fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, severe respiratory illness, and Neurologic changes.
Infection in Humans:
  • There have been reports of avian and swine influenza infections in humans including A(H1N1), A(H1N2), A(H5N1), A(H7N9) among others.
  • The first report of human H5N1 infection was in 1997. Moreover, the infection is deadly as it has a high mortality rate of about 60%.

Transmission to Humans:

  • The most common route of transmission is direct contact — when a person comes in close contact with infected birds, either dead or alive.
  • Humans can also be affected if they come in contact with contaminated surfaces or air near the infected poultry.
  • There is no sufficient evidence suggesting the spread of the virus through properly cooked meat.
  • Moreover, the cases of human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus are very rare.

District facing Water Crisis

Source: PIB

What is the News?

Water is a State subject. Hence, in order to supplement the efforts of the State Governments, the Central Government provides technical and financial assistance to them through various schemes and programs.

Schemes Mentioned in the Article:

Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain(JSA:CTR) Campaign:
  • The campaign was launched on 22nd March 2021 on World Water Day with the theme “Catch the Rain – Where it Falls When it Falls”.
  • Focus: The focussed interventions under the campaign include:
    • water conservation & rainwater harvesting
    • renovation of traditional and other water bodies/tanks
    • reuse and recharge of borewells
    • watershed development and intensive afforestation.
  • Implementation: The campaign will be implemented by the National Water Mission(NWM), Ministry of Jal Shakti.
  • Coverage: The campaign will take place across the country, in both rural and urban areas. It will be implemented from March 22 to November 30 (the pre-monsoon and monsoon period) in the country.
Sahi Fasal Campaign:
  • The campaign was launched by the National Water Mission. It nudges farmers to favor agricultural crops which consume less water and to use water more efficiently in agriculture as a part of demand side management.
Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)
  • AMRUT was launched in 2015 in selected 500 cities and towns across the country for a period of 5 years i.e. from FY 2015-2016 to FY 2019-2020
  • Focus: The mission focuses on the development of basic urban infrastructure in the Mission cities in the sectors of water supply, sewerage & septage management, stormwater drainage, green spaces & parks, and non-motorized urban transport.
Jal Jeevan Mission-Har Ghar Jal:
  • Aim: It aims at providing potable water of prescribed quality and inadequate quantity on a regular and long-term basis to every rural household including tribal areas of the country through tap water connections by 2024.
Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana(PMKSY):
  • PMKSY was launched in 2015-16. It aims to enhance physical access to water on farms and expand cultivable areas under assured irrigation, improve farm water use efficiency, introduce sustainable water conservation practices, etc.
  • Schemes: PMKSY has been conceived amalgamating the ongoing schemes:
    • Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme(AIBP) of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation (MoWR)
    • Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) of Department of Land Resources (DoLR).
    • On Farm Water Management(OFWM) of the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation(DAC).
Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme(AIBP):
  • The programme was launched in 1996. It aims to provide central assistance to major/medium irrigation projects in the country with the objective to accelerate the implementation of such projects which were beyond the resource capability of the States or were at an advanced stage of completion.
  • Merged Into: The programme has been merged into Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) in 2015-16.

UNESCO’s ‘Historic Urban Landscape’ project for Gwalior, Orchha launched

Source: AIR

What is the News?

UNESCO has selected Gwalior and Orchha cities of Madhya Pradesh under its “Historic Urban Landscape Project”.

About Historic Urban Landscape Project:
  • The Historic Urban Landscape Project was adopted in 2011 by UNESCO’s General Conference.
  • The project aims for the inclusive and well-planned development of fast-growing historical cities while preserving the culture and heritage.
Gwalior and Orchha Cities under Historic Urban Landscape Project:
  • As part of the project, these places will be jointly developed by UNESCO, the Government of India, and Madhya Pradesh.
  • The development and management plan of these cities will be prepared by UNESCO.
  • All aspects including history, culture, lifestyle, economic development, community development will be included in it.

Note: The six cities of South Asia, including Ajmer and Varanasi in India, are already involved in this project. Orchha and Gwalior have been included as the 7th and 8th cities.


Cabinet approves establishment of an Integrated Multi-purpose Corporation for Ladakh

Source: PIB

What is the News?

The Union Cabinet has approved the establishment of Integrated Multi-purpose Infrastructure Development Corporation for the Union Territory of Ladakh.

Background:
  • After the re-organisation of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir as per the Jammu and Kashmir(J&K) Reorganisation Act, 2019, the Union Territory of Ladakh (without Legislature) came into existence in October 2019.
  • As per Section 85 of the J&K Act, an Advisory Committee was constituted. It will recommend the apportionment of the assets and liabilities of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir between Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
  • The Committee then recommended the establishment of an Integrated Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd., similar to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation Ltd (ANIIDCO).
About Integrated Multi-purpose infrastructure Development Corporation:
  • The Corporation has been established with an aim to bring in development in Ladakh and boost the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan in the Union Territory.
    • Presently, there is no such similar organization within the newly formed Ladakh.

Key Functions of the Corporation:

  • Firstly, the corporation will work as the main construction agency for infrastructure development in the UT of Ladakh.
  • Secondly, it will work for industry, tourism, transport, and marketing of local products and handicrafts. This will in turn ensure the socio-economic development of Ladakh.
  • Thirdly, it will also aim to increase domestic production of goods and services and will facilitate their smooth supply. This will give a boost to the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

Indian Navy exercise with UK’s Royal Navy carrier strike group

Source: PIB

What is the News?

The Indian Navy took part in a bilateral Passage Exercise(PASSEX) with the UK Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group(CSG)-21 in the Bay of Bengal.

Passage Exercise(PASSEX):
  • Passage Exercise will take place between the two navies to ensure that the navies are able to communicate and cooperate in times of war or humanitarian relief.
  • The Indian Navy had conducted similar passing exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force, French Navy, and US Navy among others.
India-UK PASSEX Exercise:
  • This is the maiden PASSEX exercise between the Indian Navy and the UK Royal Navy.
  • The exercise was designed to hone the two navies’ ability to operate together in the maritime domain.
Other Exercises between India and UK:
  • Exercise Indradhanush: It is a joint bilateral air exercise between India and the UK started in 2006.
  • Exercise Konkan: It is an annual maritime bilateral exercise between the Indian Navy and the Royal Navy of Britain.
  • Exercise Ajeya Warrior: It is a joint military exercise between India and the UK. It was held for the first time in 2013.

Adarsh Smarak Scheme

Source: The Hindu

What is the news?

Recently, the fort at Gandikota was identified for development under the Centrally-sponsored ‘Adopt a Heritage’ programme. Further, 3 monuments – Nagarjuna Konda in Guntur district, the Buddhist remains at Salihundam in Srikakulam district and the Veerabhadra temple at Lepakshi in Anantapur district have been identified for development under ‘Adarsh Smarak’ scheme.

About Adarsh Smarak scheme
  • Ministry: Ministry of Culture
  • The scheme was launched in 2014 for providing improved visitor amenities, especially for the physically challenged, besides cleanliness, drinking water, and interpretation centres, cafeteria, souvenir shop, wi-fi, garbage disposal etc.
  • Objectives:
    • To make the monument accessible to differently-abled.
    • To make monument visitor friendly.
    • Furthermore, to implement Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
    • Also, to upgrade/provide washrooms, drinking water, signages, cafeteria, and wi-fi facilities.
    • To provide interpretation and audio-video centers.
    • To streamline wastewater and garbage disposal and a rainwater harvesting system.
    • Lastly, to provide safety and protection
About Adopt a Heritage scheme
  • An initiative of the Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)
  • Under this scheme, the government invites entities, including public sector companies, private sector firms and individuals, to develop selected monuments and heritage and tourist sites.
  • Basic amenities like drinking water, ease of access for the differently-abled and senior citizens, standardised signage, cleanliness, public convenience, surveillance system and night-viewing facilities are provided and maintained under the scheme.
  • Read more about adopt a heritage scheme here

It’s time for digital currency to counter crypto, says RBI

Source: TOI

What is the news?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has said that it is working towards a phased implementation strategy for its digital currency (i.e. Central Bank Digital Currency).

  • Central banks across the world have drawn up plans to launch their digital currency to battle cryptocurrencies. China has said that its e-CNY has been tested in 70 million transactions.
Why RBI wants a CBDC for India?
  • It would reduce currency costs for the government and would help offset the threat of virtual currencies.
  • Developing our own CBDC could provide the public with uses that any private virtual currency can provide, and to that extent might retain the public preference for the rupee.
  • It could also protect the public from the abnormal level of volatility that some of these virtual currencies experience.
Issues
  • On the consequences of digital currencies on banks: While it could reduce the need for maintaining deposits, the impact would be limited as they cannot pay interest.
  • Key concerns: There are a few key concerns expressed by RBI:
    • Whether digital currency should be used in retail payments or also in wholesale payments?
    • Whether it should be a distributed ledger or a centralized ledger?
    • Further, whether it should be token-based or account-based?
    • Lastly, whether it should be directly issuance by the RBI or through banks and the degree of anonymity?

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