9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – July 26th, 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

Delhi and Tehran can work together on Afghanistan

Source: Indian Express

Syllabus: GS2 – International Relations (IR)

Relevance: India and Iran can work together to restore order in Afghanistan

Synopsis: Ensuring a legitimate and peaceful rearrangement in Afghanistan is of common interest to both India and Iran.

Indo-Iran co-op on Afghanistan

Delhi and Tehran are trying to find common ground amid the deepening crisis in Afghanistan. Following events indicate growing frequency and intensity of contact between the two establishments:

  • India’s External affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, stopped over in Tehran on his way to Moscow where he held consultations with Iranian foreign minister. The external affairs minister also had the privilege of being the first foreign dignitary to be received by the president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi.
  • Tehran has invited India to participate in the swearing-in ceremony of Raisi on August 5.

Shared geography with Afghanistan has always made Afghanistan an important subject of mutual interest for India and Iran.

But, that was not always the case.

Evolution of Iran’s Afghan view
  • In the 1970s, Delhi was deeply concerned by the joint efforts of Iran (under the Shah) and Pakistan to destabilize Afghanistan.
  • Iran turned inwards after the Islamic revolution of 1979 and was stuck in a debilitating war with Iraq in the 1980s.
  • It was only in the 1990s that the Islamic Republic of Iran looked towards Afghanistan and by the middle of the decade found itself on the same side as India.
  • If Delhi was alarmed by the Taliban’s capture of Kabul with the support of the Pakistan Army, Tehran was animated by the groups’ Sunni extremism and its oppression of the Shia and Persian-speaking minorities in Afghanistan.
  • Delhi and Tehran made common cause with Moscow to support the so-called Northern Alliance that was fighting the Taliban.

Moscow now seems eager to embrace the Taliban.

Iran’s future Afghan policy
  • As it intensifies the engagement with Iran, Delhi should expect that Iran’s views might not be completely unanimous with its policy. Sharing a long border with Afghanistan, Iran is eager to keep its channels of communication open with the Taliban.
  • India, in contrast, does not share a physical border with Afghanistan and can afford to wait.
Common ground

Delhi and Tehran have a common interest in ensuring a legitimate and peaceful rearrangement of the current order in Afghanistan.

  • Neither India, nor Iran, wants to see the restoration of the Taliban’s hegemony over Afghanistan.
  • They also have a stake in preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorism.

They can pool their resources to help the current Afghan government against the Taliban’s offensive backed by Pakistan.


Can SAARC fill the power vacuum left by US withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Source: Indian Express

Syllabus: GS2 – International Relations (IR)

Relevance: Understanding SAARC’s potential in bringing together leaders on one common platform.

Synopsis: Revival of SAARC is necessary and it can also contribute positively to the current Afghan situation.

Background

South Asia is the world’s most complex and closely watched region. There are unsettled territorial disputes, and various trans-border criminal activities. It remains a theatre for ethnic, cultural, and religious tensions and rivalries.

South Asia – emerging trends

A current rise in ultra-nationalism is taking place against the backdrop of a bloody history of repeated inter-state wars and intra-state conflicts. Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan are in conflict again.

  • Cross-border terrorism has again made the region, as former US President Bill Clinton once deemed it, “the world’s most dangerous place.”

US military withdrawal from Afghanistan has fuelled fears of intensification of these trends.

SAARC has been sidelined

In 1985, at the height of the Cold War, leaders of South Asian nations — namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — created a regional forum.

  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established. Its goal was to contribute “to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems.”
  • Afghanistan was admitted as a member in 2007.

However, SAARC has remained sidelined and dormant since its 18th summit of 2014 in Kathmandu. No alternative capable of bringing together South Asian countries has emerged.

Potential of SAARC

In 36 years of existence, SAARC has developed a dense network of institutions, linkages, and mechanisms.

  • The 3rd SAARC summit in 1987 adopted a Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and updated it in 2004 with the signing of an additional protocol. These instruments demonstrate the collective commitment to rid the region of terror and promote regional peace, stability, and prosperity.
  • In March 2020, Indian Prime Minister convened a video conference of SAARC leaders. They underscored the need for cooperation on a regional basis for fighting the pandemic. If the proceedings had not taken place under the SAARC banner, leaders from the eight countries would not have come together so readily on such short notice.
  • Development of civil society and track-two initiatives: SAARC has made significant contributions to the development of civil society and track-two initiatives.
  • An informal platform for leaders: Though SAARC’s charter prohibits bilateral issues at formal forums, SAARC summits provide a unique, informal window for leaders to meet without aides and chart future courses of action.

Such capacity to bring member-states together shows the potential power of SAARC. As the largest regional co-operation organization, SAARC holds importance in stabilising and effectively transforming the region.

Implications of a failed SAARC

Allowing SAARC to become dysfunctional and irrelevant will greatly effect our ability to address the realities and challenges facing SAARC nations.

  • The failure of South Asian nations to act together will lead to discord and escalating tensions with jihadi militias at the forefront. It will place the entire region in turmoil.
  • SAARC is needed as institutional support to allow for the diplomacy and coordination between member-states for addressing the numerous threats and challenges the region faces.
How can SAARC contribute in Afghanistan?
  • Joint-SAARC peacekeeping force: SAARC members are among the top troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions. A joint peacekeeping force from the SAARC region under the UN aegis could be explored to fill the power vacuum that would otherwise be filled by terrorist and extremist forces.

If arch enemies of World War II, France and Germany, can come shed their differences and come together under the aegis of European Union then there is no reason why India and Pakistan cannot do the same.

Conclusion

SAARC has the capacity to bring nations together. As Nelson Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

Also Read: Importance of reviving SAARC

Terms to know:


GS Paper 3

The first principles of commerce should guide e-com policy too

Source: Live Mint

GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, Mobilization of Resources, Growth, Development, and Employment.

Relevance: E-commerce has become one of the most important segments of the global economy. Any attempt to regulate it, will have implications for the economy of the country.

Synopsis: Over-stringent e-com regulations would lower consumer welfare, work against small businesses, and also stifle innovation.

Concerns Regarding Growth of E-commerce in India

  • India’s e-commerce sector is set to expand into an oligopoly with the entry of Reliance, Tata, and a revamped Snap deal from a near-duopoly of Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart at present.
  • An oligopolistic market can indeed see its players join hands to form a cartel and act against consumer interests.
  • There are oligopolies that exist in other industries; for example, cement, where producers have been punished by the Competition Commission for operating illegal cartels.

However, at present, there is no evidence of such anti-competitive practices in the e-commerce sector.

Proposed E-commerce rules are flawed

  • If enacted into law, India’s e-commerce regulations would shift the burden of liability for the products sold on these platforms onto e-commerce companies, instead of sellers.
  • Further, the proposed rules would come down heavily on promoting their own brands, among several other restrictions.
  • It would also lower consumer welfare as well as the ability of small sellers to expand their market reach. Further, it will also reduce innovation by lowering the ability of newer e-commerce companies to take risks.

Significance of E-commerce entities to India

  • Increase Competitiveness of Indian goods: They offer discounted prices to small sellers for their raw material and lower their cost of production.
  • Increase Exports: These platforms have increased the reach of small businesses nationwide and even helped them address export markets.
  • Efficient service delivery: For customers, they have made product returns hassle-free and improved product quality and variety.
  • Improved Logistics: They have revolutionized the country’s logistics industry and supply chains.
  • Employment Generation: Their contribution to employment generation is now significant.
  • Increased Disbursal income for poor households: The lower prices that e-commerce companies offer is an indirect real income increase, especially for our relatively low-income households.

Way forward

  • Encourage market entry and ensure that there is no excessive regulation.
  • More e-commerce companies entering the market should result in more choices for small sellers in terms of the platforms they want to list on, depending on the listing fees, commission, and so on.
  • Further, many of India’s small-business owners should be gainfully employed elsewhere; large numbers are into subsistence entrepreneurship because of a lack of jobs.
  • E-commerce platforms cannot engage in such price discrimination, like any other retail shop. So, they should be allowed to offer discounts for limited periods on specific goods.

It’s Part of The Problem

Source: Indian Express

GS3: Effects of Liberalization on the Economy.

Relevance: The article highlights the issues in the Public Sector companies, compared to the private sector.

Synopsis: There are questions about the state’s proactive and productive role in helping its citizens.

Introduction:

  • The typical Indian worker in 1983 had three years of education.
  • It means India delivered glorified illiteracy to the majority of Indian workers in 36 years of post-Independence governance.
  • In this regard, 1991 reforms resulted in the doubling of GDP growth and the lifting of over 200 million people out of poverty in the two decades that followed.

This was the effect of less controlled regulatory conditions.

Poor delivery of Public goods by the State:

  1. Education: The educational situation began to improve only after the reforms of 1991.
    • By 2012, the average urban worker had secondary education while her rural counterpart had attended middle school. A large part of this improvement was facilitated by private schools.
    • This rise of the private sector in education was driven by the inability of public education to meet the demand.
  2. Health: As late as 2020, there were five hospital beds per 10,000 Indians.
    • The situation in terms of doctors was not much better, with nine doctors per 10,000 Indians. For comparison, the corresponding number was 10 for Pakistan and Sri Lanka, while Brazil had 22 and China 20.
    • Wealthy Indians living in urban areas tap into the private health network. The urban poor and rural Indians essentially are left to the vagaries of the under-funded and under-serviced public health system.
  3. Electricity: Electricity distribution utilities are routinely close to bankruptcyThe state hands out freebies in the form of free or subsidised electricity, while the state sits on subsidy bills.
  4. Public Sector banks: NPAs of these entities have routinely exceeded 10 percent with borrowers relying on the state patronage networks.
  5. Vaccine delivery: the recent performance on vaccine planning and delivery has been shambolic.
  6. Taxation: The design and delivery of the much-touted GST network continue to hamstring large parts of the economy five years after it was introduced.

Way forward:

  • The government should play a role in providing social safety nets for unfortunate health and labour market outcomes. It should provide a clear regulatory framework that generates an equal playing field for all.

Hence, the state is part of the problem, not the solution. That is why, State should do its duty towards citizens, not interfere in their economic lives.


What a digital currency from RBI must get right

Source: The Hindu, Live Mint,  Business Standard

Gs3: Indigenization of Technology and Developing New Technology.

Relevance: central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) are becoming reality. However, before their adoption, a proper cost-benefit analysis will require.

Synopsis: The RBI must consider the following issues before rolling out Central Bank Digital Currency.

Background

Today, many of the world’s central banks are racing to launch their own virtual currencies, or central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). In India too, an inter-ministerial committee, 4 years ago, recommended that India should launch fiat money in digital form.

In line with its recommendation, RBI is currently working towards a phased implementation strategy and examining use cases that could be implemented with little or no disruption. Further, the much-awaited Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, is yet to be introduced.

What is CBDC? – Read in detail

Developments around the world

  • According to the BIS survey of central banks 2021, 86% were actively researching the potential for such currencies, 60% were experimenting with the technology, and 14% were deploying pilot projects.
  • The PwC Global CBDC Index shows more than 60 central banks in various stages of launching a digital currency.
  • China had already engaged in pilot projects for its digital RMB, and it is planning a major roll-out soon.

Reasons for the creation of Central Bank Digital Currencies

  1. India is witnessing the emergence of cryptocurrency exchanges, which are using gray zones of regulation. Most of these exchanges are asking people to invest and trade in cryptos without providing basic information about the product and the inherent risks.
    • Even more dangerous is the aggressive outreach to retail investors, who stand to lose a large proportion of their savings, in case of market reversal.
  2. Cryptocurrencies are not backed by any commodity. They do not have any intrinsic value, and, their tradeable value is determined by an artificial shortage that has led to extreme volatility.
  3. Further, with the rapid spread of technology and growing acceptance of alternative payment solutions, there is indeed a growing need for virtual currencies and e-wallets.

 Points to be taken care of by RBI before launching CBDC in India

  1. One, the design of the currency with regard to how it will be issued, the degree of anonymity it will have, the kind of technology that is to be used, etc., needs to be sorted out. For instance,
    • Whether CBDCs be used only in retail payments, or also in wholesale transactions?
    • Should CBDCs be issued via a distributed ledger (synchronised between the RBI and scheduled banks) or a centralised ledger held by the RBI?
    • Should each CBDC be validated and identified by a unique serial number or token, or else how would validation be done?
    • Distribution only through the RBI, or via banks?
  2. Two, possible impacts of an official digital currency on people, the monetary policy, and the banking system. For instance, if CBDCs are indeed efficient vehicles for retail savers, this could adversely affect bank deposits and eventually the growth of bank credit.
  3. Three, risks emerging from cyberattacks need to be considered.
  4. Four, given the public preference for cash and the comfortable blanket of anonymity it offers, CBDCs have to create foolproof systems for privacy protection.
  5. Five, central banks will have to figure out how to manage cross-border flows vis-à-vis CBDCs.

Way forward

Other central banks have started experimenting with either retail or wholesale CBDCs. RBI too needs to create a sandbox, with limited participants and pre-specified uses, before launching its own digital currency. Only then can the rupee hold its own against other currencies.


Digging up the ocean floor for metals could prove disastrous

SourceLivemint

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

Relevance: Marine life will be endangered if seafloor mining got commercialised.

Synopsis:

The seafloor contains potato-sized rocks that contain many metals needed to make electric-car batteries. Many perceive that seabed mining as a green alternative to land-based mineral extraction—and potentially a hugely lucrative business. But it is not completely true.

Introduction:

A startup, The Metals Co, holds prospecting rights over 90,000 square miles of seabed and plans to indulge in seabed mining.

Since June, 530 marine science and policy experts from 44 countries have signed a statement warning that seabed mining would result in environmental damages “irreversible on multi-generational timescales.

That should alarm not just investors, but policymakers charged with protecting the oceans.

About Polymetallic nodules:
  • These are rocks that are rich in cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel, rare-earth elements and titanium.
  • The Pacific basin is thought to contain more than 30 billion tonnes of polymetallic nodules
  • Scientists and entrepreneurs have been researching methods of extracting them since the 1960s.
  • In 1994, the International Seabed Authority was established to regulate mining efforts and protect the seabed environment.

Challenges in seafloor mining
  • The seafloor is arguably the least resilient ecosystem on the planet.
  • In 2017, a report commissioned by the UK government warned that seabed mining could lead to the “extinction of unique species which form the first rung of the food chain.”
  • The damage wouldn’t be confined to the ocean floor. Plumes of sediment will have a dire effects on sea life accustomed to clear water.
    • Further, the plumes might also include toxins that can pass on to Fishes.
    • The plumes might also reduce the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon—or even release stored carbon into the atmosphere—thereby worsening climate change.
Suggestions:

The UN should call for a moratorium on seafloor mining. Further, countries should consider challenging any permits at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and other legal forums.


A climate risk

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS-  3 – Disaster Management

Relevance: The article highlights the impacts of Climate Change on the seasons of India.

Synopsis: Only adequate planning can protect against nature’s unavoidable extremes.

What changes have occurred in the climate trends over the Arabian Sea? State the reasons for the same.

In the previous two decades, the frequency and intensity of cyclones over the Arabian Sea have grown. 

  • According to a new study published in Climate Dynamics, there has been a 52 percent increase in the frequency of cyclones over the Arabian Sea from 2001 to 2019. Whereas a drop of  8%  over the Bay of Bengal was observed, compared to 1982-2002. The Bay of Bengal has historically seen the most cyclones.
  • The duration of these cyclones has also grown by 80%. More cyclones are carrying moisture from the Arabian Sea are contributing to heavy rainfall events along the western coast. For example, Cyclone Tauktae in May was one of the strongest cyclones to hit Mumbai, with winds of 185 km per hour. It was responsible for storm surges that overwhelm the coast.
  • According to studies, a warming globe has boosted atmospheric moisture levels, resulting in short, powerful rainstorms. 
    • The interplay between warming, rainfall, and temperature is complicated, and variables including aerosol emissions, particulate matter pollution, agricultural, and forestry patterns must all be taken into account.

What should be done to deal with the changing climate trends?

Extreme events such as bursts of heavy localized rainfall, lengthy droughts, and heatwaves are likely to become more common. It emphasizes the importance of good forecasts that can predict such events at least three to five days ahead of time.

  • Climate-proofing is required in the most vulnerable areas and take scientific risk assessments seriously. Evacuations in advance of a flood or a hurricane are not always effective, thus limited construction should be allowed in areas designated as vulnerable.
  • Thirdly, it is difficult to predict a significant quake, effective planning can protect against nature’s unavoidable extremes.

Conclusion 

  • International climate change accords to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would only help the world in the long run, but what is done now will determine whether we survive or thrive.

Implication of EU’s new GHG emissions law for Indian industry

Source – The Indian Express

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

Relevance: EU’s emission law will have implications for India as well.

Synopsis – Key features and advantages of EU’s new carbon emission law and its implication on India and its industries.

Introduction –

  • Fit To 55 – Recently, The European Commission adopted the Fit for 55 Package of proposals. It aims to make the EU’s climate, energy, land use, transportation, and taxation policies fit for lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 (relative to 1990 levels).
  • The Fit for package opens new markets for the Indian industry, for example, electric vehicles. However, it also introduces a globally unprecedented carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) for pricing imported carbon.
  • It also includes a major overhaul of the Emissions Trading System (ETS) where polluting industries can purchase carbon credits to offset their carbon emissions. The changes will drive the price of carbon credits higher and will tax polluting industries more harshly.

What is CBUM [carbon border adjustment mechanism]?

CBAM will impose a border fee on imports in carbon-intensive sectors like steel, cement, and fertilizers from nations with lower environmental standards than the EU. The scheme would start in 2023 with a transition period until 2025.

Advantages of CBAM-

  1. Mechanism will reduce carbon leakage.
  2. Provide EU manufacturers a level playing field – This will offer EU manufacturers, that are paying the expenses of legally mandated decarbonization, a competitive advantage over foreign competitors who can create products at a cheaper cost and with higher emissions.
  3. Encourage producers to invest in cleaner technologies- With fit for 55, the foreign producers will be required to pay for the carbon released while making their products under CBAM. Manufacturers will be encouraged to invest in greener technologies as a result of this.

What are the impacts of CBAM over India?

India does not have its own carbon tax or cap. So, CBAM should be a cause for concern, as it would result in an increase in existing duties payable on Indian exports of certain products to the EU. According to UNCTAD STUDY – India will lose $1-1.7 billion in exports of energy-intensive products such as steel and aluminum.

What should the Indian industry do to prepare for the new regulations?

  1. First, the Indian industry should start clean technology partnerships with the European industry.
  2. Second, Indian companies should invest in more renewable electricity and energy efficiency.
    • Indian industries can adopt science-based targets for emission reduction and internal carbon pricing to incentivize low-carbon options.
    • The government can extend the perform-achieve-trade scheme to more industries and provide financial assistance to MSMEs to upgrade to clean technologies.
  3. Third, India can try to diversify its exports to other markets and products.
    • For example- India could increase its market share of crude steel compared to more carbon emission intensive producers like China, Russia, and Ukraine.

Are law and technology a solution to fake news?

Source: The Hindu 

Syllabus: GS 3 – Role of Media and Social Networking Sites in Internal Security Challenges

Relevance: Importance of historical thinking for tackling fake news.

Synopsis:

Stakeholders are attempting to find a robust and effective solution to filter fact from fiction. In this regard, some experts have suggested the inculcation of historical thinking amongst the masses in order to curb the menace of fake news.

Background:

  • Fake news and its associated social problems have been a major concern. The Indian government has been attempting to bring in several legal amendments to deal with its creation, propagation, and effects
  • Social media companies, too, are investing billions of dollars into technological solutions such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify fake news and its proliferation. However, such measures aren’t fully effective to tackle fake news.

Issues in tackling Fake News:

  • First, the rising cases of fake news in the country testify that formulation of laws only does not prevent a wrong action. The legal system needs to become more robust before it can be considered an effective solution.
  • Second, the AI models use enormous amounts of power and leave a huge carbon footprint.
    • A ‘Transformer’ model, as of January 2019, used 6,56,347 kilowatt-hour (kWh), producing a carbon footprint of 6,26,155 lbs of CO2 equivalent. 
    • It incurred a cloud computing cost between $9,42,973 and $32,01,722 for a single training of the AI model.  
    • Further, since the models tend to use text already present on the Internet, there is a tendency for the AI to reflect strong negative human biases.
  • Third, the problem is aggravated by the decline in history learning programs worldwide.
    • While the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) curriculum has elements of historical thinking, State boards are primarily focused on the memorization of content.
    • The majority of contemporary conflicts in India are rooted in historical claims around politics, culture, and religion. These will intensify if the historical assumptions and data behind related fake news are not analyzed.

Suggestions:

  • While the National Education Policy, 2020, captures the needs of the nation, it misses out on historical thinking. We need to inculcate historical thinking to tackle the menace of fake news and uphold Article 51A(h) of the constitution.
    • Article 51A(h) – It shall be the duty of every citizen to develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform.
    • Historical thinking is the set of thinking skills required for learning history. It consists of concepts like points of view, evidence, validity and reliability of the source, contextualization, and corroboration, apart from other skills.
  • Historical Thinking in the case of fake news: A person should be able to read a piece of news, examine the source for bias and ascertain whether the claims being made are factual or whether they constitute deliberate misinformation
    • Since fake news is designed to appeal to emotion, it becomes all the more important that a person is skilled at interrogating evidence, contextualising the information, and corroborating it with alternate sources.

Spooky change

Source: Times of India 

Syllabus: GS 3 – Various Security Forces and Agencies and their Mandate

Synopsis:

The alleged spying attack (Pegasus) on opposition leaders, journalists and protestors has raised questions over the accountability and independent functioning of intelligence agencies. In this context, a private member bill is introduced for allowing parliamentary oversight over them.

Background:

Congress MP Manish Tewari has revived his private members’ bill to give legal backing and parliamentary oversight to intelligence and security agencies. It includes the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO). The idea, first mooted by Tewari in 2011, is excellent and merits cross-party support.

Rationale behind its introduction:

  1. Augment Accountability: There is no constitutional or statutory backing of IB, or even a formal charter, apart from a law of 1985, restricting some of its rights. There’s no independent oversight or external scrutiny.
    • It is essential to lay out an intelligence agency’s remit, the range of actions permitted to the minister it reports to, and protections for the agency’s director. Such safeguards will help in preventing Pegasus-like attacks in the future.
  2. Upholding Democracy: It is essential for intelligence agencies to be accountable to the public through the legislature, instead of a report to the executive alone.
    • Secrecy is needed for security and intelligence work but in democracies, safeguards to prevent illegal or dubious practices are as important.
    • For example, there has to be clear demarcation between public duties and information-gathering of political nature that seems ultra vires of constitutional liberties.
  3. Preserving Independence: There must be institutional safeguards to allow officials to refuse unreasonable instructions from the political executive.
  4. Regaining Trust: Given intelligence agencies’ enormous new powers of surveillance and enhanced instances of spying, the bill is essential to re-establish their credibility.

Global Scenario:

All over the world, scandals and rights abuses led to reforms. 

  • U.S: In the mid-1970s, shocked by CIA spying, the US enacted oversight mechanisms, including congressional scrutiny.
    • In the US, congressional intelligence committees, which work within a ring of secrecy, must be informed in advance of special operations.  
  • Australia and Canada: They enacted safeguards in the 1980s. In Canada, for instance, ministerial instructions have to be put in writing and made available to the oversight committee. 
    • In Australia, reporting is done to an independent inspector-general, who further reports to the leader of the opposition.
  • U.K and Norway: In the UK, the intelligence and security committee’s oversight is limited to policy and finance. In Norway, to matters of human rights and the rule of law.

Way Ahead:

Parliamentary oversight doesn’t mean the whole House. A specialised parliamentary committee to exercise systematic and focussed oversight is what India needs. India could do well by following the US model of parliamentary oversight.


IMD may deploy cutting-edge technology to forecast weather events more accurately

Source: Business Standard

Syllabus: GS 3 – Disaster Management

Relevance – Weather forecasting is important for disaster management and reducing farmer’s crop loss.

Synopsis:

The ability of India Meteorological Department (IMD) is looking for the adoption of cutting-edge technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for improving weather forecasting.

Background:

  • The standing crop of Ujjain farmers got destroyed recently due to poor weather forecast by the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
  • However, now IMD has decided to increasingly use cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in forecasting.
  • This would help avoid such glitches and help counter the disruption of normal seasonal patterns as a result of climate change.

Enhancement in IMD’s Data collection and processing:

  • There are nearly 20 weather buoys and advanced weather station-equipped ships that collect data from the depths of the ocean. While over 25 Doppler radars monitor climatic conditions on land.
    • All this gives the Met department accurate data on sea surface temperatures, wind speed, and high- and low-pressure systems. 
  • The launch of two high-powered weather satellites, INSAT-3D and INSAT 3D-R in 2013 and 2016, respectively, has also given a fillip to the IMD’s observation and data collection capabilities.
  • The ability to process observational data has also undergone a vast improvement due to a manifold increase in its computing power from 1 teraflop to 8.6 teraflops
    • Now it can come out with a forecast within three hours of the data being fed in, whereas earlier, this would take anywhere from 12 to 14 hours.

Impact of enhanced data collection and processing capabilities:

  • The accuracy for predicting heavy rainfall has gone up from 60% to 80% in the last 10 years. Similarly, cyclone trajectory can now be accurately predicted in the range of 30 km, earlier it was 200 km.
  • Until 2012, the department did not have much success in forecasting thunderstorms accurately. But now it has achieved 80-85% accuracy in forecasting them three hours before the event.
  • One area where the IMD has so far not had much success is, in predicting the occurrence of lightning. Predicting lightning accurately is very difficult, because it happens over a small area in a short span of time.

Path towards adoption of AI and ML by IMD:

  • It has formed various internal sub-groups of senior officials and meteorologists to decide on optimum use of AI and ML. 
    • It would analyse the usage in predicting cyclone intensity, and in making short-range weather forecasts (those valid for up to three hours) as well as long-range forecasts.
  • The IMD, along with the ministry of earth sciences, has also tied up with the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) at Allahabad and Vadodara, and with IIT-Kharagpur. The collaboration is aimed to hone its strategy of using AI and ML in weather forecasting.
  • Moreover, it is working closely with global tech giants such as Google and others to fine-tune its use of AI and ML.
    • Google has been using IMD’s automated alerts to immediately disseminate information on weather events such as heat waves, thunderstorms, rainfall and cyclones. These alerts show up on Google Maps and Search.

Once AI and ML have been adopted into the IMD’s systems, deaths due to lightning (which number around 2,000 annually in India) are also likely to come down.


Cloning overcomes prejudices

Source: Business Standard 

Syllabus: GS 3 – Science and Technology

Relevance: Use of technology for the betterment of agriculture

Synopsis:

The development and popularisation of cloning technology can be a boon for the Indian livestock sector, which relies heavily on buffalo milk.

Background:

  • Dolly (a sheep) was the first cloned mammal created at the Roslin Institute in Scotland on July 5, 1996. Since then countless genetically exact copies of various animals have been generated around the world. 
  • But only a few countries have adopted cloning as a means of developing elite populations of commercially important livestock species. In this regard, India has performed well, especially in the case of buffaloes.   

India and Cloning Technology:

  • Workable indigenous cloning technology was developed in the late 2000s.
  • The first cloned buffalo calf was born at the Karnal-based National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) on February 6, 2009. It was named “Samrupa” (meaning lookalike) and died seven days after its birth due to a lung infection.
  • It had put the very technology in the dock, but only until the second cloned calf, called Garima, was born four months later on June 6, 2009. Furthermore, it survived and even produced healthy progeny. The country now excels in buffalo cloning.
  • For the first time in the world, seven cloned copies of an elite breeding buffalo bull (identified as M-29) and a re-cloned calf of an earlier cloned bull called Hissar-Gaurav were evolved last year. 
    • They were developed at the Hissar (Haryana) based Central Institute for Research on Buffaloes (CIRB). 
    • All these eight clones were born from different foster mothers between October 2019 and January 2020. This institute has used these bulls to produce thousands of doses of semen.

Utility of Cloning for the livestock sector:

  • In India, livestock rather than crop farming forms the mainstay of the livelihood of small and marginal farmers and landless rural people.
  • The development and popularisation of cloning can be a boon for the Indian livestock sector, which relies heavily on buffalo milk.
  • At present, five cloned buffalo bulls are already being used for the production of semen to be used for artificial insemination. Further, 13 more would start doing this by December 2021.
    • The availability of an adequate number of duplicates of such bulls can facilitate a mass-scale genetic upgrade of buffaloes.  
  • The buffalo is getting preference over the cow also because it is a milch-cum-meat animal. 
    • It yields more milk and with a higher fat content than an average cow does. 
    • There are no legal bars or taboos concerning the disposal of aged animals.
    • Focusing on buffaloes would raise the production of both milk and meat, which has become a key export item.

Hence, the future of the Indian livestock sector lies truly in the promotion of well-bred buffaloes, apart from elite breeds of desi (indigenous) cows and crossbred animals.


Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)


Students can now get 40% of university credits from e-courses

SourceTimes of India

About the news:

The government has recently announced that from the 2021-22 academic session, students of 149 universities would be allowed to earn up to 40% of their required credits from among the over 800 online courses available on the Swayam platform.

About the announcement
  • Students of 149 universities can now get 40% of university credits from e-courses available on the Swayam platform.
  • The 149 universities include central universities like Jamia Millia Islamia, state universities like National Law University, Delhi and over 75 private and deemed universities.
  • Once the student fulfils the total credits required, he or she will be granted the degree.
  • Apart from this, the academic bank of credit (ABC) would also become functional from the forthcoming academic session. The ABC will be a repository of the credits earned by a student.

About the SWAYAM Couses:

  • There are 846 online courses that will be offered by SWAYAM from the forthcoming semester.
  • The courses are divided into seven categories
    1. Architecture and planning,
    2. Engineering and technology,
    3. humanities and arts,
    4. Law
    5. Management and commerce,
    6. Mathematics and sciences
    7. NPTEL domain (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning)
  • Each category is further divided into small course modules, from which a student can choose and register and learn online.
  • The National Testing Agency conducts exams twice a year at the end of each semester.

Credit transfer from SWAYAM Courses

Read more: SWAYAM portal
The benefit of the credit transfer:
  • This would give the much-needed flexibility to students as envisaged in the National Education Policy 2020.
  • So far, a student used to get the experience of one university. But from now on, a student can learn multiple online courses under different universities.
  • This will also boost the skill set among students as a university may not offer a particular skill that another might have.

Telangana’s Ramappa temple inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site

Source: The Hindu

What is the News?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) has inscribed the Ramappa Temple as a UNESCO ‘World Heritage Site’.

About Ramappa Temple:
  • Ramappa (Rudreswara) Temple is also known as the Ramalingeswara (Lord Siva) temple.
  • Location: The temple is located in the Palampet village of Venkatapur Mandal in Telangana’s Mulugu (old Warangal) district.
  • Built by: The temple was constructed in 1213 AD during the reign of the Kakatiya Empire by Recherla Rudra, a general of Kakatiya king Ganapati Deva.
  • Presiding Deity: The presiding deity of the temple is Ramalingeswara Swamy. The temple is known as the Ramappa temple after the sculptor who executed the work in the temple for 40 years.
Key Features of the Ramappa Temple:
  • The temple is a masterpiece of Kakatiya-era architecture. The temple stands on a 6 feet high star-shaped platform with walls, pillars, and ceilings adorned with intricate carvings that attest to the unique skill of the Kakatiya sculptors.
  • The foundation of the temple is built with the “sandbox technique”. The flooring of the temple is granite and the pillars are of basalt.
    • Sandbox technique involved filling the pit — dug up for laying the foundation — with a mixture of sand-lime, jaggery (for binding), and karakkaya (black myrobalan fruit) before the buildings were constructed on these ‘sandboxes’.This technique acts as a cushion in case of earthquakes.
  • The lower part of the temple is built with red sandstone, while the white gopuram is built with light bricks that reportedly float on water.
  • Moreover, the main temple is flanked by the collapsed structures of Kateshwarayya and Kameshwaraya temples in Palampet about 220 km from Hyderabad.
  • Further, the European merchants and travelers were mesmerized by the beauty of the temple, and one such traveler had remarked that the temple was the “brightest star in the galaxy of medieval temples of the Deccan”.
Terms to Know:

About International Council on Monuments and Sites(ICOMOS):

  • ICOMOS is a non-governmental international organisation associated with UNESCO. It was founded in 1965 in Warsaw as a result of the Venice Charter of 1964.
  • Its mission is to promote the conservation, protection, use, and enhancement of monuments, building complexes, and sites.
  • ICOMOS is also an Advisory Body of the World Heritage Committee for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO.
  • Partner Organization: ICOMOS is a partner and founding member of the Blue Shield, which works to protect the world’s cultural heritage threatened by wars and natural disasters.
  • Headquarters: Paris, France.

35% of the government. schools, anganwadis have no tap water

Source: The Hindu

 What is the News?

Over a third of government schools and anganwadis still do not have tap water access even 10 months after the Jal Jeevan Mission(JJM) launched a 100-day campaign.

Centre’s 100-day Special Campaign:
  • On 2nd October 2020, the Ministry of Jal Shakti had launched the 100-day Special Campaign under the Jal Jeevan Mission.
  • The campaign aims to achieve 100% coverage and provide potable piped water supply for drinking and cooking purposes as well as tap water for hand washing and in toilets in every school, anganwadi and ashramshala or residential tribal school.
    • At the time, about 40% of schools and anganwadis already had tap water access.
What has been achieved so far?
  • Around 66% of schools & 60% Anganwadi centers across the nation have got the FHTC [Functional Household Tap Connections].
Drawbacks of the Campaign:
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources has pointed out the slow rate of progress of the campaign.
  • Over a third of government schools and anganwadis still do not have tap water access, even 10 months after the launch of a 100-day campaign.
  • Moreover, there is a wide disparity among States. Nine states and Union Territories have already achieved 100% coverage.
  • On the other hand, Jharkhand and West Bengal have less than 15% of schools and less than 10% of anganwadis have tap water access. In Uttar Pradesh, 80% of the schools have access to tap water.
Government’s Response:
  • The government of India has said that some States/ UTs have asked for more time to complete the task. Due to this, the campaign has been extended till March 31, 2021.
  • Moreover, progress has been made in the campaign despite the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Ministry of Women launches web based portal to facilitate ‘PM CARES for Children’ scheme

Source: PIB

What is the News?

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched the web based portal “pmcaresforchildren.in” to facilitate submission of applications, identification of children eligible to receive support under the ‘PM CARES for Children’ scheme.

About PM CARES for Children Scheme:
  • The PM CARES for Children Scheme was announced by the Government of India.
  • Aim: The scheme aims to ensure comprehensive care and protection of children who have lost their parents to COVID pandemic in a sustained manner.

Eligibility for the Scheme: All children who have lost

  • Both parents or
  • Surviving parent or
  • legal guardian/adoptive parents due to COVID 19 pandemic, starting from March,2020 till the end of pandemic shall be entitled to benefits under the scheme.
Benefits under the Scheme:

Financial Assistance of Rs.10 Lakh:

  • A corpus of Rs. 10 lakh will be allocated to each of these children from the PM CARES fund.
  • This corpus will be used to give a monthly stipend from 18 years of their age for the next five years.
  • On reaching the age of 23 years, he or she will get the corpus amount as one lump-sum for personal and professional use.
Education Expenses of Children:
  • The education expenses of younger children will be supported by way of admission to Kendriya Vidyalayas and private schools up to higher secondary level.
  • These children will also be supported during their higher education through either a scholarship equivalent to the tuition fees or educational loans where the interest on the loan will be paid by the PM-CARES fund.
Health Insurance:
  • All children will be enrolled as a beneficiary under Ayushman Bharat Scheme with a health insurance cover of Rs. 5 lakh.
  • The premium amount will be paid by PM-CARES till a child turns 18.

Union Home Minister launches the Green Sohra Afforestation Campaign

Source: PIB

What is the News?

The Union Home Minister has launched the Green Sohra Afforestation Campaign at Sohra (Cherrapunji).

About Green Sohra Afforestation Campaign:
  • Green Sohra Afforestation Campaign is a campaign of the Assam Rifles.
  • Under the campaign, the entire area of ​​Cherrapunji is going to be adopted by Assam Rifles for plantation.
  • So when the trees are cut for fuel and other uses, 80% of the total land will be planted with traditional and long lifespan trees. The remaining 20% ​​will be used for animal feed, ornamental plants, and nursery which will meet all the requirements and help reduce the feeling of long lifespan trees.
  • With this technique, multi-level farming is done, and the forest grows 30 times faster and after 3 years it becomes free of maintenance.
About Greater Sohra Water Project:
  • The Project was launched by the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region(DoNER) and the Government of Meghalaya under the North-East Special Infrastructure Scheme.
  • The project is a part of the Prime Minister’s ambitious project Jal Jeevan Mission.
  • The project aims to provide pure drinking water through taps to every household in Sohra (Cherrapunji) region.
About Cherrapunji:
  • Cherrapunji or Sohra is a subdivisional town in the East Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya.It is the traditional capital of ka hima Sohra (Khasi tribal kingdom).
  • Sohra has often been credited as being the wettest place on Earth, but for now nearby Mawsynram currently holds that distinction.
  • However, Cherrapunji still holds the all-time record for the most rainfall in a calendar month and in a year.
About North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme(NESIDS):
  • NESIDS is a Central Sector Scheme launched by the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region(DoNER) in 2017.
  • Aim: The Project aims to ensure focused development of the North East Region by providing financial assistance for projects of
    • physical infrastructure relating to water supply, power, connectivity to enhance tourism and
    • social sector for creation of infrastructure in the areas of primary and secondary sectors of education and health.

Home Minister inaugurates Multipurpose Convention Centre and Exhibition Facility of NESAC

Source: PIB 

What is the News?

The Union Home Minister has laid the foundation stone for the Multipurpose Convention Centre and Exhibition Facility of the North Eastern Space Applications Centre (NESAC) in Shillong, Meghalaya.

About North Eastern Space Applications Centre(NESAC):
  • NESAC is a joint initiative of the Department of Space(DOS) and the North Eastern Council(NEC).
  • It came into being in 2000 as a society registered under the Meghalaya Societies Registration Act, 1983.
  • Purpose: To play a catalytic role in the holistic development of the North Eastern Region of India by providing Space Science and Technology support at all possible levels

Objectives of NESAC: The major objectives of the Centre are:

  • To provide an operational remote sensing and geographic information system-aided natural resource information base to support activities on development/management of natural resources and infrastructure planning in the region.
  • To provide operational satellite communication applications services in the region in education, health care, disaster management support, and developmental communication.
  • Furthermore, to take up research in the space and atmospheric science area and establish an instrumentation hub and networking with various academic institutions of NER.
  • To enable single window delivery of all possible, space-based support for disaster management.
  • To set up a regional level infrastructure for capacity building in the field of geospatial technology.

Indian scientists discover materials that self-repair mechanical damages

Source: PIB

What is the News?

Indian Scientists have developed materials that may soon make it possible for damaged electronic components, such as in spacecraft, to self-repair mechanical damages.

What is the material that Indian Scientists have developed?
  • Indian Scientists have developed piezoelectric molecular crystal material called bipyrazole organic crystals.
    • Piezoelectric crystals are a class of materials that generate electricity when it undergoes a mechanical impact.
  • The material has the unique property of generating electrical charges on mechanical impact.
  • This property allows the material to repair itself from mechanical damages without the need for any external intervention.
Significance of this development:
  • Devices that we use daily often break down due to mechanical damage, forcing us either to repair or replace them. This decreases the life of the equipment and increases maintenance costs.
  • In many cases, like in spacecraft, human intervention for restoration is not possible.
  • Hence, keeping such necessities in mind, researchers have developed a material that can repair their own mechanical damages with the electrical charges generated by the mechanical impact on them.

The caste census debate

Source: Indian Express

What is the News?

On Caste Based Census, the Ministry of Home Affairs has said that the Government of India has decided not to enumerate caste-wise population other than SCs and STs in Census 2021.

Caste Data Published in the Census:

  • Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes.
  • Before that, every Census until 1931 had data on caste. However, in 1941, caste-based data was collected but not published.
  • Hence, in the absence of such a census, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs.
  • The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%. Some other estimates have been based on National Sample Survey data.

About Socio-Economic Caste Census(SECC):

  • Socio-Economic Caste Census(SECC) was conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development in rural areas and the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation in urban areas.
  • The SECC data excluding caste data was finalized and published by the two ministries in 2016.
  • The raw caste data was handed over to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which formed an Expert Group under former NITI Aayog Vice-Chairperson Arvind Pangaria for classification and categorisation of data. However, the report has not been made public.

About Mandal Commission:

  • Mandal Commission or the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC) was established in 1979 with a mandate to identify the socially or educationally backward classes of India.
  • Headed by: It was headed by B.P. Mandal to consider the question of reservations for people to redress caste discrimination and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine backwardness.
  • In 1980, based on its rationale that OBCs (“Other backward classes”) identified on the basis of caste, economic and social indicators made up 52% of India’s population, the Commission’s report recommended that members of OBC be granted reservations to 27% of jobs under the Central government and public sector undertakings.

Union Power Minister release a report on Key Regulatory Parameters of Power Utilities

Source: PIB

What is the News?

The Union Power Minister has released a report on Key Regulatory Parameters of Power Utilities.

Report on Key Regulatory Parameters of Power Utilities:

  • The report captures key regulatory information of DISCOMs apart from state-owned transmission and generation utilities.
  • The report also facilitates meaningful comparison of their performance and brings forth actionable insights for relevant power sector stakeholders including policy makers and regulators.

Schemes Mentioned in the Article:

About Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana(DDUGJY):

  • DDUGJY is designed to provide continuous power supply to the entire rural India.
  • The erstwhile Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana(RGGVY) scheme was subsumed in the DDUGJY scheme.
  • Objectives of the Scheme:
    • To provide electrification to all villages
    • Feeder separation to ensure sufficient power to farmers and regular supply to other consumers
    • Improvement of Sub-transmission and distribution network to improve the quality and reliability of the supply
    • Metering to reduce the losses
  • Implementing Agency: Rural Electrification Corporation(REC) is the Nodal Agency for implementation of DDUGJY.
  • Achievements: Under the DDUGJY scheme, the country has achieved 100% electrification of villages.

About Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA):

  • GRIHA is an independent, not-for-profit society jointly setup by The Energy and Resources Institute(TERI) and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy(MNRE).
  • Purpose: GRIHA is a rating tool that helps people assess the performance of their building against certain nationally acceptable benchmarks.
  • It evaluates the environmental performance of a building holistically over its entire life cycle, thereby providing a definitive standard for what constitutes a ‘green building’.

PM: As country enters 75th year, need a ‘Bharat Jodo Andolan’

Source: Indian Express

What is the News?

The Prime Minister has asked people to lead a ‘Bharat jodo andolan’ (unite India movement) as part of Amrit Mahotsav.

About Amrit Mahotsav:

  • Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav is a series of events to be organised by the Government of India to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence.
  • The Mahotsav will be celebrated as a Jan-Utsav in the spirit of Jan-Bhagidari.
  • The five pillars of the movement are i.e. Freedom Struggle, Ideas at 75, Achievements at 75, Actions at 75 and Resolves at 75.
  • As part of the movement, many events have been organised.The Ministry of Culture has started an initiative to have a maximum number of Indians sing the national anthem together. For this, a website has also been created — Rashtragan.in.

Note: Kargil Vijay Diwas is celebrated across India on July 26 every year to honour the fallen soldiers of the Indian Armed Forces who fought valiantly to recapture the heights of Kargil from the Pakistani infiltrators in 1999.

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