9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – October 13th, 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 
    6. Down To Earth
    7. PIB
  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.
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Mains Oriented Articles

GS Paper 2

Explained: The Ease of Doing Business rankings controversy

Source: This post is based on the article ” Explained: The Ease of Doing Business rankings controversy ” published in The Indian Express on 13th October 2021. Syllabus: GS2- Important International Institutions, agencies and fora – their Structure, Mandate. 

Relevance: Ease of Doing Business rankings controversy 

Synopsis: Recommendations to improve the ranking methodology employed by now scrapped Ease of Doing Business index report. 

Introduction 

Few days ago, the executive board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) backed its Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, stating full confidence in her. The purpose was to end the long and increased questioning about Georgieva’s role in manipulating the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings when she was the chief executive there. 

Must Read: The end of Doing Business report – Explained, pointwise
What is the controversy and how Kristalina Georgieva is linked with it? 

In August 2020, the World Bank suspended its EoDB rankings after finding some “data irregularities”. “A number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports, published in October 2017 and 2019. The changes in the data were inconsistent with the Doing Business methodology. Kristalina Georgieva was the Managing Director of the IMF at that time. 

How can the ranking methodology be improved? 

Recently, the World Bank also published the findings of an external panel review of its EoDB methodology. It stated that “the current methodology should be significantly modified, implying a major overhaul of the project. 

Some of the key recommendations are: 

First, A substantial methodological shift away from hypothetical case studies and in favour of more data collection from representative samples of “actual” business owners and operators on their de facto experiences of doing business. 

Second, don’t ignore the government functions that provide essential public goods to the private sector: transport and communications infrastructure, a skilled workforce, law and order, etc. 

Third, do not rank countries on their tax rates.   

Fourth, eliminate the indicators “Protecting Minority Shareholders” and “Resolving Insolvency.” 

Five, make the “Contracting with Government” indicator more relevant. 

Six, restore and improve the “Employing Workers” indicator, but do not rank countries based on this information. 

Seven, improve the transparency and oversight of Doing Business. 


The sanctions clouds over India US Ties

Source: This post is based on the article “The sanctions clouds over India US Ties” published in The Hindu on 13th October 2021.Syllabus: GS 2 Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.

Relevance: To understand the implication of S-400 deal on India- US relations.

Synopsis: The debate in the US hovers around the efficacy of CAATSA related sanctions against India.

Introduction

India is all ready to welcome the delivery of S400 Triumf Air Defence system  from Russia as per the schedule. But this can bring drift between the India-USA relations. There is a possibility of imposing sanctions by the USA on India under the CAATSA. USA thinks it’s dangerous for any country to use the S400.

What is Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)?

It is passed in 2016 by the USA to discourage trade in the defence and intelligence sectors of Russia.

Read more: What is “CAATSA” or Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act?

What will be the implications of the sanctions on India?

If the USA imposes sanctions on India, it could further push India towards its traditional military hardware supplier Russia.

What are the India defence relations with Russia and the USA?

Russia: Over the last decade, India military purchase from Russia has steadily declined. According to SIPRI Report, Russia is the most affected supplier of India.  Indian imports of arms decreased by 33% between 2011-15 and 2016-20. Recently, deals of nearly $15bn are under negotiation.

USA: The USA designated India as a major defence partner in 2016. It also gave India Strategic Trade Authorization-1, which allows access to critical technologies. India-USA trade also reached $20bn and deals of $10bn are under negotiation.

Where does the future lie?

The CAATSA test will determine the trajectory that India-USA relations will take in the coming decades. To improve India – US relations, the US president can provide a waiver for India.


GS Paper 3

Chinese checks: On dealing with border incursions by China

Source: This post is based on the article “ Chinese checks ” published in The Business Standard on 13th October 2021. Syllabus: GS3- Security Challenges and their Management in Border Areas 

Relevance: Dealing with China

Synopsis: India urgently needs a fresh strategy for handling the broader dispute along the Sino-Indian border.

Introduction 

In June last year, clashes took place between India and China in the Galwan Valley, which resulted in fatalities on both sides. The Chinese have steadily encroached on Indian territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Despite some pullbacks, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)- Chinese Army controls more territory than it did before the intrusion.  

The recent failure of the corps commander-level talks on troop pullbacks in eastern Ladakh, suggests that a new strategy for handling the Sino-Indian border dispute is required. 

What steps has India taken to deal with Chinese border incursions? 

India’s strategy has been to talk tough, ban Chinese apps and investment, and increase military resources along the LAC.

Recently, India has increased the troops along the LAC by 40%. It also increased the artillery pieces and prepared Rafale fighter jets equipped with long-range missiles for any kind of future events that may arise. 

What is the future Chinese strategy? 

As per some reports, PLA is making fresh incursions into areas it had vacated in the Galwan Valley.

It is also attempting intrusion into Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

It is also upgrading communication equipment and roads, weaponry and logistics along the LAC, notably in the Galwan Valley — and have increased the number of patrol boats on its side of the Pangong Tso.

It also has three forward fighter bases in Tibet and that can cover the entire border.

Overall, PLA is augmenting its attack capabilities. China spends much more than India on such infrastructure and technologies. 

What is the way forward? 

Chinese border activity has increased and this demands a more robust response from India.

Past surveys of infrastructure and capabilities on the border have indicated that the Indian military does, in fact, have several strong points along its length and it can exploit them in the same way as China has done this past year and a half. China’s withdrawal from Pangong Tso, the only area it has completely vacated after last year’s incursion, was an example of the Indian army effectively leveraging its superior position in the region to force the issue. All of this, of course, needs investment.

That China outspends India by several orders of magnitude is well known. Pressures on the Budget from the pandemic have added to India’s constraints.

Engaging in constant negotiations is the most desirable solution to military conflict. But as China has shown, talking and carrying the proverbial big stick work better.

Note: Carrying the proverbial big stick means caution and non-aggression, backed up by the ability to carry out violent action if required.


Explained: Why govt proposes to redefine forests, and the concerns this raises

Source: This post is based on the article ” Explained: Why govt proposes to redefine forests, and the concerns this raises ” published in The Indian Express on 13th October 2021. Syllabus: GS3 – Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment. 

Relevance: Proposed amendment to the Forest Conservation Act

Synopsis: Need of amendment to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the proposed amendments and various concerns associated with this amendments.

Introduction 

Recently, the Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) published proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. It proposed easing diversion of forests and exempting certain categories of development from the need to take clearance from the Ministry.  

Must Read: Govt proposes changes to Forest Conservation Act
What are the proposed amendments? 

First, all land acquired by the Railways and Roads Ministries prior to 1980 be exempted from the Act. These lands had been acquired for expansion, but subsequently forests have grown in these areas, and the government is no longer able to use the land for expansion.  

If the amendment is brought in, these Ministries will no longer need clearance for their projects, nor pay compensatory levies to build there. 

Second, for individuals whose lands fall within a state-specific Private Forests Act or come within the dictionary meaning of forest as specified in the 1996 Supreme Court order, the government proposes to allow “construction of structures for bona fide purposes’’ including residential units up to 250 sq m as a one-time relaxation. 

Third, Defence projects near international borders will be exempted from forest clearance. 

Fourth, Oil and natural gas extraction from forested lands will be permitted, but only if technologies such as Extended Reach Drilling are used. 

Fifth, doing away with levies for non-forestry purposes during the renewal of a lease, 

Sixth, Strip plantations alongside roads that would fall under the Act will be exempted. 

What are the concerns? 

Corporate ownership: the relaxation of forest rules will facilitate corporate ownership and the disappearance of large tracts of forests. 

Threat to tribals and forest dwelling communities

Negative impacts on wildlife: Exemption for Roads and Railways on forest land acquired prior to 1980 will be detrimental to forests as well as wildlife 

Fragmentation of forests, one time exemption for private residences on private forest will lead to fragmentation of forests, and open areas such as the Aravalli mountains to real estate


The state of states: On lack of data on state’s finances

Source: This post is based on the article “The state of states” published in Business Standard on 13th October 2021.Syllabus: GS3 – Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning, Mobilization of Resources

Relevance: Significance of data on states’ finances

Synopsis: Data of the Union Govt’s finances is made available at the end of every month. We need a similar kind of set up for states too.

Introduction

The Union government’s finances are routinely analysed and critically appraised, when its revenue and expenditure data are released by the Controller General of Accounts at the end of every month. These are unaudited and provisional numbers, but they do provide a broad idea about the state of the Centre’s finances.

On the other hand side, little analysis of the state governments’ finances takes place during the year. This is unfortunate.

What is the current scenario?

The data for the Centre’s revenue and expenditure are available for the first five months of 2021-22.

But only about 20 states have so far released their unaudited and provisional budget data for April-August 2021.

These cover all the major states except West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Delhi and some of the smaller states, including a few in the north-east.

A quick analysis of the way these 20 states spent and collected their revenue in April-August 2021 shows how different their approach to budgeting is from the Centre’s.

What does the data of states’ finances show?

Increased overall expenditure than the Centre: In April-August 2021, their total expenditure grew by 13% over the same period of 2020 and by 11% over the same period of 2019.

In contrast, the Centre increased its expenditure only by about 2% over the last year and by 9 per cent over 2019.

During pandemic: Against the Centre’s 6 per cent rise in its total expenditure, the states’ spending had contracted by 2 per cent in April-August 2020. The rise in the states’ spending is contrary to the general impression that the states squeezed their expenditure in the first five months of the current year.

Higher revenue expenditure: The bulk of the rise in the states’ spending this year is on account of higher revenue expenditure.

In contrast, the Centre has kept a tight hold on its revenue expenditure, which contracted by about 1% year-on-year and rose by just 6% over the same period of 2019.

Collections of tax revenue: The contraction in tax revenue for both the Centre and these 20 states was about 30 per cent in April-August 2020.

Why is it important to have data on state governments’ finances?

Growing size of economy: Since the last 10 years, the combined size of state budgets has been higher than that of the Centre’s budget. The size of state budgets exceeded that of the Centre’s budget for the first time in 2011-12 by about 4 per cent. In 2020-21, the state budgets were about 22 per cent more than what the Centre spent.

Role in central finances: For instance, when governments are expected to spend more during or immediately after a pandemic, the focus is largely on the Centre’s expenditure pattern. Little attention is paid to the states, whose expenditure size has more firepower.

Accountability: the latest information on state budgets is not easily available and hence it cannot be used as an input for analysis, tracking the impact of the Centre’s revenue or expenditure on the economy.

What is the way forward?

First, there is need of centralised agency that compiles the data on finances of all the 30 states and makes them available on a monthly basis. The Reserve Bank of India does bring out a study of state budgets, but that being an annual publication becomes slightly dated.

Second, an early diagnosis of the slippage in the states’ fiscal performance should help. But the first task should be to ensure that all the states’ budget data are released with the same monthly frequency as has become the practice for the Centre.


New laws for our pharma sector must focus on reforms

Source: This post is based on the article “New laws for our pharma sector must focus on reforms” published in Livemint on 13th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors

Relevance: Reforms needed in pharma-sector

Synopsis: With govt agreeing to take a look at the pharma sector laws, our legislative framework for drugs, cosmetics and medical devices may be in for a complete reset.

Introduction

The government has considered to take a fresh look at the decades-old law governing the pharmaceutical sector and issued an order to constitute a committee.

The committee will examine the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (DCA) and previously framed drugs and cosmetics bills, and then submit draft documents for a de-novo Drugs, Cosmetics and Medical Devices Bill by 30 November 2021.

What is the current scenario of India’s pharma-sector?

India has been a prime source for the manufacture and supply of affordable and efficacious generic medicines across the world and there has been a steady flow of foreign direct investment in this sector, with India’s pharmaceutical industry being the third-largest globally by volume.

According to the Economic Survey of 2020-21, the Indian pharmaceuticals sector is expected to expand multi-fold and become a $ 130 billion industry by 2030.

Also, medicine spending is projected to grow rapidly leading India to become one of the top 10 countries in terms of such expenditure.

How pharma-sector is governed in India?

Legislative framework: Currently, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (DCA) of 1940, read together with the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules of 1945, are the primary legislations governing the import, manufacture, distribution and sale of drugs and cosmetics in India.

Rules made by the Centre: there are other industry-specific rules and regulations around medical devices, prices of essential notified drugs, narcotic and psychotropic drugs and substances, development of new drugs and undertaking clinical trials.

What are some of the key aspects the committee should consider for the country’s proposed new legislation?

Digital health: New-age technologies and internet-based business models such as e-pharmacies are major drivers of growth. But specific regulations for such business models are necessary to provide a clear and predictable regulatory framework that would aid further investment in this segment.

Medical devices: The Medical Devices Rules of 2017 govern medical devices but there is still dependence on the DCA and the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO). There have been efforts in the past to enact a separate legislation governing medical devices and the newly set-up committee could consider adopting a similar approach in the proposed legislation.

Ambiguity in licensing issues: One of the conditions under various licences issued under the DCA is a requirement for fresh licences if there is a change in the constitution of the firm operating under earlier issuances.

However, what constitutes a change in constitution is not explained which leads to contradictory interpretations by regulators in different states. Such ambiguity impacts merger and acquisition modalities and timelines in this sector.

Sandbox regime: Regulators across the globe are considering novel ways in which the start-up ecosystem can be encouraged. Regulators in this sector could also adopt the approach of providing a ‘sandbox’ for innovation that’s backed by a suitable regulatory regime around it.

Foreign direct investment: India’s regulatory regime for FDI in this sector limits overseas investment in brownfield pharmaceutical ventures to 74% of equity under the automatic route. Moreover, there are sector-specific conditions such as no ‘non-compete’ restrictions that are likely to have a knock-on impact on FDI inflows.

While FDI-norm reforms may not directly fall within the purview of the proposed bill but the committee may consider with a view to pushing for further relaxations in this area to boost investment.


Should we be worried about how technology is changing the human condition?

Source: This post is based on the article “Should we be worried about how technology is changing the human condition?” published in Indian Express on 13th October 2021.Syllabus: GS3 – Science and Technology- Developments and their Applications and Effects in Everyday Life.

Relevance: Social media regulation.

Synopsis: Fears about algorithms designed for addiction, advances in AI are grounded in recent revelations about corporate greed and government surveillance.

Why expecting the social media corporates to self-regulate themselves is an absurd idea?

Inaction of social media corporates: Social media corporates are well aware of the moral uncertainty towards the consequences of their products and the agnosticism (an agnostic approach is the one which is interoperable across the systems and there are no prejudices towards using a specific technology, model, methodology or data) that is built into the design of the algorithms.

Take, for instance, the effect of Instagram on the mental health of adolescent girls, or the role WhatsApp and Facebook have played in promoting ethnic violence in places as diverse as Myanmar, parts of Africa and India.

The corporation that runs all three apps was well aware of these consequences and yet, it did little to stop them.

Large scale use of the social media: The apps are so deeply intertwined with how we live and work that a competitor is likely to fill in the space vacated by any one company.

Finally, social media’s entire architecture is based on maximising screen time and the data so collected. What the algorithm does is find what will keep people hooked the most, and for the longest duration. Expecting social media giants to regulate the very thing that their profits are based on is absurd.

If self-regulation is out, is government regulation the answer?

Unfortunately, the actions of even democratically-elected governments often inspire little confidence.

Take just two recent examples, the Pegasus snooping scandal and the Arsenal Consulting findings. From both, it seems clear that for many governments, the use of technology to breach individual rights is an intrinsic part of how they function.

Governments can now deploy “zero-click” spyware that can easily bypass security mechanisms. And that such capabilities have been deployed against journalists, political friends and opponents, defence personnel, businessmen citizens with an inalienable right to privacy and dignity.

Unfortunately, the Pegasus scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. By using voice cloning technology, advanced robotics it will soon be possible to create a simulacrum (an image or representation of someone or something) of deceased loved ones.

In future, with technology development it is possible to use a doctored video to jail activists or to establish the chanting of “anti-national”, “seditious” slogans.

In this context, the dangers flagged by the Arsenal Consulting that evidence was likely planted on the computers of academics, lawyers and activists in the Bhima Koregaon case become all the more frightening.

Given that governments have at least as much interest in maintaining power as corporations do in making profits, they can hardly be expected to be impartial arbiters of the limits of technology.


How do we protect children in the Digital Age?

Source: This post is based on the article “How do we protect children in the Digital Age?” published in Indian Express on 13th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Science and Technology- Developments and their Applications and Effects in Everyday Life.

Relevance: Digital world and Children safety

Synopsis: Protecting children has become far harder in the digital era.

Introduction

Recently, a whistle-blower of Facebook, Frances Haugen, accused Face book of hurting children and harming democracy by promoting social divisions.

She tried to reveal the technical depths of the problem that the young consumers of Facebook face. For instance, she tried to explain how the company entices its customers to linger on content, enabling advertisers to target more accurately, and so on.

One among Haugen’s charges is the impact Facebook makes on its teenage clients’ self-image. She advocated that the existing legal restraints on hi tech giants like Facebook will have to be tightened further.

On same lines, Maria Ressa (Noble laureate), in an interview to the BBC has mentioned the behaviour modification effects of social media and other offerings of the internet as the factors that led to the decline of liberal democracy in the Philippines.

Today, digital industries have successfully invaded both home and school and no one knows how to protect children from exposure to things they ought not to see and messages they must not receive.

What are the challenges that needs to be addressed to protect children from the evils of social media?

The first challenge is, how children can be protected from inappropriate content. Different varieties of such content ranging from hateful material to pornography are freely available now. Further they focus on children because they believe, that “catching them young” guarantees long-range benefits.

The second is to save children from the effects of addiction to the digital media. The addictive effects of digital inducement at an early age are potentially dangerous. The situation now is far worse and the pandemic has exacerbated it by compelling children to learn online.

Third, is to protect children from the adverse effects of falsehood and hateful propaganda of different kinds. False facts, hoaxes and rumours circulate through social media and serve as sources of profit for the companies that control these media.

Fourth, Predatory activity apart, the injurious potential lurking in communication networks has greatly increased with children’s own participation in these networks.


Boost tourism through disruption

Source: This post is based on the article “Boost tourism through disruption” published in “The Hindu” on 13th Oct 2021. 

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

Relevance: To understand the role of the tourism sector as a potential sector for employment and India’s overall development. 

Synopsis: Tourism infrastructure has huge untapped potential in India especially with respect to jobs. The government has to take steps to unleash the full potential. 

Introduction 

As per the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of 2019, India improved from 65th position in 2013 to 34th position in 2019. However, the Indian tourism and hospitality sector was adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and saw substantial job loss. 

Why does India need to focus on the tourism sector? 

As per the estimates of the erstwhile “Planning Commission”, an investment of ₹1 million generates 78 jobs in the tourism sector. In the manufacturing sector, it results in just 18 jobs and in the agriculture sector, it is 45. 

The growth in this sector has multiplier effects on income generation as it is employment-intensive with less capital investment and that too without any industrial gestation period. 

The India Skill Report, 2019, estimates the Indian workforce to increase to about 600 million by 2022, from the current 473 million. In light of these facts, the tourism sector has the potential to absorb some new entrant workforce. 

Read more: The potential of rural tourism in India
What steps does the government of India has taken? 

During the pre-pandemic period: Many initiatives were adopted to promote the tourism sector, such as providing e-visas under various categories for people from particular countries, Global Media Campaigns, the Heritage Trail and the Paryatan Parv celebration.

During the PandemicThe government announced financial support for more than 11,000 registered tourist guides/travel and tourism stakeholders. 

It also said once international travel resumes, the first five lakh tourists will be issued visas free of charge. 

How India’s tourism sector can improve further?

Though these measures are commendable, India needs other long-term measures too, to tap the potential of this sector. 

India needs a groundbreaking innovation strategy that has the potential to create employment opportunities and increase revenue through private sector growth. For that, support from the government for ideation and access to finance are required.

There is a need to train the workforce in India so that workers can develop the skills to perform jobs in the travel and tourism sector.

The international arrivals have remained comparatively low, at around 9 to 10 million. Thus, there is a need to highlight the significance of public-private partnership to improve infrastructure and tackle the problem of end connectivity, which negatively affect the experiences of international travellers. 

The travel and tourism industry in India is also fragmented, hindering the ability of the sector to achieve its potential. This area needs to be worked upon. 

India should take a cue from best practices across the world, especially with regard to the use of technology. There are examples worldwide on blockchain-based money solutions to kick-start local tourism industries.


Power Ministry asks thermal units to import coal for minimum 10% blending

Source: This post is based on the following articles

  • Power Ministry asks thermal units to import coal for minimum 10% blending” published in “Business Standard” on 13th October 2021.
  • Power crisis: Lessons for India from China’s power policy changes” published in “Business Standard” on 13th October 2021.  

Syllabus: GS – 3 – Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

Relevance: To understand the present challenges in the Coal sector.

Synopsis: The present problems in the coal sector need a long-term solution to avoid such issues in future.

Introduction

To meet the increased power demand in the country, the Centre has asked thermal power generators to import coal for at least 10% blending, citing a shortage of domestic coal supply. This is a sharp reversal of its earlier directive of using domestic coal. 

Note: The Centre in 2017-18 had tried for zero coal imports, but it led to a shortage, compelling thermal units to resume the import of coal later.

Why the government permitted imports? 
Coal sector
Source: Business Standard

The share of coal-based generation increased from 62% in 2019 to 66% in the August-September period.  Total coal consumption during the same period increased 18% over the corresponding period in 2019. 

Currently, 16.8 gigawatt (GW) of power generation capacity has zero days of coal stock and 25 GW has less than three days of coal. So, the government decided to permit imports.

What is the reason for the mismatch in demand and supply of power? 

Increased demand-As per the power ministry, the revival of the economy had led to an increase in demand and consumption of electricity. 

Inadequate supply– supply from Coal India is not commensurate with the requirement. 

The Centre mentioned that some states are not supplying power to consumers and imposing load-shedding in some areas. On the other hand, several states were selling unallocated power from central generating stations on power exchanges “at a high price“.

Panic buying: With coal supply and electricity shortage looming, several power distribution companies are panic buying on the power spot market.

The issue of “Power purchase agreements”: PPA is a legal and commercial document between a power producer as seller and the wholesale energy purchaser like the state electricity boards, as a buyer. Under this, the producer will agree to produce and deliver power to specified users for a fixed price.

The PPA’s mandates power not to be sold on exchanges and also that it usually runs for around 15-20 years, the sudden eventuality is not taken care of, hurting the producer of electricity. 

Imported coal-based plants argued that it was absolutely ‘unviable to’ have a fixed-price agreement.

Read more: Coal crisis in India – Explained, pointwise
What is the government target with regard to coal import? 

As part of the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative’, the government decided to reduce the import of coal. Union Minister for Coal said India would have zero coal imports by 2023-24 

What can be done to improve the situation?

India can permit supplying the power through power exchanges so that whenever there are such fluctuations in the market, the generators have the flexibility.

India can follow steps like China. Recently, China announced a major policy change for its crisis-ridden power sector by allowing coal-fired power plants to charge their industrial and commercial customers market-driven prices. This is being done to pass on the high costs of coal to the users. India can also permit such bold moves. 


Nursing the ailing power discoms back to health

Source: This post is based on the article “Nursing the ailing power discoms back to health” published in the Indian Express on 13th October 2021.Syllabus: GS 3 – Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.

Relevance: Understanding the challenges facing DISCOMS.

Synopsis: Despite the UDAY scheme, the condition of DISCOMS is critical. This demands a closer analysis.

Introduction

The DISCOMS provide power to households by connecting power producers to households. Though this seems a good economic proposition, the condition of DISCOMS in India is fragile.

What are the causes for the fragile economic health of Discoms?

Their precarious financial position is due to the high level of aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, the levy of inadequate or lesser tariffs when compared to the cost of power supply, and insufficient subsidy support from state governments.

Their annual losses are estimated to be around 45,000 to 50,000 crore and the overall debt is around 6 lakh crore.

What steps have been taken by the Government?

In budget 2021-22, the Union government had announced the launch of a “reforms-based and results-linked” scheme for improving the financial health and operational efficiency of discoms.

Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme was notified with an overall outlay of Rs 3.03 lakh crore. Under the scheme, AT&C losses will be brought down to 12-15% by 2025-26, from 21-22%. Operational efficiencies of discoms will be improved through smart metering and upgradation of the distribution infrastructure, including the segregation of agriculture feeders and strengthening the system.

The scheme has two parts. Part A will focus on upgradation of distribution infrastructure and smart metering. Part B is focused on training and capacity building.

How will the scheme work?

Under this scheme, DISCOMS will have to sign a tripartite agreement with the Central and State government to avail the benefits. The action plan to be submitted to Government will have two parts.

i) The first part will contain the root cause analysis and steps needed to reduce the AT&C losses. An inter-ministerial committee will finalize the “Results Evaluation Framework” which will incorporate the parameters proposed by the DISCOMS. A loss-making DISCOM will not be eligible for the benefits until its plans are approved by the central Government.

ii) The second part of the plan will list out the steps to reduce losses and improve operational efficiency.

What are the factors still impacting the finances of the DISCOMS?

One major factor impacting the health of DISCOMS is the determination of the tariffs. Currently, 19 out of 28 states issued orders declaring delays in the tariff determination process.

Moreover, India’s power supply is overly dependent on coal, and given the issues of coal supply and pricing, maintaining predictability is a big challenge.

What can be the way forward?

While the government has taken many reforms in the past, the key to success lay in their timely implementation.


Free power at a big price

Source: This post is based on the article “Free power at a big price” published in The Hindu on 13th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS 3 Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.

Relevance: Understanding the long-term impact of distributing free electricity.

Synopsis: The promise of free power to households/ other activities cannot be sustained.

Introduction

With elections coming near in many states, political parties started offering a lot of freebies to the people. Promises such as free power up to 300 units /month for households, free households, free households etc have been made. These all have adverse impacts in the long term.

Some states provide subsidized electricity as low as less than ₹1/unit while others like Punjab, Karnataka offer free electricity. Although it ensures various benefits like promoting rural livelihood but providing free electricity has its adverse impacts.

What are the problems associated with free power?

Agriculture:  Nearly ¾ of agricultural connections are unmetered in India. Their consumption estimates are often inflated by distribution companies to increase subsidy demand and project low distribution losses. Also, the inefficient use of electricity and water, neglect of service quality by DISCOMS led to frequent outrages, motor burnouts and a high subsidy burden on state governments.

Small Consumers: Although subsidized low tariff for small consumers is necessary because of the pandemic situation and economic slowdown. It is to be noted that these consumers require only 50-100 units/month to meet their basic requirements. But states like Delhi and Punjab offer 200/units of free electricity, which is not required.

Further, it will also discourage people to opt for environment-friendly options like rooftop solar etc

What methods can government/discoms adopt?

Providing free electricity is only short-term relief. It should be restricted to those only who are in dire need of it. Government should look for long-term measures on how to provide better services to people.

It can provide a rebate of up to 200/month for residential customers in the electricity bill. This will make a significant impact on small consumers.

Similar rebates can be offered to home-based enterprises. Additional rebates can also be offered to those who used energy-efficient enterprises like TV, Fridge etc.

Initiatives should be taken to solve the mistrust between consumers and distribution companies. There should be a quick resolution of queries/complaints.


Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)

“Centre must have a reasonable discretion to choose its officer” – Delhi HC

Source: This post is based on the article “Centre must have a reasonable discretion to choose its officer” published in Indian Express on 13th October 2021.

What is the news?

The Delhi High Court recently dismissed the PIL challenging the appointment of an IPS officer as the Commissioner of the Delhi Police.

About the case

A Gujarat cadre officer was deputed to the AGMUT cadre and granted an extension of service for a period of one year beyond his date of retirement. So, a PIL has been filed questioning the inter-cadre deputation, and extension of service.

In a written reply to the PIL, the centre said that as the AGMUT cadre comprises Union Territories and small North-eastern states, the requisite experience was found lacking in the present pool of available officers.

What are the observations of the Delhi High Court while dismissing the PIL?

The bench observed that Delhi, being the capital of India, has a unique, special and specific requirement.

The court also held that the Prakash Singh case directions on the appointment of DGPs are applicable only to states and have no application for Union Territories falling under the AGMUT cadre.

The court agreed to the Centre’s view on the AGMUT cadre. Further, the court also said that there is a power vested in the central government to grant relaxation on inter-cadre deputations.

Apart from that, the court also said that the government followed the statutory procedure prescribed under the Delhi Police Act, 1978 and Transaction of Business of GNCTD Rules, 1993 during the appointment.

So, the court dismissed the PIL that questioned the inter-cadre deputation and extension of service.


Cabinet approves the continuation of Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) (SBM U) till 2025-26 for sustainable outcomes

Source: This post is based on the article Cabinet approves the continuation of Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) (SBM U) till 2025-26 for sustainable outcomespublished in PIB on 12th October 2021.

What is the News?

The Union Cabinet has approved the continuation of Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) till 2025-26.

What are the objectives of Swachh Bharat Mission- Urban?

Swachh Bharat Mission- Urban was launched in 2014 with the following objectives:

i) Eradication of open defecation in all statutory towns 

ii) 100% scientific management of municipal solid waste in all statutory towns

iii) Effecting behaviour change through Jan Andolan.

What are the objectives of Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) (SBM U) 2.0? 

The SBM-U 2.0 was launched in October 2021. It will focus on the following,

i) Sustainability of Open Defecation Free(ODF) outcomes

ii) Achieving scientific processing of Solid Waste in all cities and 

iii) Managing Wastewater in cities with less than 1 lakh population in Census 2011 [cities not covered under Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)].

Click Here to Read more about the Components and Expected outcomes of the SBM 2.0


Cabinet approves the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation – AMRUT 2.0 till 2025-26

Source: This post is based on the following articles: 

  • “Cabinet approves the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation – AMRUT 2.0 till 2025-26” published in PIB on 12th October 2021.
  • Cabinet approves AMRUT 2.0” published in Livemint on 13th October 2021.
What is the News?

The Union Cabinet has approved the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation 2.0 (AMRUT 2.0) till 2025-26.

What is Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)?

AMRUT was launched in 2015 to facilitate ease of living to citizens in 500 cities by providing tap connections and sewer connections. So far, 1.1 crore household tap connections and 85 lakh sewer/ septage connections have been provided. 

What are the objectives of AMRUT 2.0?

AMRUT 2.0 focuses on:

i) Universal coverage of water supply by providing household tap connections in all 4,378 statutory towns. 

ii) 100% coverage of household sewage/ septage management in 500 AMRUT cities

To achieve the above objectives, the mission targets to provide 2.68 crore tap connections and 2.64 crore sewer/ septage connections.

Click Here to read about the key Components of the mission

How will the mission be monitored?

The mission will be monitored on a robust technology-based portal. The projects will be geotagged. 

There will also be an endeavour to make it a paperless Mission. The funds for the projects will be shared by the Centre, State and ULBs. Central funds will be released to the States in three tranches based on allocation to the State as per State Water Action Plan.

Other key features of the mission

The mission also focuses on the financial health and water security of urban local bodies. It seeks to meet 20% of demand through recycled water, reducing non-revenue water to less than 20% and rejuvenation of water bodies.

Moreover, the reforms of property tax, user charges and enhancing creditworthiness of urban local bodies are other key initiatives under the mission. Local bodies will be incentivised on accomplishing these reforms.


NITI Aayog – UNDP Launch Handbook on Sustainable Management of Plastic Waste for ULB’s

Source: This post is based on the articleNITI Aayog – UNDP Launch Handbook on Sustainable Management of Plastic Waste for ULB’spublished in PIB on 11th October 2021.

What is the News?

NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman has launched the NITI Aayog – United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Handbook on Sustainable Urban Plastic Waste Management.

What was the need for this handbook?

Globally, only about 9% of the total plastic produced gets recycled, about 12% is incinerated and energy is recovered and the rest about 79% gets into the land, water, and ocean and pollutes the environment. 

In India, Urban local bodies (ULBs) are mandated under the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, and the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 to manage municipal solid waste and plastic waste at the city level.

Hence, the handbook has provided suggestions that can be adopted by the urban local bodies for Sustainable Urban Plastic Waste Management.

What are the suggestions given by the handbook?
Material Recovery Facility(MRF)

The urban local bodies across states should adopt the Material Recovery Facility(MRF) model & implement it as a public-private partnership model for sustainable management of urban plastic waste.

A Materials Recovery Facility is a specialized plant that receives, separates and prepares recyclable materials for marketing to end-user manufacturers.

Institutionalization of Waste Pickers in governance bodies

The Waste Pickers need to be institutionalized by Urban Local Bodies(ULBs) for long-term plastic waste management.

They should be provided with benefits like making them financially literate and opening bank accounts for them, linking them to various social protection schemes, providing occupational ID cards, health benefits and personal protective equipment while working, and creating self-help groups. 

IEC and Digitization

The Indore model of spreading mass awareness and explaining the importance of waste management at the household level needs to be adopted by other cities. It will be the key to make plastic waste management a people’s movement.

Moreover, technology platforms need to be linked with relevant stakeholders such as bulk waste generators (BWGs), recyclers and waste pickers for more effective online reporting, monitoring and information exchange.


Jaishankar urges CICA foreign ministers to ensure Afghan soil not used for supporting terrorism

Source: This post is based on the article Jaishankar urges CICA foreign ministers to ensure Afghan soil not used for supporting terrorism published in TOI on 12th October 2021.

What is the News?

India’s External Affairs Minister has attended the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures(CICA) Ministerial 2021 in Kazakhstan.

What is the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures(CICA)?

CICA is a multinational forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia.

The idea of convening CICA was first proposed by the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 1992, at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Members: To be a member of CICA, a state must have at least a part of its territory in Asia. Presently, CICA has 27 Member States, accounting for nearly ninety percent of the territory and population of Asia. India has been a member since its inception in 1999. 

Summits: The CICA Heads of the State Summit is convened every four years in order to conduct consultations, review the progress of, and set priorities for CICA activities. The Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs is required to be held every two years.

Secretariat: The CICA Secretariat is located in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Current Chairman: The current chairman of CICA is Kazakhstan.


Expert panel okays use of Covaxin in 2-18 age group

Source: This post is based on the following articles

  • “Expert panel okays use of Covaxin in 2-18 age group” published in Livemint on 13th October 2021.
  • Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin gets expert panel’s nod for children above 2 years” published in Business Standard on 13th October 2021.
  • “Expert panel recommends approving Covaxin for kids” published in TOI on 13th October 2021.
  • “Jabbing children” published in The Hindu on 13th October 2021.
What is the News?

The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has recommended granting an emergency use authorisation to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin for children aged between 2-18. 

If the DCGI goes ahead and grants approval, it will be the first vaccine to be administered to children in India. 

What steps need to be followed before and after the DGCI approval?
Vaccines for Children
Source: TOI
What is Covaxin?

​​Covaxin is also known as BBV152. It has been indigenously developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research(ICMR).  

Type of Vacccine

Covaxin is an inactivated whole virus vaccine, containing SARS-CoV-2 particles that have been chemically deactivated. That means they can no longer infect cells, but still stimulate a protective immune response. 

Because the viral particles cannot cause disease, the vaccine is suitable for people with compromised immune systems.

How will Covaxin be administered to Children’s?

Vaccine to Children
Source: Business Standard

Covaxin will be administered to children in the age group of 2-18 years. The gap between the two doses of Covaxin will be 28 days, as in the case of adults. The same would be followed for children’s as well. 


Telecom secretary asks C-DoT to work on 6G, launches Quantum Communication Lab

Source: This post is based on the articleTelecom secretary asks C-DoT to work on 6G, launches Quantum Communication Labpublished in Economic Times on 11th October 2021.

What is the News?

The Government of India has asked the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) to begin developing 6G and other futuristic technologies to catch up with the global market in time.

What is 6G Technology?
6G
Source: Talks.navixy

6G (sixth-generation wireless) is the successor to 5G cellular technology. 6G networks will be able to use higher frequencies than 5G networks and provide substantially higher capacity and much lower latency.

Features of 6G Technology
Features of 6G
Source: TechTarget
Advantages of 6G Technology

Much Higher Data Rate: 6G is expected to support data rates of 1 terabyte per second. This level of capacity and latency will extend the performance of 5G applications and expand the scope of capabilities to support innovative applications in wireless connectivity, cognition, sensing and imaging.

Much Lower Latency: 5G will reduce latency to 1 millisecond. The ultra-low latency will boost the performance of many real-time applications. But 6th generation wireless communication technology will reduce the user experienced latency to less than 0.1 milliseconds

Network Reliability and Accuracy: 6G will beat 5G in the categories of network coverage and network reliability. The 6G will provide enhanced connection density. This will make a large number of connected devices interact with each other in real-time.

AI-Driven Wireless Communication Tools: 6G will transform wireless communication by leveraging Artificial Intelligence(AI).

Emphasis On Energy-Efficiency: The 6G technology will contribute towards environmental sustainability by making the network perform optimally without consuming extra energy. 6G aims to enhance the energy efficiency of the telecom network by 2 times in comparison to 5G.


Govt announces Plastic Waste recycling targets

Source: This post is based on the article “Govt announces Plastic Waste recycling targets” published in The Hindu on 13th October 2021.

What is the news?

Recently the Environment Ministry has issued draft guidelines for controlling the use of plastic. The notification was expected to come into force by December 6 and, as of now, was open to public feedback.

What are the various categories under it?

These divide the guidelines into three categories.

Rigid plastics: These are plastic products that do not give easily when squeezed. For example, many large and bulky items like lawn chairs, buckets, toddler toys etc.

Flexible: It contains packaging of a single layer or multilayer, plastic sheets and covers made of plastic sheet, carry bags (including carry bags made of compostable plastics), plastic sachet or pouches.

Multilayer: It consists of products that have at least one layer of plastic and at least one layer of material other than plastic.

What are the new rules?

Mandatory collection: They mandate producers of plastic packaging material to collect all of their produce by 2024. It aims to ensure that a minimum percentage of it is recycled and used in subsequent supply.

EPR Certificates: It has also specified a system where makers and users of plastic packaging can collect Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) certificates and trade in them.

Disposal: Only a fraction of plastic that cannot be recycled such as multi-layered multi-material plastics will be eligible to be sent for end-of-life disposal such as road construction, waste to energy, and waste to oil and cement kilns.

Here too, only methods prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) will be permitted for their disposal.

Centralized website: Producers of plastic will have to declare to the government how much plastic they produce annually, via a centralized website.

What are the targets for collection and recycling?

Targets for Collection: Companies will have to collect at least 35% of the target in 2021-22, 70% by 2022-23 and 100% by 2024.

Targets for recycling: In 2024, a minimum of 50% of their rigid plastic (category 1) will have to be recycled along with 30% of their category 2 and 3 plastic.

Each subsequent year will see progressively higher targets. After 2026-27, 80% of their category 1 and 60% of the other two categories will need to be recycled.

What if entities fail to fulfil the rules?

If entities cannot fulfill their obligations, then they will be permitted to buy certificates on a “case by case” basis. They can make up for their shortfall from organizations that have used recycled content in excess of their obligation. The CPCB will develop a “mechanism” for such exchanges on a centralized online portal.

Non-compliance would not invite a traditional fine. Instead, an “environmental compensation” would be levied.


New cicada species in Nagaland underscores need for conservation

Source: This post is based on the article “New cicada species in Nagaland underscores need for conservation” published in Down to Earth on 12th October 2021.

What is the news?

Recently a new Cicada species Platyomia kohimaensis was discovered in the Naga Hills. The species was found near the village of Mitelphe within the Kohima district. ​

This discovery has been made after almost a century. No new cicada was discovered after those found by British entomologists in the Naga Hills in the early 1900s.

What are Cicadas?

Cicadas are hemipteran insects. They are known for their loud, complex and species-specific acoustic signals or songs.

Habitat: Most cicadas are canopy dwellers and are found in natural forests with large trees. They act as indicators of a healthy forest ecosystem. They occur more in areas around undisturbed bamboo groves.

Threats: Loss of natural habitat because of clearing of forest land, wildfires, agricultural land and other similar activities.

What is special about Platyomia kohimaensis?

According to the researchers, it sings only in the dusk for a few hours. While most cicadas call during the day.

Distribution of other cicada species

Savazana mirabilis and Salvazana Imperalis: They were discovered in Meghalaya. They prefer only certain tree species found in undisturbed forests.

Chremistica ribhoi (locally called niangtaserand popular as ‘world cup cicada’): They also belong to Meghalaya, surrounding the areas of Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary.


 

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