9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – October 5th, 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.
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GS Paper 2

Hello Taiwan: New Delhi should boost ties with Taipei not just because of Chinese threat. There are other benefits

Source: This post is based on the article “Hello Taiwan: New Delhi should boost ties with Taipei not just because of Chinese threat. There are other benefits” published in Times of India on 4th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS-2 Bilateral, Regional & Global Groupings & Agreements Involving India and/or Affecting India’s Interests

Relevance: To understand the need for engaging with Taiwan.

Synopsis: India should review its acceptance of the One China Policy and engage more with Taiwan for mutual benefits.

Introduction

China sent more than 100 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone over the weekend. The latest round of provocative manoeuvres began when China celebrating its 73rd national day. This is a clear threat to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific

Why there is more provocation in recent times?

China sees Taiwan as a renegade Chinese province ever since 1949 when Taiwan – officially Republic of China – was formed. But Taiwan, so far, has maintained a separate identity and evolved into a successful multiparty democracy.

Democratic Progressive Party came to power in Taiwan in 2016. They refused to accept China’s ‘One China’ policy. This is the recent trigger for the sustained Chinese military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan.

Read more: Taiwan reunification with China ‘inevitable’, says Chinese President Xi Jinping
Why India and Taiwan should work together?

Both Taiwan and India are frontline Asian democratic states, facing Chinese aggression, targeted by Beijing’s grey-zone tactics. These tactics aim to provoke and intimidate, instead of all-out conflict. This should actually bring India and Taiwan closer.

Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy seeks to boost ties with South and Southeast Asian nations, including India. But the progress has been relatively slow, with the Indian side still cautious about boosting ties with Taiwan given Chinese sensitivities.

Must Read: Taiwan-China conflict and India’s stand on it
Why India should review its acceptance of the One China Policy?

India should review its acceptance of the One China policy for the following reasons,

Increased Chinese intrusions: After the Galwan valley clashes last year, repeated Chinese intrusions across the LAC are taking place.

Benefits from Taiwan: Boosting ties with Taiwan also has standalone benefits. It is a semiconductor powerhouse and reportedly bilateral talks are underway to bring chip manufacturing – a key strategic sector – to India.

Read more: Need of Indigenous Semiconductor Manufacturing Facilities in India – Explained Pointwise

Further, cooperation can also be achieved in green technology, IT, digital healthcare, and telecom with Taiwanese companies as they are looking to relocate their operations from China.

So, embracing Taiwan for the strategic and economic interests of India will elevate ties between both.

Read more: It is time for New Delhi to review its old ‘one China’ policy stance

Terms to know:


An alphabet soup New Delhi need to sift through

Source: This post is based on the article “An alphabet soup New Delhi need to sift through” published in The Hindu on 5th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS 2 Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India.

Relevance: To understand the relevance of various bilateral, multilateral, regional groupings.

Synopsis: India needs to reconsider the plethora of alliances it is in and rationalize them after a reality check.

Introduction

There are a lot of international, bilateral, multilateral groupings which either became dormant or lose their relevance in today’s scenario.

Why these multiple organizations are a cause of concern?

At present, there are more than 100 groupings from the EU to ASEAN.

There is a lack of ideological homogeneity and questionable outcomes with many of these organizations.

Further, the amount of expenditure and energy spent on bureaucracy and organizing these functions is also high.

Another important difficulty is to find the agenda for these organizations. Even they were found, their rationale is unclear.

Few organizations and their associated challenges

BRICS: During its formation, it was feared that it was an anti-America group. China quickly assumed the leadership of BRICS. It tried to seek changes in the international economic system by establishing a bank, with the possibility of credit for its members.

The result of this development was undermining the relevance of another, less ambitious, group of India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA), which had several common interests.

In the recent summit also, countries, although able to reach conclusion on the issue of Afghanistan, but with different conditions. Russia and China were more sympathetic towards Afghanistan than the other BRICS nations.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO): It started as a friendly group of China, but with the inclusion of India, Pakistan, and Iran it becomes the diverse one and struggled to reach a consensus. Even, with the meetings between India and China, it failed to reach any solution to the Ladakh standoff.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC):  India joined SAARC with various conditions like the exclusion of bilateral issues, decision-making by voting, and holding of meetings without all members being present etc.

Despite the imperative for cooperation in vital fields, SAARC became an arena for India – Pakistan dispute. Today, SAARC became a liability as it was clear that the region was not mature enough to have a regional instrumentality.

Also read: Importance of Reviving SAARC

 Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC): This group also remained dormant for many years till it was revived a few years ago as an alternative to SAARC. Though it has an ambitious agenda for sectoral cooperation, it has not gained much momentum.

Indian Ocean Rim Association(IORA): The organization was first established as the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative in Mauritius in March 1995 and formally launched in 1997 (then known as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation). It also drags on without any significant progress.

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and AUKUS: India’s reluctance to strengthen QUAD has led to the USA joining hands with Australia and creating an AUKUS alliance.

Even though India was not interested in Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group, it received membership in them. On the other hand, the other active groups like Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) did not admit India as a member, despite its various efforts.


Why India’s ancient republics need to be recognised for their place in world history

Source: This post is based on the article “Why India’s ancient republics need to be recognised for their place in world history” published in Indian Express on 5th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS 2 Democracy.

Relevance: To understand the origin of Democracy

Synopsis: In the current political thought, Democracy is considered a western idea. But given the evidence from India, this thought needs to be reconsidered.

Introduction

Indian Prime Minister while addressing the UN General Assembly in New York made an important historical point: India is not just the world’s largest democracy, but also the “mother of democracy”. This thought would certainly challenge the present notion of western thoughts being the progenitor of democracy.

Why is such reorientation important?

In recent years, there has been a move to recognise contributions in science made in the past by non-Western societies. For example, the Pythagorean Theorem was well known in ancient India. Further, it would be historically accurate to refer to the Fibonacci numbers, perhaps, as Pingala’s numbers or Hemachandra’s numbers.

Riding on the same idea, we should also explore the non-western roots of ideas like democracy.

What is the historical evidence of Democracy from the Indian past?

Firstly, The evidence for republics in ancient India is abundant. In Mahabharata’s Shanti Parva, republics (ganas) are mentioned as essential features of administration. The Vedas describe at least two forms of republican governance.

i) The first is that of elected kings. This early form of democracy was later practised in Europe.

ii) The second form described in the Vedas is ruled without a monarch, with power vested in a council or Sabha. The membership of such Sabhas often comprised people who had distinguished themselves by their actions. There is a hint of the modern bicameral system of legislatures, with the Sabha sharing power with the Samiti, which was made up of common people.

Both women and men took part in these Sabhas, This is a far cry from the Greeks who did not admit women (or slaves) as full citizens of their “democracies”.

Secondly, Other sources: Ashtadhyayi of Panini, the Arthashastra of Kautilya, as well as a variety of ancient Buddhist and Jain writings mentioned democracies.

For example, Buddhist and Jain texts list 16 powerful states or Mahajanapadas of the time. After Alexander’s invasion in 327 BCE, Greek historians also record Indian states that did not have kings. E.g. The Lichchavi state of Vaishali.

Further, Kautilya provided the theory of state where the power is not concentrated. The first three elements of this Saptanga theory are swami or the king, Amatya or the ministers (administration) and Janpadas or the people. The king must function on the advice of the Amatya for the good of the people. The ministers are appointed from amongst the people (the Arthashastra also mentions entrance tests).

Thus, this system divided power and made the King receptive and accountable to the people. As per the Arthashastra, in the happiness and benefit of his people lies the happiness and benefit of the King.

What are the criticisms to recognize democracy in India?

First, that the primitive system was too simple. But it would be unreasonable to expect republics in ancient India to have full-fledged democratic institutions as we have them today. But as with scientific advancement, democracy remains and will always be a work in progress.

Another criticism would be that there is no surviving connection or continuity between the ancient ganas and the modern republic of India. However, the same applies to ancient Greek city-states. Thus, what survives is the way of thinking.

With its rich history of democracy, India cannot just lead, but also define the future of democratic principles and global governance.


If Data Is Poor, Governance Will Be Poorer

Source: This post is based on the article “If Data Is Poor, Governance Will Be Poorer” published in Indian Express on 5th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS 2 issue with governance.

Relevance: To understand the importance of quality data.

Synopsis: Efficient data led to good policymaking and yield better results

Introduction

Today data emerges as a golden asset that is required to frame various strategies, government policies, and other things.

How did the adequate data capture help people?

Adequate data capture can help people in many ways. This is evident from various examples:

India: Odisha is able to manage cyclones much more effectively with almost zero loss of lives. This is possible because of precise monitoring of the cyclone path by IMD. It provides information of accurate forecasts of the place and time of landfall, wind speed and other parameters, which helps to understand the situation better.

But accuracy of production depends on the accuracy of data that is fed to the systems. Artificial intelligence and machine learning systems can give faulty predictions if data sets are not accurate.

World: Policy responses to the pandemic have relied on data sets such as the number of tests, daily death toll, etc to understand the spread of the virus and its nature.  Through statistical computation methods, forecasting models have been generated. It helps policymakers to predict the waves of Covid-19, its peak, and the fatality rate.

 What are the issues associated with data in India?

India still uses the age-old bureaucratic ways that led to compromise the quality of data. For example, during the 1st wave of the Covid pandemic, India struggles to have data on migrants. Post pandemic also, there are instances of delay in reporting of Covid-19 deaths along with delays in the audit of data about deaths.

Apart from these problems, there are various systematic issues that failed to capture accurate data of covid deaths in villages and panchayats.

What should government do to improve the quality of data?

National Guidelines for Data Quality recommended that an essential checklist and advanced monitoring to improve the quality of data. There are other steps that government should need to focus on:

Systematic strategy: Provision should be made to capture accurate data at the village, panchayat, district, state and national levels. There is need to use the latest technological tools for capturing this data, where chances of contamination are high. Data should be collected directly from its primary location, where it is in its most sacrosanct form.

Standardized model: The second step is to create a task force that will create standardized models. These models will then be implemented across entire India and all the states. This supplements the need for data-driven evidence-based policymaking.

Thus, one can say that better situation awareness through better availability of data can help in better crisis management and disaster preparedness.


India and the geopolitics of the moon

Source: This post is based on the article “India and the geopolitics of the moon” published in The Indian Express on 5th Oct 2021.

Syllabus: GS2 – Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests.

Relevance: Geopolitics around the moon, increasing lunar activity and India’s way forward

Synopsis: Delhi should take a hard look at the emerging challenges to the current space order and its interests on the moon, and develop strategies to pursue them through a national lunar mission.

Introduction

Space-faring powers are seeking routine access to the moon. Moreover, their attention has now turned to what is called the cis-lunar space, or the volume between the orbits around the earth and moon. As technological capabilities grow, nations are looking beyond the near-earth space to inter-planetary probes and deep space research.

The growing commercialisation and militarisation of outer space has also triggered the interest of the Quad leaders.

What are the trends indicating a renewed global lunar activity?

Signing of Artemis Accords: A year ago, eight countries led by the United States signed the Artemis Accords. The accords are an agreement to abide by a broad set of principles to guide the expanding human activity on the moon – ranging from mining resources to setting up lunar colonies. The eight signatories were from Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States. Since then, many others have joined like, Brazil, South Korea, New Zealand, and Ukraine.

US invites India to join the accords: The US has invited India to join the accords and some preliminary official discussion on the issue took place between the two sides when Indian PM met US President at the White House for the bilateral summit last month (Sept 2021).

Quad working group on outer space: Separately, at the summit of the Quadrilateral Forum that followed the bilateral discussion, Modi and Biden, along with the Australian and Japanese premiers, agreed to set up a new Quad working group on outer space.

Must Read:China’s lunar activity in the recent years
How are China and Russia partnering on space-cooperation?

Collaboration with Russia:

Russia has also joined hands with China on the ILRS. It is reviving its Luna series of probes to the moon to complement the Chinese efforts.

Luna 25, 26 and 27 will work in tandem with Chang’e 6,7 and 8 to undertake expansive reconnaissance and develop techniques for ultra-precise landings on the moon.

As geopolitical considerations drive Russia towards China, space cooperation has become a part of their strategic partnership against America.

How is USA planning to jumpstart its lunar activity again?

Shaken by Beijing and Moscow’s space cooperation, USA has announced plans to put astronauts back on the moon by 2024. The new project is named Artemis, after the Greek goddess and twin sister of Apollo.

Artemis involves the construction of a permanent space station orbiting the moon, called Lunar Gateway, and a surface presence at the South Pole of the moon that is supposed to have ice and could sustain future human activity.

Like China, the US too has decided that it cannot go alone and is looking for partners for its Artemis programme.

What are the consequences of the growing lunar activity?

One of the consequences of the growing lunar activity is the pressure on the current international legal regime — centred around the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The OST says outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, “is not subject to “national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”.

Many provisions of the OST are increasingly subject to competing interpretations and vulnerable to new facts on the moon created by the first movers. The breakdown of the post-Cold War harmony among the major powers has added fuel to the fire on the moon and set the stage for a prolonged geopolitical contest for the moon.

What is the way forward for India?

The Artemis Accords would hopefully push Delhi to develop strategies to pursue them through a stronger national lunar mission and deeper partnerships with like-minded countries.

Delhi must also legislate a strong regulatory framework to promote India’s space activity and protect its international interests.


Lessons from the death of the ease of doing business index

Source: This post is based on the article “Lessons from the death of the ease of doing business index” published in The Indian Express on 5th Oct 2021.

Syllabus: GS2 –  Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

Relevance: The end of Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) report

Synopsis: This article explains issues and problems associated with the Ease of Doing Business report, why it gained so much importance, and should we reform the index or bring a new one in its place?

Introduction

The Ease of Doing Business Index (EoDB) is dead. The flagship product created by the World Bank came under attack on grounds that its data was modified in response to pressure from countries like China and Saudi Arabia. As a result of an independent audit, the index has now been abandoned by the Bank.

Must Read: The end of doing business report – Explained, pointwise
Why the EoDB index report was developed?

World Bank researchers developed the EoDB ranking system under the assumption that better laws and regulatory frameworks would increase the ease of doing business and improve economic performance.

What were some issues with the EoDB report?

EoDB was a crude measure that poorly captured the business climates of complex and informal economies like India. Most of the questions focused on hypothetical cases about limited liability companies. However, the World Bank’s own enterprise survey shows that 63% of Indian enterprises are sole proprietorships and only 14% are limited partnerships. Once we include unregistered enterprises, this number is likely to be even smaller. Thus, focusing on protecting minority owners’ rights in this tiny segment of Indian industries and using it to rank the business climate in India does not seem particularly useful.

A bigger problem is that it had acquired such power that countries competed to improve their rankings. Why does the index matter so much that countries stoop to pressure the World Bank to improve their rankings? For example, India ranks 139th out of 149 on the World Happiness Index, yet we pay little attention to it while climbing the ranks on the EoDB ladder has been made an explicit policy goal.

The presumed economic consequences, as well as political benefits associated with improving the rankings, encouraged many countries to try and “game” the system. They made superficial improvements on indicators that were being measured and, when that failed, by putting explicit pressure on the World Bank research team as the current debacle shows.

Why countries competed to rank better on EoDB index?

The answer lies in the potential consequences of ranking. Countries assumed that their EoDB ranking will attract foreign investors.

Since foreign investors often have no real way of assessing the underlying business climate in any country they may use the rankings as a signal in making their investment choices. Empirical evidence about this presumed impact is questionable.

There is indeed some evidence that the score on EoDB is associated with FDI, but this association exists mainly for more affluent countries. Studies show that this association is weak for poorer countries.

For instance, in 2020, China was the largest recipient of FDI despite ranking 85th on the EoDB.

Should we try to reform the index or give up on it?

The decision rests on the answer to two questions.

First, are there universally acceptable standards of sound economic practices that are applicable and measurable across diverse economies?

Second, if the indices are so powerful, should their construction be left to institutions like the World Bank that bring not just knowledge but also wield the heft of global economic power?


GS Paper 3

How loopholes in Aadhaar-enabled payments are putting poor people at risk of being swindled

Source: This post is based on the article “How loopholes in Aadhaar-enabled payments are putting poor people at risk of being swindled” published in Indian Express on 5th October 2021.

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

Relevance: To understand the issues in the Aadhaar enabled Payment System (AePS) model.

Synopsis: Given the need for financial inclusion, resolving the issue in the AePS model is vital.

Introduction

The government of India launched Aadhaar enabled Payment System which is coupled with the Business correspondent model. It was supposed to revitalize financial inclusion in India. However, it faces many challenges.

What is the Aadhaar enabled Payment System (AePS)?

It is a bank-led model which allows online interoperable financial inclusion transactions at Point of Sale (Micro ATM) through the Business correspondent (BC) (informal bank agent) of any bank using the Aadhaar authentication.

For example, if a person wants to withdraw Rs500 from a bank account using BC, he/she needs to provide the bank name and undergo  Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA). BC will then provide the requested amount, and BC’s own account will be credited with the same amount. For this,  the bank account should be linked with Aadhar.

Benefit: Like other micro-ATM systems, it has helped in decongesting banks. It can be particularly useful for migrant workers who have no ATM facility.

What are the issues associated with AePS?

AePS comes with serious risks of being cheated, especially those who lack clarity of its working. These risks are increased when banks refuse to disburse small amounts to their customers and send them to BCs instead. Some of the risks are:

Financial Fraud by BC: There are chances that some corrupt BCs will enter the high amount in PoS and gave the beneficiary the lesser amount. However, this can be ignored if people demand a receipt. But it is visible in many cases that BCs often denies receipts to poor people.

There are also many instances where Corrupt BCs duped customers by simply asking them to put their finger on the scanner. After which, BCs quietly withdrew the amount without telling the customer.

It is unfortunate that most of such frauds remain unresolved today. In some cases, the police are reluctant to file FIRs. Even if the BC can be traced, it is easy for him to claim that he did disburse cash as per records — it is his word against the victim.

Read moreFailure Of Aadhar Based Payment System
How these issues can be eliminated from AePS?

Permanent Entry: BCs could be required to make manual if not digital entries into printed customer passbooks. That would act as a permanent, verifiable receipt that cannot be denied to the customer so easily (a blank entry would be incriminating).

Ban: The government can ban roaming BCs in states with low literacy levels, so they cannot take advantage of poor and illiterate people.

Services: Better Grievance Redressal facilities should be made available to the victims of AePS fraud. Also, the SMS alert system should be there if the person’s bank account is linked with a phone number


Employment increases in rural India

Source: This post is based on the article “Employment increases in rural India” published in Business Standard on 5th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS3- Indian Economy and issues relating to Growth, Development and Employment.

Relevance:  Employment generation

Synopsis: In all the major labour market metrics, it is rural India that shows big improvements. Labour conditions improved in urban India also but not as much as they did in rural India.

Introduction

Labour participation in Rural India increased 0.20 percentage points in last month as compared to a much smaller 0.02 percentage points increase in Urban.

Further, the employment rate rose by 0.85 percentage points in rural India in comparison, urban India saw a smaller increase of 0.47 percentage points in its employment rate in the same months. This translates to a big 8.5 million increase in employment during the month.

Consequently, the all-India unemployment rate fell by 1.46 percentage points. The fall was larger in rural India than in urban India.

How rural India has impacted India’s Employment scenario?

Of the 8.5 million additional people employed in September, 6.5 million were in rural India. Rural India accounts for about 69 per cent of total employment. But 76.5 per cent of the additional employment created in September was in rural India.

This is an extraordinary increase in rural India in the month of September when the demand for labour from agriculture is usually low. It is estimated that around 6 million were absorbed in non-farm rural jobs.

The construction industry in rural India was the largest absorber of additional labour in September, taking in 7.55 million people.

What are the reasons?

First, investment in road building has been growing steadily. Road projects worth Rs 1 trillion were completed in 2020-21, and Rs 1.27 trillion worth of projects are expected to be completed in 2021-22.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had spent Rs 780 billion this year against Rs 374 billion in the last year or Rs 322 billion in the year before. This accelerated spending and the expectation of more road projects being completed in the year could have created the additional demand for labour in the construction industry.

Second, a somewhat less likely reason, is that it is possible there was some acceleration in employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

Third, rural India also saw a substantial increase in employment in the manufacturing sector in September. Employment in rural manufacturing industries increased by 4.7 million during the month. Food industries, metal, and textile were the major contributors

However, the rural services sector unemployed a substantial 6.8 million jobs. Most major services industries shed jobs in September. These included retail trade, personal non-professional services, travel and tourism, and education.

This suggests that, people have moved from the services sectors to construction and manufacturing industries in rural India. Most of the new jobs created in rural India were of daily wage labourers.


The future of vertical farming is brighter than once thought

Source: This post is based on the article “The future of vertical farming is brighter than once thought” published in Livemint on 5th October 2021.

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

Relevance: Significance of vertical farming

Synopsis: The concept of vertical farming can fix several problems faced by conventional farms.

Introduction

AeroFarms is going to be the first vertical-farming startup to be listed on the Nasdaq in the next month after it completes a merger with Spring Valley Acquisition Corp.

What is Vertical farming?

It is a system for growing food without soil or sun that for decades has thrived mainly in sci-fi films and the International Space Station.

How vertical farming can be beneficial in future?

Vertical farms can play a key role in producing local and perishable specialty crops: They can eliminate fuel-intensive long-distance trucking, along with food rot and waste.  When located in and near cities, they have the added advantage of being protected from supply chain disruptions.

Benefit drought prone areas: the technology AeroFarms and other market leaders are pioneering will benefit regions that have increasingly limited water and arable land.

Less water usage: Aeroponic farms use up to 95% less water than in-field vegetable production and grow food 30% to 40% faster. They use as little as 0.3% of the land of a field farmers.

High productivity: The company has seen a 23% increase in its yield-per-square-foot of indoor growing space in the past year alone, and has sped the grow cycle for baby leafy greens from 20 to 14 days—compared to 4 to 6 weeks in the field.

Organic produce: The plants are grown without herbicides, fungicides or insecticides, gains for both the economics and human health.

High-flavour and high-nutrient produce and high-profit ingredients for nutraceuticals: The plant data gathered by cameras and sensors have driven rapid innovations. Variables including light, moisture, nutrients, oxygen, CO2, and temperature can be monitored so precisely within a vertical farm that the flavours, nutrients and phenotypes of plants, in turn, can be manipulated.

What are some issues associated with vertical farming?

Requires more energy and technology: For example, AeroFarms has pioneered an ‘aeroponic’ system that grows plants in stacked metal trays, their roots dangling in mid-air as they’re fed a nutrient-rich mist. LED lights replace sunshine.

High cost of input: Cameras and sensors gather millions of data points tracking the needs of the plants as they grow.

Skilled human resource: This kind of hyper-controlled indoor agriculture requires an expensive labour force of engineers, plant scientists and computer programmers.

Luxury good: Vertical farming also relies on urban real estate more expensive than rural farmland. AeroFarms’ products, which include ‘baby watercress’ and ‘micro broccoli’, currently sell for $2 an ounce.

High-tech agriculture is still high-risk: Because there is no soil or other barrier to protect the roots, even a small number of bacteria in the root chamber can harm the plants.


Recurring pain: On RBI’s decision on auto-debit transactions

Source: This post is based on the article “Recurring pain” published in Business Standard on 5th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS3- Issues related with Banking sector

Relevance: Roles and responsibilities of RBI

Synopsis: RBI must re-examine its auto-debit restrictions

Introduction

Recently, the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) new rules controlling recurring payments on credit or debit cards came into force.

The new rules mandate advanced notification by banks to customers for executing recurring payments which are of value of ₹ 5,000 and above. It is meant for seeking the latter’s approval for taking forward any such transaction.

Under this new system, for any transaction of more than ₹ 5,000, banks will send onetime passwords (OTPs) to customers. Currently, auto-debits are allowed under the new system without one-time passwords for payments under Rs 5,000.

The broad purpose of the new rules is to ensure that holders of credit or debit cards are not constantly hit by recurring charges without their consent.

While the RBI’s motivation in attempting to protect consumers from unwanted payments on their cards is laudable, any regulation can only be judged by its outcomes.

What are the issues and challenges associated with the RBI’s move?

Impact on small Enterprises: Many auto-debits failed for customers and smaller enterprises that depend upon online payments sharply revised their revenue estimates downward.

Rationality being Questioned: The RBI has not given any reasoning for its decision to bring such low-impact transactions under the compliance rules.

Lack of consultation with relevant Stake holders: Smaller enterprises, start-ups, and end-users were not given a voice in the process.

What are the other alternatives available?

There are multiple other mechanisms that might be considered. For example, banks could have been mandated to keep a record of recurring payments on a customer’s net-banking portal, where they could access it and turn it on and off as desired.

Alternatively, the new protocols could be limited to recurring payments over a certain threshold.

What is the way forward?

First, pre-authorisation of debits must be clear and transparent, users should be clear where their personal data is being held, and it should be easier to cancel subscriptions through payments operators.

Second, RBI as a consumer-facing regulator will have to work harder to expand its consultation process before introducing new rules.

Third, having observed the problems caused by the new rules, the RBI must swiftly respond, and work out how to make them more palatable for smaller enterprises and consumers.


India should never fall into the trap of premature celebration

Source: This post is based on the article “India should never fall into the trap of premature celebration” published in Livemint on 5th October 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning

Relevance: Need of sustainable development of Indian economy

Synopsis: India must focus on doing things right before getting too enthusiastic over the country’s economic ascent.

Introduction

There is talk of the BSE Sensex at 200,000. In 2019, a year that India’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth fell, there was talk of achieving a $10 trillion nominal GDP by 2030. Such talk has begun to resurface, though a recovery has barely begun. If we are to avoid another boom-bust cycle, such triumphalism is best avoided.

What are the things we need to get right?

Targets and rankings are only means to ends: The elevation of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ (EoDB) ranking to a goal in itself led to unethical practices, and the survey has been abandoned by the World Bank. India’s EoDB rank was based on data from two cities. That cannot be wholly representative. Moreover, operating conditions remain difficult for small businesses. Governments alone are not at fault. For example, banks require incorporated entities to submit directors’ resolutions printed on company letterheads for the opening of bank accounts. Why? Who uses letterheads these days? Will the company’s registration number not suffice? Also, even now, for proof of a bank account, many want a cancelled cheque, though payments are mostly electronic.

Second, we remain a society of rights without responsibilities, authority without accountability, and entitlement without commitment. In general, the operating principle of governance remains one of prohibition unless an act is given explicit permission. It should be the other way around. Until that happens, the overheating of our economy after a few years of growth is a given. On its part, the private sector must imbibe the spirit that Pawan Goenka of SCALE advocates: Spell out what you can deliver to the country before placing your demands. If these change, a troublesome trust deficit will disappear and so will our fiscal deficit.

Third, policymakers will serve India well if they focus on doing what it takes to improve India’s ECI ranking. It would mean making our universities fountainheads of knowledge, research and application. The quality of higher education needs to rise. State governments are still keen on levelling students down instead of levelling them up. Tamil Nadu’s protest against NEET is a neat example. Promoters of private universities are still figuring out the right balance between involvement and interference.

Index of economic complexity (ECI): Harvard University’s index of economic complexity (ECI) provides an indirect assessment of whether a country would be able to progress from low middle-income status to middle-income and then upper- income status. India’s index reading has improved marginally from 0.32 in 2000 to 0.46 in 2019. During the same period, China’s ECI went up from 0.44 to 1.35. Mexico went from 0.90 to 1.31.


Cities are taking climate action

Source: This post is based on the article “Cities are taking climate action” published in The Hindu on 5th October 2021. 

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

Relevance: Tackling climate change. 

Synopsis: Efforts taken by states to deal with climate change, hurdles in transforming states in to a sustainable urban state and how we can find a solution to deal with the twin challenge of climate change and inclusive development.  

Introduction 

Recently, Maharashtra’s Environment Minister announced that 43 cities across the State will join the UN-backed ‘Race to Zero’ global campaign. This campaign aims to create jobs while meeting goals of climate change and sustainable development. 

Maharashtra is the state that experiences multiple risks (floods, drought, sea-level rise). It has made inadequate policy action on climate-resilient development. 

Hence, this step is praiseworthy. 

Are cities doing enough? 

After assessing climate action in 53 Indian cities with a population of over one million, it was found that approximately half of these cities report climate plans. Of these,18 cities have moved towards implementation. 

It signals that recurrent experiences of floods, water scarcity, cyclones and storm surges are being assimilated into urban development policy. In terms of intervention, we have focused on particular, isolated risks. For example, most cities report targeted projects to deal with heat waves and water scarcity, followed by inland flooding, extreme rainfall, and growing disease incidence. Coastal flooding, sea-level rise, and cyclones are discussed less often. It is despite the fact that India has long coastline and highly vulnerable coastal cities and infrastructure. Hence, we have failed to realize how multiple risks converge and reinforce each other. For example, seasonal cycles of flooding and water scarcity in Chennai.  

What are some steps taken by the states? 

Front-runner cities in terms of climate change action plans are Ahmedabad, Tamil Nadu etc.  

Ahmedabad had a Heat Action Plan (HAP) which helped to reduce heat mortality. The HAP involves many stakeholders. Combining infrastructural interventions (for example, painting roofs white) and behavioral aspects (building public awareness on managing heat), the model has now been scaled up to 17 cities across the country. 

Nature-based solutions such as mangrove restoration in coastal Tamil Nadu and urban wetland management in Bengaluru have demonstrated how restoring ecosystem health can sustain human systems as well. For example, urban parks provide cooling benefits and wetlands regulate urban floods. 

What are the hurdles in developing sustainable Indian cities? 

First, inadequate finances and political will. 

Second, inadequate institutional capacity in existing government departments to reorient ways of working.  

Solving these would help in planning for multiple, intersecting risks. This would transform the ways our cities operate and expand. Undertaking long-term planning needs resilience planners in every line department as well as communication channels across departments to enable vertical and horizontal knowledge sharing.  

What are some recommendations to transform cities to make it sustainable? 

We need to change our behavior and life style. One example of behavioral change is bottom-up sustainable practices such as urban farming where citizens are interpreting sustainability at a local and personal scale. This would lead to many advantages. 

One, growing one’s own food on terraces and simultaneously enhancing local biodiversity 

Two, composting organic waste and reducing landfill pressure 

Three, sharing farm produce with a neighbour, bringing communities closer and creating awareness about food growing.  

To deal with the twin challenges of climate change and inclusive development, pledges like Maharashtra’s are a welcome addition to ongoing climate plans. This is high time when we need to focus on climate change solutions and equip our city planners and citizens to implement them. 


Taproots to help restore India’s fading green cover

Source: This post is based on the article “Taproots to help restore India’s fading green cover” published in The Hindu on 5th October 2021. 

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

Relevance: About forest restoration and its importance. 

Synopsis: Forest restoration activities and why they are important. Various challenges associated with forest restoration and solutions to deal with it. 

Introduction 

Forest covers nearly 30% land surface of the earth. They provide a wide variety of ecosystem services and support countless and diverse species around the globe. They also stabilise the climate, sequester carbon and regulate the water regime.  

What is the reason that forest restoration activities have become increasingly popular? 

As per the State of the World’s Forests report 2020, since 1990, around 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation, conversion and land degradation. India lost 4.69 MHA of its forests for various land uses between 1951 to 1995. 

Despite various international conventions and national policies in place to improve green cover, there is a decline in global forest cover.

This is the prime reason for forest restoration activities including tree planting to become increasingly popular. We have declared 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration for improving environmental conditions and enhancing human communities. 

What is restoration? 

Restoration is bringing back the degraded or deforested landscape to its original state by various interventions. It enables them to deliver all the benefits. Building and maintaining activities help to improve ecological functions, productivity and create resilient forests with multifarious capabilities. India shelters 8% of the world’s known flora and fauna. 

What are the key challenges associated with the forest restoration? 

First, local ecology with a research base: forest restoration and tree planting are leading strategies to fight global warming by way of carbon sequestration. However, planting without considering the local ecology, planting a forest in the wrong places such as savannah grasslands are more dangerous.  

Second, as per recent research, naturally regenerated forests tend to have more secure carbon storage. Being less tech-sensitive, cost-effective and conserving more biodiversity, natural forest restoration is becoming more widely accepted. But we must consider the local ecology before implementing any restoration efforts to retain their biodiversity and ecosystem functions. 

Third, restoration needs research support for its success. Active restoration includes planting and passive restoration focuses on halting environmental stressors or adopting an intermediate approach of aided natural regeneration. For both we need critical examination before putting restoration interventions into practice.  

What is the situation in India?  

Nearly 5.03% of Indian forests are under protection area (PA) management. They need specific restoration strategies. The remaining areas witness a range of disturbances including grazing, encroachment, fire, and climate change impacts that need area specific considerations. Much of the research done on restoration is not fully compatible with India’s diverse ecological habitats. 

Hence, local research duly considering ecological aspects, local disturbances and forest-dependent communities is vital to formulate guidelines for locally suitable interventions and to meet India’s global commitment 

What are the solutions for protection and development of forests? 

First, participation of local communities with finances for incentives and rewards is essential to redress this complex riddle. We can involve local people by forming joint forest management committees (JFMC). At the same time, review of their functionality and performance is essential to make them more dynamic and effective. 

Second, negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders including these committees for resolving conflicts and fulfilling restoration objectives.  

Third, adequate financing is needed for restoration.  

Fourth, we need the active approach of restoration which includes tree planting and the involvement of communities seeks incentives and rewards and make the whole affair quite cost-intensive.  

Fifth, the contribution of corporates in restoration efforts, land-based programmes of various departments. 

Sixth, active engagement of stakeholders including non-governmental organisations, awareness and capacity building of stakeholders with enabling policy interventions and finance can help a lot to achieve the remaining 16 MHA restoration objectives for India. 

Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)

Explained: Nobel Prize in Medicine 2021

Context: Two scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian won the Nobel Prize in medicine 2021 on Monday for their discoveries into how the human body perceives temperature and touch.  

About the discovery  

Nobel prize in the medicine has been awarded for the discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.  

Artificial sensors like thermometer are very common temperature sensors that can perceive changes in temperature. Similarly, in the human body, there are sensors to sense. However, only very specific proteins molecules relay these signals to the nervous system. These sensors were not identified yet. 

Now scientists have discovered the molecular sensors in the human body that are sensitive to heat, and to mechanical pressure, and make us “feel” hot or cold, or the touch of a sharp object on our skin. 

Mechanism of receptors  

Artificial detectors like a smoke detector send an alarm when it senses smoke beyond a certain threshold. 

Similarly, when something hot or cold touches a body, heat receptors open up a passage for specific chemicals, like calcium ions, through the membrane of nerve cells. The chemical inside the cell causes a small change in electrical voltage, which is picked up by the nervous system. It enables the brain to perceive high temperatures.  

These detectors can also detect temperature or pressure changes inside the body. For example, when our urinary bladder is full, the pressure in the bladder increases. This change in pressure is sensed by the pressure receptors and relayed to the nervous system which creates this urge to relieve oneself. 

Significance of discovery 

Discoveries opened up “an entire field of pharmacology”. The identification of these receptors opens up the possibility of regulating their functioning. Researchers are already working to develop drugs to target the receptors they identified. 

For example, there are receptors that make us feel pain, if these receptors can be suppressed or made less effective, the person would feel less pain. 

Read – About Nobel Prizes 

Source: This post is based on the article “Nobel Prize in Medicine 2021 published in epaper.livemint.com & indianexpress on 5th Oct 2021. 


Modi visit to US has helped expand economic cooperation

What is the news?

Indian PM has visited the USA last month. The meeting was significant because of the Quad leader summit, 1st bilateral engagement with the present US President and speech at the 76th United Nations General Assembly.

Read more: Quad Leaders’ Summit – Explained, pointwise
What are the outcomes of the India-USA meet?

Both countries announced steps to deepen industrial cooperation, development of air-launched unmanned aerial vehicles under Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, finalization of MoU on health and biomedical sciences.

Trade: Both countries committed to re-engaging in Trade Policy Forum, India-US 2+2 dialogue, US India CEO Forum and Commercial dialogue to be held in 2022.

What is the status of India-US Trade at present?

Goods and Services: India-US trade before the pandemic was nearly $146bn in 2019, with the USA as India’s largest trading partner. It is expected that aggregate goods trade will surpass $100bn for the 1st time ever this year.

Data on the service side also shows a positive mark. With both countries able to establish trusted relations in trade, it is expected that the mutual goal of $500bn in bilateral goods and services will be achieved soon.

FDI: US FDI continues to increase in India with $45.9 in 2019. According to the Confederation of Indian Industries Indian Root American Soil 2020 survey, Indian FDI and job creation in the USA is also expanding with $22bn in investment 125,000 jobs either created or safeguarded.

Indian industry, guided by Make in India, can be a strong force in cementing the economic and strategic relations between the USA and India.

Source: This post is based on the article “Modi visit to US has helped expand economic cooperation” published in Live Mint on 5th October 2021.


Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat & Dr. Jitendra Singh To Jointly Inaugurate Heli-Borne Survey For Ground Water Management In Arid Regions

What is the news?

The Central Ground Water Board, Ministry of Jal Shakti and CSIR-NGRI (National Geophysical Research Institute), Hyderabad have signed an agreement for use of advanced heli-borne geophysical survey and other scientific studies in Arid Regions.

About the Heli-Borne Survey
Heli-Borne Survey
Source: PIB

The Heli-Borne Survey aims to conduct High-resolution aquifer mapping using heliborne geophysical studies. It includes studies such as identification of Sites for artificial recharge, 3D Geophysical model, Geophysical Thematic maps, Aquifer system with relatively fresh and saline zones.

The survey also aims to map the Spatial and depth-wise distribution of the paleochannel networks if any and their linkage with the aquifer systems.

The survey regions include parts of the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh covering an area of 3.88 lac sq. km under the Aquifer Mapping Programme.

The expected outcome includes selecting suitable sites for groundwater withdrawal and water conservation through artificial or managed aquifer recharge.

What is the National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme(NAQUIM)?

It was launched in 2012 by the Ministry of Water Resources(now Ministry of Jal Shakti). Central Ground Water Board(CGWB) is implementing the NAQUIM for aquifer mapping in the country.

The program aims to identify and map aquifers at the micro level to quantify the available groundwater resources. It also aims to promote participatory groundwater management.

Read more: National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme(NAQUIM)

Source:  This post is based on the article “Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat & Dr. Jitendra Singh To Jointly Inaugurate Heli-Borne Survey For Ground Water Management In Arid Regions” published in PIB on 4th October 2021.


Govt. moots changes to Forest Conservation Act

What is the news? 

The Union Government has proposed that agencies involved in national security projects and border infrastructure projects will not have to obtain prior forest clearance from the Centre as part of amendments to the existing Forest Conservation Act (FCA). The FCA, which first came in 1980 and was amended in 1988, requires such permission. 

What is the draft amendment by the government? 

First, to exempt land acquired before 1980 (before the FCA came into effect) by public sector bodies such as the Railways. As of today, a landholding agency (Rail, NHAI, PWD, etc.) is required to take approval under the Act and pay stipulated compensatory levies such as Net Present Value (NPV), Compensatory Afforestation (CA), etc. for use of such land which was originally been acquired for non-forest purposes. 

Second, the Environment Ministry also proposes adding a clause to make offences under the modified Act punishable with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year and make it cognisable and non-bailable. They also propose provisions for penal compensation to make good for the damage already done.  

Source: This post is based on the article ” Govt. moots changes to Forest Conservation Act ” published in The Hindu on 5th October 2021. 


 

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