9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – September 15, 2017


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GS-1

Social issues


A higher opportunity: (Indian Express, Editorial)

Context:

India’s possibility of  becoming a global hub for higher education

Intrduction:

Two areas in which Indian government should put special efforts:

  • Medical tourism and
  • Higher education.
  • In both these sectors, much can be achieved, without the government having to do the heavy-lifting.

India has a huge strength in higher education:

  • English is the world’s most important language and India’s strength in it is a natural advantage today.
  • India took major steps in nurturing higher education and scientific temperament, setting up the IITs, the IIMs, and promoting some fine universities.
  • The biggest destination for higher education is the UK — 12.2 per cent of the students went there followed by Italy (10.8 per cent) and Spain (9 per cent).
  • India is the 14th most popular destination (1.4 per cent).

Advantages of the nation becoming a global hub for education:

  • The advantage of the nation becoming a global hub for education is that this can yield so much income that the government can then take the responsibility of providing these other kinds of education to its own citizens
  • When nations do well in higher education and research, they do well in economic development.
  • The government should also take the responsibility to ensure that all Indians get education, taking account of the fact that many are so poor that they will have to be provided education for free.

What are the Issues and Challenges faced by higher education in India?

India’s higher education system primarily faces challenges on three fronts

Expansion:

  • India’s GER of16% was much below the world average of 27%, as well as that of other emerging countries such as China (26%) and Brazil (36%) in 2010.
  • The GERs for SCs, STs and OBCs are far below the average GER and those of other social groups

Excellence

  • Faculty shortage – there is 40% and 35% shortage of faculty in state and central universities, respectively.
  • Accredited institutions – 62% of universities and 90% of colleges were average or below average in 2010, on the basis of their NAAC accreditation.
  • Low citation impact – India’s relative citation impact is half the world average.

Equity

  • There is wide disparity in the GER of higher education across states and the Gross Attendance Ratio (GAR) in urban and rural areas, and gender- and community-wise
  • Inter-state disparity – 47.9% in Delhi vs. 9% in Assam.
  • Urban-rural divide – 30% in urban areas vs. 11.1% in rural areas.

These include

  • Inadequate infrastructure and facilities,
  • Large vacancies in faculty positions
  • Poor faculty thereof,
  • Low student enrolment rate,
  • Outmoded teaching methods,
  • Declining research standards and unmotivated students
  • Overcrowded classrooms and widespread geographic, income, gender, and ethnic imbalances.

Education in Rural Areas

  • Ensuring equitable access to quality higher education for students coming from poor families is a major challenge.
  • Many colleges established in rural areas are non-viable, are under-enrolled and have extremely poor infrastructure and facilities with just a few teachers.

College affiliation to Universities

  • Most of the universities have more than hundred colleges affiliated to them.
  • The present university system in India is doomed to fail as it focuses more on the administrative job than on the research and innovation.

Solutions:

  • Need of the hour is to make critical reforms in the country`s educational system and promote private sector to play a crucial role in it
  • The aim should be to provide high-quality education
  • Private firms that invest in this sector need more flexibility
  • India has to give more freedom to the private universalities
  • The time now is to modernize our education system so that our country can get much more technically graduated people which can help our country to developed state
  • To guarantee higher quality and to attain better performance in teaching and learning processes it is necessary to encourage the involvement and commitment of all those involved with the process like teachers, students and the management.

GS-2

Effects of developed and developing countries policies


Japan calls for ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’: (The Hindu)

Context:

Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’

Why is it in the news?

  • Japan is preparing to deal with the fast changing global and regional order and threats from China and North Korea.
  • Japan intends to build peace pro-actively.
  • Japan will expand infrastructure, development, trade, and investment, and enhance business environment and human development from East Asia as a starting point, to the Middle East and Africa.

Why is it important?

  • The ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ rests on “two oceans” – Indian and Pacific – and “two continents” – Africa and Asia.
  • The connectivity between Asia and Africa through a free and open Indo-Pacific is expected to support stability and prosperity of the region as a whole.

How to make Indian courts more efficient: (Livemint, Editorial)

Government Policies

Background:

  • The Pendency problem of the Indian Judiciary

Pleasant surprise:

  • The lower courts in Kerala, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Chandigarh have disposed of almost all cases that had been pending for a decade
  • This is impressive given that the national pendency count is pegged at around 2.3 million cases.
  • Delhi, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka are also close to clearing out long-pending cases.

Valuable lessons:

  • Better case management and procedural reforms can go a long way in reducing case pendency.
  • This also suggests that there are other effective ways to address the problem of large number of judicial vacancies.

Example of High Court of Haryana and Punjab:

  • Almost a decade ago, it set up a case management system—i.e. a mechanism to monitor every case from filing to disposal.
  • It also began to categorize writ petitions based on their urgency.
  • In addition, it set annual targets and action plans for judicial officers to dispose of old cases, and began a quarterly performance review to ensure that cases were not disposed of with undue haste.
  • All these measures ushered in a degree of transparency and accountability in the system, the results of which are now apparent.

Judicial case management:

  • Under this, the court sets a timetable for the case and the judge actively monitors progress.
  • This marks a fundamental shift in the management of cases—the responsibility for which moves from the litigants and their lawyers to the court.

Measures suggested by the Law Commission to deal with the problem of pendency:

  • The Law Commission of India in its 230th report has also offered a long list of measures to deal with the pendency of cases. These include:
  • providing strict guidelines for the grant of adjournments
  • curtailing vacation time in the higher judiciary
  • reducing the time for oral arguments unless the case involves a complicated question of law
  • and framing clear and decisive judgements to avoid further litigation.

Way forward:

  • Citizens are poorly served by the state twice over: once when their access to the law exists more in name than in fact, and the second time when they are deprived of the benefits of economic growth that has been hamstrung by clogged courts.
  • The lower courts in states like Kerala and Punjab have shown that this need not be the case. Their example should be replicated across all the lower courts in the country
  • The courts should also seriously consider incorporating technology into the system; digitizing courts records has been a good start in this context but a lot more can be done.
  • For example, just like automation powered by Artificial Intelligence is already helping doctors, it can also be leveraged to assist judges and lawyers.

Going digital: (Indian Express, Editorial)

Context

The Supreme Court has declared the Right to Privacy a fundamental right, albeit subject to reasonable restrictions in legitimate state interest. In this context, the role of Aadhaar in transforming India is being debated.

What is Aadhar?

  • An Aadhaar is a 12-digit random unique identification number issued to Indian citizens by the Government of India.
  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is the issuing and managing agency of the Aadhar Card (which contains the 12 digit Aadhar number and other personal information).
  • Aadhaar card is issued after recording and verifying every Indian citizen’s details including biometric and demographic data
  • Any individual, irrespective of age and gender, who is a resident of India, may voluntarily enrol to obtain Aadhaar number.
  • It is not mandatory to enrol for Aadhar.
  • Aadhar was primarily introduced for direct transfer of subsidies into citizens bank account.
  • But now the government has widened the scope of Aadhar. Now, there are many compulsions to link Aadhar to Bank Account, link Aadhar to Mobile Number, link Aadhar to PAN etc.

What is BHIM?

It is a new indigenously developed payment app ‘BHIM’  (Bharat Interface for Money) and   has been named after the main architect of Indian constitution, Bhim Rao Ambedkar

BHIM is a biometric payment system app using Aadhar platform, and is based on Unified Payment Interface (UPI) to facilitate e-payments directly through bank.

  • It was launched to stress on the importance of technology and digital transactions.
  • It can be used on all mobile devices, be it a smartphone or a feature phone with or without internet connection, he added.
  • The payments through the new system (BHIM App) can be made by just a thumb impression after the bank account is linked with Aadhaar gateway. Indeed, the technology through BHIM will empower poorest of the poor, small business and the marginalised section.
  • The new app is expected to minimise the role of plastic cards and point of sale machines.
  • The app will eliminate fee payments for service providers like MasterCard and Visa, which has been a stumbling block in people switching to digital payments.

How are these beneficial for Indian economy?

  • Transparent economy with digital payments- the economic survey says that India’s cash-to-GDP ratio is around 12 per cent, among the highest in the world. The share of digital payments is said to be about  two per cent of total transactions,
  • JAM trinity –  Jan DhanYojana, Aadhaar and Mobile numbers – This will make the government support to poor more targeted and less distortive.
  • Identification of the beneficiaries of government’s welfare schemes – Aadhar will help to remove fake and duplicates identities. It can be used to filter the list of beneficiaries and stop the leakage of public money.
  • To tackle the black money issue – Use of Aadhar in financial transactions can reduce the menace of black money in the country.
  • In Income tax return – Use of Aadhar in income tax filing will reduce the number of documents needed. It can make the process more efficient and cost-effective way. Undocumented and illegal transactions would be brought to light.
  • In Opening a bank account – There is no need to collect multiple identity proofs or run around for documentation. Your humble Aadhaar Card is ample proof of your identity and address.
  • In getting subsidies directly to the bank account – By linking Aadhar with bank accounts, subsidies like LPG will get credited to bank account directly.
  • The issue of digital Life certificate – Aadhar number can be used to get a digital life certificate. It will help pensioners without the hassle of physically going to the bank and submitting the life certificate.
  • Easy Provident Fund disbursement – The Aadhaar will ensure that the Provident Fund money is not diverted and is disbursed directly to the pensioner’s account.
  • Mapping development parameters – In critical sectors of the country like healthcare and education, Aadhar can be used to map the development process.
  • Digital Locker: Government of India has launched digital locker (DigiLocker) system for everyone for storing all personal document on the government’s server..
  • Voter Card Linking: Starting 9th March 2015, Aadhaar card UIDAI number would be linked to the voter ID’s. This action is taken to eliminate bogus voters.

What are the issues assosciated with the use of Aadhar?

  • Questionable Legal Backing: The current legal backing of Aadhar is via a money bill.
  • Issues with sharing information collected under Aadhaar – The provisions in the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016 Act with regard to the protection of identity information and authentication records may be affected by recent verdict by Supreme Court that Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right.
  • Violation of rights – It was argued that the UIDAI might share the biometric information of people with other government agencies and thus would violate people’s right to privacy. They also thought that using the biometric data, people might be singled out, tracked, harassed and have their rights violated
  • Has potential to profile individuals – The Act does not specifically prohibit law enforcement and intelligence agencies from using the Aadhaar number as a link (key) across various datasets (such as telephone records, air travel records, etc.) in order to recognise patterns of behaviour..
  • Discretionary powers of UIDAI – The Act empowers the UID authority to specify demographic information that may be collected. The only restriction imposed on the authority is that it shall not record information pertaining to race, religion, caste, language, records of entitlements, income or health of the individual. This power will allow the authority to collect additional personal information, without prior approval from Parliament.
  • Furthermore, UID has exclusive power to make complaints and the courts cannot take cognizance of any offence punishable under the Aadhaar Act unless a complaint is made by the UID authority.
  • The time period for maintaining authentication records – The bill does not specify the maximum duration for which authentication records may be stored by the UID authority.

Way forward

For  Indians living in rural and urban areas, who do not have credit cards, debit cards, smartphones or feature phones or who are not financially literate to handle PINs, passwords etc.it is difficult to resort to digital payments. For them, BHIM-Aadhaar, will prove to be convenient.

Democratisation of digital payments through UPI and BHIM-Aadhaar will lead to a less cash economy, rid the country of black money and tax evasion and bring large numbers into the financial mainstream.

Therefore, what is required is a mitigation and abrogation of the risks involved rather than rejection of the technology as a whole.


GS-3

Indian Economy. Planning, Growth and Employment


Govt. committee to review exporters’ ‘$10 bn.-problem’:

Context:

Committee on Exports to resolve the Tax credit refund issue of exporters

What is the issue all about?

  • Exporters were expecting the Integrated GST (IGST) refund or refund of input tax credit (ITC) in August, 2017 for the exports made during July.
  • The filing of (GST returns) GSTR-1, 2 and 3 for July has been extended till October 10, October 31 and November 10, respectively.
  • Exporters will not be able to get the refund by November.

Why is there a skepticism?

  • Considering 15 days for issuance of acknowledgment and another seven days for getting the provisional refund of 90% of the total refund claim – Technically, the exporters would have to wait till around December.
  • The blocked amount for the four months’ time is estimated to be about $10 billion.
  • If the issue is not handled in urgent basis, it could lead to huge job losses.

What is being done to resolve the issue?

  • A Committee on Exports has been set up on September 12.
  • This committee is headed by Revenue Secretary.
  • It will meet on September 19 to find out a solution.

Good and simple tax: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

Goods and services tax regime is nearing the end of its first full quarter and though the implementation is showing positive results, some glitches are still there and they need correction.

What is the revenue status post implementation of GST regime?

  • India’s goods and services tax regime is nearing the end of its first full quarter since roll-out this July.
  • Revenue collections from the first month appear robust, with just 70% of eligible taxpayers bringing in Rs. 95,000 crore.
  • At this rate, the total tally could well surge close to Rs. 1.2 lakh crore.
  • This would be significantly higher than the Rs. 91,000 crore indirect tax target for the Centre and the States on an overall basis.
  • With many more taxpayers registering in August, the GST appears to have begun well as far as the exchequer is concerned

What does this imply?

  • The initial flow of money needs to be corroborated by inflows for subsequent months.
  • If revenues remain healthy, the government would, over time, get the necessary fiscal room to rationalize multiple GST rates into fewer slabs and possibly lower levies as a stimulus

What are the glitches?

  • It has turned out that the process is far from being smooth for the business houses.
  • And it is same for firms of all sizes across sectors.They are struggling to file their first set of returns under the GST due to significant glitches in the GST Network, its information technology backbone, and issues of connectivity

What step did the government to help firms with regard to the aforementioned issue?

  • The government has extended the deadline for GST returns for the first month twice, with GSTR-3 now required to be submitted as late as November 10.
  • A group of Central and State ministers has been tasked with resolving the GSTN’s challenges.
  • To inspire confidence, this group must act not only expeditiously but also transparently — especially with regard to the GSTN’s operational capacity.

What is the issue with the extended deadline?

  • The delay in filing returns for the first, and therefore subsequent, months means that taxpayers expecting a refund from the authorities on taxes already paid (for example, by exporters) will end up waiting for almost four months (for the period of July alone)
  • This will shrink their working capital availability and create an unjust burden on their finances, impacting their ability to scale up production ahead of the high-turnover festive season.
  • The problem is most acute for exporters, for whom the Council has now formed a special committee under the Revenue Secretary
  • The GST Council has already changed the announced tax rates on over 100 products and services within about 75 days of the roll-out. An ever-changing policy landscape is hardly conducive for attracting investment.

What should be the correct course of action?

  • The procedural problems need to be resolved as soon as possible for industry to be comfortable with this switch-over.
  • Admitting to the errors of judgment so far is essential for a genuine course correction.

The new highways: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

  • As acquisition of land for national and State highways becomes scarce and the cost of construction of roads, flyovers and bridges goes up, the government is now exploring using water as a means of public transportation.

What are challenges?

  • Even though India has enacted the National Waterways Act, 2016, the total number of national waterways is still 111.
  • Providing infrastructure such as jetties, terminals, and navigational channels continues to pose a challenge.

What is government planning to do?

  • The government has proposed an amendment to the Central Road Fund Act, 2000.
  • The Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017 implants ‘national waterways’ into the 2000 Act.
  • The Bill proposes using a part of the cess collected on high-speed diesel and petrol for the upkeep of the national and State highways for maintaining the infrastructure of the national waterways.

How will be The Central Road Fund will be effective?

  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, which tabled the Bill in July 2017 in the Lok Sabha, said national waterways provide a cost-effective, logistically efficient and environment-friendly mode of transport, whose development as a supplementary mode would enable diversion of traffic from over-congested roads and railways.
  • It is argued that the waterways project deserves better regulation and development across the country.

Where will the funds comes from?

  • In order to suitably develop national waterways, sustainable source of funding is vital as budgetary support and funds from multilateral institutions are inadequate.
  • One of the sustainable sources of funding for the development of waterways is to earmark certain per cent of cess levied and collected on high speed diesel and petrol under the Central Road Fund Act of 2000.
  • It has been proposed to provide 2.5% of the cess on high-speed diesel and petrol for the development and maintenance of national waterways.
  • This would accelerate the development of national waterways by utilizing the funds generated by way of cess.
  • It also offers incentives and certainty for the private sector to invest in the inland waterways transport sector.
  • At the current rates of levy of cess, about Rs. 2,000 crore per annum is estimated to be available for the development and maintenance of national waterways.
  • The management of the cess collected will also involve some expenditure.
  • It is not possible to indicate the quantum of expenditure involved at this stage. However, the expenditure involved for this purpose would be met out of the budgetary provision of each year by the Ministry of Shipping, as approved by Parliament.

India’s pharmaceutical research problem: (LiveMint, Editorial)

Context

  • India’s pharmaceutical research problem faces several barriers today, from a lack of investment in Research and development to human capital shortfalls

What are the challenges faced by India’s research and development?

  • One of the biggest obstacles to scientific research is the lack of sufficient funding and inadequate allocations by the government.
  • At 0.83% of gross domestic product (GDP), India is among the countries with the lowest investment in scientific research.
  • New medicines, devices, diagnostics, patient aids and monitoring tools are mostly imported, often coming to India several years after they are available to patients in the developed world.

India ranked among the lowest (in the bottom five) due to

  • Weak intellectual property protection
  • Lack of data protection for biologics
  • Low investment in R&D
  • Price regulations
  • ndia also ranked No.19 in a 28-nation survey of biomedical investment attractiveness of countries, with an overall score of 59 out of 100.

On what grounds was the ranking based?

Five metrics were used to determine rankings:

  • Scientific capabilities and infrastructure;
  • Clinical research conditions and framework;
  • Regulatory system;
  • Market access and financing;
  • Effective intellectual property protections.
  • India scored low on almost all metrics except for partial step-ups on scientific capabilities and infrastructure, and clinical research conditions and framework.
  • The R&D investment as a percentage of sales has been rising for several years and now stands at 6% for some Indian companies.
  • This is still well short of the 20% typical of Western pharma companies.

To what extend can the failed education system in India be blamed?

  • The education system is to blame as well, imparting theoretical knowledge with no emphasis on product development and application of theory.
  • Leading to the deterioration of the knack for problem-solving and innovation.
  • Educational and academic institutions should be encouraged to participate in research programs with funding from both the government as well as the private sector.
  • The environment to support the development of these verticals could emerge through our various government-led initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India, Atal Innovation Mission, etc.

What steps can be taken by the government?

  • In order to support consistent innovation, investment has to increase substantially before any tangible outcomes can be envisioned.
  • Indian pharmaceutical companies need to be supported with more financial and social capital if we are to see meaningful drug research that can address the healthcare needs of India.
  • A strong patent system and robust intellectual property rights environment is required to encourage research and to enable foreign pharma companies to bring new products to the market.
  • Short-term populist measures like imposing price ceilings do not contribute to improving patients’ access to innovative life-saving medicines and devices; a more holistic approach is needed.

Scientists map lunar water with data from Chandrayaan-1:

Context

  • cientists, using data from an instrument which flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, have created the first map of water trapped in the uppermost layer of the moon’s soil.

When it was first discovered?

  • The study, published in the journal Science Advances, builds on the initial discovery in 2009 of water and a related molecule — hydroxyl, which consists of one atom each of hydrogen and oxygen

How much water is present on the surface?

  • The water concentration reaches a maximum average of around 500 to 750 parts per million in the higher latitudes. That is less than what is found in the sands of Earth’s driest deserts, researchers said.

What could be the source of the water?

Solar wind impact

  • The researchers said that the way water is distributed across the moon gives clues about its source.
  • Bulk of the water mapped in this study could be attributed to solar wind
  • The water in those localized deposits likely comes from deep within the moon’s mantle and erupted to the surface in lunar magma, scientists said.

How is the water distributed on the surface?

  • The distribution is largely uniform rather than splotchy, with concentrations gradually decreasing toward the equator.
  • That pattern is consistent with implantation via solar wind — the constant bombardment of protons from the sun.

 

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