9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – September 15th, 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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Mains Oriented Articles 

GS Paper 2

GS Paper 3

Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly) 

Mains Oriented Articles

GS Paper 2

How India ramped up its vaccination drive

Source: This post is based on the article “How India Ramped up its vaccination drive“ published in Live Mint on 15th September 2021.

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

Relevance: To study the issue of vaccine hesitancy.

Synopsis: India’s vaccination drives have evolved over the last two decades. It has overcome not just scientific challenges, but also social issues like hesitancy.

Introduction

India’s health infrastructure was put under severe stress by the 2nd COVID wave. The best remedy to prevent recurrence is to complete the vaccination drive. However, Vaccination faces a great challenge of social hesitancy, with people running away from the vaccine and vaccination drives.

What were the apprehensions of the people on Vaccination?

In general, people are scared of medicines. Some believed that vaccines are not effective. Some people were worried about the reactions to the vaccines like fever. While others, particularly in tribal belts of Rajasthan, thought that vaccines are meant to target the leftover people of their tribes. So appropriate strategies had to be devised.

Read more: Intellectual Property Rights(IPR) and Universal Vaccination – Explained, Pointwise
What were the strategies adopted for overcoming the social hesitancy?
Vaccination
Source: Livemint

Doctors worked with ASHA workers to spread the awareness from door to door. Doctors also visited the Temples, mosques etc to rope in the people for the vaccination drive.

There were different factors that motivated the doctors. Some were driven by the targets that were given by the administration. Some want to vaccinate their entire district in record time.

Prominent rural personalities like village Sarpanch, Teachers and other functionaries were used as means to spread the message.

Even places like MGNREGA worksites were visited to educate people about vaccination.

Even emotional messages like the impact this may have on their loved ones were used to convince people.

All this turned out to be significant as gradually people started coming to vaccination centres.

Read more: Universal vaccination in India: Challenges and way forward – Explained, Pointwise
What is the way forward for the vaccination drive?

There are some issues like the last-mile delivery of the vaccines. To address this, India needs innovative approaches. For example, the Telangana government has started delivering vaccines through the Drones under medicine from the sky’ project.

Read more: Explained: Telangana’s idea of supplying medicines to remote areas by drones

A study in the Indian Journal of Public Health noted that the Indian vaccination program has matured and evolved over the last few decades.  The current ratio of rural to urban vaccination is 2.3:1, implying that the rural population is vaccinated more than twice of the urban population. If this continues, India may soon attain its target of immunizing all its adult population well within the stipulated timelines.


Should children be giving COVID 19 jabs

Source: This post is based on ”Should children be giving COVID 19 jabs” published in The Hindu on 15th September 2021.

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

Relevance: Understanding the impact of COVID 19 vaccination on Children.

Synopsis: Vaccination has helped the world to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the debates over-vaccination of Children still continues.

Introduction

Covid-19 has impacted all sections of society, especially children. Debates have been going on to initiate Covid vaccination drives for children. This issue was raised, particularly in India, when the reopening of schools was tied to the vaccination of children.

What are the risks involved with children during the pandemic?

It was found that Covid has a low impact on children. Even the newly found variant Delta is not deadly for children. So, the risk of death for children from Covid-19 is extremely low.

In comparison, for persons aged below 25, the risk of traffic accidents or even suicide is about 10 times higher than death due to COVID-19.

Read more: Long term Impacts of School Closure – Explained, pointwise
What are the Short term effects of Covid vaccines on children?

The risk of Covid vaccines on children is low, but not negligible. In the past, there have been instances of side effects, even death, in many countries including India. Considering these, Australia, the U.K., and many European countries have not recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) for children.

The only vaccines in use for 12+ are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But these too put children at risk of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle). For example, In USA-one in 6,000 pose a risk of a cardiac adverse event from the Pfizer vaccine for boys aged 12-15.

Read more: Orphaned Children in India – Explained, Pointwise
What are the long-term effects of covid vaccines on children?

All the current COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out have only limited short-term safety data, as clinical trials are likely to go on till 2023. Also, vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna use new gene-based technology (mRNA). This is different from previous vaccine technology. So, we are not sure about the long term effects.

Another issue is that vaccine makers have been granted zero liability. This is because they do not want to take the risk, if some side effects of the vaccines emerge after 3-4 years of vaccination.

What were the lessons of previous vaccination trials and children?

The history of emergency vaccination across the globe has not shown good results.

Swine flu vaccine: The swine flu vaccine, Pandemrix, was rolled out in response to the 2010 pandemic. But soon the vaccine was withdrawn as it caused narcolepsy (sleeping disorder) in children.

Dengue Vaccine Dengvaxia: The vaccine was withdrawn after 19 children died of antibody-dependent enhancement.

Since the risk of COVID is low in children, one needs to carefully consider the need of vaccinating the children against COVID.


Partners in the Indo Pacific

Source: This post is based on the article ”Partners in the Indo-Pacific” published in The Hindu on 15th September 2021

Syllabus: GS 2 – Bilateral, Regional & Global Groupings & Agreements Involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Relevance: Strengthening of India-Australia ties.

Synopsis: The ‘2+2’ dialogue between India and Australia will provide substance to an already meaningful partnership.

Introduction

Recently, India and Australia held the inaugural 2+2 talks. The main focus of the dialogue is to implement the vision of a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific Region.

What are the recent developments in India-Australia Relations?

Common and shared values of democracy, respect for international rule and law have enabled the two to forge strong relations. Further, there are also various collaborations on many issues in bilateral, trilateral, plurilateral and multilateral formats. This is evident in:

Strategic Partnerships: They elevated their bilateral strategic partnership to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership(CSP) in June 2020. Both countries have completed one year of their CSP.

Elevated 2+2 Dialogue: The two countries have elevated their ‘2+2’ Foreign and Defence Secretaries’ Dialogue to the ministerial level, emphasises the positive trajectory of their transforming relations.

Co-operation in Indo-Pacific Region: Security cooperation has enhanced due to common interest in free, open, inclusive and rule-based Indo-Pacific region. Security dialogues also have been done with key partner countries who share similar interests to strengthen coordination in Indo-Pacific. For example, the Malabar Naval Exercise is a step in this direction.

Read more: The Malabar Exercise of Quad nations, and why it matters to India

Trade: There is a growth in trade between both countries in recent years on various sectors like infrastructure, health, education etc. Two-way trade between India and Australia stands at $24.4 billion in 2020.

What are the present challenges hampering India Australia relations?

Challenges in India: India has a high tariff for agriculture and dairy products, which makes it difficult for Australian exporters to export these items to India.

Challenges in Australia: India faces non-tariff barriers imposed by Australia. Also, Indian skilled professionals face discrimination in the Australian labour market.

The Quad has gained momentum in recent months. The time is ripe for these countries to deliberate on a ‘Quad+’ framework.


Instead of denying slide in democratic values, India must work to fix it

Source: This post is based on the article “Instead of denying slide in democratic values, India must work to fix it“ published in Indian Express on 15th September 2021.

Syllabus: GS-2 Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability.

Relevance: To understand how India is responding to the global downgrade of democratic rankings.

Synopsis: India’s performance in global rankings in political affairs has taken a dip. This calls for deep introspection.

Introduction

India has ranked low in various global democracy reports. This is not good for India, as it tarnishes the image of India.

What are the findings of the various reports?

Freedom House Index 2021: It demoted India’s rank from 71 to 67. Now India has been shifted from the “Free” to the “Partial Free” category.

V Dem ranking: It also downgraded India’s rank and labelled the country as an “electoral autocracy”.

Economic Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index: It has also lowered India’s rank from 7.92 in 2014 to 6.61 in 2020. India’s ranking has dropped from 27 to 53 out of 167 countries.

Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Report: It placed India 167th out of 183 countries. It has given India a score of 2 out of 4 in terms of press freedom, and has stated that the Indian press is “partially free”.

What are the reasons for the lower rankings?

There have been many instances where the government crackdown on freedom of speech. Journalists have come under fire, with cases like sedition being filed on them. There is an increase of 165% in sedition cases between 2016 and 2019. Hate and polarization are increasing in society. There is increased pressure on human rights organizations and civil rights groups.

This was also pointed by EIU’s Democracy Index. The Indian government, however, challenged the report. The issue got highlighted when EIU refused to share the data based on which rankings were provided. After this, the Indian government is considering a parallel global democracy index formulated by Indian think-tanks.

How is the Indian democracy index is formed?

It is an aggregate of 60 questions. These questions range from electrical process to pluralism. This is a backed-up assessment of the experts. However, the report does not give the details of the expert assessment.

How do we access the Indian scenario?

One can question the EIU, but even other agencies have been critical of India.

EIU pointed that the internet shutdown in Kashmir and CAA issues have brought down the Indian ratings.

However, Kaushik Basu (former Chief Economist of World Bank) also highlighted the tendencies in India to fabricate data to attack any specific country. This was seen in unemployment data, COVID data etc. Such incidents, according to him, reduce the reputation of any nation.

What should be the way forward?

Indian government often goes into denial mode. We should instead introspect and look for corrective actions that we can take to make our system and society more democratic.


GS Paper 3

India’s ‘early harvest’ trade deals could run into trouble

Source: This post is based on the article “India’s ‘early harvest’ trade deals could run into trouble” published in The India Express on 15th September 2021.

Syllabus: GS3: Effects of Liberalization on the Economy

Relevance: Issues with Early harvest trade deals.

Synopsis: India should be mindful of legal requirements of arriving at an “early harvest” trade deal before signing a full FTA.

Introduction

India wishes to fast-track its free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with several countries like the UK, Australia, the European Union, and Canada.

It is keen to conclude an “early harvest” trade deal with some of these countries. This marks a departure from the trade protectionism that India has been practising over the past few years.

Must ReadFree Trade Agreements – Explained
How Early Harvest trade deals could run into trouble?

WTO’s principle of most favoured nation (MFN): An FTA where countries give preferential access to each other’s products at the cost of other countries is inconsistent with the MFN rule.

Conditions associated with FTAs: FTAs are subjected to certain conditions. For instance, eliminate customs duties and other trade barriers on “substantially all the trade” between the FTA member countries.

Although the meaning of “substantially all the trade” is not given in the agreement, it is evident that the FTA should cover a very high proportion of trade between the FTA member countries.

Leading to disputes: Any trade deal between WTO member countries that does not cover substantive trade between them will be vulnerable to a legal challenge at the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism.

Early Harvest deal: An early harvest deal is a precursor to an FTA, in which the trading partners reduce tariff barriers on limited goods to promote trade.

Most Favoured Nation is a treatment accorded to a trade partner to ensure non-discriminatory trade between two countries vis-a-vis other trade partners. Under WTO rules, a member country cannot discriminate between its trade partners. If a special status is granted to a trade partner, it must be extended to all members of the WTO.

What can be done to save the “early harvest” trade deals?

Design and present asinterim agreements”. GATT allow countries to sign interim agreements subject to certain conditions. Such as, India will have to show that it will not be able to enter into an FTA without the measure at issue, that is, without the “early harvest” trade deal.

Schedule for FTA. The interim agreement should include a plan or a schedule for the formation of an FTA within a reasonable period of time. It should be notified to WTO members, who can make recommendations if they believe that the interim agreement is not likely to lead to the formation of an FTA.


How banks can lose $60 billion to cybercash highways

Source: This post is based on the article “How banks can lose $60 billion to cybercash highways” published in Business Standard on 15th Sep 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Issues related to banking sector

Relevance: Digital currencies and international banking

Synopsis: Cross-border transfers are going to be more faster and economical.

Introduction

Currently, the cross-border transfers are both too slow and too expensive for retail customers. The monetary authorities of Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and South Africa have come together with the Bank for International Settlements on Project Dunbar.

It will explore the feasibility of a Model 3 expressway that can handle payments in multiple digital currencies. This is a cause of concern for banks as competing against a superior technology, lenders might lose traffic and $60 billion in fees.

What is Model 3 expressway?

Model 3 is a single distributed ledger, capable of handling multiple currencies, and settling the claims. It comes with inbuilt checks on money-laundering and a dedicated set of players jostling to offer foreign-exchange services at the best price.

Hong Kong and Thailand, together with China and the United Arab Emirates, are studying a bridging option for their digital currencies.

Once several such expressways are in place, banks’ profit from opaquely priced currency conversions and fat fees may vanish from retail transfers.

What are the planned models for easing international money transfer using digital currencies?

Officials are yet to decide on how their country’s digital cash will interact with other nations’ tokens in the future. The BIS sees three options.

Firstly, compatible standards, or Model 1

Secondly, interlinked Model 2 networks

Thirdly, a single Model 3 system handling multiple currencies. A money corridor with its own unified rulebook.

How the present system works?

Presently, your bank most likely will not have presence in the country where you’re trying to send money. Hence, it has to hold idle balances with a large institution that also has an account with the central bank of the recipient nation. The intermediary has to meet country-specific rules around money inflows and outflows.

This system is inefficient.

How Model 3 system shall work?

The current inefficient system of correspondent banking will become redundant if your bank simply takes $100 from your account, converts it into your home country’s tokens, and cryptographically tra­n­sfers them across the borders where they show up as $100 worth of digital cash in that nat­ion’s currency.

In the background, the sen­d­er bank’s account with its monet­ary authority is debited; the re­­c­ipient bank’s account, with a different central bank, gets credited.

How the Model 3 alternative may pose the biggest risk to the conventional money transfer business?

Banks charge 6.4% on a $200 outward remittance, on average, according to World Bank data. Nigerian, South African and Thai banks have some of the highest fees globally, according to Moody’s. A wider adoption of central bank digital currencies might shrink these fees “and would be credit negative for banks.

What are the challenges involved?

High level of integration required: It may require participating countries to jointly create a network operator.

Cheap Alternative options do exist. Banks are also considering a similar innovation for conventional electronic payments, which transfer liabilities of comm­ercial banks and not IOUs of central mone­tary authorities.

In more than 60 coun­tries, customers are now used to sending small sums at virtually zero cost from their bank accounts to one another and to merchants, knowing just a phone number or an email or after scanning a QR code.

Cross-border transfers are about to enter the fast lane, with or without digital currencies. If that plan progresses, remittances and e-commerce may become a lot cheaper than now.

Terms to know:


Big Lesson From Small Nation: On import substitution

Source: This post is based on the article “Big Lesson From Small Nation” published in TOI on 15th Sep 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Effects of Liberalization on the Economy, Changes in Industrial Policy and their Effects on Industrial Growth.

Relevance: Import liberalisation vs. Import substitution

Synopsis: Import substitution cannot deliver “Make in India for the World”. Lessons from Vietnam.

Introduction

In 2015, India decided to promote mobile phone industry through import substitution. The eventual goal was to make a success of “Make in India for the World”.

Though, there has been a significant expansion of domestic production of telephones since 2015, but the success is rather modest when measured against what Vietnam. Vietnams electronic goods exports stood at $122 billion in 2020 against India’s $12.8 billion.

How has Vietnam achieved this success?

Signing FTA’s: Indian leaders were constantly apprehensive of signing free trade agreements (FTAs) even with countries accounting for minuscule proportion of the country’s trade.

Whereas Vietnam has boldly embraced such economic giants as China and the European Union in FTAs. It also has FTAs with every single Asian country of any significance.

Reduced tariff due to FTA’s. For instance, consider the case of iPhone. The iPhone contains 1,600 components supplied by approximately 200 firms spread over 43 countries. Even small custom duties at each border-crossing can add up to large cost escalations. FTAs among countries playing host to suppliers eliminate this problem.

What are the consequences of high tariff on imported components?

i). Prices out consumers: A rising tariff not only allows progressively less-efficient producers to add to supply, it also prices out more and more consumers.

For instance, take the case of “Phased Manufacturing Programme” (PMP) scheme where the basic customs duty on the imports were increased to develop domestic industry.

The tariff undoubtedly encouraged domestic production of components but it also raised the cost of components for producers assembling them into smartphones.

Therefore, most of those who had entered assembly activity would be rendered uncompetitive after the imposition of the original tariff.

ii). Encourages smuggling: Further, the high tariff brings smugglers into business who pocket custom duty due on legal imports as their profit.

iii). Consumers lose: The biggest losers are consumers who must now pay higher prices, with some of them priced out of the market or forced into switching to inferior-quality smartphones.

iv). Encourages rentseekers: Another major consequence is, producers that enter production activity in response to high protection are likely to be predominantly rentseekers rather than risk-takers. It is a mistake to think that they would eventually turn into export powerhouses (Rent seeking is the fact or practice of manipulating public policy or economic conditions as a strategy for increasing profits)

What are the benefits of lower tariffs?

In the absence of increased tariffs India could benefit from the competitiveness of Local manufacturers who are involved in assembling the components.

Also, it allows manufacturers involved in assembly to compete against imported smartphones.


Can unicorns solve the country’s youth unemployment problem?

Source: This post is based on the article “Can unicorns solve the country’s youth unemployment problem?” published in Livemint on 15th September 2021.

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

Relevance: Unicorns are not a magical bullet for India’s unemployment problems.

Synopsis: Unicorns can make some impact and lessen youth unemployment, especially in urban India, but they can’t solve the country’s problem of job scarcity.

Introduction

In August 2021, India’s unemployment rate stood at 8.32%, worse than July’s rate of 6.96%, but similar to the rates recorded in August 2020 and August 2019, which were at 8.35% and 8.19%, respectively.

The trouble is that these broad numbers hide some major issues.

What are the hidden issues with the unemployment data?

There are two major issues:

i). India’s labour participation rate has been falling over the years. It was at 40.52% in August 2021. In August 2016, it had stood at 47.26%.

The labour participation rate is the size of India’s labour force as a proportion of the population aged 15 or above.

As per the CMIE formula, the labour force consists of people who are aged 15 years or more and are employed, or are unemployed and actively looking for a job. Hence, to be counted as unemployed, just being unemployed isn’t enough.

What does a falling labour participation rate indicate?

It shows that many individuals have stopped looking for a job and have simply dropped out of the labour force after not having been able to find one.

So, if the unemployment rate improves, it does so in the context of a labour force which isn’t as big as it possibly could be.

ii). Youth unemployment rate has risen: The country’s youth unemployment rate has risen rapidly in the last four years, from 15.66% in 2016-17 to 28.26% in 2020-21.

Youth: Individuals in the age-group of 15-29 are categorized as youth.

Employment situation has grown worse: The unemployment rate in August 2021 stood at 32.03%, which means almost every third youth in the country is unemployed. The rate for those in the 30-34 and 35-39 age brackets stood at 1.57% and 0.76%, respectively, which is as good as no unemployment.

The reason behind this phenomenon is that the state enrolment pays significantly better than the private sector at the lower and middle levels. Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo observed in their 2019 book that in the poorest countries, public sector workers earn more than double the average wage in the private sector and people may spend most of their working lives studying for those exams.

Why unicorns cannot solve the problem of unemployment?

Lower salaries than govt sector jobs: They are in a position to generate low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs, which the country badly requires but these jobs are not going to offer salaries anywhere near the kind that various arms of the government offer.

Huge demand for jobs. The CMIE data shows that the number of individuals who crossed the age of 15 from 2016-17 to 2020-21 was around 19.1 million per year, on an average. Even if half of them enter labour force, it will amount to demand of some 10 million jobs a year. And that is a big number.

Hence, unicorns can make some impact and lessen youth unemployment, especially in urban India, but they can’t solve the country’s problem of job scarcity.


Powering ahead in the future

Source: This post is based on the article “Powering ahead in the future” published in The Hindu on 15th September 2021. 

Syllabus: GS 3- Changes in Industrial Policy and their Effects on Industrial Growth.

Relevance: Problems and solutions regarding electric vehicles push in India.

Synopsis: Electric vehicles show great future. But the sellers of two-wheeler are showing reluctance in implementing electric vehicles module. We need to identify and overcome the problems. 

Introduction 

Regarding two-wheeler electrification in India, things are in the right direction. And their sales in India are likely to at least double in 2021 compared with 2020 levels. 

But even if that happens, Electric 2-Wheelers (E2Ws) will account for less than 1% of new two-wheeler sales.   This is due to the fact that most of the industry leaders in the two-wheeler segment are showing reluctance in offering electric vehicles. 

What is the present scenario wrt E2Ws in India?

Presently, several things are going right for the electric two wheeler electrification in India.

First, the government has increased the FAME-II incentives for electric two-wheelers (E2W) to ₹15,000/kWh.  

Second, more States such as Gujarat and Maharashtra have announced State-level electric vehicle incentives as part of their state policies.  

Third, many startups are launching new electric two-wheeler models.  

Despite all that, two wheeler manufacturers are dsiplaying hesitance in pushing E2Ws in the market.

How we can overcome reluctance? 

We can overcome this problem in two ways.  

Establish a zero emission vehicles (ZEV) credit programme. This requires manufacturers of vehicles to ensure that either a certain fraction of their sales are ZEVs or that they purchase ZEV credits from manufacturers who have sold more ZEVs than required by the credit programme. India can set up such programme through regulatory approaches. California and several U.S. States as well as China have used such an approach. 

Stringent standards: If CO2 standards are sufficiently stringent, mainstream manufacturers can introduce electric vehicles in meaningful numbers. 

What are the advantages of using E2Ws? 

E2W are cost effective on total cost of ownership basis today, and likely to reach upfront cost parity later this decade.

E2W will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It will also pave the way for India to transition completely to E2W across all two-wheeler segments by 2035. 


Partnership with US could help India meet renewable energy targets

Source: This post is based on the article ” Partnership with US could help India meet renewable energy targets ” published in The Indian Express on 15th September 2021 and “Positive Climate” published in The Hindu on 15th September 2021. 

Syllabus: GS 3- Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.  

Relevance: meeting India’s renewable energy targets 

Synopsis: India can achieve renewable energy targets efficiently by strengthening its partnership with US. The problems and challenges associated are discussed.

Introduction 

India’s front-line position as third highest emitter of greenhouse gases has sharpened focus on its future policy course to mitigate carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement.

There is escalating pressure for India to commit itself to a date when it can achieve net zero on the lines of the goal set by the U.S. and the European Union for mid-century, and 2060 by China.

US offer of assistance to help India meet its renewable energy-related targets is a significant step towards defining the contours of this partnership.

How Indo-US partnership can help India achieve its renewable energy goals?

The Partnership to Advance Clean Energy inked by the Barack Obama Administration and India in 2009 mobilised more than Rs 18,000 crore for clean energy initiatives in India.

In 2018, the two countries had launched an energy partnership that emphasised renewables and sustainable growth.

The Climate Action and Finance Mobilisation Dialogue (CAFMD) was recently launched by the US Special Envoy and Union environment minister. CAFMD departs from the earlier initiatives in its link with timebound climate-related goals. The US will give financial and technological assistance to India to achieve its target of deploying 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030.

The US Special Envoy has, in the past, indicated his country’s inclination to mobilise a consortium of international investors to fund India’s ambitious renewable energy transition.

What are the challenges associated with achieving renewable energy targets? 

Adaptation framework: The immediate challenge lies in coming up with an adaptation framework to help the millions living in the path of annual cyclones, including residents of populous coastal cities. 

Raising the ability of city administrations to handle tens of millions of litres of water regularly dumped in just a few days requires planning, funding and political commitment.

Making low-cost insurance available for houses against climate related losses will raise resilience, and lead to audits, encouraging governments to reduce risks.

These are growing problems, but they also represent an opportunity to steer post-COVID-19 policies towards benign, green development. For a low-emissions future, policies must put nature at the centre. 

What India needs to do to achieve renewable energy targets? 

Declaring a net zero plan under the Paris pact would impose expensive choices, particularly in energy production.  

Specific areas of cooperation to bring down emissions — in the expansion of transport, buildings and industry — and facilitating funding for 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030 can advance the India-U.S. Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership. 

India needs to get all States to mitigate emissions and help them adapt to climate-linked extreme weather and atmospheric pollution caused by fossil fuels. For that, the US will give financial and technological assistance to India to achieve its target of deploying 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030.


Faltering on privatisation

Source: This post is based on the article ” Faltering on privatisation ” published in the Business Standard on 14th September 2021. 

Syllabus: GS 3 – Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning, Mobilization of Resources, Growth, Development and Employment. 

Relevance: pushing disinvestment through proper policy incentives.

Synopsis: Despite ambitious disinvestment targets, the pace on this front has ben slow. Govt has tweaked tax laws to change that, but the government needs to approach disinvestment more strategically. Just modifying tax laws would not be enough. 

Introduction 

Recently government released new policy on strategic disinvestment in central public sector enterprises (CPSEs). The policy intends to keep a bare minimum presence of CPSEs in strategic sectors and privatise the rest or shut down.

The government classified sectors such as atomic energy, defence and space, transport, power and minerals, and financial services as strategic. A disinvestment target of Rs 1.75 trillion has been set. 

What has been the status of disinvestment? 

The government has raised about Rs 8,300 crore from disinvestment so far in 2021-22. The pace of disinvestment is slow and has not picked up.

What changes have been proposed?

Govt has now modified the tax law to make privatisation easier. According to a recent clarification issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, subject to conditions, Section 79 of the Income-Tax Act will not apply to CPSEs undergoing strategic disinvestment.

Consequently, the buyer of a loss-making CPSE will be able to carry forward accumulated losses and unabsorbed depreciation. This will allow the new owner to offset these against future profits.

Benefits: The change will make loss-making CPSEs on the block comparatively attractive. A profitable company would be able to save taxes after acquiring a loss-making CPSE. There are two issues worth highlighting here. 

What are the issues in making recent changes? 

First, although the option of tax adjustment against accumulated losses of CPSEs might increase their valuation, the exchequer will lose out in terms of future tax flows. Thus, a higher valuation may only be optical and eventually result in little or no fiscal gains.  

Second, creating special provisions for CPSEs distorts the market and is against the basic idea of a functioning market economy. For instance, the government recently decided to exempt listed CPSEs from the shareholding norms. 

On what lines government should make policy on privatization? 

The government needs to ensure that privatisation programme is not suffering because of tax rules. The government needs conviction and a road map to proceed on the privatisation path. 

It needs a clear and transparent mechanism to value loss-making unlisted CPSEs.

Further, it needs to have a clear plan for the employees of CPSEs as their terms of employment may change radically after privatisation.

There should be a ready list of CPSEs to be privatised over the medium term, which will allow addressing potential problems in different firms well in advance. 


Behind the Great Indian Internet Shutdown

Source: This post is based on the article ”Behind the Great Indian Internet Shutdown” published in The Hindu on 15th September 2021.

 Syllabus: GS 3 – role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges.

Relevance: To understand how internet shutdowns impact India.

Synopsis: Despite the laws and Supreme Court guidelines, internet shutdowns are common in India. Let us see their impact and the means to handle them properly.

Introduction:

This article highlights the unjudicial use of Internet lockdown by the government. India’s Internet restrictions also accounted for more than 70% of the total loss to the global economy in 2020. India is also infamous as the Internet shutdown capital of the world.

What is the court judgement?

Anuradha Bhasin vs union of India: SC ruled that access to information via the Internet is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution. It held that restriction on Internet access by the Government must be temporary, limited in scope, lawful, necessary and proportionate. The Court stated that the Government’s orders restricting Internet access are subject to review by courts.

The guiding principle behind this was that the ban should be used as an emergency measure and a short-term measure.

What are the recent Restrictions imposed by the government?

Internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir:  According to an Internet shutdown tracker maintained by the Software Freedom Law Centre, the government of J&K suspended Internet services on five other separate occasions. The suspension orders for the same were not uploaded on the government’s websites

Internet shutdowns in Haryana: Internet was shut down due to the ongoing farmer protests.

In this case, the governments have published the orders restricting access to the internet. Haryana’s orders are on social media but have not been uploaded on government websites.

How does Government justify the Internet shutdown?

Internet restrictions are often justified on the ground that they are limited to mobile data services. According to a 2019 Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) report on Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators, mobile device users constitute 97.02% of total Internet users and only 3% of users have access to broadband Internet. Thus, internet restrictions adversely affect those from lower socio-economic backgrounds more, as they primarily use mobile as source for accessing the internet.

How did it erode the public trust?

Non-publication of orders: Aggrieved person cannot approach a court of law to question an order’s legality in the absence of the order. At best, courts may direct the Government to produce the order. This enables the Government to get away with illegal restrictions.

Statutory recognition: Union Government has also not done enough to give statutory recognition to the directions provided by the Anuradha Bhasin case. In 2020, it amended the Telecom Suspension Rules, 2017 to limit Internet suspension orders to a maximum of 15 days. However, the amendment did not include an obligation on the Government to publish orders nor did it include the Supreme Court’s direction to undertake periodic review of these orders.

What is the impact of Internet Lockdown?

Loss of economy: Indian economy suffered losses to the tune of $2.8 billion due to 129 separate instances of Internet suspension, which affected 10.3 million individuals.

The social-economic-psychological harm from the ban far outweighs its benefits.

Moreover, the free flow of information is in fact vital to check and curb any rumours.

What should be the way forward?

Thus, the Supreme Court, in Anuradha Bhasin case, permitted the Government to restrict Internet access only in limited circumstances. So, faithful compliance with the Supreme Court is needed to get rid ourselves of the tag of the “internet shutdown capital” of the world and fulfil Digital India’s potential.

Terms to know


Should Facebook let the Taliban post

Source: This post is based on the article “Should Facebook let the Taliban post?“ published in Indian Express on 15th September 2021.

Syllabus: GS-3- Security Issues – the role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges.

Relevance: How policies of global media giants impact the world.

Synopsis: With the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, it raised many issues, including how the digital media giants will handle their communication and posts.

Introduction

Recently, a Pakistani blog Hum Sab was banned by Facebook for posting comments on the Taliban. Given that the Taliban is now in power in Afghanistan, can Facebook ban an entire government and its functionaries from using the platform?

What are the factors that complicate how media houses will handle the Taliban?

Some confusion comes from US policy itself. Many of the Afghan Taliban are on the US Sanctions list under the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulation. But they are not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.

This was done for political reasons, as the USA wanted to keep the communication channels open with the powerful Taliban group. These designations affect how social media platforms approach the Taliban differently.

How different platforms are handling the issue?

Facebook divides its Community Standards related to “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” into three tiers, with the first being the most stringent. The section of Tier 1 relevant to the Afghan Taliban states: “including terrorist organizations, including entities and individuals designated by the United States government as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) or Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).” Thus, Facebook is very stringent on the Taliban.

Twitter has allowed more freedom to the Taliban.  Twitter’s “Violent Organizations Policy” moderates content on a post-by-post basis rather than a blanket ban on the organization. In the past, Twitter has been under fire regarding its policies toward the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Twitter responded by saying that it respected US law, but it made an exception for “groups with representatives who have been elected to public office through elections, as is the case with parts of Hamas and Hezbollah.”

However, at times the policies turn out to be contradictory.

What are the challenges posed by the policies of media platforms?

At times, the policies can backfire. For example, Twitter banned Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari for using abusive language. The president then banned Twitter from Nigeria itself. This was bad news for people as the platform was used by various human rights groups to highlight their cause in Nigeria.

Another threat posed by these platforms is that they are USA-based. They work based on US Foreign Terrorist Organization and sanctions lists that are by definition intended to achieve US foreign policy interests. As a result, people in politically contested areas, such as Palestine, end up being silenced

There are also double standards toward content in the global south as opposed to in the West. This was pointed out by the Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan in a recent letter to Facebook. Facebook is quick to take action against posts about the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. But the same content is allowed for users in the United States.

What should be the way forward?

Given the complexity of global standards, the media platforms should seek to provide fair and equal rules for all members of the global community and should give up their double standards.

Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)

Food Systems Summit: ‘Supports to farmers keeping the world away from SDGs and the Paris Agreement’

What is the news?

On September 14, three UN agencies — Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) — released A multi-billion-dollar opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems report.

About the report

The report analysed countries’ support to farmers and the consequent adverse impacts on food prices, environment, global warming and farmers, specifically smallholders.

It was released on the eve of the Food Systems Summit September 23, 2021 and is a part of the process to speed up progress on all the 17 UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

It focuses on the countries’ support to farmers that distort prices, encourage emission-intensive agriculture resulting in global warming and make the global agriculture trade an unequal one for the vast smallholder farmers.

What are the findings of the report?

Currently, countries pump in $540 billion a year as support to farmers. This is expected to triple by 2030 to $1.759 trillion. Yet 87% of this support, approximately $470 billion, is price distorting and environmentally and socially harmful. Of this, only $110 billion was used to support infrastructure, research and development and benefitted the general food and agriculture sector.

Firstly, the agricultural support system, in form of price incentives and fiscal subsidies, is not helping the farmers as it should have. Rather, it is keeping us away from SDGs and the Paris Agreement

Secondly, most of the support was targeted at a few commodities thus not benefiting all farmers.

Thirdly, the support was for the most emission-intensive sectors like sugar and the beef production chain; and third, the current support systems had invariably helped corporates more than producers.

India:

The farming sector in India has been largely penalised over the last 20 years, due to the strong focus of Indian agricultural policy on protecting consumers by ensuring affordable food prices. This is also known as “taxing” the farmers

What are the recommendations?

The report’s call was not to eliminate support but to repurpose it away from emission-intensive and environment unfriendly sectors.

The report had a six-step recommendation to start the repurposing process.

For governments, it suggested:

i). Measuring the support provided

ii). Understanding its positive and negative impacts

iii). Identifying repurposing options

iv). Forecasting their impacts

v). Refining the proposed strategy and detailing its implementation plan

vi). Monitoring the implemented strategy

Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement requires shifting support especially in high-income countries for an outsized meat and dairy industry, which accounts for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In lower-income countries, governments should consider repurposing their support for toxic pesticides and fertilizers or the growth of monocultures.

Source: This post is based on the articles “Food Systems Summit: ‘Supports to farmers keeping the world away from SDGs and the Paris Agreement” and “Food Systems Summit: How government is robbing billions of dollars from farmers” published in Down to Earth on 14th Sep 2021.


Pandemic blues: Lower court pendency at record 4cr now

What is the News?

The Pendency of cases in lower courts has crossed the four-crore mark for the first time.

Pendency of Cases in Judiciary
Pending cases
Source: TOI

The total pending cases in district and subordinate courts stands at above 4 crores currently. But, it was 3.2 crores at the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020. 

If we include the Supreme Court and 25 high courts, the pendency of cases has reached 4.6 crores from 3.7 crores in March 2020.

Among these, the Supreme Court(SC) alone has 70,000 cases currently pending, which was 60,600 in March 2020.

Reasons for increase in Pendency of Cases in Judiciary

Inability to adapt to Digital Format: Inability of the justice delivery system to adapt to the new challenges and swiftly migrate to the digital format and the e-courts system. 

Hesitancy From Bar Associations to accept e-courts: After the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, there had been an initial hesitancy and reluctance from the Bar associations in several states who refused to accept e-courts and digital hearings. 

Vacancies: Against a sanctioned strength of 24,490 judges in district and subordinate courts, the current strength of these courts is 19,367. Moreover, the 25 High Courts(HCs) with 465 vacant posts of judges is the worst in history. 

What are the recent steps taken to reduce Pendency?

A software is being used by courts to accept e-filing, e-pay of court fees, and issue of e-summons. 

The Law Ministry with the help of the e-committee of SC has formed a subcommittee consisting of seven judges of high courts for drafting model e-registers which will replace manual ones. 

Another subcommittee comprising HC judges and domain experts has been formed to extend e-court benefits to three identified marginalised sections — women, the LGBTQIA+ community and persons with disabilities.

Source:  This post is based on the article “Pandemic blues: Lower court pendency at record 4cr now” published in TOI on 15th September 2021.


Centre urges Indian companies to join “Leadership Group for Industry Transition”

What is the News?

The Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change has urged Indian companies to join the Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT) Initiative.

About Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT)

Launched by: Government of Sweden and India at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019 with the support from World Economic Forum.

Aim: The group gathers countries and companies that are committed to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement by reaching net-zero carbon emissions from industry by 2050.

What does the LeadIT Group do?

The group ​​provides an arena for public-private collaboration for sectoral and cross-sectoral learning when it comes to innovation opportunities and new technologies. 

It also enables collaboration between political and industry decision-makers by convening high-level dialogues to catalyze leadership.

Moreover, it also supports governments and industries to co-produce stakeholder-led pathways to low carbon industry transformation.

Members: Currently, the Group has a membership of 16 countries and 19 companies, including Dalmia Cement, Mahindra Group and SpiceJet from India.

Secretariat: The LeadIT Secretariat is responsible for managing the work of the Leadership Group and is hosted by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

Source: This post is based on the articleCentre urges Indian companies to join “Leadership Group for Industry Transition”” published in PIB on 14th September 2021.


The legacy of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, and his contribution to the building of AMU

What is the News?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University in Aligarh, UP.

About Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh:

Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh was born in 1886. He was a freedom fighter, social reformer and an internationalist. 

What are the contributions Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh?

He gave up his own residence in Mathura, UP to be converted into a technical school named Prem Mahavidyalaya in 1909. It is said to have been the country’s first polytechnic college.

He established a “Provisional Government of India” at Bagh-e-Babur in Kabul in the middle of World War I in 1915. He declared himself president and his fiery fellow revolutionary Maulana Barkatullah of Bhopal, prime minister, of the Provisional Government.

However, as the British government targeted him for his activities, later he based himself in Japan.

In 1929, he launched the World Federation in Berlin. Moreover, he was also nominated for the 1932 Nobel Peace Prize.

He returned to India a year before Independence and immediately began work with Mahatma Gandhi. In free India, he diligently pursued his ideal of Panchayati Raj.

He also won Lok Sabha elections as an Independent candidate from Mathura in 1957.

Connection with Aligarh Muslim University

Raja Mahendra Pratap went to the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, which later came to be called Aligarh Muslim University.

Although he was unable to complete his graduation from the institution, Raja Mahendra Pratap’s name is counted among the prominent alumni of the university.

Moreover, his family was close to the educationist and reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University. Hence, the family is said to have given land to set up the university.

Source: This post is based on the articleThe legacy of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, and his contribution to the building of AMUpublished in Indian Express on 15th September 2021.


Israeli firm unveils armed robot to patrol volatile borders

What is the News?

Israel Aerospace Industries has launched a remote-controlled armed robot named “REX MKII”.

About REX MKII

REX MKII is a remote-controlled armed robot that can patrol battle zones, track infiltrators and open fire.  

It is operated by an electronic tablet and can be equipped with two machine guns, cameras and sensors. It can also run autonomously.

The robot can gather intelligence for ground troops, carry injured soldiers and supplies in and out of battle and strike nearby targets.

Concerns with remote-controlled armed robots

Critics have raised concerns that robotic weapons could decide on their own, perhaps erroneously to shoot targets.

Source: This post is based on the articleIsraeli firm unveils armed robot to patrol volatile borders published in Indian Express on 15th September 2021.


US activists, politicians demand FDA reclassify ‘Toxic 3 Os’ used in sunscreen

What is the News?

A coalition of environmental groups, community leaders, academics and businesses in the USA have filed a petition seeking the removal of sunscreen products containing what they call “the Toxic 3 Os.”

What are Toxic 3 Os?

Toxic 3 Os are three chemicals namely Oxybenzone, Octinoxate and Octocrylene.

These chemicals are active ingredients present in more than two-thirds of all sunscreens.

They are considered harmful as they pose a threat to public health, marine life and coral reefs.

How does Toxic 3 Os pose a threat?

Firstly, Octocrylene in sun protection products degrades into benzophenone, a carcinogen that can also interfere with key hormones and reproductive organs. 

Secondly, they cause human cell damage that has been linked to cancer, disrupt hormones, have been found in breast milk, blood and urine and are known allergens.

Thirdly, these chemicals are also devastating to coral reefs and marine life. They wash off people’s bodies when they swim and contaminate through wastewater runoff and cause ‘zombie’ coral, coral bleaching as well as other issues.

Note: Zombie Corals are corals that looks healthy but is unable to reproduce, 

Lastly, they are also detrimental when there is fishing in contaminated waters, impacting human health and the economy.

Source: This post is based on the article “US activists, politicians demand FDA reclassify ‘Toxic 3 Os’ used in sunscreen” published in Down To Earth on 15th September 2021.


Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare signs 5 MOUs with private companies for taking forward Digital Agriculture

What is the News?

Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has signed five Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with private corporations to advance digital agriculture.

What is Digital Agriculture?

Digital agriculture is the use of new and advanced technologies, integrated into one system, to enable farmers and other stakeholders within the agriculture value chain to improve food production.

Digital agriculture has the potential to make agriculture more productive, more consistent and to use time and resources more efficiently. 

About Digital Agriculture mission

Launched by: Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare 

Aim: To achieve rapid development in the Indian Agriculture Sector through the use of the latest technologies. These include technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, remote sensing and Geographic information systems technology (GIS), usage of drones and robotics.

Duration of the mission: 2021 -2025.

About Farmers Database

For better planning, monitoring, policymaking, strategy formulation and smooth implementation of schemes for the farmers, a nationwide Farmer’s Database linked with land records is being created with the following objective:

  • Develop a nationwide database of farmers 
  • Keep a record of unique farmers. 
  • Unique farmer ID (FID) to uniquely identify a farmer 
  • To know benefits availed by a farmer under various schemes

This Centralized Farmers Database shall be useful for various activities like issuing soil health cards, dissemination of crop advisories to the farmers, precision farming, smart cards for farmers to facilitate e-governance, crop insurance, settlement of compensation- claims, grant of agricultural subsidies, community/village resource centres etc.  

So far, the database is ready with details of around 5.5 crore farmers.

Source: This post is based on the articleMinistry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare signs 5 MOUs with private companies for taking forward Digital Agriculture published in PIB on 14th September 2021


India, UK aim to launch FTA negotiations by November 1

What is the News?

India and the UK are planning to begin the negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement(FTA) by November 2021.

About India-UK FTA
Source: Business Standard

India and the UK are planning to sign an interim trade deal by March 2022 which will be followed by a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement(FTA).

The interim trade pact would involve early tariff or market access concessions on certain key ‘high priority products and services.

Click Here to Read about India-UK Trade Relations

What are the key expectations linked with India-UK FTA?

Tariff barriers:

Under this, the UK would expect India to bring down tariffs on certain key UK export items such as food and drinks (including scotch and whiskey), automotive, chemicals and life sciences (including pharmaceuticals and medical devices).

On the other hand, India would expect greater market access for its engineering and auto components, readymade garments, gems and jewellery, food and agricultural products. 

Non-tariff and technical barriers

Under this, India would expect the UK to be relatively more flexible with respect to the WTO-plus sanitary and phytosanitary requirements (food safety, animal and plant health standards) as applied by it on Indian food, agricultural and marine products.

The UK on the other hand would expect India to remove sectoral, non-tariff and technical barriers. In addition, the UK would also expect India to strengthen its Intellectual Property(IP) regime.

Trade in Services: 

The UK is likely to focus on a more liberal Mode 3 access (cross-border investment and commercial presence) for information, communications and technology (ICT), educational, financial, telecom, travel, retail and energy related services. 

On the other hand, India has a greater comparative advantage in professional and computer-related services. Hence, it is likely to seek a more liberal Mode 4 access (movement and presence of professionals and students).

Source: This post is based on the articleIndia, UK aim to launch FTA negotiations by November 1 published in PIB on 14th September 2021.


Developed countries seek to end export financing for coal

What is the News?

The US, European Union, South Korea and other countries are planning to forbid their export-financing agencies from supporting coal-fired power projects overseas.

What is the issue?

The US, EU and other countries are planning to put a proposal at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) to take a tough position against coal.

These countries have proposed to end export credit financing for the construction of coal-fired power plants that aren’t equipped with technology to capture and store the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. 

However, Australia, Turkey, Japan and New Zealand have yet to support the proposal. This is because Australia is one of the world’s biggest coal miners while Turkey has never signed the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

Note: OECD oversees an agreement governing export-credit agencies which provide financing for overseas customers of the countries’ domestic firms. The US, the 27 nations of the EU, the UK, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and Turkey are signatories of the deal.

Impact of this Proposed Ban

The proposal would have limited practical impact as financing for coal-fired power by the parties of the OECD countries has reduced in recent years. 

Moreover, Cheap natural gas and the falling cost of renewables in recent years made other kinds of electricity generation more attractive.

Note: At the recent G20 meeting, China, India and a few other developing countries have refused to back a deadline for ending international financing of coal-power plants or a phaseout of subsidies for fossil fuels. Both countries rely heavily on coal-fired electricity.

Source: This post is based on the article “Developed countries seek to end export financing for coal” published in Livemint on 15th September 2021.


 

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