9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – September 22nd, 2021

Dear Friends,
We have initiated some changes in the 9 PM Brief and other postings related to current affairs. What we sought to do:

  1. Ensure that all relevant facts, data, and arguments from today’s newspaper are readily available to you.
  2. We have widened the sources to provide you with content that is more than enough and adds value not just for GS but also for essay writing. Hence, the 9 PM brief now covers the following newspapers:
    1. The Hindu  
    2. Indian Express  
    3. Livemint  
    4. Business Standard  
    5. Times of India 
  3. We have also introduced the relevance part to every article. This ensures that you know why a particular article is important.
  4. Since these changes are new, so initially the number of articles might increase, but they’ll go down over time.
  5. It is our endeavor to provide you with the best content and your feedback is essential for the same. We will be anticipating your feedback and ensure the blog serves as an optimal medium of learning for all the aspirants.
  • For previous editions of 9 PM BriefClick Here
  • For individual articles of 9 PM BriefClick Here

Mains Oriented Articles 

GS Paper 2

GS Paper 3

Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly) 

Mains Oriented Articles

GS Paper 2

What counts is seldom counted: About Census

Source: This post is based on “What counts is seldom counted” published in The Indian Express on 22nd August 2021.

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

Relevance: Understand the issue of census and caste census

Synopsis: The census in India has been postponed due to the pandemic. Such events are rare. This also opens up the opportunity to discuss utility and changes to the census.

Introduction

It is surprising that while India is debating the caste census, the regular census has not been conducted yet. In fact, it is the first time since the exercise started that a census has not been conducted.

Why census is essential?

The census provides a lot of useful information. It categorizes the data into the residence, age, gender etc. It also provides two units or levels of analysis – individual level and household level. So, the census has great utility as the data generated can be used for evidence-based policymaking.

What are the factors leading to the under or non-utilization of census data?

To begin with we need to improve the design of the census and add more collection points than just name, age, gender etc. The census can be further digitized, which will help in ensuring better quality, coverage and quick results for the survey data.

Its importance is diminished when various ministries carry out their own large-scale surveys. Moreover, all these suffer from the same fundamental flaw that data is not made available in the public domain in time. For example, data on internal migration which was collected in 2011 was only released in 2016-17.

Even after all this, there is a lack of interest by the scientific community in exploring and using this data.

What is the challenge of enumerating caste in the census?

Adding caste to census data will cement caste as an identity in India. This can lead to politicians using the data to patronize the electorate and created/deepen the social divides.

Read more: Caste based census in India – Explained, pointwise
What should be the way forward?

We have to ensure that the data collected has wide acceptability in society, and the issues like having caste data in the census have to be well debated. Further, we should take steps to increase the utilization of census data for evidence-based policymaking.


Creating citizen centric police

Source: This post is based on “Creating citizen-centric police” published in The Indian Express on 22nd August 2021.

Syllabus: GS 2 Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Relevance: Understand the issue of police reforms.

Synopsis: Despite Prakash Singh’s judgement on police reforms, the reforms largely remain on paper. Thus, this demands a closer and deeper analysis.

Introduction

On September 22, 2006, in the historic Judgement in the Prakash Singh case, the Supreme Court gave significant direction for police reforms. If implemented, these can have a transformative effect on the functioning of the police in India. It is for this reason that September 22 needs to be celebrated as “Police Reforms Day”.

What are the challenges facing police reforms?

The biggest challenge is the public awareness of the issue. While there is huge public uproar for crimes like Rape, but soon the issue dies down and the root cause is never addressed. And if any attempts are made they are thwarted by the nexus of police bureaucrats politicians. Considering all these, SC in the Prakash Singh case had issued directions for police reforms.

What were the recommendations given by the Supreme Court?

Policy formulation: Security commissions at center and states for policy-making at both levels. This would protect police from political pressures.

Workload: The ‘Status of Police in India Report 2019’ (SPIR) by Common Cause, Lokniti pointed that police are overworked with average working hours of 14 hours per day. To reduce this burden, the SC recommended the separation of police and investigation functions.

Postings: Establishment Boards for unbiased postings, transfers, promotions and other matters regarding police officers. It involved UPSC for the selection of heads of state police forces.

Complaint authorities: “complaint authorities” has to be established at district and state levels for an impartial and independent inquiry into complaints of misconduct against police officers.

Despite such reforms coming directly from the Supreme Court, their implementation has been slow.

Must read: Challenges associated with the functioning of Police – Explained, pointwise
What should be the way forward?

The politicians seek to maintain their hold on Police and also patronize the criminals. Thus, the best way forward would be to create public awareness to hold the elected representatives accountable for the implementation of police reforms.


India warns of reciprocal measures if UK doesnt recognise COVISHIELD

Source: This post is based on the following articles

  • Small minded Great Britain: UK’s refusal to recognise Covishield is inexplicable and a terrible signal” published in Times of India on 21st September 2021.
  • India warns of ‘reciprocal measures’ if UK doesn’t recognise Covishield” published in Times of India on 22nd September 2021.
  • UK’s restrictions on travellers inoculated with Covishield are ill-informed. India must use diplomacy to clear impasse” published in Indian Expresson 22nd September 2021.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests.

Relevance: To understand the issue of vaccine discrimination.

Synopsis: The UK seems to have adopted a discriminatory policy towards Indian manufactured Covishield. This has not gone down well within India.

Introduction

Recently, UK released new post-Covid travel rules. According to the new rules, fully vaccinated (Covshield vaccinated) individuals will be considered ‘unvaccinated’ and will have to undergo mandatory self-isolation.

Why new UK rules are considered discriminatory?

Under the new rules, UK did not recognise the Indian Covishield vaccine even though it recognises the Oxford AstraZeneca shots manufactured under a different brand name, Vaxzevria.

We need to understand that the Indian manufactured Covishield vaccine is the same as the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. It is a variant of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab. The only difference between the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and Covishield is the place where the vaccine was manufactured and administered. In fact, India also supplied 5 million doses of Covishield to the UK at its request.

Apart from this, Covishield has been recognised by World Health Organisation(WHO) as safe. In fact, it meets the vaccine requirement of 18 EU countries.

What is the impact of the new UK policy?

This move will impact India and other developing nations that have been administering the Covishield vaccine. This might even fuel vaccine-hesitancy, as people would wait for the vaccines that are globally approved.

What should be the way forward?

The best way forward is to push the UK diplomatically to reverse its ill-informed rule. Else, India might be forced to take retaliatory and reciprocal action.


GS Paper 3

Swooping down on algorithms

Source: This post is based on the article “Swooping down on algorithms” published in The Hindu on 22nd Sep 2021.

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

Relevance: Understanding the need to regulate Algorithmic decision-making

Synopsis: China’s draft rules on regulating recommendation algorithms address pressing issues. Lessons for India.

Introduction

China has pursued aggressive measures in its tech sector in the past few months. A host of legislative instruments are in the process of being adopted, including the Personal Information Protection Law, the Cybersecurity Law, and the draft Internet Information Service Algorithm Recommendation Management Provisions.

The Management Provisions, released by the Cyberspace Administration of China, are possibly the most interesting and groundbreaking interventions among the new set of legislative instruments.

What are China’s management provisions?

The draft Internet Information Service Algorithm Recommendation Management Provisions lay down the processes and mandates for the regulation of recommendation algorithms.

Provisions attempt to address the concerns of individuals and society such as user autonomy, economic harms, discrimination, and the prevalence of false information.

The draft says users should be allowed to audit and change the user tags employed by the algorithms to filter content to be presented to them.

Through this, the draft aims to limit classifications that the user finds objectionable, thereby allowing the user to choose what to be presented with. This also has ripple effects in platformised gig work, where the gig worker can understand the basis of gigs presented to her.

What are recommendation algorithms?

Recommendation algorithms are widely employed in e-commerce platforms, social media feeds and gig work platforms.

How do recommendation algorithms work?

Such an algorithm helps a user navigate information overload and presents content that it deems more relevant to the user.

These algorithms learn from user demographics, behavioral patterns, location of the user, the interests of other users accessing similar content, etc., to deliver content.

What are some negative implications of such algorithms?

Such recommendation algorithms limit user autonomy, as the user has little opportunity to choose what content to be presented with.

Algorithms tend to have certain inherent biases which are learned from their modelling or the data they encounter. This often leads to discriminatory practices against users.

What lessons can India take from this?

Regulating algorithms is unavoidable and necessary. The world is lagging in such initiatives and China is hoping to emerge as a leader. The regulatory mechanism institutionalises algorithmic audits and supervision, a probable first in the world.

It is high time for India to invest better and speed up legislative action on the regulation of data, and initiate a conversation around the regulation of algorithms. India should strive to achieve this without copying China.

India must act fast to resolve the legal and social ills of algorithmic decision-making.

Policymakers should ensure that freedoms, rights and social security, and not rhetoric, inform policy changes.

What is the way forward?

Algorithms are as fundamental to the modern economy as engines to the industrial economy. A one-size-fits-all algorithm regulation fails to take into account the dynamic nature of markets.

An ideal regime should have goals-based legislation that can lay down the regulatory norms for algorithms. Such legislation must aim to lay down normative standards that algorithmic decision-making must adhere to.

This should be complemented by sectoral regulation that accounts for the complexities of markets.


Focus on agri-exports

Source: This post is based on the article “Focus on agri-exports” published in Business Standard on 22nd September 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Issues related to Agriculture

Relevance: Agri exports and Doubling farmers income

Synopsis: Reforms that needs to be undertaken to achieve full potential of Agri exports in India

Introduction

The pandemic-driven supply shortage of farm goods and the resultant inc in price in the global market had given India an opportunity to strengthen its Agri-exports.

Consequently, rice exports almost doubled to an all-time high of 9.5 million tonnes and those of wheat by over 2 million tonnes last year. But such bonanzas cannot be expected to endure for long.

In this regard, to support exporters, the government is planning to reintroduce transport and marketing support for agricultural exports.

It will help exporters to cope with high freight costs and other logistical constraints. But this step alone may not suffice to lift farm exports to the desired extent.

Other measures, aimed specifically at upgrading the quality and enhancing cost competitiveness of farm products, are equally vital.

How Agri exports have fared in India?

India has traditionally enjoyed a positive trade balance in agriculture, but the present level of Agri-exports is just around half the potential.

Farm exports in 2020 were around $42 billion, whereas the current potential, as assessed by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, is around $80 billion.

The country’s first dedicated Agricultural Exports Policy, announced in 2018, had set an even more ambitious export target of $100 billion.

The annual growth of Agri-exports, is merely 2.5% in 2020. This rate needs to go up substantially to provide an outlet to surplus agricultural produce and increase farmers’ income.

What needs to be done?

Need to diversify the range of products as well as export destinations: At present, only limited categories of agricultural products are shipped abroad. Example, rice (chiefly Basmati rice), meat (mainly buffalo meat), marine products (primarily shrimp), sugar, spices, certain types of cotton, and select vegetables and fruit. This range would need to be expanded to tap additional markets.

Public Investments in Agri infrastructure: A prerequisite for consolidating the country’s foothold in the agri-export market is to increase the infrastructure for post-harvest management, storage, and the transportation of export-bound farm produce.

Structural reforms: According to a joint report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and YES Bank the following reforms are suggested.

– Export-friendly policy environment

– World standard quality assurance facilities,

– A system to facilitate traceability,

– Greater private investment in the export-oriented Agri-processing industry.

– Need to enhance the export-worthiness of small farmers’ produce through value-addition.

– Backward and forward linkages small farmers to  link them directly with processing units and exporters.

– Building Indian brands and project India as a reliable supplier.


Jack Ma’s point on collateral-free lending holds relevance in India

Source: This post is based on the article “Jack Ma’s point on collateral-free lending holds relevance in India” published in Livemint on 22nd September 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Issues related to mobilisation of resources

Relevance: Linkage between credit and Growth.

Synopsis: The opportunities that cash-flow-based lending offer can have a profound influence on easing some of the constraints on smaller enterprises

Introduction

Some of the points made by Jack Ma on digital finance at the Bund Finance Summit are worth reading in the context of the progress made in Indian digital finance over the past few years.

What criticism did Jack Ma levy on traditional credit disbursal?

He described the current system of credit disbursal by bank, based on collateral as “pawnshop mentality”.  He stated that though this was necessary for banks development but is now at odds with the possibilities of new forms of lending.

According to Jack ma, collateralization with a pawnshop mentality is not going to support the financial needs of the world’s development over the next 30 years.

What alternative did he suggest?

He wants to replace this pawnshop mentality with a credit-based system rooted in big data using today’s technological capabilities.

This credit-based system is not built on traditional IT, not based on a personal relationship-driven society, but must be built on big data, in order to truly make credit equal wealth.

Why Jack Ma’s vision holds significance for India?

These remarks on the need to move from a lending system based on collateral to one based on big data are significant especially at a time when India has inaugurated an account-aggregator system.

It will help small businesses with inadequate collateral or credit histories access credit at far lower rates than they do now.

Account aggregators working through a secure public credit registry can do for the credit sector, what the United Payments Interface (UPI) has done for retail payments in India.

How the shift towards cash-flow-based lending can revolutionise Indian economy?

Access to cheap credit for small businesses: There is ample research to show that tiny enterprises pay interest rates that are far higher than what their default rates predict. By easing these credit constraints, the account-aggregator system can lend to small enterprises that have some digital and tax footprints. Lenders can access data on bank statements, GST returns, personal spending, etc., to price loans to enterprises they would earlier stay away from.

Will help to overcome ‘the De Soto Effect’: De Soto effect states that the global poor working in tiny informal enterprises are in effect shut out of the formal credit system. Hence, they are forced to live in poverty, because a lack of clear property rights makes it difficult for them to offer their land assets as collateral to banks.

A slum dweller with no formal land title thus has to depend on informal sources of money that leave her with little to reinvest in the business.

It is quite likely that a successful shift to lending based on borrower cash-flows will ease the credit constraints on informal enterprises.

Can ease the formalisation process in India: Formalization of the Indian economy is under overdue. One suggestion to enable fromalisation process is, by closing the domestic productivity gap.  The informal enterprises should grow in scale that allows them to close their productivity gap with larger firms in the organized sector.

However, credit constraints are part of the reason why small firms fail to scale up in India, which employ most Indians who have left farming behind. Cash-flow-based lending can help in this regard.


Changing the agri exports basket

Source: This post is based on the article “Changing the agri exports basket” published in The Hindu on 22nd September 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 –  Food Processing and Related Industries in India

Relevance: Doubling agri-exports

Synopsis: India has the potential to become a global leader in the food processing sector, by making changes to Agri export basket.

Introduction

The Indian government has been encouraging agricultural exports to meet an ambitious target of $60bn by 2022.

What is the current scenario of agriculture?

Growing exports: The Ministry of Food Processing Industries shows that the contribution of agricultural and processed food products in India’s total exports is 11%. But the majority share is of primary processed agricultural commodities.

Shift in India agricultural economy: It is shifting from primary to secondary agriculture, where the focus is more on developing various processed foods. The Indian food processing industry promises high economic growth and makes good profits.

How export from agricultural sector has evolved over the years?

Processed foods: India’s agricultural export basket is changing from traditional commodities to non-traditional processed foods.

Shift from traditional exports: for instance, Basmati rice is one of the top export commodities. However, now there is an unusual spike in the export of non-basmati rice. In 2020-21, India exported 13.09 million tonnes of non-basmati rice, up from an average 6.9 million tonnes in the previous five years.

In 2020-21, the export of poultry, sheep and goat meat, cashew kernels, groundnuts, guar gum, and cocoa products went down in terms of value and total quantity.

Indian buffalo meat: it is seeing a strong demand in international markets due to its lean character and near organic nature. The export potential of buffalo meat is tremendous.

Focus on high value exports: The main objective of the Agriculture Export Policy is to diversify and expand the export basket so that instead of primary products, the export of higher value items, including perishables and processed food, be increased.

What are the challenges still existing?

The export of processed food products has not been growing fast: India lacks comparative advantage in many items. The domestic prices of processed food products are much higher compared to the world reference prices.

Trade restrictions: Non-tariff measures imposed by other countries on Indian exports. Such as, mandatory pre-shipment examination by the Export Inspection Agency, compulsory spice board certification for ready-to-eat products which contain spices in small quantities, prohibition of import of meat- and dairy based-products in most of the developed countries and withdrawal of the Generalised System of Preference by the U.S.

Lack of strategic planning of exports by State governments: for example, lack of a predictable and consistent agricultural policy discouraging investments by the private sector.

What is the way forward?

Firstly, the Centre’s policy should be in the direction of nurturing food processing companies, ensuring low cost of production and global food quality standards.

Secondly, creating a supportive environment to promote export of processed food.

Thirdly, Indian companies should focus on cost competitiveness, global food quality standards, technology, and tap the global processed food export market.


More companies pledge ‘net-zero’ emissions to fight climate change, but what does that really mean?

Source: This post is based on the article “More companies pledge ‘net-zero’ emissions to fight climate change, but what does that really mean?” published in Down To Earth on 22nd September 2021.

Syllabus: GS3 – Conservation, Environmental Pollution, and Degradation

Relevance: Net zero emission and carbon credits,

Synopsis: “Net-zero emissions” is in the news, and government leaders and CEOs are under pressure to discuss as to how they’ll reduce their countries’ or businesses’ impact on climate change.

Introduction

Amazon, just announced that more than 200 companies have now joined its Climate Pledge, committing to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

What does net-zero emissions actually mean?

Net-zero emissions: It’s like balancing a check book. The country or company cuts most of its emissions through efficiency and clean energy, then offsets the rest by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or eliminating emissions elsewhere.

How companies claim net-zero emissions?

Carbon credits: Taking advantage of carbon reductions elsewhere by buying carbon credits and supporting sustainable development projects, such as installing wind or solar power in poorer countries.

For example, a U.S. company might pay to protect forests in South America and then subtract those trees’ negative emissions from its own emissions to say that its operations are “net-zero.”

Then, why carbon credits draw criticism?

Emission reduction is not permanent: it allows those companies to keep generating greenhouse gases.

Administrative issues: credits might get double-counted by more than one entity. Some projects, like tree planting, can take years to pay off in emissions reductions while the companies buying forest offsets continue emitting greenhouse gases.

Not sufficient: Several countries, including the United States, have pledged to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. But when the U.N. analyzed each country’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, it found they still fall short by so much that even if every pledge is met, temperatures will rise about 2.7 C this century.

Why do net-zero emissions matter?

Global warming: Greenhouse gases trap heat near Earth’s surface. When their concentrations get too high, they fuel global warming.

Paris deal: To keep warming under 1.5 C with the least disruption, the United Nations says the world needs to be on a path to reach net-zero emissions by about 2050.

Climate risks: Global warming today is just over 1 C (1.8 F) above preindustrial levels, and rising seas and extreme weather are already a problem.

How companies can achieve net-zero emissions?

Ramp up energy efficiency: Improvements in insulation and equipment can reduce the amount of energy needed or wasted.

Switch from fossil fuels: shifting to renewable energy, such as solar or wind power, that doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions. Once the company’s electricity is renewable, using electric delivery vehicles further cuts emissions.

Finding negative emissions: It might be too expensive or not yet technologically possible to replace steam boiler with a carbon-neutral product. In that case companies purchase carbon credits that would remove the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere that would be generated by the boiler.

What is the way forward?

Firstly, keeping global warming to 1.5 C will require negative greenhouse gas emissions.

Secondly, focus on making home and buildings extremely energy-efficient and relying on heating and electricity from clean energy sources.

Thirdly, there needs to be a consistent trajectory of improvements and accountability mechanism, not just promises and carbon offsets.

Prelims Oriented Articles (Factly)

The doing-better syndrome and our prisoner’s dilemma: On WB ending the EoDB report

Source: This post is based on the article “The doing-better syndrome and our prisoner’s dilemma” published in Livemint on 22nd Sep 2021.

What is the news?

Doing Business’ report, was recently junked by the World Bank.

The author welcomes the move, stating that we celebrated improvements in such rankings without quite understanding the underlying methodology or the impact such rankings had on the lives of a larger group of stakeholders.

Must Read: The end of Doing Business report – Explained, pointwise
What are some positive outcomes of Doing Business rankings for India?

Reforms initiated: Inspired by the ‘Doing Business’ rankings, the Indian government initiated improvements at the level of Indian states and Union territories (UTs) as well.

In 2014, based on the 10 business topics tracked and monitored by the World Bank’s report, the Centre came up with a Business Reform Action Plan (BRAP) for Indian states and UTs.

The implementation of these rankings and the Ease of Doing reforms by those administrative units has been linked to additional borrowing permissions for states, apart from other benefits.

Why we should not focus excessively on rankings?

An excessive focus on rankings can result in the following negative outcomes:

Sub-optimal strategies: It can cause developing countries to choose sub-optimal strategies, with their adverse fiscal and welfare implications. These are strategies that devote little attention to improving social equity and addressing ecological concerns.

A one-size-fits-all approach: Ratings and rankings, in general, promote a certain uniform metric of success, one which may not be in line with the specific needs of individual countries or even institutions.


India plan for tighter e-commerce rules faces internal govt dissent: Report

Source: This post is based on the article “India plan for tighter e-commerce rules faces internal govt dissent: Report” published in Business Standard on 21st Sep 2021.

What is the news?

India’s plan to tighten rules on its fast-growing e-commerce market has run into internal government dissent, memos reviewed by Reuters show. The Ministry of Finance has described some proposals under the draft e-commerce rules as “excessive” and “without economic rationale”.

It should be noted that there’s not yet a formal implementation timeline for the new rules.

Must Read: E-commerce companies call out lack of clarity in draft rules
What are the concerns and opinions of various stakeholders on draft ecom rules?

Ministry of Finance: The finance ministry has raised a total of 12 objections. Among them, it said, a proposal that makes online shopping websites liable for its sellers’ mistakes would be a “huge dampener” and could force companies “to revisit their basic business models”.

It also lodged a protest against the banning of flash sales, which see deep discounts on offer on websites like Amazon and are popular during festive seasons.

As per Min of Finance, the proposed amendments are likely to have significant implications/restrictions on a sunrise sector and ‘ease of doing business. Hence, care needs to be taken to ensure that the proposed measures remain ‘light-touch regulations’.

The proposals go far beyond their stated aim of protecting consumers and also lack regulatory clarity.

NITI Aayog: The rules could hit small businesses. Moreover, they send the message of unpredictability and in-consistency in our policy-making.

chart
Source: Business Standard

US Govt: New Delhi has in recent years changed e-commerce policies too often and taken a hard-line regulatory approach that especially hurts American players.

Corporate Affairs Ministry: It had objected to one proposed clause to be enshrined in new rules that says e-commerce firms should not abuse their dominant position in India. The ministry said the provision was “unnecessary and superfluous”, and that the subject was best handled by India’s antitrust watchdog i.e. Competition Commission of India (CCI).

Brick and mortar retailers: They welcomed the proposals, stating repeatedly that big U.S. firms have bypassed Indian laws and their practices have hurt small retailers.

Consumer Affairs Ministry: The consumer affairs ministry, which drafted the rules, said the new rules were aimed to “further strengthen the regulatory framework” and were issued after complaints of “widespread cheating and unfair trade practices being observed in the e-commerce ecosystem.”

What is the significance of this?

The concerns expressed would likely cause a rethink of the e-commerce policy.


Dramatic changes needed in global food systems to address nutrition disparity, poverty: IFAD

What is the news? 

Recently, United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) published report  “Transforming Food Systems for Rural Prosperity”.

As per the report, our global food system need revolution. Transforming global food systems to become more inclusive, fair and sustainable is a challenging task. But, with concrete actions taken by the policymakers, this is possible. 

What are the other findings of the report? 

First, we need government investment in rural farms and local small- and medium-size enterprises. They support activities after the farm gate, such as storing, processing, marketing and food distribution.  

Second, small-scale family farmers are the foundation of food supply across all low- and middle-income countries. They play a critical role in reducing rural poverty and ensuring national food and nutrition security. 

Third, we need productive, economically viable and environmentally sustainable small-scale family farming. 

Fourth, small-scale agriculture is a vital source of national and global food.  They are also the source of the livelihood for majority of the people in rural areas. 

Fifth, we need to make food markets accessible to villagers.  

Sixth, food systems are responsible for 37% of greenhouse gas emissions and are also highly vulnerable to a changing climate. 

What are the recommendations of the report? 

First, reward farmers for ecosystem services such as maintaining healthy soil and regulating pests and incentives for nature-based practices and local, healthy diet. 

Second, we need innovation in nature-based solutions, agro-ecology and affordable digital technologies to boost production of rural small-scale farmers. The measures will enable the cultivators to be climate-resilient employing low-carbon and sustainable techniques.

Third, developing and focussing on pricing systems that reflect the full and true cost of production. 

Fourth, shifting food systems towards circular resource use for sustainability and resilience.

Source: This post is based on the article “Dramatic changes needed in global food systems to address nutrition disparity, poverty: IFAD ” published in the Down to Earth on 21st September 2021. 


Submarine strategy: Undersea naval prowess is shaping strategic battles, India mustn’t lag behind

What is the news? 

Recently, Australia, US and UK held trilateral security pact named as AUKUS. Under this pact, they are delivering nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra. The aim of the security pact is to counter China’s maritime power in the Indo-Pacific region. 

With China as the focus, the strategic-military power plays of the coming decades will be based on naval power, with submarines playing a vital role.

How submarines play a key role? 

In coming decades, strategic military power will be based on naval power. Hence, to become a naval power, submarines play a vital role.

Submarines can be great levelers in asymmetric military scenarios due to their long range, stealth, strike and force projection capabilities. With nuclear submarines these factors are multiplied further, enabling longer operational periods. 

That is why, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Taiwan which are facing the brunt of Beijing’s military intimidation are inducting submarines to counter Chinese aggression 

What is the present status of India’s underwater fleet? 

First, India has natural geographic advantages. Hence, high seas are the only domain in which India can checkmate China. But, India’s underwater fleet lacks the required to counter China.

Second, today the Indian navy has 12 old diesel-electric submarines with only half of them operational at any given point of time.  

Third, the force has inducted just three of the six projected French Scorpene submarines. It has only one nuclear-powered submarine with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, the INS Arihant. In contrast, China already has the world’s largest navy with 350 warships, including 50 conventional and 10 nuclear submarines. We need to mitigate the gap to counter China and dominate Indian Ocean. 

What is the target that we need to achieve? 

India should have at least 18 conventional submarines, six nuclear attack submarines and four nuclear submarines with nuclear missiles to become a naval power.

We are nowhere near that target. To achieve its ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, the defence bureaucracy must quickly address this delay. 

Source: This post is based on the article “ Submarine strategy: Undersea naval prowess is shaping strategic battles, India mustn’t lag behind “ published in The Times of India on 21st September 2021. 


Extreme weather events in India made women, children more vulnerable to modern slavery, flags report

What is the news? 

As per the report published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International, Climate change-induced extreme weather events put women, children and minorities at risk of modern slavery and human trafficking. Among other countries, this phenomenon is maximum in India. 

The report observed what happened in the Sundarban delta.

What are report’s observations wrt Sundarban Delta? 

First, the delta region is characterised by intense, recurrent and sudden onset disasters, as well as slow onset ecological degradation making large areas uninhabitable.  

Second, rising sea levels, erratic rainfall, increased frequency of cyclones, tidal surges and floods, mean that millions of people across the Sundarbans are unable to work for most of the year.  

Third, cyclone Aila and recent cyclone Amphan, led to widespread displacement from homes and loss of livelihoods for more than two million people. Such events resulted in more trafficking and forced labour. 

Fourth, severe cyclone and flooding in Sundarbans delta had reduced the land for agriculture, which is the major source of livelihood.  

Fifth, women and children are more vulnerable. Women were also trafficked and often forced into hard labour and prostitution, with some working in sweatshops along the border. 

Sixth, people displaced and migrating from rural to urban areas with no resources, skills or social networks at their destination. They are targeted by agents and / or traffickers in Dhaka or Kolkata. A case study from Ghana also revealed the same situation. 

What is the scale of displacement? 

As per estimates of the World Bank, over 216 million people could be internally displaced by 2050 across six regions due to climate change.  It will further expose them to the risk of modern slavery. Climate change as a risk multiplier that makes people who are already vulnerable due to conflict or inequality more likely to become victims of modern slavery.  

What are the recommendations of the report? 

First, policy-makers urgently need to recognize that millions of people displaced by climate change are being, and will be, exposed to slavery in the coming decades.  

Second, they should develop targeted actions, at national and international levels, to address the issue. The global and regional discourse on development and climate policy must consider trafficking and slavery risks due to climate shocks.   

Third, several ongoing initiatives like Warsaw International Mechanism Task Force on Displacement (WIM TFD), the Sendai Framework, etc — should be coordinated to tackle the risk of climate-induced migration / displacement and exposure to modern slavery. 

Source: This post is based on the article ” Extreme weather events in India made women, children more vulnerable to modern slavery, flags report ” published in the Down to Earth on 21st September 2021. 


CRPF report flags leadership issues in Chhattisgarh operations. They need to be addressed for security of jawans and civilians

What is the news? 

Recently, a CRPF report revealed there is a lack of leadership in the Chhattisgarh resulting to operational and intelligence failure. 

The review also found a significant dip in the quality of operations in the Maoist-violence affected state over the last two years.

What is the role played by CRPF? 

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) performs a host of functions, from policing and security duties, to conducting counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh.

It conducts counter insurgency operations against adversaries that consist of Indian citizens, often deeply connected to local geography, ecology and with an intimate knowledge of the terrain.  

In last two years, there is decrease in the quality of operations in the Maoist-violence affected state. 

What are the reasons behind the dip in quality of operations in Chhattisgarh? 

Firstly, decrease in involvement of senior officers at the level of commandant and second-in-command.  

Secondly, not setting up tactical resting sites during operations leaving the troops open to ambush and death. Recently, ambush in Sukma-Bijapur led to death of many security personnel. 

Thirdly, decline in operational leadership: Recently, the Justice V K Agarwal report concluded that the eight people, including four minors, killed by the CRPF’s elite CoBRA unit in Edesmetta in 2013 were civilians, and not Maoists as the force had claimed. In 2019, a single-judge commission concluded that the CRPF had killed 17 people, firing unilaterally in Bijapur. In both cases, the incidents were apparent “mistakes”, stemming from a failure of jawans to tell civilians and extremists apart.

What is the way forward? 

Firstly, we need to involve leadership on the ground is a necessary first step. 

Second, the CRPF needs a leadership that is more empathetic to its personnel and equal to the harsh circumstances they face.

Thirdly, paramilitary forces must also be sensitised to the plight of people in states like Chhattisgarh, who face the brunt of poverty, a security state and Maoist violence.

Source: This post is based on the article ” CRPF report flags leadership issues in Chhattisgarh operations. They need to be addressed for security of jawans and civilians ” published in the Indian Express on 22nd September 2021. 


Explained: CIA officer on India trip reports Havana Syndrome; what is known about its symptoms and causes so far

What is the News?

A US intelligence officer on an Indian trip last month has reported symptoms of Havana Syndrome. This is the first instance of the phenomenon being reported in India, at least on record, and could have diplomatic implications.

What is Havana Syndrome?
Havana syndrome
Source: TOI

Havana Syndrome refers to a set of mental health symptoms that are said to be experienced by US intelligence and embassy officials in various countries. 

It typically involves symptoms such as hearing certain sounds without any outside noise being present, nausea, vertigo and headaches, memory loss and issues with balance.

What is the origin of Havana Syndrome?

Havana Syndrome traces its roots to Cuba. In 2016, about a year after the US opened its embassy in Havana, some intelligence officials and members of the staff at the embassy began experiencing sudden bursts of pressure in their brain followed by persistent headaches, feeling of disorientation and insomnia.

What is the cause of Havana Syndrome?

Experts have suggested that the victims may have been subjected to high-powered microwaves that either damaged or interfered with the nervous system. 

Greater exposure to high-powered microwaves is said not only to interfere with the body’s sense of balance but also impact memory and cause permanent brain damage.

The US experts believe that these microwaves are sent through a special gadget called a “microwave weapon”.

What are Microwave weapons?

“Microwave weapons” are supposed to be a type of direct energy weapons, which aim for highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target.

A number of countries are thought to have developed these weapons to target both humans and electronic systems. China had first put on display its “microwave weapon”, called Poly WB-1, at an air show in 2014.

The United States has also developed a prototype microwave-style weapon, which it calls the “Active Denial System”.

Source: This post is based on the following article

  • “Explained: CIA officer on India trip reports Havana Syndrome; what is known about its symptoms and causes so far’”published in Indian Express on 22nd September 2021.
  • Directed energy weapons shoot painful but non-lethal beams – are similar weapons behind the Havana syndrome?” published in Down To Earth on 22nd September 2021.

  • “US intel officer on trip to India suffers Havana syndrome”  published in TOI on 22nd September 2021.


Maharashtra: Rain water mars painting in prominent cave at Ellora

What is the News?

The rainfall has resulted in rainwater seeping into cave number 32 at the world-renowned Ellora Caves, causing some damage to a painting.

About Cave number 32

Cave no 32 is also known as ‘Indra Sabha’ Cave. It is a two-storey architectural marvel excavated in the ninth century. It is considered as the largest and finest of the Jain caves at the Ellora site.

What are Ellora Caves?

Ellora Caves is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra.

The cave consists of 34 monasteries and temples devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. This illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.

Among the 34 monasteries and temples, 17 belong to Hinduism, 12 to Buddhism and 5 to Jainism.

Caves related to Hinduism: The prominent caves of the Brahmanical group are Cave 15 (Dasavatara, or Cave of Ten Incarnations), Cave 16 (Kailasa, the largest monolithic temple), Cave 21 (Ramesvara), and Cave 29 (Dumar Lena). 

Caves related to Buddhism: Amongst the caves of the Buddhist group, Cave 10 (Visvakarma or Sutar-ki-jhopdi, the Carpenter’s cave) and Cave 12 (Teen Tal, or three-storied monastery) are particularly important. These caves mark the development of the Vajrayana form of Buddhism and represent a host of Buddhist deities.

Caves related to Jainism: ​​The Jaina group of caves (caves 30 – 34) is exquisitely carved with fine, delicate sculptures, and includes fine paintings dedicated to the Digambara sect

Source: This post is based on the article Maharashtra: Rain water mars painting in prominent cave at Ellora published in TOI on 22nd September 2021.


Two more Indian Beaches get coveted International Blue Flag Certification

What is the News?

The two more Indian beaches namely Kovalam beach in Chennai and Eden beach in Puducherry have been awarded the Blue Flag certification.

What is Blue Flag Certification?

‘Blue Flag’ is a certification that can be obtained by a beach, marina, or sustainable boating tourism operator, and serves as an eco-label. 

The certification is awarded by the Denmark-based non-profit Foundation for Environmental Education.

Criterion: The certification is accorded based on 33 stringent criteria under four major heads: 

  1. Environmental education and information, 
  2. Bathing water quality 
  3. Safety and services at the beaches
  4. Environment management and conservation

Indian Sites under Blue Flag: There are now total of 10 sites under Blue Flag Certification. These are Shivrajpur – Gujarat, Ghoghla – Diu, Kaskarkod and Padubidri – Karnataka, Kappad – Kerala, Rushikonda – Andhra Pradesh, Golden – Odisha, Radhanagar – Andaman and Nicobar, Kovalam – TamilNadu and Eden beach in Puducherry.

What is the Beach Environment & Aesthetics Management Services (BEAMS) Initiative?

The BEAMS Initiative was launched by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change under the ICZM (Integrated Coastal Zone Management) project.

Objectives: The objectives of the BEAMS Initiative is to abate pollution in coastal waters, promote sustainable development of beach facilities, protect & conserve coastal ecosystems & natural resources.

The other objectives include strive and maintain high standards of cleanliness, Hygiene & safety for beachgoers in accordance with coastal environment & regulations.

Source: This post is based on the article Two more Indian Beaches get coveted International Blue Flag Certification published in PIB on 22nd September 2021.


Population growth rates have shrunk more for minorities: Pew report

What is the News?

Pew Research has released its key findings about the religious composition of India.

What are the Key Findings?

India’s overall population more than tripled between 1951 and 2011, though growth rates have slowed since the 1990s: The total number of Indians grew to 1.2 billion in the 2011 census from 361 million in the 1951 census. However, India’s overall population growth has slowed considerably especially since the 1990s. 

Religious Composition: Hindus make up 79.8% of India’s population and Muslims account for 14.2%; Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the remaining 6%.

Fertility Rate: The average fertility rate in India is 2.2 which is higher than the rates in economically advanced countries such as the U.S. (1.6), but much lower than what it was in 1992 (3.4) or 1951 (5.9).

Pew research on population
Source: The Hindu

Fertility rates of Hindus and Muslims converging: From 1992 to 2015, the total fertility rates of Muslims declined from 4.4 to 2.6, while that of Hindus declined from 3.3 to 2.1. This indicates the gaps in childbearing between India’s religious groups are much smaller than they used to be.

Growth of Muslim Population: Between 1951 and 1961, the Muslim population expanded by 32.7 per cent, 11% poi­nts more than India’s overall rate of 21.6%. But from 2001 to 2011, the difference in growth between Muslims (24.7 per cent) and Indians overall (17.7 per cent) was 7 percentage points.

Fertility Rate and Religion: Religion is by no means the only or even the primary factor affecting fertility rates. The women in central India tended to have more children, with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh showing a total fertility rate (TFR) of 3.4 and 2.7 respectively, in contrast to a TFR of 1.7 and 1.6 in Tamil Nadu and Kerala respectively.

Note: In India and elsewhere, education is a primary factor in how many children women tend to have. Other prosperity indicators – such as life expectancy and average levels of wealth – also frequently correlate with fertility measures: Women who have better access to schooling, jobs and health care tend to have fewer children.

Migration has not greatly affected India’s religious composition: In 2019, the United Nations estimated that about 17.5 million people who were born in India reside elsewhere. These numbers are not large enough to have much impact on the religious composition of a country of India’s size.

Non-Religious Groups: In India, about 8 million did not belong to any of the six major religious groups. Within this category, mostly were adivasi people. The largest grouping was of the Sarnas (nearly 5 million adherents), followed by the Gond (1 million) and the Sari Dharma (5,10,000).

Preference for Son over daughters: The preference for sons over daughters could play a role in overall fertility. The sex-selective abortions had caused an estimated deficit of 20 million girls, compared with what would naturally be expected between 1970 and 2017. This practice is more common among Indian Hindus than among Muslims and Christians.

Religious Conversion: The religious switching or conversion also appears to have had a relatively small impact on India’s overall composition, with 98% of Indian adults still identifying with the religion in which they were raised. 

Read more: Population control measures in India – Explained, pointwise

Source: This post is based on the following articles:

  • Fertility rates of Hindus and Muslims converging: studypublished in The Hindu on 22nd September 2021.
  • “Population growth rates have shrunk more for minorities: Pew reportpublished in Business Standard on 22nd September 2021.

New panel to devise school curriculum

What is the News?

The Union Education Ministry has set up a committee headed by space scientist K. Kasturirangan to devise the National Curriculum Frameworks(NCFs).

About the Committee on National Curriculum Framework(NCF)

The National Curriculum Framework serves as a guiding document for the development of textbooks, syllabus and teaching practices in schools across the country.

The committee will develop four frameworks, one each to guide the curriculum of school education, teacher education, early childhood education and adult education. 

The subsequent revision of textbooks by the National Council of Educational Research and Training will be based on this new NCF.

The committee will have a  tenure of three years to complete its task.

Note: India is currently following its fourth national curriculum framework that was published by the NCERT in 2005.

Source: This post is based on the following articles:

  • New panel to devise school curriculum” published in Livemint on 22nd September 2021.
  • “Kasturirangan to lead syllabus panel” published in The Hindu on 22nd September 2021.

Industrial Safety in Petroleum and Explosives Sector gets a Big Boost

What is the News?

Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has implemented several reforms to ensure Industrial Safety in critical premises such as petroleum installations, explosive manufacturing facilities, cylinder filling and storage premises among others.

Which organization is responsible for Industrial Safety in the Petroleum and Explosives Sector?

​​Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization(PESO) is the nodal agency for regulating the safety of hazardous substances such as explosives, compressed gases and petroleum. 

PESO was formerly known as the Department of Explosives. It is an autonomous body under DPIIT.

PESO’s major work is to administer the responsibilities delegated under the Explosives Act 1884 and Petroleum Act 1934 and the Rules made thereunder related to manufacturing, import, export, transport, possession, sale and use of Explosives, Petroleum products and compressed gases.

Headquarters: PESO has its Headquarters at Nagpur in Maharashtra. It also serves through five Circle Offices at Agra, Chennai, Faridabad, Kolkata & Mumbai.

What are the reforms undertaken by the Government?

The five major areas where the recent reforms have been undertaken to ensure industrial safety are Static & Mobile Pressure Vessels (Unfired) [SMPV(U)], Calcium Carbide, Ammonium Nitrate, Gas Cylinders, Petroleum and Explosives.

The reforms in these areas will enhance public safety as well as reduce the cost of doing business and create an enabling ecosystem for domestic as well as international investors.

Source: This post is based on the articleIndustrial Safety in the Petroleum and Explosives Sector gets a Big Boost published in PIB on 22nd September 2021.


Explained: Why Assam govt is burning 2,500 rhino horns in a special ceremony

What is the News?

Assam will mark World Rhino Day — September 22 — with a special ceremony by burning a stockpile of nearly 2,500 horns of the one-horned rhinoceros.

About Greater One-Horned Rhino

Greater One-Horned Rhino (or “Indian rhino”) are identified by a single black horn about a grey-brown hide with skin folds, which gives it an armour-plated appearance. 

The species is solitary, except when adult males or rhinos nearing adulthood gather to graze.

They primarily graze, with a diet consisting almost entirely of grasses as well as leaves, branches of shrubs and trees, fruit, and aquatic plants.

Habitat of Greater One-Horned Rhino

Greater One-Horned Rhino is restricted to small habitats in Indo-Nepal terai and northern West Bengal and Assam. 

India is home to more than 75% of the greater one-horned rhino population of the world.

In India, one-horned rhinos can be found in Assam, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh. Among these states, Assam has the largest population of greater-one horned rhinos, with more than 90% in Kaziranga National Park.

Conservation Status of Greater One-Horned Rhino

IUCN Red List: Vulnerable.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Appendix I 

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I

Threats faced by Greater One-Horned Rhino

Poaching of Horns: The rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine to cure a range of ailments, from cancer to hangovers, and it is also used as an aphrodisiac in Vietnam, possessing a rhino horn is considered a status symbol. 

Habitat loss: The enormous reduction in the range of rhinos was mainly caused by the disappearance of alluvial plain grasslands. 

Population density: High population density in some parks leads to lower breeding rates. Also, concerns exist about long term viability of sub-populations due to lack of genetic diversity.

Conservation measures to protect Greater One-Horned Rhino

Source: This post is based on the article “Explained: Why Assam govt is burning 2,500 rhino horns in a special ceremony” published in Indian Express on 22nd September 2021.


Govt to promote pearl farming in tribal areas

What is the News?

TRIFED (Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India) has signed an agreement with the Jharkhand-based Purty Agrotech for the promotion of pearl farming in tribal areas. 

What are Pearls?

Pearls are the only gemstones in the world that come from a living creature. Mollusks such as oysters and mussels produce pearls that people have adored since ancient times.

How is Pearl Framing done?

In Pearl Farming, a round foreign body, sand or small stone, will be injected into the live mussel. In order to protect itself from the foreign body, the mussel secrets calcium carbonate and cover it fully layer by layer. This later transforms into a pearl.

What are the advantages of Pearl Farming?

Alternate Source of Income for Farmers: The income of farmers in India is usually dependent on external factors like climate and this dependence often leads to their losses but on the other hand, Pearl farming is totally independent of these factors and gives one a high amount of profit.

Employment Generation: Pearl Farming also promises a tremendous employment generation for youngsters that play an important role in socio-economic development.

Eco-Friendly Technique: Pearl farming is an eco-friendly technique. Filter feeder oysters also purify the water. A single oyster clears over 15 gallons of water a day, retaining particles as small as 2 microns.

Source: This post is based on the article Govt to promote pearl farming in tribal areaspublished in Indian Express on 20th September 2021.


Process to induct women into NDA by May 2022: govt.

What is the News?

The Ministry of Defence has informed the Supreme Court that it proposes to have the ‘mechanism’ to induct women cadets into the National Defence Academy (NDA) for entry into the armed forces to be ready in May 2022.

What is the issue?

In 2020, the Supreme court had asked the government to abide by its own policy and grant Permanent Commission to women in Short Service Commission (SSC). The court had also directed the government to give women command postings in all services other than combat.

Similarly, in the recent judgement, the SC allowed women to sit for National Defence Academy (NDA) exam as the current policy is based on “gender discrimination”.

What was the Government’s response to this?

The government has informed the Supreme Court that the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) would include women in its NDA exam notification, expected to be published in May 2022.

This is because preparations are required for this such as what medical standards that candidates have to meet, aspects for training among others to ensure smooth induction and training of women candidates. There is also the need to upgrade infrastructure depending on the intake strength of the women candidates.

Source: This post is based on the article “Process to induct women into NDA by May 2022: govt” published in The Hindu on 22nd September 2021.


State Food Safety Index: FSSAI

What is the news?

Recently, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare released Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) -State Food Safety Index (SFSI). This index is used to measure the performance of States across various parameters of food safety.

What is State Food Safety Index?

It is an index is developed by FSSAI. It helps to measure the performance of states on five significant parameters of Food Safety. These include Compliance, Human Resources and Institutional Data, Food Testing – Infrastructure and Surveillance, Training & Capacity Building and Consumer Empowerment.

The Index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative benchmarking model that provides an objective framework for evaluating food safety across all States/UTs.

What are the key findings of the State Food Safety Index?

The index identifies the presence of industrially produced trans fatty acid content in the selected foods. However, it was found that out of 6245 samples only 84 samples, i.e. 1.34%, have more than 3% industrially-produced trans fats. Thus, India is on the right track of becoming industrial trans fats-free.

It also felicitated states based on the ranking for the year 2020-21 for their impressive performance:

Among the larger states: Gujarat was the top-ranking state, followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Among the smaller states: Goa stood first, followed by Meghalaya and Manipur.

Among UTs, Jammu & Kashmir:  Andaman & Nicobar Islands and New Delhi secured top ranks.

What are the initiatives undertaken to Promote Food Safety?

Launch of Mobile Food Testing Vans (Food Safety on Wheels):  These labs will help States/UTs to enhance their outreach and conduct surveillance activities even in the far-flung areas. It will also be used for training and awareness generation activities among citizens. Their aim is to supplement the food safety ecosystem across the country.

Awards and Grants:  Launch of Eat Right Research Awards and issue of grants to encourage and recognize high-quality research in the area of food safety and nutrition in India

Segregation of veg and non-vegan foods: A logo for Vegan Foods has been introduced to distinguish food from non-vegan. This will empower consumers to make informed food choices.

E-Books: Various e-books have been introduced. These will help to capture recipes on local seasonal food items, indigenous millets and plant-based sources of protein.

Private Participation:  24 food businesses signed a pledge on becoming “Plastic Waste Neutral” by collecting, processing and recycling of 100% plastic waste from across the sources.

Source: This post is based on the following articles “State Food Safety Index” published in PIB on 20th September 2021.


 

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