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9 PM Daily NEWS Brief

9 PM Daily Brief – 28 January 2016

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Brief of newspaper articles for the day bearing
relevance to Civil Services preparation

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National


[1]. SC seeks proof of breakdown in Arunachal

The Hindu 

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre and Arunachal Pradesh Governor J.P. Rajkhowa to furnish relevant material backing their claim of breakdown in the constitutional machinery of the sensitive border State, leading to the proclamation of emergency by President Pranab Mukherjee on Republic Day.

[2]. Extend Start-up India to farm sector, says Minister

The Hindu 

Context:-

Migration of rural youth to cities was alarming and this could have several implications on the future of Indian agriculture and hence, to create interest among rural youth in agriculture, there was a need to make farming more profitable.

Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture:-

Realising the importance of rural youth in agricultural development, especially from the point of view of food security, the ICAR has initiated a programme on “Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture.

This ICAR project will be implemented in 25 districts [one district from each State] through the Krishi Vigyan Kendras.

Each KVK will involve about 200 youths below the age of 35 the government had made B.Sc. Agriculture a mandatory qualification to get licence for sale of agriculture inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. This will create several thousand jobs for agriculture graduates.

Start up scheme:-

Start-up India had created an impact on non-farm sectors as many entrepreneurs started vibrant enterprises.

It will be extended to the farm sector by replicating the success stories of enterprises in honey production, dairying and fisheries.

Farmer Producer Organisations:-

To promote agri-business and to attract young farmers, the Centre was promoting formation of Farmer Producer Organisations. Capacity building and financial assistance would be provided.


International


[1]. Europe clamping down on rights: HRW / Denmark’s absurd law on refugees

The Hindu 

Context:-

European governments have responded to fears of terrorism and an influx of Muslim refugees by cracking down on basic freedoms.

Background:-

Europe is facing the biggest migrant crisis since the Second World War. In 2015 alone, more than 850,000 asylum-seekers landed in Greece, from where most of them moved to other European countries through the open borders.

But instead of coming up with a bold pan-European plan to address the issue, the European leadership let member-states have their way. Hungary has already sealed its boundaries to stop the entry of refugees.

The Hungarian Prime Minister has, in fact, given a call to wall off Greece from the rest of Europe to prevent the movement of refugees. Several Balkan leaders have recently demanded the same.

European countries behind the destabilisation:-

Most of the refugees reaching the continent are fleeing Syria and Libya.

In Syria, besides helping rebels in the civil war that has destabilised the country, European nations, particularly France and Britain, are waging a bombing campaign.

In Libya, France was in the forefront of an invasion that has thrown the country into chaos. And when the people fleeing these countries reach its shores, Europe cannot just turn its back on them.

Human Rights Violation:-

Fears of terror attacks and of the potential impact of refugee influx led to a visible scaling back of rights in Europe and other regions.

Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonising of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance.

Despicable legislation:-

Denmark has enacted a law to seize the valuables of refugees to pay for their stay.

Government says the legislation is intended to cover the cost of each asylum-seeker’s treatment by the state, and bring refugees in line with unemployed Danes who also have to give up their savings before they receive welfare benefits.

Earlier in the month, Switzerland started seizing valuables from refugees to help pay for their “upkeep”.

Last week, Germany’s southern states, including Bavaria, adopted similar policies.

Impact on Refugees:-

Most of those seeking asylum in Europe are fleeing war, mass crimes and rapes. Some of them make perilous boat journeys across the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Europe.

Some pay huge sums to people smugglers to get themselves out of their war-devastated nations. And they go to Europe seeing the relatively prosperous and secure continent as their last hope to find a place to rebuild their shattered lives. These are the people the European governments are seizing valuables from.

Indiscriminate Policing:-

France, in the aftermath of the November 13 attacks on bars, a concert hall and a sports stadium in Paris, authorities have tightened emergency laws.

Suspected radicals have been confined to house arrest without trial, and police have been given stronger powers to search addresses without a judicial warrant.

Potentially indiscriminate policing techniques risk exposing blameless young Muslim men to racial profiling.

Ethical Issue:-

How can confiscating assets from the already vulnerable refugees and blocking them at the borders help address one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time?

How can Europe, known for its human rights-driven, combative foreign policy, treat the victims of wars as mere intruders?

Besides the ethical arguments, Europe also bears some amount of direct responsibility in this crisis.

Instead of building walls and seizing assets from the refugees, what Europe actually needs is an effective resettlement plan at home, while pushing for peace and stability in the war-hit countries.

For more: – https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more-/resources/the-ethics-of-migration-and-immigration/

[2]. Denmark the least corrupt country, India at 76th position

The Hindu 

Context:-

India has climbed nine points to rank 76th in this year’s global corruption index topped by Denmark.

Global Corruption Index:-

Global corruption index, a composite index that draws from 12 surveys to rank nations around the globe, has become a benchmark gauge of perceptions of corruption and is used by analysts and investors.

Transparency International’s International Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 was prepared by using data from institutions including the World Bank, the African Development Bank.

India’s Rank:-

India is placed at 76th position along with Thailand, Brazil, Tunisia, Zambia and Burkina Faso out of 168 countries.

India has improved its past year’s position of 85 and has a grade index score of 38 out of a possible 100 which indicates the least corrupt, said the report topped by Denmark.

Global Scenario:-

Not one single country, anywhere in the world, is corruption-free, 68 per cent of countries worldwide have a serious corruption problem and half of the G20 are among them.

Top and the bottom:-

Denmark tops of the index for the second consecutive year as the country perceived as least corrupt. It scored 91 points, while North Korea and Somalia remained at the bottom with unchanged scores of 8.

The other top spots, from second to ninth, were occupied by Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada.

Brazil’s Rank:-

Brazil slid to 76th place, sharing its position with India, down from 69th last year.

Dealing with many entrenched corruption issues, Brazil has been rocked by the Petrobras scandal, in which politicians are reported to have taken kickbacks in exchange for awarding public contracts

Combating Corruption:-

Corruption can be beaten if we work together. To stamp out the abuse of power, bribery and shed light on secret deals, citizens must together tell their governments they have had enough.


Environment & Ecology 


[1]. Konkan mega projects decried

The Hindu 

Context:-

The ecologically-rich Konkan coastline is expected to host three projects — a port which will also include a thermal power plant among other industries, the contentious 9,900-MW Jaitapur nuclear power plant and one of the biggest oil refineries in the world ,almost adjacent to each other within a 50-km radius.

The Refinery:-

Announcing India’s biggest ‘green’ refinery — a joint venture with the Bharat Petroleum, the Indian Oil and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited on the Vijaydurg plateau in north Sindhudurg district by acquiring over 15,000 hectares of land.

Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project:-

To the north of this proposed project lies the Madban plateau, which is being acquired to set up the 9,900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP).

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has reportedly signed an MoU to build nuclear reactors here. While work on the project has been stopped for the last few years due to pendency of certain techno-commercial agreements, there are no roadblocks to this project.

Port:-

The Ambolgad beach in Ratnagiri has been earmarked for the construction of a multi-purpose port. According to the project’s Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, it is proposed to have both forward and backward integration by developing jetty-based industries such as a bauxite benefication plant, a steel plant and gas or coal-based thermal power plant, sugar refineries, a container hub and tank farms directly or through joint ventures and acquisitions.

Concerns:-

Environmentalists have pressed the alarm button, warning the government that the cluster of industries will do more harm than good.

Last week, a prescheduled environmental public hearing for the project was cancelled and postponed as the EIA report was available only in English; villages that will be potentially affected have demanded a draft in Marathi.

Renowned ecologist Madhav Gadgil said that analysing individual projects for their adverse impact on the environment won’t do any good. An integrated approach is needed for projects coming up in ecologically-sensitive area like Konkan.


Science & Technology 


[1]. Coffee won’t make your heart race, says study

The Hindu

Researchers now report that regular caffeine consumption does not lead to extra heartbeats, which may lead — in rare cases — to heart or stroke related mortality.

Clinical recommendations advising against the regular consumption of caffeinated products should be reconsidered as we may unnecessarily be discouraging consumption of items like chocolate, coffee and tea that might actually have cardiovascular benefits

[2]. IICT working on drugs for cancer, Alzheimer’s

The Hindu

Context:-

CSIR-Indian Institute of Technology will be filing application for Investigational New Drug (IND), a crucial step before going for clinical trials, with Drugs Controller General of India later this year for two promising molecules for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Significance:-

Scientists have been working on developing new drugs in the areas of oncology, infections and Alzheimer’s disease.

The cancer drug would target H-DAC pathway to inhibit growth of cancer cells. It would only be the second drug in the world to use H-DAC mechanism once it gets commercialised after successful clinical trials.

IICT plans to licence the patents of the two drugs to pharma companies with a stipulation that they sell the drugs at prices fixed by IICT in India.

The new drugs would be commercially available in another five years.

What are HDACs?

Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are enzymes involved in expression of DNA.

When these enzymes act incorrectly, they can prevent the transcription of key genes. This process appears to be an important step in the tumorigenic process in some forms of cancer

Abnormal activity of HDACs has been observed in several different types of cancer.

http://www.cancerquest.org/hat-hdac-introduction.html


Economic Digest 


[1]. Centre clears new financing model for highway projects

The Hindu

Context:-

The union government approved the hybrid annuity model for building national highways, paving the way for construction of 28 projects.

Objective:-

The move will speed up the construction of roads in the country by renewing interest of private developers in highway projects as the risk will be distributed between the government and the private players.

The main object of the approval is to revive highway projects in the country by making one more mode of delivery of highway projects.

Hybrid Annuity Model:-

Under the public-private partnership (PPP) model, the government will invest 40 per cent of the construction cost for building highways and the balance will come from the private developer.

The government will invest money in five equal instalments based on the targeted completion of the road project.

The private developer will recover his investment from the government by receiving annuity payments over a period of 15 years.

Under this model, the highway toll tax will be collected by the government unlike the build, operate and transfer (BOT) toll model where the private sector collects it.

So, there is no revenue or traffic risk on the part of the developer.

It is a fairly sensible risk-sharing model because it requires the private sector to focus on areas which bring in efficiency mainly in capital cost, project completion time and quality.

This model will bring in long-term infrastructure funds like pension funds into the sector.

It will double the speed of highway construction in the country as the government will no longer will be dependent on its limited financial resources and the expertise of private sector will be utilised to operate and maintain the roads.

Future Projects and other PPP models:-

In the next two fiscal years, the government will build more than 5,000 km of national highways based on the hybrid annuity model.

In the present fiscal year, 1,000 km national highway projects were awarded through the BOT model – where a private operator funds the project, operates it for a period and transfers it back to the government.

Another 3,000 km through the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) model in which the government pays the contractor a sum to build the project.

http://www.iddkarnataka.gov.in/ppp-models.html

http://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/2.1%20New%20Model%20for%20Indian%20Road%20PPP.pdf

[2]. Talks start on WTO meeting outcomes

The Hindu

Context:-

India began its inter-ministerial consultations on the implications of the decisions taken at the last month’s World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) ministerial conference at Nairobi.

Topics Discussed:-

Discussions were on the consequences of the (Nairobi Meet) decisions and in what manner should India structure its domestic policies to utilise the freedom provided under the multilateral framework to support our industry.

The discussions also revolved around the kind of support (subsidies) that is not possible or will not be possible for the farm sector in years ahead and how India should respond to that.

The agriculture ministry sought a higher degree of protection for the farm sector as the sector does not wish to see liberalisation happen very fast.

Trade experts had said that the decisions on eliminating export subsidies by 2023 are likely to aggravate the crisis in India’s sugar sector.

The commerce ministry has also sought the finance ministry’s views on the problem of inverted duties (where the duty on inputs or raw materials or components is greater than those on the finished product).

WTO Meet outcomes:-

The outcomes of the WTO’s Nairobi meet include ministerial decisions on agriculture covering a Special Safeguard Mechanism for developing countries (to counter import surges of farm items) and public stockholding for food security purposes.

It also includes a commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports and measures related to cotton.

[3]. Government yet to decide on MIP for steel

The Hindu 

Context:-

The government has been considering proposals (including MIP) to protect domestic steel manufacturers from cheap imports mainly from China.

It is in the process of undertaking a tariff-line wise detailed assessment to find out the sub-segments that are affected the most and need protection in terms of anti-dumping duty, countervailing duties (or anti-subsidy duties) and MIP.

Arguments against the MIP:-

The user industries also have been representing and arguing for their continuing access to low-cost imported steel to balance the domestic supplies.

Engineering exporters’ apex body, EEPC India, are objecting to the restrictions on steel imports by way of fixing MIP, stating that there was no justification for the government to help handful of big steel makers at the cost of many small and medium export firms which would be forced to pay much higher price for their raw material.

Domestic Steel consumption is still high:-

The government would consider the overall macro picture of the sector including the country’s total steel consumption

85 per cent of the steel is met domestically so the bottom-line is that we continue to utilise domestic steel largely. So imports are not a huge element of our total steel consumption.

India has considerable installed capacity and it is operating at about 80 per cent, which is a higher load factor than the rest of the world, averaging about 68 to 70 per cent.

[4]. CERT-In signs cyber security pacts with 3 nations

The Hindu 

Context:-

The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) has signed cooperation pacts with its counterparts in Malaysia, Singapore and Japan for cyber security.

The Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) will promote closer cooperation for exchange of knowledge and experience in detection, resolution and prevention of security-related incidents between India and the three countries.

CERT:-

It is the nodal agency responsible for dealing with cyber security threats.


Opinions & Editorials 


[1]. The stained steel frame

The Hindu

Context:-

The article discusses on the ways and means of dealing with corruption of senior public service officials in the country.

Soaring corruption:-

From the recent happenings it can be said that there is a growing fearlessness of the law in segments of the bureaucracy, giving rise to the impression that whatever has been done by governments and courts till now does not deter the daring offender.

Unchecked, this trend could lead to a total erosion of public confidence in bureaucratic fairness and objectivity.

Greed and not need:-

The levels of integrity of public servants are plummeting rapidly at a time when the Union government is in the process of implementing the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission that would bring to every Central employee at least a 15-20 per cent rise in emoluments.

Such activities strengthen the popular belief that it is greed rather than need that impels many in the bureaucracy to resort to extortion and unabashed corruption.

Laws to prevent corruption:-

It is lamentable that corruption among the elitist All India Services (IAS, Indian Police Service, Indian Forest Service) has shown no signs of abating, despite the many checks and balances introduced by successive governments.

The Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988 and its subsequent amendments have had only a marginal impact.

Political bureaucrat nexus:-

One aspect of the problem is the well known, unethical conduct of those holding ministerial positions.

But then, if the latter cave in to ministerial pressure, they have only themselves to blame.

The inability to stand up to ministerial pressure is one thing, but to benefit squarely from the misdeeds of those in the political firmament is an entirely different proposition.

The single directive:-

The Single Directive by the Union government requires government permission to the investigating agency to initiate a preliminary inquiry against an official at the level of joint secretary and above.

This mandatory provision protects and preserves the unholy nexus between a dishonest minister and the secretary to the department the former presides over.

The directive was struck down by the Supreme Court of India in the hawala case (1997) as unconstitutional.

However, from a purely executive order, it became law through an appropriate provision, both in the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, from which, incidentally, the CBI derives its powers to investigate.

In 2014 the Supreme Court struck down the Single Directive — as embodied in Section 6A of the DSPE Act — as discriminatory and violative of the constitutional principle of equality before the law.

Seizing the illegal income:-

One effective step to stem bureaucratic dishonesty is to deny to the offender benefits of living on proceeds of corruption.

While bank accounts suspected to have been parking places for illegal income can be frozen by an investigating agency, enough has not been done in respect of immovable properties acquired by an unscrupulous official.

The Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 1944, permits attachment of property believed to have been purchased with the help of illegally obtained money. Such property will be forfeited under a judicial order to the state by an accused convicted under the PCA, to the extent determined by the criminal court that has convicted him.

Such acts of attachment and forfeiture lend some deterrence to prevent corrupt civil servants from converting ill-gotten wealth into various forms of property. Increasing resort to this kind of punitive action could be a disincentive to buying property out of tainted money.

Conclusion:-

The hands of investigating agencies have been tied not only by non-cooperation at levels that matter, but also by legal constraints.

Stronger legislation to plug the loopholes in the current law — an amendment to this effect is in the pipeline — is not the answer.

Political will combined with greater courage on the part of senior officials to stand up to unethical pressure from above can do a lot to stem the rot.

Public vigilance coupled with media support will help greatly.

[2]. After Paris, keep the heat on

The Hindu

Context:-

Countries need to concentrate on global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which need to peak soon and go to zero by mid-century if there is to be a chance of preventing average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the level of pre-industrial times.

Challenge for developing nations:-

This is especially a major challenge for the least developed countries and developing countries, as they need to provide an improved quality of life to millions of poor while reducing emissions and shifting to a new model of growth that is a low-carbon pathway.

Many countries, including India, have a stated expectation that the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) targets can be met only if there is technological and financial support.

Technology transfer:-

It may include one or more of the following kinds of processes: a transfer of manufacturing methods, skills, knowledge, supporting finance, and facilitation through institutional arrangements that enable such transfers.

Technology transfer has been considered to be critical from the beginning of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Need for innovation:-

Innovation and transfer of technologies are essential if we want rapid shifts to renewable energy systems worldwide.

Solar panels:-

For example, commercially available crystalline silicon solar panels are on average about 15 per cent efficient. However, higher levels of efficiency (up to 45 per cent) have been demonstrated at laboratory scale in the U.S. and Europe. These are not yet commercially available.

If India and other developing countries had access to these technologies, they could potentially leapfrog to an advanced stage of renewables, using less land area than currently needed. This does not mean disregarding intellectual property rights (IPR). But support for licensing fees or some such arrangement through financing could allow developing countries to not have to reinvent technologies that the world already has access to.

Hybrid vehicles:-

Hybrid (petrol and electric) vehicles have been available in the U.S. for over a decade now, but are still not in the Indian market, even though they could enable a doubling of efficiency and vastly lower tailpipe emissions at a reasonable cost.

In many States, the transport departments hesitate to purchase electric buses because of the prohibitive cost, mainly because of the battery cost.

Fostering the right environment:-

We need the right enabling environment that supports diffusion and uptake of technologies, markets, and supporting regulations and policies.

CFL example:-

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency gave meticulous attention to the dissemination of compact fluorescent lamps.

It undertook a series of measures to enhance penetration, including large-scale procurement by the government, to ensure markets to manufacturers and, as a result, improved system-wide efficiencies.

LED Example:-

Novel business models undertaken by the government to promote Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs have resulted in a rapid decline of prices from Rs. 310 to Rs. 69 per bulb.

Indian Needs:-

In the energy sector, India’s needs include highly efficient renewables, better storage technologies, smart grids, clean public transport, efficient para-transit modes such as autorickshaws, and improved efficiencies in micro, small and medium industries which employ large numbers of people.

India also needs technologies for adaptation that are suitable to local impacts and conditions, since the effects of warming will be severe in the region.

Facilitating Technology transfer:-

The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) and the Technology Executive Committee were set up under the Technology Mechanism in COP-16 in 2010.

These were meant to facilitate technology transfer by providing information and technical assistance and fostering collaboration among experts through their network.

There has been concern about the level of support for the CTCN and its activities, but its establishment has at least placed the issue of technology transfer under the UNFCCC.

Various countries jointly launched Mission Innovation before the Paris COP in order to accelerate innovation in the energy sector

Need now not later:-

Given the short timeline over which the world needs to shift to zero emissions, these processes are too slow. In order to peak GHG emissions and adapt to a warmer climate, the world needs suitable technologies in order to make low-carbon transitions in development right now, not seven years after a global stocktake.

Paris deal and the future

Under the Paris deal, there will be a framework to provide guidance for the technology mechanism, provide enhanced action on technology development and assess technologies ready for transfer.

A link between financial and technology mechanisms has also been established, which should allow for collaboration in research and development. Whether this will go as far as India wanted in providing financial support to deal with IPR barriers in the future is not entirely clear.

But a policy and regulatory regime that promotes innovation within countries, transfers suitable technologies from outside, and supports the equity-sensitive application of new technologies is important.

For example:-

While it is important to promote and use solar pumps in agriculture in India, the crisis caused by over-extraction of groundwater and its contamination can only be addressed if regulation plays a critical role.

Otherwise, the country would continue to overexploit groundwater with solar pumps.

Conclusion:-

Understanding these linkages between technologies, policies and regulations and making appropriate institutional changes would be necessary for climate adaptation and climate friendly development.

[3]. Sounding the smoke alarm

The Hindu

Context:-

As per the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, tobacco companies in India may find it hard to lure children below the age of 18 into the tobacco habit.

According to the Act, anyone who sells these products to underage children will face rigorous imprisonment up to seven years and a fine up to Rs. 1,00,000.

Earlier:-

Under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, a paltry fine of Rs.200 was imposed on those who sold tobacco products to minors; this obviously did little to serve as a deterrent.

Easy access to and availability of tobacco has had a direct impact on consumption levels.

Studies:-

As some studies being school-based, they failed to take into account the most vulnerable population of children who are outside the schooling system and who are probably the earliest and most extensive users of tobacco.

Several studies have found higher consumption levels of tobacco among uneducated children, among those with only primary-level education, and among those from the lower income strata.

Yet these surveys reveal that a quarter of children below the age of 18 consumed tobacco in some form or the other in 2009.

Strategy of tobacco companies:-

For instance, tobacco companies offering free cigarettes to 13- to 15-year-old children, tobacco advertisements on billboards, the strategic placement of tobacco products inside shops, and the use of advertisement boards that do not meet the point-of-sale display specifications are some of the strategies employed by companies.

Why children targeted sales?

Companies are fully aware that the younger a person is when s/he begins to smoke, the more likely it is that s/he continue to smoke as an adult.

Those who use tobacco at a younger age are more addicted to it and are less likely to quit the habit than those who begin using it later.

Early use is also invariably associated with more frequent use. Early users are also less ignorant about the effects, making them easier prey for the tobacco companies.

Enforcement will be a challenge:-

While the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s initiative to disincentivise the sale of tobacco products to children through stiff penalty is commendable, the real challenge will be in its enforcement.

Unlike in the developed countries where cigarettes are sold in licensed shops and outlets, “over 76 per cent sale of tobacco products in India is restricted to unlicensed small shops and kiosks found in every street corner”. Policing them will be a huge challenge.

Multi pronged approach is needed:-

Banning:-

To start with, in accordance with India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, enforcing the ban on the sale of tobacco within a 100-metre radius of schools coupled with a ban on advertisements on tobacco near schools should be a priority, as several studies have shown a link between availability and consumption.

Awareness:-

Schools can also spread awareness about tobacco use among students to make the product less appealing.

For instance, according to a 2012 paper in PLOS ONE , a unique programme in Mumbai that focussed on imparting life skills and creating awareness on tobacco among economically disadvantaged schoolchildren helped prevent more than 50 per cent of them from taking up the habit.

Pictorial warnings:-

Meanwhile, more effective measures such as increasing taxes on tobacco products and introducing shocking pictorial warnings that cover 85 per cent of the front and back of packets are easily enforceable and would go a long way towards reducing consumption levels.

Increasing the price:-

Since the Indian taxation structure is not linked to income growth and inflation, tobacco products get cheaper relative to income affordability.

As an annual systematic inflation-adjusted increase in tobacco tax is not built into the process, there is a strong case to increase taxes every year. A steep increase in price will certainly prevent an overwhelming percentage of children from starting the habit and force many to quit. The negative impact on tobacco sales and consumption levels seen after an increase in taxes in the last two consecutive budgets serves as a pointer.

[4]. Ghosts Of Ship-To-Mouth

The Indian Express 

Context:-

The article states that productivity isn’t the problem of Indian Agriculture and that other issues need to be taken care of to bring the sector out of poverty.

Cheap imports artificially drive down commodity prices, leading farmers into a cycle of perpetual poverty and, as a result, rural-urban migrations.

Nutritional Safety:

The conversation on the farm sector needs to radically shift from focusing on fears of insufficient production to issues of nutrition and safety.

India has entered an era of marketable surpluses — but there are no buyers for our produce. The challenges India faces are price spikes and production fluctuations, not insufficient production. Onions and pulses, etc, augment the anxiety, but these are the consequences of lopsided farm support programmes and detached policymaking

Investing in R&D:-

India is already among the largest producers of foodgrain, pulses, sugarcane, tea, spices, eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables in the world.

These milestones have been reached even though we lag behind in crop yields. Investments in research for better farm technology and applications hold endless opportunities for yield improvement.

Additionally, there is a difference in yields within villages, as well as between a research centre and even the best farm. These differences can be bridged by improved extension services.

Upgrading the sowing Machinery:-

Other than research-induced increases, productivity can be enhanced by a quarter across the spectrum without adding extra inputs (and with fewer seeds) if we simply upgrade sowing machinery.

While farmer-ownership of machinery will lead to debt, service leasing will lead to prosperity. Merely defining objectives is half the work done; the fine print holds the key to achieve the objectives.

Improving cooperatives:-

India is the largest milk producer in the world, but cooperatives are collapsing because of just the interest burden of unsold stocks and competition from cheap, imported, subsidised and substandard milk products.

Milk production in the country will rise by a third if a preventive health programme of the National Dairy Development Board could be standardised countrywide.

Handling the wastages:-

Better handling of food, right from the time it is harvested till it reaches the table, would reduce wastages and make an extra 15 per cent of produce available for consumption.

Conclusion:-

Farmers’ biggest concern isn’t insufficient production. In irrigated areas, farmers worry about markets and, in rain-fed areas, they worry about water availability. Only time will tell if the consultations are seeking to validate existing ideas or if they accept the new rationale.

[5]. Ensuring privacy in a digital age

Livemint

Context:-

On 28 January 1981, the European Council signed the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, popularly known as Convention 108.

It is the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection. The day has since been celebrated as Data Protection Day in Europe and as International Data Privacy Day around the world.

In today’s era of digitization, it is imperative that we understand the concept—and importance—of data privacy.

Privacy:-

The Internet is essentially a data ecosystem where every node is engaged in generation, transmission, consumption and storage of data.

But the situation is such that while we are generating such high volumes of data—most of which is of the “identifier” type that is used to identify a person, a thing or an entity in the ecosystem—we do not have in place measures that safeguard the privacy of this data, nor regulate data retention by platforms collecting it.

As a result, ordinary citizens are unaware of how their personally identifiable information is collected, stored, used and shared.

Further, as governance-driven digitization (Aadhaar, digital lockers, direct account transfers) fuels large-scale sensitive data collection and storage, the Information Technology Act, with its limited scope to penalize government agencies for breach of data privacy, is the only legal instrument available to citizens against contravention of their privacy in the data ecosystem.

Need of the hour:-

The need of the hour is a comprehensive legislation that provides for a right to privacy as a fundamental entitlement to citizens.

A.P. Shah Committee recommendations:-

These include: notice (to be given to users while collecting data); choice and consent (of users while collecting data from them); collection limitation (to keep user data collected at the minimum necessary); purpose limitation (to keep the purpose as adequately defined and narrow as possible); access and correction (for end users to correct or delete their personal data as may be necessary); disclosure of information (private data should not be disclosed without explicit consent of end user); security (defining responsibility to ensure technical, administrative and physical safeguards for data collected); openness (informing end users of possible collection and utilization of personal data); accountability (institutionalize accountability for adherence to these principles).

Privacy enhancing technologies:-

PETs are essentially processes and tools that allow end users to safeguard the privacy of their personally identifiable information that they willingly provide to government agencies and other service providers.

PETs put the end user in control over what information to share, with whom to share and a clear knowledge of the recipients of this information. The use of data encryption and mandating multi-factor authentication for access to end user data can be examples of other PETs that can be implemented by service providers and government agencies alike.

Aligning Laws:-

Our government needs to start with aligning our technology laws with the evolving Internet landscape. User privacy concerns and secure designing should be integrated in the charters of respective standard-setting organizations. There needs to be active user education that makes them aware of their choices. Lengthy and complex privacy policies that practically hand over control of user data to the platforms collecting it need to be replaced with ones that are user friendly in draft and execution. Policy documents that address these concerns need to be widely discussed and debated in the public domain.

Privacy is often ignored:-

Recently, the Indian government released its draft Internet of Things Policy and it devotes only one line to the need to have security and privacy standards. The policy document on Smart Cities is indifferent to these concerns as well.

Last year, the Supreme Court referred to a constitutional bench the petition seeking inclusion of the Right to Privacy under Article 21 (Right to Life). While the verdict of the honourable court is still awaited, we can take the first steps towards safeguarding ourselves by voluntarily inculcating digital privacy principles.

[6]. Delivering benefits to the poor

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Context:-

The challenge is not only to increase the quantum of money delivered through various subsidies, along with employment generation programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, but also ensure that the benefits reach the poor.

Good news:-

The good news is that PDS leakages have come down substantially in the last decade.

The news on the other big subsidy element, the petroleum subsidy, is also positive, with the government managing to do away with subsidies on petrol and diesel.

The remaining components of the petroleum subsidy—liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene—are also showing signs of reduction, partly as a result of declining consumption of kerosene and partly because of the fall in crude prices.

Fixing the Delivery Mechanism:-

Essentially, the issue revolves around three questions: What to deliver? Whom to deliver to? How to deliver?

‘How to deliver’:-

The focus on the trinity of JAM (Jan Dhan accounts, Aadhaar and Mobile) is essentially to fix the mechanisms of delivery of subsidies to beneficiaries.

But given their nature, this exercise is more likely to be successful for benefits delivered in cash, although the same mechanism is also useful for delivery of benefits in kind.

However, the focus on direct benefit transfers has meant that other aspects of subsidy delivery have largely been ignored or made slower progress.

Whom to Deliver:-

This has been a vexed issue for more than a decade now, ever since the government decided to shift to targeted PDS.

The issue of identification of beneficiaries is not only crucial for implementing the National Food Security Act (NFSA) but also for other schemes such as social pensions.

On this front, the socioeconomic caste census (SECC) has not been used in many states for beneficiary identification. While there are concerns on the quality of SECC data, most states that are using the SECC for beneficiary identification have found the data to be fairly reliable.

Bihar is a notable example where the use of SECC data for beneficiary identification has led to reduction in exclusion errors for the NFSA.

However, the use of different methodologies and criteria of identification by state governments means that there is no clarity on either the criteria for identification of beneficiaries or the extent of exclusion and inclusion errors in these lists. In some of the states, the list in use is the below poverty line census of 2002, which is known for its errors of targeting.

While the SECC is useful for beneficiary identification for social sector schemes, it is not sufficient as far as identification of beneficiaries for delivery of subsidies in agriculture is concerned. Since the agricultural sector receives various forms of subsidy, designing error-free methods of identification is a must.

This is essential due to the large number of absentee landowners and because a significant amount of land is cultivated under unrecorded tenancy. Attempts by the agriculture department of Uttar Pradesh to use a model of cash transfers in lieu of product-linked subsidy in case of seeds clearly showed high levels of exclusion.

 ‘What to deliver’:-

Andhra Pradesh has clearly shown that once the delivery mechanism is fixed with correct identification of beneficiaries, it does not matter whether the subsidy is given in cash or in kind. While the Andhra model was successful in reducing leakages in cash transfers, it also worked in the case of PDS where the benefits were given in kind.

Moreover, PDS is a good example where states such as Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Chhattisgarh have shown success in eliminating leakages with in-kind transfers. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on implementing the NFSA throughout the country using these success stories, the focus of the government is on shifting to cash transfers.

But the issue of cash-versus-kind is not one that can be resolved by just fixing the delivery mechanism. This is a question which requires an understanding of the efficiency of the transfers, not just from a technocratic approach of leakages, but also on what works better for the intended purpose.

There is now sufficient evidence to suggest that subsidies delivered in kind for food-related schemes deliver more in terms of nutritional intake compared with similar amounts delivered in cash. The same may be true for subsidies in agriculture where product-linked subsidies may be required till such time as there is some evidence to suggest otherwise.

Conclusion:-

Any hasty attempt to shift to cash transfers may only end up excluding a large majority of needy farmers from the few benefits they receive. At a time when the agricultural sector is suffering from the twin problems of drought and global commodity price deflation, any attempt to reduce subsidies will be detrimental to the economy. The need of the hour is not just to augment efforts to fix the broken delivery mechanism but also to increase spending in rural areas on these programmes.


By: ForumIAS Editorial Team


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