23 Apr 2018: UPSC Exam Comprehensive News Analysis

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A. GS1 Related
B. GS2 Related
POLITY
1. Minorities’ commission to seek constitutional status
C. GS3 Related
ECONOMY
1. Mega SEZs to spur electronics exports
2. What govt. can do to keep fuel prices under check
D. GS4 Related
E. Editorials
ECONOMY
1. Use of blockchain beyond cryptocurrencies
ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT
1. Replanting Indian cotton
2. The Forest Survey of India report
F. Prelims Fact
G. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions
H. UPSC Mains Practice Questions 

A. GS1 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

B. GS2 Related

Category: POLITY

1. Minorities’ commission to seek constitutional status

 

  • The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has decided to approach the government for granting it Constitutional status to protect the rights of minority communities more effectively.
  • If granted such a status, the NCM will be able to act against errant officials who do not attend hearings, follow its order or are found guilty of dereliction of duty. The decision was made during the panel’s meeting last week, he said.
  • Till now, only the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes enjoy constitutional status.
  • In its present form, the NCM has powers to summon officials, including chief secretaries and director generals of police, but has to rely on departments concerned to take action against them.

More powers

  • If granted constitutional status, the NCM can penalise or suspend an officer for two days or send him/her to jail.
  • Earlier, the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment (2017-18), in its 53rd report noted that the NCM is almost ineffective in its current state to deal with cases of atrocities against minorities.
  • The committee recommended constitutional status to the body without any delay.

C. GS3 Related

Category: ECONOMY

1. Mega SEZs to spur electronics exports

 

  • In a bid to make India an export hub for electronics, the government plans to set up at least one SEZ or special economic zone in every State under the proposed electronic policy.
  • The new policy will focus on making India an export hub. It has been proposed that at least one mega SEZ be set up in each state, with emphasis on coastal economic zones.

‘Africa, Europe focus’

  • Under the new policy, which was earlier expected to be out by March 2018, the government also plans to sign free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries, including those in Africa and Europe, to which India can export smaller electronic products.
  • In 2016, as part of a Make in India strategy for electronics, the government think-tank NITI Aayog had recommended that India forge FTAs [towards creating a] duty free market for our electronic goods.
  • At present, our approach with respect to FTAs is defensive because we are a much larger importer of electronic products than an exporter. But a switch to an export-oriented strategy would convert FTAs into an opportunity.

Push for CEZs

  • It had also recommended that Costal Economic Zones (CEZs) be set up, similar to what China has done.
  • Pointing out that India’s numerous SEZs have not taken off in the way they did in China due to issues such as size and location, the Aayog had said large areas near the coast can be set aside for CEZs in which a sound ecosystem for healthy growth of export-oriented firms is fostered.
  • India has set a target of net zero imports in electronics by 2020, in the meeting of which the new policy will play a crucial role.
  • The draft of the policy, expected to be out soon, will outline a framework to make India a global leader in product verticals such as medical and automotive electronics, besides mobile phone and consumer electronics.
  • Deliberations with stakeholders on the revised policy started in September, following which nine sectoral working groups have been formed.
  • The groups — with members from the industry and the Ministry — have been focussed on individual products such as mobile handsets, LED products, medical electronics, consumer electronics and automotive electronics, including electric vehicles.

2. What govt. can do to keep fuel prices under check

Petrol and diesel prices touched record levels over the weekend with petrol selling at Rs. 74.40 a litre, the highest it’s been under the current government’s tenure and diesel at Rs. 65.65, largely due to rising global crude oil prices but also on high excise duty on the fuels.

How are oil prices behaving?

  • Crude oil prices rose at a scorching 24% in the first three months of 2018 before hitting a 40-month high in April following a decline in global inventories, largely caused by the production cuts by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members and also by geopolitical tensions in West Asia.
  • Agencies such as Crisil Research expect crude oil prices to settle at about $70 a barrel during the calendar year of 2018, representing a 27% increase over last year’s level. As a consequence, India’s oil import bill is expected to balloon by about 26% to Rs. 6.5 lakh crore in FY19.

What is the impact of taxes?

  • The other aspect has to do with the excise duty on petrol and diesel, imposed by the government, which has risen sharply over the last few years.
  • According to data with the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the excise duty on branded petrol is Rs. 20.66 a litre or almost 28% of the total price of the fuel. This proportion is 27% for branded diesel.
  • Excise duties have risen significantly since 2013-14, accounting for 22-25% of the retail prices of petrol and diesel respectively, compared with 12-15% earlier when crude prices were at similar levels.

What can be done?

The advantage of linking domestic fuel prices to the global oil market, as India has done, is that oil marketing companies (OMCs) are no longer forced to sell fuel at subsidised rates.

But on the flip side, as can be seen now, is that the consumer is forced to buy fuel at high prices when global price levels are elevated.

So, one thing the government can do, and which it is reportedly considering doing, is to ask the OMCs to refrain from passing on the higher oil prices to consumers.

In other words, this would represent a return to the previous subsidy regime, albeit somewhat better. If crude price hikes are not allowed to be largely passed on to consumers, the marketing margins of OMCs will decline by 80 paise to Rs. 1 per litre.

Is that all?

  • The government can always reduce the excise duty on petrol and diesel thereby earning a lower revenue but at least easing some burden on the consumers.
  • However, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan recently made it clear that the government had no plans to cut the levy as it needed revenue for developmental needs.
  • Centre and States bank on tax revenues to meet developmental needs. Forty-two per cent of collections from excise duty (on petrol and diesel) goes to States and out of the remaining, 60% is used to fund Centre’s share in development schemes in States.

D. GS4 Related

Nothing here for today!!!

E. Editorials

Category: ECONOMY

1. Use of blockchain beyond cryptocurrencies

 

  • With India’s digital footsteps gaining significant stride in recent years, blockchain technology has caught the imagination of many.
  • While most of us identify blockchain with cryptocurrencies, bitcoins in particular, tech designers are yet to fully realise its disruptive potential in numerous other sectors. In today’s rapidly evolving interconnected digital ecosystem, blockchain can emerge the biggest disrupter.
  • Blockchain technology has the power to transform business processes and applications across sectors — from financial services to agriculture, from healthcare to education, among others.
  • Blockchain-powered smart contracts, where every piece of information is recorded in a traceable and irreversible manner, can play a revolutionary role in enhancing ease of doing business. It will augment the credibility, accuracy and efficiency of a contract while reducing the risk of frauds, substantially.

Property deals

  • Property transactions in India are still carried out on paper, making them prone to disputes. Application of blockchain technology would bring revolutionary changes through in-built transparency, traceability and efficiency in the system.
  • State governments are already exploring use of this technology to bring order and efficiency to property transactions.
  • Financial services has been a pioneer in blockchain-based use cases that are driving significant improvements in operations and client experience.
    • For example, Yes Bank is an early adopter of this technology by implementing a blockchain-based multi-nodal system to fully digitise vendor financing for one of its clients. The system today enables the bank to do timely processing of vendor payments without physical documents and manual intervention, while enabling both parties to track the status of transactions in real time.
  • Healthcare and pharmaceuticals is one of the best prospective areas where a lot of clinical data is built up and exchanged, which, owing to its sensitive nature, demands a secure and reliable system.
  • Blockchain could play a crucial part in health insurance claims management by reducing the risk of insurance claim frauds. The technology can also be used to prevent the sale of spurious drugs in the country by tracking every step of the supply chain network at every level.
  • The education sector can benefit from a blockchain-powered, time-stamped repository of pass-outs and job records of students so that it becomes easier for employers to verify the credibility of candidates.
  • In agriculture too, seasonal data related to crop and climatic cycles and soil testing data can be protected and used by multi-nodal blockchain application for the benefit of insurance companies, researchers, market agencies and even to predict stock prices.

Global Experience

  • Globally, blockchain technology has proven to be a change-maker. Nasdaq Inc. has successfully tested a blockchain-powered proxy voting system on its Estonian exchange and is gearing up for full-scale implementation.
  • In Russia, blockchain-based systems are being pursued for land registry management as well as for improving the local voting system. The Dubai government, on the other hand, is on its way to implement blockchain-based paperless digital systems in areas such as visa applications, licence renewals and bill payments.

Government as enabler

  • While the government of India has eliminated the possibility of considering cryptocurrencies as legal tender, it has endorsed the idea of exploring use of blockchain technology for ushering in India’s digital economy.
  • The NITI Aayog is exploring the use of blockchain and AI technologies in diverse areas such as education, healthcare, agriculture, electricity distribution and land records, among others.
  • In this direction, the Think-Tank is reportedly building a platform called ‘IndiaChain’ — a shared, India-specific blockchain infrastructure that would leverage the trinity of Jan-Dhan-Yojana, Aadhaar and the mobile trinity.
  • When implemented, this one-of-its-kind initiative will likely be the world’s largest blockchain implementation programme in governance.
  • What may actually work for India is the version Blockchain 2.0 that allows programmable transactions (modified by a condition or a set of conditions), extending its capability from being able to do simple transactions to more complex transactions. It can also address privacy and regulatory needs, complex functions and is not limited to one vendor.
  • Meanwhile, several State governments including A.P., Telangana, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra, have started gauging the possibilities, and even implementing in some cases, the distributed ledger technology for their e-governance initiatives. The A.P. government is leading the way in blockchain adoption by executing pilot projects in land records and transport.

For a true digital future

  • Blockchain’s ability to enhance real-time visibility in the functioning of the supply chain offers myriad possibilities across a range of sectors to prevent leakages, and thereby increase efficiency.
  • Realising its genuine potential, a number of leading corporations in India have started investing in Blockchain. At the same time, a number of start-ups are emerging in this space, developing and using the technology for diverse applications.
  • While baby steps are being taken, it is also crucial to lay our collective focus on identifying and resolving key issues and challenges in implementing this technology, the prime amongst those being data privacy.
  • A sustainable future for blockchain would also necessitate creation and sustenance of the right kind of ecosystem in the country.

Category: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT

1. Replanting Indian cotton

 

  • Pink bollworm infestation in Bt cotton in India has turned the spotlight on an important question: has hybrid cotton lived up to its promise? India was a pioneer in this technology in the 1970s; today, it is the only country that exclusively grows cotton hybrids.
  • Yet, cotton researchers are now asking if our over-reliance on this technology is responsible for our biggest problems in Bt cotton, such as infestation and low yield.
  • The world’s first commercial cotton hybrid, Hybrid-4 (H-4), was developed in 1970 by the scientist Chandrakant T. Patel. The crop revolutionised cotton farming in India.
  • Due to a genetic phenomenon called heterosis, hybrids often outyield open-pollinated (OP) varieties. So, from paltry yields of 122 kg of lint per hectare, production in India rose to 290 kg per hectare by 1992-93.
  • The advent of hybrids also led to a mini-employment boom in the 1980s, with some 25 million people, mostly women, joining the labour-intensive hybrid industry.
  • But the high cost of hybrid seeds prevented farmers from adopting them in a big way until 2002. This was the year when Bt cotton changed the economics of cotton production by cutting down on the costs of pesticides for bollworms.
  • Farmers adopted Bt cotton in great numbers, despite Monsanto restricting it to hybrids. As a result, by 2011, over 95% of cotton in India was under hybrids, from less than 50% before 2002. Bt cotton’s insecticidal traits helped raise Indian yields further.

Why productivity plateaued

  • Eventually, though, productivity plateaued. As of today, India’s average yield is around 500 kg of lint per hectare, about a fourth of Australia and Turkey which plant OP varieties. This is puzzling.

Why has India’s productivity stagnated despite an ostensibly high-yield technology?

Too many factors have contributed to this problem, some of which are uncontrollable, like climatic conditions and the sheer area under cotton production (11 million hectares). But other factors, such as the suitability of hybrids grown, are within India’s control and it is crucial to understand them.

  • A big mistake that India made was in going overboard with the number of hybrids it approved after Bt cotton arrived. Until then, approval of new hybrids was a careful process: every time a seed company applied to release one, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research tested its agronomic traits in field trials for three years.
  • This testing became less stringent after 2002, when the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) took over the process of Bt hybrid approval.
  • Concerned that hybrid approval was taking too long and costing too much for seed companies, the GEAC simplified it. It said that as long as the genetic event (such as Monsanto’s Bt event, Mon 531) had been tested in field trials, the cotton hybrid containing it required testing for only about a year.
  • This led to a deluge of poor-quality hybrids in India, with 1,128 hybrids being approved till 2012. Many of these inadequately tested hybrids were unsuited for the regions in which they were approved and hurt farmers and yield.
  • Farmers had to go through the harrowing experience of experimenting with new hybrids, only to burn their fingers in trying to identify the best.

What was the problem with an inadequately tested hybrid?

  • Sometimes the seeds were of poor quality, sometimes the hybrids didn’t express enough Bt toxin, and sometimes hybrids meant for one agro-climatic zone were approved in other zones.
  • For example, many hybrids that were meant for irrigated farmlands ended up in areas with no irrigation, a recipe for disaster. Hybrids are a high-cost, high-reward technology; they need the right irrigation at the right time, as well as large doses of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • All this is expensive and beyond the reach of poor farmers. Vijay Kumar, a researcher who headed CICR’s Cotton Research Station in Surat, cites the example of Wagad tracts in Gujarat.
  • These are barren lands where only a few Indian OP cotton varieties can survive. People started growing Bt hybrids there.
  • Indian hybrids had another downside. Many were designed to be tall and bushy, unlike OP varieties which are short and straight. This meant that hybrids could not be planted in large densities — one of the contributors of high yields in Australia and Brazil. Low densities led to farmers prolonging the cotton-growing season to increase output, which in turn triggered pink bollworm attacks.

Apart from being bushy, some of these hybrids also had a low harvest index, meaning that the mass of their seeds and lint was low compared to the mass of the rest of the crop, like shoots and leaves.

This meant that fertilizers pumped into these hybrids were diverted to leaves rather than lint. This pulled down yield even in irrigated regions like Punjab. Further, Punjab suffered repeated whitefly infestations, which Bt cotton doesn’t protect against. Tackling this needed well-timed insecticide sprays, which farmers did not always do.

Can OP varieties save the day?

  • Some cotton researchers believe that it is time to ditch hybrids and return to OP varieties, at least in rain-fed regions. Varieties are compact and can be selected for resistance against pests like whiteflies. When planted at high densities, they can rival hybrid yields.
  • What route India takes towards varieties depends on the patent issues surrounding Bt cotton. The Delhi High Court ruled this month that the patent on Bollgard-2, Monsanto’s second generation Bt cotton, was unenforceable.
  • This means that India has the option to use Bollgard-2, which confers resistance against pests like the American bollworm, in OP varieties. This was impossible until now, given Monsanto’s licensing agreement with seed companies. However, Monsanto may appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.
  • Another, more radical, option is for India to skip Bt technologies altogether in OP varieties. Some researchers argue that Bt cotton is unnecessary, at least in some parts of the country.
  • It was the cultivation of long-duration cotton that triggered both the pink and American bollworm infestations in these regions, creating the need for Bt cotton, they say.
  • In a 2015 study, Andrew Paul Gutierrez, who studies pest control at the University of California, Berkeley, modelled data from Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district to show that pink-bollworm infestations began with the advent of irrigated, long-duration cotton.
  • Gutierrez argued that if rain-fed farmers can control pink bollworm with short-season cultivation alone, the comparative benefits of Bt cotton wouldn’t outweigh its high costs.

2. The Forest Survey of India report

 

  • The latest Forest Survey of India report has changed the calculation method for India’s forest cover to include plantations on private lands. It is common knowledge that private plantations of teak, eucalyptus and poplar are undertaken to earn incomes.
  • Such plantations can’t be substitutes for natural forests with their wildlife and immense biodiversity. Natural forests have multiple ecosystem functions, none of which can be provided by commercial plantations.
  • Classifying tree plantations as forests is naïve and deceptive — naïve because it ignores reams of research and evidence which show otherwise, and deceptive because this dangerous definition comes from a forest bureaucracy that projects itself as the sole guardian of India’s forests and is very aware that plantations are not forests.
  • Forest officials are trained in ecological sciences and obviously understand this fallacy. There seem to be other considerations at work in including plantations this way. Revenue generation seems to be an objective, but perhaps more important, the scope to siphon off a large amount of money in the name of plantation. There’s hardly any accountability in such projects.
  • In Odisha, the State from where I come, an unprecedented heatwave in 1998 claimed 2,048 lives. Today, temperatures are only increasing with climate change. Government measures have successfully reduced deaths due to heat waves, but the numbers are still alarmingly high.
  • Climate change is the daily lived reality not only in Odisha but throughout India in the form of heatwaves, floods, droughts, and unseasonal rainfall. The situation is getting worse as global temperatures continue to increase.
  • Protecting and restoring natural forests is one of the best ways to mitigate climate change. In this perspective, replacing forests with plantations raised by the private sector, as proposed in India’s just-circulated Draft National Forest Policy, is a terrible strategy. There is no need for profit-seeking private investments in forests as more than $7 billion of public compensatory afforestation funds are lying unused.
  • Thousands of tribal and peasantry communities in Odisha have painstakingly protected forests for decades. Like their counterparts across India, they are now bringing claims to legally conserve and govern these forests under the Forest Rights Act of 2006.
  • To marshal people to tackle climate change through forests, we need to work with these communities and turn protection and restoration of India’s forests into a forest rights-based movement of gram sabhas and local communities.
  • The $7 billion compensatory afforestation fund should be given to the gram sabhas of the forest dweller and tribal communities empowered to protect and restore forests through the Act. This will help restore forests and mitigate the impact of climate change, while also meeting India’s international climate obligations.

F. Prelims Fact

Nothing here for today!!!

G. Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims Exam

Question 1. Consider the following statements about Coastal Economic Zone (CEZ).
  1. CEZs are spatial economic regions comprising group of coastal districts or districts with strong linkage to ports in region to tap into synergies with planned industrial corridor projects.

  2. CEZ will be developed as part of plan for developing 14 such industrial clusters to spur manufacturing and generate jobs.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 2. Consider the following statements about Coastal Economic Zone (CEZ).
  1. India’s first mega coastal economic zone (CEZ) will be setup at Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNPT) in Maharashtra.

  2. Coastal Economic Zone (CEZ) are being setup under the National Perspective Plan of Sagarmala Programme.

Which of the above statements are incorrect?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 3. Consider the following statements about National Commission for Minorities: 
  1. It is a statutory body set up under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.

  2. It looks into complaints from members of five religious communities — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsis).

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 4.  Consider the following statements about Minorities:
  1. Constitution of India has not defined word ‘Minority’ and only refers to ‘Minorities’.

  2. Constitution speaks of minorities ‘based on religion or language’.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 5. Consider the following statements about Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006: 
  1. It concerns the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India.

  2. The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.

Which of the above statements are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer

H. UPSC Mains Practice Questions

 
 General Studies III
  1. Blockchain technology has the power to transform business processes and applications across sectors. Discuss.

  2. India’s SEZs have not taken off in the way they did in China. Comment.

 

Also, check previous Daily News Analysis

 

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