13-15 Nov 2021 Daily Current Affairs

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Prelims Specific Questions :-

1) Consider the following statements.

  1. She is regarded as the first female teacher of India.
  2. She was associated with Satyashodhak Samaj.
  3. She along with her husband recognised that education was one of the central planks through which women and the depressed classes could become empowered.

The above statements refer to

  1. Savitribai Phule
  2. Usha Mehta
  3. Kadambini Ganguly
  4. Sarojini Naidu

2) The Wavell Plan, arrived at the Simla Conference 1945 provided for which of the following?

  1. Indianization of the Viceroy’s Executive Council
  2. Removing any caste and religion-based quota in the Executive Council
  3. Partition of India

Select the correct answer code:

  1. 1, 2
  2. 2, 3
  3. 1 only
  4. 1, 2, 3

What did the Wavell Plan Propose?

In May 1945 Wavell visited London and discussed his ideas with the British Government. These London talks resulted in the formulation of a definite plan of action which was officially made public simultaneously on 14 June 1945 by L.S. Amery, the Secretary of State for India. The Wavell Plan proposed the following:

  • The Viceroy’s Executive Council was to have all Indian members except the Viceroy himself and the Commander-in-Chief.
  • The council was to have a ‘balanced representation’ of all Indians including ‘caste-Hindus’, Muslims, Depressed Classes, Sikhs, etc. Muslims were given 6 out of 14 members which accounted for more than their share of the population (25%).
  • The Viceroy/Governor-General would still have the power of veto but its use would be minimal.
  • The foreign affairs portfolio would be transferred from the Governor-General to an Indian member. The defence would be handled by a British general until the full transfer of power was made.
  • A conference would be convened by the Viceroy to get a list of all the members recommended to the Council from all parties concerned. In case a joint list was not agreed upon, separate lists would be taken from the parties. This was to be the Shimla Conference.
  • If this plan worked, similar councils would be formed in all provinces comprising of local leaders.

3) Which of the following historical commissions were related to States Reorganisation in India?

  1. JVP Committee
  2. Dhar Commission
  3. Fazl Ali Commission
  4. Gokhale Committee

Select the correct answer code:

  1. 1, 2, 3
  2. 2, 3, 4
  3. 1, 2, 4
  4. 1, 3, 4

4) Global Drug Policy Index is released by?

  1. Harm Reduction Consortium
  2. World Federation Against Drugs
  3. Alliance for a Drug-Free world
  4. Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs

5) Which among the following Indian cities is/are a part of UN Creative Cities Network (UNCCN)?

  1. Chennai
  2. Jaipur
  3. Kochi

Select the correct answer from the codes given below:

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Following Indian cities are part of UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN)

  • Chennai and Varanasi – Cities of music; 
  • Jaipur – City of crafts and folk arts; 
  • Mumbai – City of film  
  • Hyderabad – City of gastronomy.
  • Srinagar – Crafts and Folk Arts category.

6) Project 75(I) is related to which of the following?

  1. It is a programme launched by the Indian Navy to build six Scorpene-Class attack submarines.
  2. It is an initiative of the Government of India to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of progressive India.
  3. It is the document released by Niti Aayog which replaced the fiver year plans.
  4. It is a programme aims to reduce Green House Gas emissions.

7) Which of the following are the tributaries of Ganga River?

  1. Sharda, Son and Gir
  2. Sutlej, Hindon and Tamsa
  3. Bhima, Yamuna and Ramganaga
  4. Ghagra, Ghandak and Son

8) Consider the following statements regarding Third Battle of Panipat.

  1. The Third Battle of Panipat was fought between the Marathas and the invading armies of Afghan general Ahmed Shah Abdali.
  2. After the battle, the Marathas lost their preeminent position in north India, which ultimately paved the way for British colonial powers to take over.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

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

9) Consider the following statements regarding Portuguese in India.

  1. The Portuguese were the last Europeans to come to India and were also the last to leave India.
  2. The Portuguese discovery of the sea route to India was the first recorded trip made directly from Europe to India.
  3. The Portuguese were quite tolerant towards all religions in India.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

  1. 1, 2
  2. 2 only
  3. 2, 3
  4. 1, 2, 3

Sequence of an establishment of European Companies

  • Portuguese (1498)
  • English East India Company (1600)
  • Dutch East India Company (1602)
  • Danish East India Company (1616)
  • French East India Company (1664)

10) Partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911 by

  1. Lord Minto
  2. Lord Hardinge
  3. Lord Chelmsford
  4. Lord Curzon

Science

1) DART Mission

NASA will launch its first planetary defense test mission, named the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). The mission will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

What is the DART Mission?

DART is the first technology demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique. If successful, this technique could be used to mitigate the threat ​​in case an asteroid heads towards Earth in the future.

What will the DART mission do?

The mission will test this newly developed technology by allowing a spacecraft to crash into an asteroid and change its course.

After the spacecraft has collided with the asteroid, scientists will study its impact on the trajectory of the asteroid with a range of telescopes deployed on different regions of the planet.

This study will help scientists understand whether the kinetic effect of a spacecraft impact could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Which asteroid will be deflected by the mission?

The target of the spacecraft is a small moonlet called Dimorphos (Greek for “two forms”). Dimorphos orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos (Greek for “twin”).

Why was Dimorphos chosen?

  • Firstly, the Didymos and Dimorphos do not pose any threat to Earth.
  • Secondly, Didymos is an eclipsing binary, which means it has a moonlet that regularly orbits the asteroid, and scientists can see it when it passes in front of the main asteroid. Due to this, Earth-based telescopes can make the most precise measurement possible.

2) ‘Cybercrime went up by 500% during pandemic’

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, has stressed the need for a national framework to thwart cyber-attacks that have been on the rise in the country.

While a national cyber-security strategy is in the offing, the country is also in dire need of a data protection law, with cybercriminals increasingly weaponising data as a tool against national security in the post-pandemic era, he added.

Gen. Rawat was delivering the inaugural address of the 14th edition of c0c0n, the annual cyber-security and hacking conference organized by the Kerala Police, which formally got under way on Friday.

Relying on technology

“Cyber crimes have gone up by almost 500% in India during the global pandemic. We need to consider the emerging threats from new technologies such as drones, ransomware, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and also the role of nation states in such cyber attacks. The lockdown, which witnessed a deeper adoption of interconnected devices and hybrid work environment, has increased our dependence on technology. This renders us digitally more vulnerable than ever before,” he said.

3) Fighting mosquito-borne diseases: work in progress

RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is the world’s first malaria vaccine shown to provide partial protection against malaria in young children.

The WHO has just cleared another vaccine, called Mosquirix, from Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) of the U.K. With the involvement of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the vaccine has been tested in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana on over 800,000 children and shows an efficiency of over 50% in the first year, but dropping as time progresses. The Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) is planning to purchase the vaccine for countries that request it.

Another rapidly spreading disease is dengue. It is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which happily grow in small stagnant pools of water, such as in discarded tyres. Four serotypes of the dengue virus are found. Serotypes make vaccine development difficult, as a different vaccine is needed against each serotype. A vaccine against dengue, DENGVAXIA, from Sanofi Pasteur, is approved in several countries and shows efficacies ranging from 42% to 78% against the four serotypes of the virus.

One particularly interesting strategy involves a bacterium, Wolbachia pipientis, an intracellular parasite commonly found in many insects, but not in the dengue-carrying mosquito. When introduced into this mosquito’s cells, this parasite competes successfully against other parasites such as the viruses that cause dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika.

Aedes mosquitoes, doped with Wolbachia in the laboratory, are released in localities where the disease is prevalent. They quickly spread the bacterium to native Aedes mosquitoes, and the incidence of new dengue cases starts to decline.

Both mosquitoes and the Plasmodium parasite need warm, moist weather to flourish.

4) Eggshell Planets

These rocky worlds have an ultra-thin outer brittle layer and little to no topography. Such worlds are unlikely to have plate tectonics, raising questions as to their habitability.

Only a small subset of extrasolar planets are likely eggshell planets.

5) Industrious microbes

Microbes may have been behind the first stages of coal creation, finds a study published in Science. Studying methoxyl groups in coal samples, researchers showed that organic material eventually becomes coal through the action of anaerobic microbes that consumed the methoxyl groups, transformed the coal and made methane.

6) Clue in a diamond

A greenish, octahedral-shaped diamond that was found decades ago at the Orapa diamond mine in Botswana contained small black specks that turned out to be a mineral identified in nature for the first time. This discovery was reported in Science, and the mineral, named Davemaoite, cannot exist on Earth’s surface, but plays a major role in heat flow deep inside the Earth.

International Relations

1) Russia, Belarus hold drills near Poland

Belarusian and Russian paratroopers staged joint drills near the Polish and Lithuanian borders, during a standoff between Belarus and the EU over migrants camped in freezing forests at the frontier.

Neighbours of Belarus have expressed concern that the crisis could escalate into a military confrontation.

Environment

1) Negotiators at COP-26 brainstorm over draft

The 2022 edition of the Conference of Parties, or the 27th COP, will take place at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and the 28th edition in 2023 will be held in the UAE.

Members from the Red Rebel Brigade taking part in a protest during the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Britain. Wearing red to symbolise the danger of the climate crisis, the Red Rebels will stage ‘haunting performances’ at each station along the route, to urge the need to act now on global warming.

Promises not kept

Developing countries such as India and China are pushing for formal acknowledgement from the West that they have not delivered on past promises of providing $100 billion annually until 2020.

Developed countries have promised to deliver on this by 2023-24 but India and several other low-income and developing countries have demanded financing post 2025 and also funds for the loss and damage that has already been incurred in their countries due to climate catastrophes.

India has demanded a trillion dollars over the next decade from developed countries to adapt to and mitigate the challenges from global warming and has kept this as a condition for delivering on climate commitments made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

2) Kaiser-i-Hind is Arunachal’s State butterfly

  • Kaiser-i-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis)

An elusive swallowtail butterfly carrying ‘India’ in its name and found in next-door China will become the State butterfly of Arunachal Pradesh.

The State Cabinet headed by Chief Minister Pema Khandu approved the large, brightly coloured Kaiser-i-Hind as the State butterfly. The Cabinet meeting was for the first time held outside State capital Itanagar at an unusual location — Pakke Tiger Reserve.

The Cabinet also adopted the Pakke Tiger Reserve 2047 declaration on climate change-resilient and responsive Arunachal Pradesh aimed at lowering emissions and sustainable development.

The butterfly also flutters in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and southern China.

The proposal was made with a view to boosting butterfly tourism and saving the species from extinction in the State. The Kaiser-i-Hind is protected under Schedule II of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, it is hunted for supply to butterfly collectors.

Society

1) Study: remote education was inaccessible to most children

Only 20% of school-age children in India had access to remote education during the pandemic, of whom only half participated in live online lessons, according to a new national sample survey by ICRIER and LIRNEAsia, a think tank focused on digital policy. In fact, 38% of households said at least one child had dropped out of school due to COVID-19. The survey, found that although digital connectivity shot up 40% during the pandemic, low access to devices, poor signal and high costs prevented most children from reaping the benefits.

2) Assange given nod to marry partner in prison

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted permission to marry his partner, Stella Moris, in prison, British authorities said.

Mr. Assange has been held in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019 as he fights a U.S. attempt to extradite him on espionage charges.

Polity

1) CBI, ED chiefs can now have five-year terms

President Ram Nath Kovind promulgated two ordinances that would allow the Centre to extend the tenures of the directors of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate from two years to up to five years.

While the change in tenure of the CBI Director was effected by amending the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the changes to the tenure of the ED Director was brought in by amending the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003.

Facts about Ordinance –

  • Simply put, an Ordinance is a law made by the Government without obtaining the blessings of the legislature. Article 123 of the Constitution of India, which allows ordinances was originally intended to allow the Government to pass critical laws when the Parliament was not in session or to deal with extraordinary, unforeseen or emergency circumstances.
  • Promulgation of an ordinance has to be ratified by the President. Such ordinances carry the full force of a law made by the legislature with one catch. The law only remains in force for six weeks once the Parliament is reconvened, at which time it must be approved by both Houses of Parliament in order to become a law.
  • Ordinances have similar limitations as ordinary laws, insofar as they cannot violate other laws and principles enshrined in the Constitution.

There are the following limitations:

  • President can promulgate an ordinance only when both the houses are not in session or only one house is in session.
  • For an ordinance to be promulgated, such circumstances should be there which deem it necessary for President to legislate through the ordinance.

Note: In RC Cooper vs. Union of India (1970) the Supreme Court, while examining the constitutionality of the Banking Companies (Acquisition of Undertakings) Ordinance, 1969 which sought to nationalise 14 of India’s largest commercial banks, held that the President’s decision could be challenged on the grounds that ‘immediate action’ was not required; and the Ordinance had been passed primarily to by-pass debate and discussion in the legislature.

38th Amendment Act inserted a new clause (4) in Article 123 stating that the President’s satisfaction while promulgating an Ordinance was final and could not be questioned in any court on any ground. however, the 44th Amendment to Indian Constitution reversed it and made the President’s satisfaction to bring ordinance justiciable.

  • Ordinances can be introduced only on those subjects on which the Indian Parliament can make laws.
  • Ordinances can not take away any rights of citizens that are guaranteed by the Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution.
  • Ordinance ceases to exist if parliament takes no action within six weeks from its reassembly
  • Ordinance also stands void if both the houses pass a resolution disapproving the ordinance

Note: The maximum life of an ordinance can be six months and six weeks.

Economy

1) Industrial output falls 2.6% in September

India’s industrial output fell 2.6% month-on-month in September, even as retail inflation inched up marginally to 4.48% in October with a sharper rise in urban price trends, as per data from the National Statistical Office.

Compared to September 2020, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) grew 3.1% in September 2021, the pace of growth dipping sharply from the 12% recorded in August.

About Index of Industrial Production (IIP) –

  • The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is an index for India which details out the growth of various sectors in an economy such as mineral mining, electricity and manufacturing.
  • IIP is an indicator that measures the changes in the volume of production of industrial products during a given period.
  • It is compiled and published monthly by the National Statistical Office (NSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
  • It is a composite indicator that measures the growth rate of industry groups classified under: Broad sectors, namely, Mining, Manufacturing, and Electricity.
  • Use-based sectors, namely Basic Goods, Capital Goods, and Intermediate Goods.
  • Base Year for IIP is 2011-2012.

 

2) Coal ‘phase-down’ is a right: Minister

A day after the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, in a personal blog, dwelt on India’s last-minute intervention that played a key role in the final text of the agreement that called for coal to be “phased down” rather than “phased out”.

Important Editorial

Editorial 1 – The enduring relevance of Nehru’s legacy

Indian national movement and its champions played a great role in shaping India. Nehru’s legacy lies in instilling democratic values in the people of India.

What are the contributions of Nehru?

Nehru’s strength was his vision, his nature of politics, his incorruptible nature and his ability to instil faith in the masses. Despite his popularity, he instilled values of democracy in Indian polity and society.

His legacy can be understood through – democratic institution building, pan India secularism, socialist economics at home, and a foreign policy of nonalignment.

Why is Nehru called a champion of democracy?

After the death of Gandhi, he had unbridled power, but he never misused it. He followed all protocols with all respect to the post of president and Vice President.

  • He did not interfere in the functioning of the judiciary.
  • He wrote letters to chief ministers seeking their opinions.
  • He had firm faith in having a strong opposition in Parliament.
  • He was always accessible to people, offered daily darshan at home, and never forgot that the power comes from the people.
  • The five principal pillars of Nehru’s legacy to India — Nation-building, Democratic institution-building, Secularism, Democratic Socialist economics, and a Novel foreign policy (Non-alignment, Panchsheel) still form the cardinal values of India.

So it was Nehru under whom 400 million people learned to govern themselves. This pluralist democracy is testimony to the deeds and words of a great visionary Pandit Nehru.

Conclusion:

A plural society has much to learn from Nehru’s record. Critical engagement with his record is a must. An India sans Nehru’s legacy of democratic values stands to lose far more than it will gain.

It was Nehru who, by his scrupulous regard for both the form and the substance of democracy, instilled democratic habits in our country.

His respect for Parliament, his regard for the independence of the judiciary, his courtesy to those of different political convictions, his commitment to free elections, and his deference to institutions over individuals, all left us a precious legacy of freedom.

The American editor, Norman Cousins, once asked Nehru what he hoped his legacy to India would be.

“Four hundred million people capable of governing themselves,” Nehru replied.

The numbers have grown, but the very fact that each day over a billion Indians govern themselves in a pluralist democracy is testimony to the deeds and words of the man whose birthday we commemorate tomorrow.

Editorial 2 – NAM at 60 marks an age of Indian alignment

Context

The birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru this month and the 60th anniversary of the Non-Aligned Movement prompt reflection on Nehru’s major contribution to the field of international relations.

What is Nehru’s version of NAM?
  1. Believed that world problems are interlinked, and it is for One World that free India should work.
    1. Opposed to ideological confinement imposed by two power blocks. This was visible from India’s opposition to American weapons in Pakistan from 1954 and the creation of western-led military blocs in Asia.

NAM was seen as a cost-effective method to achieve Indian objectives. India also supported anti-colonial movements in African states.

However, India’s inclinations towards NAM were reduced post Nehru. But it was retained to provide flexibility to maintain India’s diplomatic and economic relations.

What led to the adoption of NAM by India?

  • Nehru saw world problems as interlinked but considers India’s interests first even before the merits of the case.
  • Nehru was opposed to the conformity required by both sides in the Cold War.
  • His opposition to alliances was justified by American weapons to Pakistan from 1954 and the creation of western-led military blocs in Asia.
  • Non-alignment was the least costly policy for promoting India’s diplomatic presence, a sensible approach when India was weak and and the best means of securing economic assistance from abroad.

What were the challenges?

  • The difficulty was always to find a definition of this policy, which caused a credibility gap between theory and practice.
  • In the early years, there was economic dependence on donor countries who were nearly all members of western military pacts.
  • Indian equidistance to both Koreas and both Vietnams was shown by India recognising neither but it  recognised one party in the two Chinas and two Germanies.
  • The Treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation between India and the USSR of 1971 due to the Liberation war of Bangladesh came dangerously to a military alliance.

What were the failures of NAM?

  • Nehru was hesitant earlier because in theory a coalition or movement of non-aligned nations was a contradiction in terms.
  • According to then Defence Minister Krishna Menon, true non-alignment was to be non-aligned towards the non-aligned.
  • Among the members there were varying alignments, non-internalising of their own concepts of human rights and peaceful settlement of disputes without violating the principle of sovereign domestic jurisdiction.
  • Lack of collective action and collective self-reliance, and the non-establishment of an equitable international economic or information order were other failures.
  • The years following Nehru’s death, the non-alignment has undergone considerable changes by inclining to greater alignment with the United States at present.

Editorial 3 – Gilts for all

The story so far: The RBI had in February announced proposals for the Retail Direct Scheme for investors in government securities and the Integrated Ombudsman Scheme. The schemes were unveiled by the Prime Minister on November 12.

What is the Retail Direct Scheme?

Under the Retail Direct Scheme, small investors can now buy or sell government securities (GSecs), Or bonds, directly without having to go through an intermediary like a mutual fund. It is similar to placing funds in debt instruments such as fixed deposits in banks. However, the same tax rules apply to income from GSecs. But, with the Government being the borrower, there is a sovereign guarantee for the funds and hence zero risk of default. Also, government securities may offer better interest rates than bank fixed deposits, depending on prevailing interest rate trends. For example, the latest yield on the benchmark 10-year government securities is 6.366%. India’s largest lender, State Bank of India, offers 5.4% on deposits of less than ₹2 crore for a tenure of five to 10 years.

How can individuals access GSec offerings?

Investors wishing to open a Retail Direct Gilt account directly with the RBI can do so through an online portal set up for the purpose of the scheme.

The minimum amount for a bid is ₹10,000 and in multiples of ₹10,000 thereafter. Retail participants would be bidding for the securities under the “non-competitive segment of primary auctions of Government Securities and Treasury Bills”, the RBI said.

Why was it necessary to introduce this scheme?

The RBI said the scheme would help “broaden the investor base and provide retail investors with enhanced access to the government securities market — both primary and secondary.” It said the scheme was a “major structural reform placing India among select few countries which have similar facilities”. This scheme, among others, would “facilitate smooth completion of the Government borrowing programme in 2021-22”.

Why is the RBI setting up an Integrated Ombudsman?

Prior to the introduction of this scheme, the RBI had three different ombudsman schemes to aid dispute resolution with respect to banks, NBFCs, and non-bank prepaid payment issuers (PPIs). They were operated by the RBI through 22 ombudsman offices. With the introduction of the integrated scheme, the earlier ones stand repealed. When the regulator unveiled the proposal for an Integrated Ombudsman in February, it said it wished to make dispute resolution more “simpler, efficient and responsive”.

Who is Ombudsman – A government official who deals with complaints made by ordinary people against public organizations.

What about grievances pending adjudication?

Though the three earlier schemes have been repealed, the RBI clarified that the adjudication of pending complaints, appeals and execution of the awards passed “shall continue to be governed by the provisions of the respective Ombudsman Schemes and instructions of the Reserve Bank issued thereunder”.

Editorial 4 – Will MPLADS be changed for post-pandemic needs?

Context- Recently, the Union government announced the restoration of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS Scheme).

When was the scheme started?

  • It was launched during the Narasimha Rao Government in 1993 with the grant of ₹50 lakh a year to each MP.
  • This sum was increased to 1 crore during 1994-95.
  • The third revision to 2 crore happened in 1997-98.
  • The United Progressive Alliance Government in 2011-12 raised the annual entitlement to 5 crore. There have been regular demands from MPs across party lines to increase the amount further.

How does it work?

Each Lok Sabha member has to designate a district as the nodal district. The District Magistrate is responsible for handling the funds and monitoring the projects sanctioned under the scheme. A Lok Sabha member can recommend works in his constituency alone, while a Rajya Sabha member can use the funds for works anywhere in a State.

In case of a natural calamity, the MPs from non-affected areas in both Houses of Parliament can recommend works estimated at a maximum of ₹25 lakh a year in disaster-hit places.

What are the controversies?

  • The scheme was first challenged in 1999 by Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh and an NGO, Common Cause. They alleged that in the absence of any guidelines, the funds were misused by MPs.
  • In 2005, a sting operation showed some MPs allegedly demanding money from contractors to award work for projects under the scheme. The exposé led to the expulsion of members from both Houses.
  • In 2006, the scheme made the headlines because of the allegations that a Trust run by the family of the then Election Commissioner, Navin Chawla, got funds under the scheme.
  • Finally, on May 6, 2010, the scheme’s constitutional validity was upheld.

What are the changes expected?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a significant change in the policy decisions. The Government may refine the scheme to suit the post-pandemic world.

Currently, the funds are only to be spent on “durable assets”, but many MPs have demanded that the guidelines be altered for the funds to be spent on smartphones and laptops for poor students to ensure that they did not miss out on online education in future as they did during the pandemic. This issue was also raised at a meeting of the Rajya Sabha Standing Committee on MPLADS.

Improvements Suggested in MPLADS Scheme Post-Pandemic

  • The MPLADS Scheme should be modified by the government to fit the post-pandemic environment and policy decisions.
  • At the moment, the money may only be used for “durable assets.” There is a requirement for expansion to other assets.
  • There should be a constitution of a monitoring committee comprising MPs to oversee the scheme at the district level, apart from the issue of pending installments.

Editorial 5 – Will India be sanctioned for S-400 purchase?

Context- While India is preparing to welcome the Russian President and Russian defence shield “S-400”, there are speculations over the CATSAA sanctions.

What is CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) Sanctions)?

  • The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is intended to ensure that no country may strengthen military involvement with Iran, North Korea, or Russia without incurring serious actions from the United States.
  • No country is obligated to accept the penalties because they are unilateral and not part of any UN decision.
  • This policy makes it illegal for US trading partners to enter into bilateral deals with these three nations.

Has the U.S. used CAATSA before for S-400 sales?

  • The U.S. has already placed sanctions on China and Turkey for purchase of the S-400.
  • In 2020, the U.S. sanctioned its NATO partner Turkey, which it had warned about CAATSA sanctions for years, besides cancelling a deal to sell Ankara F-35 jets.

Saudi Arabia has also reportedly negotiated with Russia for the S-400, and some experts in the U.S. feel that giving a waiver to India would be the wrong signal for others seeking to go ahead with similar deals.

CAATSA and India

Current Position of the Biden Administration on India

  • The Biden administration has not said clearly where it stands on India’s case.
  • Representatives from Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have urged the Biden administration to consider granting India a special waiver.

What is India’s position?

  • India is scheduled to receive the first S-400 deliveries in December.
  • India has not backed down in the face of U.S. opposition thus far.

Why Should the US give CAATSA Waiver to India?

  • India is a key defence partner as well as a strategic partner on US concerns surrounding China and in the Quad.
  • There is potential for a long-term strategic cooperation between the United States and India, which would benefit the US’s own security interests.
  • Any sanctions imposed on India as a result of its acquisition of the S-400 will be detrimental to the United States.
  • However, some analysts in the United States believe that granting India a waiver would send the incorrect message to other countries considering similar agreements.

Why is the S-400 deal so important to India?

Senior Indian officials have held firm that S-400 is very important for India’s national security considerations, especially as it faces new threats from China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, calling it a “game changer”. The system will also offset the air defence capability gaps due to the IAF’s dwindling fighter squadron strength. Integrating the S-400 into the national air defence architecture will be much easier as India has a large number of legacy Russian air defence systems, a major reason India did not consider the U.S. air defence systems as a viable alternative. For both political as well as operational reasons, the deal is at a point of no return. When asked about the threat of U.S. sanctions, the outgoing Indian Ambassador to Russia, D.B. Venkatesh Varma, told that India “will do what we have to do and is necessary for India to preserve and protect its national security interests”.

Editorial 6 – Creating safe digital spaces

Context – Various reports have indicated increased incidence of cyberbullying and online child sexual exploitation by adults.

Tackling  cyberbullying

  • School closures as a response to the COVID-19 lockdowns have led to an unprecedented rise in unsupervised screen time for children and young people, which in turn exposed them to a greater risk of online violence.
  • In India, an estimated 71 million children aged 5-11 years access the Internet on the devices of their family members, constituting about 14% of the country’s active Internet user base of over 500 million.
  • There is growing scientific evidence which suggests that cyberbullying has negative consequences on the education, health and well-being of children and young people.
  • Published in 2019 and drawing on data from 144 countries, UNESCO’s report ‘Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying’ highlighted the extent of the problem, with almost one in three students worldwide reporting being bullied at least once in the preceding month.

Therefore, cyberbullying prevention interventions should aim at tackling all types of bullying and victimisation experiences at the same time, as opposed to each in silo.

Cyberbullying  prevention interventions

  • Although online violence is not limited to school premises, the education system plays a crucial role in addressing online safety.
  • To prevent and counter cyberbullying, the information booklet brought out by UNESCO in partnership with NCERT on Safe Online Learning in Times of COVID-19 can be a useful reference.
  • Effective interventions also require gender-sensitive and targeted approaches that respond to needs of learners who are most likely to be the victims of online violence.
  • Concerted efforts must be made to provide children and young people with the knowledge and skills to identify online violence so that they can protect themselves from its different forms, whether perpetrated by peers or adults.
  • Teachers also play a critical role by teaching students about online safety, and thus supporting parental involvement.

Conclusion

It is imperative that digital and social media platforms are free of cyberbullying, if learners have to access quality education. More importantly, confidential reporting and redress services must be established.

Editorial 7 – Increase in digital connectivity but there are many who are still left out

The story so far: Internet connectivity has shot up over the last year, with most new users attributing their new connections to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdowns. However, a new nationwide survey found that remote work, education and healthcare are still not equally available to all, even among those with digital access.

How was the study designed?

LIRNEasia, an Asia Pacific think tank focussed on digital policy, tied up with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), to take part in a global study funded by the Canada’s International Development Centre to assess the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 by analysing access to services, with a focus on digital technologies in healthcare, education and work. 

What did the study find about the pandemic’s impact on Internet access and use?

The survey found that 47% of the population are Internet users, a significant jump from the 19% who were identified as Internet users in late 2017.

Among non-users, lack of awareness is still the biggest hurdle although the percentage of non-users who said they do not know what the Internet is dropped from 82% to 49% over the last four years. Increasingly, lack of access to devices and lack of skills are the reason why people do not go online.

Did increased digital connectivity help in access to remote education?

The survey found that 80% of school-age children in the country had no access to remote education at all during the 18 months that schools were shut. This happened even though 64% of households with school-aged children actually had Internet connections. Less than a third of children in such homes were able to leverage connectivity into classes of any sort, mostly because of lack of larger screen devices as well as a lack of preparedness among schools. However, the situation was significantly worse for those homes without Internet connections, where only 8% of children received any sort of remote education. Apart from not having any devices, poor 3G/4G signal and high data cost were listed as the biggest hurdles.

Even among the 20% who received education, only half had access to live online classes which required a good Internet connection and exclusive use of a device. Most depended on recorded lessons and WhatsApp messages.

How did digital access impact work patterns?

Only 10% of those employed during the lockdowns were able to work from home. There were significant geographical variations, with one on five Delhi residents working from home in comparison to 13% in Maharashtra and just 3% in Tamil Nadu.

A significant minority of those engaged in remote work ran into device and connectivity challenges. About 27% said they were forced to share devices with another household member, while 16% said the available devices were unsuitable for work and another 16% faced poor network quality. About 43% also said remote work meant they were forced to undertake more tasks and work longer hours than usual.

How did Internet access or lack of it affect healthcare during the pandemic?

About 15% of the sample respondents said they required healthcare access for non-COVID related purposes during the most severe national and State lockdown. Of the 14% who required ongoing treatment for chronic conditions, over a third missed at least one appointment due to the lockdown. Telemedicine and online doctor consultations surged during these times, but only 38% said they were able to access such services.

Editorial 8 – The Norovirus outbreak: prevention rooted in hygiene

The story so far: Last week, an acute diarrhoeal disease outbreak reported amongst students of the College of Veterinary Sciences at Pookkode, near Vythiri in Wayanad district, was confirmed as Norovirus (NoV) by the authorities. These students were staying in hostels outside the campus and four out of the seven samples sent to the unit of National Institute of Virology, Alapuzha had tested positive for NoV.

What is NoV and how does it spread?

Norovirus is an important cause of acute non-bacterial gastroenteritis in children as well as adults worldwide. The virus was first discovered in connection with an outbreak of acute diarrhoeal disease in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1968 and was called the Norwalk Virus. 

Infection is characterised by an acute onset of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhoea. The symptoms usually begin 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the infective agent and generally subside within two days.

There is no specific treatment; rest and rehydration with warm fluids should be enough. The disease is self-limiting and rarely dangerous unless severe dehydration is allowed to set in. 

Transmission occurs predominantly by the faecal-oral route, directly or indirectly, through the ingestion of contaminated water or food or surfaces which might have been contaminated when handled carelessly by an infected person or his care-giver.

Editorial 9 – A Chinese check on Algorithms

According to a report from an UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the e-commerce sector saw a “dramatic” rise in its share of all retail sales, to 19% from 16% in 2020. Online retail sales grew markedly in several countries, and global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion in 2019, up 4% from 2018. That’s about 30% of the global gross domestic product (GDP).

A large proportion of these online purchases are made on smartphones and as we add items to our digital shopping cart, the app nudges us to consider alternative brands. It may also offer a related product, suggesting that other buyers bought the two items together. Unlike in a physical store, the online environment has no sales person to assist the buyer. Instead, a digital store’s algorithm recommends ideas to the customer.

Recommender systems

These algorithmic systems are not confined to online shopping. Social media firms, transport service providers and food-delivery portals use their proprietary algorithms to engage users. Their algorithms are built using ‘collaborative filtering’, ‘content-based filtering’ or hybrid method.

In a ‘collaborative filtering’ approach, an online site uses product rating data gathered from various users to recommend items to a specific user. This approach uses both explicit and implicit forms of data.

Content-based filtering is impersonal and makes use of keywords to run its system. A classic example of this approach is Google search, which spews out a list of websites every time a user keys in words and phrases. The service doesn’t require personal data to give its output.

Most platforms combine collaborative and content-based filtering systems to make recommendations. Netflix is a good example of a hybrid recommender algorithm. The platform suggests films and series by comparing the watching and searching habits of similar users and combining it with content that a particular user has rated highly.

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