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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 27 April 2020 (At the edge of a new nuclear arms race (The Hindu))



At the edge of a new nuclear arms race (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:International 
Prelims level: Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
Mains level: Current context on Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Context:

  • A report issued by the United States State Department on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Non-proliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report)” raised concerns that China might be conducting nuclear tests with low yields at its Lop Nur test site, in violation of its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) undertakings.
  • The U.S. report also claims that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that produced a nuclear yield and were inconsistent with ‘zero yield’ understanding underlying the CTBT, though it was uncertain about how many such experiments had been conducted. 
  • Russia and China have rejected the U.S.’s claims, but with growing rivalry among major powers the report is a likely harbinger of a new nuclear arms race which would also mark the demise of the CTBT that came into being in 1996 but has failed to enter into force even after a quarter century. 

What does CTBT ban mean?

  • For decades, a ban on nuclear testing was seen as the necessary first step towards curbing the nuclear arms race but Cold War politics made it impossible. 
  • A Partial Test Ban Treaty was concluded in 1963 banning underwater and atmospheric tests but this only drove testing underground. 
  • By the time the CTBT negotiations began in Geneva in 1994, global politics had changed. 
  • The Cold War had ended and the nuclear arms race was over. 
  • The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR, had broken up and its principal testing site, Semipalatinsk, was in Kazakhstan (Russia still had access to Novaya Zemlya near the Arctic circle). 

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Negotiations were often contentious:

  • France and China continued testing, claiming that they had conducted far fewer tests and needed to validate new designs since the CTBT did not imply an end to nuclear deterrence. 
  • France and the U.S. even toyed with the idea of a CTBT that would permit testing at a low threshold, below 500 tonnes of TNT equivalent. 
  • Civil society and the non-nuclear weapon states reacted negatively to such an idea and it was dropped. 
  • Some countries proposed that the best way to verify a comprehensive test ban would be to permanently shut down all test sites, an idea that was unwelcome to the nuclear weapon states. 

Why it lacks authority?

  • Another controversy arose regarding the entry-into-force provisions (Article 14) of the treaty. 
  • After India’s proposals for anchoring the CTBT in a disarmament framework did not find acceptance, in June 1996, India announced its decision to withdraw from the negotiations. 
  • Unhappy at this turn, the U.K., China and Pakistan took the lead in revising the entry-into-force provisions. The new provisions listed 44 countries by name whose ratification was necessary for the treaty to enter into force and included India. 
  • India protested that this attempt at arm-twisting violated a country’s sovereign right to decide if it wanted to join a treaty but was ignored. 
  • The CTBT was adopted by a majority vote and opened for signature. 
  • Of the 44 listed countries, to date only 36 have ratified the treaty. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the U.S. have signed but not ratified. China maintains that it will only ratify it after the U.S. does so but the Republican dominated Senate had rejected it in 1999. 
  • In addition, North Korea, India and Pakistan are the three who have not signed. 
  • All three have also undertaken tests after 1996; India and Pakistan in May 1998 and North Korea six times between 2006 and 2017. 
  • The CTBT has therefore not entered into force and lacks legal authority. 

Competition is back:

  • The key change from the 1990s is that the U.S.’s unipolar moment is over and strategic competition among major powers is back. 
  • The U.S. now identifies Russia and China as ‘rivals’. Its Nuclear Posture Review asserts that the U.S. faces new nuclear threats because both Russia and China are increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons. 
  • The U.S., therefore, has to expand the role of its nuclear weapons and have a more usable and diversified nuclear arsenal. 
  • The Trump administration has embarked on a 30-year modernisation plan with a price tag of $1.2 trillion, which could go up over the years. 
  • Readiness levels at the Nevada test site that has been silent since 1992 are being enhanced to permit resumption of testing at six months notice. 

Growing technological lead by US:

  • Russia and China have been concerned about the U.S.’s growing technological lead particularly in missile defence and conventional global precision-strike capabilities. 
  • Russia has responded by exploring hypersonic delivery systems and theatre systems while China has embarked on a modernisation programme to enhance the survivability of its arsenal which is considerably smaller. 
  • In addition, both countries are also investing heavily in offensive cyber capabilities. 
  • The new U.S. report stops short of accusing China for a violation but refers to “a high level of activity at the Lop Nur test site throughout 2019” and concludes that together with its lack of transparency, China provokes concerns about its intent to observe the zero-yield moratorium on testing. 
  • The U.S. claims that Russian experiments have generated nuclear yield but is unable to indicate how many such experiments were conducted in 2019. 
  • It suggests that Russia could be testing in a manner that releases nuclear energy from an explosive canister, generating suspicions about its compliance. 
  • The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limits U.S. and Russian arsenals but will expire in 2021 and U.S. President Donald Trump has already indicated that he does not plan to extend it. 
  • Instead, the Trump administration would like to bring China into some kind of nuclear arms control talks, something China has avoided by pointing to the fact that the U.S. and Russia still account for over 90% of global nuclear arsenals. 

Current context:

  • Both China and Russia have dismissed the U.S.’s allegations, pointing to the Trump administration’s backtracking from other negotiated agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal or the U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. 
  • Tensions with China are already high with trade and technology disputes, militarisation in the South China Sea and most recently, with the novel coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The U.S. could also be preparing the ground for resuming testing at Nevada. 

Conclusion: 

  • The Cold War rivalry was already visible when the nuclear arms race began in the 1950s. New rivalries have already emerged. 
  • Resumption of nuclear testing may signal the demise of the ill-fated CTBT, marking the beginnings of a new nuclear arms race.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 27 April 2020 (PMI: A leading or misleading indicator? (The Hindu))



PMI : A leading or misleading indicator? (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Purchase Managers’ Index
Mains level: Reliability by using the Purchase Managers’ Index data 

Context:

  • The Purchase Managers’ Index (PMI) is a widely used economic indicator that gives an insight into business conditions. 
  • It is a survey-based diffusion measure provided by Markit, by compiling responses of purchasing managers (executives) of 400 companies every month. 
  • The aggregate final measure is a seasonally adjusted number on the scale of 0-100, where values above 50 reflect an increased expectation of overall business conditions compared to the previous month, whereas values below 50 indicate a decline. 

What is a PMI?

  • PMI or a Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is an indicator of business activity -- both in the manufacturing and services sectors. 
  • It is a survey-based measures that asks the respondents about changes in their perception of some key business variables from the month before. 
  • It is calculated separately for the manufacturing and services sectors and then a composite index is constructed. 

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Uses of Purchase Managers’ Index:

  • The PMI is computed for manufacturing as well as for the services sector. 
  • The values are a weighted average of responses related to questions on new orders (30 per cent), output (25 per cent), employment (20 per cent), suppliers’ delivery (15 per cent), and stock of purchases (10 per cent).
  • The PMI is regarded as a proxy for business conditions as well as a leading indicator of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). 
  • While the IIP numbers are revised, a consensus among economists is that the IIP and PMI plausibly capture a similar trend. 
  • This gives us a reason to empirically examine if there is a sustained correlation between the IIP and PMI of the manufacturing sector. 

Mapping the correlation:

  • Since the PMI is considered a leading indicator, we carry out two sets of analyses. 
  • First, we examine the simple trend by juxtaposing annual growth of the IIP index (manufacturing) and the previous month’s PMI (same results hold with contemporaneous trend analysis). 
  • Second, we examine their correlations during the period March 2014 to February 2020 (latest) over rolling windows.

Reliance on PMI:

  • Empirical evidence indeed suggests that the PMI is not a consistent leading indicator for industrial production.
  • Reliance on such indicator for macro policy-making is fraught with serious risks. 
  • One can get an impression about how the PMI information is used in policy-making from the discourse of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of RBI. 
  • In this regard, to carry out a simple text analysis and measure the number of instances where “PMI” appears in the minutes of the meeting of MPC. 

Lack of clarity?

  • To speculate on why the PMI can be a poor indicator of economic activity in India. 
  • As per the official website, the PMI is constructed using the actual changes in the volume of business output. Hence, the quality of assessment of the respondents, and of the ground reality, will drive the observed pattern of changing correlation between the PMI and IIP. 
  • Another possible reason could be that 400 may not be a large enough representative sample to capture the diverse production scenarios of all the firms operating in the manufacturing sector in India. 
  • Also, it is not clear exactly how many executives respond every month, and if there is a panel. 
  • Research on the effectiveness of the PMI tracking manufacturing activity in India within and outside the central bank has been quite inadequate. 

Conclusion:

  • Therefore, as long as it gets wide publicity in the press and policy discourse, the PMI will continue to influence suboptimal policy outcomes. 
  • But one wonders if the PMI actually leads or misleads economic activity in India.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 27 April 2020 (Don’t force industry to pay wages during COVID-19 lockdown (Financial Express))



Don’t force industry to pay wages during COVID-19 lockdown (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Disaster Management Act
Mains level: Applicability of the Disaster Management Act 

Context:

  • The Centre using the Disaster Management Act to order all establishments, including industries, to pay full wages to their workers regularly for the period they are under lockdown, apart from restraining landlords from seeking rent for a period of one month from workers renting their premises, is a draconian step. 
  • State governments have followed suit, with Delhi talking about action against landlords for insisting on rent from students and workers, and Maharashtra reiterating the Centre’s stand on payment of wages.

Objective: 

  • The intent oflimit the economic pain from the lockdown for the vulnerable classes.

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Downgrading MSMEs performance:

  • The State responsibility to ensure people’s well-being during a raging pandemic and seems not to be mindful of the pain of MSMEs as well as small commercial establishments.
  • Before the corona outbreak, the Indian economy was not doing too well, and now, with every likelihood that economic activity may not be back to the pre-corona normal for a long time, most experts don’t see signs of a stable economic recovery any time soon. 
  • So, with no money coming in, how are shops, MSMEs, etc, to find the money to pay regular and full wages to their employees?
  • Indeed, for many, the wage bill, at a time when they are shut or are functioning in a very limited manner, could mean the difference between having to close down permanently and staging a recovery over a period.

Highlights the Nagreeka petition:

  • Two firms, Nagreeka Exports Ltd and Ficus Pax Private Limited, and a Ludhiana-based association of MSMEs have petitioned the apex court seeking quashing of the Centre’s order.
  • The order, as the petitions claim, seem to violate Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution, which relate to the right to equality before the law and the right to do business. 
  • Moreover, as the Nagreeka petition highlights, expecting a business-as-usual scenario from corporates is inequitable when the government is deferring payment of the entire salaries during lockdown—Maharashtra and other states governments announced this last month. 
  • It also points that the clutch of government orders violate Section 25C and 25M of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, which deal with payment of 50% wages when a worker is laid off and exception to lay-off workers during a natural calamity.

What government can do?      

  • The government must act to ensure that the survival of daily-wagers/low-wage earners is not imperilled in the middle of the pandemic because of loss of wages. 
  • The private sector, including small establishments and MSMEs, can be reasonably expected to pitch in. 
  • Strong-arming MSME players, already impacted by the lockdown, will imperil the recovery of the industry that will be crucial to kickstarting growth after the pandemic.
  • With even the parliamentary standing committee on labour saying that employers should not be forced to pay full wages during a natural calamity—“which often result in closure of establishments for a considerably long period without the employer’s fault”—the government must pay heed. 

Conclusion: 

  • If India is to recover from this crisis, it must ensure that policies don’t leave the private sector, especially the MSMEs, floundering.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 25 April 2020 (Designing minimum income guarantee post-Covid-19 collapse(Indian Express))



Designing minimum income guarantee post-Covid-19 collapse(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme 
Mains level: Argument behind implementing the Minimum Income Guarantee using the Socio-economic and Caste Census data

Context:

  • Coronavirus lockdown is impacting livelihoods, particularly in the unorganised sector. 
  • The government is already making cash transfers as part of its Rs 1.7-lakh crore welfare package announced on March 26. 
  • However, unemployment, already at a 45-year high in 2018, will only rise post-Covid-19 collapse in output and incomes. 
  • Even if there is a V-shaped recovery by 2022 (unlikely), employment growth will take longer to recover.

Need to consider Minimum Income Guarantee(MIG):

  • Universal Basic Income entered common parlance via the 2016-17 Economic Survey. 
  • In March 2009, someone was asked by the Planning Commission to prepare a paper on MIG, but only for the poor. 
  • Then the three pre-requisites for an unconditional MIG to the poor were not in place: appropriate identification of poor; bank accounts with every poor household; beneficiaries who could be biometrically authenticated. Today, they are in place, and the idea is administratively feasible.

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Why is a MIG-type cash transfer for the poor needed, especially now?

  • The latest NSS All India Debt and Investment Survey (2013) shows over 70% rural population has one or more outstanding loans. 
  • Nearly 74% of farmer households were in debt in 2013 (up from 50% in 1993), as opposed to 64% of non-farm households (up from 43%). 
  • The incidence of indebtedness by asset-class indicates that 19.6% of the bottom decile (by assets) of rural households and 22% of next higher decile are indebted; as are 9.3% and 14.6% of the lowest two deciles in urban households. 
  • ‘Non-business’ (ie, consumption) purposes accounted for 85% of debt in rural, and 90% of debt in urban areas for the bottom two deciles. 
  • These debts heavily constrain expenditure on non-essentials, especially manufactured goods, reducing effective demand for these, leading to low investment in manufacturing. Thus, never-ending debts also have macro-economic consequences.

Problems for poor: 

  • The strong case for MIG derives from the fact that the poor rarely accumulate assets. 
  • They need cash to meet consumption as well as contingency needs; they rarely borrow for productive purposes. 
  • Non-routine consumption can push them further into debt and poverty.
  • Any attempt to identify beneficiaries of MIG based on incomes is a risky exercise in any economy with an extremely high share of informal workforce. 

Using the Socio-economic and Caste Census data:

  • India’s reasonably robust Socio-economic and Caste Census(SECC) is useful for identifying households with one or more of seven deprivations, which provide a much better indicator than ‘income’.
  • The SECC provides data for all 24.49 crore households. Of these, rural households are 17.97 crore, and 6.52 crore are urban. 
  • Of rural households, 7.07 crore households fall under the automatically excluded category. 
  • After this exclusion, the first category of rural households for MIG should be those automatically included in SECC (15.9 lakh households), fulfilling any of the five parameters of inclusion.
  • The second category includes rural households with more than one deprivation. 
  • There are 5.36 crore such households with over one (of seven) deprivation: one or less rooms, kuccha walls and roof; no adult member in the household between age 18-59; female-headed with no adult male member; a differently-abled member with no other able-bodied adult member; SC/ST households; no literate adult above 25; and landless households with most of their income from manual labour.
  • The third category includes those that face just one deprivation. 
  • The fourth category consists of those that do not report deprivation in any of seven parameters, (given that deprivation parameters are not comprehensive), but are also not well-to-do enough to be automatically excluded (exclusion parameters are more comprehensive). 
  • Such households are nonetheless vulnerable and should be included for targeted income transfers.

Cash transfer categorisation:

  • MIG could offer cash transfers in no case higher than Rs 8,000 per annum. 
  • Automatically included rural households with highest vulnerability should be eligible for Rs 8,000 per household annually; rural households with multiple deprivation to receive Rs 6,000 annually; rural household facing just one criteria of deprivation to receive Rs 4,000 annually; while rural non-excluded households considered for deprivation, to be offered Rs 3,000 annually. 
  • Also, in the case of urban areas slum households, Rs 3,000 per household has been proposed. This proposed scheme covers 60% of rural households and 20% of urban households and does not cost over 0.28% of GDP (or Rs 56,900 crore pa).

Categorisation for urban households: 

  • Given limited coverage of schemes in urban areas, we propose an additional category of urban households for better targeting of transfers in urban areas based on Census data. 
  • We consider homeless urban households and transfer of Rs 8,000 per annum. 
  • While Rs 6,000 per single-elderly household is proposed, we enhance it to Rs 8,000 for households with two elderly members (both over age 60). 
  • For households with more than one differently-abled person Rs 8,000 pa per household, and for remaining differently-abled, Rs 6,000 could be allocated. 
  • Female-headed households and aged above 50 could be allocated Rs 6,000 per household.
  • These additional vulnerable categories, comprising 25.9% of urban households, entails an additional cost of Rs 10,628 crore, or 0.05% of India’s GDP (2019-20). 
  • This scheme covers 46% of urban households and 60.64% of rural households (as before), at a total cost of Rs 67,528 crore, i.e., 0.33% of India’s GDP.
  • Transfer should also be linked to CPI. The expenditure is comparable or less than MGNREGA’s (Rs 60,000 crore) and PM-KISAN’s (Rs 60,000 crore). While PM-KISAN covers only farmers and is expensive and exclusive, our proposal avoids narrow coverage and inclusion/ exclusion errors.
  • Income transfer of Rs 6,000 per annum per household (assuming household size of 5) is equivalent to 20% of household’s annual expenditure (2011-12, the last year for which NSS consumption expenditure data is available) of the bottom decile among rural household (14% in urban areas). 

Conclusion:

  • Such an amount would not cause a leftward-shift of the labour-supply curve but reduce their vulnerability. 
  • With such low fiscal cost, MIG should not constrain expenditure on public health, education, or infrastructure, increases in which are critical to India’s structural transformation.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 25 April 2020 (The public policy dilemma: There is indeed tension between lives and livelihoods(Indian Express))



The public policy dilemma: There is indeed tension between lives and livelihoods(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Not much 
Mains level: Balancing the conflicts and policy making between various stakeholders 

Context:

  • Since the days of Frank Knight, economists have differentiated between the two. 

Differences between risk and uncertainty: 

  • Risk has a known probability distribution. 
  • For uncertainty, the probability distribution is unknown. 
  • COVID-19 makes us confront uncertainty, not risk. 
  • For uncertainty, there is a subjective probability distribution, which can, and does, vary from individual to individual.

How do the subjective probability distribution is divided by an individual?

  • Through information and experience the individual already possess. 
  • There are various rationality assumptions used by economists. They are often violated. 
  • Otherwise, behavioural economics wouldn’t have taken off. 

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Availability of data affecting various factors: 

  • Because of COVID-19, there is a certain risk of getting infected. Let’s call this the infection rate — total infections divided by the total population. 
  • We don’t know this infection rate for India, or for any other country for that matter.
  • No country has done universal testing.
  • No country has done universal testing for a proper random sample either. 
  • The ICMR has told us more than 75 per cent of Indian patients will be asymptomatic. 

Who do we test? 

  • Those who show symptoms, those who have been in contact with confirmed patients and those who suffer from severe respiratory diseases. 
  • Most countries do something similar. 
  • In other words, when we work out an infection rate based on those tested, there is a sampling bias. 
  • This isn’t a proper infection rate. 
  • The only country where we have had something like a random sample is Iceland. There, the infection rate was 0.8 per cent. 

Death rate:

  • There are similar caveats about the death rate. 
  • If we mechanically divide number of deaths by the number of confirmed cases for India, we will get a death rate just over 3 per cent. 
  • The global figure is a little less than 7 per cent. But neither of these is a death rate for the total population, since only those with severe symptoms are included in infection numbers. 
  • Three per cent or seven per cent are over-estimates. 
  • In a controlled environment like Diamond Princess, death rate as a ratio of total passengers, and not those infected, was less than 0.4 per cent. 
  • The true infection rate and true death rate are not alarming numbers.

What does this have to do with differential subjective probability distributions? 

  • There are slices in India’s population pyramid with rural/urban and other spatial differences too. 
  • Consider two extreme types. 
  • Type A, who are globalised in information access and morbidity. Life expectancy is 80 plus and there are lifestyle diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. 
  • This co-morbidity increases possible death rates and thanks to globalised access to information, certainly increases perceptions about death rates, making them out to be higher than they are. 
  • Some of them have fixed incomes, regardless of what happens to lockdown. 
  • Therefore, if you think in terms of maximising expected payoffs with a subjective distribution, high probability is attached to loss of life and low probability to loss of livelihood. 

How Type B forms subjective probability?

  • Type B, someone whose life expectancy is 60, without a fixed income stream and whose health concerns are tuberculosis and water-borne diseases, not COVID-19. Nor is access to information that globalised. 
  • High subjective probability will be attached to loss of livelihood and low probability to death from COVID. Both the types reflect subjective probabilities. 
  • Neither is “irrational”. There is tension between the two. 
  • Type A would like the lockdown to continue indefinitely, until long tail of the infection curve tapers off, perhaps beyond September. 
  • Type B would like lockdown to be eased soon, with necessary restrictions in hotspots. 
  • There is indeed tension between lives and livelihood. 
  • Even if health outcomes and information access are like Type A, but income is contingent on growth, preferences might mirror Type B.

Balancing differential individual preferences in public policy:

  • Type A disproportionately influences policy. This determination of aggregate preferences is a dynamic process. 
  • Therefore, sooner or later, Type B contests this and as the lockdown is prolonged and livelihood costs mount, discontent surfaces, as it has across a range of countries. 
  • There were also welfare economics notions that pre-dated social choice theory, such as compensation principles of Kaldor, Hicks and Scitovsky. 
  • The point can be made using the two stereotypes. Specifically, Type A need to compensate Type B for their losses. 
  • To state it starkly, livelihood losses suffered by Type B need to be compensated by government through redistributive measures and this has to be financed by higher taxes imposed on Type A. 
  • The right question for the Type A is not whether they want the lockdown to continue, but whether they are willing to pay a COVID-tax to support lockdown extension.

Conclusion: 

  • Increasing or decreasing the lockdown decision illustrates the public policy dilemma. 
  • Without a revival in growth, tax-paying capacity of Type B is limited and with job losses, some Type As become Type Bs. The choice is starker.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 25 April 2020 (Troughs and crests in the pandemic response (The Hindu))



Troughs and crests in the pandemic response (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: COVID-19
Mains level: Highlights the stages in response to address the pandemic 

Context:

  • The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the disease COVID-19, has proven the ultimate stress test for governance systems globally. 
  • The governments worldwide are failing, showing up for all to see how poorly prepared they were for this examination. 
  • Even those governments that are likely to be rated relatively highly by scholars of public policy studying this moment later will not pass the examination unscathed. 
  • Yet, the common challenges faced by all governments to fight COVID-19 must not mask the considerable variation in their performance which holds lessons from which we must learn.

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Stages in the response:

  • Disease outbreaks, even global pandemics, are scarcely new. The playbook for dealing with them therefore is well understood and has been honed by practices and lessons gleaned from hard-fought battles. 
  • A first stage is early clear-eyed recognition of the incoming threat, and, in the case of COVID-19 at least, requires the unpalatable decision to lock down society. This is a phase aimed at buying time, of flattening the epidemic curve, so that public health facilities are not overwhelmed; and, for using this time, paid for by collective sacrifice, to secure the personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies necessary to save lives. 
  • The second phase of the pandemic response is slowly to ease the burden on the economy by permitting a measured return of business activity so that livelihoods and supply chains can be restored. 
  • This stage can only be safely executed if accompanied by a war-footing expansion of testing capacity so that new infections can be identified and isolated at once, allowing contact tracing to be implemented by masses trained to do this crucial and painstaking work in communities across the country. 
  • The final stage, which for COVID-19 seems a lifetime away, is a mass vaccination programme and then the full rebuilding of economic and social life. 

What drags systems down?

  • For all the defensive finger pointing, opportunistic politicking and xenophobic posturing — exemplified best by the peevish current occupant of the White House but hardly unique to him — this is not a crisis that can be tackled without robust and multidimensional international cooperation between nations. 
  • From the epidemiologists whose data-driven models inform policy debates about how and when to lift quarantines, to the medical community identifying more effective treatments, to the research scientists racing to find a vaccine, we are watching in real time the benefits of intellectual collaboration that does not stop at national borders. 
  • But the nationalistic turn in global politics over the past two decades has reduced investment in and undermined the legitimacy of the very institutions that facilitate international partnership at the very time they are needed most. 
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well to convene the leaders of the SAARC nations in mid-March to discuss the possibility of a regional response.
  • The video-conference call also highlighted that there have been no summit-level meetings of SAARC since 2014, in no small part due to India-Pakistan jingoism that has victimised the regional organisation. 
  • The pandemic response requires a whole-of-government strategy, for which political will and legitimate leadership are vital to convene and maintain. 

Way forward:

  • We are seeing first-hand the consequences of starving public health systems of necessary funds and resources. 
  • The comparative advantage of the private sector is efficiency; the need of the hour in pandemic response is redundancy, or, more precisely, excess capacity. 
  • Most hospitals do not need invasive ventilators normally, just as they do not need vast stocks of PPE and extra intensive care units beds, but these are essential goods right now as we brace ourselves for a flood of sick patients into hospitals. 

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 25 April 2020 (No 100% quota: On overzealous reservation(The Hindu))



No 100% quota : On overzealous reservation (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Polity 
Prelims level: Scheduled Areas
Mains level: Reservations for STs in scheduled areas

Context:

  • The Supreme Court is right in considering cent per cent reservation as anathema to the constitutional scheme of equality even if it is for the laudable objective of providing representation to historically deprived sections. 

Key highlights of the verdict: 

  • The verdict quashing the reservation of 100% of all teaching posts in ‘Scheduled Areas’ of Andhra Pradesh for local Scheduled Tribes is not against affirmative programmes as such, but a caution against implementing them in a manner detrimental to the rest of society. 
  • The Constitution Bench found that earmarking teacher posts in areas notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution adversely affected the interests of other candidates not only from Scheduled Castes and other backward communities but also other ST communities not native to those areas. 
  • As the Bench noted, it could have come up with other incentives to ensure the attendance of teachers. 

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Chronic absenteeism:

  • The State government did, in its original orders of 1986, and thereafter, in a subsequent order in 2000, was not without its own rationale. 
  • It found that there was chronic absenteeism among teachers who did not belong to those remote areas where the schools were located. 

Viable solution:

  • However, its solution of drafting only members of the local tribes was not a viable solution. 
  • The President, under Article 371D, has issued orders that a resident of a district/zone cannot apply to another district/zone for appointment. 
  • Thus, the 100% quota deprived residents of the Scheduled Areas of any opportunity to apply for teaching posts.
  • Affirmative action loses its meaning if it does not leave the door slightly ajar for open competition. 
  • Dr. B.R. Ambedkar observed during the debate in the Constituent Assembly on the equality clause, that any reservation normally ought to be for a “minority of seats”. This is one of the points often urged in favour of the 50% cap imposed by the Court on total reservation, albeit with some allowance for relaxation in special circumstances.

Criticism: 

  • It is still a matter of debate whether the ceiling has innate sanctity, but it is clear that wherever it is imperative that the cap be breached, a special case must be made for it. 
  • Such a debate should not divert attention from the fact that there is a continuing need for a significant quota for STs, especially those living in areas under the Fifth Schedule special dispensation. 
  • In this backdrop, it is somewhat disappointing that courts tend to record obiter dicta advocating a revision of the list of SCs and STs. 

Conclusion: 

  • While the power to amend the lists notified by the President is not in dispute, it is somewhat uncharitable to say that the advanced and “affluent” sections within SCs and STs are cornering all benefits and do not permit any trickle-down. 
  • Indian society is still some distance from reaching that point.

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(Download) Old NCERT PDF : The Story of Civilization Part-I (Arjun Dev)

(Download) Old NCERT PDF : The Story of Civilization Part-I (Arjun Dev)

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Table of Contents :

CHAPTER I

  • The Heritage of Indice 
  • The land and the People -The Ancient period-The Medieval Period — The Modern Period - Art and Architecture - The Development of Painting in India -Languages and Literature - Music and Dance 

CHAPTER II

  • Indian Awakening
  • Incllan Society in the Eighteenth Century - Impact of British Rule on India - Religious and Social Reformi Movements - Impact of the Reform Movements - Growth of Education - Modern Indian Art and Literalure -- Growth of the Press in the Ninelcenth Century

CHAPTER III

  • India's Struggle for Independence 
  • The Revolt of 1857 – Rise of Indian Nationalism - Early Political Movements and the Indian National Congress - Rise of Extremism – The Boycoll and Swadesht Movements - Morley-Minto Rcforms - Revolutionary Movement - Formation of the Muslim League – Nationalist Movement during the First World War - Nationalist Movement Becomes at Mass Movement -- Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements - Communalism and its Dangerous Effects-Fron Swaraj to Complete Independence, 1927-1939  The Simon Commission - Lahore Congress and the Civil Disobedience Movement - The Nationalist Movement and the World - Constitutional Developments - The Nationalist Movement, 1935-1939 - Indian Nationalist Movement during the Second World War - Nationalist Upsurge after the Second World War - Achlevement of independence, 1947 - Building the New India
     

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Table of Contents :

CHAPTER I

  • The Decline of the Mughal Empire

CHAPTER II

  • Indian States and Society in the 18th Century

CHAPTER III

  • The Beginnings of European Settlements

CHAPTER IV

  • The British Conquest of India

CHAPTER V

  • The Structure of the Government and the Economic Policies of the British Empire in India, 1757-1857 

CHAPTER VI

  • Administrative Organisation and Social and Cultural Policy 

CHAPTER VII

  • Social and Cultural Awakening in the First Half of the 19th Century 

CHAPTER VIII  

  • The Revolt of 1857

CHAPTER IX

  • Administrative Changes After 1858

CHAPTER X

  • India And Her Neighbours

CHAPTER XI

  • Economic Impact of the British Rule 

CHAPTER XII

  • Growth of New India—The Nationalist Movement 1858-1905 

CHAPTER XIII

  • Growth of New India Religious and Social Reform After 1858

CHAPTER XIV

  • Nationalist Movement 1905–1918 

CHAPTER XV 

  • Struggle for Swaraj

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (What are deep nu*des?(Indian Express))



What are deep nu*des?(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Science and Tech 
Prelims level: Deep nu*de
Mains level: Challenges towards curbing cybercrimes

Context:

  • Cybercrime officials in India have been tracking certain apps and websites that produce nu*de photographs of innocent persons using Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms. 

So, what is a deep nu*de?

  • Cybercriminals use Artificial Intelligence (AI) software — now easily available on apps and websites — to superimpose a digital composite (assembling multiple media files to make a final one) on to an existing video, photo or audio.
  • Deep nu*des are computer-generated images and videos. Essentially, using AI algorithms a person’s words, head movements and expressions are transferred onto another person in a seamless fashion that makes it difficult to tell that it is a deepfake, unless one closely observes the media file.

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When did deep nu*des first surface?

  • In 2017, a Reddit user with the name “deepfakes” posted explicit videos of celebrities. Since then, several instances have been reported along with the development of apps and websites that were easily accessible to an average user.
  • The debate around “deep nu*des” and “deep fakes” was rekindled in July 2019 with the popularity of applications such as FaceApp (used for photo-editing) and Deepnu*de that produces fake nu*des of women.

The objections:

  • Because of how realistic deepfake images, audio and videos can be, the technology is vulnerable for use by cybercriminals who could spread misinformation to intimidate or blackmail people. 
  • In a presentation, the Fayetteville State University in North Carolina called it one of the “modern” frauds of cyberspace, along with fake news, spam/phishing attacks, social engineering fraud, catfishing and academic fraud.

Can anyone produce a deep nu*de?

  • According to a CSIRO Scope article from August 2019, Creating a convincing deepfake is an unlikely feat for the general computer user. But an individual with advanced knowledge of machine learning and access to the victim’s publicly-available social media profile for photographic, video and audio content, could do so.
  • Even so, there are various websites and applications that have AI built into them and have made it much easier for a lay users to create deepfakes and deep nu*des. As the technology improves, the quality of deepfakes is also expected to get better.

Are deepfakes legal?

  • At least in the US, the legality of deepfakes is complicated. 
  • While a person being harassed by deepfakes may claim defamation, removing such content could be considered censorship, a violation of the First Amendment which guarantees Americans the freedom concerning religion, expression, assembly and the right to petition.
  • According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 46 states in the US have “revenge porn” laws. 
  • Revenge porn refers to the creation of sexually explicit videos or images that are posted on the Internet without the consent of the subject as a way to harass them.

What are catfish accounts?

  • According to the Cyberbullying Research Centre (CRC), catfishing refers to the practice of setting up fictitious online profiles, “most often for the purpose of luring another into a fraudulent romantic relationship.”
  • An article on CRC says that to “catfish” someone, “is to set up a fake social media profile with the goal of duping that person into falling for the false persona.”

What can you do to protect yourself?

  • While it is not easy to keep track of who downloads or misuses your images, the best way to protect yourself is to ensure you are using privacy settings on your social media profiles that suit you.
  • If you feel your image has been used without your permission, you could use freely available reverse image search tools to find images that are similar to yours.
  • You can also be mindful of who you are conversing with on the web. 
  • A basic check of their social media profiles, comments on their images and whether similar profiles exist could help you determine if the person is genuine.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Oil price crash impacts sugar (Indian Express))



Oil price crash impacts sugar (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Sugar Prices 
Mains level: Oil prices implications on Sugar 

Context:

  • The prices of raw sugar for May 2020 delivery at New York crashed to 9.75 cents per pound, the lowest closing for a nearest-month futures contract since June 2008.

Why have global sugar prices collapsed?

  • All commodities have taken a demand hit from subdued economic activity and lockdowns imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • But sugar is one commodity that, until quite recently, was on growth phase.
  • One reason for the collapse now is the closure of restaurants, weddings and other social functions not taking place.
  • People are also avoiding ice-creams and sweetened cold beverages that might cause throat infections.

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Have oil prices played a role?

  • The juice from crushing sugarcane can be crystallised into sugar or fermented into alcohol.
  • When oil prices are high, mills (especially in Brazil) tend to divert cane for making ethanol (alcohol of 99%-plus purity) to be blended with petrol.
  • In 2019-20 (April-March), only 34.32% of cane crushed by Brazilian mills went for manufacturing 26.73 mt of sugar.
  • The rest was used to produce 31.62 billion litres of ethanol.
  • But with oil prices falling, mills will not find it attractive to divert cane for ethanol.
  • Brazil’s mills are thus seen to produce up to 36 mt of sugar and hardly 26 billion litres of ethanol this year.

Will this affect India?

  • Before COVID-19 happened, the Indian industry was expecting to export 5.5-6 mt of raw sugar in 2019-20.
  • Mills had already entered into contracts of some 3.8 mt, out of which 3.05 mt have been shipped out so far.
  • The sugar industry’s woes from excess stocks are thus slow to happen aided by both exports and lower production.
  • However, dip in sugar consumption, together with higher Brazilian output, is unfavourable for both Indian sugar mills and cane farmers.
  • Nevertheless, in Indonesia, there is an increased import requirement.
  • Also, it decided recently to slash the duty on Indian raw sugar from 15% to 5%.
  • Indonesian refiners are projected to import 3.3 mt of raw sugar this year, up from 2.6 mt in 2019.
  • They buy mostly from Thailand but Thailand is experiencing a bad drought which could lead to its production falling.
  • This offers an opportunity for India.

What is the situation with respect to cane farmers?

  • Decreasing exports and falling domestic use of sugar by institutional consumers has significantly undermined the mills' ability to make cane payments.
  • E.g. Uttar Pradesh’s factories have till now crushed cane worth roughly Rs 32,000 crore in the 2019-20 season.
  • But they have managed to pay only around Rs 16,400 crore.
  • The state government recently announced a scheme of mills giving “willing farmers” one quintal each of sugar for the next 3 months, instead of payments due.
  • Moreover, the industry’s problem is not from sugar alone.
  • The lockdown has reduced off-take of alcohol, be it potable liquor or ethanol for blending with petrol.
  • With cars and two-wheelers not running, oil market companies are not very keen to procure ethanol.

Other implications of oil price fall:

  • The oil price crash has affected other agri-commodities as well.
  • Prices of corn, which is also used for making ethanol, fell to their lowest since 2009 at Chicago.
  • Likewise, palm oil, again a feedstock for bio-diesel, ended 7.5% lower at the Bursa Malaysia futures exchange.
  • Corn prices can, in turn, drag down other cereals, just as palm oil could do to soyabean and other oilseeds.
  • All these are ultimately linked to oil, whose prices matter as much to farmers as petroleum companies.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Protecting the healers (The Hindu))



Protecting the healers (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Polity 
Prelims level: Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020
Mains level: Details about the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020

Context:

  • The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 is ensure to promulgated the healthcare workers.

About the ordinance: 

  • This 2020 ordinance will amend the Epidemic Act, 1867. 
  • It will criminalise attacks on healthcare personnel, including doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers.
  • It will make them a non-bailable offence.
  • Ordinarily, the guilty can be sent to jail for 3 months to 5 years, with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh.

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Reasons behind the promulgation: 

  • There are several incidences of frontline workers being attacked or facing harassment across the country. 
  • Frontline workers, be it healthcare workers, civic workers, emergency responders, or even police personnel, are working under great duress at the moment.
  • India’s shortage in healthcare manpower already places a heavy burden on the existing workforce.
  • The pandemic has compounded this burden many times over. 
  • If India ends up seeing the infection spread and hospitalisation numbers projected for it, it will need every healthcare hand available.
  • So, protecting these healthcare workers is a need of the time.

Is this Ordinance enough?

  • The ordinance’s provision for harsher punishment and its strict enforcement should serve as a deterrent. 
  • However, the government must look at a more permanent way to protect healthcare workers.
  • It framed the Healthcare Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments Bill 2019 to deter attacks on, and harassment of hospital staff.
  • However, this is yet to be enacted. 

Way forward:

  • Sensitizing the masses to support frontline workers is needed.
  • If not, India’s battle against the disease will truly be lost. 
  • The government must run awareness campaigns to address citizens’ fears about exposure to the pathogen via healthcare workers.
  • It must pass the 2019 Bill to protect healthcare workers in a more permanent way.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Free foodgrains should reach the needy (The Hindu))



Free foodgrains should reach the needy (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Garib Kalyan scheme
Mains level: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States

Context:

  • It was heartening to hear that from the Centre that four million tonnes of foodgrains have been lifted by 36 States under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana in the course of this month. 
  • It is true that scores of urban migrant workers, many of them desperate to return to their villages, are going hungry despite rice and wheat stocks of 77 million tonnes lying in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. 

About:

  • Stocks are not reaching the hunger hotspots quickly enough, even as food has been moved, largely by rail, to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka and the North-East, where food demand possibly outstrips supply. 
  • About 50-60 million tonnes are estimated to be distributed through mid-day meals and under the National Food Security Act. 

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Reliance on PDS: 

  • The reliance on PDS is expected to increase this year, and it is just as well that both the Centre and States have topped up the NFSA entitlement — which meets the needs of 80 crore people. 
  • The immediate need is to now reach out to the millions of migrants who do not have a ration card and are outside the NFSA ambit. 
  • States and NGOs have stepped up community kitchens and other forms of emergency food distribution, but their efforts are not enough.

Garib Kalyan scheme: 

  • The Centre should release more foodgrains to the States (over and above transfers under the Garib Kalyan scheme) free of cost rather than at the issue price, relieving the States’ fiscal burden. 
  • Worrying about the ₹2 lakh crore plus food subsidy bill (the difference between the procurement, transport and storage cost on the one hand and the issue price on the other) is a case of misplaced priorities. 
  • It is a violation of the NFSA that any individual should go hungry when food is available. 
  • Besides, distributing grain free amounts to a saving on storage costs; godowns also need to be cleared to make way for the new, bumper wheat crop. Decentralised procurement and storage can reduce distribution costs and hassles. 
  • India has made significant gains in this regard since 2012-13, with States such as Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh emerging as major contributors to the grain pool. 
  • In fact, the recent movement of grains by rail has been from storages in central India as well.
  • States and private agencies have been allowed to buy from FCI depots without going through the usual process of e-auctions through open market sales.

Way forward:

  • However, there can be no escaping the impression that governments — both Central and State — have been slow to act. 
  • States receiving migrants such as Bihar must step up efforts to create kitchens and begin MGNREGA works that are consistent with social distancing. 
  • This is not the time for political one-upmanship between the Centre and States, or preoccupation with deficit numbers.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Small units in distress as pandemic drives away business (The Hindu))



Small units in distress as pandemic drives away business (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: MSME sector
Mains level: Pandemic impact on MSME sector 

Context:

  • The MSME sector, comprising 6.33 crore enterprises, is predominantly ‘micro’ (99.4 per cent), with small and medium enterprises accounting for 0.52 per cent and 0.007 per cent of the sector respectively. 
  • A survey of MSMEs a week before the announcement of the lockdown, to estimate the impact of Covid on current and future business and the sector’s response.

SOS from MSMEs:

  • About 50 per cent of the MSMEs surveyed reported lower order books in Q4 2020 (January-March 2020) compared to the corresponding quarter in the previous year, as also compared to the previous quarter (Q3 2020), 29 per cent expected order books to shrink by more than 50 per cent. 
  • About 25 per cent of those surveyed reported a 20 per cent increase in finished goods and raw material inventories each in Q4 compared to the previous quarter due to Covid, and 17.5 per cent reported 50 per cent lower capacity utilisation compared to the previous quarter.
  • However, paradoxically, while 72 per cent agreed (strongly) that their receivables had been affected by the pandemic, an overwhelming majority (78 per cent) felt that their receivables would be affected only up to 30 days. 

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How does one interpret these results? 

  • The absence of a tangible policy response such as a declared lockdown, led to most respondents failing to factor in the true nature and impact of Covid. 
  • The MSME distress call could only be greater in the aftermath of the lock-down.
  • The survey also revealed the global inter-connectedness of the Indian MSME sector. 
  • More than 50 per cent of the respondents confirmed that the pandemic would impact their global sourcing, while an equal proportion confirmed the impact on their global markets. 
  • Thus, any volatility in global markets would prove to be a double-whammy for Indian MSMEs.

Jobs on the line:

  • The survey revealed the high employment-elasticity of the MSME sector. 
  • At the national level, statistics point to 97 per cent of the total MSME employment being generated in the micro sector, 2.88 per cent in the small and 0.16 per cent in the medium sectors.
  • This was corroborated by our survey as well. 
  • Thus, ‘small’ manufacturing plants and service firms across India typically provide employment to 300-700, while most ‘micro’ manufacturing enterprises employ 20-50 people, with micro service enterprises employing a lesser number.
  • It is this employment which would bear the brunt of the pandemic. The largest item constituting financial burden according to the respondents was labour costs (34 per cent). 
  • This was followed by raw material costs (18.8 per cent) and interest on loans (18.8 per cent). 
  • Faced with distress, SMEs would opt to survive, and the first casualty would be a cut in labour. 
  • Anecdotally, the number of SMEs keen on seeking counsel for dealing with tricky labour contracts when sales have dried up, has increased.

Conclusion: 

  • While government financial incentives and packages are the need of the hour to ‘save’ the SMEs, the SMEs themselves need to heed to the economy’s distress call and understand their role in saving the economy. 
  • Inefficient SMEs, seeking self-preservation through government relief packages at the cost of labour, may rightfully be allowed to succumb.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (Corona crisis prompts reimagining of justice delivery (Financial Express))



Corona crisis prompts reimagining of justice delivery (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 2:Polity 
Prelims level: Judiciary 
Mains level: Role of AI to build virtual courtrooms 

Context:

  • The rapid onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a shock to most existing systems and structures. This is apparent even in the delivery of, and access to, justice. 

Measures taken across the world: 

  • These are times unlike any other, and extraordinary measures are being taken across the world. 
  • The Supreme Court of the United States has, for the first time in a century, indefinitely closed its doors to oral hearings. 
  • Entire continents are in virtual lockdowns, and systems are under strain. For the Indian justice system, disruption through technology will be key. 

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Necessary to ensure distancing norms: 

  • In the long term, it will be even more necessary, to ensure distancing norms, and to help reduce pendency and burden on the courts. 
  • This is crucial to make positive inroads into the staggering number of matters pending, which are in excess of 3.5 crore.
  • This will ensure that access to justice and efficiency of dispute resolution in India is forever altered. 
  • Significant work has already been done to harmonise technology, innovation, engagement, and frameworks. 
  • It is merely a question of getting into mission mode to expedite reforms, and move from dialogues toward immediate action.

Decriminalising minor and petty offences

  • Today, authorities globally are using their discretion to differentiate between petty, non-violent crimes and other crimes so as to reduce the number of imprisonments, and therefore mitigate the risk of community spread. 
  • In this regard, the Government of India’s ongoing effort to decriminalise minor and petty offences by making them compoundable remains visionary and citizen-friendly. 
  • Recently-enacted laws are also working with this concept, as well as enabling innovative options such as class action suits to help reduce the volume of lower-value matters reaching the courts as individual lawsuits. 
  • Enabling groups of petitioners with compiled grievances to jointly file suit will streamline the cause of action, and lower the number of matters filed, helping reduce the burden over time. 
  • For ease of doing business, with protection for bona fide decisions, the decriminalisation of certain offences will go a long way toward increasing investor confidence. 
  • This is supported by the repeal of more than 1,500 archaic and redundant laws thus far.

Virtual courtrooms: Role of technology

  • In the near future, technology can no longer just be a support, but must also be an enabler of justice for those who haven’t been able to easily access it until now. 
  • A framework for the development of virtual courtrooms and remote hearing centres that enables all concerned, including the judges, to operate remotely and efficiently was perhaps due even before the pandemic, which has turned it into a necessity. 

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Uses of Artificial Intelligence: 

  • AI, for aspects not related to objective and discretionary decision-making, has significant potential. 
  • ROSS, an AI solution for legal services, is said to have launched a revolutionary contextual search technology, which actually enables lawyers to research 80% faster. 
  • India, too, has innovators in this space for case-law research and litigation support, with potential for achieving scale. 
  • This is a major pivot for support services in the legal and judicial ecosystem. 
  • A conversation between service providers and dispute resolvers could help add cohesion-led problem solving, with the option of imminent scale.

Relying on data:

  • An important first step from collaboration would be to help ensure the downstream usability of reliable and verifiable data. 
  • The data could be generated from filings, judgments, and related documents to assess and analyse the efficiency impact. Machine-readable laws will also help. 
  • By standardising inputs in a way that are technology-adaptable, analysis will be possible with a large data set and, presumably, more reliable than anecdotal evidence generated through current data-gathering and analysis. 
  • Technological tweaks to help data could perhaps, in future, be analysed for identifying under-trials who have already served their term waiting for a court date in the case of petty, non-violent offences. 
  • Augmenting reforms, both legal and judicial, with technology interventions could perhaps help unclog prisons and courts, assess efficiency and streamline access to data and result in better case-flow management for judges.

Continuing legal education for qualitative improvements:

  • The legal fraternity can also help in increasing capacity and capability to help the most vulnerable. 
  • Widening the importance of continuing legal education can help streamline and update knowledge of processes and laws for all lawyers practising across the various tiers, bringing qualitative improvements. Virtual classrooms for these can allow pan-India dissemination in a cost-efficient manner. 
  • A concerted drive can also be initiated to improve processes for legal aid, including through a broad-based pro bono initiative to help those who need it the most.

The time for disruptive reform is now:

  • The Supreme Court, to its credit, has been increasingly progressive in recent times. Successive Chief Justices of India have expressed their willingness to evolve the judiciary into a technology-friendly landscape. 
  • Chief Justice SA Bobde in particular has welcomed the use of AI and machine learning for non-invasive aspects, to enhance efficiency in judicial functioning. 
  • The court as a whole has been open to innovation and cognisant of the need to change the status quo. 
  • The e-Courts project, and aligned initiatives, are indicative of that mindset. But, now, novel technology-led ideas should be initiated as pilots, and pilots should be rolled out widely, without further delay.
  • Technology-led solutions will help flatten the curve for access while, in the long term, reducing the stress on courts.

Conclusion: 

  • There will, as with all disruptors, be a learning curve, and longer-term implications in providing a sustainable framework. 
  • Continuous dialogues will help bridge many of those gaps. Positive, visionary responses to emergencies define institutional legacies. 

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (No transparency in West Bengal (The Hindu))



No transparency in West Bengal (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: International standard practices
Mains level: Health infrastructure in West Bengal 

Context:

  • While the global media is painting a medical apocalypse, sections of the Indian media fear that reporting the Central and State governments’ speciousimage management during this extraordinary viral outbreak will come with consequences. 
  • Meanwhile, front line health workers — doctors, nurses and trainees, who are under-equipped and not always fully appreciated — look like lambs to the slaughter. 
  • As the fight against more infections rages, stoic and selfless, hospital staff continue to do what they are trained to do.

Delays and data issues:

  • In West Bengal, the medical fraternity claims that the State is reporting fewer cases as only a minuscule proportion of the population is getting tested. 
  • Recently, at least three healthcare workers, including interns, tested positive for the virus after delivering babies of COVID-19-positive mothers in the Kolkata Medical College and Hospital. 

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Dubious reputation:

  • West Bengal has acquired the dubiousreputation of conducting the least number of COVID-19 tests among the larger Indian States (62.7 per million of population). To make matters worse, its methodology for aggregating ‘asymptomatic and those under observation’, ‘sick’ and ‘deaths’ leaves important questions unanswered. 
  • Doctors complain that the Standard Operating Procedure for COVID-19 death certification has not been followed. 
  • In Kolkata Medical College and Hospital, for instance, when doctors clinically assess a person to have died of COVID-19, and is yet to be lab-tested (test results may take up to two days), the bodies in their highly infectious states have been released to family members for last rites. 
  • No tests are being conducted posthumously outside of the specialised (Level 4) hospitals converted for treating COVID-19 positive patients, doctors say. With the testing rate low, we don’t know if there are COVID-19 deaths outside Level 4 hospitals. How many are succumbing in general wards, homes and villages? Who is checking?

International standard practices: 

  • West Bengal’s numbers come under further doubt as the State government is instructing doctors to be cautious while recording COVID-19 as the cause of death in the case of those patients who have other underlying medical conditions. This is not in keeping with international standard practices. 
  • In the U.K., doctors record a wider set as having succumbed to COVID-19, including deaths strongly suspected as being by COVID-19, even if no laboratory test has taken place, or if there are co-morbidities such as kidney, lung or heart disease. West Bengal authorities are telling doctors to do the opposite.

Delay:

  • As more healthcare workers test positive, their calls for testing much more are stonewalled. Authorities, they say, have “no intention” of doing enough tests. This is unconscionablea failure of the State government’s duty of care towards medical professionals and the public.
  • Then there is the newspeak: how do surveillance, quarantine and being under observation differ? Do these numbers (31,023<) include those in self-isolation? Who collects, collates and checks these figures from hospitals and District Collectors’ offices before they reach the panicking public? Is it only up to the hospitals to track COVID-19 deaths?

More question than answers:

  • Is there bureaucratic delay in reporting or are there other unforeseen limiting circumstances such as a State budget shortage or delays from the Central government in releasing funds? If there are inevitable delays, how long will the delays be on average? Can the gaps be narrowed and closed for better estimates? Can the true numbers then be higher? 

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (The village is still relevant(The Hindu))



The village is still relevant (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Not much 
Mains level: Role of villages in an economy 

Context:

  • The upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus should inspire a review of past choices and policies. Some of these policies had gained so much acceptance that one felt there was no point left in questioning them. 
  • Public health and education are two areas in which India took a decisive turn in the 1990s. 
  • When several States decided to stop giving permanent appointment letters to doctors and teachers in the mid-1990s, they were guided by an ideological shift at the national level towards allowing health and education to be opened up for private enterprise. 
  • This was viewed as a major policy reform, a necessary part of the bigger package of economic reforms. They were presented as a package, offering little choice for specific areas. 

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Taking a back seat:

  • The new buzz was public-private partnership. It covered everything from roads to schools. 
  • The form it took made it amply clear that the state would take a back seat after issuing a set of rules for private operators while the state’s own infrastructure will shrink. 
  • The cost-effective measures became the priority in both health and education. 
  • Chronic shortage of functionaries became the norm while young persons learned to wait for years for vacancies to be announced. 
  • Working on short-term contracts, with little security or dignity, became common. 

Imbalance and invisibility:

  • This general framework justified discriminatory funding in every sphere, including health and education. 
  • No serious public investment could be made in villages. 
  • Even as medical education and teacher training became increasingly privatised, the availability of qualified doctors and teachers willing to work in villages dwindled. 
  • Ideologically-inspired pursuit of economic reforms swept State after State, leaving little room for dissent or longer term thinking. 
  • A veneer of welfarism was maintained. It allowed the expansion of essential facilities of a rudimentary kind in villages. 
  • They served as sites for special schemes for the poor and provided minimalist provisions. 
  • The goal was to keep the poor alive and occupied. Privately-run facilities burgeoned, creating an ethos that boosted commercial goals in health care and schooling. 
  • Stuck between state minimalism and commercial entrepreneurship, villages lost what capacity they had for regenerating their economy or intellectual resources. 

Obsolete debates:

  • The novel coronavirus has demonstrated how unsustainable this socio-economic arrangement was, apart from being ethically indefensible. It was characterised by sharp and growing regional disparities. 
  • No matter how hard we will try to rebuild the world as it was before the virus struck it, its unsustainability will not go away. 
  • It is rooted in the structural imbalance between the urban and the rural on one hand and the predominance of a skewed vision of economic growth on the other. 
  • In this vision, the village has no future other than becoming a pale copy of the urban and eventually dissolving into it.
  • Once upon a time, there were debates over the nature of India’s rural society — on whether it was intrinsically good or bad. These debates are no longer relevant. 
  • The village is, however, still relevant, at least for the vast number of urban workers. Similarly, while the problem of defining a village in an academic sense has ceased to matter, its existential reality has asserted itself, and we need to recognise this assertion.
  • If we do, we might agree to notice a problem in policies that do not acknowledge the right of villages to flourish as human habitations with their own distinctive future. 

Conclusion: 

  • They deserve to have new sites and forms of livelihood. 
  • They also deserve systems of health and education that are not designed as feeders to distant centres. 
  • Initiatives in this direction will make both cities and villages more sustainable and capable of coping with the kind of crisis we are currently facing.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (Why workers need unions(The Hindu))



Why workers need unions(The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:National 
Prelims level: Gig economy 
Mains level: Social issues 

Context:

  • Covid-19 and the resultant distress in the job market have once again highlighted the importance of trade unions, especially in ensuring that worker welfare becomes a key agenda of policymakers as well as companies. 
  • Inarguably, one of the biggest and most immediate casualties of the Covid-19 crisis are workers in sectors where unions are non-existent. 
  • The very absence of collective bargaining powers has exposed these workers to extreme uncertainty, and they fall prey to the draconian measures taken by their companies. 
  • The gig economy is a worthy example. 

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Three crucial factors in gig economy:

  • It is the total absence of workers’ unions which makes them silent spectators to preemptive measures so much so that most of the sacked are asked to stop working immediately and leave without any monetary compensation. 
  • The remaining employees work under extremely stressful conditions without adequate safety measures. 
  • It is the ironical way in which these workers are defined by the companies — a stark reflection of the fact that unions or any other forms of workers collectives do not play any role in the way they are classified, both in India and advanced markets. Workers in non-unionised sectors are going to pay dearly in the future. 

Way forward: 

  • Given the sheer disregard with which labour policies are framed in countries such as India and the US,— two large economies where the business sector is infested with anti-union practices — the economic crisis triggered by Covid will become even more telling. 
  • Hence, this calamity must come as a wake-up for workers usually reluctant to join or form unions, especially belonging to the Left parties, which seem to have given up on their aggressive enthusiasm in furthering working class goalsand have compromised along the way.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (India’s IT services sector faces grave challenges (The Hindu))



India’s IT services sector faces grave challenges (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Information Technology service 
Mains level: COVID 19 challenges towards IT services sector 

Context:

  • Just when India’s information technology services companies had adapted to the changing business models arising out of the emergence of new digital platforms, they are faced with yet another disruption in their delivery models. 

Work from home:

  • The ongoing economic lockdown due to Covid-19 has disrupted the way IT companies function as more than 85 per cent of the workforce now has to work from home. 
  • From a centralised architecture, IT services companies have had to restructure their entire organisation — a transformation that is here to stay even after the lockdown ends. 
  • In the pre-Covid era, companies such as TCS had a highly centralised delivery model. 

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Future working model:

  • In future, not more than 25 per cent of employees would be working from offices. 
  • This means companies will have to rejig cybersecurity mechanisms, their project management practices, and put in place systems to ensure that proper work allocation, monitoring, and reporting is done. 
  • Under this model, costs related to real estate and managing offices will go down over a period of time but higher spending will go into collaboration and other kinds of productivity tools. 
  • Dependence on H-1B visas will also come down as on-site delivery of services will not be relevant. 
  • The sector is up against massive demand destruction with lockdown-induced slowdown coming on top of the ongoing contraction in key markets. 
  • India’s top three IT companies — TCS, Infosys and Wipro — signalled the distress ahead, as they all missed street estimates in March quarter earnings and suspended revenue guidance for the year ahead.

Reforms needed: 

  • IT companies must reduce over-reliance on big-ticket deals from traditional markets like the US and the UK. 
  • There should be a quick transformation into a distributed delivery architecture instead of the centralised one today. 

Conclusion:

  • In the long term, behavioural shifts as a result of Covid-19 will help the sector. 
  • The human interface will reduce and technology will be required to take over many functions. 
  • This behavioural change can open up opportunities for Indian IT companies to earn higher margins doing consulting-led work.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 22 April 2020 (The key strategy is fiscal empowerment of States (The Hindu))



The key strategy is fiscal empowerment of States (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: COVID-19 pandemic
Mains level: Boosting resources by centre to states for combating COVID 19

Context:

  • The scale of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has never been seen before. 
  • Even as we are in the midst of the second phase of the national lockdown, there is no clarity on the time it will take to come out of the crisis, the extent of damage it will inflict, and the cost of relief and rehabilitation required. 
  • At a time when governments, both at the Centre and in the States, are fiscally stressed, the pandemic has forced them to undertake huge expenditures to save lives, livelihoods and reduce distresses and even more, to create a stimulus to revive the economy as we map the exit strategy.

Need for relief:

  • The speed of economic revival will depend on how long it will take to revive economic activities and the volume of stimulus through public spending the government is able to provide. 
  • It now appears that the lockdown will be lifted in stages and the recovery process will be prolonged. 
  • The country is literally placed in financing a war-like situation and the government will have to postpone the fiscal consolidation process for the present, loosen its purse strings and finance its deficits substantially through monetisation. 

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States responsibility: 

  • Being closer to the people, the States have a much larger responsibility in fighting this war. Public health as well as public order are State subjects in the Constitution. 
  • In fact, some States were proactive in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak by involving the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, even before the Government of India declared a universal lockdown invoking the Disaster Management Act, 2005. 
  • Of course, the Centre under Entry 29 of the Concurrent List has the powers to set the rules of implementation which states, “Prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants”. 
  • While Central intervention was done to enable, “consistency in the application and implementation of various measures across the country”, the actual implementation on the ground level will have to be done at the State level. 
  • Furthermore, States are better informed to decide the areas and activities where relaxations should be done as the coronavirus curve is flattened. 
  • Hopefully, there will be better coordination between the Union and State governments instead of claiming credit and apportioning blame.

Focus on health and economy

  • The acute shortage of protective gear, testing kits, ventilators and hospital beds has been a major handicap and the immediate task of States is to ramp up their availability and supply. 
  • In addition, the disruption caused by the lockdown has caused untold misery, and providing relief and rehabilitation to migrant labourers and informal sector workers had to the focus. 

Historical negligence in the health-care sector:

  • The pandemic has underlined the historical neglect of the health-care sector in the country. 
  • The total public expenditures of Centre and States works out to a mere 1.3% of GDP. In 2017-18, in per capita terms, the public expenditure on medical and public health varied from an abysmal ₹690 in Bihar and ₹814 in Uttar Pradesh to the highest of ₹2,092 in Kerala. 
  • The centrally sponsored scheme, the National Health Mission, is inadequately funded, micromanaged with grants given under more than 2,000 heads and poorly targeted. 
  • The focus of “Ayushman Bharat” has been to advocate insurance rather than building wellness centres.

Facilitate economic revival: 

  • Besides protecting lives and livelihoods, States will have to initiate and facilitate economic revival, and that too would require substantial additional spending. 
  • Hand holding small and medium enterprises which have completely ceased production, providing relief to farmers who have lost their perishable crops and preparing them for sowing in the kharif season are other tasks that require spending. 
  • In fact, States have been proactive. Kerala came out with a comprehensive package allocating ₹20,000 crore to fight the pandemic. 
  • Almost all States have taken measures to provide food to the needy besides ramping up health-care requirements.

Extensive revenue losses:

  • While the requirement of States for immediate expenditures is large, they are severely crippled in their resources. 
  • In the lockdown period, there has virtually been no economic activity and they have not been able to generate any revenue from State excise duty, stamp duties and registration fees, motor vehicles tax or sales tax on high speed diesel and motor spirit. 
  • The revenue from Goods and Services Tax is stagnant and compensation on time for the loss of revenue has not been forthcoming. 
  • In Karnataka, it is reported that as against the estimated ₹12,000 crore every month, the State may not be able to generate even ₹300 crore in April. 

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Tax devolution:

  • The position regarding tax devolution from the Centre is even more precarious. 
  • To begin with, the tax devolution in the Union Budget estimate is lower than the Commission’s estimate by ₹70,995 crore. 
  • The Budget estimate for 2020-21 itself is a huge overestimate when seen against the 11-month actual collections in 2019-20. The required growth to achieve the Budget estimate is 33.3% over the annualised actual collection. 
  • The projections are that the growth of nominal GDP in 2020-21 will be just about 4% and if the tax revenue increases by the same rate, devolution to the States would be lower by ₹2.2-lakh crore than the Finance Commission’s estimate. 
  • This results in a loss of ₹9,173 crore for Tamil Nadu, ₹9,000 crore for Andhra Pradesh, ₹8,000 crore for Karnataka, ₹4,671 crore for Telangana, and ₹4,255 crore for Kerala. 
  • There is a strong case for the States to go back to the Finance Commission with a request to make and give a supplementary report.

Way forward: 

  • The war on COVID-19 can be effectively won only when the States are armed with enough resources to meet the crisis. But they are faced with stagnant revenues while their expenditure commitments are huge. 
  • There is only limited scope for expenditure switching and reprioritisation now. Their borrowing space too is limited by the fiscal responsibility and budget management limit of 3% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). 
  • Faced with an acute fund crunch, Kerala floated 15-year bonds but was faced with a huge upsurge in the yield to 8.96%. 
  • The announcement by the Reserve Bank of India on the increase in the limit of ways and means advances by 60% of the levels prescribed in March 31 could help States to plan their borrowing better; but that is too little to provide much relief.

Conclusion:

  • Therefore, it is important for the Central government to provide additional borrowing space by 2% of GSDP from the prevailing 3% of GSDP. 
  • This is the time to fiscally empower States to wage the COVID-19 war and trust them to spend on protecting lives, livelihoods and initiate an economic recovery.

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