INSIGHTS DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS + PIB SUMMARY- 15 February 2020
Table of Contents:
GS Paper 2:
GS Paper 3:
GS Paper : 2
Topics Covered: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Key objectives and features, significance.
Context: The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises recently flagged off ‘Apiary on Wheels’.
What is it?
It is a unique concept designed by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) for the easy upkeep and migration of Bee Boxes having live Bee colonies.
- It is a platform which can carry 20 Bee Boxes from one place to another without any difficulty.
- It is like an attachment which can be easily connected with a Tractor or a Trolley and may be pulled to any suitable destination.
The KVIC launched Honey Mission in 2017 and has been training beekeepers, distributing Bee Boxes and helping rural, educated but unemployed youth to earn extra income through beekeeping activities, at their doorstep.
- It is a holistic approach to address the challenges faced by the beekeepers.
- It is designed so as to reduce the labour and cost of maintaining and upkeeping Bee Boxes and live bee colonies across India.
Topics Covered: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
What to study?
For Prelims: What is AGR? How is it calculated? What is contempt of Court?
For Mains: What is the impact of latest ruling? Issues and ways to address them.
Context: The Supreme Court has come down heavily on the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for issuing a notification last month that asked for no coercive action against telecom companies even though they had not paid the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues by the stipulated deadline of January 23.
The Court also initiated contempt proceedings against the telecom companies for not paying the AGR dues.
- The court also asked DoT to immediately withdraw the notification which said that there would be no coercive action against telcos.
Last year, the Supreme Court upheld the definition of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) calculation as stipulated by the Department of Telecommunications.
The order by the top court means that the telecom companies will have to immediately clear the pending AGR dues, which amount to nearly Rs 1.47 lakh crore.
What is AGR?
Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). It is divided into spectrum usage charges and licensing fees, pegged between 3-5 percent and 8 percent respectively.
How is it calculated and what’s the contention?
As per DoT, the charges are calculated based on all revenues earned by a telco – including non-telecom related sources such as deposit interests and asset sales. Telcos, on their part, insist that AGR should comprise only the revenues generated from telecom services.
The story so far:
- In 2005, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) challenged the government’s definition for AGR calculation.
- Later in 2015, the TDSAT said AGR included all receipts except capital receipts and revenue from non-core sources such as rent, profit on the sale of fixed assets, dividend, interest and miscellaneous income, etc.
- The regulator had also included forex adjustment under AGR apart from ruling that licenses fee will not be charged twice on the same income. It, however, exempted bad debt, foreign exchange fluctuations, and sale of scrap to be calculated for AGR.
- The government had also raised the issue of under-reporting of revenues to duck charges. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) called out telcos for understating revenues to the tune of Rs 61,064.5 crore.
- Later, the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) upheld the DoT’s definition of AGR (factors against which the license fee is payable) with certain exemptions.
- The DoT, however, filed an appeal before the Supreme Court, citing that the TDSAT had no jurisdiction on the validity of terms and conditions of licenses.
Where does the government stand in this situation?
- The payout by telecom and non-telecom companies is likely to lead to windfall gains for the central government, which could help it close some of the fiscal deficit gap for the current financial.
- At the same time, however, the government will be under pressure to ensure that the telecom market does not turn into a duopoly if Vodafone Idea does indeed decide to shut shop.
- It will also have to manage the payouts to be done by non-telecom companies as most of them, such as Oil India, Power Grid, Gail, and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation are public sector units.
What does this situation mean for customers and lenders?
If Vodafone Idea does exit, an Airtel-Jio duopoly will be created, which could lead to bigger bills, considering it was the cutthroat competition in the sector that made mobile telephony and Internet almost universally affordable.
Challenges for telecom sector:
The AGR issue has triggered panic in the banking industry, given that the telecom sector is highly leveraged. Vodafone Idea alone has a debt of Rs 2.2 lakh crore that it has used to expand infrastructure and fund spectrum payments over the years. The mutual fund industry has an exposure of around Rs 4,000 crore to Vodafone Idea.
Sources: the Hindu.
Topic covered: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
What to study?
For prelims and mains: BIMSTEC- members, objectives, significance and need for reforms.
Context: The 2nd Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Disaster Management Exercise was recently conducted in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
The focus of the 2nd edition of Exercise is on heritage structures’ protection.
The first edition of the BIMSTEC DMEx was also hosted by India in 2017 with the focus on testing the region’s preparedness and resilience towards effective activation of inter-Governmental interaction/dialogue/agreements for immediate deployment of regional resources for disaster response.
What is BIMSTEC?
In an effort to integrate the region, the grouping was formed in 1997, originally with Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and later included Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. BIMSTEC, which now includes five countries from South Asia and two from ASEAN, is a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. It includes all the major countries of South Asia, except Maldives, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Why the region matters?
- Over one-fifth (22%) of the world’s population live in the seven countries around it, and they have a combined GDP close to $2.7 trillion.
- Despite economic challenges, all the countries in the region have been able to sustain average annual rates of economic growth between 3.4% and 7.5% from 2012 to 2016.
- The Bay also has vast untapped natural resources. One-fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the Bay every year.
Why is BIMSTEC important for India?
As the region’s largest economy, India has a lot at stake.
- BIMSTEC connects not only South and Southeast Asia, but also the ecologies of the Great Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal.
- For India, it is a natural platform to fulfil our key foreign policy priorities of ‘Neighborhood First’ and ‘Act East’.
- For New Delhi, one key reason for engagement is in the vast potential that is unlocked with stronger connectivity. Almost 300 million people, or roughly one-quarter of India’s population, live in the four coastal states adjacent to the Bay of Bengal (Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal).
- And, about 45 million people, who live in landlocked Northeastern states, will have the opportunity to connect via the Bay of Bengal to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand, opening up possibilities in terms of development.
- From the strategic perspective, the Bay of Bengal, a funnel to the Malacca straits, has emerged a key theatre for an increasingly assertive China in maintaining its access route to the Indian Ocean.
- As China mounts assertive activities in the Bay of Bengal region, with increased submarine movement and ship visits in the Indian Ocean, it is in India’s interest to consolidate its internal engagement among the BIMSTEC countries.
Sources: the Hindu.
GS Paper : 3
Topics Covered: Conservation related issues.
What to study?
For Prelims: The five risks and other key findings.
For Mains: Concerns and challenges ahead, ways to address them.
Context: The Future of Earth 2020 report has been released by the South Asia Future Earth Regional Office, Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science. The report was prepared with the aim of reducing carbon footprint and halting global warming below 2 degree Celsius by 2050.
Five global risks:
The report lists five global risks that have the potential to impact and amplify one another in ways that may cascade to create a global systemic crisis. They are:
- Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- Extreme weather events.
- Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse.
- Food crises.
- Water crises.
Interrelation of risk factors: Extreme heat waves can accelerate global warming by releasing large amounts of stored carbon from affected ecosystems, and at the same time intensify water crises and/or food scarcity.
Biodiversity loss and it’s impact: The loss of biodiversity weakens the capacity of natural and agricultural systems to cope with climate extremes, increasing our vulnerability to food crises.
The five years from 2014 to 2018 were the warmest recorded over land and ocean since 1880.
Concerns and Challenges ahead:
Major assessments in last two years have all argued that time is running out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- This has inspired declarations of a climate crisis or climate emergency by the leaders of more than 700 cities, States and governments.
- Yet, during 2019, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached more than 415 ppm.
Anthropogenic factors: Humans have now “significantly altered” 75% of our planet’s land area; about a quarter of species in assessed plant and animal groups are threatened.
Strains on food production are expected to increase, as a result of various forces including climate change, biodiversity loss, and a global population on the rise.
Denial of climate change: Right-wing populism, a breed of politics that exploits people’s fears during times of economic decline and growing inequality, and that focuses on nationalist tendencies to clamp down on borders and reject immigrants, is on the rise around the world. This often leads to a denial of climate change facts or impacts.
The digital platforms such as social media, search engines and e-commerce algorithms, tend to favour the spread of information designed to engage with emotion over reason, which can cause the propagation of “fake news”, and can lead to social harms like an erosion of trust in vaccines.
Environmental health and education:
New thinking about conservation is needed. The National Education Policy will address the question of environmental health and education at the school level.
Children in the last four years of secondary education will have a reasonable grounding to be sensitive towards the environment. Without it no government rules and policies can be helpful
Sources: the Hindu.
Topics Covered: Cyber security related issues.
What to study?
For Prelims: Key features.
For Mains: Significance of Dutch ruling, need for and implications.
Context: In a first anywhere in the world, a court in the Netherlands recently stopped SyRI- a digital identification scheme for reasons of exclusion.
This has a context for similar artificial intelligence systems worldwide, especially at a time when identity, citizenship and privacy are pertinent questions in India.
Firstly, what was the scheme SyRI all about?
SyRI (System Risk Indicator) was developed by Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs developed in 2014 to weed out those who are most likely to commit fraud and receive government benefits.
It allowed government agencies to share 17 categories of data about welfare recipients such as taxes, land registries, employment records, and vehicle registrations with a private company.
- The company, called “The Intelligence Agency”, used an algorithm to analyse data for four cities and calculate risk scores. The selective rollout was conducted in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods, which have a higher number of beneficiaries.
- Elevated risk scores were sent to relevant government arms, which stores these on government databases for a maximum of two years. The government, in that time period, could open an investigation on the targeted person.
Why the Court ruled against it?
A Dutch district court ruled against this scheme because of data privacy and human rights concerns.
The court said using new technology to control fraud was acceptable, it held SyRI was too invasive and violative of the privacy guarantees given by European Human Rights Law as well as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
Legal criticism had mounted on this case of algorithmic governance, alleging that the algorithm would begin associating poverty and immigrant statuses with fraud risk.
The court found that opaque algorithmic decision-making puts citizens at a disadvantage to challenge the resulting risk scores.
The Dutch government defended the programme in court, saying it prevented abuse and acted as only a starting point for further investigation instead of a final determination. The government also refused to disclose all information about how the system makes its decisions, stating that it would allow gaming of the system.
How relevant is this for India?
Similar to the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment setting limits on the ID’s usage, the Hague Court attempted to balance social interest with personal privacy.
However, the Aadhaar judgment was not regarding algorithmic decision-making; it was about data collection.
The ruling is an example of how a data protection regulation can be used against government surveillance. The court ruled that SyRI was violative of principles of transparency and data minimisation laid out in their General Data Protection Regulation.
Sources: Indian Express.