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[Mission 2023] Insights SECURE SYNOPSIS: 11 March 2023

 

NOTE: Please remember that following ‘answers’ are NOT ‘model answers’. They are NOT synopsis too if we go by definition of the term. What we are providing is content that both meets demand of the question and at the same

 

Answer the following questions in 150 words:


General Studies – 1


 

1. Throw light of distribution of grasslands in India. What are the threats faced by grasslands? Discuss steps that are needed to protect them.

Reference: The Hindu

Introduction

Grasslands are open areas of land where grasses or grass like plants are the dominant species. Other forms of vegetation such as trees are rare in grasslands because they are not suited to thrive in the grassland’s dry environment. Grasslands receive water through rainfall, and when it does occur the grasses use their roots to search for moisture. Grass within this type of environment reproduces by releasing pollen when the winds blow or by producing plants from their roots.

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Distribution of grasslands in India

  • In India, grasslands are found as village grazing grounds (Gauchar) and extensive low pastures of dry regions of the western part of the country and also in Alpine Himalayas.
  • Perennial grasses are the dominant plant community.
  • In the Himalayan mountains, there are high, cold Himalayan pastures.
  • There are tracts of tall elephant grass in the low-lying Terai beltsouth of the Himalayan foothills.
  • There are semi-arid grasslands in Western India, parts of Central India, and the Deccan Plateau.
  • Patches of shola grasslandsthat occur on hill slopes alongside the extremely moist evergreen forests in South India.
  • In some regions, grasslands also support a variety of other herbaceous plants like sedges, legumes and members of the sunflower family.
  • Grasslands support numerous herbivores, from minute insects to very large mammals.
  • Rats, mice, rodents, deer, elephants, dogs, buffalo, tigers, lions, ferrets are some common mammals of grasslands.
  • In northeast India, the one-horned rhinoceros is amongst the threatened animal of grassland in this region.
  • A large number of avian fauna makes the grassland colourful.

Threats to grassland ecosystem

  • Natural and human disturbances to grassland areas can cause changes within this particular ecosystems environment.
  • Because these ecosystems are relatively dry with a strong seasonal climate, they are sensitive to climatic changes and vulnerable to shifts in climatic regime.
  • Grasslands are threatened by habitat loss, which can be caused by human actions, such as unsustainable agricultural practices, overgrazing, and crop clearing.
  • The biggest impact that humans have on grasslands is by developing open areas for farming or urban development.
  • Not only does the conversion of land into crops change the ecosystem, but so does the farming of livestock.
  • Hunting presents a serious impact on grassland biomes. Poachers likewise kill rhinoceroses for their tusks, and elephants for their ivory on Africa savannas without any regard to protection of the species.
  • Climate changecauses ecological succession, in which the ecosystem of an area develops into another.
  • Climate change impacts to grasslands and prairie bioregions include increased seasonal, annual, minimum, and maximum temperature and changing precipitation patterns.

Conclusion

Humans do not have only a negative impact on grasslands. Some humans do their part to preserve the land and restore it. National parks have been developed around grasslands, and some organizations replant depleted areas. Governments have enacted laws against the hunting of endangered animals. In particular, the U.S. National Parks Service has preserved land to foster the American bison population. While poaching still exists in many areas, there are efforts to stop it.

 

2. Caste discrimination is a significant problem in India that affects various aspects of society, including education, employment, and access to basic services. Examine.

Reference: Indian Express  , Insights on India

Introduction

Caste system refers to a broad hierarchical institutional arrangement along which basic social factors like birth, marriage, food-sharing etc are arranged in a hierarchy of rank and status. These sub-divisions are traditionally linked to occupations and decide the social relations with respect to other upper and lower castes.

Recently, 18-year-old Dalit student Darshan Solanki died by suicide at IIT Bombay by jumping from the seventh floor of a hostel building, allegedly because of the caste discrimination he faced.

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Caste discrimination is still widely prevalent in the contemporary society because

  • Indian society has been bearing the brunt of this social evil since the post-Vedic times and continues to bear despite Constitutional and Legal measures.
  • Hereditary: An individual’s caste is determined by the caste of the family he is born in. It is generally hereditary. One’s caste is unalterable no matter what his/her social position is. One inherits the membership of a caste by his/her birth.
  • Persistence is that ancient inequities and prejudices are slow to change. The higher castes, which exploited the lower castes for centuries, continue to discriminate against them both socially and economically.
  • Sense of caste prestige: Feeling of own caste superiority over other castes Is the main factor. It is people’s strong desire to enhance caste prestige. Members of a particular caste or sub-caste have the tendency of developing loyalty to their own caste.
  • Caste endogamy: Caste endogamy refers to marriage within the same caste. Caste endogamy is therefore responsible for the emergence of the feeling of casteism.
  • Belief in religious dogmas: Due to illiteracy, people are governed by belief in religious dogmas, blind beliefs and superstitions. Due to the practice of ‘Jati Dharma’ they take interest in their own caste. It leads to caste feeling and casteism.
  • Social distance: Especially in rural areas, people belonging to the higher caste maintain social distance from the lower castes.
    • Dalits in rural villages are forbidden in Hindu temples and disallowed with their shoes on in higher-caste neighborhoods.
    • They maintain it through different restrictions like inter-caste marriages, Inter-dinning etc.
    • The ideology of an individual is associated with his caste norms and values. This has given rise to casteism.
  • Caste reservation in higher education and the government has served to perpetuate a system that would otherwise have withered away.

How casteism can be removed?

  • Emotional and intellectual appeal to economic determinism, as was advocated by Karl Marx
  • Awareness about Constitutional values, ethics, ill effects of castiesm etc. by debates, nukkad natak, puppetry,
  • Promote and incentivise inter caste marriages as is already done for marrying a SC ST women in some parts of India.
  • Evaluate the existing customs, rituals etc. on thetouchstone of Human Rights. Here judiciary can play a positive role but with due respect to religious feelings.
  • Implement laws and agreements like ICCPR, Protection of human rights, Prevention of atrocities against SC ST etc. with full letter and spirit.
  • Dalit capitalism, check on extra judicial bodies like Khaps etc.
  • Economic empowerment of Dalit through education and ownership of land and capital.

Conclusion

Caste system is a terrible anomaly of society which became more prevalent over time. It is the strong enemy of the concept of social justice mentioned in the Indian Constitution and causes economic, social damage to the country from time to time. Undoubtedly, along with the government, it is the responsibility of the common man, religious leaders, politicians, and civil society to resolve this discrepancy as soon as possible.

Value addition

Caste system is the bane for the Indian society:

  • Segmental division of society:It means that social stratification is largely based on caste. Membership to a caste group is acquired by birth, on the basis of which people are ranked in relative to other caste groups.
  • Hierarchy:It indicates that various castes are categorized according to their purity and impurity of occupations.
  • Civil and religious disabilities:Example, lower caste groups had no access to wells, they were restricted from entering temples etc.
  • Endogamy: Members of a particular caste have to marry within their caste only. Inter caste marriages are prohibited.
  • Untouchability: It is the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom.
  • Hindered national unity:The caste system and religion developed a parochial feeling and made the people unduly conscious of their own castes/religion.
    • Many a time caste/communal interests were given priority over national interest.
    • Thus the whole system stood against the very concept of national unity.
  • Hinders democracy: Democracy presupposes human equality, but the caste system believed in inequality and there was a hierarchical arrangement.
    • Today caste has manifested into a subject to gain political benefits, like reservation in educational colleges, government jobs etc.
  • Lowered women’s status: The practice of Sati, child marriage etc  were result of caste system. Women were treated as second-class citizens. This patriarchal behaviour is still prevalent today.
  • Violence and conflict: Dalit atrocities, sexual assault on lower caste women etc are result of such discrimination and exploitation which are in turn a result of caste and communal identities deeply entrenched in Indian society

The evil face of Caste System:

  • Manual scavenging: Manual scavenging eventually became a caste-based occupation, which involves the removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines. It has been officially abolished by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
  • Caste based violence in India: Increasing trend of caste based violence are related to instances of inter-caste marriage and assertion of basic rights by Dalits including landrights, freedom of expression, access to justice, access to education etc.
  • Dalit violence: Increasing trend of caste-based violence are related to instances of inter-caste marriage and assertion of basic rights by Dalits including land rights, freedom of expression, access to justice, access to education etc.
    • A group of Dalits were attacked in Una, Gujarat when they had participated in the movement for demand of land ownership for the Dalits.
    • Hathras Gang rape of a Dalit womanwas touted as caste based violence.
  • Jati Panchayat: The status of each caste is carefully protected, not only by caste laws but also by the conventions. These areopenly enforced by the community through a governing body or board called Jati Panchayat.
  • The Concept of Purity and Pollution: The higher castes claimed to have ritual, spiritual and racial purity which they maintained by keeping the lower castes away through the notion of pollution. The idea of pollution means a touch of lower caste man would pollute or defile a man of higher caste.
  • Restriction on Food and Drink: Usually a caste would not accept cooked food from any other caste that stands lower than itself in the social scale, due to the notion of getting polluted.
  • The caste system is a check on economic and intellectual advancement and a great stumbling block in the way of social reforms
  • It undermines the efficiency of labour and prevents perfect mobility of labour, capital and productive effort
  • It perpetuates the exploitation of the economically weaker and socially inferior castes, especially the untouchables.
  • Inflicted untold hardships on women through its insistence on practices like child-marriage, prohibition of widow-remarriage, seclusion of women
  • Caste conflicts are widely prevalent in politics, reservation in jobs and education, inter-caste marriages etc.


General Studies – 2


 

3. Do you think that setting up of an “independent watchdog” to oversee the electoral bond system will ensure the much-needed transparency and accountability in the electoral bond scheme? Critically analyse.

Reference: Indian ExpressInsights on India

Introduction

Electoral bonds will allow donors to pay political parties using banks as an intermediary. Although called a bond, the banking instrument resembling promissory notes will not carry any interest. The electoral bond, which will be a bearer instrument, will not carry the name of the payee and can be bought for any value, in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh or Rs 1 crore.

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Findings on Electoral bonds:

  • Since its introduction, electoral bonds have become an essential source of financing for all major political parties.
  • Between March 2018 and January 2021, electoral bonds worth Rs 6,514.50 crore were redeemed by parties.
  • While the ruling BJP has managed to receive the lion’s share (60.17%) of political funding made through the bonds, over half of the total income of all national and regional parties too was contributed through this method.
  • for both the principal political parties, it seems that the quantum of political donations channelised through cash donations/non-identifiable sources has decreased substantially.
  • Instead, today more funds are channelised through the formal banking system. This was not the case with the earlier system in which half of the political donations were not traceable as they were made in cash form.
  • Viewed from this angle, the electoral bonds scheme is an improvement over the previous system.

electoral bonds have only legitimized opacity:

  • The move could be misused, given the lack of disclosure requirements for individuals purchasing electoral bonds.
  • Electoral bonds make electoral funding even more opaque. It will bring more and more black money into the political system. electoral bonds would cause a “serious impact” on transparency in funding of political parties
  • With electoral bonds there can be a legal channel for companies to round-trip their tax haven cash to a political party. If this could be arranged, then a businessman could lobby for a change in policy, and legally funnel a part of the profits accruing from this policy change to the politician or party that brought it about.
  • The amendments would pump in black money for political funding through shell companies and allow “unchecked foreign funding of political parties in India which could lead to Indian politics being influenced by foreign companies
  • Companies no longer need to declare the names of the parties to which they have donated so shareholders won’t know where their money has gone.
  • They have potential to load the dice heavily in favour of the ruling party as the donor bank and the receiver bank know the identity of the person. But both the banks report to the RBI which, in turn, is subject to the Central government’s will to know.

Will an independent watchdog be effective to monitor Electoral Bonds

  • Ex- Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat said the political funding scheme could be improved by appointing an “independent watchdog”.
  • A watchdog could look at the data of donors maintained by the State Bank of India, which is the only bank authorised to sell the bonds, and then present a report to Parliament annually.
  • An impartial watchdog that can give a certificate to Parliament every year that this information was not shared anywhere, it is accurate and that it confirms no foreign funding and no shell companies have used the electoral bond route

Possible Lacunae in independent watchdog

  • Any policing arrangement can be vulnerable to pressures
  • If the watchdog doesn’t have sufficient powers to access and investigate information related to electoral bonds, then its another redundant body.

Way forward

  • This would require a strong legal framework that enables the watchdog to gather and analyze data, and take enforcement action where necessary.
  • The body would need to have a mandate and funding that are separate from the government, political parties, and other vested interests.
  • the watchdog would need to be staffed by qualified and experienced professionals who have the skills and expertise to monitor and regulate the use of electoral bonds effectively.

Conclusion

The 255th Law Commission Report on Electoral Reforms observed that opacity in political funding results in “lobbying and capture” of the government by big donors. Various commissions, including the Election Commission, have given detailed recommendations on suitable remedies. Public funding needs to be examined and introduced with proper checks and balances.


General Studies – 3


 

4. What are bio-computers? How do they work? Discuss the potential applications of this emerging technology across various fields.

Reference: The Hindu

Introduction

Biological computers use biologically derived molecules — such as DNA and/or proteins — to perform digital or real computations. These computers can perform certain operations much faster than traditional electronic computers and have the potential to revolutionize fields such as medicine and biotechnology.

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Background

  • Scientists at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) recently outlined a plan for a potentially revolutionary new area of research called “organoid intelligence”, which aims to create “biocomputers”: where brain cultures grown in the lab are coupled to real-world sensors and input/output devices.
  • The scientists expect the technology to harness the processing power of the brain and understand the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and various neurological disorders.

How Bio-computers work?

  • “Organoid intelligence” like Artificial intelligence is an area of study to create independent decision-making units using organoids.
  • Brain organoids are3D cultures of brain tissue prepared in the lab using human stem cells. These capture many structural and functional features of a developing human brain.
  • The scientists ultimately aim to create“biocomputers”: which are brain cultures grown in the lab and coupled to real-world sensors and input/output devices.

Potential Applications of Bio-Computers

  • The implantable biological computer is a device which could be used in various medical applications where intercellular evaluation and treatment are needed or required. It is especially useful in monitoring intercellular activity including mutation of genes.
  • The main advantage of this technology over other like technologies is the fact that through it, a doctor can focus on or find and treat only damaged or diseased cells.
  • Selective cell treatment is made possible.
  • Bio-computers made of RNA strands might eventually serve as brains for producing biofuels from cells, for example, or to control “smart drugs” that medicate only under certain conditions.
  • These biocomputers like human brains can be used for complex information processing.
  • These organoids can reveal the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and memory.
  • They can help in drug development and in decoding the pathology of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and microcephaly.

Conclusion

The future for biological computing is bright. Biological computing is a young field which attempts to extract computing power from the collective action of large numbers of biological molecules. As scientists devote time and effort to research in the new field of biocomputing, these new technologies will revolutionize the medical field:  in the future, biocomputing may be used in the identification and treatment of various diseases and cancers.

 

5. Taxation is essential for the proper functioning of government and the economy, and it is necessary to support the public good and promote fairness and equity. Elaborate.

Reference: Insights on India

Introduction

A tax is a legal fee or financial charge levied by the government on an individual or an organization. This Tax is used is collected as revenue for public works done by the government like – health infrastructure, education infrastructure, transport services like Metro, buses, etc. Taxation imposes a financial obligation on its citizens or residents. The Central and State government plays a significant role in determining the taxes in India.

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Importance of Taxation

  • Economic development – Resource mobilization for economic development is done through taxation. To step up both public and private investment, government taps tax revenues. Through proper tax planning, the ratio of savings to national income can be raised.
  • Income redistributionthrough taxes is meant to reduce inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth.
  • Employment depends on effective demand. A country desirous of achieving the goal of full employment must cut down the rate of taxes. Consequently, disposable income will rise and, hence, demand for goods and services will rise. Increased demand will stimulate investment leading to a rise in income and employment through the multiplier mechanism.
  • Price stability, through taxes, is an effective means of controlling inflation. By raising the rate of direct taxes, private spending can be controlled. Thus, the pressure on the commodity market is reduced. But, indirect taxes imposed on commodities fuel inflationary tendencies. High commodity prices, on the one hand, discourage consumption and, on the other hand, encourage saving. The opposite effect will occur when taxes are lowered down during deflation.
  • The government uses taxes for a variety of purposes, including
    • Infrastructure funding for the public sector
    • Projects for development and welfare
    • Defense spending
    • Public insurance based on scientific research
    • Employees of the state and government are paid a variety of salaries.
    • The operation of the government’s public transportation system
    • Unemployment compensation
    • Pension plans
    • Enforcement of the law
    • Public health, education, and water, energy, and waste management systems are examples of public utilities.

Conclusion

Thus, taxes have both advantages and disadvantages, but no one can deny that they are important to generate revenue. While direct taxes can be collected from the rich, indirect taxes give an opportunity to the poor to contribute in their own small way. The control of these taxation systems has a huge scope to bring about a change. For these reasons, the taxation of a country is critically important for the economy.

 

Answer the following questions in 250 words(15 marks each):


General Studies – 1


 

6. What do you understand by gender justice? Progress has been slow and uneven in order to achieve gender justice, and much more work remains to be done to ensure that all individuals in India, regardless of gender, have access to equal rights and opportunities. Analyse.

Reference: Indian ExpressInsights on India

Introduction

Gender equality in India is the most desired state of form, which our Nation is craving to have for since long. Gender equality is no more a moral pressure or social issue but also a social, economic challenge.  Gender Equality leads to human development and the overall development of the Nation. India being a Nation full of achievement, still lacks few appreciations in the case of Gender Equality in India.

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Gender gap in India

  • High gender divide: The gender gap in the country has widened, with only 62.5% of it closed and especially low gender parity in political empowerment and economic participation and opportunity.
  • Wage gap: Women are paid considerably less than men, with some research showing that the gender pay gap between women and men in the same jobs with equivalent qualifications can be as much as 34%.
  • Labour force participation: India, as of 2020, has the lowest female labour force participation rate among South Asian nations, with four out of five women neither working nor looking for jobs.
  • High Job loss: According to Oxfam, 17 million women in India lost their jobs in April 2020, with their unemployment rate rising far higher than that among men.
  • Lesser opportunities for women: Women were found to be seven times more likely to lose their jobs during the lockdown phases, and if rendered unemployed, were 11 times more likely to remain jobless than their male counterparts.
  • Uneven domestic responsibility: Potential reasons for this include the increased burden of domestic responsibilities that Indian women typically had to bear, in terms of not just household chores but extra time needed for elderly care and children’s studies, with schools shut.
  • Even pre-pandemic, a Time Use Survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office showed that women spent nearly 4.5 hours on childcare and other care-giving responsibilities, in contrast with the meagre 0.88 hours for men.

Ensuring gender justice

  • Behavioural Nudge: For instance, by using taxes to incentivize fairly sharing child-care responsibilities, or by encouraging women and girls to enter traditionally male-dominated sectors such as the armed forces and information technology. , Supreme Court in India declared that women could now hold commanding positions in Army.
    • Paternity leaves for men, to share the responsibility of child rearing.
    • Incentivizing companies to employ women, and reach 50% target.
  • Strong laws and policies wrt equal pay for equal work, maternity benefits are needed to promote women’s representation in economy.
  • Maternity and paternity: . An amendment to the Act in 2017 increased paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. Though well-meaning, this unfortunately fortifies notions of care-giving being primarily the onus of the woman, and thus reinforces and raises the risk of women being subject to the motherhood penalty.
    • An explicit law for mandatory paternity benefits will go a long way towards equalizing gender roles and reducing employer bias
  • Better work conditions: The provision and strengthening of childcare facilities for working mothers are very important.
    • The Maternity Benefit Act mandates the setting up of creche facilities for organizations with over 50 employees.
    • A better policy measure would be to provide mothers in need of childcare with a monthly allowance. This will also help mothers working from home.
  • Political Representation: India has provided 33% reservation for women in the Panchayats and Local Bodies. Capacity Building and training can increase their capabilities further.

Conclusion

Gender equality is a human right which entitles all persons irrespective of their gender to live with dignity and with freedom. Gender equality is also a precondition for development and reducing of poverty. Gender shouldn’t be an unreasonable determining factor curbing the potential of women.


General Studies – 2


 

7. Critically examine the performance of Production-linked Incentive (PLI) scheme that has been launched for various sectors as a game changer, leading to transformation of India into a manufacturing hub and reducing its burgeoning trade deficit.

Reference: Indian Express

Introduction

Production-linked Incentive (PLI) scheme was conceived to scale up domestic manufacturing capability, accompanied by higher import substitution and employment generation. With an outlay of over Rs 2 lakh crore, the PLI scheme, launched in March 2020, initially targeted manufacturing mobile phones, electrical components and medical devices, and was later extended to 14 manufacturing sectors.

PLI scheme is an initiative of the government to boost the local production of domestic industries by providing them incentives. The government provides incentives on incremental sales from products manufactured in domestic units.

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Performance of the scheme

  • The Production-linked Incentive (PLI) scheme has been a game changer.
  • It has not only transformed India into a manufacturing hub but has also curtailed its burgeoning trade deficit in electronics and other manufactured goods
  • mobile phone exports rose from “nearly zero” in 2015-’16 to Rs 45,000 crore in 2021-’22. The total production of mobile phones has increased from six crore units in 2014-’15 to 31 crore units in 2021-’22
  • Electronics manufacturing attracted a massive investment and its exports have grown rapidly by over 55 per cent annually.

 

Shortcomings

  • Ex RBI Governor Rajan said the schemes are actually subsidising imports and leading to items being resold domestically at a higher price.
  • While the current corpus for IT hardware PLI is Rs 7,350 crore, spread over 4 years, members of the industry has told the financial daily that it wants the corpus to be expanded to up to 20,000 crore rupees.
  • According to the report, the industry believes that additional incentives are needed to make India more attractive than China and Vietnam.
  • A December 2022 report by Credit Suisse highlighted that capital expenditure growth due to various production-linked incentive sectoral schemes varies drastically.
  • The highest annual incremental increase in capital expenditure by Production-Linked Incentive scheme companies will be in speciality steel (processed steel for advanced use) at 17%, followed by textiles (14%) and automobiles (10%).
  • Similar is the case of investment: major investments under the Production-Linked Incentive schemes will come from sectors such as automobiles and speciality steels ($5.1 billion each), followed by textiles ($2.3 billion) and pharmaceuticals ($1.9 billion).
  • In most other sectors, the capital investment is modest, at less than $1 billion.
  • The Credit Suisse report also highlighted challenges such as the lack of experience, poor access to technology, and the relatively small balance sheets of many players that have signed up for the scheme.
  • Besides, across sectors, only a handful of firms have been able to meet the threshold to qualify for government incentives. For instance, under the Production-Linked Incentive scheme for information technology hardware, of the 14 eligible firms, only two or three companies met their first-year targets for the financial year ending March 2022.
  • Companies have blamed either the low incentives and the continued global supply chain disruptions.
  • This points to a couple of other structural problems associated with the schemes. To start with, in many sectors, there are so many eligible companies that the division of the corpus leads to an insignificant allocation to individual companies.
  • Next is the inability of the schemes to distinguish between boosting general manufacturing and boosting the manufacturing of critical materials and parts to build supply chain resilience.
  • Further, the government remains slow to address hurdles in developing India’s manufacturing ecosystem.
  • This includes problems of infrastructure and logistics, such as last-mile connectivity, especially to Tier-1 and tier-2 towns that have a potential to grow, ease of doing business beyond big cities, and physically safe conditions for operations.

Conclusion

To pull off something on the scale of China’s transformation, the Indian government will have to take these criticisms seriously and work to make its schemes more effective. The decision-making apparatus needs to be agile and responsive so that it can align processes, structures and policies with the desired outcomes of the schemes.

 

8. BIMSTEC provides an opportunity for member countries to enhance regional cooperation and integration, which can lead to economic growth and development. Elaborate with a special emphasis on the renewable energy potential of the region.

Reference: Down to EarthInsights on India

Introduction

The Bay of Bengal is fast becoming a key area of economic and strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific. It’s the largest bay in the world and forms an important part of southern Asia. The limitations of SAARC due to multiple reasons have led to South Asian region being the least integrated region in the world vis-à-vis the European and ASEAN experiences.

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia. BIMSTEC has gained more favour as the preferred platform for regional cooperation in South Asia

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Background: Energy scenario in BIMSTEC

  • Considering the current energy scenario in the region, the meeting recommended to add the additional following areas under the specialized Wings of BEC: (a) Cyber Security, (b) Green Hydrogen (c) Energy Transition.
  • The region encompasses vast energy resources, including 331 billion tonnes of coal, 718 million tonnes of oil, 76 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas, 386 GW of large hydropower and renewable energy of 1,359 GW potential.
  • The per capita electricity consumption continues to remain low in the region, with improvements made in recent years to ensure energy access in the region.
  • The installed electricity capacity in the region accounted for 438 GW in 2019, according to the data collected from the respective governments of the member nations. Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand have achieved 100 per cent or near 100 per cent energy access.
  • Bhutan has achieved 100 per cent energy access through off-grid energy sources. Nepal has achieved 78 per cent of energy access, while Bangladesh achieved 95 per cent of energy access. Myanmar reported its access to energy as 50 per cent in 2019.
  • Even though the electricity consumption in the region continues to increase, the supply remains inadequate.
  • While access to energy has increased in most countries except Myanmar, the overall generation mix is dominated by fossil fuel in major economies of BIMSTEC.
  • There is a need to decarbonise the power sector, thereby greening the energy access in the BIMSTEC region and fostering green access in the countries where energy access is still low and access is fossil dominant.

BIMSTEC: Enhancing regional cooperation and economic development

  • The region has countries with the fastest-growing economies in the world. The combined GDP in the region is around US$2 trillionand will likely grow further.
  • Trade among the BIMSTEC member countries reached six percent in just a decade, while in SAARC, it has remained around five percent since its inception.
  • Compared to SAARC, BIMSTEC has greater trade potential as well. Among the member countries, India’s intra-BIMSTEC trade is around 3 percent of its total trade.
  • BIMSTEC regional grouping happens to have five nations that are also part of SAARC. The fact that this region is growing at 6.5% per annum, collectively comprises of 1.5 billion people, is the drive behind India’s focus being part of BIMSTEC.

Clean energy potential

  • BIMSTEC is endowed with a significant clean energy resource potential of 386 GW of hydro and 1,359 GW of renewable.
  • Myanmar, India and Nepal have unused, profitable hydropower potential.
    • Myanmar could fully meet their electricity demand by developing unused hydro resources after considering appropriate measures that would not lead to environmental challenges.
  • Bhutan is the only country in the world that is carbon negative — it generates more oxygen than it consumes.
    • It generates 2.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while the nation’s forest cover absorbs three times this amount.
  • Ninety-eight per cent of the electricity generation in Nepal is from hydropower and the rest uses other renewable energy sources.
    • Nepal generates 2,200 megawatts hydropower energy while a power plant of 5,000 MW capacity is in the pipeline. Clean energy can help in the reduction of 8.6 million metric tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030.
  • Bangladesh can diversify its energy resources by sharing hydropower, offshore wind power and an interconnected grid across the BIMSTEC region. Other technological solutions include SOL share peer-to-peer electricity trading network.
    • Its main function is connecting households with and without Solar Home Systems (SHS) with the local electricity trading networks, thus increasing the individual SHS by 30 per cent and allowing more people access to renewable energy at cheap rates.
  • Sri Lanka can tap renewable energy technologies to avail various social, economic and environmental gains.

Measures needed

  • Some of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) recent development in this direction includes 5MW Moragolla hydro plant and 100MW Mannar wind power generation project, extending a credit line to install 60 megawatts of solar rooftop and developing renewable parks at Siyambalanduwa, Pooneryn and Mannar phase II.
  • India can take a stance in developing a green grid across the member nations through One Sun, One World, One Grid (OSOWOG) initiative.
  • The region enjoys tropical sunshine throughout the year, allowing solar power to be harnessed for large periods.
  • India has plans for an interconnected grid with Sri Lanka and is also working with Southeast Asian countries on OSOWOG.
    • Additionally, harnessing offshore wind energy in the Bay of Bengal region and distributing it throughout the grid would help increase the share of renewable energy in the region.
  • The BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection Coordination Committee aims to develop a policy for Trade, Exchange of Electricity and Tariff Mechanism and BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection Master Plan Study (BGIMPS).

Conclusion

Though the BIMSTEC region offers enormous renewable energy potential, it is necessary they are developed in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner. People’s participation is necessary as it will ensure that the sustainable development goals are met and the people in the region benefit from it.

There is a need to democratise dialogue on regional energy cooperation to build and maintain political trust and consensus by engaging in continuous dialogue on regional electricity integration and market development across all levels of stakeholders.

Value addition

Need for BIMSTEC and significance for India

  • Admittedly, the world has recently seen the rise of authoritarian rulers in many countries. However, this can hardly be viewed as a new phenomenon.
  • The role of China is possibly the most disrupting one, given the challenge it poses to the existing international order.
  • Militarily, China is openly challenging U.S. supremacy in many areas, including ‘state-of-the-art weaponry’such as hyper-sonic technology.
  • USA’s pivot to Indo-Pacific region has added a new dimension to the world order.
  • The other major risk stems from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine— the latter being backed by the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
  • Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistanhas led to a material shift in the balance of power in an already troubled region on India’s periphery.
  • In Central Asia, India will be challenged on how best to manage its traditional friendship with Russiawith the pronounced tilt seen more recently in India-U.S. relations.
  • In West Asia, the challenge for India is how to manage its membership of the Second Quad(India, Israel, the UAE and the U.S.) with the conflicting interests of different players in the region.
  • Indian diplomacy will be under severe test to manage the extant situation in both regions

 


General Studies – 3


 

9. Cryptocurrencies have been associated with money laundering due to their perceived anonymity and lack of regulation. The inclusion of virtual digital assets in the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002 is first step in tackling illicit activities via cryptocurrencies. However, there are major challenges in implementation of the same. Examine.

Reference: The Hindu

Introduction

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency in which transactions are verified and records maintained by a decentralized system using cryptography, rather than by a centralized authority. It is not issued by any central authority, rendering it theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.

On March 7, the government issued a notification bringing transactions involving crypto assets under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. It laid out the nature of transactions to be covered under PMLA.

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Cryptocurrency and money laundering

  • Criminals open online accounts with digital currency exchanges, which accept fiat currency from traditional bank accounts. Then, they start a ‘cleansing’ process (mixing and layering), i.e., moving money into the cryptocurrency system by using mixers, tumblers, and chain hopping (also called cross-currency). Money is moved from one cryptocurrency into another, across digital currency exchanges — the less-regulated the better — to create a money trail that is almost impossible to track.
  • According to the “Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report,” criminals also use theft and gambling to launder cryptocurrencies.
  • Creation of Dark Web or Dark Market which cause it to exploit users through hacking.
  • With a market capitalization of $350 billion, bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency in the world. A distinctive feature of bitcoin is that a record of all transactions is held in a public ledger maintained simultaneously across thousands of computers. As per bitcoin proponents, the latter are prone to manipulation or hacking.
  • Cryptocurrency does not have any legal tender. So, it cannot be authorized and can be subscribed by anyone which results in money laundering.
  • Since it doesn’t have regulatory authority, it is easy to trade between countries and can cause money laundering in disguise of trading.
  • Cryptocurrency is highly encrypted and cannot be traced easily.
  • Layering: Cryptocurrencies can be purchased with cash (fiat) or other types of crypto (altcoin). Online cryptocurrency trading markets (exchanges) have varying levels of compliance with regulations regarding financial transactions. Legitimate exchanges follow regulatory requirements for identity verification and sourcing of funds and are Anti-Money Laundering (AML) compliant. Other exchanges are not as AML compliant. This vulnerability is where most transactions related to bitcoin money laundering take place.
  • Hiding: Crypto-based transactions can generally be followed via the blockchain. However, once a dirty cryptocurrency is in play, criminals can use an anonymizing service to hide the funds’ source, breaking the links between bitcoin transactions. This can be accomplished both on regular crypto exchanges or by participating in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO), where using one type of coin to pay for another type, can obfuscate the digital currency’s origin.
  • Integration: The point at which you can no longer easily trace dirty currency back to criminal activity is the integration point – the final phase of currency laundering. Despite the currency no longer being directly tied to crime, money launderers still need a way to explain how they came into possession of the currency. Integration is that explanation. A simple method of legitimizing the illicit income is to present it as the result of a profitable venture or other currency appreciation. This can be very hard to disprove in a market when the value of any given altcoin can change by the second.
  • Tumblers: Mixing services, known as “tumblers,” can effectively split up the dirty cryptocurrency. Tumblers send it through a series of various addresses, then recombine it. The reassembly results in a new, “clean” total (less any service fees, which can often be substantial.
  • Unregulated Exchanges: Another avenue through which criminals can undertake bitcoin money laundering is unregulated cryptocurrency exchanges.
  • Peer to Peer: To lower bitcoin money laundering risk, many criminals turn to decentralized peer-to-peer networks which are frequently international. Here, they can often use unsuspecting third parties to send funds on their way to the next destination.
  • Gaming site: Online gambling and gaming through sites that accept bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies is another way to conduct a crypto money-laundering scheme. Crypto can be used to buy credit or virtual chips which users can cash out again after just a few small transactions.

 

Crypto assets covered under PMLA

  • Exchange between virtual digital assets and fiat currencies; exchange between one or more forms of virtual digital assets
  •  Transfer of virtual digital assets.
  • Safekeeping or administration of virtual digital assets or instruments enabling control over virtual digital assets.
  • Participation in and provision of financial services related to an issuer’s offer and sale of a virtual digital asset.
  • The measure is expected to aid investigative agencies in carrying out action against crypto firms.
  • The Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax Department have either probed or are probing several cases against companies running cryptocurrency exchanges and transactions. ED, for instance, froze the bank balances of the popular WazirX exchange last year.

Conclusion

Publicly, the cryptocurrency industry has largely welcomed the move. Internally, however, there are concerns that the notification does not offer entities time to adhere to the fresh norms. The industry is also concerned that in the absence of a central regulator, crypto entities could end up dealing directly with enforcement agencies like the ED.

 

10. Forest fires can be caused by both natural and anthropogenic factors. To mitigate forest fires, steps need to be taken to prevent them from starting, detect them early if they do occur, respond rapidly, and manage the forest in a way that reduces their risk and severity. Analyse.

Reference: Down to EarthInsights on India

Introduction

Forest fires are considered as one of the most widespread hazards in a forested landscape. They have a serious threat to forest and its flora and fauna. Forest fires essentially are ‘quasi-natural’, which means that they are not entirely caused by natural reasons (like volcanoes, earthquakes and tropical storms), but are caused by human activities as well. In India’s case, a combination of hot weather, oxygen and dry vegetation is a potent recipe for forest fires.

Forest fires continued to remain unabated in Odisha after the state recorded 542 such cases in the last seven days making it the highest among all states in the country.

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Forest fires: A regular phenomenon in India

  • Every year large areas of forests are affected by fires of varying intensity and extent.
  • Since the start of 2021, there has been a series of forest fires in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland-Manipur border, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, including in wildlife sanctuaries.
  • At least 5,291 forest fires were recorded in Odisha between February 22 and March 1, 2021 — the highest in the country for the same period, according to FSI biennial report.
  • Telangana recorded the second-highest fires in the country at 1,527 during the same period, followed by Madhya Pradesh (1,507) and Andhra Pradesh (1,292), according to FSI data.
  • Around 95 percent of the forest fires in India are on account of human activity.
  • Around 21 percent of the total forest cover is highly to extremely fire prone, adds the latest forest survey.
  • Based on the forest inventory records, 40% of forests in India are exposed to occasional fires, 7.49% to moderately frequent fires and 2.405 to high incidence levels while 35.71% of India’s forestshave not yet been exposed to fires of any real significance.

Reasons for Increasing frequency of forest fires

  • Forest fires can be caused by a number of natural causes, but officials say many major fires in India are triggered mainly by human activities.
  • Natural: Such as lightning, high atmospheric temperatures, and dryness (low humidity) offer favourable circumstances.
  • Man-made: When a source of fire like naked flame, cigarette, or bidi comes into contact with inflammable material.
  • Emerging studies link climate change to rising instances of fires globally, especially the massive fires of the Amazon forests in Brazil and in Australia in the last two years.
  • Fires of longer duration, increasing intensity, higher frequency and highly inflammable nature are all being linked to climate change.
  • In India, forest fires are most commonly reported during March and April, when the ground has large quantities of dry wood, logs, dead leaves, stumps, dry grass and weeds that can make forests easily go up in flames if there is a trigger.
  • Under natural circumstances, extreme heat and dryness, friction created by rubbing of branches with each other also have been known to initiate fire.
  • In Uttarakhand, the lack of soil moisture too is being seen as a key factor.
  • In two consecutive monsoon seasons (2019 and 2020), rainfall has been deficient by 18% and 20% of the seasonal average, respectively.

Measures to control forest fires

  • Forest fire line:Successive Five-Year Plans have provided funds for forests fighting. During the British period, fire was prevented in the summer through removal of forest litter all along the forest boundary. This was called “Forest Fire Line”.
    • This line used to prevent fire breaking into the forest from one compartment to another.
    • The collected litter was burnt in isolation.
  • Firebreaks: Generally, the fire spreads only if there is continuous supply of fuel (Dry vegetation) along its path. The best way to control a forest fire is therefore, to prevent it from spreading, which can be done by creating firebreaksin the shape of small clearings of ditches in the forests.
  • Forest Survey of India monitors forest fire events through satellites on two platforms– MODIS and SNPP-VIIRS, both in collaboration with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
    • While the SNPP-VIIRS identifies, alerts and tracks fire incidents on real time data at 375X375 sq meter pixel, the older version MODIS detects it in the range of 1kmX1km.
    • Forest fire suppression relies very heavily on “dry” firefighting techniques because of poor water availability.
  • Integrated forest protection: The main objective is to control forest fires and strengthen the forest protection. The works like Fireline clearing,assistance to Joint Forest Managemencommittees, creating water bodies, purchase of vehicles and communication equipment, purchase of firefighting tools, etc., needs to be undertaken.
  • Prevention of human-caused firesthrough education and environmental modification. It will include silvicultural activities, engineering works, people participation, and education and enforcement. It is proposed that more emphasis be given to people participation through Joint Forest Fire Management for fire prevention.
  • Prompt detectionof fires through a well-coordinated network of observation points, efficient ground patrolling, and communication networks. Remote sensing technology is to be given due importance in fire detection. For successful fire management and administration, a National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) and Fire Forecasting System are to be developed in the country.
  • Introducing a forest fuel modification system at strategic points.
  • National Action Plan on Forest Fires (NAPFF): It was launched in 2018 to minimize forest fires by informing, enabling and empowering forest fringe communities and incentivizing them to work with the State Forest Departments.

Conclusion

It is important to prevent the lungs of the nation from ravages of fire. With climate change and global warming on the rise, India must prevent human-made disaster to ensure our carbon sinks are protected.


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