22 October, 2020

  • Self-Assessment test
  • Declining US influence in West Asia (International Relations)
  • Waiver of Merchant Discount Rate (Economy)
  • Sanitation Workers - Status, acts and bodies - (Social Issues )
  • Panchayati Raj in Jammu & Kashmir - (Polity & Governance)
  • Question for the day (Polity & Governance)

Prelims Quiz


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    UPSC Current Affairs: In West Asia, it’s a bleak future amid America fading | Page 06  

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – International Relations

    Sub Theme: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests | UPSC      

    Context:  The article has been written in the context of the recent agreement signed between Israel and the UAE and Bahrein.  In this context it has been highlighted that the Foreign Policy has not factored in the geopolitical consequences of the US's declining influence in the region. In this background let us look at the implication it has on the geopolitics of the region.

     Israel UAE, Bahrein agreements or the Abraham accords have been signed by the mediation of US administration. It is being touted as the victory of Trump's foreign policy.

    Trump's Foreign policy has failed in various other instances -

    • US after a long war agreed to collaborate with Taliban for the peace deal
    • Outreach to north Korea failed to bring out any positive result
    • “the deal of the century” between the Israelis and the Palestinians was a non-starter
    • the trade war with China failed to produce any structural shift in the way China does business
    • Thus, the Israel - Arab agreements are being seen as a victory

    America and the middle East -

    Obama First term -

    • The U.S. had been stuck in an unwinnable war in Iraq.
    • In Syria, it was checkmated by the Russians.
    • Its intervention in Libya turned out to be disastrous.
    • Iran continued to be defiant despite threats and sanctions.
    • Israel was uncontrollable. The Arab allies were upset.

    Then it was realized that US should resize its presence in the region and pivot to East Asia where China was steadily on the rise. However, the exit could not take place. Realising the drawback of its over presence in the region some initiatives were taken realistically.

    Obama second term -

    • Nuclear deal with Iran was signed
    • US accepted Russian role in the Syria.
    • Further by signing Nuclear deal with Iran US ignored the Saudi and Israel's concerns.
    • US overlooked the Israeli occupation in Palestine and sided with Saudi in the Yemen.
    • This policy was called as the plan to let regional players establish Cold Peace among themselves 

    Trump era -

    • demolished the Iran deal,
    • brought Israel back to the centre of America’s policy towards the region and
    • prompted the Arab and Jewish allies of the U.S. to join hands.
    • Implicit goal was to remake the regional dynamics in favour of America’s allies and push rivals to a corner.
    • However, doing this Trump failed to realise the reducing influence of USA in the region. 

    Miscalculation in Iran

    • The pulling out of the Iran Nuclear deal has not created any deterrence.
    • While pulling the U.S. out of the nuclear deal unilaterally and reimposing sanctions on Iran, Trump administration thought that they could extract more concessions from Iran and cut their regional wings.
    • Iran responded with multiple cuts on the U.S. and allied interests in the region — from targeting Saudi oil facilities and cargo ships in the Strait of Hormuz to launching rocket attacks at American troops in Iraq.
    • US in its response got Qassem Soleimani, one of the top Iranian Generals, killed and declared that the U.S. had re-established deterrence vis-à-vis Iran.
    • Later the U.S., faced rocket attacks by Iran-backed Shia rebels in Iraq and is now contemplating shutting down the American Embassy in Baghdad. 

    Embracing Israel 

    • US moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem,
    • Recognised Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and gave go-head to its annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
    • This sharpened the geopolitical contradictions in the region, instead of bringing peace.
    • However, the recent deals bringing Arab countries and Israel will not put an end to the Palestine issue.
    • It leaves a vacuum in regional politics which non-Arab Muslim countries like turkey and Iran would seek to fill.

    Conclusion -

    These instances highlight the declining influence of the US in the region. The question that needs to be asked is that - Is the U.S. prepared to face the geopolitical consequences of the decline of its influence in West Asia? If the four years of the Trump presidency shows any indication, it is not. The new beginning Mr. Trump promised in the region could very well be that of a more troublesome future.


    UPSC Current Affairs:Potholes on the digital payment superhighway | Page 06

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III – Economic Development

    Sub Theme: Issues Related to Indian Economy | UPSC     

    Context: Recently, the Government decided to waive off MDR charges on transactions done through RuPay and BHIM-UPI payments in order to push digital payments. However, it had a negative impact on the payment ecosystem in terms of hampering innovation, job losses and a consequent slowdown in the expansion of the digital payment infrastructure in India. In this regard, this article argues for rationale pricing of Merchant Discount rate.


    System that facilitates transfer of money from a payer to the beneficiary. It includes both paper based payments such as cheques, drafts as well as electronic payments such as Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS), National Electronic Funds Transfer (NEFT), Immediate payment Service (IMPS), UPI etc.

    Payment systems under RBI:  Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) and National Electronics Fund Transfer (NEFT). The RTGS system is used for high-value transactions wherein minimum transaction amount should be Rs 2 lakhs and above.

    Payment systems under National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI):  Umbrella organization for operating retail payments and settlement systems. It is an initiative of RBI and Indian Banks’ Association (IBA).

    • RuPay Contactless: Allows cardholders to wave their card in front of contactless payment terminals without the need to physically swipe or insert the card into a point-of-sale device.
    • Unified Payments Interface: Real-time interbank payment system for sending or receiving money.
    • BHIM App: BHIM is a mobile app for Unified Payments Interface. The BHIM apps has 3 levels of authentication.
    • Bharat BillPay: One-stop ecosystem for payment of all bills
    • Immediate Payment Service: Real time interbank payment system
    • National Financial Switch: Network of ATMs in India.
    • BharatQR: A common QR code built for ease of payments

    Card Networks operated by Non-Banks: Visa, MasterCard, American Express etc.

    Merchant Discount Rate (MDR)

    What is it? MDR is a fee charged for the merchants by the bank for accepting payments from customers through credit/debit cards/QR Code in their establishments. The merchant discount rate is expressed in percentage. This charge is in turn distributed among three stakeholders—customer's bank, merchant's bank and payment system operator ( Visa, Mastercard, NPCI- RuPay or BharatQR).

    Present MDR Charges:

    Government's Initiative: In December 2019, the Government decided to waive off MDR charges on transactions done through RuPay and BHIM-UPI payments in order to push digital payments. This came into effect from Jan 1, 2020. The government has indicated that the Reserve Bank of India will absorb these costs from the savings that will accrue on account of handling less cash as people move to these digital modes of payment.

    Critical Analysis of Government's Initiative:

    Positives: Bring down cost of digital payments done through RuPay and BHIM-UPI; Encourage adoption of indigenously developed payment tools; Promote Cashless economy; Nudge other payment operators such as Visa, Mastercard to bringdown their commission etc.


    • Financial burden on the RBI : Rs 1800 crores.
    • Loss to NPCI
    • Banks have shifted to other payment service providers such as Visa, Mastercard to earn commission on digital payments.
    • Number of fintech companies such as PayTM, Googlepay etc. have integrated UPI into their apps for facilitating digital payments. The waiver on MDR charges through UPI would lead to reduced profits, discourage innovation and hurt the fintech sector. Zero MDR charges would thus prevent growth of Fintech companies which in the long run could hurt the digital payments ecosystem.

    What needs to be done?

    Committee on Digital Payments under the chairmanship of Ratan P Watal: MDR should be high enough for new players to be incentivized to enter the digital payments ecosystem and low enough that merchants are encouraged to adopt digital payments.

    Nandan Nilekani Committee on deepening digital payments: Let the MDR be market-determined.

    Way forward

    Government should provide for a lower MDR on QR code / UPI/ RuPay Debit card transactions. This should be accompanied by tax incentives to merchants who accept electronic transactions and promote incentive schemes to improve popularity of QR code transactions in the country.


    UPSC Current Affairs: The manacles of caste in sanitation work | Page 07

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper-II – Social Justice

    Sub Theme: Welfare of Vulnerable Sections | UPSC  

    Context: The article highlights the inhuman state of manual scavenging workers. Despite laws, workers in the field in India still face stigma and are devoid of essential rights.

    Here we shall take up the discussion on sanitation worker form civil service exam perspective

    Status of sanitation workers in India

    • According to the National Commission of Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a total of 53,598 people, of which 29,923 were in Uttar Pradesh alone, had been identified as engaged in manual scavenging in 2018.
    • Though the construction of dry latrines has drastically reduced, the number of deaths in manholes, sewers and septic tanks continues to remain high.
    • The present government had plans to amend the 2013 Act to completely mechanise the cleaning of sewers and manholes and build new sewers. But neither the past nor the present amendment addresses the issue of labour safety.
    • Even the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan does not address the issue of labour rights and the stigma attached to sanitation.
    • As a matter of fact, in Tamil Nadu, all political parties have trade unions for government servants, except for sanitation workers.
    • Unlike other labour forces, sanitation workers do not have a separate rule-book that lays down guidelines for their work timings, holidays, a proper place for roll call, removal from duty, etc.

    State Intervention

    • In 1993, the Government of India enacted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act –
    • The act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment, and the construction of insanitary latrines.
    • It seeks to rehabilitate manual scavengers and provide for their alternative employment.
    • Each local authority, cantonment board and railway authority is responsible for surveying insanitary latrines within its jurisdiction. They shall also construct a number of sanitary community latrines.
    • It provided for imprisonment of up to a year and a fine.

    Criticism of the act

    • Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 defined ‘manual scavenger’ as a person engaged in or employed for manually carrying human excreta. This excluded sanitation worker entering a manhole from the ambit of law.
    • The act defined dry latrine as “latrine other than a water-seal latrine”. Manual scavenging is not just a practice related to dry latrines, but also to insanitary latrines and open defecation.
    • Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, which is wider in scope and importance, acknowledging the urgency of rehabilitating manual scavengers.
    • The act seeks to reinforce this ban by prohibiting manual scavenging in all forms and ensures the rehabilitation of manual scavengers to be identified through a mandatory survey.
    • Key features of the Act
      • Prohibits the construction or maintenance of insanitary toilets.
      • Prohibits the engagement or employment of anyone as a manual scavenger violations could result in a years’ imprisonment or a fine of INR 50,000 or both.
      • Prohibits a person from being engaged or employed for hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank.
      • Offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable.
      • Calls for a survey of manual scavengers in urban and rural areas within a time-bound framework.
    • A Supreme Court order in March, 2014, makes it mandatory for the government to identify all those who died in sewerage work since 1993 and provide Rs.10 lakh each as compensation to their families.
    • The Government of India has adopted a two-pronged strategy of eliminating insanitary latrines through demolition and conversion into sanitary latrines and developing a comprehensive rehabilitation package for manual scavengers through a survey.
    • A comprehensive rehabilitation package has recently been put together that includes livelihoods and skill development, access to education for children of former manual scavengers and alternate livelihoods. 

    National Commission of Safai Karamcharis


    ·        The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) was constituted on 12th August 1994 as a statutory body by an Act of Parliament viz. ‘National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993’.

    ·        The act “The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993” lapsed in February 2004.

    ·        The Commission is acting as a non-statutory body of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment whose tenure is extended from time to time through Government Resolutions.

    The National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) has recently issued advisory to municipalities, panchayats urging them to ensure that all sanitation workers are provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to remain safe during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC)


    ·        It is a wholly owned Government of India Undertaking under the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.

    ·        It was set up in 1997 as a “Not for Profit” Company under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956 (now Section 8 of Companies Act 2013).

    ·        It is an apex Corporation for the all round socio-economic upliftment of the Safai Karamcharis, Scavengers and their dependents throughout India, through various loan and non-loan based schemes.

    ·        NSKFDC has been designated as the Nodal Agency for implementation of the Central Sector Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment.

    ·        NSKFDC is also playing a vital role in elimination of manual scavenging.


    UPSC Current Affairs: J&K district council polls soon | Page 10

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper II - Polity & Governance  

    Sub Theme: Panchayati Raj Institutions | UPSC  


    • The Union Cabinet approved the adoption of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, which was amended and notified by the Union Home Ministry on October 17.
    • The move will help establish all the three tiers of grassroots-level democracy in the Union Territory (UT) like in other parts of the country.

    But, We have Part IX and IX A which is applicable to whole India? Then why a separate law for UT of J and K?

    • The three-tier system was not there in Kashmir before as the provisions of 73rd constitutional amendment was not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir due to the special status of Article 370 of Indian constitution. And so, all the other Indian states have functional Panchayati Raj institutions but the local governance in Jammu and Kashmir continued to operate under the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act 1989.

    But how can MHA bring changes to a state Act?

    • J&K has been under central rule since June 2018. The special status of the erstwhile State under Article 370 was revoked in August 2019 by the Parliament and it was downgraded and bifurcated into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh. The J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 enables MHA to amend the Union Territory’s laws by issuing an order.

    What the amendment will do?

    • The amendment paves the way for the creation of District Development Councils (DDCs), whose members will be directly elected by the people.
    • Every district will be divided into 14 territorial constituencies to elect members of the body.
    • The DDC shall consist of the directly elected members from territorial constituencies in the district, members of the Legislative Assembly representing a part or whole of the district whose constituencies lie within the district and the Chairperson of all Block Development Councils of the district.
    • All DDC members, whether or not elected by direct election from the territorial constituencies in the district, shall have the right to vote in the meeting of the District Development Council.
    • But the MLAs will have no voting rights in the case of election or removal of the chairman and vice-chairman.
    • Only the directly elected members shall have the right to vote,” the amendment adds.

    Gargi Pandey 4 months ago