20 November, 2020

  • Digital India is now a way of life, says PM (Economy)
  • Oxford vaccine triggers robust immunity in elderly (Science)
  • Is India facing a two-front threat? (I.R)
  • Rajasthan govt. launches maternity benefit scheme for second child (Social Issues)
  • Another bailout (Economy)
  • In APEC speech, Xi touts China's economy as base of free trade (I.R)
  • Question for the day

Prelims Quiz

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    UPSC Current Affairs: Digital India is now a way of life, says PM | Page 09

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Digital India | Mains – GS Paper III –Economy

    Sub Theme: Digital Infrastructure | Bharatnet | UPSC

    Digital Infrastructure- Prospects, Constraints and Way Forward

    Digital connectivity facilitates the communication and commerce that drives economic growth. Individuals cannot transfer payments digitally, use e-governance portals to connect with the government, access information or make online purchases without continuous and reliable Internet or telephone access. The Digital India Programme has made significant progress in its nine growth areas. The areas of focus include building broadband highways, providing universal access to mobile connectivity, a public internet access program, e-governance, electronic service delivery, access to information, increasing electronics manufacturing, providing information technology skills for jobs and early harvest programs.

    Current Situation: According to the Internet Trends 2017 report,27 per cent of India’s population (355 million users) uses the internet. While this represents exponential growth compared to the 4 per cent penetration in 2009, there is scope for improvement. Tele-density, or the number of telephone connections for every 100 individuals, is 83. In rural areas, the tele-density is one-third that of urban areas.

    Government Initiatives:

    National Digital Communication Policy

    • Broadband for all
    • Creating 4 million additional jobs in Digital Communications sector
    • Enhancing contribution of the digital communication sector to 8% of India's GDP from 6% in 2017.
    • Propelling India to Top 50 Nations in the ICT Development Index of ITU from 134 in 2017.
    • Enhancing India's contribution to Global Value Chains
    • Ensuring Digital Sovereignty

    National Broadband Mission: Universal and equitable access to broadband services across the country, especially in rural and remote areas.

    Digital India Scheme: Areas of focus include broadband highways, providing universal access to mobile connectivity, a public internet access program, e-governance, electronic service delivery, access to information, increasing electronics manufacturing, providing information technology skills for jobs and early harvest programs.

    BharatNet: Providing high-speed broadband to all the panchayats in the country

    National Information Infrastructure (NII) : Ensure the integration of the networks and cloud infrastructure to provide high-speed connectivity to various government departments up to the panchayat level.

    Public Internet Access Programme: Make 2,50,000 common service centres (CSCs) operational at the gram panchayat level to deliver government services online

    Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF): Fund is raised through the imposition of 'Universal Access Levy (UAL)', which is a percentage of the revenue earned by the operators under various licenses. This fund was established with the object of improving telecom services in the remote and rural areas of India.

    Constraints and challenges

    1. Broadband connectivity

    • Internet access is plagued by issues related to quality and reliability, outages, call drops and weak signals.
    • The current definition of broadband of 512 kbps speed is inadequate and not in line with the expected rise in demand in the future.
    • Existing networks have been strained by limited spectrum availability and usage, affecting the provision of quality services.
    1. Digital access and literacy
    • A significant portion of our population does not have access to devices such as laptops, computers, smartphones, etc.
    • Digital literacy in India is estimated to be less than 10 per cent of the population.
    1. Content in Indian languages : Currently, most digital content is in English. However, “9 out of every 10 new internet users in India over the next 5 years are likely to be Indian language users”.
    2. 4. Availability of e-services:
    • A large number of e-services are not available on the digital platform
    • Wide variation across states in the availability of citizen e-services.
    • Currently, citizens have to physically visit government offices to access most government-to-citizen (G2C) services, as municipalities and other government bodies have been slow to digitize their processes.
    1. Cyber security: The regulatory framework for cyber security is inadequate. Hacking and denial-of-service attacks have led to disruption of services, both in the government and the private sector – banks and governments increasingly face security breaches.

    Strategies needed to Improve Digital Infrastructure

    Improving Access:

    • Provide Universal broadband connectivity at 50Mbps to every citizen
    • Provide 1 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats of India by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022
    • Enable deployment of public Wi-Fi Hotspots; to reach 5 million by 2020 and 10 million by 2022
    • Ensure connectivity to all uncovered areas

    Innovation in Digital Sector

    • Attracting investments of $100 billion in the Digital Communications Sector
    • Creation of Innovation led Start-ups in Digital Communications Sector
    • Accelerateate transition to Industry 4.0

    Quality of Service: Adequate availability of spectrum is critical to ensure service quality. Efficient spectrum allocation in large continuous blocks should be explored. We should explore migration to new technologies which would resolve some of the bandwidth challenges.

    Access and digital literacy: The National Digital Literacy Mission should focus on introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for basic content and in higher classes and colleges for advanced content. Multiplier effects of this mission will be realised when these students in turn educate their family members.

    Content in Indian Languages

    • State governments should pay special attention to creating content, particularly those relating to government e-services, in Indian regional languages.
    • Centre, States and researchers need focused collaboration to promote Natural Language Processing for making all government's online services available in all 22 official languages.
    • Focus could be laid on the automatic translation of content into regional languages from Hindi or English.
    • Case studies like those of the European Union, which had similar problems in making content available in the languages of member countries, should be explored to identify models that can potentially be adopted.  

    Availability of e-services: Individual ministries and states have to play a pivotal role in ensuring that all their services are available and easily accessible by citizens over digital platforms. Boosting domestic manufacturing of Electronics and other Digital Components.

    Boost Electronics Manufacturing to reduce the import of electronic Goods and ensure digital sovereignity

    Cyber Security

    • Need to evolve a comprehensive cyber security framework for data security, safe digital transactions and complaint redressal.
    • Promotion of Data Localisation and a comprehensive data protection regime based on recommendations of B N Srikrishna Committee should be implemented.
    • Principles of Net neutrality should be upheld and aligned with service requirements.
    • Security standards and testing for devices and networks should be mandated and periodically updated.

    Way Forward

    Digital Infrastructure is the bedrock on which the vision of digitally empowered Digital India can be realised. This needs to be given focussed attention for a transparent, empowered and secure India of 21st Century.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs:Oxford vaccine triggers robust immunity in elderly | Page 10

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Science and Technology |

    Sub Theme: Oxford-AstraZeneca | Covid Vaccine | UPSC

    Context:

    • The SARS-CoV-2 vaccine developed by teams at the University of Oxford has been shown to trigger a robust immune response in healthy adults aged 56 to 69 and those over 70.
    • Also, Vaccine maker Serum Institute of India’s CEO Adar Poonawalla said the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine should be available for healthcare workers and elderly people by around February 2021 and by April for the general public, and will be priced at a maximum of ₹1,000 for two necessary doses for the public, depending on the final trial results and regulatory approvals. (The Oxford group has a tie-up with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India)

    How does the Oxford'sAZD122 work against the novel coronavirus?

    • Oxford University's vaccine candidate is made with genetically engineered viruses. These viruses are also called adenoviral vectors.
    • The job of a vaccine is to trick our body into believing that a foreign pathogen has entered the body, and will cause disease if not taken care of.
    • The adenoviral vectors, in this case, are designed to shuttle a gene from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, into our bodies, where our cells will read it and make coronavirus spike proteins.
    • These self-made spike proteins will train our bodies to detect and terminate any real coronavirus infections before the virus is able to infect, multiply, and cause damage to the body.

    In simple terms:

    • At first, the genetic code of the coronavirus spike protein is identified.
    • The vaccine contains the chimpanzee adenovirus in a weakened and genetically modified form so it doesn't infect humans and produces spike proteins.
    • The vaccine helps produce spike proteins in the body which causes the immune system to generate antibodies against them. Once the immune system recognises the spike protein, it can respond in the event of coronavirus infection.
    • The use of adenovirus vectors in making effective vaccines has been in development for over three decades, but the technique is being tested against a virus that has caused one of the biggest health crisis around the world.

    The findings published in the medical journal Lancet on Thursday, based on 560 healthy adult volunteers, shows that the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is safe and well tolerated with a lower reactogenicity profile in older adults than in younger adults, meaning the older age groups could build immunity to the disease.

    What does the findings suggest?

    • Vaccine was not only well tolerated in older adults, but also stimulated similar immune responses to those seen in younger volunteers.
    • The study also found no suspected unexpected serious adverse reactions during this stage of the trial. The 560 healthy adult volunteers who took part in the Phase 2 trials were given two doses of the vaccine candidate, or a placebo.
    • Inducing robust immune responses in older adults has been a long-standing challenge in human vaccine research. To show [that] this vaccine technology is able to induce these responses, in the age group most at risk from severe COVID-19 disease, offers hope that vaccine efficacy will be similar in younger and older adults.

    The latest trial shows that after a single vaccination, T cell responses were highly comparable in all ages.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: Is India facing a two-front threat? | Page - 07

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations | Mains: GS Paper-II – IR

    Sub Theme: Possibility of a two front war | UPSC

    In the backdrop of clashes between India and China along the LAC in the Ladakh region there has been speculation that it might escalate into a full scale war. A bigger concern for India is to fight a war on both the eastern and the western fronts with China and Pakistan respectively.

    Strengths and weaknesses for India vis-à-vis China

    Strengths –

    • Over the years, India has built extremely strong defences along the border.
    • These high altitude areas are not easy for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to apply major force because of logistical and terrain constraints.
    • The Air Force has a geographical advantage over the PLA Air Force and has also built a fairly strong strategic airlift capability.
    • Our Navy has a significant edge over the PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean and there is pretty good maritime domain awareness.

    Weaknesses –

    • China has a much greater military potential.
    • The PLA also has a technology edge in some very critical areas like ballistic missile, electronic warfare, cyber, air defence, etc., which are going to play a significant role in future warfare.
    • And finally, despite all our efforts, there are shortfalls in infrastructure along the northern borders.

    Geopolitical Angle –

    • Although China is a major geopolitical player, its image has witnessed a setback in the backdrop of COVID. This provides an opportunity for India.
    • India is building relationships with countries, which perhaps look at the world through a similar prism.
    • That seems to be happening: Quad has been revived, the Australians have been invited to Malabar, the U.S.-India relationship has achieved a new dynamic with all the foundation agreements now being signed.
    • Further countries like Japan, Australia, USA and Europe see China as a threat and hence are collaborating against it in the Indo-Pacific region. So clearly, the Indo-Pacific seems to be becoming very contested.
    • These collaborations are likely to help India in countering the threat in the near future.

    Possibility of Two front war

    • Strategic collusion between China and Pakistan - If conflict escalates along the LOC China might direct Pakistan to initiate war on the western front.
    • Pakistan Problem - Pakistan is already looking for an excuse to get into a conflict due to the Constitutional Changes in the J&K.
    • Pakistan's adventurism in the Past - Pakistan has jumped into conflicts with India in the past even when it was economically broke. Thus it will be wrong to think that an economically broke Pakistan will not jump into a war.

    India's preparedness -

    • Military Preparedness
      • Indian Army chief has held that India is ready for a 'two-and-a-half front war'.
      • Raised new 17 Mountain Strike Corps. 
    • Equipment and Weaponry
      • Developed the Agni-V and Agni-IV nuclear-capable ballistic missiles  
      • Ramped up its air force capacity with  the S-400s, the Rafales etc.
      • Military exercises such as Gagan Shakti.
    • Infrastructure
      • India has been ramping up infrastructure development along its borders. 
        • Darbuk Shyok Daulat DBO
      • International cooperation 
        • Like Japan America India forum and Quadrilateral dialogue (QUAD)

    What needs to be done?

    • India was always conscious that at some stage China will emerge as the greater military threat.
    • And that moment seems to have sort of come now.
    • We also must be conscious of the fact that the power differential between India and China is only set to grow in the future.
    • At the strategic level, there needs to be greater dialogue between the civil and military leaderships to see how this can be bridged.
    • Unfortunately, our state of civil-military relationship and the structures that are in place don’t really encourage an open dialogue between the military leadership and the political leadership.
    • That’s something the government needs to look at and see how it can be changed.
    • Even our strategic and doctrinal thinking of how we are going to handle a two-front threat if it comes requires very extensive debate between the political leadership and military leadership. The size of the defence budget is decreasing, which is also a challenge.

    Further to effectively counter the threat of a two front war, India needs to beef up its offensive capabilities and at the same time change its war doctrines, including its nuclear doctrine, to deter the enemies.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: Rajasthan govt. launches maternity benefit scheme for second child | Page- 05

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Schemes and Policies | Mains – GS Paper II – Polity & Governance

    Sub Theme: Pradhan Mantri Matru vandan Yojana | PMMVY | UPSC

    Context:

    • Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has launched a maternity benefit scheme for four districts under which mothers will get ₹6,000 for the second child.
    • This will supplement the Centre's Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) under which mothers get ₹5,000 for their first child.

    Schemes and policies have always been important for prelims examination. Consider these two examples:

    With reference to Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, consider the following statements: (2018)

    1. It is the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
    2. It, among other things, will also impart training in soft skills, entrepreneurship, financial and digital literacy.
    3. It aims to align the competencies of the unregulated workforce of the country to the National Skill Qualification Framework.

    Which of the statements given above is/ are correct ?

    (a) 1 and 3 only

    (b) 2 only

    (c) 2 and 3 only

    (d) 1, 2 and 3

    Regarding 'Atal Pension Yojana', which of the following statements is/are correct? (2016)

    1. It is a minimum guaranteed pension scheme mainly targeted at unorganized sector workers.
    2. Only one member of a family can join the scheme.
    3. Same amount of pension is guaranteed for the spouse for life after subscriber's death.

    Select the correct answer using the code given below.

    (a)  1 only

    (b) 2 and 3 only

    (c) 1 and 3 only

    (d) 1, 2 and 3

    So in this regard, let us cover the scheme

    What is Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY)

    • PMMVY is a flagship scheme of the Government for pregnant women and lactating mothers has achieved a significant milestone by crossing one crore beneficiaries.
    • It was introduced in 2017 and is implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

    What are the features of the scheme?

    • PMMVY is a direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme under which cash benefits are provided to pregnant women in their bank account directly to meet enhanced nutritional needs and partially compensate for wage loss.
    • Under the ‘Scheme’, Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers (PW&LM) receive a cash benefit of 5,000 in three instalments on fulfilling the respective conditionality, viz. early registration of pregnancy, ante-natal check-up and registration of the birth of the child and completion of first cycle of vaccination for the first living child of the family.
    • The eligible beneficiaries also receive cash incentive under Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY). Thus, on an average, a woman gets Rs. 6,000.

    So the highlighting feature of this scheme is that It is a conditional cash transfer scheme.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: Another bailout. |Page 06

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Ecnomy | Mains – GS Paper III – Economy

    Sub Theme:  Laxmi Niwas Bank | UPSC

    Recently, on the basis of recommendations of RBI, the Central Government decided to impose moratorium for a period of 30 days on the Laxmi Vilas Bank (LVB). As part of such a moratorium, depositors are not allowed to withdraw more than Rs 25,000. The Board of Directors of LVB has been superseded and a new administrator has been appointed. The RBI has also put forward the scheme of amalgamation of LVB with the DBS Bank.

    This failure of LVB raises concerns since in the recent years, a number of financial Institutions such as Yes Bank, Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank (PMC), IL&FS, DHFL etc. have failed.

    What was the issue with Laxmi Vilas Bank?

    The financial position of Lakshmi Vilas Bank had undergone a steady decline with the bank incurring continuous losses over the last three years. Its gross non-performing assets (NPAs) stood 25.4% of its advances as of June 2020. The bank was also not been able to raise adequate capital to address these issues. It was experiencing continuous withdrawal of deposits and low levels of liquidity.

    After taking into consideration these developments, the RBI applied to the Central Government for imposing a moratorium under section 45 of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949.

    Note: Under Section 45 of Banking Regulation Act, 1949, the RBI can apply to the Central Government for suspension of Business by a Bank and to prepare a scheme for its revival.  Based upon the recommendations of RBI, the Central Government then can issue notification.

    Way forward

    The Economic slowdown on account of COVID-19 has worsened the financial position of Banks and financial institutions. According to RBI's Financial stability report, the gross NPA of the commercial Banks could increase to 14%. Hence, the RBI needs to be extra vigilant about the growing NPAs and protect the health of the financial sector.

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