IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains Focus)- 11th December 2017
Special & Differential Treatment for India
Part of: Mains GS Paper II- Global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
- India’s continued eligibility for special and differential treatment (S&DT) at the World Trade Organization (WTO) hangs in the balance. There is no clarity over whether India will continue to be covered under the S&DT provision being reviewed at the WTO.
- Benefits of S&DT provisions includes— imposition of lower liberalisation commitments on developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) compared to developed countries in many areas.
- India is trying to push for its continuation, but many members are not so eager. There are a number of LDC members that feel that large developing countries such as India and China should not get S&DT. This actually goes against the mandate of the Doha Development Round, which extends it to all developing countries.
- The G-90 group, including LDCs, the African group and the ACP (African, Caribbean, Pacific), in a recent draft proposal, laid down that while LDCs shall be free to introduce and maintain investment measures that deviate from their obligations under the TRIMs (Trade Related Investment Measures) Agreement, developing countries can deviate only temporarily to meet specific objectives such as increasing industrialisation, export capacity or modernisation. The paper talks about S&DT not for all developing countries but for some with capacity constraints,” the official said.
- The Ministerial Conference 11 (MC 11), which is from December 10-13, is working on five specific areas including agriculture, services, e-commerce, development and fisheries.
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Engineering graduates: Lacking skills and employability
Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Inclusive growth
- An estimated 8 lakh BE/BTech engineering students graduated in 2015-16, a little over a quarter of those who finished Class 12 Science that year. And yet, over 50 per cent of seats are going empty amid abandoned lecture halls and ghost campuses.
- According to a 2011 survey by Nasscom, only 17.5 per cent engineering graduates were deemed employable.
- The problem of underemployment or lack of employability has often been attributed to an outdated syllabus that’s not in sync with the industry and undergraduates training on obsolete equipment.
AICTE has a model curriculum, revised every five years, that affiliated universities use as a base to prepare their own syllabus, but most colleges follow decades-old programmes.
- Our demographic dividend can be realised only if there is adequate capacity building of people. If that’s not happening, the same dividend can turn into a nightmare
Positive steps taken:
- The AICTE is going to decide that the curriculum will be revised once a year.
- The AICTE has set up a committee of experts, including IIT professors, who have drafted the model engineering syllabus for first-year students.
- Improving the quality of education basic is one of the major requirements for Make in India to succeed.
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The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill 2017
Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Economy
- The FRDI Bill is part of a larger, more comprehensive approach by the Centre towards systematic resolution of all financial firms — banks, insurance companies and other financial intermediaries.
- The Bill comes together with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code to spell out the procedure for the revival of an ailing company.
- The need for a specific regulation rose following the 2008 financial crisis, which witnessed a large number of high-profile bankruptcies.
The Bill’s main provisions:
- The Bill provides for the setting up of a Resolution Corporation — to replace the existing Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation — which will be tasked with monitoring financial firms, anticipating their risk of failure, taking corrective action and resolving them in case of failure.
- The corporation is also tasked with providing deposit insurance up to a certain limit yet to be specified, in the event of a bank failure.
- The Corporation will also be tasked with classifying financial firms on their risk of failure — low, moderate, material, imminent, or critical. It will take over the management of a company once it is deemed critical.
- The FRDI Bill also empowers the Corporation to bail-in the company.
- While a bail-out is the use of public funds to inject capital into an ailing company, a bail-in involves the use of depositors’ funds to achieve those ends.
- This has caused a lot of concern among depositors who are worried they may lose their hard-earned money deposited with banks.
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Solar storms and L1 point
Part of: Mains GS Paper III- Science and Technology? developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
What are solar storms?
- Solar storms are violent events on the sun which can temporarily distort the earth’s magnetosphere – the region around the earth which is influenced by its magnetic field.
- These temporary disturbances, called geomagnetic storms, can generate shock waves in the interplanetary medium that can accelerate charged particles to very high energies and which, in turn, can harm the satellites placed by humans in space.
- Such solar storms have two causes: Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) and Corotating Interaction Regions (CIR).
- CMEs are huge explosions of charged particles extending beyond the sun’s corona or outer layer and can be visibly observed.
- CIRs are generated in the interplanetary medium and there are no visual signatures for CIRs.
- Charged particles are being spewed continually out of the sun’s corona, forming the solar wind.
- The sun goes through cyclic variations with a period of eleven years during which sunspot activity increases to a maximum and then decreases.
- There is an imaginary point on the line joining the sun and earth known as the L1 point or the Lagrange 1 point.
- A special feature of this point is that a particle placed there will feel no gravitational pull due to either the sun or the earth as the two forces cancel each other.
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TOPIC: General Studies 3:
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
- Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
- Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security.
Is it time to regulate BIG TECH?
The Big Tech – Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. and other digital giants – are being blamed for a number of things, such as:
- Engaging in monopolistic practices;
- Not doing enough to curb fake news; and
- Violating the privacy of users etc.
They have also been blamed for stagnation in wages and the decline in labour’s share of gross domestic product (GDP). And the biggest charge against Big Tech is that it is becoming a threat to freedom of expression and democracy itself.
They stand accused of transgressions such as selling campaign ads, underpaying corporate taxes, destroying jobs and condoning sexual harassment and gender disparity.
Studies conducted by some Business schools points out that:
- “In the last year, 85% of the increase in ads online was shared by Google and Facebook”. As a disproportionate beneficiary of online advertisement revenue, Google and Facebook have effectively become gatekeepers of information that is accessible to users of their platforms.
- Companies like Google and Facebook have built up their dominant positions not just through world-leading coding and (sometimes) cut-throat business practices. They’ve also done it through an uncanny ability to get consumers to trust them — often with the most personal data about themselves.
- Their major source of power is a “platform” that can be used to control markets and discourage competition.
- They also stand widely accused of the sins associated with corporate bullies: crushing competition, avoiding taxes, undermining democracy and invading privacy.
Critics have argued that tech giants are the new robber barons, using their money and market muscle to bypass laws and social norms — and undermine democracy. They call for government actions to curb the effects of excess market power.
Limiting their growth through break-ups and tough regulations:
Critics and experts demand that tech giants should be regulated like public utilities and prevented from expanding further through acquisitions.
- The European Union fined Google 2.4 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in June for abusing its search-engine dominance by favoring its own shopping service over competitors’ in search results.
- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating similar charges against Google whether it violated its commitments made to the FTC to preserve competition.
Some have demanded for break-up of big giants as a solution just like how Standard Oil, AT&T and Microsoft were split into pieces. (Standard Oil was splintered into 34 independent companies in 1911. American Telephone & Telegraph Co. were split in 1980s).
All the main players face questions about whether they harm democracy, people’s health, fair competition, economic equality and privacy. This has been front-page news throughout this year and a hot topic in business circles and among politicians on the left and right.
However, demanding the break-up of these tech giants is excessive and unwarranted. Industries in which these superstar firms emerge are also the ones which have experienced high levels of innovation, as measured by citation-weighted patents or total factor productivity growth.
Regulators around the world should frame rules to make it mandatory for these tech firms to seek user consent before using personal data and be more open about how the data is used.
“It is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” – Shakespeare
Connecting the dots:
- Tech giants (such as Apple, Google parent Alphabet Inc., Facebook and Amazon) should be regulated like public utilities and prevented from expanding further through acquisitions. Do you agree? Critically comment.
TOPIC: General Studies 2:
- Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
- Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Internet freedom in India
Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedom points to a growing concern.
India has maintained its score of 41 out of 100 (the score works on an inverted scale) and a rating of, “partly free”.
Reasons for increase in the overall score:
- The Union government, as well as the Telecom Regulatory Authority, are to be commended for bringing the internet to more Indians. India continues to add more internet subscribers, the speed of internet connectivity continues to rise, and the price per megabyte continues to fall.
- The Supreme Court cleared the cloud over the fundamental right to privacy in the Puttaswamy judgement,2017.
The status of privacy as a fundamental right was brought into dispute by the government not only to advance the Aadhaar programme but as an argument for a more considerable exertion of state power.
The Puttaswamy judgement itself notes an affirmative state obligation to bring in a law to protect citizens against the harms of data collection, analysis and disclosure.
Even though a government-appointed committee, under Justice B.N. Srikrishna, promises to bring in a data protection law to fill this vacuum, there exists a lack of civil society representation and transparency in the committee itself.
- In several instances, continuing gains for free expression online are credited in the report to the Shreya Singhal judgement, 2015.
By this decision, the SC struck down Section 66A and also made court and executive orders mandatory for removing online content.
- The comprehensive methodology of the report, which allocates a quarter of its points for improvement and deepening of access.
Given the primacy of digital services and data-driven state policies in our networked lives, an ambition for higher control without proper safeguards is a significant concern.
- Restrictions on content and violation of user rights.
- While India has traditionally blocked individual websites, shutting down all internet traffic is a practice which has now gained official notoriety.
An influential study by the Brookings Institute demonstrated India imposed at least 22 internet shutdowns last year — globally the highest. The Freedom House report notes the figure for the reporting year has reached at least 37 individual instances.
- Rules notified in September by the government detail a bureaucratic process and formalise the legal sanction for issuing shutdown orders.
Such restrictions on access correspond with continuing arrests for sharing content and messaging that criticises state policies or political satire.
- Repeated parliamentary questions on the number of internet shutdowns remain unanswered and the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual publication, Crime in India, that contains a separate chapter on “cybercrimes”, is of little help because it lacks details.
- At present, the fundamental right to privacy applies in litigation, but meaningful safeguards that are implemented pro-actively remain absent in India.
A rating of “partly free” is not a passing grade for a democracy that values digital rights. It seems the government is striking a discordant note with its executive actions and legislative policy to the increase in internet access and the SC protecting free expression and privacy online in critical cases.
Connecting the dots:
- Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedom highlights worrying trends in India. Discuss.
A game of chicken in the Korean peninsula
Arbitrary and irrational
Internecine hill battle
Breaking the silence
A great betrayal
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