(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)
Part of: Prelims and GS-II -Health
Context: The government has confirmed in the Supreme Court that Aadhaar is not mandatory for registration on the CoWIN portal for COVID-19 vaccination.
- Ministry of Health and Family Welfare informed that one of the nine identity documents, including passport, driving licence, PAN card, voter ID card, ration card, can be produced for vaccination.
What is CoWIN?
- CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Work) is the Indian government’s web portal to register for COVID-19 vaccination. It displays slots of COVID-19 vaccine available in the nearby areas and can be booked on the website.
- It is a secure and trustworthy proof where people establish when, where and by whom they had been vaccinated.
- In totality, CoWIN is a cloud-based IT solution for planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of Covid-19 vaccination in India.
- This allows the system to monitor the utilisation, wastage, coverage of Covid-19 vaccination at national, state, district and sub-district level.
- CoWIN system tracks on a real time basis the vaccination drive in India.
- The portal also provides vaccination certificates in digital format
- CoWIN is essentially an extension of eVIN (Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network).
News Source: TH
Part of: Prelims and GS-I Social Issues
Context: The Railway Protection Force(RPF) has launched a nationwide operation to curb human trafficking.
- As part of “Operation AAHT”, special teams will be deployed on all long-distance trains/routes with focus on rescuing victims, particularly women and children, from the clutches of traffickers.
- The Railways is the most reliable mode of transportation for the traffickers who often move their victims on long-distance trains.
- As part of “Operation AAHT”, the infrastructure and intelligence network of the force could be utilised to collect, collate and analyse clues on victims, source, route, etc and shared with other law-enforcing agencies.
- The RPF would act as a bridge cutting across States to assist the local police in the mission to curb the menace.
About Railway Protection Force
- Protection Force is a security force, established by the Railway Protection Force Act, 1957, for “the better protection and security of railway property and passenger area”.
- It has the power to search, arrest, investigate, and prosecute offenses committed under Railway Property (Unlawful Possession) Act 1966
- The force is under the authority of the Indian Ministry of Railways.
News Source: TH
Part of: Prelims and GS-II Women & Governance
Context: The government’s recent announcement that the maternity benefit programme which provides ₹5,000 for first child will be extended to cover the second child only if it is a girl has met with sharp criticism from activists who have demanded that it be universalised.
About the maternity benefit programme
- The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) was announced on December 31, 2016 which gives a benefit of ₹6,000 to pregnant and lactating mothers for the birth of the first child.
- ₹5,000 would be disbursed in three installments upon meeting several conditionalities:
- registration of pregnancy
- at least one ante-natal check-up
- registration of child birth and vaccinations.
- The remaining cash incentive of up to ₹1,000 is to be given under a separate scheme called the Janani Suraksha Yojana so that on an “average” women get a total sum of ₹6,000.
- The objective is to compensate women for wage loss due to child birth.
- Some of the reasons which has led to exclusion of many beneficiaries under PMMVY
- Only for the first born
- Proof of address of marital home – which proves challenging for a newlywed expecting a child and often residing in her natal home during pregnancy. She is then forced to go from pillar to post to claim benefits.
- Minimum age of 19 years – leaves out younger brides, who hesitate in getting their marriages registered as the legal age of marriage is 18 years.
- Husband’s Aadhar Card – Affects single women which include unwed mothers, deserted wives and widows
- Tedious documentation: Total 6 application forms to be filled, with total of 30 of 32 pages to be filled by the beneficiary
- As many as 9 IDs to be produced – Aadhaar card, voter ID card; ration card copy of bank passbook and maternal and child protection (MCP) card etc.
News Source: TH
(News from PIB)
Part of: Prelims and GS-III Environment
Context: Government of India is in the process of holding consultation meeting with African countries for bringing Cheetah.
- Rs. 38.70 crore under the ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Project Tiger has been allocated to the cheetah introduction project for the years 2021-22 to 2025-26.
- About 12-14 wild cheetahs (8-10 males and 4-6 females) that are ideal for establishing a new cheetah population would be imported as required from South Africa/Namibia/Other African Countries, as a founder stock for five years initially and then as may be required by the action plan.
- The cheetah is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
- The cheetah is also the world’s fastest land mammal that lives in Africa and Asia.
- Cheetah is the only large carnivore to have become extinct in Independent India.
- Cheetah has been an integral part of Indian ecosystems, a major evolutionary force, and an important cultural heritage.
- Their restoration will likely result in better conservation of open forest, grassland, and scrub ecosystems for which they will serve as a flagship species.
- IUCN status:
- African Cheetah: Vulnerable
- Asiatic Cheetah: Critically Endangered.
News Source: PIB
Part of: Prelims and GS-III Infrastructure
Context: Union Finance Minister while presenting Union Budget for 2022-23 announced National Ropeways Development Programme – “Parvatmala”.
- It will be taken up on PPP mode.
- Ropeways will be a preferred ecologically sustainable alternative in place of conventional roads in difficult hilly areas.
- The idea is to improve connectivity and convenience for commuters, besides promoting tourism.
- This may also cover congested urban areas, where conventional mass transit system is not feasible.
- The Finance Minister announced that contracts for 8 ropeway projects for a length of 60 km would be awarded in 2022-23.
- States being covered: The scheme is being presently started in regions like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir and the other North Eastern states.
Major Factors Driving Ropeway Infrastructure
- Economical mode of transportation: Given that ropeway projects are built in a straight line over a hilly terrain, it also results in lower land acquisition costs. Hence, despite having a higher cost of construction per km than roadways, ropeway projects’ construction cost may happen to be economical than roadways.
- Faster mode of transportation: Owing to the aerial mode of transportation, ropeways have an advantage over roadway projects where ropeways can be built in a straight line, over a hilly terrain.
- Environmentally friendly: Low dust emissions. Material containers can be designed so as to rule out any soiling of the environment.
- Last mile connectivity: Ropeway projects adopting 3S (a kind of cable car system) or equivalent technologies can transport 6000-8000 passengers per hour.
News Source: PIB
Part of: Prelims and GS-III Conservation
Context: Coal mines of Coal India Limited have been closed/abandoned/discontinued due to depletion of reserve, spontaneous heating, safety reasons, inundation, adverse techno-economics, financial losses, adverse geo-mining conditions, surface constraints, conversion to opencast mine, etc.
- The abandoned quarries of Coal India Limited(CIL) are used for the following purposes:
- Dumping /Filling of fly ash in to the worked out area for suitable reclamation.
- Development of eco and mine tourism parks
- Source to supply of drinking water and other domestic use.
- Generation of sand from overburden of opencast mines at few places
News source: PIB
- GS-2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.
Context: Despite the cancellation of the 12th Ministerial Conference of WTO in Dec 2021 due to COVID-19, digital trade negotiations continue their ambitious march forward.
- In this context, members of plurilateral Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on e-commerce, welcomed the ‘substantial progress’ made over the past three years
What is Joint Statement Initiative?
- JSIs are a negotiating tool initiated by a group of WTO Members who seek to advance discussions on certain specific issues without adhering to the rule of consensus decision-making of WTO.
- They are open to any WTO Member.
- JSI aims to produce a binding agreement among its members.
- On the occasion of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, in 2017, JSIs were created on the following issues:
- investment facilitation for development
- micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)
- domestic regulation in services
- trade and women’s economic empowerment.
- In 2020, two new initiatives were launched on trade and the environment, focusing on environmental sustainability and plastics pollution.
- The JSI on e-commerce encompasses both traditional trade topics (e.g. trade facilitation) and several digital policy issues, such as cross-border data flows and data localisation, online consumer protection and privacy and network neutrality.
- Some Members see JSIs as key mechanisms to make progress on trade liberalization, in a context in which consensus on rulemaking has been harder to achieve in WTO.
- India and South Africa have led the resistance and been the JSI’s most vocal critics
Why JSIs has been resisted by some countries like India?
- Weakens multilateralism: India and South Africa have rightly pointed out that the JSI contravenes the WTO’s consensus-based framework, where every member has a voice and vote regardless of economic standing.
- Fear of arm twisting Developing countries: Even though JSI members account for over 90% of global trade, and the initiative welcomes newer entrants, over half of WTO members (largely from the developing world) continue to opt out of these negotiations. They fear being arm-twisted into accepting global rules that are shaped by developed countries.
- Sovereign Rights of States to frame policy: Several countries have imposed data localisation mandates that compel corporations to store and process data within territorial borders. Developed countries believe that this increases compliance costs, hampering innovation and supposedly amounting to unfair protectionism.
- There is a similar disagreement regarding domestic laws that mandate the disclosure of source codes which developing countries believe is essential for algorithmic transparency and fairness
- Data sovereignty is championed as a means of resisting ‘data colonialism’ and any policy should benefit not just large players (in developed countries) but also small players in developing countries
What is the way forward?
- Hastily signing trading obligations could reduce the space available to frame appropriate policy. But sitting out trade negotiations will means India losing out on opportunities to shape these rules from being a part of it.
- China and Indonesia, argued that they sought to shape the rules from within the initiative rather than sitting on the sidelines.
- Negotiations need not mean compromise. For example, exceptions to digital trade rules, such as ‘legitimate public policy objective’ or ‘essential security interests’, could be negotiated to preserve policymaking where needed
- Taking a cue from the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) between Singapore, Chile, and New Zealand, India can push for a framework where countries can pick and choose modules with which they wish to comply
- Despite its failings, the WTO plays a critical role in global governance and is vital to India’s strategic interests. Negotiating without surrendering domestic policy-making holds the key to India’s digital future.
Connecting the dots:
- GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Context: The pharmaceuticals industry is a key sector for the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme.
The objective of the Phase-I Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme in this sector was to reduce import dependence on active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), drug intermediates (DIs) and key starting materials (KSMs).
What has been the response to the PLI Scheme for Pharmaceutical sector?
- This scheme was expected to attract a lot of interest as countries had begun to adopt measures to reduce their dependence on China for APIs. However, the response to this scheme did not meet expectations.
- A total of 239 applications were received in two rounds from an industry of over 3,000 firms. Of these, 61 were selected.
- As 11 beneficiaries withdrew from the scheme, the number reduced to 50 (by Dec 2021) against the maximum number of 136 beneficiaries as mentioned in the guidelines.
- No beneficiary was identified in five of the 41 products notified for the scheme.
What are areas where this PLI scheme requires modifications to make it a success?
- Self-reliance with Price Competency in Production
- More than half the turnover of this industry is from exports. Imports from China are reported to be cheaper by 35–40% compared to indigenously produced products.
- Investors will face an investment uncertainty if the proposed measures do not ensure the price production in production. Therefore, they continue to depend on China’s imports so as to safeguard their market position.
- Also, without appropriate technology, APIs/DIs/KSMs manufacturers in India will not be in a position to beat their Chinese counterparts in pricing who has advantage of scale of operation. This PLI scheme doesn’t have a technology component.
- So, any strategy aimed at achieving self-reliance should focus on achieving price competency in production.
- Utilizing Existing capacities
- This scheme also insists on new manufacturing facilities, which doesn’t make business sense for firms which have idle capacities.
- Many firms used to produce these products and have wound up production as cheaper imports began to flow from China.
- Permission to utilise existing but inoperational or underutilised facilities for production will elicit a better response.
- Coherent Policy Landscape
- The history of development of the indigenous pharmaceutical industry in India shows the significance of an industrial policy that is in tandem with trade and science and technology policies.
- This PLI scheme remains a standalone measure; it is not connected to other relevant policy measures.
- India needs a strategy, not just a scheme, to realise the objective of reducing import dependence.
- Promote Small Firms
- Nearly three-fourth of the production of pharmaceuticals in India is by MSMEs.
- Historically, large private sector firms have been interested in formulations, not APIs. As APIs are sold with their chemical names and without branding, large firms have no interest in their production.
- Policymakers are interested in taking advantage of efficiencies associated with the scale of operations by encouraging large firms. But it is equally important to include smaller firms which are into the KSMs/DIs/APIs business in a major way.
- Involving Public Sector Enterprises
- In spite of the two rounds of applications, no beneficiary was identified (or no application was received) in five products, which are all antibiotics.
- In such cases, public sector enterprises (PSEs) should be tasked with the production of APIs and their KSMs and DIs.
Connecting the dots:
(ORF: Raisina Debates)
Jan 20: A new year for India and Nepal: Can BIMSTEC be the key? – https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/a-new-year-for-india-and-nepal/
- GS-2: India and its neighbourhood
- GS-3: Security challenges and their management in border areas
Context: The bilateral relationship between the Himalayan country of Nepal and India in the new year of 2022 was inaugurated with an amicable telephonic conversation, between both the Minister of Foreign Affairs – what comes across is a reflection of both the countries attempting to explore better dimensions of their bilateral ties through both pre-existing and new ventures.
- This stride would help to go beyond the cold demeanour of the recent past, post 2019, encompassing issues ranging from border disputes to the delay in supplying COVID-19 vaccines from India.
- During 2021, Kathmandu remained embroiled in an unstable and fragile internal political scenario with the establishment of the new government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba.
The Border Dispute
- The immediate provocation is the long-standing territorial issue surrounding Kalapani, a patch of land near the India-Nepal border, close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border,
- Lipulekh Pass is one of the approved points for border trade and the route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra in Tibet.
- However, the underlying reasons are far more complex where Nepali political class by raising the banner of Nepali nationalism paints India as a hegemon that creates distrust between the neighbours.
Image courtesy: TKP
The relations between Nepal and India touched their lowest ebb in 2015, when Nepal was making its new constitution, and further in 2020, on the boundary issue in Nepal’s North-western region. The spread of COVID-19 in the two countries further created a hardening of relations between the two countries as the open border was closed for over one-and-half years, beginning in March 2020.
But in the post-COVID-19 period, the situation on the ground is slowly returning to normal and, that too, after Sher Bahadur Deuba became Prime Minister of Nepal in July 2021.
- The border is now re-opened and cross-border movement of people—apart from vehicles, that remained disrupted for so long—has resumed.
- Even cross-border marriages have become a normal phenomenon.
- Recognition of COVID-19 test reports of one country by concerned authorities of the other country further facilitated the cross-border movement of people and vehicles.
- Nepal for the first time started to export surplus electricity to India. Exports of hydropower to India has opened a new prospect of earning revenue from India, which could, to a certain extent, bridge the gap in the balance of trade with India.
- There has also been a substantial increase in Nepal’s exports to India.
- Estimates are that 6 to 8 million of the Nepalese, especially from the hill region of the country, get employment opportunities in India. Nepal receives a huge amount of remittance from these people.
- The Indian government has handed over the Janakpur-Jaynagar sector of the railway to the Government of Nepal. The Indian government had undertaken the construction of the 69-kilometre railway line between Jaynagar (India) and Janakpuri/Kurtha-Bardibas (Nepal) in 2014, of which the 34-kilometre Jaynagar-Janakpur/Kurtha section has already been completed and handed over to Nepal. Work on the remaining section of the railway line is in progress. The entire cost of the railway project, that amounts to INR. 8.8 billion, is being borne by the Indian government.
Can BIMSTEC be the thread?
Nepal has been making much progress in capitalising on the opportunities being offered in the multilateral forum of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and has been lauded for its contributions too.
Within this organisation, Nepal primarily leads the sector on People-to-People Connectivity, with sub-sections comprising of Culture, Tourism, and People-to-People Contact Forums. Nepal and India have been working in close quarters in this forum. This is despite the tumultuous journey that they had been on since the past few years, with undercurrents of negative Nepalese sentiments since the 2015 India-Nepal blockade. However, the interaction of the two countries within BIMSTEC has not been a very smooth sailing.
- A major disagreement in this platform was witnessed in 2018 when the Nepalese government had outrightly rejected participation of the Nepalese Army in the first ever military exercise of the BIMSTEC countries. Even though the then Chief Nepalese Army was scheduled to attend the closing ceremony of the six-day counterterrorism drill at Pune, India, strict instructions from the Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli, cancelled any Nepalese participation. This drill was mainly organised by the Indian Army and arguments were ripe regarding India’s own vested interest in hosting such an event, in the garb of BIMSTEC joint effort.
- Furthermore, other critics had mentioned that this event was a venture to promote BIMSTEC as against the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), by India, that has not been able to move out of dormancy because of the alleged India-Pakistan rivalry, thereby creating implications for the region and motivating smaller powers like Nepal.
- At the same time, Nepal might have realised the repercussions of such a strategic drill given its close proximity with China, not willing to portray any military liaison with India that does not share a good rapport with the latter.
Need to come out of disagreement over some issues– The Way Forward
- Nepal must realise the geopolitical significance of the Bay of Bengal region and the benefits that can be harnessed with the support of India.
- For instance, through the BIMSTEC Energy Centre, India can provide big investment and support long gestation period for a country like Nepal, to actualise its hydropower potential.
- At the same time, possibilities of cross-border river transportation with the navigation of larger, motorised ships down to Patna (Bihar, India) on the banks of the Ganges, from the Gandaki (near Chitwan National Park) and Koshi rivers, south of the barrages, flowing into India, west of Biratnagar, may be refurbished.
- Even though these Nepalese rivers were declared as ‘unsuitable’ for motorised navigation, former PM Oli had initiated the process of survey, with his Indian counterpart in 2018, with prospects of establishing docks and ports, river customs points, immigration offices, and quarantine facilities. However, much progress has not been made on this front, providing an opportunity for research and development between the two countries, within the domain of BIMSTEC. This is how both the countries can utilise the multilateral setup to enhance bilateral negotiations with convalescent outcomes for the future.
Even though 2022 looks bright for this bilateral relationship, effort needs to be put in to wipe away the memories of disagreement. This can be done by focusing on sectors that are easier to access.
Can you answer the following questions?
- Can Nepal and India move beyond the hurdles of the past by focusing on new avenues of cooperation in BIMSTEC? Discuss.
(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)
Model questions: (You can now post your answers in comment section)
Q.1 Consider the following Factors Driving Ropeway Infrastructure:
- Economical mode of transportation
- Faster mode of transportation
- Environmentally friendly
- Last mile connectivity
Which of the above is or are correct?
- 1, 2 and 3 only
- 2 and 3 only
- 1 and 4 only
- All of the above
Q.2 What is the IUCN status of African Chetan?
- Critically endangered
- Least concern
Q.3 Launch of Operation AAHT is associated with which of the following?
- Marital rape
- Developing vaccine against Omicron variant
- Human trafficking
- Defence upgradation
ANSWERS FOR 8th Feb 2022 TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE (TYK)
On Vaccination Strategy:
On hijab controversy:
On IAS cadre rules change & its impact on Federalism: