Mains Question for UPSC Aspirants

Mains Question for UPSC Aspirants

03 Jul 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 ECOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT      
Question : Q. Discuss the issues around ecological concerns of western ghats. Also analyse the Gadgil Committee recommendations.

Decode the Question:
  • Start the Introduction with western ghats and its biodiversity significance. 
  • Discuss the issues around ecological concerns of western ghats.
  • Highlight the Gadgil Committee recommendations and point out the criticism associated with this report.
  • Provide a suitable conclusion.

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Western Ghats lie parallel to the western coast. They are continuous and can be crossed through passes only. These are one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world, housing a large number of indigenous species of plants and animals, and are a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Forming one of the four watersheds of India, the Ghats also attract large amount of rainfall and are at the heart of water conflicts in six states (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu). The Western Ghats contain more than 30% of all plant, fish, herpeto-fauna, bird, and mammal species found in India.
Many species are endemic. Fragmentation and deterioration of forests, biodiversity loss, pollution (air, water and soil), soil erosion and landslides, soil infertility and agrarian stress, depleting groundwater resources, climate change and introduction of alien species, to name just a few, caused by developmental and mining projects have raised the alarm in recent years.
Issues around ecological concerns of western ghats:
  • Illegal mining: illegal mining of iron ore in areas around Uttar Kannada. The result of this undocumented mining is iron ore so low in quality that India doesn’t even use it. Sand mining has emerged as a major threat in Kerala. Unsustainable mining has increased vulnerability to landslides, damaged water sources and agriculture, thus negatively affecting the livelihoods of the people living in those areas.
  • Pollution: the population here depends on agriculture in the area, fertilizer runoff is causing pollution in the rivers. 
  • Deforestation: Along with mining, large scale deforestation is further threatening the environment. Conversion of forest land into agricultural land or for commercial purposes like tourism, illegal logging for timber have had significant negative effects on biodiversity.
  • Power projects: In Southern Maharashtra, the districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg have been severely impacted both environmentally and socially all due to rampant mining, power projects in the area and polluting industries.
  • Livestock grazing: The rise in human settlements has led to the over-exploitation of forest products through activities such as livestock grazing.
  • Fish industry: The fish industry also has its own set of problems. Traditional methods such as use of poison and electricity etc are used till date, to easily catch some exotic species. This has reduced the fish population and their availability.
  • Monoculture plantation practices: Large scale plantations of Eucalyptus & Acacia that were started in 1980’s have proved this and much more deterioration across the Ghats.
  • Hydropower projects: large dam projects in Western Ghats have resulted in environmental and social disruption despite cost benefit analyses and environmental impact assessments being done by the government and companies
  • Encroachment by human settlements: Human settlements where legal and/or traditional rights of land ownership occur both within and outside protected areas all across the Western Ghats and represent a significant landscape level threat.
Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), also known as Gadgil Committee and Kasturirangan Committee are associated with the protection of western ghats. The Ministry of Environment & Forests had constituted the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) under the Chairmanship of Prof Madhav Gadgil in 2010 to primarily demarcate ecologically sensitive areas in Western Ghats and recommend measures for management of these ecologically sensitive areas.
  • It designated the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) and, had classified the Western Ghats into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) 1, 2 and 3 of which ESZ-1 is high priority, almost all developmental activities (mining, thermal power plants etc) were restricted in it.
  • It recommended the establishment of Western Ghats Ecology Authority through a broad-based participatory process.
  • It specified that the system of governance of the environment should be a bottom to top approach (right from Gram sabhas) rather than a top to bottom approach.
  • It recommended that no new dams based on large scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 as defined by the Panel. It also called for Establishment of fully empowered Biodiversity Management Committees in all local bodies.
The report had also asserted that, "A policy shift is urgently warranted curtailing the environmentally disastrous practices and switching over to a more sustainable farming approach in the Western Ghats."
It was primarily criticised for being too environment friendly and impractical to implement. Gadgil faced heavy criticism for this report and was called an ‘eco terrorist with a hidden agenda’.
A complete eco-sensitive cover for the Western Ghats would hamper the states on energy and development requirements, therefore, no state is ready to accept such recommendations. It was also criticised for vehemently opposing construction of dams, ignoring the importance of dams for generating power.
The report put forward a democratic approach towards ecological governance. It suggested discussing ecological issues and development concerns and initiatives at the grassroots level of grama sabhas rather than adopting a top-down approach.
Even a decade after the report, the democratic spirit of ecological governance is yet to percolate down the system.

Source: The Hindu

02 Jul 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY     
Question : Q. What is mRNA vaccine? How far can it help in strengthening the fight against COVID 19?

Decode the Question:
  • Start with defining mRNA vaccine. 
  • Discuss the working mechanism of mRNA vaccine with a diagram.
  • Discuss the role played by mRNA vaccine in fight against COVID 19 by citing the development of the first mRNA vaccine in India.
  • Provide a suitable conclusion with future prospects of mRNA vaccine.

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Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside our bodies. mRNA vaccines contain messenger RNA (mRNA), a single-stranded RNA molecule that complements DNA.
It is created in the nucleus, when DNA is transcribed by RNA polymerase to create pre-mRNA. Pre-mRNA is then spliced into mRNA, which is exported from the nucleus to the cytoplasm and “read” by ribosomes (the translation machinery of cells). Ribosomes then make proteins.  mRNA vaccines use lab-created mRNA encapsulated within nanoparticles.
Translation of the mRNA results in the development of a protein antigen that triggers an immune response. mRNA vaccines are required to be kept at sub-zero temperatures. mRNA vaccines combine desirable immunological properties with an outstanding safety profile and the unmet flexibility of genetic vaccines.
Based on in situ protein expression, mRNA vaccines are capable of inducing a balanced immune response comprising both cellular and humoral immunity while not subject to MHC haplotype restriction. In addition, mRNA is an intrinsically safe vector as it is a minimal and only transient carrier of information that does not interact with the genome.
Because any protein can be expressed from mRNA without the need to adjust the production process, mRNA vaccines also offer maximum flexibility with respect to development.
 mRNA vaccines and Covid 19:
As the Covid-19 pandemic spread, an mRNA vaccine candidate was the first to enter human trials globally.
The first two vaccines that were made available for use in the US were based on mRNA technology. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna used messenger RNA or mRNA to deliver a message to your immune system. Basically, the technology uses genetically engineered mRNA to instruct cells to make the S-protein found on the surface of the Covid-19 virus.
According to reports from US-based Mayo Clinic, after vaccination, the muscle cells begin making S-protein pieces and displaying them on cell surfaces. This causes the body to create antibodies. mRNA vaccines cannot cause infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 or other viruses.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against both symptomatic and severe COVID-19 across age groups and in diverse populations. India’s first home-grown mRNA Covid-19 vaccine — GEMCOVAC-19 — developed at Pune’s Gennova Biopharmaceuticals has got a ‘restricted emergency use’ nod for the 18-and-above age group.
The new vaccine can now be stored at the temperature of a standard medical refrigerator. The approval of the nation’s first mRNA vaccine will pave the way for the development of new-variant specific mRNA vaccines that can be used as future booster doses. 
Until the COVID-19 crisis, oncology had been the major area where nanotechnology based drug carriers had been widely explored. These two mRNA-based vaccine formulations will serve as a stepping stone for future applications of nanomedicine.
These nanocarrier based vaccines highlight the importance of the nanoscale and the ability of nanoscale delivery systems to protect payloads from degradation, provide tailored biodistribution and cellular delivery.

Source: Indian Express

02 Jul 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 INDIAN ECONOMY      
Question : Q. Problem in poverty reduction is also due to the lack of its measurement data. Discuss some approaches to measure poverty in India.

Decode the Question:
  • Start with defining poverty and parameters used to measure poverty. 
  • Discuss the lack of measurement data and poverty reduction relation.
  • Discuss  various committees and approaches for poverty measurement in India.
  • Provide a suitable conclusion.

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Poverty entails more than the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.
Since poverty has many facets, social scientists look at it through a variety of indicators. Usually, the indicators used relate to the levels of income and consumption. But now poverty is looked at through other social indicators like illiteracy level, lack of general resistance due to malnutrition, lack of access to healthcare, lack of job opportunities, lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation etc.
Analysis of poverty based on social exclusion and vulnerability is now becoming very common.
Lower-income countries are too often disadvantaged due to a lack of institutions, decision-making autonomy, and financial resources, all of which hold back their effective implementation and effectiveness of data systems and governance frameworks.
These are no proxies for poverty since their linkages with nutritional indicators are considered tenuous and these can be explained in terms of intra-household distribution, poor dietary habits, improper water/sanitation facilities, etc.
The computation becomes far more challenging in the absence of data on consumption expenditure as is the case in India and several developing countries. Intending to provide inputs for policy making, researchers have evolved ingenious methods of estimating the data, using past datasets and those that have not been designed to get robust expenditure estimates.
So, the problem in poverty reduction is also due to the lack of its measurement data.

Some approaches to measure poverty in India:
India has a long history of studies on measurement of poverty. Dadabhai Naoroji’ in his book ‘Poverty and Un-British Rule in India,’ made the earliest estimate of poverty line at 1867-68 prices (Rs.16 to Rs.35 per capita per year) based on the cost of a subsistence diet for the emigrant coolies during their voyage living in a state of quietude.
The erstwhile Planning Commission was the nodal agency in India for estimation of poverty. Based on the methodology suggested by the Expert Groups/Committees set up by the Planning Commission from time to time, India has undertaken periodic assessments of the incidence of poverty since the 1960s.

A. Poverty Line Estimation
  • Working Group (1962):  A nine-member working group set up by the Planning Commission proposed the poverty line at Rs 20 per capita per month in the early Sixties, loosely ensuring the adequacy of minimum requirements.
  • Study by VM Dandekar and N Rath (1971): They went into detail about minimum calorie needs, based on the average consumption pattern. They made the first systematic assessment of poverty in India, based on National Sample Survey (NSS) data.
  • Alagh Committee (1979): It determined a poverty line based on a minimum daily requirement of 2400 and 2100 calories for an adult in Rural and Urban areas respectively.
  • Lakdawala Expert Group (1993): It did not redefine the poverty line and retained the separate rural and urban poverty lines recommended by the Alagh Committee at the national level based on minimum nutritional requirements. However, it disaggregated them into state-specific poverty lines in order to reflect the inter-state price differentials.
  • Tendulkar Expert Group (2009): The Tendulkar Committee formally announced delinking of nutritional norms from poverty in 2010.
  • Rangrajan Committee (2014): It recommended separate consumption baskets for rural and urban areas which include food items that ensure recommended calorie, protein & fat intake and non-food items like clothing, education, health, housing and transport. This committee raised the daily per capita expenditure to Rs 47 for urban and Rs 32 for rural from Rs 32 and Rs 26 respectively at 2011-12 prices.
B. Use of Consumption Expenditure Surveys
  • Incidence of poverty is estimated by the Planning Commission on the basis of the large sample surveys on household consumer expenditure conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) on a quinquennial basis.
  • The NSSO regularly conducts surveys on household consumer expenditure, in which households are asked about their consumption of the last 30 days and is taken as the representative of general consumption. This was considered a much better data to estimate the incidence of poverty at national and sub-national levels by adjusting for inter-state and inter-region differences in price changes over time.
There are two critical issues in the discourse on poverty in India. One relates to poverty measurement. Second relates to effective poverty elimination.
  • Poverty measures compare people in a society, in order to assess the extent of unacceptable disadvantages that exist. Yet any poverty measure is itself imperfect. Imperfections stem primarily from two factors: data limitations and the diversity of human lives being assessed more so in a vast country like India.
  • Poverty lines have to be recalibrated depending on changes in income, consumption patterns and prices. In India, poverty measurement has repeatedly led to contentious debates on the poverty line.
  • Despite these shortcomings, conceptually having a poverty line and related poverty estimates help to concentrate the public policy discourse around an agreed set of numbers as well as to track the progress in combating poverty.

02 Jul 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 INDIAN ECONOMY     
Question :
Q. Discuss the significance of defence reforms in the context of the recently rolled out Agnipath initiative and defence modernization.

Decode the Question:
  • Start with the need for defence reforms by citing current developments and controversies.
  • Discuss the recent major defence reforms .
  • Discuss the significance of defence reforms in the context of the recently rolled out Agnipath initiative and defence modernization.
  • Provide a suitable conclusion by mentioning the recommendations/suggestions of previous defence committees/task forces.

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Given the key geostrategic challenges, emanating from the threat of two-front war (against China and Pakistan combinedly), India faces the complex threats and challenges spanning the full spectrum of conflict from nuclear to sub-conventional.
In such a scenario, India needs to carry out much-needed defence reforms. Defence reforms are tricky.
With entrenched interests and bureaucratic rivalries, most nations struggle to bring in fundamental changes to their national security apparatus. India is no exception.
The recent debate on the “Agnipath” scheme which aimed at strengthening national security and also for providing an opportunity to the youth to serve in the armed forces, underscores the challenge that India faces as it seeks to rationalise its military assets to emerge as a more efficient fighting machine.

Major Defence Reforms:
The Indian Government ushered in a range of reforms, including by appointing India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and creating the department of military affairs (DMA).
It gave a major push for indigenisation with a list of 101 defence items for which there is to be an import embargo. Encouraging greater private sector participation has resulted in a visible shift in India’s profile as a defence exporter.
The government also undertook corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board. Other reforms have ranged from energising defence research and development to the speedier enhancement of border infrastructure and opening up the gates of the Indian armed forces for women more substantively. Recently, Agnipath Scheme has sought to rationalise its military assets to emerge as a more efficient fighting machine.

Significance of Defence reforms:
  • Streamlining of structures and processes: The silo-driven approach to defence planning has resulted in the lack of an integrated view. The three services, as well as the civilian and defence agencies, are often seen to be working at cross purposes. The CDS and Agnipath Schemes seems streamlining of structures and processes of defence forces.
  • Integrated Theatre Commands (ITCs):  A key step that the CDS has to undertake is encouraging the establishment of Integrated Theatre Commands (ITCs), which are essentially joint combatant commands. Commanders of ITCs can bring about efficiency if they have operational and some budgetary control over the forces under their command. One of the most vital changes that may come about, though, would be how the three arms of the Indian military operate with one another, not as individual services, but as the armed forces of the Union.
  • Decrease the average age profile of armed forces personnel: the “Agnipath” scheme is expected to decrease the average age profile of armed forces personnel from the current 32 years to 24-26 years over a period of time.
  • Help in modernising the mass versus machine ratios: All major world militaries — the U.S., France, China, Russia and others — have undertaken reforms to modernise the mass versus machine ratios, which is a key pillar of modern warfare. The “Agnipath” scheme will be a step in this direction.
  • “Future-ready” Force: A youthful armed forces will allow them to be easily trained for new technologies. The “Agnipath” scheme will be a step in this direction.
  • Reduce the defence budget: The armed forces’ growing pension bill has been a major concern for the Defence Ministry. Total budget allocation for defence for 2022-23 is ₹5.25 lakh crore, of which revenue allocation is ₹2.33 lakh crore, capital allocation is ₹1.52 lakh crore, and defence pensions add up to ₹1.19 lakh crore. Agnipath scheme is a way out to reduce the defence budget.
  • Higher skilled workforce: the skills and experience acquired during the four-year service,  Agniveers will get employment in various fields.
  • Employment Opportunities: opportunities for youth to serve in the armed forces will increase after the “Agnipath'' scheme. In the coming years, recruitment of Agniveers will be around triple of the current recruitment in the armed forces.
  • Excellence in Mobilisation:  The undertaking of mobilisation cannot be considered as a peaceful act. On the contrary, it represents the most decisive act of war. Recent Indo-China conflict arose the question of early mobilisation and younger armed forces can be the solution for this. Agnipath scheme seems a good step.
Coupled with the rise of transnational non-state actors, the nature of conflict and warfare was also evolving rapidly.
  • Kargil Review Committee (KRC) recommended, stating, “the Army must be young and fit at all times. In 2000, a Group of Ministers (GOM) endorsed the KRC’s recommendation stating that, “in order to ensure that the armed forces are at their fighting best at all times, there is a need to ensure a younger profile of the services.”. 
  • The Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security set up by the UPA government in 2011 also addressed this issue.  Thus, the Agniveer recruitment reform must be contextualised in the backdrop of the larger canvas of defence reforms that include the appointment of a CDS, a reorganisation of the armed forces into theatre commands to promote jointness and synergy.
  • The future of warfare entails a lighter human footprint, but soldiers equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry, supported by cutting-edge technology to fight a war in a highly informationised environment.
  • This recruitment reform would help in right sizing the armed forces provided it gets dovetailed into the imperatives of fifth generation warfare. “All India, all class” recruitment to the services may lead to the erosion of the loyalty that a soldier has for his regiment. Doubts about training and permanent job status questions should be dealt with greater caution for better implementation of Agnipath scheme.
Source: Indian Express    ORF    The Hindu

02 Jul 2022 gs-mains-paper-2 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS       
Question : Q. What is Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII)? How does it impact assertive China?

Decode the Question:
  • Start with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and connect it with the PGII .
  • Discuss the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and highlight the Four priority pillars for All PGII projects .
  • Draw a comparison between BRI and PGII by establishing that PGII is a counter move to BRI
  • Provide a suitable conclusion.

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The West has been skeptical of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), since it was launched in 2013 by China, as it was considered to be part of China’s larger strategy to increase geopolitical influence in Asia and other developing countries.
The U.S., along with G7 partners the U.K., Japan, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, and the European Union (EU), had in 2021 announced the launch of the Build Back Better World (B3W) with the aim of narrowing the $40 trillion infrastructure gap in the developing world. Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) is therefore, a relaunch of USA’s B3W plan.
USA along with his G7 allies unveiled the ambitious PGII, announcing the collective mobilisation of $600 billion by 2027 to deliver game-changing and transparent infrastructure projects to developing and middle-income countries.
The PGII is being seen as the G7’s counter to China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build connectivity, infrastructure, and trade projects in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
PGII is a values-driven, high-impact, and transparent infrastructure partnership to meet the enormous infrastructure needs of low and middle-income countries and support the United States’ and its allies’ economic and national security interests.

Four priority pillars for All PGII projects:
  • Tackling the climate crisis and ensuring global energy security: G7 grouping aims to tackle the climate crisis and ensure global energy security through clean energy supply chains.
  • Bolstering digital information and ICT networks: the projects will focus on bolstering digital information and communications technology (ICT) networks facilitating technologies such as 5G and 6G internet connectivity and cybersecurity.
  • Promoting gender equality and equity: the projects aim to advance gender equality and equity
  • To build and upgrade the global health infrastructure: The U.S International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), along with the G7 nations and the EU are disbursing a $3.3 million technical assistance grant to build a vaccine facility in Senegal, having a potential yearly capacity of manufacturing millions of doses of COVID-19 and other vaccines. The European Commission’s Global Gateway initiative is also undertaking projects supporting the PGII such as mRNA vaccine plants in Latin America and a fibre-optic cable linking Europe to Latin America among others.
PGII’s counter plan for BRI:
Parameters BRI PGII
Objective It was started to revive connectivity, trade, and infrastructure along what was China’s ancient Silk Road. China had announced a two-pronged approach of building a Silk Road Economic Belt on Land and a maritime 21st century Silk Road. The project initially aimed to strengthen connectivity with Southeast Asia but later expanded to South and Central Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, to break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity. It has specifically touted the PGII as a values-based plan to help underfunded low and middle-income countries meet their infrastructure needs.
Projects China has built large coal-fired plants under BRI along with solar, hydro, and wind energy projects. PGII has laid focus on climate action and clean energy.
Funding China’s BRI is majorly state-funded. Under the PGII, large private capital will be mobilised.
Transparency The BRI has faced criticism for making countries sign confidential tenders for extending massive loans, leaving countries indebted to China. For instance, after the BRI’s flagship $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Pakistan owes Beijing a large proportion of its foreign debt. G7 leaders emphasised ‘transparency’ as the cornerstone of PGII projects.
Loan vs Grants China builds BRI’s projects by extending large, low-interest loans to countries that have to usually be paid over 10 years. There have been cases of debt-saddled countries failing to repay on time. Sri Lanka, for instance, had to cede its key Hambantota Port on a 99-year lease to China. PGII aims to build projects through grants and investments.
Role of India India had opted out of China’s BRI, being wary of Beijing’s aim to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean Region by roping in Pakistan as a major BRI recipient. In India, the U.S. DFC will invest up to $30 million in Omnivore Agritech and Climate Sustainability Fund 3, an impact venture capital fund that invests in entrepreneurs building the future of agriculture, food systems, climate, and rural economy in India.
By these critical parameters, PGII is seen as the G7’s counter to China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build connectivity, infrastructure, and trade projects in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
Infrastructure is critical to driving a society’s productivity and prosperity. When done well, infrastructure connects workers to good jobs; allows businesses to grow and thrive; facilitates the delivery of vital services; creates opportunities for all segments of society, including underserved communities; moves goods to markets; enables rapid information-sharing and communication; protects societies from the effects of climate change and public health crises or other emergencies; and supports global connection among nations. 
Initiatives like PGII provide a choice to developing countries to meet infrastructural gaps and can help the Nation to recover from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Source: The Hindu

01 Jul 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 INDIAN ECONOMY      
Question : Q. Digitisation and outsourcing in higher education have its own set of challenges. Examine if the pre-pandemic approach needs full replacement in higher education.

Decode the Question:
  • Start with explaining ‘hire education’ trends in higher education.
  • Discuss the challenges associated with digitisation and outsourcing in higher education.
  • Provide a suitable conclusion.

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Higher education policy planners and regulators are busy giving shape to the digital university, which was announced in the 2022-23 Union Budget.
Though still on the drawing board, the digital university is expected to offer any number, kind, and type of course without limits on intake, in a hybrid or ‘physical plus digital’ mode. It proclaims to provide equitable access to quality higher education and employability-enhancing skill development programmes to all. Technology-enabled and mediated digital learning is projected as the future of higher education. Such learning is supposed to end face-to-face formal education.
Two years of COVID-19-compelled online education seems to have convinced them that in future, education, particularly higher education, will transform into a virtual space. Higher education in India is getting metamorphosed into ‘hire education’. In the process, higher education is now getting delivered by for-profit entities, in contravention of the long-held belief that education at all levels must be provided on a not-for-profit basis.
  • Employment challenges: Going by the evidence, employers across the world are generally negatively disposed towards online education. Most recruiters prefer to hire those who have graduated in face-to-face mode.
  • Quality Education:  The quality of higher education is inversely proportional to the intensity of regulation, designing and developing an efficient and effective regulatory mechanism often proves more challenging than imagined.
  • Economical and cost-effective paradox: The open and distance mode of learning is often considered as economical and cost-effective, but it is not completely true. To be effective, they not only require massive capital investment in infrastructure, but also demand significantly higher recurring expenses on content development and their continuous updating and upgradation.
  • No substitute for teachers: It would be a blunder to regard technology-mediated teaching-learning as an alternative to face-to-face education. Technology can supplement and not substitute teachers. No world-class universities, including those with a high degree of technology integration in their teaching and learning processes, are planning to cut down their faculty cost or their number any time soon. On the contrary, they envision hiring more of them to attain greater excellence.
  • Complacent Nature: This can also allow for all parties involved to become complacent if the online course is not fully structured or interactive.
  • No way of gauging body language with students: When teaching in an online environment another potential weakness is there is no way of gauging body language with students.
  • Lack of Practical exposure: Teaching of subjects like chemistry where practical knowledge is important and laboratory work is essential can not be taught effectively on digital devices.
Digital delivery and technology integration in education may undoubtedly serve a useful purpose. Higher education must indeed embrace and keep pace with the advancements in technology. Technology can be effectively leveraged as a quality-enhancement tool.
Higher education is a lot more than borrowing content and delivering them online or outsourcing content. This would render India a consumer of knowledge. India must be focussed on exploiting our full potential to emerge as a producer of knowledge and providers of the global workforce.
Source: The Hindu

01 Jul 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 INDIAN ECONOMY      
Question : Q. Low female labour force participation is the result of structural factors. Discuss. How can this be tackled with careful drafting policies for the gig economy and start-up ecosystem in India?

Decode the Question:
  • Start with explaining India’s demographic dividend position.
  • Discuss the structural issues responsible for low female labour force participation.
  • Discuss the ingredients required for better policy development for the gig economy and start-up ecosystem in India to deal with low female labour force participation .
  • Conclude it by the recent NITI Aayog report on the gig economy.

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By 2025, it is estimated that 70 per cent of Indians will be of working age. This ‘demographic dividend’ could give India an edge over the developed countries where a larger segment of the population would by then be past retirement.
However, this demographic dividend can easily turn into a demographic disaster if a majority of the working age population remains unemployable due to a lack of skills. India has one of the youngest populations globally, and women comprise a significant number of them.
Youth participation in the workforce is vital for economic growth and development as they are equipped with new-age skills, adapt to new changes and present a new perspective. However, if nearly half the youth population is excluded from the workforce, then economic growth is compromised, trapping women at the bottom of the economy.
Female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) in India has been one of the lowest among the emerging economies and has been falling over time. This has resulted in a decrease in the ratio of working females to the population of females in the working age group.
NITI Aayog said in a report titled ‘India’s Booming Gig and Platform Economy’ female labour force participation in India has remained low, oscillating between 16 per cent to 23 per cent in the last few years. Structural barriers like access to education and lack of skilling have hindered participation of the female workforce in the country’s labour force.
Low participation of women in the labour force in India is attributed to the lack of employment opportunities, rising education levels and household incomes, and problems in measurement, such as under-reporting of women’s work.
Religion and social perceptions of women and the presence of young children in the household all influence the likelihood of India’s women to participate in the labour market. Structural characteristics in the labour market have played a more important role than changes in the underlying characteristics of the female working-age population in influencing participation rates.
These structural barriers, such as norms that inhibit women’s labour market options, in conjunction with a consistent decline in agricultural employment, are likely to be key factors in explaining the long-term stagnation in female participation rates.  Therefore, it is right to say that low female labour force participation is the result of structural factors.

‘India’s Booming Gig and Platform Economy’ report of NITI Aayog
According to the report, the expected expansion of India’s gig workforce by 2029-30 from 77 lakh in 2020–21 is to 2.35 crore. India requires a framework that balances the flexibility offered by platforms while also ensuring social security of workers.
The consequent platformisation of work has given rise to a new classification of labour — platform labour — falling outside of the purview of the traditional dichotomy of formal and informal labour. In an attempt to increase participation of women in the gig economy, the NITI Aayog has proposed fiscal incentives like tax breaks or startup grants for companies with about one-third of their workforce as women.

Ingredients of Better Policy:
  • Fiscal incentives:  such as tax-breaks or startup grants may be provided for businesses that provide livelihood opportunities where women constitute a substantial portion (say, 30%) of their workers. 
  • Platformisation of work and incentivising platforms: platform companies offer flexibility and choice of labour to all workers in general, and women in particular, empowering them to monetise their idle assets when and where they want — a benefit missing in traditional employment sectors — making them an attractive opportunity for women.
  • Higher share of women managers and supervisors: businesses have a higher share of women managers and supervisors in the organisation to ensure that communication to workers does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.
  • Better infrastructure and work design: To encourage more women, platforms may develop better infrastructure and work design.
  • Enhance skill development: Empowerment of women, which can to an extent be addressed by integrating life skills coaching into skilling programs, and interfacing with their families and communities to change backward mindsets - are critical aspects of helping women reach their potential.
  • Asset ownership: Ownership of assets have huge implications on the lives of women.
  • Access to digital skills and technology: The gender skill gap is vast, especially for digital skills as women continue to work in more stereotypically ‘feminised’ sectors such as beauty, retail etc. and men continue to work in mechanised, technologically advanced sectors. The lack of digital skills prevents women from entering the rapidly advancing workforce.
  • Gender sensitisation and accessibility awareness programmes: undertaking gender sensitisation and accessibility awareness programmes for workers and their families can improve female labour participation.
  • Formal credit for women: Niti Aayog added that access to institutional credit could be enhanced through financial products specifically designed for platform workers and those interested to set-up their own platforms. Special emphasis may be placed on access to formal credit for women.
The participation of women in the country’s workforce has been woefully inadequate, and this needs to change for India to reap its demographic dividend. Capacitating our women is also the key to generational social transformation.
Empowerment of women is a critical part of a nation’s development and it is a balanced equation of her education, health, employability and decision-making power. Availability of agency and removal of constraints faced by women is imperative for sustainable and equitable development of both the community as well as the nation.
India needs to adopt a gendered lens in education and skilling programs to overcome the challenges of an underrepresented section of youth in the workforce, as well as support women in securing and retaining jobs. Introducing a ‘Platform India initiative’ on the lines of the ‘Startup India initiative’ can help in improving the female workforce.

30 Jun 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY      
Question : Q. What are VPN and Virtual Server? How are they useful and what are major issues regarding virtual server in the Indian scenario?

Decode the Question:
  • Start with explaining VPN and Virtual Server.
  • Discuss the VPN and Virtual Server.
  • Highlight the issues associated with VPN and Virtual Server in India.
  • Conclude by citing new VPN rules.

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VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a private network that is virtually created when you surf the Web. It is an encrypted connection over the Internet from a device to a network.
The encrypted connection helps ensure that sensitive data is safely transmitted. It prevents unauthorized people from eavesdropping on the traffic and allows the user to conduct work remotely. 
VPN technology is widely used in corporate environments. This private network promotes online safety and enhances your overall privacy on the Web.
A virtual server is a simulated server environment built on an actual physical server. It recreates the functionality of a dedicated physical server. The virtual twin functions like a physical server that runs software and uses resources of the physical server. Multiple virtual servers can run on a single physical server.

Usefulness  of Virtual Server:
  • Reallocating resources: They help in reallocating resources for changing workloads.
  • Efficient use of resources: Converting one physical server into multiple virtual servers allows organisations to use processing power and resources more efficiently by running multiple operating systems and applications on one partitioned server. Running multiple operating systems and applications on a single physical machine reduces cost as it consumes less space and hardware.
  • Cost efficiency: Virtualisation also reduces cost as maintaining a virtual server infrastructure is low compared to physical server infrastructure.
  • High Security: Virtual servers are also said to offer higher security than a physical server infrastructure as the operating system and applications are enclosed in a virtual machine. This helps contain security attacks and malicious behaviour inside the virtual machine.
  • Testing and debugging applications: Virtual servers are also useful in testing and debugging applications in different operating systems and versions without having to manually install and run them in several physical machines. Software developers can create, run, and test new software applications on a virtual server without taking processing power away from other users.
Uses of VPN:
  • Privacy: Without a VPN connection, websites can see your IP address, and use it to accurately identify your identity and location. VPN promotes online safety and enhances your overall privacy on the Web.
  • Safety: A VPN would prevent everyone from the government to cyber criminals to track you easily. Using a VPN can delink your online activity from your IP address. A VPN will also protect your Internet traffic, keeping it encrypted the whole time.
  • Location spoofing: VPNs are used to get around geo-restrictions. 
  • Getting around online censorship: Many countries block access to various websites, which you cannot visit if you’re from those countries. A VPN allows you to bypass such restrictions. Free access to the Web is an important element of the freedom of speech and expression. Journalists and activists often use VPNs to access platforms that would otherwise be inaccessible, and communicate without government restrictions.
Major issues regarding virtual server in Indian scenario:
  • Bypassing cybersecurity walls:  Dark Web and VPNs can bypass cybersecurity walls. 
  • Anonymity : It allows criminals to remain anonymous online. 
  • Fake and wrong Advertising:  VPNs can be easily downloaded and many websites providing such facilities are advertising them.
  • Online Crimes issues: It allows criminals to remain anonymous online. Therefore, Identity theft, internet fraud, cyberbullying, stalking, and other crimes can be easily done by using VPNs.
  • Data Protection and Privacy Issue: For better data management and privacy, VPNs must be regulated.
Recent VPN rules framed by CERT-In mandating Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers to record and keep their customers’ logs for 180 days can be a step in the right direction to regulate and manage virtual servers and VPN .
It also asked these firms to collect and store customer data for up to five years. It further mandated that any cybercrime recorded must be reported to the CERT-In within six hours of the crime. But,  banning technology is not the solution.
VPN suppliers leaving India is not good for its burgeoning IT sector. Taking such radical action that highly impacts the privacy of millions of people in India will most likely be counterproductive and strongly damage the IT sector’s growth in the country.
It estimated that 254.9 million Indians have had their accounts breached since 2004 and raised its concern that collecting excessive amounts of data within Indian jurisdiction without robust protection mechanisms could lead to even more breaches.
References: The Hindu     Indian Express

30 Jun 2022 gs-mains-paper-4 ETHICS, INTEGRITY & APTITUDE    
Question : Q. Why abortion must be debated as an ethical issue? Discuss dilemma and ethical solution to handle such situations.

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  • Start with expressing the ethical issues involved in abortion.
  • Discuss the dilemma associated with abortion and provide suitable solutions.
  • Conclude by suggesting some Ethical approaches to abortion.

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From an ethical standpoint, the debate over pregnancy termination is between a woman’s right over her body and the foetus’s right to life.
Judith Jarvis Thomson, an American philosopher, advocated for the supremacy of a woman’s right over her body as a premise of freedom. She argued that one cannot force a woman to bear a child in her womb and give birth to a child if she does not want to do so for various reasons. Thomson said that the timing of the abortion is a key difference.
She emphasised that for those who support abortion, the foetus is not a live human being during the period of conception or in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
According to feminist and psychologist Carol Gilligan, when deciding to terminate a pregnancy voluntarily, a woman faces a true “moral dilemma” or “moral conflict,” because such a decision frequently takes into account human relationships, the possibility of not hurting others, and responsibility towards others.

Pro-life versus pro-choice dilemma
According to ‘The Ethical Dilemma of Abortion’ by Journal of Student Research at Indiana University East, the pro-life versus pro-choice dilemma is one of the longest debated issues in the United States today, causing ethical tensions. This complex quandary continues to perplex biomedical ethicists because it is intertwined with normative assessment, politics, law, medicine, religion, and ethics.
  • Pro-life Arguments: The pro-life or anti-abortion argument is based on three principles: the Human Rights Principle, the Mens Rea Principle, and the Harm Principle.
    • According to the Mens Rea Principle, “the agent’s intentions should be given weight.” Thus, abortion violates this principle because the agent intentionally kills another, and the pregnancy is terminated deliberately and knowingly.
    • Abortion violates the Harm Principle, which states that “no one should inflict serious harm on other people.”
  • Pro-choice Arguments: Abortions, according to the absolutist pro-choice position, are ethically justifiable and, as a result, should be performed as long as the procedure is safe. The pro-choice argument states that the woman should be free to make her own decisions as an individual, and these decisions are considered self-regarding because the foetus is only a potential person, not the ‘other’ as the pro-life argument holds.
  • Ethical approaches to abortion
Bioethics contends that ethical approaches to abortion frequently invoke four principles.
  • Respect for patients’ autonomy
  • Nonmaleficence (do no harm)
  • Beneficence (beneficial care) and
  • Justice
Respect for autonomy is enshrined in laws governing informed consent, which protects patients’ right to be informed about their medical options and to make an informed voluntary decision.
Respect for autonomy, according to some bioethicists, lends firm support to the right to choose abortion, arguing that if a pregnant person wishes to end their pregnancy, the state should not interfere.
One interpretation of this view holds that the principle of autonomy means that a person owns their body and should be free to decide what happens in and to it.

References: Indian Express

29 Jun 2022 gs-mains-paper-3 INDIAN ECONOMY      
Question :
Q. MSMEs hold the potential not only to increase economic benefits but also the environmental merits as well. How can Climate finance aid in this context?

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  • Start the introduction by highlighting the role of MSMEs in India.
  • Discuss the economic potential of MSME.
  • Discuss the role of MSME in environmental issues.
  • Discuss the role of Climate finance for MSME.
  • Conclude with a balanced way forward.

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The Micro, Small and Medium Scale (MSME) sector in India enjoys a distinct position in view of their contribution to the socio-economic development of the country.
The emphasis on MSME has always been an integral part of India’s industrial strategy. Development of MSME prevents migration of rural population to urban areas in search of employment and contributes to other socio-economic aspects, such as reduction in income inequalities, dispersed development of industries and linkage with other sectors of the economy.

Economic Potential of MSME:
  • GDP contributions: MSME sector contributes around 30 per cent to India’s gross domestic product. Small industries in India account for 95 per cent of the industrial units in the country.
  • Employment: MSME are the second largest employers of human resources, after agriculture. This is a boon for a labour surplus country like India. The MSME sector employs around 120 million people.
  • Entrepreneurship: MSME provides ample opportunity for entrepreneurship.
  • Exports: In terms of exports, they are an integral part of the supply chain and contribute about 40% of the overall exports.
  • Rural development: MSMEs are intertwined with the rural economy as well, as more than half of the MSMEs operate in rural India.
Environmental Merits of MSME:
  • This sector generates around 110 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. To attain net zero carbon emissions by 2070, India needs to gradually phase out the use of coal, increase investment in renewable energy sources, stop deforestation and speed up the transition to electric vehicles.
  • The CSTEP report also highlighted that the sector used 13 per cent (81 million tonnes) of the total coal / lignite, seven per cent (8.5 million tonnes) of petroleum products and eight per cent (3.3 billion cubic metres) of the natural gas supplied in India in 2015-16. The MSME sector needs a push to adopt new technologies that quickly minimise its carbon footprints and make it less vulnerable to climate change and risk. The sector can achieve this transformation with the aid of climate finance.
Need of Climate financing:
  • The MSME sector in India faces a huge credit gap. Climate finance is money paid by developed countries to developing countries to help them pay for emissions reduction measures and adaptation. Climate finance will open doors and enable the transfer of technology and expertise from developed to developing nations, which require these resources and capacity to combat climate change at the rate that the world currently demands.
Way forward
The Indian government needs to work on strategies and try to bring finance to MSMEs so that the sector can decarbonise.
Climate finance should be routed to the MSME sector. The sector needs to be connected with a more formal financial credit system, which will enable them to achieve climate finance and bridge the huge credit gap.
Promotion of MSME and rural industrialisation has been considered by the Government of India as a powerful instrument for realising the twin objectives of ‘accelerated industrial growth and creating additional productive employment potential in rural and backward areas.’

References: Down To Earth