CURRENT AFFAIRS – 11/03/2024

CURRENT AFFAIRS - 11/03/2024

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 11/03/2024

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 11/03/2024

India signs free trade pact with 4 European countries

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source  : The Hindu

India recently signed a Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA) with four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

  • This FTA aims to boost investments in India and create one million jobs.

Key Highlights

  • Previous FTAs and Unique Features:
    • This marks India’s second full-fledged FTA, following the agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
    • The TEPA includes significant tariff reductions, increased market access, and streamlined customs procedures.
    • Notably, the EFTA countries, distinct from the European Union, incorporated a chapter on commitments to human rights and sustainable development, a unique feature in this agreement.
    • The Indian Commerce Minister emphasized the historic nature of FTA highlighting a binding commitment for the EFTA countries to invest $100 billion in India.
      • This commitment is framed as a ground-breaking development in the global context.
    • Clarification by EFTA Ministers:
      • Contrary to the strong commitment portrayed by the Indian Commerce Minister, EFTA ministers clarified that the $100 billion investment is more accurately described as a “goal” for both parties.
      • The goal is based on current investment levels of approximately $10.7 billion, GDP predictions, and the estimated value of the TEPA.
    • Investment Objectives and Timeframe:
      • The TEPA’s Chapter 7, focused on “Investment Promotion and Cooperation,” outlines shared objectives between the parties.
      • The aim is to increase foreign direct investment from EFTA states into India by $50 billion within the next 10 years and an additional $50 billion in the subsequent 5 years.
      • Furthermore, the agreement envisions facilitating the creation of one million jobs in India within 15 years resulting from these investments.
      • The agreement is set to come into force after ratification by the EFTA states following their respective parliamentary procedures.
      • This process is expected to be completed possibly by the end of the year.
    • Investment Oversight and Periodic Assessments:
      • Norwegian Trade Minister Jan Christian Vestre emphasized that while states cannot dictate where companies invest, EFTA would actively work to ensure the realization of investment goals in India.
      • He highlighted the importance of creating a conducive environment, establishing offices, and engaging with companies, with a commitment to periodic assessments of EFTA companies’ investments in India.
      • This reflects a collaborative effort to monitor and track the progress of the agreed-upon investment goals.
    • Withdrawal of Trade Concessions:
      • The agreement specifies that if the investment goals are not met within 15 years, India has the entitlement to temporarily withdraw some of its trade concessions.
      • This withdrawal provision comes with a three-year grace period and an additional two years for negotiations.
      • It underscores the seriousness of the commitment and provides a mechanism for consequences if the goals are not achieved within the stipulated timeframe.
    • Negotiation Process and Timeline:
      • Talks for an FTA between India and EFTA began in 2008 and resumed in 2023 after a decade-long break.
      • The 14-chapter treaty, including specific chapters on investment, rules of origin, intellectual property rights, and sustainable development, was concluded after 21 rounds of negotiations.
      • A significant breakthrough occurred in December 2023 when both sides agreed to place the investment goals into a separate chapter.
      • This development played a crucial role in concluding the agreement, which received clearance from the Union Cabinet on March 7.
    • Controversial Pharma Clause:
      • The TEPA includes a controversial clause on “data exclusivity” for pharmaceuticals, a provision strongly advocated by Swiss negotiators in the EFTA team.
      • This clause faced criticism from health activists who argued that it could gradually increase the challenges for Indian manufacturers of life-saving generic medicines.
      • Despite Swiss efforts, Indian negotiators rejected the inclusion of this clause in the agreement.
      • However, the TEPA’s Intellectual Property Review (IPR) chapter includes an appendix for a review of the regulatory mechanisms, indicating a compromise on this issue.
    • Anticipated Impact on Trade Sectors:
      • The TEPA is expected to boost trade in various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food products, processing, and research and development (R&D).
      • Current trade levels stand at about $25 billion, with a significant trade deficit of $18.58 billion.
      • The agreement aims to address these economic aspects and promote mutually beneficial trade relations between India and the EFTA countries.

About the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

  • The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) consists of four member countries, namely Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
  • EFTA was established in 1960 to promote free trade and economic integration among its members.
  • Unlike the European Union (EU), EFTA does not involve political integration or issue legislation.
  • The EFTA Member States have developed a significant network of free trade agreements globally and within Europe.
  • The EFTA Council is the highest governing body of EFTA, and the Chairmanship rotates every six months between Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.
  • The EFTA Secretariat manages free trade agreements with non-EU countries and provides support for the EEA Agreement in Brussels.
  • Additionally, the EFTA Member States have the autonomy to sign bilateral free trade agreements individually.

What is “data exclusivity” for pharmaceuticals?

  • Data exclusivity in the pharmaceutical industry refers to the protection of clinical trial data submitted to regulatory agencies to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a new drug.
  • This protection prevents generic drug manufacturers from using this data in their own applications, providing a form of market exclusivity beyond patent rights.
  • The period of data exclusivity varies by country, with the United States offering 5 years for new pharmaceutical chemical entities, 3 years for new indications for pharmaceutical drugs, and 12 years for biologic products.
  • In the European Union, it is 8 years with additional market exclusivity and extension for new indications.
  • Data exclusivity operates independently of patent protection and can block generic manufacturers from gaining marketing approval even after a patent has expired.
  • Critics argue that data exclusivity can hinder generic competition, potentially leading to higher drug prices and reduced access to essential medications.

Gig workers suffer from lack of social security, regulations: study

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source : The Hindu

A study involving over 10,000 Indian cab drivers, gig, and platform workers revealed that nearly a third of app-based cab drivers work for over 14 hours a day.

  • More than 83% work more than 10 hours, and 60% work over 12 hours.
  • Social disparities exacerbate the situation, with over 60% of drivers from Scheduled Castes and Tribes working over 14 hours daily, compared to only 16% from the unreserved category.

Key Highlights

  • Recommendations for Social Security:
    • The authors of the study, conducted by the People’s Association in Grassroots Action and Movements and the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers, with technical support from the University of Pennsylvania and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung India, recommended stronger social security measures for app-based workers.
    • They called on the government to exercise oversight on the fairness of algorithms and mechanisms used by platforms to monitor these workers.
    • The study found that over 43% of participants earn less than ₹500 a day or ₹15,000 a month, after deducting all costs.
    • Additionally, 34% of app-based delivery persons earn less than ₹10,000 a month, with 78% working over 10 hours daily.
    • Income disparities were noted among workers from different castes, contributing to existing social inequalities and perpetuating cycles of poverty and distress within communities.
  • Participants and Survey Details:
    • The study included 5302 cab drivers and 5028 delivery persons across eight cities—Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Lucknow, Kolkata, Jaipur, and Indore.
    • The respondents were primarily aged between 21 to 40 years, constituting 78% of the survey participants.
  • Impact on Physical and Mental Health:
    • Due to demanding work hours, drivers are reported to be physically exhausted, facing an increased risk of road traffic accidents, particularly due to the pressure of the ’10-minute delivery at the doorstep’ policy of certain e-commerce platforms.
    • A staggering 86% of delivery persons found such policies “completely unacceptable.”
    • The lack of social and job security contributes to additional stress, potentially leading to health issues.
  • Financial Struggles of App-Based Workers:
    • The study highlighted the financial challenges faced by app-based workers, revealing that 72% of cab drivers and 76% of delivery persons struggle to manage their expenses. Shockingly, 68% of cab drivers reported that their overall expenses exceed their earnings, indicating a substantial number of app-based workers may be in debt-like situations. The report stressed the need for better compensation and support for these workers.
  • Dissatisfaction with Fares and Deductions:
    • Over 80% of app-based cab drivers expressed dissatisfaction with the fares offered by companies, while more than 73% of delivery persons were dissatisfied with their rates.
    • The study found that 35% of respondents believed companies were deducting between 31-40% of the commission rate per ride, contrary to the officially claimed figure of 20%.
    • A majority (68%) considered these deductions arbitrary, unexplained, and unfair, highlighting the need for transparency and fair compensation practices.
  • Challenges in Taking Time Off:
    • The report disclosed that 41% of drivers and 48% of delivery persons reported their inability to take a single day off in a week.
    • Additionally, less than 37% of drivers stated belonging to a union, underscoring potential limitations in collective bargaining power.

  • ID Deactivation and Customer Misbehavior:
    • A significant concern for app-based workers is the issue of ID deactivation and customer misbehavior.
    • About 83% of drivers and 87% of delivery persons reported negative impacts due to ID blocking.
    • Furthermore, 72% of drivers and 68% of delivery persons faced negative consequences from customer misbehavior, highlighting the need for effective mechanisms to address these challenges.
  • Calls for Better Compensation and Support:
    • Given the financial struggles and dissatisfaction expressed by app-based workers, the report emphasized the urgency of improving compensation structures and providing adequate support.
    • The findings underscore the need for industry stakeholders and regulatory bodies to address issues related to pay, deductions, and working conditions in the gig economy.

About Gig workers

  • Gig workers, often referred to as freelancers or independent contractors, are individuals who engage in temporary, flexible, and often short-term work arrangements.
  • They are not traditional full-time employees but rather work on a project-by-project basis, offering their services to various clients or companies.
  • Gig workers are commonly associated with the gig economy, a labor market characterized by short-term and flexible employment.
  • Key characteristics of gig workers include:
    • Independent Contractors:
      • Gig workers are usually considered independent contractors or freelancers, meaning they are not formally employed by a specific company.
      • Instead, they enter into contractual agreements for specific tasks or projects.
    • Flexibility:
      • Gig work provides individuals with the flexibility to choose when, where, and how much they work.
      • This flexibility is one of the defining features of gig employment.
    • Variety of Jobs:
      • Gig workers can be found across various industries, offering a wide range of services such as graphic design, writing, programming, driving (rideshare services), consulting, and more.
    • Digital Platforms:
      • Many gig workers find opportunities through online platforms and apps that connect them with potential clients or customers.
      • Examples include platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, Uber, and TaskRabbit.
    • Short-Term Commitments:
      • Gig workers typically engage in short-term projects or tasks rather than committing to long-term employment.
      • This allows them to work on multiple projects simultaneously or switch between gigs based on demand.
    • No Employee Benefits:
      • Unlike traditional employees, gig workers generally do not receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, or paid time off from the companies or clients they work with.
    • Examples of gig workers include freelance writers, graphic designers, photographers, drivers for ride-sharing services, and individuals providing services on digital platforms.
    • While gig work offers flexibility, it also raises discussions about job security, lack of employment benefits, and the evolving nature of the modern workforce.

Electoral bonds, the State Bank and the art of evasion

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source :  The Hindu

On February 15, 2024, a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India declared the electoral bond scheme unconstitutional.

  • This scheme was criticized for facilitating unlimited anonymous funding of political parties and strengthening the influence of significant financial contributions in the Indian political system.

Key Highlights

  • Court’s Directive and Response:
    • In response to its judgment, the Supreme Court directed the State Bank of India (SBI), the authorized bank for issuing and encashing electoral bonds, to cease the issuance of these bonds.
    • Additionally, the Court mandated that the SBI disclose two sets of information to the Election Commission of India (ECI) within 21 days.
    • The first set included details of electoral bonds purchased since April 12, 2019, specifying the date of purchase, purchaser’s name, and denomination.
    • The second set pertained to details of electoral bonds redeemed by political parties during the same period.
  • SBI’s Affidavit and Challenges:
    • Two days before the Court’s deadline, the SBI filed an affidavit expressing its inability to decode, compare, and disclose the required data within the prescribed time frame.
    • The bank explained that, to maintain donor anonymity, details of bond purchase and redemption were stored separately, with no central database.
    • Some information, like the number of bonds, was stored digitally, while details such as the purchaser’s name and KYC information were stored physically.
    • Re-matching this information required significant effort, and the SBI sought an additional four months to comply with the Court’s directive.
    • The absence of a central database complicated the task of matching purchase information with redemption details.
    • Request for Extension:
      • Given the complexity of the task and the need to ensure accuracy in matching donor information, the SBI requested an additional four months to comply with the Court’s directions.
      • This extension would allow the bank to meticulously gather and present the necessary information in line with the Court’s directives.
    • SBI’s Submission on Electoral Bonds:
      • According to the affidavit, since April 2019, a total of 22,217 electoral bonds were used to make donations to various political parties.
      • The affidavit indicates that all the information, including the names of bond purchasers, details of bond encashment (including the redeeming political party’s name, date, and denomination), date of issue, and denomination of all electoral bonds, is readily available at the SBI’s main branch in Mumbai.
      • This information is stored in sealed covers, but the digitally recorded data on the date of issue and denomination is accessible.
    • Voter’s Right to Information:
      • The Supreme Court’s judgment emphasized the centrality of the voter’s right to information, including knowledge of financial contributions to political parties.
      • The Court recognized that such contributions significantly influence electoral politics and government decisions.
      • It highlighted the prevalence of corporate funding, with 94% of electoral bonds, in terms of value, being of the denomination of ₹1 crore, indicating substantial corporate involvement in political financing.
      • The Court underscored that access to information about political party funding empowers voters to assess the correlation between policy-making and financial contributions.
      • This knowledge enables people to track potential quid pro quo arrangements and make informed decisions when casting their votes.
      • The judgment aimed to enhance transparency in the electoral process and strengthen democratic principles.

About the Electoral Bond Scheme

  • The Electoral Bond Scheme was introduced in India on January 29, 2018, by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government to reform political funding.
  • Electoral bonds are financial instruments used for making donations to political parties, allowing individuals and entities to fund eligible political parties.
  • These bonds function like banknotes, payable to the bearer free of interest and demand.
  • They are available in denominations ranging from ₹1,000 to ₹1 crore and are valid for 15 days after issuance.
    • Issuer: Electoral Bonds are issued by notified banks. The government notified State Bank of India (SBI) as the sole authorized bank to issue these bonds.
  • Eligibility for Purchase: Any citizen of India, including corporate entities, can purchase Electoral Bonds.
  • Recipient Political Parties: Electoral Bonds can be encashed only by political parties that are registered under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and have secured at least 1% of the votes polled in the previous general election.
  • Redemption Process:
    • Political parties can redeem the Electoral Bonds by depositing them in their designated bank accounts.
    • The identity of the donor remains confidential.
  • The scheme aimed to bring transparency to political funding by allowing donations through digital means or with a demand draft or cheque.
  • However, in a significant development on February 15, 2024, the Supreme Court of India declared the electoral bond scheme unconstitutional.
    • The Court ruled that the scheme violated voters’ right to information about political funding under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
    • The judgment highlighted concerns about the anonymity of donors and the potential influence of corporations in the electoral process.
    • The State Bank of India (SBI), authorized to issue and encash these bonds, was given 21 days to disclose details of electoral bonds purchased and redeemed by political parties since April 12, 2019.

France’s exceptional women, their imprint on diplomacy

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source : The Hindu

March 4, 2024, is a significant date in French history as it marks the inscription in the French Constitution of the “freedom of women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy.”

  • France becomes the first country globally to enshrine this right as a constitutional provision, a groundbreaking move occurring 49 years after the legalization of abortion.

Key Highlights

  • Simone de Beauvoir’s Pioneering Work:
    • To comprehend the historical context of women’s rights in France, particularly regarding bodily autonomy, one must refer to the year 1949 when French feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir published “The Second Sex.”
    • In this extensive philosophical work, de Beauvoir dedicates a section to abortion within the chapter on motherhood, laying the theoretical groundwork for pro-choice advocacy.
    • She challenges the reductionist view of women as mere mothers and caregivers and advocates for women’s right to freedom of choice, integral to existentialism.
    • De Beauvoir argues that for women to take charge of their biological destiny and give life on their terms, they need access to a free, safe, and legal abortion service, in addition to contraception.
    • She critiques the hypocrisy of a society where numerous women resorted to clandestine abortions despite the threat of imprisonment for up to five years during her time.
    • The denial of the right to abortion is seen as part of broader institutional oppression rooted in patriarchy.
    • Consequences of Clandestine Abortions:
      • The philosopher highlights the dire consequences of backstreet abortions, including haemorrhaging, septicaemia, and death.
      • She emphasizes the necessity of legal and safe abortion options, condemning the lack of such provisions as contributing to the oppression of women.
      • Her views align with the real-life experiences, as recounted by Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux in “L’évènement,” detailing her illegal abortion in 1963.
    • Impact of “The Second Sex” on Abortion Legalization:
      • “The Second Sex” achieved immediate success upon its 1949 publication, translated into numerous languages worldwide.
      • Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophical ideas played a crucial role in shaping the discourse around women’s rights and contributed to the eventual legalization of abortion in France.
      • Beauvoir, living in an open relationship with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and choosing not to marry or have children, faced criticism for her disruptive ideas and lifestyle.
    • Manifesto of the 343:
      • In 1971, Simone de Beauvoir authored the “Manifesto of the 343,” a powerful petition signed by 343 prominent women publicly acknowledging that they had undergone an abortion.
      • The manifesto, published in Le NouvelObservateur, highlighted the prevalence of unsafe abortions in France and condemned the societal silence surrounding the issue.
      • The courageous act of civil disobedience exposed the hypocrisy of the system and played a pivotal role in the adoption of the Veil law four years later, decriminalizing abortion for French women.
      • The law was named after Health Minister and women’s rights icon Simone Veil.
    • Influence of “The Second Sex”:
      • Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal work, “The Second Sex,” published in 1949, remains a foundational book for modern feminism.
      • Its impact on feminist discourse is enduring, contributing to the reshaping of perceptions around women’s autonomy and freedom of choice.
      • The manifesto and subsequent legal changes underscore the long-lasting influence of Beauvoir on women’s rights and societal norms.
    • Legacy of Simone Veil:
      • Simone Veil, an iconic champion of women’s rights in Europe, survived Auschwitz and later defied institutional sexism to advocate for the legalization of abortion in France in 1975.
      • Serving as the Minister of Public Health, Veil played a crucial role in passing the Veil law, making her a trailblazer for women’s rights.
      • She went on to become the first female leader of the European Parliament.
      • Simone Veil’s legacy continues to inspire those fighting for women’s rights globally.
    • Acknowledging the Legacy:
      • The historic decision to inscribe the “freedom of women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy” in the French Constitution serves as a testament to the enduring legacies of Simone de Beauvoir and Simone Veil.
      • The acknowledgment of their contributions reflects the progress made in advancing women’s rights in France and serves as an inspiration for ongoing efforts worldwide.
      • The legacy of exceptional women like Simone de Beauvoir and Simone Veil is evident in France’s current diplomatic efforts.
      • France actively advocates for a feminist foreign policy, implementing a dedicated strategy that integrates the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights across bilateral engagements, development assistance, and advocacy in multilateral forums.
    • Generation Equality Forum and Global Partnerships:
      • In 2021, France played a key role in co-chairing the Generation Equality Forum, a significant international feminist event.
      • This forum, conducted in partnership with civil society and young people, marked a crucial milestone in the global feminist movement since the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995.
      • France’s engagement in such initiatives underscores its commitment to advancing gender equality on a global scale.
    • India’s Commitment to Women’s Rights:
      • India has a history of strong international commitments in support of women’s rights.
      • The country has actively worked towards implementing Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality), participated in the 2019 Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality, and secured membership in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
      • These efforts demonstrate India’s commitment to advancing women’s rights and gender equality on the international stage.
    • The diplomatic initiatives, such as France’s feminist foreign policy and India’s active participation in global partnerships, provide a foundation for joint endeavors in advancing women’s rights.

About the Generation Equality Forum

  • The Generation Equality Forum is a global initiative for gender equality convened by UN Women and co-chaired by France and Mexico.
  • It aims to accelerate progress on gender equality by bringing together organizations from various sectors to advocate for change and take bold actions together.
  • The Forum was launched in 2021 in Mexico City and Paris, where it introduced a 5-year action agenda encapsulated in a Global Acceleration Plan for gender equality.
  • This plan outlines critical actions necessary to advance gender equality and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Additionally, the Forum established six Action Coalitions and a Global Compact on Women, Peace, Security, and Humanitarian Action to spearhead different aspects of the Generation Equality agenda.
  • Stakeholders at the Forum made over 1,000 policy, program, and financial commitments totaling an unprecedented $40 billion.
  • The initiative focuses on expanding public support for gender equality, particularly by engaging young people and energizing global movements for equality.
  • The Generation Equality Forum is a multi-year process aiming to ensure accountability for commitments made, secure new transformative commitments, and enhance global cross-sector movements for gender equality.

Crisis of time: On parched Karnataka and its water woes

(General Studies- Paper II and III)

Source : The Hindu

The Karnataka water crisis has impacted over 7,000 villages, 1,100 wards, and 220 talukas.

  • Particularly affected are Mandya and Mysuru districts, housing crucial water sources like the Cauvery river watershed and KrishnarajaSagar dam, which supply water to Bengaluru.
  • While the capital city has received significant attention, the crisis has broader implications.

Key Highlights

  • Causes of the Crisis:
    • The crisis is attributed to insufficient rainfall in the previous year, following a surplus in 2022, leading to an under-replenishment of the Cauvery river.
    • Despite historical data indicating erratic rainfall patterns in Karnataka, Bengaluru’s lack of preparation exacerbates the current situation.
    • The city, despite being affluent and home to research institutions, faces challenges in water management.
  • Bengaluru’s Water Consumption and Infrastructure:
    • Bengaluru consumes approximately 1,400 million litres daily from the Cauvery and groundwater reserves.
    • The groundwater recharge rate is low, compounded by last year’s deficient rainfall.
    • The city’s water deficits are relative to its high demand, highlighting challenges in managing resources effectively.
    • Areas farther from the city center, dependent on groundwater and water tankers, face more severe water scarcity.
  • Impact of Climate Change:
    • The role of climate change in exacerbating the water crisis is also evident.
    • While the erratic rainfall may not be directly linked to climate change, the phenomenon portends increased unpredictability.
    • Cities like Bengaluru need to adopt long-term solutions and move away from short-term measures and rapid urban growth.
  • To address water challenges effectively, bipartisan solutions that transcend political cycles is necessary.
    • A circular water economy, emphasizing the maximization of water utility and a reduction in the city’s dependence on external sources is emphasized.
    • Additionally, there is a plea for the restoration of the Cauvery’s cleanliness and health.
    • The cities are urged to adopt a long-term view and sustainable practices, ensuring water resilience in the face of climate change and other challenges.

About the Cauvery river

  • The Cauvery River, also known as the Kaveri River, is one of the major rivers in India, originating at an elevation of 1,341 meters at Talakaveri in the Brahmagiri range near Cherangala village of Kodagu district in Karnataka.
  • It flows for about 800 kilometers through the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu before draining into the Bay of Bengal south of Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu.
  • The river basin covers an area of 81,155 square kilometers, spreading over states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
  • The Cauvery River is significant for its agricultural importance, with 66.21% of the basin covered by agricultural land.
  • The river is fed by important tributaries like the Harangi, Hemavati, Shimsha, Arkavati on the left bank, and Lakshmantirtha, Kabbani, Suvarnavati, Bhavani, Noyil, and Amaravati on the right bank.
  • The Cauvery River plays a crucial role in irrigation and power generation in the region.
  • It is well-regulated with various projects like Harangi Project, Hemavathi Irrigation Project, KrishnarajSagar Irrigation Project, Kabini Project, Mettur Canal System, and others contributing to irrigation and power production.
  • The Cauvery River has been at the center of water disputes between states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
    • The Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) and Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) were established to address these disputes and manage water resources effectively.
  • The river’s delta region is known as the “garden of southern India,” characterized by fertile soil types like black soils, red soils, laterites, alluvial soils, forest soils, and mixed soils.

Introducing a new toll collection system

(General Studies- Paper III)

Source : The Hindu

The Indian government, specifically the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, is planning to implement a modern highway toll collection system before the 2024 elections.

  • This system is based on the global navigation satellite system, encompassing technologies like the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS).

Key Highlights

  • Components of the Proposed System:
    • The new tolling system will incorporate an On-Board Unit (OBU) or a tracking device installed in vehicles.
    • This device will utilize GAGAN, the Indian satellite navigation system, for accurate location tracking with an approximate accuracy of 10 meters.
    • The system requires the digital mapping of national highways, assigning toll rates using software, calculating toll amounts based on the distance travelled, and deducting the toll from a wallet linked to the OBU.
  • Enforcing Mechanisms:
    • Gantries, arches equipped with CCTV cameras, will be installed at various highway points for enforcement.
    • These cameras will capture images of vehicles’ high-security registration plates and cross-verify if road users attempt to manipulate the system by removing the tracking device or traveling without an OBU on board.
  • Pay-as-You-Use and Barrier-Free Movement:
    • The primary objective of this technology is to offer users the advantage of paying tolls only for the actual distance covered on a highway, following a pay-as-you-use model.
    • The government envisions that this system will eventually facilitate barrier-free movement on highways.
    • Additionally, it intends to streamline toll collection processes, reduce waiting times at toll booths, and provide users with a more efficient and technology-driven payment mechanism.
  • Recovery of Unpaid Tolls:
    • One significant challenge associated with the proposed tolling system is the difficulty in recovering toll amounts if a road user fails to make the payment after completing a highway journey.
    • This challenge arises when the digital wallet linked to the On-Board Unit (OBU) is empty, and there are no physical barriers to prevent non-compliant vehicles.
    • The absence of physical barriers poses challenges when dealing with non-compliant vehicles.
    • Instances include vehicles traveling without a linked OBU, deliberate switching off of the OBU to avoid payment, or the installation of a car’s OBU on a truck to pay reduced tolls.
    • Setting up Gantry-mounted Automatic Number-Plate Recognition (ANPR)-based systems for violation capture is essential, but such infrastructure is currently lacking in India.
  • Quality of License Plates:
    • The success of ANPR systems relies on the quality of license plates, which are currently limited to specific cities and states.
    • The need for a standardized and high-quality license plate system across the country is imperative for the efficient functioning of the proposed tolling technology.
  • Legislative Amendments:
    • To implement the new toll collection system, legislative amendments to the National Highways Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules are necessary.
    • These amendments would cover aspects such as the recovery of unpaid tolls, defining offenses related to toll evasion, and mandating the use of an OBU in vehicles.
  • Privacy Safeguards:
    • In addressing privacy concerns, the Ministry official highlighted the decision to use the GAGAN satellite system instead of GPS, ensuring data security within India.
    • While the concept is still in progress, the official mentioned the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, passed in Parliament to address privacy concerns.
    • However, this law has faced criticism from civil society for potentially expanding exemptions for government agencies, raising concerns about increased state surveillance.
  • Will FASTags be Discontinued?
    • The proposed satellite-based tolling system will not lead to the discontinuation of FASTags.
    • Both toll collection methods are expected to co-exist, and the government has not yet decided whether On-Board Units (OBUs) will be mandatory for all vehicles or only for new ones.
    • FASTags, based on radio frequency identification, have been in use since 2016 and were made mandatory from February 16, 2021.
    • As of December 2023, 98.9% of vehicles passing through national highway toll plazas were FASTag compliant, showcasing robust compliance over the years.
  • Despite the success of FASTags, the new system is considered because it involves lower operational costs.
    • The absence of toll plazas and a streamlined toll collection process contribute to the cost-effectiveness of the global navigation satellite system.
  • Toll Collection Trends:
    • The adoption of FASTags has resulted in a significant increase in toll collection, rising 1.5 times from ₹17,942 crore in 2016-2017 to ₹27,744 crore in 2020-2021 at national highway fee plazas.
    • This growth is attributed to factors such as the growing number of vehicles, toll rate revisions, and the widespread adoption of FASTags.
    • However, the global navigation satellite system is expected to offer operational cost advantages, driving consideration for its implementation alongside existing tolling methods.


  • GAGAN, which stands for GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation, is a Space Based Augmentation System (SBAS) jointly developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Airports Authority of India (AAI).
  • The primary objective of GAGAN is to establish a certifiable satellite-based augmentation system for safety-of-life applications.
  • It corrects GPS signal errors caused by factors like ionospheric disturbances, timing, and satellite orbit errors, providing better position accuracy than GPS alone.
  • Components:
    • Satellite Constellation: GAGAN utilizes geostationary satellites to broadcast augmentation signals that improve the accuracy and integrity of signals from GNSS satellites.
    • Ground-Based Infrastructure: The system includes a network of ground-based reference stations and associated communication links to monitor and correct GNSS signals.
  • Coverage:
    • GAGAN is designed to cover the entire Indian airspace and nearby regions.
    • It extends up to 1500 km beyond India’s borders, making it beneficial for neighboring countries.
    • The coverage area of GAGAN extends from Africa to Australia and has the capability to cater to neighboring countries as well.
  • GAGAN offers various services beyond aviation, including forest management, railways signaling, scientific research for atmospheric studies, natural resource and land management, location-based services, mobile applications, and tourism.
  • It provides a civil aeronautical navigation signal in line with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards and recommended practices.
  • GAGAN is interoperable with other international SBAS systems like the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), and the Japanese MTSAT Satellite Augmentation System (MSAS), ensuring seamless air navigation across regional boundaries.

Report turns spotlight on India’s ‘zero-food children’

(General Studies- Paper II)

Source ; The Hindu

A recent study published in the JAMA Network Open journal highlights the prevalence of ‘zero-food children’ in India at 19.3%, indicating extreme food deprivation among children.

  • This study ranks India as having the third-highest percentage of ‘zero-food children,’ surpassed only by Guinea (21.8%) and Mali (20.5%).
  • In terms of sheer numbers, India leads with over six million ‘zero-food children.’

Key Highlights

  • P.’s Alarming Contribution
    • A separate study published in eClinical Medicine, a journal associated with Lancet Discovery Science, emphasizes the severity of extreme food deprivation among children in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.).
    • The study reveals that U.P. alone accounts for 28.4% of ‘zero-food children’ in India.
    • Additionally, the states of Bihar (14.2%), Maharashtra (7.1%), Rajasthan (6.5%), and Madhya Pradesh (6%) collectively contribute to nearly two-thirds of the total ‘zero-food children’ in the country.
  • Importance of Early Childhood Nutrition
    • The introduction of solid or semi-solid foods alongside breastfeeding is crucial for the growth and development of children beyond six months of age.
    • While breastfeeding remains essential, it cannot provide sufficient nutrition for infants beyond the age of six months.
    • According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), for children aged nine to 11 months, other foods should contribute approximately 50% of calorific requirements (300 out of 700 Kcal/day).
    • For children aged six to eight months, breast milk should constitute a greater share than other foods (400 out of 600 Kcal/day).
  • Contributing Factors to ‘Zero-Food Children’ Issue
    • Health specialists points to various contributing factors to the high prevalence of ‘zero-food children’ in Uttar Pradesh.
    • Poverty, marginalization, rapid urbanization, and the prevalence of nuclear families are identified as key elements.
    • Women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often struggle to find time for complementary feeding for children above six months due to their work commitments.
    • The rise of nuclear families, both in urban and rural areas, exacerbates the problem, leaving mothers as the primary caregivers with limited time and energy for child feeding.