Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 4th January 2022

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1.  China constructing bridge on Pangong lake in Ladakh

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Security, Locations | Mains: GS Paper-III – Security
Sub Theme: Advantage for China | Pangong lake | Ladakh | Issues with Fingers | UPSC

Context: China is constructing a bridge in eastern Ladakh connecting the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake), which will significantly bring down the time for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move troops and equipment between the two sectors.

Construction is being laid between Kurnak Fort in north part of lake to Moldo in south bank.

Location: 25 Km away from Line of Actual control between India and China.

Purpose: it would reduce the overall distance by 140­150 km

Previously: Indian Army got tactical advantage over the PLA on the south bank in August end by occupying several peaks lying vacant since 1962, gaining a dominating view of the Moldo area. On the north bank too, the Indian troops set up posts facing PLA positions on the ridge­lines of Finger 4.

What is the real issue:

  • The Line of Actual Control (LAC) cuts through the lake, but India and China do not agree on its exact location.
  • In 1999, when the Army unit from the area was moved to Kargil for Operation Vijay, China took the opportunity to build 5 km of road inside Indian Territory along the lake’s bank.
  • From one of these roads, Chinese positions physically overlook Indian positions on the northern tip of the Pangong Lake.
  • As things stand, a 45 km-long western portion of the lake is in Indian control, while the rest is under China’s control.
  • Most of the clashes between the two armies occur in the disputed portion of the lake

What are the rights over this region?

  • The Chinese had a major advantage, their superior boats could literally run circles around the Indian boats.
  • But India purchased better boats, leading to a quicker and more aggressive response.
  • Tourists were not allowed at Pangong Tso until 1999, and even today, one need to obtain an Inner Line Permit from the office of the Deputy Commissioner at Leh.
  • Now tourists are only allowed up to Spangmik village, around 7 km into the lake.

Issues with fingers:

  • There are eight of them in contention here. India and China have different understanding of where the LAC passes through.
  • India has maintained that the LAC passes through Finger 8, which has been the site of the final military post of China.
  • India has been patrolling the area – mostly on foot because of the nature of the terrain – up to Finger 8. But Indian forces have not had active control beyond Finger 4.
  • China, on the other hand, says the LAC passes through Finger 2. It has been patrolling up to Finger 4- mostly in light vehicles, and at times up to Finger 2.

What is happening now?

  • The current impulses of China seem to be guided by 255 km Daulat Beg Oldie-Darbuk-Shayok road. It extends up to the base of the Karakoram pass, which is the last military post. Daulat Beg Oldie is the highest airfield in the world. This road, when complete, will reduce the travel time from Leh to Daulat Beg Oldie from two days to six hours.
  • The latest Chinese move is also part of its long-term strategy to gain greater control of the area. It was under this design, China had built road up to 5 km on the Indian side of the LAC in 1999, during the Kargil war with Pakistan.

About Pangong Tso lake:

  • Pangong Tso is a long narrow, deep, landlocked lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 ft in the Ladakh, Himalayas.
  • The 135 km-long lake sprawls over 604 sq. km in the shape of a boomerang and is 6 km wide at its broadest point.
  • The western end of Pangong Tso lies 54 km to the southeast of Leh.
  • The brackish water lake freezes over in winter and becomes ideal for ice skating and polo.

 

2.  EdTech regulation policy on the cards: Education Minister 

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Social Issues Mains: GS Paper-II – Education
Sub Theme: EdTech sector in India | Issues with current EdTech sector | UPSC

Context: Booming education technology sector, which has benefited from the disruptions in traditional education modes during the pandemic, is likely to come under regulation soon, with Union Ministries discussing framing of a common policy.

EdTech sector in India:

  • Blume Ventures report (note: this report is based on rough assumptions) suggests that the EdTech market was close to $750mn in 2020 and will hit $4bn by 2025.
  • India saw ~$0.5bn of funds flowing into EdTech in 2019, and $4bn flowing into EdTech in 2020 and into 2021.
  • We now have 5 EdTech unicorns.

Issues with current EdTech sector. Why such policy?

  • Reports that some education technology companies are exploiting students with loans for fee-based courses.
  • There are more than 4,530 EdTech companies of which 435 have come about in the past two years. They are not under any regulations right now.
  • There is trend of monopolization in education sector.
  • Inability of EdTech to reach poor sections of the society.
  • Financial exploitation of students and families.
  • More a profit orientation rather a social cause.
  • EdTech firms are more spending on marketing rather than service delivery.
  • Incapability to deliver in rural areas.
  • Major hurdle to those areas where digital devices are not available and internet connectivity is poor.

What could be done:

  • To start with there is need for dedicated policy as envisaged by the government.
  • There could be a regulatory framework to define the financial limits of such EdTech.
  • Anti-monopolistic practices commission.
  • There could be a separate institution to look into grievances of victims.
  • There could be online platform to provide
  • Expansion of free educational services via existing platform like Swayam MOOC.
  • Utilising role of Non-governmental organisations and civil society.

India has been facing an education and employability crisis. Despite having 1.5 million schools and close to 40,000 colleges, the rate of literacy, quality of education and employability of our graduates is of concern. If these risk factors can be managed, will the EdTechs be able to solve India’s education crisis? If yes, if they are able to actually solve the problem of educational outcomes, and create work-ready graduates, then they are here to stay. Additionally, if technology can be integrated into the existing education system, into our millions of institutions and if Edtech players can partner with them to offer quality at a sustainable, reasonable price along with strong outcomes, we will have a real solution to our education crisis. That is when this bubble will not burst, but actually rise up to solve one of India’s biggest problems!

 

3.  India, Israel in talks for Free Trade Agreement

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations, Economy | Mains: GS Paper-II – International Relations
Sub Theme: Free Trade Agreement | India-Israel | Vaccine Diplomacy | UPSC

Context: Recently, India and Israel agreed to resume long-pending negotiations on a free trade agreement, as External Affairs Minister met his Israeli counterpart in Jerusalem

Free Trade Agreement:

  • The push for an FTA between the two countries has been going on since past 14 years. Both in 2007, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and in 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that an FTA would be completed.
  • But talks have lapsed over a number of issues, including Israel’s reluctance to include an agreement on services in trade.

Reasons for Trade Negotiations

  • The latest effort for an FTA with Israel comes on the back of the government’s recent drive to resume a number of trade negotiations
  • The government has so far committed to resuming talks with the U.K., Australia and the European Union. Expressing the hope they would also be concluded in 2022.
  • It will open the Israeli market for Indian businesses in a more favourable way.
  • This FTA will also open the gates to those products which are not yet exported due to low competitiveness.
  • Efficient use of technology in water management and agriculture is one of the aspects that Israel has been very keen on introducing to the Indian market.
  • Other areas that could witness immense growth include energy (particularly from renewable sources), healthcare and medical devices, pharmaceuticals, IT, and aviation.
  • There is a huge list of products that Israel does substantially import, but not from India.

For too long, India has, under the guise of maintaining its strategic autonomy, shied away from explicit friendships in the international scenario. The India-Israel relationship must continue to expand. What just needs to be done away with is the normative posturing of the relationship which could potentially endanger India’s international relations and also its domestic situation.

OTHER ENGAGEMENT WITH ISRAEL

Vaccine Diplomacy: 

  • India and Israel have agreed to mutually recognise each other’s vaccination process “in principle”.
  • Although for the moment Israel will only allow Indians vaccinated with Covishield to travel there.
  • As Covaxin is still awaiting an Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) from the World Health Organisation.

Quadrilateral Meeting:

  • The quadrilateral meeting is an outcome of last year’s Abraham Accords.
  • Which was brokered by the U.S. to establish diplomatic ties between UAE and Israel,
  • It also underlines India’s close relationships with both the West Asian countries and Washington.

Military Relations

India is the largest buyer of military equipment from Israel while Israel is the second-largest supplier of military equipment to India following Russia. In between 1999 to 2009, military business between both the countries was around US$9 billion. Military and strategic ties also extend to joint military training and intelligence-sharing on terrorist groups.

Economic Relations

India is the third-largest Asian trade partner of Israel, as of 2014. Overall, India is tenth-largest trade partner of Israel. The bilateral trade between both the countries stands at $4.52 billion, excluding the military sales. Both the countries are negotiating an extensive bilateral free-trade agreement which focuses on areas like biotechnology, information technology and agriculture.

 

5.  World Power vow to stop spread of weapons – NPT

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations | Mains: GS Paper-II – International Relations
Sub Theme: Issues with NPT | Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons | India & NPT | UPSC

Context: Five global nuclear powers (China, Russia, U.S., U.K., France) pledged, in a joint statement, on Monday to prevent atomic weapons spreading and to avoid nuclear conflict as part of Review meet of NPT.

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT):

  • The NPT is a landmark international treaty with 3 major objectives:
  • Prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology
  • Promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy
  • Achieving nuclear disarmament
  • The Treaty establishes a safeguards system to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)
  • 193 nation states are signatories to the treaty.

Though there has been significant reduction in the nuclear stockpile in the world since the signing of NPT, it has not resulted in Nuclear weapon free world due to the following reasons

Issues with NPT:

  • It had delegitimised proliferation, but done little to delegitimise nuclear weaponsThe treaty created a distinction between Nuclear weapon states (US, Russia, UK, China and France) and Non-nuclear weapon states. The treaty emphasises more on the prevention of spread of nuclear materials and technologies from NWS to NNWS rather than reducing the stockpile of NWS.
  • The 5 nuclear weapon states recognised by the NPT (N-5) are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5), giving rise to the inevitable conclusion that nuclear weapons remain the currency of political power. This conclusion can only encourage potential proliferators by making nuclear weapons more attractive as the ultimate security guarantor.
  • The treaty does not specify a time frame or verification mechanism for disarmament by NWS
  • NPT has been ineffective in preventing the Non-signatories of NPT like India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea (though a signatory initially, it withdrew later) from proliferate nuclear weapons.
  • Stringent IAEA safeguards often deter NNWS (Non-nuclear weapon states) states to pursue independent civil nuclear programmes for energy security.

Lack of response from the Nuclear weapon states to make serious attempts for disarmament (reducing the nuclear stockpile) forced 120 countries party to the NPT to join hands with civil society to push negotiations for a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Treaty on the Prohibition of nuclear weapons (TPNW):

Ø  The agreement was adopted by UN General Assembly in 2017 as the first legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons and lead towards their complete elimination.

Ø  It prohibits States Parties from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, or stockpiling nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

India and NPT:

ü  India has never joined the NPT citing the discriminatory nature of the treaty.

ü  However, India had voluntarily signed an agreement with IAEA to subject its civil nuclear facilities to regular inspections by the IAEA. This has been done to avoid sanctions on India from accessing nuclear material and technologies for civilian purposes and also achieving the membership of Nuclear suppliers Group (NSG) ultimately.

 

UPSC Current Affairs: RBI approves, small offline e-payments | Page 12

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

Sub Theme: Retail Digital Payments in Offline mode | Near Field Communication Payments | UPSC

Context: The RBI has come out with the framework for facilitating small-value digital payments in offline mode to promote digital payments in semi-urban and rural areas.

Background:

  • At present, digital payment modes like the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) require internet connectivity and a smartphone.
  • Earlier, in 2016, the NPCI had launched the National Unified USSD platform (NUUP) which enables banking related transactions on feature phones without internet connection.
  • Feature phone users can avail various services by dialling *99#. However, NUUP has not been very successful.

New Announcement:

  • Aug 2020: RBI had announced a scheme to conduct pilot tests of innovative technology that enables retail digital payments even in situations where internet connectivity is low / not available (offline mode).
  • Jan 2022: RBI has introduced a framework for carrying out retail digital payments in offline mode across the country. This would enable customers to use digital payment modes even without internet connectivity. The new framework would provide fillip to new technologies such as E-RUPI, Near Field Communication (NFC) payments, interactive voice response-based payments systems

Highlights of new framework

  • An offline payment means a transaction which does not require internet or telecom connectivity.
  • Offline payments may be made using any channel or instrument like cards, wallets, mobile devices, etc.
  • Offline payments shall be made in proximity (face to face) mode only.
  • Offline payment transactions may be offered without Additional Factor of Authentication (AFA) such as OTP.
  • Transactions are subject to a limit of Rs 200 per transaction and an overall limit of Rs 2,000 for all transactions until the balance in the account is replenished. Balance replenishment can only occur in an online mode.
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