Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 8th September 2021

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1.  Making them Pay: Need for Made in India Appstore

 Syllabus: GS Paper III – Indian economy
Sub Theme: Dominance of Big Tech in Indian economy | UPSC

In order to ensure digital sovereignty and Aatma Nirbhar Bharat in App ecosystem, some of the experts have  pointed out that India needs to have its own home- grown Appstore like Google’s Play store or Apple’s App  store. This will enable us to combat the monopoly of these technological giants and give push for digital  economy.

Hence, keeping these developments taking place in India and USA, we would focus on following dimensions: • How Big Tech companies have gained dominant market position?

  • How dominance of Big Tech hurt economy?
  • Need for Made in India Appstore
  • What should be done to break the monopoly of MNCs in Mobile App ecosystem?
  • What has to be done to deal with dominance of Big Tech at Global level?

How Big Tech companies have gained dominant market position? 

Role of Online Platforms as Gatekeepers: As Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have captured control  over key channels of distribution, they have come to function as gatekeepers. Their role as gatekeepers also  gives the dominant platforms to control the fates of other businesses.

For example, In 2007, Google bought Android OS which is used for running the smart phones. Then, Google  called upon the smartphone manufacturers to pre-install and give default status to Google’s own apps such as  Chrome, Google Map etc. Through Chrome, Google now owns the world’s most popular browser, a critical  gateway to the internet. Through Google Maps, Google now captures over 80% of the market for navigation  mapping service. And through Google Cloud, it is now positioning itself to dominate the “Internet of Things,”  the next wave of surveillance technologies.

Acquisition of Competitors: The Big tech companies have also resorted to acquisition of smaller competitors  to retain their dominant market position. For example, Facebook acquired WhatsApp and Instagram to  continue its dominance in the field of social media.

Collection, storage and Analysis of Data: The Big tech companies enjoy dominance with respect to amount of  data collected by them. Companies with superior access to data can use that data to better target users. This  in turn makes smaller companies to depend upon Google, Amazon etc. for advertising their products.

Discriminatory Practices: Companies such as Amazon force their sellers to sell their products only on their  platform. Further, companies such as Google give higher preference to the companies which place their  advertisement with them. For example, when you search for a particular product on Google search engine,  the Google automatically gives higher preference to the products which are advertised on its platform.

Higher Economies of scale and Scope also enable these Big Tech companies to have profits as compared to  their smaller rivals.

How dominance of Big Tech hurt economy? 

Hinders Innovation: Competition in digital markets incentivizes incumbent firms and new entrants to build  new technologies and improve business processes. In case of monopolisation, the incumbent firms lack the  incentive to invest in research and development.

Data Privacy Issues: Misuse of personal data of the users to make profits.

Hinders Start-up Ecosystem: Monopoly enjoyed by deep-pocketed Big tech companies would prevent growth  of start-up companies.

Affects Consumers: Monopolised market is usually characterised by higher prices and poor quality of services. Exercise pervasive influence on society and politics which could affect process of democratisation. Take for  instance, the role of Social media in spreading fake news, hatred, communal disharmony etc.

Need for Made in India Appstore 

Abuse of Dominant Position by Google and Apple: Presently, there are more than 300+ app stores from where one  can download mobile apps. Some of these App stores are Google’s play store, Apple’s Appstore, Samsung’s Galaxy  store, Amazon Appstore etc. In spite of availability of so many choices, most of us use either Google play store or  Apple Appstore to download apps depending upon the operating system of our phone. It is because our phones  come pre-loaded with these in-built app stores and hence this in a way limits our choice of Appstore to download  mobile apps.

Unfair Practices: The dominance enjoyed by Google and Apple in their OS has enabled them to extend their  dominance in other aspects of mobile ecosystem such as App stores, mobile apps etc. Both Google and Apple  collect payments from App developers to get their Apps listed on their respective Appstore. Apple also requires the  App developers to pay 30% as commission for the in-app purchases made by App developers. Even Google had also  decided to impose commission on the App developers. However, on account of opposition by App developers,  Google decided to defer it by 1 year.

Lack of Choice to Consumers and App developers in terms of accessing and listing mobile apps.

Set back to Domestic App Ecosystem: The Indian Domestic mobile app Industry has been growing by leaps and  bounds. PM Modi has recently highlighted that digital gaming has a huge potential at the international level and  called upon Indian entrepreneurs to take a lead and develop apps to boost mobile app ecosystem. But, in the  present ecosystem, an entrepreneur faces multiple costs as well as risks as shown below:

  • Required to pay charges and commission to get their Apps listed.
  • Required to comply with unfair rules and regulations laid down by Big Tech
  • In absence of regulation, there is a risk of app being delisted without any mechanism for redressal of his  grievances.

So, having an Indigenously developed Appstore would help us address these problems faced by app developers.  Further, the regulation of Appstore through an Independent authority would help us lay down clear rules and  guidelines over aspects of listing of mobile apps.

What should be done to break the monopoly of MNCs in Mobile App ecosystem? 

Mobile Seva App Store: M-Governance application store hosts the various mobile applications for government  services as well as private sector mobile apps. Applications can be developed by independent developer or  Department, which after testing and verification processes, can be hosted on Mobile Sevaapp store free of cost.  This needs to be developed as viable alternative to Appstore of Google and Apple.

Encouraging development of Mini-App Stores: Paytm has recently launched Mini-App store. In normal Appstore,  one needs to download the application in the phone to access it. However, the Mini-App store is a web-based  service that provides access to various apps as if they are downloaded on your mobile. For example, if you want to  access Uber, ola or swiggy, you can download it from Google play store. Or in case of Mini-app store, you need to  go to Paytm app and click on the link to the concerned app, then these apps would open within the web browser  without getting installed on your phone.

Two advantages here- Saves phone memory and saves Data which otherwise gets used up for downloading the  mobile app. In a way, Mini-App store can be considered as “Super-Apps” which provide web-based access to other  apps without downloading them.

Encouraging development of local handsets: We have to realise that we cannot be self-reliant in the field of Mobile  app ecosystem without being self-reliant in Mobile manufacturing. Most of the mobile phones sold in India are  Chinese and these come pre-loaded with their own apps and play stores. So, we need to boost the Indigenous  manufacturing of Mobile phones. Just like how the Android OS comes pre-loaded with Google applications, we can  ensure that mobile phones manufactured in India come pre-loaded with our Appstore such as MobileSeva App  store.

What has to be done to deal with dominance of Big Tech? 

Strengthening the Antitrust Laws: The anti-trust laws such as Competition Act, 2002 need to be strengthened;  Empower Competition Commission of India to deal with abuse of dominant market position by Big Tech  companies.

Breaking up the Big Tech: 

There are basically 3 proposals to reduce the dominance of the Big Tech by breaking them. 1. Platforms should evolve into separate companies: This proposal would break up tech companies by  separating the underlying platform from the products and services sold on it. Google could no longer  own Android and offer apps like Gmail, Maps, and Chrome. Amazon could no longer own the Amazon  Marketplace and sell its own private-label goods. Apple could no longer own iOS and offer products  like Safari, Siri, or Find My iPhone.

  1. Restrict the number of products the Big Tech can offer
  2. Reversal of past acquisitions which enabled Big Tech Companies to enjoy dominance.

 

2.  Management of Epidemics: Constraints and Strategies needed

UPSC Syllabus: GS Paper III – Disaster Management
Sub Theme: Biological Disasters | UPSC

In recent years, biological disasters including bioterrorism have assumed serious dimensions as they pose a  greater threat to health, environment and national security. The risks and vulnerabilities of our food chain and  agricultural sector to agroterrorism, which involves the deliberate introduction of plant or animal pathogens  with the intent of undermining socio-economic stability.

develop a holistic, coordinated, proactive and technology driven strategy for management of biological  disasters through a culture of prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

Biological disasters are scenarios involving disease, disability or death on a large scale among humans, animals  and plants due to toxins or disease caused by live organisms or their products. Such disasters may be natural  in the form of epidemics or pandemics of existing, emerging or reemerging diseases and pestilences or man made by the intentional use of disease causing agents in Biological Warfare (BW) operations or incidents of  Bioterrorism (BT).

NEED TO FOCUS ON BIOLOGICAL DISASTERS: 

Large Scale Death and Socio-Economic Impact: Epidemics can result in heavy mortalities in the short term  leading to a depletion of population with a corresponding drop in economic activity, e.g., the plague  epidemics in Europe during the middle ages or the Spanish influenza between 1917–18. Another example is  the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic in Sub

Saharan Africa, that has wiped out the benefits of improved health care and decimated the productive  segments of society leading to economic stagnation and recession.

The outbreak of plague in Surat (1994) after a gap of 28 years, with over 1,000 suspected cases and 52 deaths,  caused widespread panic and mass exodus of people from the affected areas

The spread of Nipah, Hendra, Ebola, Marburg and Lassa fever viruses are examples of this phenomenon Constant Evolution in Infectious Agents: Infectious agents are constantly evolving, often acquiring enhanced  virulence or epidemic potential. This results in normally mild infections becoming serious. The outbreak of  Chikungunya that started in 2005 is one such example.

Increased Globalisation which has led to increase in the spread of diseases from one country to another. Growth of Biological Weapons: The advances in bacteriology, virology and immunology in the late 19th  century and early 20th century enabled nations to develop biological weapons. The use of some agents such  as anthrax by terrorist groups pose a serious threat. The ease of production, packaging and delivery using  existing non-military facilities are major factors in threat perception.

Framework in India 

According to the constitution, health is a state subject. The primary responsibility of dealing with biological  disasters rests with the state government. There are a number of legislations that control and govern the  nation’s health policies. MoH&FW is the nodal ministry for handling epidemics. providing guidance and  technical support for capacity development in surveillance, early detection of any outbreak and supporting  the states during outbreaks in terms of outbreak investigations, deployment of Rapid Response Teams (RRTs),  manpower and logistic support for case management, etc

Epidemic Diseases Act (Act 111 of 1897) provides for ‘better prevention and spread of dangerous epidemic  diseases’. This Act, still in force, provides the states the authority to designate any of its officers or agencies to  take measures for the prevention and control of epidemics.

Disaster Management Act (DM Act), 2005: measures for the prevention or mitigation of disaster.

International Health Regulations [IHR (2005): prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health  response to the international spread of disease. Member States are required to strengthen their core capacity  to detect, report and respond rapidly to public health events and to notify WHO, within 24 hours, of all events  that may constitute a PHEIC.

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC): The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which came  into force on 26 March 1975, provides for prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of  bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and for their destruction.

Strategies:

Strengthen Legal Framework: The Epidemic Diseases Act was enacted in 1897 and needs to be repealed. This  Act does not provide any power to the centre to intervene in biological emergencies. It has to be substituted  by an Act which takes care of the prevailing and foreseeable public health needs including emergencies such  as BT attacks and use of biological weapons by an adversary, cross-border issues, and international spread of  diseases. It should give enough powers to the central and state governments and local authorities to act with  impunity, notify affected areas, restrict movement or quarantine the affected area, enter any premises to take  samples of suspected materials and seal them.

Institutional Framework: There is need for an agency that can incorporate stakeholders and experts to  oversee this aspect on a continuing basis. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity set up by the US  Department of Health and Human Sciences could be emulated in our country. A model plan will be prepared  by the nodal ministry with the help of an advisory committee, which will be updated periodically. The  perceived threat would be the basis for anticipating and executing action. The advisory committee would have  strong links with NDMA.

Operational Framework: At the national level, there is no policy on biological disasters. Need to come out  with SOP for dealing with Biological Disasters.

Financial Framework: DM has earmarked funds for emergency response which the state can operate, namely  the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) and the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). However, the disasters for  which CRF and NCCF can be utilised are defined. Biological disasters do not fall into this category. The states  have no other funds which can be utilised for the containment of outbreaks. This has to be corrected.  Biological disasters must be brought under the purview of CRF/NCCF.

Need for Enhanced International Collaboration: Epidemics do not respect national borders. As international  travel is easy, biological agents need to be tracked so that they do not enter new regions across the  boundaries. This aspect has made international collaboration crucial for epidemic control. International  organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Office  International.

Effective Implementation of Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention:

Development of critical infrastructure for management of biological emergencies – The development of a  laboratory network including national/state level referral laboratories, and district level diagnostic  laboratories with medical colleges to confirm diagnosis under a single integrated framework. Stockpile of Drugs/Vaccines/ Disinfectants/Insecticides/PPE

Psycho-social Care There are some critical deficiencies in the provision of psycho-social care. The routine  training of medical undergraduates, nurses and health workers for mental health services is grossly  inadequate. There is virtually no emphasis on the mental health aspects of disasters even in the routine  postgraduate training in psychiatry.

 

3.  The Economic Reforms – Looking back to look ahead

UPSC Syllabus: GS Paper III – Indian Economy
Sub Theme: Challenges of India economy | UPSC

The GDP size of India has increased from $275 bn to $ 2.9 trillion. 5th largest economy in the world. Fastest  growing economy prior to Covid-19 pandemic. Despite these sustained and credible gains, there are some  important aspects which we have neglected so far. India has a vision of $ 5 trillion economy by the end of  2025 and vision of doubling farmers’ income by end of 2022. So, what should be done to achieve such  ambitious goals?

Human Capital Formation: 

Present Status:  

Education: India’s expenditure of 3% on education is much below the target of 6%. Similarly, expenditure on  health has remained quite lower at 1.5% as against the mandated 3%.

PLFS Report 2017-18: Only 13% of workforce in age-group (15-59) training. 2%- formal training; 11%-Informal  training.

The employment elasticity is hardly around 0.1 which means every 1% increase in GDP growth rate leads to  0.1% increase in employment creation. Apart from low quantity of jobs, concerns have also been raised with  respect to poor quality of jobs. 90% of India’s workforce is employed in informal sector which is characterised  by low wages, poor productivity and lack of access to social security benefits. Hence, there is a need to create  high-paying, high-productivity formal sector jobs.

Implications: Lower Human Capital formation; World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Report 2017- India (103); China (34)

Strategy: Higher Investment in Human Capital Formation

Manufacturing Sector: 

Present Status: The share of manufacturing sector to India’s GDP has remained stagnant at 16-17% since 1991  reforms. Instead of focussing on labour intensive industries, the manufacturing sector has come to be  dominated by capital intensive Industries. Manufacturing sector has come to be dominated by MSMEs which  account for around 45% of manufacturing output. But these MSMEs are quite smaller.

Strategy: Facilitate access to factors of production- land, labour, capital etc; Plug and Play model; Incentives to  Industries for adoption of technology

Agricultural Development:  

Present Status: Increase in the overall production of food grains without any commensurate increase in  income levels of farmers. In spite of being the one of the largest producers of food grains, India’s share in  global export of agricultural commodities has remained stagnant at 2% (9th Rank).

Strategy: Implement the recommendations of Dalwai Panel on Doubling Farmers’ income

Poor Innovation Ecosystem: The R&D Expenditure as % of GDP at 0.7% has remained stagnant in the last 2  decades. Unlike developed economies, the R&D expenditure in India is mainly driven by public sector. The  private sector investment in R&D needs to be substantially enhanced.

 

4.  Vidyanjali 2.0 Scheme 

UPSC Syllabus: GS Paper II – Social justice
Sub Theme: Vidyanjali scheme | UPSC

Vidyanjali is an initiative taken by the Ministry of Education with the aim to strengthen Schools through  community and private sector involvement in schools across the country.

This initiative would connect schools with varied volunteers from the Indian Diaspora namely, young  professionals, school alumni, in service and retired teachers / Government officials / professionals and many  others.

Vidyanjali has two verticals:

  1. Participate in school Service/Activity
  2. Assets/Material/Equipment

where volunteer can support and strengthen the government and government aided schools.

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