Current Affairs Analysis

15th February 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Greenpeace report on air pollution due to fossil fuels;SC strict on Telcos to pay AGR; What is Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR); System Risk Indicator (SyRI); Apiary on Wheels; Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC); BIMSTEC DMEx-2020; BIMSTEC;Indian expedition across the Southern Ocean; Significance of Southern Ocean; Agulhas Current; National Organic Festival
By IASToppers
February 18, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • SC strict on Telcos to pay AGR

Government Schemes & Policies

  • Apiary on Wheels
  • National Organic Festival

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • BIMSTEC DMEx-2020
  • Greenpeace report on air pollution due to fossil fuels
  • Indian expedition across the Southern Ocean

Defence & Security Issues

  • System Risk Indicator (SyRI)

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Polity & Governance

SC strict on Telcos to pay AGR

The Supreme Court issued notices to mobile service operators and the department of telecommunications (DoT) for failing to comply with its verdict, which mandated telecom companies to pay the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues of over ₹1 trillion to the DoT by 23 January.

What is the issue?

  • Taking strong note of non-compliance of its earlier order, the Supreme Court has issued notices of contempt to telecom giants Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel over non-payment of adjusted gross revenue (AGR).
  • The court has summoned the managing directors of the firms for the next hearing on March 17.
  • It also directed the firms to pay an amount of Rs 1.47 lakh crore to the Department of Telecom (DoT) by the next hearing.

What is Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR)?

  • AGR is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged bythe Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

Background:

  • The telecom sector was liberalised under the National Telecom Policy, 1994 after which licenses were issued to companies in return for a fixed license fee.
  • To provide relief from the fixed license fee, the government in 1999 gave an option to the licensees to migrate to the revenue sharing fee model.
  • Under this, mobile telephone operators were required to share a percentage of their adjusted gross revenue (AGR) with the government as annual license fee (LF) and spectrum usage charges (SUC).
  • License agreements between the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the telecom companies define the gross revenues of the telecom companies.
  • The LF and SUC were set at 8 % and between 3-5 % of AGR respectively based on the agreement.

Bone of contention:

  • The dispute between DoT and the mobile operators was mainly on the definition of AGR.
  • The DoT argued that AGR includes all revenues (before discounts) from both telecom and non-telecom services.
  • The companies claimed that AGR should comprise just the revenue accrued from core services and not dividend, interest income or profit on sale of any investment or fixed assets.

Developments till date:

  • In 2005, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) challenged the government’s definition for AGR calculation.
  • In 2015, the TDSAT (Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal) stayed the case in favour of telecom companies and held that AGR includes all receipts except capital receipts and revenue from non-core sources such as rent, profit on the sale of fixed assets, dividend, interest and miscellaneous income.
  • However, setting aside TDSAT’s order, Supreme Court on October 24, 2019 upheld the definition of AGR as stipulated by the DoT.

Why it matters?

  • The definition of AGR has a huge financial implication for both Telcos and the Government.
  • The revenue shared by Telcos with the government goes into the consolidated fund of India.
  • It was estimated, after the SC’s judgment 2019, that the telecom operators owe the government about ₹92,000 crores in back charges, interest and penalties on license fee alone.
  • While the government has been deprived of the extra revenue, the financial implications for telecom companies are serious especially at the current times when the profits for Telcos are under pressure from severe competition and the falling ARPUs (average revenue per user).
[Ref: Indian express, The Hindu]

Government Schemes & Policies

Apiary on Wheels

Union Micro, Small and medium Enterprises (MSME) Minister recently flagged off the ‘Apiary on Wheels’, a unique concept designed by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), for the easy upkeep and migration of Bee Boxes, having live Bee colonies.

About Apiary on Wheels:

  • Apiary on Wheels is a platform which can carry 20 Bee Boxes from one place to another without any difficulty or disturbing the live bee colonies.
  • It is connected with a solar panel system which automatically triggers a fan inside the compartment as soon as the temperature reaches 35 degrees centigrade or above and has sugar drips which helps to feed the bees in the summer season.
  • It is like an attachment which can be easily connected with a Tractor or a Trolley and may be pulled to any suitable destination.
  • This concept of migration, cooling with the help of solar panels and sugar drips with zero risk to the lives of bees, will prevent any damages to the bee boxes or bee colonies and help produce quality honey.

Significance:

  • Bee Keeping looks easy but has many intricate difficulties which only a beekeeper would understand.
  • Apiary on Wheels will make the migration easy, the maintenance easy, easy feeding of bees and it will also help the bees to sustain even in extreme summers.
  • Apiary on wheels is a holistic approach to address the challenges faced by the beekeepers.
  • It is designed so as to reduce the labour and cost of maintaining and upkeeping Bee Boxes and live bee colonies across India.
  • This is expected to benefit maximum number of people in India and help generate livelihood at the doorsteps.

Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC):

  • The KVIC is a statutory body formed in April 1957 by the Government of India, under the Act of Parliament, ‘Khadi and Village Industries Commission Act of 1956’.
  • It is an apex organisation under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.
[Ref: PIB]

National Organic Festival

A three-day festival from February 21-23, 2020 is being organised at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi, as a joint initiative of Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) and Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Vision:

  • National Organic Festival is being organised with an aim to empower women and promote organic produce with a special focus on women entrepreneurs.

Theme:

  • Unleashing India’s Organic Market Potential.

Highlights of the fest:

  • Women entrepreneurs and SHGs from all over the country will be exhibiting their organic products in various segments such as fruit & vegetable, ready-to-eat products, spices and condiments, honey, cereals, dry fruits, beverages, medicinal plants, oil and value-added products like jam, jelly, etc.
  • Entrepreneurs and Self Help groups from 24 states are participating in the festival.
  • Apart from showcasing the organic products, the event will focus on facilitating business linkages and empowering women entrepreneurs through pre-arranged B2B (business-to-business) and B2G (business-to-government) meetings.
  • Other elements of the exhibition will include, organic food quiz, live culinary sessions, Chef speaks, cultural events, nukkad natak etc.

Capacity building:

  • Skill development capacity building training programs for women entrepreneurs and SHGs will be organized to facilitate post-harvest management, value addition and new innovations towards enhancing production efficiency as well to impart comprehensive knowledge about various aspects of the supply chain of organic products.
  • Training on packaging, marketing and innovations on renewable energy will also be imparted to help the producers cater to a broader consumer base.
  • Training on organic certification and FSSAI regulations will be organized as well to familiarize producers with the regulatory processes.

 India’s Organic Market Potential:

  • With 9th largest World’s Organic Agricultural land and largest number of producers India is fast growing in the organic food segment.
  • India produced around 1.70 million MT (2017-18) of certified organic products which includes all varieties of food products namely Oil Seeds, Sugar cane, Cereals & Millets, Cotton, Pulses, Medicinal Plants, Tea, Fruits, Spices, Dry Fruits, Vegetables, Coffee etc.
  • As per the Indian Organic Sector – Vision 2025 report, India’s organic business has immense potential to reach the INR 75,000 crore mark by 2025 from INR 2,700 crore (in 2015).
[Ref: PIB]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

BIMSTEC DMEx-2020

The second edition of BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise (BIMSTEC DMEx-2020) hosted by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) recently concluded at Puri, Odisha.

Major Highlights:

  • 80 delegates from 05 member countries namely Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal and over 35 participants from various states of India participated in this first of its kind exercise organized by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) as the nodal agency.
  • The exercise provided an opportunity to the participants to share the best practices being followed by them while responding to a situation in heritage sites which is affected by the disaster.

Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC):

  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organization comprising seven Member States lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
  • It came into being in 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
  • It constitutes seven Member States: Five deriving from South Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and two from Southeast Asia: Myanmar and Thailand.

Objectives of BIMSTEC:

  • Technological and economic cooperation among South Asian and South East Asian countries along the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
  • The headquarters of BIMSTEC is in Dhaka.

Highlights:

  • BIMSTEC is a sector-driven cooperative organization.
  • Starting with six sectors—including trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries—for sectoral cooperation in the late 1997, it expanded to embrace nine more sectors—including agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people to people contact and climate change—in 2008.
  • The whole region which constitutes the BIMSTEC is home to over 1.5 billion people.
  • The population counts for around 22% of the total world population. These countries have a combined GDP of $3.71 trillion.
[Ref: Republic world]

Greenpeace report on air pollution due to fossil fuels

A new Greenpeace report has estimated the global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels at around $2.9 trillion per year, or $8 billion per day— 3.3% of the world’s GDP.

Major highlights of the report:

  • India is estimated to bear a cost of $150 billion, or 5.4% of the country’s GDP, which is the third-highest absolute cost from fossil fuel air pollution worldwide.
  • China and the US are estimated to bear the highest absolute costs from fossil fuel air pollution, respectively at $900 billion and $600 billion.
  • Globally, air pollution is estimated to cause 4.5 million premature deaths each year. This includes 3 million deaths attributable globally to PM2.5, which is one of the principal pollutants in northern Indian cities including Delhi.
  • Globally, PM2.5 is also estimated to cause the loss of 62.7 million years of life, 2.7 million emergency room visits due to asthma, 2 million preterm births and 1.75 billion work absences.
  • Additionally, the report links approximately 350,000 new cases of child asthma in India to nitrogen dioxide, which is a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion. As a result of this, over 1.28 million more children in India live with asthma, which is linked to fossil fuel pollution.
  • In India, exposure to fossil fuels also leads to a loss of around 490 million workdays.
  • Greenpeace mentions that many of the solutions to curb air pollution are also solutions to limit global temperatures from increasing beyond 1.5°C.
[Ref: Indian express]

Indian expedition across the Southern Ocean

Indian scientists on a South African vessel are in Antarctica, midway through an expedition across the Southern Ocean. 

About the expedition:

  • South African oceanographic research vessel SA Agulhas set off from Mauritius, on a two-month Indian Scientific Expedition to the Southern Ocean 2020.
  • This is the 11th expedition of an Indian mission to the Southern Ocean, or Antarctic Ocean. The first mission took place between January and March 2004.

Aim of the mission:

  • The 18-institution team from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, are collecting air and water samples from around 60 stations along the cruise track.
  • It will give valuable information on the state of the ocean and atmosphere in this remote environment and will help to understand its impacts on the climate, according to a statement from the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research (NCOPR) in Goa, which works under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • A key objective of the mission is to quantify changes that are occurring and the impact of these changes on large-scale weather phenomenon, like the Indian monsoon, through tele-connection.
  • The study mainly aims to understand the influence of the Southern Ocean across eco-system and atmospheric changes and how it affects the tropical climate and weather conditions.

Understanding Carbon circulation:

  • Since, carbon dioxide is getting emitted into the atmosphere, and through atmospheric circulation goes to the Antarctic and polar regions.
  • As the temperature is very low there, these gases are getting absorbed and converted into dissolved inorganic carbon or organic carbon, and through water masses and circulation it is coming back to tropical regions. Since it is warmer in these areas, it re-enters the atmosphere.
  • It is this cycle that the mission will help understand better, i.e. how much carbon dioxide is going to those regions, and how much is coming back.

Significance of Southern Ocean:

  • All oceans around the world are connected through the Southern Ocean, which acts as a transport agent for things like heat across all these oceans.
  • The conveyor belt that circulates heat around the world is connected through the Southern Ocean and can have a large impact on how climate is going to change due to anthropogenic forces.
  • It means that Southern Ocean is not an isolated environment but what happens there can affect the other end of the world.

Core projects:   

  • Study hydrodynamics and biogeochemistry of the Indian Ocean sector of the Southern Ocean; sampling sea water at different depths to help understand the formation of Antarctic bottom water.
  • Observations of trace gases in the atmosphere, such as halogens and dimethyl sulphur from the ocean to the atmosphere to help improve parameterizations that are used in global models.
  • Study of organisms called coccolithophores that have existed in the oceans for several million years; their concentrations in sediments will create a picture of past climate.
  • Investigate atmospheric aerosols and their optical and radiative properties. There continuous measurements will quantify impact on Earth’s climate.
  • Study the Southern Ocean’s impact on Indian monsoons. Look for signs in sediment core taken from the bottom of the ocean.
  • Dynamics of the food web in the Southern Ocean; important for safeguarding catch and planning sustainable fishing.

Agulhas Current:

  • The Agulhas Current is the major western boundary current of the southwest Indian Ocean. It flows south along the east coast of Africa from 27°S to 40°S.
  • Since, it is fed from lower latitudes, the Current is warm, ranging in temperature from 14 to 26 °C at the surface.
[Ref: Indian express]

Defence & Security Issues

System Risk Indicator (SyRI)

A court in the Netherlands recently stopped a digital identification scheme for reasons of exclusion.

What was the scheme?

  • Last week, a Dutch district court ruled against an identification mechanism called SyRI (System Risk Indicator), because of data privacy and human rights concerns.
  • While The Hague district court held that SyRI was too invasive and violative of the privacy guarantees given by European Human Rights Law as well as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
  • The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs developed SyRI in 2014 to weed out those who are most likely to commit fraud and receive government benefits.
  • Legislation passed by Dutch Parliament allowed government agencies to share 17 categories of data about welfare recipients such as taxes, land registries, employment records, and vehicle registrations with a private company.
  • The company, called “The Intelligence Agency”, used an algorithm to analyse data for four cities and calculate risk scores. The selective rollout was conducted in low-income and immigrant neighbourhoods, which have a higher number of beneficiaries.
  • Elevated risk scores were sent to relevant government arms, which stores these on government databases for a maximum of two years.
  • The government, in that time period, could open an investigation on the targeted person.

What were the arguments in court?

  • After taking into account community concerns, legal criticism mounted, alleging that the algorithm would begin associating poverty and immigrant statuses with fraud risk.
  • The Dutch government defended the programme in court, saying it prevented abuse and acted as only a starting point for further investigation instead of a final determination.
  • The court found that opaque algorithmic decision-making puts citizens at a disadvantage to challenge the resulting risk scores. The Netherlands continuously ranks high on democracy indices.

How relevant is this for India?

  • This has a context for similar artificial intelligence systems worldwide, especially at a time when identity, citizenship and privacy are pertinent questions in India.
  • Similar to the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment setting limits on the ID’s usage, The Hague Court attempted to balance social interest with personal privacy.
  • However, the Aadhaar judgment was not regarding algorithmic decision-making; it was about data collection.
  • The ruling is also an example of how a data protection regulation can be used against government surveillance.
  • The court ruled that SyRI was violative of principles of transparency and data minimisation laid out in their General Data Protection Regulation.
  • India’s pending data protection regulation, being analysed by a Joint Select Committee in Parliament, would give broad exemptions to government data processing in its current form. Some members of the committee have decided to take up government surveillance in the upcoming deliberative meetings.
  • India’s proposed regulation is similar to the US in the loopholes that could be potentially exploited.

Have other countries taken note of the Dutch court ruling?

  • Digital ID systems are being rolled out at a fast pace in places like Kenya, Philippines, Nigeria, Mexico, and more.
  • Experts worldwide have been watching the Netherlands case throughout, and agree that the ruling will ripple beyond south Rotterdam.
  • This decision sets a strong legal precedent for other courts to follow.
  • This is one of the first times a court anywhere has stopped the use of digital technologies and abundant digital information by welfare authorities on human rights grounds.
  • This ruling by the Dutch courts demonstrates that parliaments ought to look very closely at the ways in which governments use technology in the social security system, to protect the rights of their citizens.

[Ref: Indian express]

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