Polity & Governance
- Commerce Ministry sets up task force on artificial intelligence
- ISTD mulls a national registry of skilled people
- Northeast yet to implement SC judgement on parliamentary secretaries
- Claims on Bt cotton need to be probed, says panel
Bilateral & International Relations
- Qatar restores diplomatic ties with Iran amid Gulf crisis
- MPs fret over trade deficit with ASEAN
Defence & Security Issues
- RBI panel seeks rights-based data privacy in household finance
Key Facts for Prelims
- Uttar Pradesh launches Chief Minister’s Helpline
- Typhoon Hato
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Polity & Governance
Commerce Ministry sets up task force on artificial intelligence
The Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry has constituted a Task Force on Artificial Intelligence (AI) chaired by V. Kamakoti of IIT Madras to explore possibilities to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) for development across various fields.
- The 18-member panel will comprise of experts, academics, researchers and industry leaders.
- In addition to regular members, official participation from the following organizations such as NITI Aayog, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Department of Science & Technology, UIDAI and DRDO will be also requested.
Mandate of the task force:
- The Task force will explore the possibilities to leverage AI for development across various fields.
- It will submit concrete and implementable recommendations for government, industry and research institutions.
- The move comes in the backdrop of the government reviewing the manufacturing and industrial policies.
- With rapid development in the fields of information technology and hardware, the world is about to witness a fourth industrial revolution.
- It will be driven by the power of big data, high computing capacity, artificial intelligence and analytics, Industry 4.0 aims to digitise the manufacturing sector.
ISTD mulls a national registry of skilled people
Indian Society for Training and Development (ISTD) is planning to form a national registry of skilled people to help upgrade the large number of unskilled population in the country.
Why we need such registry?
- Since a large number of workforce live below poverty line and are early school dropouts, they find getting decent employment difficult. Therefore, ISTD aims to bring out a registry of trainers in every skill so as to improve the economic condition of such workers.
- There are around 600 trades that need certified trainers. This include popular ones in the field of construction, textile, jewellery making, retail, handicrafts etc.
About Indian Society for Training & Development (ISTD):
Established in 1970, ISTD is a national level professional & non-profit society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
- ISTD has been designated as the National Nodal Agency to `Testing and Certification’ of Skilled Workers in the organized and unorganized sectors.
- The Society is affiliated to the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations (IFTDO), USA and Asian Regional Training and Development Organizations (ARTDO), Manila.
- It has a large membership of individuals and institutions involved in the area of training and development of Human Resource from Government, Public and Private Sector Organization & Enterprises; Educational and Training Institutions and other Professional Bodies.
- ISTD Organizes Training Programs, all over the country both at Chapter and National Levels. The Programs cover selected areas of HRD with special emphasis on Training of Trainers, Training Goals & Objectives and Training Tools & Technologies.
Northeast yet to implement SC judgement on parliamentary secretaries
Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya, which appointed parliamentary secretaries as a matter of political convenience, have not yet implemented the SC judgment on parliamentary secretaries.
- Among these states, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have 26 parliamentary secretaries, which is more than 43% of the total strength of the 60-member legislative assemblies of the two states.
What was the judgement?
- The Supreme Court, in July, held unconstitutional a law enacted by Assam government in 2004 that allowed appointment of parliamentary secretaries enjoying the rank of minister of state.
- As per the Act parliamentary secretary was given the rank and status of a minister of state and exercised such powers, functions and duties as were assigned by the chief minister.
- The court said, “Article 194 does not expressly authorise the state legislature to create offices such as the one in question.”
Therefore, the legislature of Assam lacked the competence to create the post of parliamentary secretaries.
Who is parliamentary secretary?
A Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State and has the same entitlements and is assigned to a government department.
- Many states in the Indian Union have instituted the post of Parliamentary Secretary.
- Manipur, HP, Mizoram, Assam, Rajasthan, Punjab, Goa are some of the states where MLAs have been appointed Parliament Secretaries by the Government.
- Over the last few years, courts across the country have struck down the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries for violating the Constitution.
Issues associated with parliamentary secretary:
- The ongoing debate is whether the post of ‘Parliamentary Secretary’ is an ‘office of profit.’
- ‘Office of profit’ is not defined in the Constitution. However, the Constitution specifies conditions which disqualify MPs, MLAs, Municipality and Panchayat members from membership of their respective institutions.
- The first is holding an “Office of Profit” under the state or central government. The essence of this disqualification is that there should be no conflict between the duties and interests of an elected member.
- MPs and MLAs hold the government accountable for its work, and if they held an “Office of Profit” under the government, they might be susceptible to government influence and might not discharge their constitutional mandate fully.
- The Constitution caps the number of members in the union and state cabinet.
- Article 164(1A) specifies that the number of ministers including the Chief Minister has to be within 15% of the total number of members of the Assembly.
Claims on Bt cotton need to be probed, says panel
The Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended that no genetically modified (GM) crop should be introduced unless the biosafety and socio-economic desirability is evaluated in a transparent process.
- The recommendation was made by department-related parliamentary standing committee on science and technology and environment and forest in its 301st report on “GM crop and its impact on environment”.
Highlights of the report:
- The Committee has also recommended that the Environment Ministry (MoEFCC) should examine the impact of GM crops on the environment thoroughly, in consultation with all stakeholders, so that all its probable effects are very clear.
- It also called for placing an accountable regime in this regard.
- It also noted that the GM crop regulator GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) gave its approval for commercialisation of GM mustard inspite of matter pending for decision in Supreme Court.
- It held that GM mustard being herbicide-tolerant GM organism (GMO), there are evidences on adverse impacts of such GMOs elsewhere in world.
- The committee asked that if GM technology was so good then why would all the countries not embrace it.
- The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), Delhi University, had submitted an application to the GEAC for the environmental release of GM mustard hybrid DMH-11 and the use of parental events (EH2 mod bs 2.99 and varuna bn 3.6) for the development of a new generation of hybrids.
- The MoEFCC had received over 700 comments from various stakeholders, including farmers and researchers, on the Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety (AFES) report on GM Mustard.
- Official approval of Bt Cotton was granted in March 2002 thus Bt Cotton became the first GM crop approved in India.
- Introduction of Bt cotton revolutionized the production of cotton in India since 2002. But since 2008, yield increase has been stagnating.
“A rosy picture” on Bt Cotton:
- The government cited only overall cotton output and not the average yield in area. India’s cotton yields increased by 69% in the five years (2000-2005) when Bt Cotton was less than 6% of total cotton area, but by only 10% in the 10 years from 2005-2015 when Bt Cotton grew to 94% of the total cotton area.
- Also, 20 years after introduction of GM crops in 1996, only six countries continue to account for over 90 % of all GM crop area globally including U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Canada, China and India.
Bilateral & International Relations
Qatar restores diplomatic ties with Iran amid Gulf crisis
Qatar has restored full diplomatic relations with Iran in defiance of four other Arab nations who have demanded it curb ties with the Islamic Republic.
- The state of Qatar expressed its aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields.
- Qatar also expressed its aspiration to send its ambassador back to Tehran for the first time since 2016.
What’s the issue?
- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates all cut ties with Qatar in June 2017, and issued a letter demanding 13 actions be taken to restore relations.
- Qatar ignored the demands and let a deadline to comply pass, creating an apparent stalemate in the crisis. Attempts by Kuwait, the US and others have failed to make headway.
- The boycott of Qatar has continued including the suspension of flights to and from the country, although Saudi Arabia has allowed pilgrims to travel to Mecca for hajj.
- There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight, especially in light of Qatar’s latest move.
- One of the demands the countries put to Qatar included a downgrading of its relationship with Iran, the Shiite-led country that is a regional foe for Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led nations.
- It asked Qatar to shut its diplomatic posts in Iran, kick out any members of the Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, and only conduct trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US sanctions.
- But Qatar has announced it will restore relations with Iran instead, which will undoubtedly anger those opposing Qatar in the regional dispute, chief among them Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival.
MPs fret over trade deficit with ASEAN
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce has questioned the government for suggesting that the country’s increasing trade deficit with ASEAN nations is due to imports of essential commodities.
- The Ministry of Commerce apprised the panel that the imports of essential commodities — coal, petroleum and edible oils — from ASEAN constitute a significant percentage of India’s imports and that ‘if these essential commodities are excluded, India will have a better or positive balance of trade position.’
- As per official data, among the ‘essential commodities’ cited by the government, imports of coal fell by 2.5% in 2016-17 from a year earlier, while vegetable oil imports grew by 3.7% to touch $6.19 billion in 2016-17.
- Crude petroleum imports rose by almost 50% in 2016-17, but exports of petroleum products (India’s top export product to the ASEAN bloc) surged 58.4%.
Trade deficit with ASEAN:
- India has suffered a trade deficit in respect of five ASEAN members — Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei and Lao PDR — over 2015-16 and 2016-17, with the biggest deficit emerging in trade with Indonesia.
- Under the existing trade agreement, Indonesia has committed a tariff elimination on 50.1% of its items which is the least in comparison to other ASEAN member States.
- The least tariff elimination by Indonesia has resulted in biggest trade deficit from India amongst all ASEAN member States.
- Among the other top 10 commodities imported from ASEAN, consumer electronics grew at the highest pace in 2016-17 (18.33%), followed by ships and boats (12.82%), electronic components (11.72%) and telecom instruments (9.17%).
- India’s second-largest export commodity to ASEAN — buffalo meat — saw a 4.92% increase in 2016-17 to reach $2.78 billion.
Concerns raised by the committee:
- While exports of agricultural products from India faced high import tariffs and barriers, leading to a sharp drop in trade, India’s food processing sector had raised concerns about the ‘near absence of quality norms’ for import of cheap processed food products from ASEAN countries.
- Concerns have also been raised about the imposition of safeguards and non-tariff barriers by ASEAN nations on exports of India’s textiles and pharmaceuticals.
- The committee has strongly recommended that India seek better market access for its products and services with the 10-nation bloc.
- India must seek better market access for goods where India has an edge over ASEAN nations, like leather goods and pharmaceuticals, to improve the trade balance.
- Cheap import of poor quality processed food products should be looked into. Appropriate quality norms may be fixed for import of such products from ASEAN as well as other regions of the world.
- The government must ensure reciprocity in the reduction of tariffs in products like steel.
- Efforts should also be there to improve India’s access to services trade in ASEAN, with a focus on increasing the footprint of Indian banks and financial institutions in the region.
India and ASEAN:
- The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises of Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam.
- ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner with total trade in 2016-17 at $71.69 billion, constituting almost 11% of India’s overall global trade of $660.6 billion.
- Total exports to ASEAN in 2016-17 stood at $31.07 billion, while imports were $40.63 billion, creating an adverse trade balance of $9.56 billion.
Defence & Security Issues
RBI panel seeks rights-based data privacy in household finance
The Household Finance Committee of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has sought rights- based privacy in household finance than the widely prevalent consent- based approach.
About the committee:
- In April 2016, the panel was set up following discussions in a sub-committee of Financial Stability and Development Council.
- The committee was headed by Tarun Ramadorai, a professor in financial economics at Imperial College London, and had representatives from all financial regulators.
- Most of its recommendations are not mandatory and open for public comments at present.
Why we need rights- based privacy?
- Technological advances like machine learning and big data have changed the ways in which data is processed and as a result, have made consent a less-than- effective tool to protect personal privacy.
Therefore, it is imperative to deploy an alternative system to protect data privacy.
Concerns raised the panel:
- All financial technology solutions require the use of households’ personal information, a form of wealth in itself. The committee is worried because the country lacks a formal legal framework for data protection.
- There is no formal privacy statute and the closest thing to a formal privacy law is in the rules enacted under Section 43A of the IT Act of 2000 that spell out, in general terms, privacy obligations that apply to anyone who collects and processes sensitive personal data.
- Continued lack of clear privacy regulations presents an ever-increasing risk to personal privacy.
What the committee has suggested?
- The panel has made the only mandatory suggestion that there should be a mandatory catastrophe insurance with automatically triggered pay-out in zones with high natural disasters like floods and earthquakes risks.
- The law should create a class of technically skilled intermediaries authorised to review algorithms that process personal data to evaluate whether the data is being processed in a privacy-neutral manner.
- The new privacy framework should contemplate the creation of a Data Commissioner who shall be responsible for redress of grievances as well as for establishment of standards of accountability and transparency.
- The panel suggested a set of standardised norms across regulators for financial advice, supported with a fiduciary standard for financial advisers.
- The panel also proposed simple home insurance policy covering structure and contents at a low premium.
[Ref: The Hindu]
Key Facts for Prelims
Uttar Pradesh launches Chief Minister’s Helpline
- UP state government has proposed to operationalise a 1,000-seater grievance cell in Lucknow —to be christened ‘Chief Minister’s Helpline’ —which will be capable of handling as many as 80,000 calls a day from harried residents from across the state on a single toll-free number.
- The 24*7 call centre will allow 55,000 outbound calls per day for followup action, right up to the block level where officials are responsible for resolving issues.
- The CM’s helpline will arm citizens with a big power – of simple calling up a number and reaching the CMO with their grouse and getting an assured timeline for redressal.
- This move aims to solve citizens’ grievances at their doorstep in a time-bound manner.
- Typhoon Hato, the strongest to hit southern China in 53 years, left a trail of death and destruction in the region with Macau and Hong Kong bearing the brunt of the storm.
- Hato, the 13th typhoon this year, landed in the city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province, bringing gales of up to 45 metres per second.
- Then, it brought winds of up to 160 km per hour to the Pearl river and heavy rain to nearby regions.