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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (3rd August)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. Discounting logic

  • The process of putting together a regulatory framework for electronic commerce in the country is finally speeding up.
  • A task force of the Commerce Ministry has submitted its recommendations on a draft national e-commerce policy.
  • The suggestions, if accepted by the government, could impact consumers’ online shopping experience in multiple ways, including how discounts are given, the availability of newer products, and the redressal of complaints.
  • India’s e-tail business, estimated to be worth around $25 billion, is still a fraction of the overall retail sector in the country, but it has been witness to some frenetic activity of late, including the merger between Flipkart and global giant Walmart.
  • India’s e-commerce sector, currently estimated to be worth around $25 billion, is expected to grow to $200 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Much of the growth in the sector is on account of cheaper smartphones and data tariffs, along with enhanced connectivity.
  • Having covered the metros and large cities, the bigger e-commerce firms expect their next phase of growth to come from tier-II and tier-III towns, where the expansion of 3G and 4G networks have put consumers online.
  • This is seen as resulting in job creation, productivity improvement, and increased consumer presence on online platforms.
  • The task force has said that for India to fully benefit from these opportunities, it is important for policymakers to be cognizant also of the underlying challenges — which makes it imperative to have clearly laid-down rules for electronic commerce in the country.
  • Many of these rules currently exist in some or the other form, and are enforced by a multiplicity of government departments and regulators.
  • A national e-commerce policy will be an attempt at creating a one-stop shop for the norms and regulations under which online retailers will be covered.
  • A 70-member “think tank” was set up in April this year, headed by Minister for Commerce and Industry Suresh Prabhu, and comprising the secretaries of ministries including Commerce, Information Technology, Communications, Consumer Affairs, etc., and various industry representatives.
  • The think tank set up a task force under Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia to suggest a framework for the national policy on e-commerce.
  • Now that the task force has submitted its recommendations, the think tank will work on creating a draft policy, which will be taken up by the government.
  • The government does not currently allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in e-commerce companies that hold their own inventories.
  • Online retailers with foreign investments can only operate as marketplaces — letting sellers list their products on the platform.
  • However, given that the lion’s share of investments in e-commerce firms came from abroad, the e-tailers found a way around the government’s norm by setting up seller entities that sold their products on the platforms.
  • Later, in 2016, the government mandated that no platform should have more than 25% of its sales coming from a single seller.
  • Due to the restrictions on the inventory-based model, e-commerce companies have not been able to offer their in-house brands extensively.
  • The task force has recommended that FDI may be allowed in inventory-based e-commerce companies up to 49%, with the condition that the e-tailer sells 100% Made-in- India products.
  • This will allow e-commerce firms to offer their own brands — as long as they are made in India.
  • On the other hand, for online marketplaces, the task force has suggested imposing restrictions on group companies of such platforms to prevent them from directly or indirectly influencing the prices of goods and services.
  • The marketplaces will not be able to offer deep discounts through their in-house companies listed as sellers.
  • There have been several incidents across the country of customers expressing dissatisfaction with products they purchased online. In some cases, bricks and soaps have been delivered instead of mobile phones.
  • This is an inherent flaw of the marketplace model, where platforms do not have full control over the supply chain.
  • Customers have also complained of prices being artificially jacked up higher than the maximum retail price (MRP), and of problems with the delivery of purchased products.
  • The Consumer Affairs Ministry’s National Consumer Helpline is currently the only redressal mechanism available for such grievances.
  • Between April and November last year, the National Consumer Helpline received 54,114 complaints related to the e-commerce sector.
  • To provide a forum for consumers, the task force has suggested the setting up of a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), which, besides helping consumers, will also act as the nodal agency for intra-government coordination, and provide a platform for e-commerce operators regarding complaints of fraudulent activities.
  • If the task force’s recommendations finally go through and become policy, e-commerce platforms will have to mandatorily provide the government’s RuPay payment option.
  • The task force has also suggested that foreign e-commerce websites should be brought on a level playing field with their Indian counterparts by making them follow the same rules for payment systems such as two-factor authentication.
  • With the aim to make online payments safer, the task force has also suggested creating a fraud intelligence mechanism, using artificial intelligence-based authentication systems, for early detection of frauds.
  • Currently, a large chunk of payments for online purchases is made through the cash-on-delivery option.
  • Over the coming decade, the e-commerce pie is expected to swell to $200 billion, fuelled by smartphones, cheaper data access and growing spends.
  • The draft policy proposes the creation of a single national regulator to oversee the entire industry, although operationalising its different features would require action from multiple Ministries and regulators.
  • This would also need amendments to existing legislation and rulebooks. Consumer protection norms to guard online shoppers from possible frauds too are overdue.
  • As per data available for the first eight months of 2017-18, over 50,000 e-commerce grievances were made to the Consumer Affairs Ministry helpline.
  • Traditional retailers too have voiced concerns about large e-tail players with deep pockets pricing them out of the market, and have been seeking a level playing field.
  • Among the ideas in the draft policy are a sunset clause on discounts that can be offered by e-commerce firms and restrictions on sellers backed by marketplace operators.
  • The aim may be to prevent large players from pricing out the competition though unfair practices, but taken too far such licensing and price controls can depress the sector.
  • To give the government a say on who can offer how much discount and for how long, instead of letting consumers exercise informed choices, would be a regressive step for the economy.
  • Foreign direct investment restrictions on players who can hold their own inventory are sought to be lifted, but there must be a majority Indian partner and all products have to be made in India.
  • E-tailer costs are also likely to rise on account of proposed norms on storing and processing data locally, while consumers and firms could both question the plan to stipulate payments via Rupay cards.
  • The proposed e-commerce policy could drive away those planning online retail forays — and the opportunity to create jobs and benefit consumers would be lost.

2. Population of endangered blackbuck rises

  • Population of the endangered blackbuck in Odisha’s Ganjam district has increased by 276 in the last three years.
  • It is locally called Krushnasara murga or bali harina.
  • Blackbucks, which were sighted in Balukhand-Konark wildlife sanctuary in Puri district till 2012-13, have vanished from that area. The animals migrated to some new places like Digapahandi and Berhampur.
  • It is believed that the improvement of habitats and protection given by local people and forest staff are the reasons for the increase in population.

The blackbucks of Balipadara-Bhetanai area in the district have been protected religiously by the local people for several generations. The people of the area believe that the sighting of the blackbucks in paddy fields is the harbinger of bumper harvest. The villagers do not kill the animals even if they stray into fields and eat their crops.

Black Buck:

  • The IUCN conservation status for Black Buck is “Least Concerned”.
  • In India, hunting of blackbuck is prohibited under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972
  • Found in — India, Nepal and Pakistan (extinct in Bangladesh).
  • It is the state animal of Andra Pradesh, Haryana & Punjab
  • The blackbuck is a diurnal antelope (active mainly during the day)
  • It inhabits grassy plains and slightly forested areas. Due to its regular need of water, it prefers areas where water is perennially available.
  • It is found in Central- Western India (MP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Odisha) and Southern India (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu).
  • Bishnoi community of Rajasthan is known worldwide for their conservation efforts towards blackbucks.
  • Image result for blackbuck

3. Is terraforming possible?

The scientists say that with current technologies, it is not possible to do Mars terraforming.

Image result for what is terraforming

Terraforming is creating a habitable environment on Mars, that would allow humans to explore it without life support.

Proponents of terraforming Mars propose releasing  greenhouse gases (for their ability to trap heat and warm the climate) from a variety of sources on the Mars to thicken the atmosphere and increase the temperature to the point where liquid water is stable on the surface.

These gases are called “greenhouse gases”.

Why is it not possible?

  • All the tinkering might thicken up the atmosphere and provide greater radioactive shielding, but Mars will continue to face atmosphere loss due to double solar radiation waves. As Mars desperately lacks an electromagnetic field.
  • According to scientists, Mars does not retain enough carbon dioxide that could practically be put back into the atmosphere to warm the planet.
  • Although the current Martian atmosphere itself consists mostly of carbon dioxide, it is far too thin and cold to support liquid water, an essential ingredient for life.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapour (H2O) are the only greenhouse gases that are likely to be present on Mars in sufficient abundance to provide any significant greenhouse warming.
  • Although Mars has significant quantities of water ice that could be used to create water vapour, previous analyses show that water cannot provide significant warming by itself. Temperatures do not allow enough water to persist as vapour without first having significant warming by CO2.
  • Even if Polar Ice caps were melted using thermo nuclear explosions, the amount of CO2 released would only help in bringing Mars’s atmospheric pressure to 1.2% of that of Earth. Any liquid water on the surface would very quickly evaporate or freeze.

4.  The warping of the logic of reservations

It has become a quick and dirty fix for problems caused by the state’s inability to deliver inclusive growth and good governance.

  1. The Maratha reservation demands, like those of the Patidars in Gujarat, the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh and the Jats in Haryana, are the inevitable outgrowths of the political warping of the logic of reservations
  2. This has been a contested issue since its inception
  3. The Constituent Assembly fiercely debated the potential divisiveness of a policy of religion or caste-based reservation during a time of nation-building

Comparing oppressed groups across nations

  1. When it comes to certain groups that have been systematically oppressed for centuries, community identity and economic outcomes are difficult to disentangle
  2. The Dalit experience has often been compared to the African-American experience
  3. A solid body of study in the US has shown that centuries of slavery followed by decades of discrimination in housing, education, employment and law and order continue to affect African-American communities today in terms of capital formation, social capital and economic mobility
  4. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes face the same problem in India
  5. In addition, economic opportunities, entrepreneurship, access to credit and the like are still mediated to a large extent through informal kin and caste networks today

Economic basis for the reservation not plausible

  1. Affirmative action on an economic basis must be nuanced
  2. It cannot be the job of a state as large and diverse as India to carve out a slice of the pie for every economically disadvantaged citizen
  3. Its job is to grow the pie via inclusive growth, ensure good governance that will give citizens a fair shot at it and put in place social safety nets for those who can’t find a place at the table
  4. Economic reservations, if they are to exist, must be only in instances of persistent, intergenerational poverty

Failure of government

  1. Decades of a closed economy failed to deliver the growth necessary for socioeconomic progress and rid the country of entrenched modes of crony capitalism
  2. Various administrations have also failed to put in place policies and governance structures that will allow them to fulfil their basic functions: delivering public goods to citizens and enabling them to partake of economic growth
  3. Reservation is now a quick and dirty fix for problems that are best addressed by the longer, more arduous process of good governance
  4. It also has the advantage of being a practical tool of targeted political mobilization

Way Forward

  1. In May 1949, Vallabhai Patel had said during the Constituent Assembly debates that rather than quotas on the basis of religion, he would wait for the blossoming of toleration and fair-mindedness for the growing conscience among my own countrymen, for there can be no future for this country except on the basis of true democracy and fair opportunity for all
  2. The caste consciousness still runs deep in Indian society and it shapes socioeconomic structures in negative ways
  3. It would take political courage and effective governance of a high order to push back against quota politics

5. Data localisation is not enough

  1. The Justice Srikrishna Committee in its report accompanying the draft Personal Data Protection Bill notes that eight of the top 10 most accessed websites in India are owned by U.S. entities
  2. This reality has often hindered Indian law enforcement agencies when investigating routine crimes or crimes with a cyber element
  3. Police officials are forced to rely on a long and arduous bilateral process with the U.S. government to obtain electronic evidence from U.S. communication providers
  4. The committee seeks to correct this
  5. The Bill calls for a copy of user data to be mandatorily localised in India

Is data localisation enough?

  1. A fundamental error that the Srikrishna Committee seems to have made is in its belief that the location of data should determine who has access to it
  2. The reason that Indian law enforcement relies on an outdated Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process to obtain data stored by U.S. companies is because the U.S. law effectively bars these companies from disclosing user data to foreign law enforcement authorities
  3. Technology companies are allowed to share data such as content of an email or message only upon receiving a federal warrant from U.S. authorities
  4. This scenario will not change even after technology companies relocate Indian data to India

Crimes across the globe not covered

  1. The draft bill mandates local storage of data relating to Indian citizens only
  2. Localisation can provide data only for crimes that have been committed in India, where both the perpetrator and victim are situated in India
  3. Prevalent concerns around transnational terrorism, cyber crimes and money laundering will often involve individuals and accounts that are not Indian, and therefore will not be stored in India
  4. For investigations into such crimes, Indian law enforcement will have to continue relying on cooperative models like the MLAT process

Is location sole measure of claiming data rights?

  1. Questions around whether access to data is determined by the location of the user, location of data or the place of incorporation of the service provider have become central considerations for governments seeking to solve the cross-border data sharing conundrum
  2. The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this year, seeks to de-monopolise control over data from U.S. authorities
  3. The law will for the first time allow tech companies to share data directly with certain foreign governments
  4. This requires an executive agreement between the U.S. and the foreign country certifying that the state has robust privacy protections and respect for due process and the rule of law
  5. The CLOUD Act creates a potential mechanism through with countries such as India can request data not just for crimes committed within their borders but also for transnational crimes involving their state interests

Way Forward

  1. With the highest number of users of American technology offerings and a high number of user data requests, second only to the U.S., India is a clear contender for a partnership under the CLOUD Act
  2. If India recognises this opportunity and reforms laws around government access to data, both the Indian user and law enforcement will be better served in the long run

6. Statutory status for BCs panel

  1. The Lok Sabha has passed the 123rd Constitutional Amendment Bill providing for a National Commission for Backward Classes as a constitutional body
  2. The bill provides for the grant of constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) on par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

Provisions of the bill

  1. The Bill as passed by the Lower House inserts Article 338 B in the Constitution
  2. It provides for a Commission for the socially and educationally backward classes with a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three other members, all of whom shall be appointed by the President of India
  3. It states that the President may specify the socially and educationally backward classes in the various states and union territories
  4. He may do this in consultation with the Governor of the concerned state

Domain of NCBC

  1. The duties of the NCBC include investigating and monitoring how safeguards provided to the backward classes under the Constitution and other laws are being implemented and probe specific complaints regarding violation of rights
  2. Under this measure, the NCBC will have the powers of a civil court while probing any complaint

Bill sent back to RS

  1. As the Lok Sabha passed an alternative amendment to one proposed by the Rajya Sabha, the Bill will once again go to the Rajya Sabha
  2. A constitutional amendment under Article 368 needs to be passed by both Houses separately with a special majority

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