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18 December, 2019

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Indian peacekeepers in Sudan awarded UN medal

Syllabus subtopic: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

Prelims and Mains focus: About UNMISS; India’s contribution in UN peacekeeping operations

News: Fifty Indian peacekeepers stationed in South Sudan have been awarded the UN Medal for their professionalism and service in protecting civilians and building durable peace in the conflict-ridden country.

Contribution of Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan

  • The Indian peacekeepers are part of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
  • The are deployed with the Indian battalion stationed at Bor in the Jonglei region of South Sudan.
  • Presenting the award, General Kamanzi acknowledged their contribution in carrying out patrols across the region as well as providing a safe and secure environment for the 2,500 civilians who have sought sanctuary at the UN Protection of Civilians site at Bor.
  • The local government in Jonglei also paid tribute to the Indian troops.
  • The Indian battalion had played an important role in keeping the community safe as well as encouraging local peace efforts.
  • They had also provided much-needed services to the community outside of their core mandate, such as medical care for local residents and support for local farmers with veterinary treatment for their animals.
  • The battalion has been intimately associated with peacekeeping efforts and the battalion has supported the mandate of the United Nations and the overall peace process.


  • On 9 July 2011 South Sudan became the newest country in the world. The birth of the Republic of South Sudan is the culmination of a six-year peace process which began with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.
  • However, the Security Council determined that the situation faced by South Sudan continued to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region and established the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) to consolidate peace and security and to help establish conditions for development.

Following the crisis which broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, the Security Council reinforced UNMISS and reprioritized its mandate towards the protection of civilians, human rights monitoring, and support for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

What is peacekeeping?

  • United Nations Peacekeeping helps countries torn by conflict create conditions for lasting peace. Peacekeeping has proven to be one of the most effective tools available to the UN to assist host countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace.
  • Peacekeeping has unique strengths, including legitimacy, burden sharing, and an ability to deploy and sustain troops and police from around the globe, integrating them with civilian peacekeepers to advance multidimensional mandates.
  • UN peacekeepers provide security and the political and peace building support to help countries make the difficult, early transition from conflict to peace.
  • There are currently 14 UN peacekeeping operations deployed on four continents.

UN Peacekeeping is guided by three basic principles:

  • Consent of the parties.
  • Impartiality
  • Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.

Global partnership:

  • UN peacekeeping is a unique global partnership. It brings together the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, troop and police contributors and the host governments in a combined effort to maintain international peace and security.
  • Its strength lies in the legitimacy of the UN Charter and in the wide range of contributing countries that participate and provide precious resources.

Source: Indian Express

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No special UNSC meet on Kashmir

Syllabus subtopic: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.

Prelims and Mains focus: about UNSC: its structure and mandate; Indo-US defence relations and India’s diplomatic efforts to counter China’s arguments on CAA

News: A special meeting of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Kashmir was not convened on Tuesday, diplomatic sources have confirmed. The meeting was sought by China to discuss India’s decision to end the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Remarks made by the UNSC

  • Kashmir will not be discussed at the Security Council. The issue has to be treated bilaterally between India and Pakistan.


  • The UNSC met on August 16 after China insisted on reviving the ‘India­Pakistan Question’ at the world body’s highest decision making unit, where the issue had been dormant since it was discussed in December 1971.
  • China’s move comes ahead of the expected meeting between the Special Representatives of India and China to discuss the border issue. It has also cast a shadow on the ‘2+2’ meeting between India and the U.S., in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T. Esper will host their counterparts S. Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh.

Upcoming Indo-US 2+2 meeting

  • Enhanced defence cooperation, furthering their Indo-Pacific strategy, and discussions on global challenges, including U.S. policy in Iran and Afghanistan, are likely to feature at the top of the agenda as External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh sit down for the second “2+2” combined ministerial meeting with their U.S. counterparts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, on Wednesday.
  • On the defence front, the two sides are expected to sign the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) and review steps being taken to operationalise the foundational agreement Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was signed during the previous 2+2 talks.
  • However, discussions on the last foundational agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo­spatial Cooperation (BECA) have not concluded yet, as some differences still remain, official sources said.
  • In addition, there are several big ticket defence deals in the works, the progress of which will be reviewed. These include the 24 Lockheed Martin MH­60R Multi-Role helicopters worth $2.4bn and 13 BAE Systems built 127 mm MK­45 Naval gun systems, among others.
  • However, the threat of U.S. sanctions under CAATSA over S­400 air defence purchases from Russia remains a sticking point.

About Industrial Security Annex (ISA) and its significance

  • The ISA is crucial for U.S. companies bidding for big ticket Indian deals to partner with the Indian private industry, especially the multibillion dollar deal for 114 fighter jets. As part of efforts for co­development and coproduction of military hardware, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) is also expected to be signed that “will act as a guide to coordinate projects.”

Quad grouping also to be discussed

  • As part of the larger Indo-Pacific focus, the evolving cooperation between the Quad grouping comprising India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. will also be discussed. While Washington has been pushing for greater military engagement, New Delhi has stated that it doesn’t see any military role for the grouping.

Significance of the 2+2 dialogue

The 2+2 dialogue is the highest­level institutional mechanism between India and USA that brings together our perspectives on foreign policy, defence and strategic issues.

A lot of progress has been made in the areas of foreign policy and defence between two countries and both are looking forward to a highly qualitative meeting.

U.S’ concerns over the CAA

  • In addition, officials say U.S. concerns over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the protests, which the U.S. State Department has spoken about twice now, will come up.
  • U.S. officials in Delhi have also raised the issue of continuing restrictions in Kashmir, including the detention of political leaders, as recently as last week, and have made requests repeatedly to the government to allow U.S. Embassy diplomats to visit Jammu and Kashmir.

India and US: four foundational agreements

The four foundational agreements are – Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), COMCASA, General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA).

About UNSC

  • The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions. It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states
  • Members: The Security Council consists of fifteen members. Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States—serve as the body’s five permanent members. These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General.
  • The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.

Source: The Hindu

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Govt. aims to provide broadband access to all villages by 2022

Syllabus subtopic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the National Broadband Mission and its significance in bridging the digital divide in India

News: The government on Tuesday announced a new ‘mission’ aimed at providing broadband access to all villages by 2022, entailing an investment of around Rs. 7 lakh crore from various stakeholders.

About the mission

  • The National Broadband Mission will facilitate universal and equitable access to broadband services across the country, especially in rural and remote areas.
  • It would also aim at significantly improving quality of services for mobile and Internet.
  • Under the mission, the government plans to lay incremental 30lakh route km of optical fibre cable, while also increasing tower density from 0.42 to 1 tower per thousand of population by 2024.
  • The mission envisages stakeholder investment of $100 billion (Rs.7 lakh crore) including Rs.70,000 crore from Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) in the coming years and “address policy and regulatory changes required to accelerate the expansion and creation of digital infrastructure and services.”

Vision of the mission

The vision of the national broadband mission is to fast­track growth of digital communications infrastructure, bridge the digital divide, facilitate digital empowerment and inclusion, and provide affordable and universal access of broadband for all.

Source: The Hindu

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GS-III : Economic Issues Banking
NEFT round the clock set to boost digital payments

Syllabus subtopic: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

Prelims and Mains focus: about the difference between various payment systems like NEFT, RTGS and IMPS and their use

News: National electronic funds transfer (NEFT), a retail payment system operated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), became a 24x7 facility on 16 December. The facility will be available on all days of the year, including bank holidays.

How did NEFT function before 16 December?

Before 16 December, NEFT was available for customers from 8am to 7pm on all working days, except the second and fourth Saturdays of the month and other bank holidays. NEFT transactions do not happen in real time. They were settled in half-hourly batches through 23 settlements. Despite the time restrictions, NEFT handled 2.3 billion transactions valued at around Rs.228 trillion in 2018-19, up from 1.9 billion transactions valued at Rs.172 trillion in the previous year—a growth of 19.1% in terms of volume and 32.3% in terms of value. At the end of March, it was available through 144,927 branches of 209 banks.

What has changed now in the system?

RBI has now made the facility available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. “It has been decided that NEFT shall be made available from December 16, 2019, with the first settlement taking place after 00:30 hours on December 16, 2019,” the banking regulator said. This is the second of two major changes implemented by RBI in the context of NEFT. In its July monetary policy review, the regulator decided to do away with processing charges levied by it for NEFT and real-time gross settlement (RTGS). RBI specified in November that this would come into effect for banks from January next year.

What other modes of fund transfer are available?

Two other systems of fund transfer are RTGS and immediate payment service (IMPS). Under RTGS, the minimum transfer amount is Rs.2 lakh and the facility is available only during working hours of banks. IMPS is a real-time payment service available even on holidays with an upper limit on transactions of Rs.2 lakh, but no lower limit.

What impact will this have on users?

The change is part of RBI’s push to drive digital fund movement and increase usage by offering more convenience to users. RBI’s mandate to do away with charges on retail transactions through NEFT, RTGS and IMPS was also aimed at encouraging bank customers to adopt these digital facilities. Making NEFT available round the clock will further this agenda. With no upper limit on fund transfers, combined with no transaction cost or time barrier, NEFT is likely to become the most favoured payment method.

What does this mean for digital payments?

RBI joined an elite club of nations having payment systems that enable round-the-clock fund transfer and settlement of any value, the regulator tweeted after announcing the change. The club includes Hong Kong, the UK, South Korea, Singapore and China. RBI’s digital push may reduce the use of cash and cheque for fund transfer. It will also add to the impetus driving the rise in India’s digital payments transaction value, projected to more than double to $135.2 billion in 2023, according to an Assocham-PwC India study.

Source: mint

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GS-III : Economic Issues Banking
RBI to steadily tighten NBFC regulations

Syllabus subtopic: Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.

Prelims focus: difference between NBFCs and regular banks

Mains focus: about the NBFC crisis and its implications; efforts of RBI to check further downfall in growth

News: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is looking to steadily tighten regulation of non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) without causing any disruption to the current recovery of the sector, RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said.

What changes are on the anvil?

  • RBI has mandated that there should be a chief risk officer.
  • It has also mandated that NBFCs should have liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) requirement to take care of asset-liability (ALM) mismatches.
  • There are a few other regulatory measures, which are under consideration and will be brought in steadily. These new regulations have to be brought in a non-disruptive manner.

Green shoots

  • There are signs that bank credit to NBFCs is slowly reviving and the better-performing ones are able to access funds from the market at rates that prevailed before the collapse of Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS).
  • Overall, non-bank credit growth is, however, yet to return to pre-IL&FS levels. According to RBI data, assets of deposit and non-deposit-taking systemically important NBFCs, excluding housing finance companies, have grown from Rs. 28.3 trillion in September 2018 to Rs. 31.95 trillion in September 2019, a growth of 12.9%.
  • There are some indications of investment taking place. However, it’s too early to rush to a conclusion. It is to be seen if this gets entrenched and sustained over or one or two quarters.

RBI’s efforts in regulating NBFCs

  • In the October policy, the RBI governor had said that RBI was regularly monitoring the top 50 NBFCs much more closely and intensively than anyone could expect.
  • He had also said the central bank was aware of vulnerabilities in the NBFC sector. Non-banks are yet to completely absorb the systemic shock following defaults by IL&FS in September 2018, and a consequent liquidity crunch.
  • Besides, considering that most NBFCs have borrowed short-term money to fund long-term assets, they were able to continually refinance their borrowings as long as liquidity conditions were easy. As liquidity tightened, they were left facing debt repayment challenges and prospects of rating downgrades.
  • To ensure greater credit flow from banks to NBFCs, in August 2019 RBI also increased exposure limits to a single NBFC from 15% to 20% and allowed banks to lend to NBFCs for on-lending to customers.

Challenges and way ahead

  • Referring to the recent measures taken by the finance ministry, Das said the government could find it challenging to find the fiscal space to provide further boost to the ailing economy.
  • He said revenue maximization, therefore, assumes greater importance in the current context.
  • In the October monetary policy, Das had said that the Reserve Bank decided to go for a “temporary pause” in the interest rate-cutting cycle and wait for the government to announce further measures in the Union budget for fiscal 2020-21.
  • Spike in food inflation appears to be transient. With inflation at around 4%, nominal GDP growth will come down compared to what it was 7-8 years ago. With current nominal GDP down to 7%, it’ll be a challenge for the government to find space.
  • Therefore, the government will have to focus on accretion of additional revenue, goods and services tax streamlining and plugging loopholes, if any, disinvestment programme and other revenue mobilization measures.

Source: mint

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GS-III : Economic Issues Terminology
Non-GST tax revenue subdued in current fiscal

Syllabus subtopic:

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Prelims and Mains focus: key findings of the report; reasons for sluggish non-GST revenues and their impact on fiscal health of the Indian economy; measures to be taken to address them

News: Even as the government struggles to shore up the GST revenue, the collection of non-GST tax revenue too seems to be subdued at a time when the economy is slowing down.

What do the findings reveal?

  • A scrutiny of revenue figures of 16 major states reveals a sluggish growth in non-GST tax collection during the first seven months of the current financial year as compared to the same period last fiscal.
  • The data, compiled from unaudited provisional figures of states’ monthly accounts available on the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) website, shows that combined non-GST tax collection of 16 Non-Special Category states during April-October 2019 was Rs 3,03,106.03 crore, 50.52 per cent of the budget target of Rs 5,99,987.7 crore.
  • It is lower in comparison to the 52.72 per cent collected during the same period of the last fiscal against the budget targets of 2018-19.
  • The states for which data have been analysed include Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Telangana.
  • There are 18 Non-Special Category states but the latest data is not available for Bihar and Goa.
  • The data have been compared against Budget targets of current and last financial years as comparable full year non-GST revenue figures of states are available only 2018-19 onwards.
  • The analysis shows the combined mop-up of State Excise Duties in these states was Rs 81,764.25 crore or 51.29 per cent of their total Budget target during the first seven months of the current financial year. However it was Rs 74,809.6 crore or 55.05 per cent in the year-ago period.
  • The state excise duties levied on liquor is the second biggest contributor to the state’s Own Tax revenue after sales tax. Though there is no reason given for the sluggishness in the collection of state excise duties, it can be attributed to the slowdown as well as prohibition in few states. Besides this, collections of Stamps and Registration Fees and Land Revenue are also subdued.
  • During the April-October period of 2019-20, the collection of Stamps and Registration Fees in these 16 states was Rs 68,367.97 crore — 53.40 per cent of the Budgeted target of Rs 1,28,035 crore. However, collection of Stamps and Registration Fees was much faster — 58.33 per cent of the Budget target of Rs 1,10,668.96 crore in the first seven months of 2018-19. The collection of sales tax has also been sluggish this fiscal.

What constitute non-GST taxes?

The non-GST taxes include mainly four taxes:

  1. Stamps and Registration Fees;
  2. Land Revenue;
  3. Sales Tax; and
  4. State Excise Duties.

Difference between Nil Rated, Exempt, Zero Rated and Non-GST supplies

Supply Name


Zero Rated


Supplies made to SEZ or SEZ Developers.

Nil Rated

Supplies that have a declared rate of 0% GST.

Example: Salt, grains, jaggery etc.


Supplies are taxable but do not attract GST and for which ITC cannot be claimed.

Example: Fresh milk, Fresh fruits, Curd, Bread etc.


These supplies do not come under the purview of GST law.

Example: Alcohol for human consumption, Petrol etc.

Source: Indian Express

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How coal power increases infant mortality

Syllabus subtopic: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Prelims and Mains focus: about the findings of the study and its significance

News: More than 70% of India’s power generation comes from coal, a dependence that comes with serious health consequences, according to research.

Findings of the research on harmful impact of coal-fired power plants

  • In a study, Geoffrey Barrows of the École Polytechnique and others find that the expansion of coal-based power generation can have adverse effects on infant mortality through increased pollution levels in the form of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

  • Coal power plants are responsible for around 60% of NO2 emissions in the country, according to their estimates.

  • The researchers use gridded pollution data between 1996-2015 and district-level infant mortality rates to show that the expansion of coal power generation in India has increased infant mortality significantly.

  • Specifically, they show that 1 gigawatt (GW) rise in coal power generation capacity increases NO2 levels by 7.6% and, consequently, infant mortality by 14%.

  • In contrast, a similar increase in power capacity in the US results in only a 4.8% increase in infant mortality. The authors attribute the difference to the technology used in Indian plants, higher baseline pollution and the type of coal used in India.

  • When compared to imported coal, Indian coal has higher ash content and releases more pollutants. The authors, therefore, caution against the new policy of the Indian government to place curbs on imported coal.

  • They also find that cities are more vulnerable to the effects of coal-burning as these are areas with higher pollution levels and older coal-fired power plants.

  • Taken together, the authors estimate that the health costs of coal power plants outweigh any local economic benefits. Much of the power produced in plants is transmitted elsewhere. They say environmental regulations need to target the use of domestic coal and older plants located in polluted areas.

Source: mint

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