Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE : 3rd September 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Question Hour
  2. Govt bans 116 other mobile apps
  3. Mission Karmayogi : National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building (NPCSCB)
  4. Detecting Coronavirus using Mass Spectrometer
  5. Non Military Tactics, Military Bases used by China to Expand Influence
  6. Merchant Export from India Scheme (MEIS) scheme
  7. Facts For Prelims

1 . Question Hour


Context: The Lok Sabha Secretariat has officially released the schedule for the monsoon Parliament session that starts on September 14 and in it the Question Hour has been dropped considering the extraordinary times.

About the News

  • Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats notified that there will be no Question Hour during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, which has been truncated to September 14-October 1 in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that Zero Hour will be restricted in both Houses.
  • Opposition MPs have criticised the move, saying they will lose the right to question the government. MPs had requested the presiding officers of both Houses to have Zero Hour
  • The session will have staggered timings to accommodate members of one House in both chambers and follow strict physical distancing norms. 

What is Question Hour, and what is its significance?

  • Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that Members of Parliament ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries. The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
  • Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning. Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain. With the broadcasting of Question Hour since 1991, Question Hour has become one the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.
  • Asking questions of the government has a long history in our legislative bodies. Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers. 

And what is Zero Hour?

  • While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation. The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
  • The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament, when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
  • During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm. Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch. This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.
  • Over the years, presiding officers of both Houses have given directions to streamline the working of Zero Hour to make it even more effective. Its importance can be gauged from the support it receives from citizens, media, MPs and presiding officers despite not being part of the rulebook.

How is Question Hour regulated?

  • Parliament has comprehensive rules for dealing with every aspect of Question Hour. And the presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.
  • For example, usually Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting. In 2014, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari shifted Question Hour in the House from 11 am to 12 noon. The move was to prevent the disruption of Question Hour.

What kind of questions are asked?

  • Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the kind of questions that can be asked by MPs. Questions have to be limited to 150 words. They have to be precise and not too general.
  • The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the Government of India.
  • Questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
  • It is the presiding officers of the two Houses who finally decide whether a question raised by an MP will be admitted for answering by the government.

How frequently is Question Hour held?

  • The process of asking and answering questions starts with identifying the days on which Question Hour will be held.
  • At the beginning of Parliament in 1952, Lok Sabha rules provided for Question Hour to be held every day. Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, had a provision for Question Hour for two days a week. A few months later, this was changed to four days a week. Then from 1964, Question Hour was taking place in Rajya Sabha on every day of the session.
  • Now, Question Hour in both Houses is held on all days of the session. But there are two days when an exception is made. There is no Question Hour on the day the President addresses MPs from both Houses in the Central Hall. The President’s speech takes place at the beginning of a new Lok Sabha and on the first day of a new Parliament year. Question Hour is not scheduled either on the day the Finance Minister presents the Budget.

How does Parliament manage to get so many questions answered?

  • To streamline the answering of questions raised by MPs, the ministries are put into five groups. Each group answers questions on the day allocated to it. For example, in the last session, on Thursday the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Labour, Housing, and Youth Affairs and Sports were answering questions posed by Lok Sabha MPs. This grouping of ministries is different for the two Houses so that ministers can be present in one house to answer questions, So the minister of Civil Aviation was answering questions in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, during the Budget session.
  • MPs can specify whether they want an oral or written response to their questions. They can put an asterisk against their question signifying that they want the minister to answer that question on the floor. These are referred to as starred questions.
  • After the minister’s response, the MP who asked the question and other MPs can also ask a follow-up question. This is the visible part of Question Hour, where you see MPs trying to corner ministers on the functioning of their ministries on live television.

How do ministers prepare their answers?

  • Ministries receive the questions 15 days in advance so that they can prepare their ministers for Question Hour. They also have to prepare for sharp follow-up questions they can expect to be asked in the House. Governments officers are close at hand in a gallery so that they can pass notes or relevant documents to support the minister in answering a question.
  • When MPs are trying to gather data and information about government functioning, they prefer the responses to such queries in writing. These questions are referred to as unstarred questions. The responses to these questions are placed on the table of Parliament.

Are the questions only for ministers?

  • MPs usually ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide them with a mechanism for asking their colleagues a question. Such a question should be limited to the role of an MP relating to a Bill or a resolution being piloted by them or any other matter connected with the functioning of the House for which they are responsible. Should the presiding officer so allow, MPs can also ask a question to a minister at a notice period shorter than 15 days.

Is there a limit to the number of questions that can be asked?

  • Rules on the number of questions that can be asked in a day have changed over the years. In Lok Sabha, until the late 1960s, there was no limit on the number of unstarred questions that could be asked in a day. Now, Parliament rules limit the number of starred and unstarred questions an MP can ask in a day. The total number of questions asked by MPs in the starred and unstarred categories are then put in a random ballot. From the ballot in Lok Sabha, 20 starred questions are picked for answering during Question Hour and 230 are picked for written answers. Last year, a record was set when on a single day, after a gap of 47 years, all 20 starred questions were answered in Lok Sabha.

Have there been previous sessions without Question Hour?

  • Parliamentary records show that during the Chinese aggression in 1962, the Winter Session was advanced. The sitting of the House started at 12 pm and there was no Question Hour held. Before the session, changes were made limiting the number of questions. Thereafter, following an agreement between the ruling and the Opposition parties, it was decided to suspend Question Hour

2 . Govt bans 116 other mobile apps


Context: Ministry of Information & Technology has recently banned 118 applications a majority of which were Chinese.

About the news

  • The ban includes several popular Chinese applications such as PUBG, WeChat Work, Baidu, CamCard, Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade and Alipay.
  • The ban has been announced amid renewed tensions between India and China owing to the stand-off on the disputed boundary in Ladakh that has been on since May 2020.
  • Ban is in addition to the ban on 59 Chinese applications, including TikTok, Shareit, Mi Video Call, Club Factory and Cam Scanner, which was announced in June 2020.

Why were the Chinese apps banned?

  • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has stated that it had received many complaints about the misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers that have locations outside India.
  • “The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures,
  • Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs, has sent an exhaustive recommendation for blocking these “malicious apps” and similar bipartisan concerns have been flagged by various public representatives, both outside and inside Parliament. There has been a strong chorus in the public space to take strict action against apps that harm India’s sovereignty as well as the privacy of our citizens,” the Ministry said.
  • After these concerns the decision was taken to safeguard the “sovereignty and integrity of India by invoking powers under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009.

Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act

  • Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, was introduced by an amendment to the Act in 2008. It gives the Central government the power to block public access to any information online — whether on websites or mobile apps.
  • Under Section 69A, if a website threatens India’s defence, its sovereignty and integrity, friendly relations with foreign countries and public order, the government can ban it, after following due procedure.
  • The detailed procedures to do so are listed under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. Apart from this, a court may also issue directions for blocking information online. The Department of Telecommunications, too, can issue blocking orders to internet service providers, to enforce licensing conditions.

Blocking Procedure

  • n terms of process, there are two options available to the government under Section 69A of the IT Act to issue ban orders — normal and emergency.
  • Section 69A mandates that every ministry in central, state and Union Territory governments must have a nodal officer, to receive complaints about websites that host ‘offensive’ content. Once the nodal officer sees merit in the complaint, he/she then forwards it to a designated officer, who chairs a committee to examine the grievance.
  • This committee includes representatives from the Ministries of Law and Justice, Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), and give the intermediary a hearing.
  • In the normal course, an order to block content requires: (a) a decision to be made by a government committee (b) relevant intermediaries to be given an opportunity to be heard by this committee. These processes are not required when emergency provisions are used.
  • The emergency route allows content to be blocked on the directions of the Secretary, Department of IT, who must consider the impugned content and record his reasons for doing so.
  • However, in the case of emergencies, the order of the Secretary, Department of IT, must be placed before the government committee within 48 hours. Based on the recommendations of this committee, the order can then be finalised or vacated.

3 . Mission Karmayogi : National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building (NPCSCB)


Context: The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has approved launching of a National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building (NPCSCB)

About Mission Karmayogi : National Programme for Civil Services Capacity Building (NPCSCB)

  • NPCSCB has been carefully designed to lay the foundations for capacity building for Civil Servants so that they remain entrenched in Indian Culture and sensibilities and remain connected, with their roots, while they learn from the best institutions and practices across the world.
  • The programme will “radically” improve the government’s human resource management practices and prepare civil servants for the future
  • The Programme will be delivered by setting up an Integrated Government Online Training-iGOT Karmayogi Platform.
  • Programme is meant to be a comprehensive post-recruitment reform of the Centre’s human resource (HR) development, in the same way as the National Recruitment Agency approved last week as pre-recruitment reform.

Aims

  • Mission Karmayogi aims to prepare the Indian Civil Servant for the future by making him more creative, constructive, imaginative, innovative, proactive, professional, progressive, energetic, enabling, transparent and technology-enabled.
  • Empowered with specific role-competencies, the civil servant will be able to ensure efficient service delivery of the highest quality standards.

Salient Features

  • Supporting Transition from ‘Rules based’ to ‘Roles based* HR Management.Aligning work allocation of civil servants by matching their competencies to the requirements of the post.
  • To emphasize on ‘on-site learning’ to complement the ‘off-site’ learning,
  • To create an ecosystem of shared training infrastructure including that oflearning materials, institutions and personnel,
  • To calibrate all Civil Service positions to a Framework of Roles, Activities and Competencies (FRACs) approach and to create and deliver learningcontent relevant to the identified FRACs in every Government entity,
  • To make available to all civil servants, an opportunity to continuously build and strengthen their Behavioral, Functional and Domain Competencies intheir self-driven and mandated learning paths.
  • To enable all the Central Ministries and Departments and their Organizations  to directly invest their resources towards co-creation  and sharing the collaborative and common ecosystem of learning through an annual financialsubscription for every employee,
  • To encourage and partner with the best-in-class learning content creators including public training institutions, universities, start-tips and individualexperts,
  •  To undertake data analytics in respect of data emit provided by iGOT- Karmayogi  pertaining  to  various  aspects  of capacity  building,   content creation, user feedback and mapping of competencies and identify areas for policy reforms.

About the Platform

  • iGOT-Karmayogi platform brings the scale and state-of-the-art infrastructure to augment the capacities of over two crore officials in India.
  • The platform is expected to evolve into a vibrant and world-class market place for content where carefully curated and vetted digital e-learning material will be made available.
  • Besides capacity building, service matters like confirmation after probation period, deployment, work assignment and notification of vacancies etc. would eventually be integrated with the proposed competency framework.

Institutional framework

  • Prime Minister’s Public Human Resources (HR) Council,
  • Capacity Building Commission.
  • Special Purpose Vehicle for owning and operating the digital assets and the technological platform for online training,
  • Coordination Unit headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

A Public Human Resources Council 

  • A Public Human Resources Council comprising of select Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, eminent public HR practitioners, thinkers, global thought leaders and Public Service functionaries under the Chairmanship of Hon’ble Prime Minister will serve as the apex body for providing strategic direction to the task of Civil Services Reform and capacity building.
  • The proposed council will review reports of the Capacity Building Commission.

Capacity Building Commission

  • It is also proposed to set up a Capacity Building Commission, with a view to ensure a uniform approach in managing and regulating the capacity building ecosystem on collaborative and co-sharing basis.
  • The role of Commission will be as under-
    • To assist the PM Public Human Resources Council in approving the Annual Capacity Building Plans.
    • To exercise functional supervision over all Central Training Institutions dealing with civil services capacity building.
    • To create shared learning resources, including internal and external faculty and resource centers.
    • To coordinate and supervise the implementation of the Capacity Building Plans with the stakeholder Departments.
    • To make recommendations on standardization of training and capacity building, pedagogy and methodology
    • To set norms for common mid-career training programs across all civil services.
    • To suggest policy interventions required in the areas of HR Management and Capacity Building to the Government.

Special Purpose Vehicle

  •  A wholly owned Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for NPCSCB will be set up under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013.
  • The SPV will be a “not-for-profit” company and will own and manage iGOT-Karmayogi platform.
  • The SPV will create and operationalize the content, market place and manage key business services of iGOT-Karmayogi platform, relating to content validation, independent proctored assessments and telemetry data availability.
  • The SPV will own all Intellectual Property Rights on behalf of the Government of India.
  • An appropriate monitoring and evaluation framework will also be put in place for performance evaluation of all users of the iGOT-Karmayogi platform so as to generate a dashboard view of Key Performance Indicators.

Funding & Subscription

  • Initial funding to the tune of $50 million will come from multilateral agencies including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.
  • All government departments will contribute Rs 431 annually for each civil servant working for them as subscription charge for the SPV. The project, which will cover around 46 lakh central government employees and will be set up at a cost of Rs 510.86 crore over the next five years.

Significance

  • Mission Karmayogi will end the culture of working in the silos” and also help in overcoming the multiplicity of training curriculum that exists because of the institutions spread all over the country.
  • The programme will radically improve the Human Resource management practices in the Government.
  • The programme will also help to  augment the capacity of Civil Servants by using scale & state of the art infrastructur.
  • It will help in uniform realisation of the nation’s vision, uniform realisation of shared aspirations and shared future goals.
  • The project will also provide a mechanism for continuous capacity building, a constant updating of the talent pool, and an equal opportunity for personal as well as professional growth and esteem of self-training for value addition at all levels

4 . Detecting Coronavirus using Mass Spectrometer


Context: Researchers at the Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have been able to detect novel coronavirus with 95% sensitivity and 100% specificity with respect to RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) using the mass spectrometer. The results have been published in the Journal of Proteins and Proteomics.

Mass Spectrometer

  • Mass spectrometers are sophisticated instruments that work on the principles of compound ionization and fragmentation (typically through the bombardment by electrons or selected ions), the physical separation of the charged fragments, and their detection.
  • Mass spectrometers are capable of detecting many molecular ions, and ions formed by fragmentation, of heterocycles, even when only trace amounts are present.

About the test

  • The new method can directly detect the virus without amplifying the RNA for detection, as is the case with RT-PCR.
  • The new method relies on detecting the presence of two peptides which are unique to SARS-CoV-2 virus and not seen in any other coronavirus or other viruses.
  • Though seven peptides were found to be unique to SARS-CoV-2, only two peptides are used for quick virus detection. One of the peptides is the spike protein and the other is a replicase protein. The unique peptides were seen in over 54,000 genomic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus deposited in a public database (GISAID)
  • Researchers could detect the peptides of SARS-CoV-2 virus even in patients who have recovered from the symptoms and have tested negative for the virus by RT-PCR. The peptides were present even after 14 days of initial infection. This highlights the sensitivity of the technique.
  • The virus in the swab samples are inactivated using detergent and further processed before being used for virus detection.

Features of the test

  • High Sensitivity: The sensitivity is 90.4% as compared to RT-PCR in case of high stringency. The peptides of SARS-CoV-2 virus can be detected even in patients who have recovered from the symptoms and have tested negative for the virus by RT-PCR. The peptides were present even after 14 days of initial infection. This highlights the sensitivity of the technique.”
  • Less time results: Detection of the virus takes less than three minutes and the time from sample preparation to detection takes less than 30 minutes.
  • Cheaper than RT- PCR: “The mass spectrometer is expensive but it would cost only about ₹100 per test, and so it is cheaper than RT-PCR. Many research labs have the mass spectrometer,” Dr. Sengupta says.
  • Mass screening: It can be used for screening and diagnostic purposes. It can either complement RT-PCR or be used as an alternative to RT-PCR.

5 . Non Military Tactics, Military Bases used by China to Expand Influence


Context: A 200-page Pentagon report ‘Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China 2020’ has been released on China’s usage of non-military and military tactics to expand its influence.

China’s claims

  • South and East China Seas: China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
    • Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region as both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are vital to global trade.   
    • China claims almost all of the South China Sea whereas Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims over the area.
  • Taiwan:   In recent years, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also increased patrols around and near Taiwan using bomber, fighter, and surveillance aircraft to signal Taiwan.
    • Beijing views Taiwan as a rebel province that must be reunified with the mainland, even by force.
  • India: Tensions with India persist along the northeastern border near the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China asserts is part of Tibet and therefore part of China, and near the Aksai Chin region at the western end of the Tibetan Plateau,

Tactics used by China

  • The report describes Non War Military Activities (NWMA) as one of two kinds of military operations (the other is war) used by the PLA. NWMA can be conducted internationally or domestically and encompass activities in multiple domains. NWMA can notably include operations in which the PLA uses coercive threats and/or violence below the level of armed conflict against states and other actors to safeguard the PRC’s sovereignty and national interests
  • China calibrates its coercive activities to fall below the threshold of provoking armed conflict with the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region. These tactics are particularly evident in China’s pursuit of its territorial and maritime claims in the South and East China Seas as well as along its border with India and Bhutan
  • China also employs non-military tools coercively, including economic tools during periods of political tensions with countries that China accuses of harming its national interests
  • On multilateral forums and international organisations , the report says that China uses these “ to generate new opportunities to expand its influence, strengthen its political influence, promotes strategic messaging that portrays it as a responsible global actor, advance its development interests, and limit outside interference in and criticism of its initiatives. The Brazil Russia India China South Africa (BRICS) grouping and Shanghai Cooperation Organization are among those cited as examples of this alleged phenomenon.

6 . Merchant Export from India Scheme (MEIS) scheme


Context: The government has decided to cap export incentives under  Merchant Export from India Scheme (MEIS) scheme at ₹2 crore per exporter on outbound shipments made during September-December, 2020.

Other announcements by the centre

  • The Centre has also announced an outlay of ₹5,000 crore for exports during September-December, 2020 with the condition that if claims exceeded this limit, the ceiling may further be revised downwards.

What will the impact of these changes?

  • Export competitiveness: the sudden change in export incentives under MEIS may affect the traders as the exports that will be made during September-December are based on orders that had been negotiated earlier, factoring in the existing Merchant Export from India Scheme (MEIS) benefit.
  • Financial burden: The move will affect the exporters’ financially as buyers were not going to revise their prices upwards

What is the MEIS scheme?

  • With the aim of making India’s products more competitive in the global markets, the scheme provides incentive in the form of duty credit scrip to the exporter to compensate for his loss on payment of duties.
  • To offset infrastructural inefficiencies and the associated costs of exporting products produced in India giving special emphasis on those which are of India’s export interest and have the capability to generate employment and enhance India’s competitiveness in the world market.
  • Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) under Foreign Trade Policy of India (FTP 2015-20) is one of the two schemes introduced in Foreign Trade Policy of India 2015-20, as a part of Exports from India Scheme. (The other scheme is SEIS, Service Exports from India Scheme).
    • The Government of India has brought in the Merchandise Exports Incentive Scheme (MEIS), replacing five other similar incentive schemes present in the earlier Foreign Trade Policy 2009-14. The schemes that have been replaced by the MEIS scheme include:
    • Focus Product Scheme (FPS)
    • Focus Market Scheme (FMS)
    • Market Linked Focus Product Scheme (MLFPS)
    • Agri. Infrastructure incentive scheme
    • Vishesh Krishi Gramin Upaj Yojna (VKGUY)
  • As per the present FTP, the MEIS scheme does not aim to merely replace these five schemes but also aims to rationalize the incentives and enlarges their scopes by removing various restrictions.

7 . Facts for Prelims


3 more official languages for J&K

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill to include Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi as official languages in the newly-created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Only English and Urdu were official languages in the erstwhile State.

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