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Here are the topics covered for 4th November 2023:
GS-2: Government fact-checking units: A retrograde step
GS-3: Air Pollution & Economic Impact, India\’s Rice Export Restrictions, India\’s First National Security Strategy
Facts for Prelims: Snooping, Antarctic Treaty
Government fact-checking units: A retrograde step
- Misinformation and disinformation have become a major problem in today\’s digital world, especially on social media. In response, some governments have established fact-checking units to identify and debunk false information.
- Many experts have criticized these units, arguing that they can be misused to silence dissent and suppress free speech.
Concerns about government fact-checking units
There are several major concerns about government fact-checking units:
- Lack of independence: Government fact-checking units are likely to be biased towards the government that established them. This means that they may be reluctant to fact-check critical statements about the government or its policies.
- Potential for misuse: Government fact-checking units could be used to silence dissent and suppress free speech. For example, the government could use the unit to label critical statements as \”misinformation\” in order to discredit them.
- Lack of transparency: Government fact-checking units are often opaque in their operations. This makes it difficult for the public to assess their impartiality and accuracy.
- The Issue of Government as Adjudicator: Critics argue that allowing governments or units appointed by them to determine what is true or false can be problematic. It raises concerns about bias, lack of independence, and the potential for suppressing dissenting voices.
Tamil Nadu\’s move
- The recent decision by the Tamil Nadu government to establish its own fact-checking unit has raised concerns among journalists and civil society groups.
- Critics argue that the unit is likely to be used to target the government\’s critics and stifle free speech. They also point out that the unit will be staffed by government officials, which raises questions about its impartiality.
National Context: Centre\’s IT Rules Amendment
- The Tamil Nadu government\’s decision is not an isolated one. The Centre\’s notification of the IT Rules amendment earlier in the year authorized the Ministry of Electronics and IT to establish a similar fact-checking unit at the national level.
- This move has faced legal challenges, with concerns about its impact on freedom of speech and expression.
Legal Challenges and Judicial Stand
- The Bombay HC has noted the concerns and raised questions about the lack of safeguards for fair criticism of the government.
- While the court acknowledges the laudable motive of tackling false news, it is ready to strike down the rule if it is found to be unconstitutional.
Recommendations from The Editors Guild of India
- The Editors Guild of India has called for specific guidelines regarding the scope and powers of fact-checking units.
- They suggest that combating misinformation and fake news is better left to independent bodies, and any monitoring network should follow principles of natural justice, including providing prior notice, the right to appeal, and judicial oversight.
A Missed Opportunity for Collaboration
- States have information and publicity departments and independent fact-checkers that can address misinformation.
- However, there is a missed opportunity for collaboration with journalists and other stakeholders in setting up these units to ensure fairness and transparency.
- Government fact-checking units, like the one introduced in Tamil Nadu, are a matter of concern and debate. The legal challenges to the national IT Rules amendment add to the complexity.
- The effectiveness of these units in countering misinformation while preserving freedom of speech remains uncertain. Collaboration with independent bodies and a commitment to principles of natural justice may offer a path forward to address this critical issue.
Air Pollution & Economic Impact
- Air pollution is a major problem in India, and it is estimated to cost the country up to 4.5% of its GDP each year. Air pollution can have a significant impact on the economy, as it can reduce worker productivity, lower consumer footfall, and hamper asset productivity.
Impact on Economic Growth:
- A recent study by Dalberg Advisors found that air pollution cost Indian businesses about $95 billion in 2019. This is equivalent to 3% of India\’s GDP. The study also found that air pollution caused 18% of all deaths in India in 2019, leading to a loss of 3.8 million workdays.
- When people are exposed to air pollution, they are more likely to experience respiratory problems, fatigue, and headaches. This can lead to a decrease in their ability to work productively.
- When the air quality is poor, people are less likely to go out and spend money. This can hurt businesses that rely on consumer spending, such as restaurants, retail stores, and hotels.
- In 2019, it was estimated that consumer-facing businesses in India could have gained $22 billion in revenue if pollution levels were improved.
- Air pollution can hamper asset productivity. It can damage machinery and equipment, and it can also reduce crop yields. This can lead to a decrease in the productivity of assets, such as factories and farms.
- Pollutants like Sulfur Dioxide accelerate the degradation of electronic circuitry, particularly affecting IT assets. Airborne pollutants also cause a 5-12% loss in agricultural yields.
- To improve air quality, the interplay of meteorological factors plays a crucial role. Higher wind speeds help disperse pollutants, warmer temperatures increase mixing height, and rain settles particulate matter and dust in the air.
- Governments can implement policies to reduce vehicle emissions, industrial emissions, and biomass burning. They can also invest in public transportation and renewable energy.
- Businesses can invest in clean technologies and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
- Individuals can also take steps to reduce their own contribution to air pollution. They can drive less, use public transportation, and walk or bike more often. They can also avoid burning biomass and reduce their consumption of polluting goods and services.
- Air pollution is a major problem in India. It directly affects productivity, consumption, and health, impacting India\’s economic growth and well-being.
- Recognizing the significance of these challenges, addressing air pollution through sustainable policies and practices is imperative.
- By understanding the interplay of meteorological factors and adopting measures to reduce pollution, India can pave the way for cleaner air, improved health, and sustained economic growth.
India\’s Rice Export Restrictions
- India banned the export of non-basmati white rice in July 2023 to protect domestic food security and control rising domestic prices. The decision was taken in the wake of depleting public stock, elevated cereal prices, and the looming threat of an uneven monsoon.
Reasons for Imposing Rice Export Restrictions
Ensuring Domestic Food Security
- The export ban is aimed at safeguarding the nation\’s food security by maintaining sufficient rice stocks, particularly in the Central pool, to meet the needs of India\’s large population.
Addressing Rising Domestic Prices
- Export restrictions were implemented to control the surge in domestic rice prices. Shortages in the domestic market often lead to price increases, and these restrictions are intended to stabilize prices and shield consumers from inflation.
Mitigating Monsoon Uncertainty
- Given India\’s reliance on the monsoon season for agriculture, export restrictions were viewed as a precautionary measure to conserve rice stocks in the event of an unpredictable or uneven monsoon, which could adversely affect crop yields.
Impact of Export Restrictions on Non-Basmati Rice
Global Rice Price Fluctuation
- India\’s export restrictions have had a ripple effect on the global rice market, affecting supply, availability, and prices both domestically and internationally.
- The ban resulted in an immediate and substantial increase in global rice prices. Although prices have moderated somewhat in subsequent months, they remain elevated compared to the pre-ban period.
Escalation of Domestic Rice Prices
- Despite the export ban, domestic rice prices in India have continued to surge. The average wholesale price of rice per quintal as of October 2023 was significantly higher than in previous periods, marking a 27.43% increase over the past month.
- Retail prices have also increased compared to 2022, with the average price per kilogram being 12.59% higher in October 2023 than a year ago and 11.72% higher than when the export regulations were introduced.
Overall Economic Impact
- The restrictions on rice exports have had far-reaching economic consequences, impacting both domestic and international markets. These consequences encompass price fluctuations, disruptions in global trade, and potential implications for food security in importing countries.
Key Insights About Rice in India
- Staple Food Status: Rice holds the status of a staple food for the majority of the Indian population.
- Cultivation Requirements and Practices: Rice is a kharif crop that requires high temperatures (above 25°C), high humidity, and annual rainfall above 100 cm. In regions with lower rainfall, irrigation is used for cultivation.
- Multiple Crop Seasons: Southern states and West Bengal have favourable climatic conditions for two or three rice crop seasons in an agricultural year.
- Rice Cultivation Area: About one-fourth of India\’s total cropped area is dedicated to rice cultivation.
- Leading Producer and High-Yielding States: West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab are leading producer states, while high-yielding states include Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, and Kerala.
- Global Ranking: India is the second-largest producer of rice globally, following China.
India\’s Rice Export Structure
- Categorization of Rice Exports: India\’s rice exports are categorized into Basmati and Non-Basmati rice.
- Basmati Rice Export Statistics: In the 2022-23 fiscal year, India exported 45.61 lakh metric tonnes of basmati rice, with top destinations including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE, and Yemen.
- Non-Basmati Rice Export Details: During the same fiscal year, India exported 177.91 lakh metric tonnes of non-basmati rice, including varieties like Sona Masuri and Jeera rice.
- Key Markets for Non-Basmati White Rice: Major destinations for non-basmati white rice include Benin, Madagascar, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, and Vietnam. The non-basmati rice category comprises six sub-categories.
- India\’s decision to restrict non-basmati white rice exports reflects a multi-faceted approach, driven by domestic food security concerns, rising prices, and monsoon uncertainties.
- This policy has caused significant repercussions, affecting both domestic and international markets, and underscores the critical role that rice plays in India\’s agricultural and economic landscape.
India\’s First National Security Strategy
- India is developing its first national security strategy. This strategy will aim to put together India\’s national security objectives and the ways to be adopted to achieve them.
Background and Need for NSS:
- Over the last few months, several ministries have provided inputs for the document on the entire gamut of challenges and threats facing India, including non-traditional ones such as financial and economic security, food and energy security, information warfare, vulnerabilities in India\’s critical information infrastructure, and those associated with supply chains and environment.
- In an increasingly interconnected global landscape, the distinction between domestic and external affairs is becoming progressively less distinct for modern states.
- Similarly, the susceptibility of our borders is interconnected with extensive smuggling and contraband activities. Tackling these threats necessitates more than just bolstering military capabilities; it requires addressing the root causes of illicit trade.
- Given the complex nature of the various traditional and non-traditional threats, especially when rising geopolitical tensions have given way to uncertainties, it was felt that there was an urgent need to draft a national security strategy.
Key Features of National Security Strategy
- The strategy will be a whole-of-government approach, with each stakeholder having a role to play in various facets of national security, such as identifying vulnerabilities and threats and developing mitigation strategies.
- It will be updated regularly, based on emerging situations and newer threat assessments.
- Other stakeholders, such as civil society organisations, academia, media, think tanks and other institutions, may also be included in the strategy to tackle the many non-traditional threats and vulnerabilities identified across domains.
- The NSS would enable the identification of critical infrastructure that may be vulnerable to cyber-attacks and the development of human resources capable of identifying attacks and protecting and restoring critical systems.
- Former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon emphasized the importance of a national security strategy for India. He also suggested the creation of a white paper on defence to provide insights into the nation\’s defence thinking and management.
- Previous attempts to develop a national security strategy faced political hesitations, possibly due to concerns about accountability in defence management. The current effort aims to overcome these hurdles and establish a robust framework for safeguarding India\’s security.
- The national security strategy will be a significant development, as it will provide a comprehensive and well-coordinated approach to addressing the various challenges and threats facing India.
- Past initiatives aimed at enhancing national security can provide valuable source material for the National Security Strategy (NSS). These initiatives encompass the Kargil Review Committee report from 2000, the 2012 report by the Naresh Chandra Task Force on Security, and the 2015 document titled \’Building Comprehensive National Power: Towards an Integrated National Security Strategy\’ prepared by the National Security Advisory Board.
Facts for Prelims:
- Definition: Snooping is the practice of meticulously monitoring and observing an individual\’s activities.
- Legal Surveillance: This involves the lawful surveillance of an individual\’s actions, locations, and associations. It is often employed as a means to prevent crimes or to expedite their resolution by authorities.
- PUCL vs. UOI, 1997: In this landmark case, the Supreme Court recognized the right to privacy, asserting that it undoubtedly encompasses telephonic conversations conducted within the confines of one\’s home or office.
- Puttaswamy Judgment: The Puttaswamy judgment reinforced the status of the right to privacy as a fundamental right. It extended this right to various aspects, including telephone tapping and internet hacking by the State.
- Protecting personal data was acknowledged as another vital facet within the realm of privacy.
- Recently, several politicians were alerted by the tech giant Apple that their devices were under the scrutiny of state-sponsored attackers, bringing the issue of snooping into the spotlight once again.
- On December 1, 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was established in Washington, involving 12 nations. Its primary purpose was to designate the Antarctic Continent as a demilitarized area dedicated solely to scientific research. Headquarters: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- The initial signatory countries included Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
- The Treaty came into effect in 1961 and has subsequently been joined by numerous other countries. India became a member of this treaty in 1983.
- Antarctica is defined as the entirety of the land and ice shelves located south of the 60°S latitude.
- The treaty\’s primary objective is to guarantee, in the best interests of all humanity, that Antarctica remains perpetually reserved for peaceful activities and does not become a source of international conflict or contention.
- These agreements are legally binding and specifically designed to accommodate the distinct geographical, environmental, and political features of Antarctica, establishing a strong international governance structure for the region.
- Dakshin Gangotri, served as India\’s first scientific research base station set up in Antarctica.
- Maitri stands as India\’s second enduring research station in Antarctica, with construction completed in 1989. Located within the rocky, mountainous expanse known as Schirmacher Oasis, India has also constructed a freshwater lake surrounding Maitri, referred to as Lake Priyadarshini.
- Bharti, a research station, has been in operation since 2012. Situated approximately 3000 km to the east of Maitri, Bharti serves as India\’s first dedicated research facility in the region.