9th January 2021

Draft Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy

As India and the world reorient in the present context of the COVID-19 crisis, a new Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) was initiated at this crucial juncture during mid-2020.

Government’s Philosophy behind STI Policy

  • Unlike previous STI policies which were largely top-driven in formulation, the 5th national STI policy (STIP) follows core principles of being decentralised, evidence-informed, bottom-up, experts-driven, and inclusive.
  • It aims to be dynamic, with a robust policy governance mechanism that includes periodic review, evaluation, feedback, adaptation and a timely exit strategy for policy instruments.
  • The STIP will be guided by the vision of positioning India among the top three scientific superpowers in the decade to come:
    • to attract, nurture, strengthen, and retain critical human capital through a people-centric STI ecosystem;
    • to double the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) researchers, gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) and private-sector contribution to GERD every five years; and
    • to build individual and institutional excellence in STI with the aim of reaching the highest levels of global recognition and awards in the coming decade.
  • The policy outlines strategies for strengthening India’s STI ecosystem to achieve the larger goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Purpose of Open Science Framework in STI Policy

  • The Open Science Framework fosters:
    • more equitable participation in science through increased access to research output;
    • greater transparency and accountability in research;
    • inclusiveness;
    • better resource utilisation through minimal restrictions on reuse of research output and infrastructure; and
    • ensuring a constant exchange of knowledge between the producers and users of knowledge.
  • It is important to make publicly funded research output and resources available to all to foster learning and innovation.
  • STIP provides a forward-looking, all-encompassing Open Science Framework to provide access to scientific data, information, knowledge, and resources to everyonein the country, and to all who are engaging with the Indian STI ecosystem on an equal partnership basis.
  • The framework will be largely community-driven, and supported with necessary institutional mechanisms and operational modalities.
  • The scheme of providing open access is applicable to every Indian, private-sector researchers, students, and institutions will also have the same accessibility.

Idea of One Nation One Subscription

  • The larger idea behind One Nation, One Subscription is to democratise science by providing access to scholarly knowledge to not just researchers but to every individual in the country.
  • The scientists are producers of scientific knowledge in the form of scholarly articles, but the consumers of this knowledge are several times larger in number.
  • The R&D institutions in India spend huge amounts of money subscribing to journals, especially the international high impact-factor ones.
  • The researchers in remote areas, poor students who cannot pay for such articles, or those who are not part of government institutions, do not have access to this scholarly knowledge.
  • The STIP envisions free access to all journals, Indian and foreign, for every Indian against a centrally-negotiated payment mechanism.

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention

  • The 16th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) Convention will be organized on 9 January 2021, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The celebration starts on the 7th of January and goes till 9th January, sometimes on other dates too.
  • The theme of 16th PBD Convention 2021: “Contributing to Aatmanirbhar Bharat”.

PBD

  • PBD or Non Resident Day is celebrated every year on 9 January since 2003 to mark the contribution of Overseas Indian community in the development of India.
  • On 9 January in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest Pravasi, returned to India from South Africa, led to India’s freedom struggle and changed the lives of Indians forever.
  • Since 2015, its format has been revised to celebrate the PBD once every two years and has been celebrated in (2015, 2017, 2019).
  • PBD Convention is the flagship event of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Every other year, the Government of India (MEA), selects an Indian city to observe this day.
  • Sponsors: MEA, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region.
  • To represent and concerning Indian diaspora, a forum is organised and at the same, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards are given.
The following cities were selected to mark the day:

  • Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas 2015 – Gandhinagar, Gujarat
  • Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas 2017 – Bengaluru, Karnataka
  • Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas 2019 – Varanasi, UP

Significance

  • These conventions provide a platform to the overseas Indian community to engage with the government and people of the land of their ancestors for mutually beneficial activities.
  • These conventions are also very useful in networking among the overseas Indian community residing in various parts of the world and enable them to share their experiences in various fields.

Panel to study NFHS-5 findings

  • The Health and Family Welfare Ministry has set up a technical expert group chaired by Joint Secretary Preeti Pant and includes experts from medicine and nutrition to examine the adverse findings from the National Family Health Survey (NHFS)-5.
  • Panel aims to recommend programmatic and policy interventions to improve” indicators pertaining to malnutrition, stunting, anaemia, and C-section.
  • The survey gives data of States and UTs on over 130 parameters. On various parameters, major number of states has worsened over the last round of survey (NFHS 4 – 2015-16).
  • Increase in rising levels of anaemia and child malnutrition in women and pregnant women show that the children born during 2015-2019 might be suffering from deficiencies.

Child Wasting

  • It reflects acute undernutrition and refers to children having low weight for their height.
  • India has always had a high level of child wasting.
  • Telangana, Kerala, Bihar, Assam and Jammu-Kashmir witnessed an increase and Maharashtra and West Bengal have been stagnant.

Child Stunting

  • It reflects chronic undernutrition, and refers to the percentage of children who have low height for their age. It is likely to have long-lasting adverse effects on the cognitive and physical development of a child.
  • Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, and West Bengal saw increased levels.
  • The reversals in child stunting are “hugely troubling” as normally, stunting levels do not increase because all the things that affect child growth tend to improve as stable democracies and economies move ahead.

Share of Children Underweight:

  • Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Assam and Kerala have seen an increase.

Child Mortality Rate:

  • Infant Mortality Rate (the number of deaths per 1000 live births for children under the age of 1) and Under 5 Mortality Rate data is mostly stagnant.
  • Between NFHS-3 (2005-05) and NFHS-4, there was progress on mortality reduction but NFHS-5 and NFHS-4 are about five years apart still there is very little progress in many states.
  • In Maharashtra, the under-5 mortality rate is basically the same in NFHS-4 and in Bihar, it reduced by just 3% over five years.
  • Over 60% of child mortality is explained by child malnutrition, which is the central problem and needs to be addressed.

Govt: Equalisation levy not discriminatory, will take appropriate action

  • Recently, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Section 301 has said that the digital taxation regime in India, Italy and Turkey is not in sync with US companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.com, referred to as the GAFA tax and are inconsistent with international tax principles.
  • The issues of contention are the application of taxation to revenue rather than income, extraterritorial application, and failure to provide tax certainty.
  • USTR is responsible for developing and coordinating US international trade, commodity, and direct investment policy, and overseeing negotiations with other countries. It is an agency of professionals dealing with trade issues.
  • The Section 301 report (US Trade Act), a flagship publication of USTR, gives the USTR broad authority to investigate and respond to a foreign country’s action which may be unfair or discriminatory as well as negatively affect US commerce. It also allows the US President to impose tariffs or other curbs on foreign nations.

DIGITAL SERVICES TAXES (DSTs)

  • It is a tax on selected gross revenue streams of large digital companies. Each country’s proposed or implemented DST differs slightly. All DSTs have domestic and global revenue thresholds, below which companies are not subject to the tax.
  • The OECD is currently hosting negotiations with over 130 countries that aim to adapt the international tax system. One goal is to address the tax challenges of the digitalization of the economy.

India’s Digital Service Tax

  • It imposes a 2% tax on revenue generated from a broad range of digital services offered in India, including digital platform services, digital content sales, digital sales of a company’s own goods, data-related services, software-as-a-service, and several other categories of digital services.
  • India’s DST explicitly exempts Indian companies—only “non-residents” must pay the tax.

India has described the 2% equalisation levy as a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory tax against U.S. companies aimed at all offshore digital economy firms accessing the local market. It applies uniformly across all non-resident e-commerce operators.

  • According to the Commerce and Industry Ministry, the intention of imposing such a levy is to create an ecosystem that fosters fair competition and reasonableness.
  • It also aims to exercise the sovereign right of the government to tax businesses that have a close nexus with the Indian market through their digital operations.

Road ahead

  • There needs to be international consensus on taxation on a digital economy.
  • 2% DST should be negotiated to avoid any hurdles in its implementation.

Growth silver lining but food inflation may be dark cloud

  • United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its latest Food Price Index (FPI) number for December 2020.
  • This index – reflecting international prices of a basket of food commodities against a base year (2014-16) value of 100– averaged 107.5 points for the month. It was the highest since November 2014. This marks the seventh month of consecutive increase.

Highlights

  • FPI has soared since May 2020. From falling to a four year low of 91 points then, it has hit a more than six-year high in December.
  • This extreme global price volatility can be seen across farm commodities.
  • There are three main reasons for international agri-commodity prices firming up in the past few months.
  • The first is a steady normalization of demand as most countries, including India, have unlocked their economies after May 2020. Even as demand has gradually recovered, restoration of supply chains post-Covid is taking time. Dry weather in major producing countries such as Thailand, Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine, plus a shortage of shipping containers, has only aggravated the supply- demand imbalances.
  • The second reason is stockpiling by China, which has stepped up imports of everything – from corn, wheat, soyabean and barley to sugar and milk powder– to build strategic food reserves amid rising geopolitical tensions and pandemic uncertainties.
  • The third reason may have to do the ultra-low global interest rates and floodgates of liquidity opened by major central banks. This money, which has already flowed into equity markets, could well find a home next in agricommodities– more so, in a scenario of tightening world supplies.

Food Price Index 

  1. Introduced in 1996 as a public good to assist in monitoring developments in the global agricultural commodity markets.
  2. It is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities like cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar.
  3. Base Period: 2014-16.

FAO

  • It is a specialized UN agency which takes international efforts against hunger, based in Rome (Italy).
  • It was founded on 16 October 1945 and on the same day World food Day is also celebrated every year around the world. On 75th Anniversary of FAO i.e., in 2020, India released a commemorative coin of Rs. 75 denomination to mark its 75th Anniversary.
  • Sister bodies: International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme

US tweaks H1B visa rules again, higher wage is key factor now

US administration has once again amended its H-1B visa regime to give priority to higher wages and skills instead of the prevailing lottery system for selection of candidates looking to work in the country.

  • US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will first select registrations where the “proffered wage equals or exceeds” the prevailing level in that area of employment.
  • The proffered wage is the wage that the employer intends to pay the beneficiary. The wage level ranking will occur first for the regular cap selection and then for the advanced degree exemption.
  • Every year, the US administration issues 85,000 H-1B work permits. Of these, 65,000 are for people with specialty occupations, while the rest are reserved for foreign workers who have earned a Master’s or a  higher university degree in the US.
  • Until now, the selection of H- 1B work visas was done by a randomized lottery system, which did not take into account factors such as wage, experience or any other requirements and demands.
  • Since the number of applications from Indian companies as well as individuals is much higher than any other nationality, a lion’s share of these work visas is cornered by Indians.
  • The constant changes in H-1B visa approval systems have been opposed by Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter. Though Indian companies have gradually reduced their dependency on these work permits, many giant tech corporations still look to hire from the pool of H-1B workers.

After Tamil, Delhi govt nod to set up Konkani language academy

  • Delhi Government approved the setting up of a Konkani language academy in the capital.
  • The academy will seek to facilitate the growth and promotion of the Konkani language and culture in the city.
  • Currently, there are eight functional language academies in Delhi covering Urdu, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Hindi, Maithili-Bhojpuri, Garhwali-Kumaoni-Jaunsari, Sindhi and  Tamil. Tamil was notified recently.

Konkani Language and Culture

  • Konkani is the official language of India’s western and coastal state, Goa. However, the language is spoken widely across four states- Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala, albeit in different dialects, its use is somewhat limited to coastal regions only. It is the only Indian language written in five different scripts – Devnagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam and Persian-Arabic.
  • Though Konkani was recognized as the official language of Goa on January 4, 1987, it was only after five more years, on August 20, 1992, it was given status of a national language in India, through the 71st Amendment to the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Konkani now features in the 15 languages in which the value is printed on Indian Rupee currency notes.
  • However, a lot of ambiguity, sometimes controversial, exists over the origin of Konkani. While Konkani stands classified as language of Indo-Aryan origin, doubts persist over these claims.
  • Generally, Konkani is called as a colloquial version of Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra state.

Hyderabad city cluster project launched, to link research, industry

The Centre launched the Hyderabad iteration of its city cluster project to create a platform to bring together academia, R&D labs, industry and government to tackle challenges facing the city.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized this need and has also been an example of how successful these collaborations can be as science, industry and government came together to tackle the problem.
  • There are over 39 labs in Hyderabad but the present challenge is that they don’t work together but in silos. It is also important for all these institutions to work together for the social and economic development of the city.
  • Like other countries, there needs to be a stress on cross-functional course credits. There are numerous instances in the US of a humanities student eventually becoming a doctorate in biotechnology.
  • Two of the major challenges facing India are the lack of investment in R&D as compared to other countries, and the lack of investment by private enterprises.
  • Also, as of 2018, India had 156 researchers per million citizens, far lower than the global average of 1,500. India’s patent office ranked sixth by total number of patent applications received, with 46,582 applications.

Over half of Army personnel under severe stress, says study

According to the findings of a study by United Service Institution of India (USI), a Service think tank, more than half of Indian Army personnel seem to be under severe stress and the Army has been losing more personnel every year due to suicides, fratricides and untoward incidents than in response to any enemy or terrorist activities.

Findings

  • The research was undertaken during 2019-20, which shows that there has been a significant increase in stress levels amongst Indian Army personnel during approximately last two decades due to operational and non-operational stressors.
  • While operational stressors are well understood and accepted by Army personnel, but the non-operational stressors that add on “have compounding adverse effects on health and combat efficiency of soldiers and thus affecting their respective units too.”
  • Prolonged exposure of Indian Army personnel to Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism (CI/CT) environment has been one of the contributory factors for increased stress levels.
  • The overall job satisfaction and pride in uniform remains high amongst Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and Other Ranks (OR).
  • Various management measures implemented by the Army and Defence Ministry in the last 15 years have not been able to achieve the desired results.
  • Units and sub-units under stress are likely to witness an increased number of incidents of indiscipline, unsatisfactory state of training, inadequate maintenance of equipment and low morale, motivation and esprit-de-corps, thereby, adversely affecting their combat preparedness and operational performance.
  • It seems to be a growing matter of concern amongst Officers, requiring urgent interventions from the highest levels of government.

The return of bird flu

  • Bird flu (avian influenza) has been confirmed in Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh, high alert has been announced in Maharashtra. Several states witnessed deaths of birds, including crows and migratory species, and are scrambling to test the samples for the virus.
  • Samples from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Kerala have tested positive for the A (H5N8) strain of the virus, while samples from Himachal Pradesh have shown the presence of A (H5N1).
  • This time, most infections have been reported either in wild birds, crows or migratory birds.
  • Due to this there is an anxiety that it will impact the poultry industry and people are giving up chicken and eggs, and thus, prices are beginning to decrease.
  • Bird flu or avian influenza is the name used to describe a viral infection that is reported mostly in birds, but has the potential to affect humans and other animals.
  • The most common strain of the virus that causes severe respiratory disease in birds is H5N1; various other strains like H7, H8 too, cause infection.

Note

  • The virus was first reported in geese in China in 1996. Since then, outbreaks have been reported periodically across the world. India reported the presence of the virus in Nandurbar, Maharashtra, in 2006, which led to large-scale culling of poultry birds.
  • Between 2006 and December 31, 2018, India reported 225 epicenters of bird flu infection, which led to the culling of 83.49 lakh birds, with farmers being paid Rs 26.37 crore in compensation.
  • Interestingly, Maharashtra which was the first state to report the infection, has not seen an outbreak since 2006. Odisha, Tripura, and West Bengal are among the states that have reported repeated outbreaks of the infection in both domesticated and wild birds.
  • Since 2006, the poultry industry has developed bio safety zones around farms, which has stopped commercially reared birds from coming in contact with any foreign feed or bird.

Human Transmission

  • The H5N1 virus can jump species and infect humans from the infected bird. The first case of H5N1 infection in humans was reported in Hong Kong in 1997, when a poultry farm worker caught the infection from infected birds.
  • The high mortality rate in humans — almost 60 per cent — is the main cause of concern about the spread of bird flu. In its present form, human-to-human infection is not known — human infections have been reported only among people who have handled infected birds or carcasses.
  • The chances of the H5N1 virus infecting humans is comparatively low in India as compared to South East Asian countries, mainly because of the difference in culinary habits.
  • The virus dies immediately if exposed to temperatures over 70 degrees Celsius. Unlike in South East Asian countries, both meat and eggs in India are eaten well cooked, which sees them being exposed to over 100 degrees Celsius. Thus, the chances of humans contracting the virus from eating chicken and eggs is extremely rare.

Pandemic Impact on Poultry Industry In India

  • India consumes 30 crore poultry birds and 900 crore eggs per month on average.
  • At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the poultry industry suffered a downfall after unsubstantiated rumours related to the spread of the disease with consumption of chicken and eggs.
  • After it, the industry suffered losses of around $ 1 billion, as people kept away from eggs and poultry meat. After lifting restrictions on movement,  the industry has managed to get back on its feet, but production remains low.

Role of agriculture: Why this economic slump is different from past ones

Recently, first advance estimates has been released by the National Statistical Office according to which there is 7.2% fall in gross value added (GVA) for 2020-21, and it would be the sharpest ever recorded in India.

Earlier Slumps

  • There have been four earlier occasions when the country’s GVA has suffered contraction.
  • GVA is GDP net of all taxes and subsidies on products and, hence, it is a more accurate measure of economic activity.
  • The extent of negative growth in those years — 1979-80 (minus 5.2%), 1972-73 (minus 0.3%), 1965-66 (minus 3.7%) and 1957-58 (minus 1.2%) — was lower than the 7.2% being projected for the current fiscal.
  • The main reason is that all four were drought years — and the farm sector (agriculture, forestry and fishing) registered minus 12.8% growth in 1979-80, minus 5% in 1972-73, minus 11% in 1965-66 and minus 4.5% in 1957-58. In effect, the woes of ‘Bharat’ impacted the rest of the economy.
  • In 1979-80, agriculture’s share in India’s GDP at constant prices was 33.9%; in 1957-58, it was 48.2%. A drought year in those times invariably translated into low/negative growth rates.

Present Situation

  • This has not been the case in 2020-21. While overall GVA is expected to shrink 7.2%, agriculture and allied activities are set to post 3.4% growth.
  • Agriculture’s relatively better performance in the last two years is largely a result of consecutive years of good monsoon (and also post-monsoon) rains.
  • Recharged groundwater tables and reservoirs getting filled to near capacity — besides farming operations being exempted from lockdown restrictions — led to higher production.
  • The share of agriculture in real GVA was only 14.6% in 2019-20. That is estimated to go up to 16.3% this fiscal, but not enough to make a different even in a bountiful monsoon year.

NIXI offers free Domain in local Indian languages

The National Internet Exchange of India, NIXI, will offer a free Internationalized Domain Name, IDN, in any of the preferred 22 official Indian language along with every IN domain booked by the registrant.

  • Applicant will also get a free email in local language. This offer is valid for new .in users who register up to 31st of January. This offer is also extended to those existing in users who renew their domain in the month of January 2021.
  • NIXI is a not for profit organization.
  • It is working since 2003 for spreading the internet technology to the citizens of India through the activities like Internet Exchanges through which the internet data is exchanged amongst ISPs and between ISPs and CDNs, managing and operating Internet protocol IPv4 or IPv6 etc.
  • This offer has been created to stimulate the adoption of ???? IDN domain name and proliferation of local language content.

I&B Minister launches Govt’s Digital Calender, Diary App

Information and Broadcasting Ministry launched Government’s Digital Calender and Diary App.

  • This will now adorn mobile phones and Digital calender is an environment-friendly initiative.
  • The app will do away with the need for a new calendar every year.
  • It is available in Hindi and English, but it will be available in 11 languages from 15 January 2021.
  • The calender has a theme for every month and it will also have all information of 100 revolutionary programmes of the government.
  • The Government of India (GOI) Calender and the Diary App is available for download on both Google Play store and iOS App Store.
  • The app has been designed and developed by Bureau of Outreach and Communication, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

India to chair three-key subsidiary bodies of UNSC

Recently, it was announced by the Permanent Representative of India at the United Nations Security Council that India will be chairing three-key subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

  • Panels: Counter-Terrorism Committee (for 2022), Taliban Sanctions Committee, and Libya Sanctions committee.
  • India will chair the Counter-Terrorism Committee of UNSC in 2022. Chairing of this committee has a special resonance for India. This committee is at the forefront of fighting terrorism especially cross border terrorism and it is also been one of its biggest victims of terrorism.
  • Taliban Sanctions Committee has a strong interest and commitment to peace, security, development, and progress of Afghanistan.
  • India will be assuming the chair of the Libya Sanctions Committee at a critical juncture when there is an international focus on Libya and on the peace process.
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