China Indian Ocean Region Forum
Recently, China’s top development aid agency convened the first “China-Indian Ocean Region Forum” in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming.
GS II: International Relations
Dimensions of the Article:
- About China Indian Ocean Region forum:
- Which countries have backed the forum?
- India stand
- What are China’s plans for the IOR?
About China Indian Ocean Region forum:
- The first high-level official development cooperation forum jointly held by China.
- The forum issued a “Joint Press Statement” that noted China “proposed to establish a marine disaster prevention and mitigation cooperation mechanism between China and countries in the Indian Ocean region” and “all parties agreed” to “strengthen policy coordination, deepen development cooperation, increase resilience to shocks and disasters, and enhance relevant countries’ capacity to obtain economic benefits through use of marine resources such as fisheries, renewable energy, tourism, and shipping in a sustainable way.
- The meet organised by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) is the latest Chinese initiative focusing on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), underlining Beijing’s growing strategic interests in a region where its economic footprint has been deepening.
Which countries have backed the forum?
- The organisers have said the forum was attended by “high-level representatives” and “senior officials” from 19 countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Djibouti, and Australia.
- But at least two of those countries, Australia and Maldives, subsequently released statements rebutting the claim, emphasising that they did not participate officially.
- India as “a major country in the Indian Ocean region, was invited to this forum” and China “looks forward to meeting India at the next forum”.
- That prospect appears unlikely. New Delhi has viewed China’s recent moves in the region warily, including the recent visit of a Chinese military tracking vessel, the Yuan Wang 5, to Sri Lanka.
- Moreover, India sees the IORA as an already established platform for the region, which has 23 members, including Australia and Maldives with 10 dialogue partners which include China, Japan, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.
What are China’s plans for the IOR?
- The forum has underlined China’s stepped-up interest in the IOR, where it is already a major trading partner for most countries and where lie sea routes vital to China’s economic interests.
- The CIDCA forum is the latest initiative to reflect Beijing’s view that it has a clear stake in the region, and that more such initiatives are likely.
- Earlier this year, China’s Foreign Minister, during a visit to Sri Lanka, proposed creating a forum “on the development of Indian Ocean island countries” to “build consensus and synergy, and promote common development”.
- He called on Sri Lanka to “play an important role” in this initiative.
- The stepped-up regional diplomacy comes while China is establishing a more frequent military presence in the waters of the IOR.
- Beijing’s first ever overseas military facility was set up in Djibouti near the Horn of Africa. Chinese military ships, tracking vessels, and submarines have been visiting ports in the region with greater frequency.
- Chinese military planners have previously said the PLA Navy, which earlier this year launched its third aircraft carrier , has a long-term plan to deploy six aircraft carriers to secure China’s maritime interests, and that two of them will be based in the Indian Ocean Region.
-Source: The Hindu
Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS)
Recently, the Ministry of Railways announced that from 2023 onwards, recruitment to the Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS) will be done through a specially designed examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
- This will be a major departure from the current system of recruitment, which does not have a unique examination for IRMS.
GS II: Polity and Governance
Dimensions of the Article:
- What is the new Railway Services exam like?
- How is this different from the previous IRMS recruitment system?
- What are some of the outcomes of this change?
- Why has the system been changed?
What is the new Railway Services exam like?
- Like the Civil Services Exam (CSE), the new IRMS exam will be two-tiered — a preliminary screening examination and a main written examination and interview. It will be used to recruit officers to Group A services of the Indian Railways.
- According to the press brief from the Indian Railways, for the preliminary screening of candidates, they will need to appear for the Civil Services (Prelim) exam.
- This will be followed by a specific IRMS (Main) examination which will consist of four papers of conventional essay-type questions.
- Part 1 (Qualifying papers) will comprise two separate essay-type papers for 300 marks each. One will be a test on any Indian language included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution (at present, 22 languages). The other will be an English language test.
- Part 2 (Papers to be counted for merit) will comprise two optional papers for 250 marks each. The candidate is supposed to choose any one optional subject. The list of subjects available are:
- Civil Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Commerce and Accountancy
- Part 3 will be a personality test. This will be for 100 marks.
- According to the Railway Ministry’s press brief, the syllabi for the aforementioned qualifying and optional papers will be the same as that for the CSE.
How is this different from the previous IRMS recruitment system?
- Group A IRMS officers can serve in any of the 10 different organised railway services, divided into three separate cadres: technical services, administrative and accounts services, and medical services.
- Currently, recruitment for these three is done through three of the major examinations conducted by the UPSC:
- Engineering Services Examination for the cadre of technical officers including the Indian Railway Service of Engineers, Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers, Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers, Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers and Indian Railway Stores Service.
- Civil Services Examination for the cadre of administrative officers including the Indian Railway Traffic Service, Indian Railway Personnel Service, Indian Railway Accounts Service, and the Railway Protection Force.
- Medical Services Examination for the cadre of railway medical officers.
- Under the new system, the first two cadres will be recruited through the IRMS examination, with a common recruitment process.
What are some of the outcomes of this change?
While it remains to be seen how the quality of recruits changes, the IRMS exam is going to have an immediate impact on how candidates prepare for recruitment to the railways, and what kind of candidates can join the railway services.
First, the eligibility for IRMS candidates will be different from the CSE:
- The minimum educational qualifications include a degree in engineering, commerce, or chartered accountancy.
- This means that the IRMS will no longer have officers with a background in social sciences or the pure sciences.
- While previously, recruits to the technical cadres had similar qualification requirements, this was not the case for those entering through the CSE where any graduate degree would qualify an individual to apply for the services.
Second, in the earlier system, the Railway Services was one of many services that the entrance examinations would recruit for.
- Candidates’ ranks and preferences would go into determining the service they would be chosen for, with the IRMS competing against all the other civil or engineering services to staff its own cadre.
- This will change. Under the new system, with a dedicated IRMS exam, only candidates who are interested in working for the railway services may apply.
Third, the Civil Services (Prelim) examination will be relevant for both technical and administrative recruits.
- Specifically for candidates with a background in engineering, this would change their preparation.
- While earlier, the Engineering Services had a specific preliminary examination that required only a basic grasp of General Studies to pass, the new system will make them appear for the Civil Services (Prelim) exam which needs wider knowledge and understanding of General Studies.
- Thus, while for the administrative cadre the new system will require greater technical knowledge, the reverse will also be true — those from technical backgrounds will be expected to have greater general knowledge. The Indian Forest Service already has a similar system of recruitment as the one proposed for the IRMS.
Why has the system been changed?
- One possible reason to shift to the IRMSE is that for both technical and administrative posts in the railways, there is significant need for technical knowledge.
- Given that train systems are technologically complex, more technical expertise for all officers will theoretically help improve the IRMS, especially as the Indian Railways undertakes a host of technological improvements to modernise itself.
- Also, the joint prelims will hopefully account for the candidates’ general knowledge and aptitude.
- Another reason can be to eliminate existing acrimony between technical and administrative cadres that can be troublesome for the IRMS.
- According to sources, due to the different backgrounds and forms of recruitment, technical and administrative officers sometimes bicker over issues such as promotions.
-Source: Indian Express
UPI Market Cap Deadline Has Been Extended By 2 Years
The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has extended by two years the deadline to comply with its 30 per cent cap on the market share of platforms operating on the Unified Payments Interface (UPI).
GS III: Indian Economy
Dimensions of the Article:
- What is Unified Payments Interface (UPI)?
- Why did NPCI extend its UPI market cap deadline?
- How could it impact UPI platforms?
- About National Payments Corporation of India
What is Unified Payments Interface (UPI)?
- Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is a system that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application (of any participating bank), merging several banking features, seamless fund routing & merchant payments into one hood.
- UPI, which was introduced in 2016, has become one of the most used digital payments platforms in the country.
- The volume of UPI transactions has already reached ₹76 lakh crore in the current year, compared to ₹41 lakh crore in FY21 ,
- Advantages of UPI Includes – Immediate money transfer through mobile device round the clock 24*7 and 365 days.
- UPI Enables Single mobile application for accessing different bank accounts with Single Click 2 Factor Authentication – Aligned with the Regulatory guidelines yet provides for a very strong feature of seamless single click payment.
- It also features Virtual address of the customer for Pull & Push providing for incremental security with the customer not required to enter the details such as Card no, Account number; IFSC etc.
Why did NPCI extend its UPI market cap deadline?
- NPCI had initially planned to enforce the market cap rules in January 2021, saying it would limit any single payments app from processing more than 30 per cent of UPI transactions in a month, but has postponed the timeline several times since.
- Recently, it extended the deadline yet again until December 31, 2024, “taking into account the present usage and future potential of UPI and other relevant factors”.
- In view of the significant potential of digital payments and the need for multi-fold penetration from its current state, it is imperative that other existing and new players (banks and non-banks) shall scale-up their consumer outreach for the growth of UPI and achieve overall market equilibrium.
How could it impact UPI platforms?
- The move is being seen as a major relief for Walmart and Flipkart-backed PhonePe and Google Pay, which currently command a majority of the UPI market share.
- Industry analysts believe the move comes as a shot in the arm for PhonePe and Google Pay, which collectively control more than 80 per cent of UPI’s market share.
- For platforms like Paytm and WhatsApp Pay, however, the extension could be seen as a natural loss.
- As of October, Paytm had a market share of 15 per cent on UPI.
- In comparison, PhonePe had a 47 per cent market share, while GooglePay accounted for around 35 per cent.
About National Payments Corporation of India
- National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), an umbrella organisation for operating retail payments and settlement systems in India, is an initiative of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) under the provisions of the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007, for creating a robust Payment & Settlement Infrastructure in India.
- Considering the utility nature of the objects of NPCI, it has been incorporated as a “Not for Profit” Company under the provisions of Section 25 of Companies Act 1956 (now Section 8 of Companies Act 2013), with an intention to provide infrastructure to the entire Banking system in India for physical as well as electronic payment and settlement systems.
- The Company is focused on bringing innovations in the retail payment systems through the use of technology for achieving greater efficiency in operations and widening the reach of payment systems.
-Source: Indian Express
The government has opened yet another week-long window for electoral bond sales starting December 5.
GS-II: Polity and Governance (Governance and Government Policies)
Dimensions of the Article:
- What are Electoral Bonds?
- Why have they attracted criticism?
- Government’s response defending the Electoral Bonds scheme
What are Electoral Bonds?
- An electoral bond is like a promissory note that can be bought by any Indian citizen or company incorporated in India from select branches of State Bank of India.
- The citizen or corporate can then donate the same to any eligible political party of his/her choice.
- The bonds are similar to bank notes that are payable to the bearer on demand and are free of interest.
- An individual or party will be allowed to purchase these bonds digitally or through cheque.
Why have they attracted criticism?
- The central criticism of the electoral bonds scheme is that it does the exact opposite of what it was meant to do: bring transparency to election funding.
- For example, critics argue that the anonymity of electoral bonds is only for the broader public and opposition parties.
- The fact that such bonds are sold via a government-owned bank (SBI) leaves the door open for the government to know exactly who is funding its opponents.
- This, in turn, allows the possibility for the government of the day to either extort money, especially from the big companies, or victimise them for not funding the ruling party — either way providing an unfair advantage to the party in power.
- Further, one of the arguments for introducing electoral bonds was to allow common people to easily fund political parties of their choice but more than 90% of the bonds have been of the highest denomination (Rs 1 crore).
- Moreover, before the electoral bonds scheme was announced, there was a cap on how much a company could donate to a political party: 7.5 per cent of the average net profits of a company in the preceding three years. However, the government amended the Companies Act to remove this limit, opening the doors to unlimited funding by corporate India, critics argue.
Government’s response defending the Electoral Bonds scheme
- The Government said that the Electoral Bond Scheme allowed anonymity to political donors to protect them from “political victimisation”. The earlier system of cash donations had raised a “concern among the donors that, with their identity revealed, there would be competitive pressure from different political parties receiving donation”.
- The Ministry of Finance’s affidavit in the top court had dismissed the Election Commission’s version that the invisibility afforded to benefactors was a “retrogade step” and would wreck transparency in political funding.
-Source: The Hindu
Social Hostilities Index & Government Restrictions Index
In 2020, India has been ranked first in the Social Hostilities Index (SHI) released by US think-tank Pew Research Center.
GS I: Communalism, Secularism, Regionalism
Dimensions of the Article:
- About Social Hostilities Index (SHI)
- Government Restrictions Index (GRI)
About Social Hostilities Index (SHI)
- The SHI measures acts of religious hostility committed by private people, organisations, or groups in society. The index includes 13 indicators, such as mob or sectarian violence as well as military conflict or terrorism motivated by a particular faith.
- Questions used to compute the SHI included
- Whether the nation experienced violence motivated by religious hatred or bias,
- whether people experienced harassment or intimidation motivated by religious hatred or bias,
- whether there was mob violence against members of particular religious groups .
- The statistics showed that India’s SHI in 2020, which was 9.4 out of a potential 10 points, was worse than that of its neighbours Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as a growth in its own index value for 2019.
- As a result of its crackdown on a “religious” gathering that defied the COVID decree in New Delhi, India has received harsh criticism.
Government Restrictions Index (GRI)
- On a second index, the Government Restrictions Index, India performed substantially better (GRI).
- This index examines governmental restrictions on religious practises and beliefs.
- China received the lowest score, 9.3.
- India was ranked 34th, which was sufficient to classify it among nations with “strong” levels of these government limitations.
- The GRI consists of 20 measures, including attempts by governments to forbid conversion, restrict preaching, outlaw certain faiths, or provide special treatment to one or more religious organisations.
-Source: Live Mint