Note: This feature is being started keeping in mind the requirements of 2015 aspirants. This is an experimental post. Please give your feedback. We will try to cover important events published in The Hindu and the PIB. Our main focus will be on covering important events and their background information. We will focus more on basics. Background information will be copied/sourced from government sources or from Wikipedia.
Approval of Phase-V of Unique Identification project
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has given its approval for Phase-V of the Unique Identification (UID) scheme for undertaking enrolments in the four States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand. With this, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has been given the target of generation of 100 crore Aadhaars by 2015. This includes including UID numbers issued in respect of enrolments done under the National Population Register process in 12 States/UTs allocated to it.
What is the UID?
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was established in January 2009 and is part of the Planning Commission of India. UIDAI aims to provide a unique 12 digit ID number to all residents in India on a voluntary basis. The number will be known as AADHAAR. The UIDAI will own and operate a Unique Identification Number database which will contain biometric and demographic data of citizens. (Both AADHAR and UIDAI lack legal or statutory authority).
What is the objective of the UID?
According to the UIDAI, the UID will provide identity for individuals. The scheme has been promoted by the UIDAI as enabling a number of social benefits including improving the public distribution system, enabling financial inclusion, and improving the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Despite these benefits, the UIDAI only guarantees identity, and does not guarantee rights, benefits or entitlement.
How is UID being adopted by different States?
The adoption of the UID by different states and platforms has been controversial as the UID is not a mandatory number, yet with states and services adopting the number for different governmental services, the UID is becoming mandatory by default. Some ways in which states are using the UID include:
- Gas and vehicles: The UPA Government has required that citizens have a UID number for services such as purchasing cooking gas, issuing a RTI request, and registering vehicles.
- Education: The Kerala government has required that all students must have UID number in order to be tracked through the system.This mandate was questioned by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
- First Information Reports (FIR’s): The high court in Bombay has ordered the state home department to direct all police stations in Maharashtra to record the Unique Identification (UID) numbers of accused individuals and witnesses filing a FIR.
- Banks: The National Payment Corporation of India has collaborated UIDAI and is issuing ‘RuPay cards’ (Dhan Aadhaar cards) which will serve as ATM/micro-ATM cards. In 2011 the Bank of India had issued 250 cards.
- Railway: Railways are proposing to use the UID database for bookings and validation of passengers.
- Social Security: Commencing January 1, 2013, MGNREGA, the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana (RGAY), the Ashraya housing scheme, Bhagyalakshmi and the social security and pension scheme have included the UID in the Mysore district.
What is the National Population Register (NPR)?
In 2010, the Government of India initiated the NPR which entails the creation of the National Citizens Register. This register is being prepared at the local, sub-district, district, state and national level. The database will contain thirteen categories of demographic information and three categories of biometric data collected from all residents aged five and above. Collection of this information was initially supposed to take place during the House listing and Housing Census phase of Census 2011 during April 2010 to September 2010.
What is the legal grounding of the NPR?
The NPR is legally grounded in the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship Rules 2003. It is mandatory for every usual resident in India to register in the NPR as per Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, as amended in 2004. The collection of biometrics is not accounted for in the statute or rules.
What are the objectives of the NPR?
The objectives of the NPR as stated by the Citizenship Act is for the creation of a National Citizen Register. The National Citizen Register is intended to assist in improving security by checking for illegal migration. Additional objectives that have been articulated include: providing services to the residents under government schemes and programmes, checking for identity frauds, and improving planning.
What information will be collected under the NPR?
The NPR database will include thirteen categories of demographic information and three categories of biometrics. The collection biometrics has not been provided for in the text of the Citizenship Rules, and is instead appears to be authorized through guidelines,which do not have statutory backing. Currently, two iris scans, ten fingerprints, and a photograph are being collected. According to a 2010 Committee note, only the photograph and fingerprints were initially envisioned to be collected.
What is the Resident Identity Card?
The proposed Resident Identity card is a smart card with a micro-processor chip of 6.4 Kb capacity; the demographic and biometric attributes of each individual will be personalized in this chip. The UID number will be placed on the card as well. Currently, the government is only considering the possibility of distributing smart cards to all residents over the age of 18.
What are the differences between the UID and NPR?
- Voluntary vs. Mandatory:It is compulsory for all Indian residents to register with the NPR, while registration with the UIDAI is considered voluntary. However, the NPR will store individuals UID number with the NPR data and place it on the Resident Indian Card. In this way and others, the UID number is becoming compulsory by various means.
- Number vs. Register:UID will issue a number, while the NPR is the prelude to the National Citizens Register. Thus, it is only a Register. Though earlier the MNIC card was implemented along the coastal area, there has been no proposal to extend the MNIC to the whole country. The smart card that is proposed under the NPR has only been raised for discussion, and there has been no official decision to issue a card.
- Statute vs. Bill:The enrollment of individuals for the NPR is legally backed by the Citizenship Act, except in relation to the collection of biometrics, while the UID as proposed a bill which has not been passed for the legal backing of the scheme.
- Authentication vs. Identification:The UID number will serve as an authenticator during transactions. It can be adopted and made mandatory by any platform. The National Resident Card will signify resident status and citizenship. It is unclear what circumstances the card will be required for use in.
- UIDAI vs. RGI:The UIDAI is responsible for enrolling individuals in the UID scheme, and the RGI is responsible for enrolling individuals in the NPR scheme. It is important to note that the UIDAI is located in the Planning Commission, but its status is unclear, as the NIC had indicated that the data held is not being held by the government.
- Door to door canvassing vs. center enrollment: Individuals will have to go to an enrollment center and register for the UID, while the NPR will carry out part of the enrollment of individuals through door to door canvassing. Note: Individuals will still have to go to centers for enrolling their biometrics for the NPR scheme.
- Prior documentation vs. census material:The UID will be based off of prior forms of documentation and identification, while the NPR will be based off of census information.
- Online vs. Offline:For authentication of an individual’s UID number, the UID will require mobile connectivity, while the NPR can perform offline verification of an individual’s card.
What is the controversy between the UID and NPR?
- Effectiveness:There is controversy over which scheme would be more effective and appropriate for different purposes. For example, the Ministry of Home Affairs has argued that the NPR would be more suited for distributing subsidies than the UID, as the NPR has data linking each individual to a household.
- Legality of sharing data: Both the legality of the UID and NPR collecting data and biometrics has been questioned. For example, it has been pointed out that the collection of biometric information through the NPR, is beyond the scope of subordinate legislation. Especially as this appears to be left only to guidelines.Collection of any information under the UID scheme is being questioned as the Bill has not been approved by the Parliament.
- Accuracy: The UIDAI’s use of multiple registrars and enrolment agencies, the reliance on ‘secondary information’ via existing ID documents for enrollment in the UID, and the original plan to enroll individuals via the ‘introducer’ system has raised by the then Home Minister Chidambaram in January 2012 about how accurate the data collected by the UID is is that will be collected.To this extent, the UIDAI has changed the introducer system to a ‘verifier’ system. In this system, Government officials verify individuals and their documents prior to enrolling them.
- Biometrics: Though biometrics are mandatory for the UID scheme, according to information on the NPR website, if an individual has already enrolled with the UID, they will not need to provide their biometrics again for the NPR. Application of this standard has been haphazard as some individuals have been required to provide biometrics for both the UID and the NPR, and others have not been required to provide biometrics for the NPR.
What is the relationship between UID, NPR, and National Security
The UID and the NPR have both stated improving security as an objective for the projects. To this extent, it is envisioned that the UID and the NPR could be used to track and identify individuals, and determine if they are residents of India. In the case of the NPR, a distinction will be made between residents and citizens. Yet, concerns have also been raised that these projects instead raise national security threats, given the size of the databases that will be created, the centralized nature of the databases, the sensitive nature of the information held in the databases, and the involvement of international agencies.
What is the relationship between UID and Big Data?
Aspects of the UID scheme allow it to generate a large amount of data from a variety of sources. Namely, the UID scheme aims to capture 12 billion fingerprints, 1.2 billion photographs and 2.4 billion iris scans and can be adopted by any platform. This data in turn can be stored, analyzed, and used for a number of purposes by a number of stakeholders in both the government and the private sectors. This is already happening to a certain extent as in November 2012 the UID established a Public Data Portal for the UID project. According to UIDAI officials the data portal will allow for big data analysis using crowd sourcing models.
How is UID being used for BPL direct cash transfers?
Registration with the UID scheme is considered essential to determine whether beneficiaries belong in the BPL category and to provide transparency to the distribution of cash. In this way, the UID requirement is thought to prevent the leakage of social security benefits and subsidies to non-intended beneficiaries, as cash will only be made available to the person identified by the UID as the intended recipient. One of the main prerequisites of a below poverty line (BPL) direct cash transfer in India has become the registration with the UIDAI and the acquisition of a UID number. For example:
- The “Cash for Food” programme requires that individuals applying for aid have a bank account, and a UID number. The money is transferred, electronically and automatically, to the bank account and the beneficiary should be able to withdraw it from a micro-ATM using the UID number.It is important to note that micro-ATMs are not actual ATMs, but instead are handheld machines which may give information on bank balance and such, but will not dispense or maintain privacy of transaction. Most importantly, the transaction is mediated though a banking correspondent.
- The government plans to cover the target BPL families and deposit USD 570 billion per year in the bank accounts of 100 million poor families by 2014.
- Currently, only beneficiaries of thirteen government schemes and LPG connection holders have been identified as being entitled to register for a UID number.Though these schemes have been identified, as of yet, adoption has happened in very few districts.
What are the concerns regarding the use of biometrics in the UID and NPR scheme?
Both the UID and the NPR rely on biometrics as a way to identify individuals. Yet, many concerns have been raised about the use of biometrics in terms of legality, effectiveness, and accuracy of the technology. With regards to the accuracy and effectiveness of biometrics – the following concerns have been raised:
- Biometrics are not infallible:Inaccuracies can arise from variations in individuals attributes and inaccuracies in the technology.
- Environment matters: An individual’s biometrics can change in response to a number of factors including age, environment, stress, activity, and illness.
- Population size matters: Because biometrics have differing levels of stability – the larger the population is the higher the possibility for error is.
- Technology matters:The accuracy of a biometric match also depends on the accuracy of the technology used. Many aspects of biometric technology can change including: calibration, sensors, and algorithms.
- Spoofing:It is possible to spoof a fingerprint and fool a biometric reader.
Supreme Court judgments
The court, later on 24 March 2014, restrained the central government and the Unique Identification Authority of India from sharing data with any third party or agency, whether government or private, without the permission of the card-holder.
The AADHAAR number is not recognized as a legal proof of residence due to issues with the data protection. India’s Intelligence Bureau claims anyone with an Aadhaar number can introduce others without any documentation to get the identity number, which makes it vulnerable to terrorism and other issues.
Biometrics refers to metrics related to human characteristics and traits. Biometrics authentication (or realistic authentication) is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control. It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance.
Biometric identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals. Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioral characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body. Examples include, but are not limited to fingerprint, palm veins, face recognition, DNA, palm print, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina and odour/scent. Behavioral characteristics are related to the pattern of behavior of a person, including but not limited to typing rhythm, gait, and voice. Some researchers have coined the term behaviometrics to describe the latter class of biometrics.
Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change constitutes High Level Committee
Committee to review acts administrated by the Ministry
A High Level Committee (HLC) headed by T.S.R. Subramanian, has been constituted by Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change to review the following Acts administered by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change.
(i) Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
(ii) Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
(iii) Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
(iv) The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1974
(v) The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
The terms of reference are as follows:-
(i) To assess the status of implementation of each of the above Acts vis-a-vis the objectives;
(ii) To examine and take into account various court orders and judicial pronouncements relating to these Acts;
(iii) To recommend specific amendments needed in each of these Acts so as to bring them in line with current requirements to meet objectives; and
(iv) To draft proposed amendments in each of the above Acts to give effect to the proposed recommendations.
RECENT INITIATIVES BY Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution
Steps to contain prices of essential food items
In view of weak monsoon in some parts of country, an increase was noticed in prices of some essential commodities. Following steps were taken to contain the price rise:
- A conference of State Food Ministerswas convened on 4th July to plan both long and short term strategies to contain prices.
- Potato and onions declared as essential food itemsunder Essential Commodities Act, 1955. States have been authorised to impose stock limits for onion and potato both to check hoarding. West Bengal and Telengana State have already issued the order.
- States were advised to amend their APMC Act to deregulate sale of fruits and vegetables in such a manner that farmers could have wider selling choice and consumers could avail the same at cheaper price. In Delhi APMC Act has been accordingly amended and a farmer’s market is also being set up.
- Decision was taken to create a Market Intervention Fund which will be used by the Government for direct market intervention in case of unreasonable increase in prices of food items.
- Price Monitoring Cell of the Ministry monitors prices of 22 essential commodities from 60 Market centres. Now the States have been asked to set up their own Price Monitoring Units to supplement the Central Govt.
- Decision taken to develop a “common national market”by removing all barriers on inter-state trade to overcome the situation of scarcity in one part and excess supply in other part.
- 100 lakh tonnes wheat released from FCI stock for domestic sale in the open market. This wheat would be available for sale upto March 2015 to contain wheat prices across the markets.
- Fifty lakh tonnes ricereleased through Public Distribution System.
- Decision taken to amend the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980 to make hoarding a non-bailable offence and to increase the period of detention from 6 months to 1 year for black marketing of essential commodities.
Steps to facilitate payment of sugarcane arrears
Concerted efforts made to facilitate payment of sugarcane arrears to the farmers in a time bound manner. These include the followings:
- Besides several meetings at the level of senior officials, a meeting was held by Union Consumer Affairs and Food & Public Distribution Minister with apex bodies of sugar sector and State Government’s representatives of major sugar producing states to stress on speedy payment of the arrears.
- To facilitate payment of arrears, disbursal of interest free loan to sugar sector expedited. As on September 4, 2014, Rs 5511 crores have been disbursed out of Rs 6094 crores sanctioned by that date.
- Decision taken to provide incentives for the export of raw sugar at the rate of Rs 3,300 per ton for June-July, 2014 and Rs 3,371 per ton for Aug-Sept, 2014 .
- Import duty on raw sugar increased from 15 percent to 25 percent
- As a result of these efforts, sugarcane arrears have come down to Rs. 7760 crore (as on September 4, 2014) from Rs. 14095 crore (as on May 31, 2014).
Boost to Consumer Protection
Soon after taking over, the new government initiated a new culture of consumer protection. Following steps were taken in this regard:
- Amendments proposed in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 to make it more effective and to ensure speedy, inexpensive and simple dispensation of justice for the consumers. National Consumer Protection Authorityproposed with all the executive and enforcement powers for redressal of consumer grievances and penal action against defaulting companies.
- Initiatives taken to set up Grahak Suvidha Kendra (Consumer Care Centres) in various parts of the country which will run through voluntary consumer organisations assisted financially by the Govt. The centres will serve as single window facility for consumers to get their grievances redressed with facilities of counselling and mediation.
- To ensure strict quality compliance for consumer products, amendments proposed in the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986. These include provision of re-calling of products, enhancing the financial penalty and provision to reduce the long process of litigation. Decision also taken to include more products and services for mandatory standards certification to benefit the consumers with quality products.
- To tackle the menace of misleading advertisement, the Department of Consumer Affairs has initiated steps to set up a portal on its website. Any consumer can lodge a complaint regarding misleading advertisements and keep track of remedial action being taken by Government.
- An Integrated National Consumer Helpline has been set up by the Ministry, where consumers can lodge their grievances over telephone from any part of the country. Trained officials manning these centres not only provide pre-purchase advice but also take up the grievance of the consumers with concerned companies so that their grievances are resolved on priority.
Improving the food grain management
- A high level committee of experts under the Chairmanship of Sh. Shanta Kumar, Member of Parliament has been setup on Aug 20, 2014 to recommend restructuring of Food Corporation India for improving foodgrains management in the country, efficient MSP operations, scientific storage and strengthening supply chain. The committee will submit its report to the Government within a period of three months.
- Operations of FCI godowns are being computerised. In order to check reported leakage or theft from FCI godowns Depot online programme has been started. All Godowns of FCI will be online within next 18 months.
Computerisation of Public Distribution System (PDS)
- States have been asked to make the PDS totally transparent by way of end to end computerisation so as to ensure that the benefits of National Food Security Act reach to deserving people. They have been advised to list beneficiaries on web portal and display movement of ration and related information. Other communication modes like SMS should be explored to inform the beneficiaries about allocation. Eleven states have implemented the Act, rest have been given three months more, beyond stipulated period, for implementation.
Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for North-Eastern Region
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for implementing a Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the North-Eastern Region (NER). The proposal entails an estimated expenditure of Rs. 5,336.18 crore (inclusive of all applicable taxes except octroi and local taxes). The plan will be funded from the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). The USOF would fund Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and Operational Expenditure (OPEX) net of revenue for a period of 5 years.
The project will also increase the reliability of District and State Headquarters connectivity by providing alternative optical fibre connectivity. It will also ensure that notwithstanding any problem in one route, the voice and data transfer through other route will keep the district and State headquarters connected.
This project is aimed to cover the uncovered villages in the North-Eastern Region as also to keep seamless connectivity on national highways in this region. At present, there are 43,200 villages in this region out of which 9190 (21 percent) of the villages are unconnected to any mobile network. This project will cover out of the 9190 unconnected villages, 8621 villages (20 percent) by 6673 towers. The project will also give seamless connectivity to national highways through 321 mobile towers.
Thus, this project will:-
- provide 2G mobile coverage in identified uncovered areas of the NER,
- provide 2G seamless mobile coverage along National Highways in the NER and
- ensure reliability of and redundancy in the transmission network at State capitals and district headquarters in the NER.
UNIVERSAL SERVICE OBLIGATION FUND OF INDIA
Apart from the higher capital cost of providing telecom services in rural and remote areas, these areas also generate lower revenue due to lower population density, low income and lack of commercial activity. Thus normal market forces alone would not direct the telecom sector to adequately serve backward and rural areas. Keeping in mind the inadequacy of the market mechanism to serve rural and inaccessible areas on one hand and the importance of providing vital telecom connectivity on the other, most countries of the world have put in place policies to provide Universal Access and Universal Service to ICT.
The New Telecom Policy – 1999 (NTP’99) provided that the resources for meeting the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would be raised through a ‘Universal Access Levy (UAL)’, which would be a percentage of the revenue earned by the operators under various licenses. The Universal Service Support Policy came into effect from 01.04.2002. The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003 giving statutory status to the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was passed by both Houses of Parliament in December 2003. The Rules for administration of the Fund known as Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2004 were notified on 26.03.2004. As per the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 (as amended in 2003, 2006 and 2008), the Fund is to be utilized exclusively for meeting the Universal Service Obligation.