Contents

  1. The World must act against the threat of Autonomous Weapons
  2. Electric vehicle Ecosystem’s taking Solid Shape in India
  3. On the Front Foot
  4. For a Data Firewall
  5. Listening to the call of the Informal
  6. Reducing Custodial Deaths
  7. Aiming a Billion Transactions a day: Dawn of Digital Payment

THE WORLD MUST ACT AGAINST THE THREAT OF AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS

  • We are fast approaching a pivotal moment in the global arms race for Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWs)
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will disrupt the way things are being done right now
  • Major countries and technology companies all over the world are developing LAWs capable of acquiring, identifying and engaging targets without any meaningful human control
  • Israel Aerospace Industries’ Harpy, for instance hovers high in the sky surveying the land, and when an enemy radar signal is detected
  • Demands have risen for a comprehensive international treaty to pre-emptively ban the development of AI and other technologies in the field of LAWs
  • The proliferation of such weapons could have widespread ramifications on the way warfare is conducted and the future of our society
  • Algorithms used in LAWs internalize prejudices, but do not account for human suffering and, therefore, could cause extensive violence
  • This leads to the next visible challenge of this technology: fixing accountability. Who should be held responsible for the unintended actions of LAWs? Should it be its developer?
  • With LAWs, we jump off a moral precipice: autonomous bodies decide who lives and dies. These weapons make war beholden to objective standards, whereas the causes of warfare are naturally driven by subjective issues, such as nationalist sentiment, political strategy and human disagreements.
  • Also, what if this technology falls into the wrong hands.
  • Incidents all over the world have shown that even the most advanced security systems are susceptible to hacking.
  • Terrorists or rogue states could use such weapons on civilians
  • In time, the economic feasibility of such weapons will lower the cost barriers to war. Conflict will be reduced to a game where civilian and personnel casualties are reduced to mere statistics on a screen.

ELECTRIC VEHICLE ECOSYSTEM’S TAKING SOLID SHAPE IN INDIA

  • The number of electric cars grew by about 300% in the last decade
  • The absolute number is only around 4,000 electric cars on Indian roads, which is just about 0.1% of close to 3.5 million cars sold in the last year
  • India is a market that provides a tremendous opportunity in the EV space
  • Government has a set a target of 30% electric vehicles on Indian roads
  • The government is doing laudable work in creating an enabling environment for EVs. Recently, the GST Council reduced the taxes on EVs from 12% to 5%.
  • Similarly, to promote ‘Made In India’ EVs, the finance minister increased the customs duty on completely built units and SKD to 40% and 30%, respectively.
  • This will definitely boost Indian manufacturing of EVs—as we did for the Kona EV.
  • Achieving the target of 30% electric mobility by 2030 looks challenging, and investment, innovation, research and development (R&D) across the right technologies will be key.
  • From charging infrastructure to investment in R&D for EV products suitable for the Indian roads, the industry is up for the task.

ON THE FRONT FOOT

Why in news?

  • The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) decided at a meeting  to keep the interest rates unchanged in the wake of a rise in inflation, but emphasised that there would be space for rate reduction
  • The introduction of one- and three-year term repos at policy rate of 5.15% for a total of ₹1 lakh crore is also aimed at prodding rates downward as banks now pay 6%-6.5% on deposits.
  • Third, the RBI has fine-tuned its liquidity management process in a manner designed to help banks manage their interest costs better.

FOR A DATA FIREWALL

Why in news?

  • The report by a German cybersecurity firm that medical details of millions of Indian patients were leaked and are freely available on the Internet is worrying.
  • The firm listed 1.02 million studies of Indian patients and 121 million medical images, including CT Scans, MRIs and even photos of the patients, as being available
  • Such information has the potential to be mined for deeper data analysis and for creating profiles that could be used for social engineering, phishing and online identity theft, among other practices that thrive on the availability of such data on the Darknet
  • The reason for the availability of this data is the absence of any security in the Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) servers used by medical professionals and which seem to have been connected to the public Internet without protection
  • Unlike the data protection regulations in place in the European Union and in the U.S., India still lacks a comprehensive legal framework to protect data privacy. The Draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 is still to be tabled but could enable protection of privacy.
  • While the 2019 version of the Bill seeks to retain the intent and many of the recommendations of the Justice Srikrishna committee, it has also diluted a few provisions.
  • For example, while the Bill tasks the fiduciary to seek the consent in a free, informed, specific, clear form (and which is capable of being withdrawn later) from the principal, it has removed the proviso from the 2018 version of the Bill that said selling or transferring sensitive personal data by the fiduciary to a third party is an offence. 

LISTENING TO THE CALL OF THE INFORMAL

Context and Details:

  • The key question here is: Who benefits from formalisation of informal firms? Formalisation does reduce the last-mile costs for banks.
  • The state finds it easier to monitor and to tax the firms that adopt its version of formality.
  • However, the process can also produce adverse outcomes for the informal sector firms themselves
  • There is a desire to connect small firms in India more firmly with global supply chains.
  • Mr. Mehrotra points out that the primary motivation of multinational companies for expanding their global supply chains is to tap into lower cost sources of supply. 

Government policies and informal sector

  • The thrust of the Indian government’s policies should not be to reduce the size of the informal sector.
  • Rather, it must be to improve working conditions for the citizens who earn incomes in the sector.
  • Their safety at work, their dignity, and their fair treatment by employers must be the thrust of any reform. 

Ease of doing business in informal sector

  •  Making it easy for MNCs and large companies to invest will not increase growth of the economy if enterprises and incomes at the bottom of the pyramid do not grow.
  • The voices of tiny entrepreneurs in the rural heartlands and on the fringes of Indian cities must be listened to while developing policies for ‘ease of doing business’

REDUCING CUSTODIAL DEATHS

Context and Details:

  • The police play a major role in the administration of criminal justice.
  • One of the reasons for custodial death is that the police feel that they have a power to manipulate evidence as the investigation is their prerogative and with such manipulated evidence, they can bury the truth
  • Custodial deaths have been on the increase in recent years.
  • They increased by 9% from 92 in 2016 to 100 in 2017, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
  • Since policemen responsible for custodial deaths rarely get punished, they feel emboldened to continue using torture as the tool to get to the truth
  • The Supreme Court delivered a historic order in 2006 on police reforms.
  • It stated, among other things, that every State should have a Police Complaints Authority where any citizen can lodge a complaint against policemen for any act of misdemeanor.
  • However, only a few States such as Kerala, Jharkhand, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra have implemented the order.

AIMING A BILLION TRANSACTIONS A DAY: DAWN OF DIGITAL PAYMENT

  • Digital payment transactions on the Universal Payment Interface (UPI) platform rising from 0.1 million in October 2016 to 1.3 billion in January 2020 represents the magic of entrepreneurs, nonprofits and policymakers working together
  • India was long a financially excluded nation — only 17 per cent of Indians had a bank account in 2011
  • The World Bank suggests it would have taken 50 more years for 80 per cent of Indians to get a bank account at the pre-2011 speed. Yet, we reached that milestone in 2018
  • A magical combination of political will (Jan Dhana Yojana and Aadhaar embedding), a proactive central bank (creating a non-profit market participant entity and leveling the playing field between non-banks and banks), and a technology stack with three layers (identity, payments, and data)

UPI offers five policy lessons:

  • First, how the India stack — interconnected yet independent platforms or open APIs — are a public good that lowers costs, spurs innovation, and blunts the natural digital winner-takes-all. Replicating this in education, healthcare, and government services are likely to be a harbinger of large scale multi-domain collaborative innovation.
  • Second, collaboration can create ecosystems that overcome the birth defects of its constituents — the execution deficit of government, the trust deficit of private companies, and the scale deficit of nonprofits.
  • Third, complementary policy interventions are important. Demonetisation and GST are changing the stories that firms and individuals tell themselves around cash and informality.
  • Fourth, human capital and diversity matter. This revolution needed career bureaucrats to partner with academics, tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, global giants and private firms.
  •  The final lesson is that India doesn’t need to be Western or Chinese to be modern. If our policymakers had copied Alipay or US banks, we wouldn’t have leapfrogged their birth defects.

However, there is more work to be done:

  • The central government must deadline digitizing all its payments.
  • The RBI must implement the 100-plus action items arising from its own Vision 2021 document and the Nandan Nilekani Committee for Deepening Digital Payments.
  • It must also make UPI and RuPay fit for use in our $70 billion inward remittances that currently come through exploitative financial institutions which don’t have clients but hostages.
  • RBI must replicate the core design of UPI — fierce but sustainable private and public competition — in bank credit because our 50 per cent credit-to -GDP ratio is one of the reasons India is poor
  • Converting the collective independence our citizens got in 1947 to individual freedom surely involved universal financial inclusion
  • Change has begun – the RBI, the finance ministry, and many individuals deserve our gratitude and wishes for a billion digital payments a month.
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