GS PAPER II

Biden-Putin summit

Why in News

On 16th June 2021, the USA President meets Russian President at Geneva.

Western alliance

  • In the past, when American Presidents visited Europe and met NATO allies, Russia had been their main focus.
  • But this time, when the USA President went to Europe, the focus was on China — a sign of the emerging shifts in the global power balance.
  • The USA President held a host of talks with separate blocs in Europe — the Group of Seven (G7), NATO and the EU — with a focus on strengthening the western alliance.
  • The G7 industrialized nationsthe U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan — issued a communiqué slamming China’s human rights records.
  • The 30­member NATO, whose traditional focus has been on Russia, has also issued a statement in which China has been mentioned multiple times.
  • NATO members warned against the “Systemic challenges to the rules based international order” emanating from China’s rise.
  • The U.S. and the 27­member EU have decided to cooperate more on technology, regulation, industrial development and trade in an attempt to help the West compete better with China.
  • They have also decided to set up a high-level trade and technology council, which would boost innovation and investment.

The China focusses

  • This approach is in line with the Biden administration’s overall focus on reorienting American foreign policy to deal with the China challenge more effectively.
  • The USA President ended America’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and is pulling back all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11.
  • In March, he called the first summit of Quad countriesthe U.S., India, Japan and Australia — which decided to boost vaccine production to help other countries.
  • At home, the U.S. Congress passed the $250 billion tech and manufacturing Bill, which would ensure funds for the semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing initiatives. The aim is undoubtedly to counter China.
  • When Mr. Biden moves forward, focusing on China, Russia remains a distraction. Ties between the two countries, as both leaders have admitted, are at the lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
  • There were allegations of Russian cyberattacks and election interference in the U.S., while Moscow is reeling under Western sanctions and seems determined to resist any move by NATO to expand into its backyard.
  • Earlier in 2021, Russian President had assembled Russian troops on the Ukraine border in a direct challenge to the USA. After he recalled Russian Ambassador from Washington and asked the American Ambassador to return for consultations, bilateral relations between the two countries practically collapsed.
  • On the other side, Russia was steadily deepening its partnership with China.

Detente with Russia

  • In the Geneva summit, Mr. Biden stopped short of characterising Mr. Putin, which he had done in the past, and held talks on critical issues.
  • They decided to return their ambassadors and follow up bilateral engagements with “a strategic stability dialogue” on arms reduction.
  • The message from Geneva is that the leaders wanted to establish rules of engagement so that the countries can better address their differences and seek common ground on issues of mutual interest.

US-India Hydrogen Task Force

Why in News

According to a statement from US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) US-India hydrogen taskforce has been launched under the aegis of Strategic Clean Energy Partnership (SCEP).

US-India Hydrogen Taskforce

  • According to a draft proposal of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), leveraging India’s landmass and green energy sources for exporting green hydrogen is one of the steps for achieving energy sufficiency for the country.
  • On 17th June, 2021, the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India, along with the US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), launched the US-India Hydrogen Task Force, under the US-India Strategic Clean Energy Partnership (SCEP).
  • India and US had decided to revamp their strategic partnership to focus on clean energy sectors such as biofuels and hydrogen.
  • The two countries will intensify efforts to take advantage of advanced U.S. technologies and India’s rapidly growing energy market.
  • The new Task Force represents industry and government stake holders to assess technology status, study innovative policy options, and make recommendations.
  • The Hydrogen Task Force will be organized into a Steering Committee at the Government level, an Industry council, and working groups or subcommittees in identified priority areas.

Significance of New Taskforce

  • The focus will be on strengthening cooperation on hydrogen between industry and institutions from both countries.
  • The US and India can help solve the climate crisis by finding ways to scale up access, affordability, and deployment of critical hydrogen technologies.
  • The US-India Hydrogen Task Force bridges government research with industry perspectives.
  • The goal is to reach the collective goal of decarbonizing high-polluting industrial sectors and achieving a greener, cleaner planet.
  • The U.S. India Hydrogen Task Force will help scale up technologies to produce hydrogen from renewable energy and fossil fuel sources and bring down the cost of deployment for enhanced energy security and sustainability.

US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF)

  • USISPF members are represented across the hydrogen supply chain.
  • India and US launched the Strategic Energy Partnership in New Delhi in April 2018.
  • Four working groups have been created under the Strategic Energy Partnership:
  • Oil and gas,
  • Power and energy efficiency,
  • Renewable energy and
  • Sustainable development
  • At the Leaders’ Summit on Climate on 22 April 2021, Prime Minister of India and President of the USA agreed to launch a high-level India-US Partnership which envisages bilateral cooperation on strong actions in the current decade to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • The Partnership will aim to mobilize finance and speed clean energy deployment; demonstrate and scale innovative clean technologies needed to decarbonize sectors including industry, transportation, power, and buildings; and build capacity to measure, manage, and adapt to the risks of climate-related impacts.
  • The Partnership will proceed along two main tracks: the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership and the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue, which will build on and subsume a range of existing processes.

Way forward

  • Green hydrogen gas is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrolyser that may be powered by electricity generated from renewable energy sources.
  • India, the world’s third-largest oil importer is recalibrating its energy sourcing playbook keeping its strategic and economic interests in mind.
  • The clean fuel can be a game changer for India, which imports 85% of its oil and 53% of gas demand.

GS PAPER III

New Information and Technology Rules

Why in News

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology stated Twitter that the “law of the land is supreme” and not the company’s policies.

Key Points

  • The panel had summoned Twitter over concerns of misuse of the social media platform as well as the protection of citizens’ rights.
  • Twitter India’s public policy manager and legal counsel deposed before the Parliamentary committee amid the ongoing row between the Centre and the company over the new IT rules.
  • Earlier in June, the Centre had issued a notice to Twitter giving it one last chance to “immediately” comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act.
  • The government, earlier this week, slammed Twitter for deliberate defiance and failure to comply with the IT rules, which has led to the US giant losing its intermediary status in India and becoming liable for users posting any unlawful content.
  • The rules became effective from May 26 and Twitter, even after the expiry of the additional time, had not appointed the requisite officers, leading to it losing the ”safe harbour” immunity.
  • On Friday, members of the panel asked some tough and searching questions to Twitter India officials, but their answers lacked clarity and were ambiguous.

New Information and Technology Rules

  • New Guidelines for social media/Intermediaries:
  • Categories of Social Media Intermediaries: Based on the number of users, on the social media platform intermediaries have been divided in two groups:
  • Social media intermediaries.
  • Significant social media intermediaries.
  • Due Diligence to be Followed by Intermediaries: In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them. The safe harbour provisions have been defined under Section 79 of the IT Act, and protect social media intermediaries by giving them immunity from legal prosecution for any content posted on their platforms.
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism is Mandatory: Intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with complaints and share the name and contact details of such officers. Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within twenty-four hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt.
  • Ensuring Online Safety and Dignity of Users: Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
  • Additional Due Diligence for the Significant Social Media Intermediaries:
  • Appointments: Need to appoint Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer, all of whom should be resident in India.
  • Compliance Report: Need to publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively.
  • Enabling Identity of the Originator: Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information. Required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order,
  • Removal of Unlawful Information: An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.

Solar Rooftop Projects

Why in News

When the Central government revised the target for renewable energy installations in 2014, of the 100 Gw earmarked for solar power, 40 Gw was supposed to come from rooftop solar by 2022 and the balance from utility scale or ground-mounted solar projects.

Key Points

  • Unlike developed nations such as Germany which pushed solar rooftop to improve public perceptions towards green energy, the government has been aggressively batting for utility scale.
  • So, while utility scale solar has seen immense progress with leading players lining up for projects, tariff spiralling down, and Central agencies pushing mega projects, rooftop solar has continued to remain a neglected sibling.
  • According to the data of government, of 40GW installed solar capacity, barely 4.4 GW is rooftop solar.
  • According to the industry data, 75% rooftop installations come from the commercial and industrial segment.
  • Industrial installation saw 50-60% growth around 2015-15 till 2018. In last two years, it has remained 1-1.5GW annually due to multiple factors including the pandemic.
  • The primary reason for slow growth has been the lack or withdrawal of state-level policy support for the rooftop solar segment.

Foreign Exchange Reserve

Why in News

According to the latest data from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) the country’s foreign exchange reserves surged by $3.074 billion to reach a record high of $608.081 billion in the week ended June 11.

Key Points

  • The reserves had increased by $6.842 billion to $605.008 billion in the previous week ended June 4, 2021.
  • In the reporting week ended June 11, the rise in reserves was on account of an increase in foreign currency assets (FCA), a major component of the overall reserves.
  • FCA rose by $2.567 billion to $563.457 billion, as per the data.
  • Expressed in dollar terms, the foreign currency assets include the effect of appreciation or depreciation of non-US units like the euro, pound and yen held in the foreign exchange reserves.
  • After declining in the previous week, the gold reserves rose by $496 million to $38.101 billion in the reporting week.
  • The special drawing rights (SDRs) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) declined by $1 million to $1.512 billion.

Foreign Exchange Reserves

  • Foreign exchange reserves are assets denominated in a foreign currency that are held by a central bank.
  • These may include foreign currencies, bonds, treasury bills, and other government securities.
  • Most foreign exchange reserves are held in U.S. dollars, with China being the largest foreign currency reserve holder in the world.
  • These assets serve many purposes but are most significantly held to ensure that a central government agency has backup funds if their national currency rapidly devalues or becomes all together insolvent.
  • Foreign exchange reserves are not only used to back liabilities but also influence monetary policy.

Importance of Foreign Exchange Reserves

  • The Foreign Exchange Reserves is needed to support imports of the nation.
  • More importantly, they are needed to support, maintain confidence for central bank action, whether monetary policy action or any exchange rate intervention to support the domestic currency.
  • It also helps limit any vulnerability because of a sudden disruption in foreign capital flows, which could happen during a crisis.
  • Holding liquid forex thus provides a cushion against such effects and gives the confidence that there would still be enough forex to support the country’s crucial imports in case of external shocks.