April 27, 2019

Mains Article
27 Apr 2019


What happened with Jet airways?

  • The past year has been a harrowing one for India’s oldest private airline, Jet Airways. Its founder Naresh Goyal had to give up the reins last month after lenders took charge of the organisation.

  • Now the carrier has now run out of money to continue operations, which led Jet to cancel hundreds of flights. Saddled with more than $1.2 billion in debt, and with dwindling revenue, the airline has said it also owes money to banks, pilots and suppliers.

  • Jet, which had a 44% share of the domestic passenger market in 2003-04, steadily lost ground and in February 2019, it had only 10% of the domestic market share, fourth behind IndiGo (43.4%), SpiceJet (13.7%) and Air India (domestic, 12.8%), according to government data.

  • In 2013, Jet was close to running out of cash, but survived collapse when Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways bought a 24 percent stake in the Indian airline.

So what went wrong with Jet Airways?

  • When Naresh Goyal and his wife, Anita, started Jet in 1993, state-run Air India was the only formidable opponent, and the country's aviation market was just taking off. His focus was to ensure that the country's biggest private carrier had impeccable service.

  • International expansion: Jet's problems began when it embarked on an aggressive international expansion plan. The carrier ordered 22 wide-body aircraft for delivery over about 18 months, starting in 2006, depleting cash.

  • Acquisition of Sahara: Then Jet bought a struggling Indian airline called Sahara for 14.5 billion rupees ($209 million) in 2007 that had an ageing fleet and did not fit Jet's corporate culture.

  • Low cost carriers (LCC):
    • In 2003, Captain G R Gopinath started the country’s first low-cost carrier Air Deccan, which was followed by the launch of SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir.

    • All these carriers followed the model of no-frills, cheaper tickets, and higher passenger load factors which started eating into Jet's market share. To compete with low-cost carriers, Jet has lowered prices without reducing its expensive services.

  • High fuel prices and hefty taxes:
    • Fuel costs account for roughly 40 % of a carrier’s operating cost.

    • Steep taxes on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) in India — one of the highest in the world — make Indian carriers less competitive against global players.

  • Shift from 5/20 to 0/20:
    • In 2004, the government announced the 5/20 rule (allowing Indian scheduled carriers with a minimum 5 years’ continuous operations and a minimum of 20 aircrafts to fly international routes. Jet was the key beneficiary of this rule.

    • In 2016, the government scrapped the 5/20 rule and replaced it with 0/20, enabling SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir to launch international flights.

  • Centralised control: Goyal's penchant for control, which helped him build the airline, has been a stumbling block for potential investors. Tata Sons was in talks with Jet for a deal that never materialised. Etihad has also been reluctant to increase its stake in the carrier for similar reasons.

  • FDI Cap: Indian rules cap foreign airline investment in domestic carriers at 49 %, and the government is eager to see Jet remain with an Indian entity. That narrows the list of potential investors, aviation financiers and leasing executives.

What is the paradoxical situation of Indian Aviation Sector?

  • Over the past four years, passenger growth in India has been rapid: The number of flights taken has increased between 15 and 20 percent per year. Demand growth this year is likely to be the highest in the world.

  • Yet the industry itself hasn’t benefited. Almost every Indian airline is struggling. The suspension of operations at Jet Airways — at one time India’s largest private airline — announced, follows the troubles at Kingfisher, Air Deccan, and Sahara.

What is the way ahead?

  • It illustrates the challenge of making money in the country's aviation sector, dominated by low-cost carriers such as IndiGo and SpiceJet Ltd.

  • The Indian market is also highly price-sensitive, and airlines compete to keep fares low, even at a loss, to continue expanding.

  • In India's aviation market, one needs not only deep pockets but a deep threshold for pain. When India's Kingfisher Airlines went bankrupt in 2012, lessors were forced to write off millions of dollars in losses.




April 26, 2019

Mains Article
26 Apr 2019


What are LOCF guidelines?

  • Full name: LOCF stands for ‘Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework’.

  • Background: In August 2018, UGC issued a public notice followed by a direction to all central institutions, to form subject-specific committees for the implementation of the Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework.

  • What is it? It is a framework on which the new curriculum for undergraduate courses will be modelled.

  • Features:
    • The idea behind LOCF is to decide the desired outcome within the framework of the current Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, and then design the curriculum to obtain these outcomes.

    • The outcomes will be determined in terms of skills, knowledge, understanding, employability, graduate attributes, attitudes, values, etc., gained by students upon the completion of the course.

What are its proposed benefits?

  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) believes that it will improve, among other things, their employability.

  • The LOCF approach “makes the student an active learner; the teacher a good facilitator and together they lay the foundation for lifelong learning”.

What is the opposition by Teachers at Delhi University (DU)?

  • They are agitated about the frequent changes in the undergraduate curriculum. The coming change will be the fifth in the last nine years at the university.

  • According to critics, each of these “reforms” was announced without warning, and implemented the very next year which has disrupted the functioning of the system, and caused confusion and trauma among students.

  • Each change was introduced with the objective of improving the quality of education and scaling up DU’s world ranking, but the outcome has been the opposite.

  • Critics also argue that the CBCS pattern of the undergraduate programme itself is faulty.

What is Choice Based Credit System (CBCS)?

  • CBCS, according to UGC, provides “a ‘cafeteria’ type approach in which the students can take courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, undergo additional courses and acquire more than the required credits and adopt an interdisciplinary approach to learning”.

  • The Generic Elective (GE) course has to be compulsorily taken from an unrelated discipline/subject.

  • All Honours students must choose one Generic paper from options offered by disciplines other than their own in semesters 1-4.

  • Students of non-Honours courses must choose one generic paper from a discipline other than their own in the last two semesters.

What are the proposed benefits of CBCS?

  • According to UGC, the marks or percentage based evaluation system obstructs the flexibility for the students to study the subjects/courses of their choice and their mobility to different institutions.

  • However, CBCS offers opportunities and avenues to learn core subjects but also exploring additional avenues of learning beyond the core subjects for holistic development of an individual.

What is the criticism of the CBCS?

  • Critics point to three major problems: a repetition of papers, highly heterogeneous classes, and the creation of situations in which students don’t acquire much knowledge about a subject.

  • When students of different disciplines opt for a GE of a particular discipline, it creates a class of students who are very different from each other in attitude, knowledge, aptitude, and exposure.

  • The lack of synchronization in interdisciplinary syllabus formulation has made teaching-learning more difficult.

  • Critics argue that without a re-look at the CBCS framework, changes in the curriculum through LOCF will end up being another futile exercise.


Social Issues

April 25, 2019

Mains Article
25 Apr 2019


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. will not renew exemptions from its sanctions for importing oil from Iran. 

What was the story so far of U.S. sanctions on Iran? 

  • JCPOA withdrawal: In May 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or “ Iran deal”. 

  • Sanctions: This led to re-triggering of sanctions imposed prior to nuclear deal. These target Iran’s ability to purchase U.S. Dollar notes & Trade in metals, besides other currency transactions. These sanctions kicked-in from November 2018 targeting Iran’s oil exports and energy sector. 

  • Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs): 
    • In November 2018, U.S. granted exemptions from its sanctions for importing oil from Iran for a 180-day period for India and seven other countries (namely China, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, Greece and Taiwan). 

    • These sanctions – also known as Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs) to existing importers of Iranian oil – are due to expire on May 2, 2019. 

What are the possible reasons behind recent decision by United States? 

  • Now, U.S. has decided to not renew the exemptions from its sanctions for importing oil from Iran so as to achieve its national security objectives and pressurize Iran on denuclearisation.

  • The decision to eliminate all SREs follows the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, another step towards putting pressure on Iran.

  • The sanctions have provided the U.S. an opportunity to put more of its own crude on the market. U.S. crude production was 1.6 million bpd higher than it was in 2017, and an additional 1.5 million bpd is expected in 2019.

  • On the other hand, Oil exports from Iran hit a low of 1.0 million bpd in March this year – down from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018.

How has Iran reacted to the decision?

  • Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which a third of the world’s seaborne oil passes every day. Blocking this choke point can lead to huge increases in energy costs and world energy prices.

  • According to analysts, Iran cannot legally close the waterway unilaterally because part of it is in Oman’s territorial waters. However, ships pass through Iranian waters, which Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Navy controls.

  • To this, the US has said that closing the Hormuz Strait will amount to an escalation with an unknown fallout — this is one reason Iran has, in 40 years of hostility with the West, never yet acted on its threats to close the Strait.

What are the Potential impact of this decision on India?

  • Energy Security: Iran was the fourth largest supplier of oil to India in 2018-19. The big concern is that the substitute crude suppliers — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Nigeria and the US — do not offer the attractive options that Iran does, including 60-day credit, and free insurance and shipping.

  • Current account deficit: Higher crude oil prices will widen the trade deficit and current account deficit.

  • Rupee: The currency could be impacted if the trade and current account deficits were to widen. An increase in the import bill will tend to put pressure on the rupee.

  • Inflation: There could be significant impact on inflation, given how crude oil prices move and the extent to which the government allows the pass-through to the consumer. Analysts do not expect a full pass-through until the elections are over.

  • Fiscal impact:
    • On the revenue side, higher oil prices mean more revenue for the states as tax is ad valorem; for the Centre, though, it may not materially impact the finances much as the duty rates are fixed.

    • The expenditure impact would primarily be on account of fuel subsidy provided on LPG and kerosene.

  • After the announcement, Indian benchmark indices slid by around 1.3%, as investors rushed to sell shares on concerns that rising oil prices could stoke inflation and dent the already weak consumption story.

How has the government of India reacted?

  • India has said the country is “sufficiently prepared” to deal with the impact of the US decision to curtail the temporary exemption from sanctions on the purchase of Iranian oil.

  • It said that “a robust plan” has been put in place for adequate supply of crude to refineries.

  • Analysts expect that India and China could show a degree of defiance while cutting back on their exposure to Iranian crude as India’s ties with Iran are significant and historic, and it will work hard to maintain some links.

  • According to experts, India will cut imports substantially, but probably maintain approximately 100,000 bpd (barrels per day) of Iranian imports paid for using a rupee payment system. 

International Relations

April 24, 2019

Mains Article
24 Apr 2019


Tesla has recently declared that it will offer fully autonomous vehicles by the second quarter of next year.

What are Autonomous Vehicles?

  • A driverless car, also called autonomous car or self-driving car, is a vehicle which can sense its surrounding environment and can navigate without human input.

  • It combines multiple sensors and techniques to perceive their surroundings like radar, laser light, GPS, odometer, computer vision, etc.

  • The advanced control systems interpret the sensory information for identifying the obstacles, relevant signage and navigation paths.

What are the technical concerns in launch of Autonomous vehicles?

  • When it’s heavy enough to cover the pavement, snow blocks the view of lane lines that vehicle cameras use to find their way. Researchers so far haven’t figured out a way around this in warm-weather climates such as Arizona and California.

  • Heavy snow, rain, fog and sandstorms can obstruct the view of cameras. Light beams sent out by laser sensors can bounce off snowflakes and think they are obstacles.

  • Across the globe, roadway marking lines are different, or they may not even exist. Lane lines aren’t standardized, so vehicles have to learn how to drive differently in each city. Sometimes there aren’t any curbs to help vehicles judge lane width.

What was the Uber incident of March 2018?

  • In March 2018, an autonomous self-driving Uber vehicle failed to avoid hitting a 49-year-old woman in Arizona. It was a first incident of accidental death involving driverless car. Such incidents have raised several ethical questions.

  • Surveys taken after the Uber crash showed that drivers are reluctant to give up control to a computer. One by AAA in March found 71 percent of people are afraid to ride in fully self-driving vehicles.

What are the Ethical concerns involved in their launch?

  • A self-driving vehicle take decision in a fraction of seconds. Thus ethical considerations do not come into play. Rather, the decisions result from a set of pre-existing preferences installed by coders.

  • Till now, the most prominent discussion has been around the trolley problem. How the autonomous car will decide in situations where death of one or more is certain?

  • Another concern is related to the responsibility of the accident. Who will be held responsible for accidents or death, the car, the car owner, the car company, or the autonomous technology of the car?

  • A major ethical dilemma is regarding how a car should decide between the lives of its passengers and the lives of pedestrians.

  • Will an autonomous car break the law, for example crossing over to opposite lane, to save a life?

What is Trolley problem?

  • It is an ethical problem in which lives of many can be saved at the cost of one.

  • A trolley is heading down the tracks toward five workers who will all be killed if the trolley proceeds on its present course. The only way to save the lives of the five workers is to divert the trolley onto another track that only has one worker on it.

Then what is the Way forward?

  • Over time, autonomous vehicles will only increase and its time to start thinking about what moral and ethical judgments these machines should be making.

  • There is no single guiding principle of ethics that could guide an autonomous vehicle. Multiple solution need to be evolved. The solution should be technically possible, ethically justifiable and legally defensible.

  • Professional ethicist need to be involved from the very early stages of designing to make them more effective.

  • Government need to enact laws which can overrule discriminatory considerations from decision making. For example, in August 2017, the German government made it illegal to programme an autonomous vehicle with demographic preferences when faced with the prospect of causing injury. It can only take actions to do least harm to people, and humans take precedence over property.

  • Autonomous vehicle companies are showing test passengers information on screens about where the vehicles are headed and what its sensors are seeing. The more people ride, the more they trust the vehicles.


Science & Tech

April 23, 2019

Mains Article
23 Apr 2019


What are Hypersonic Weapons?

  • Speed: Hypersonic weapons are the ones that can fly at speeds greater 5000 km/hr (more than 5 Mach). Due to such speeds they can strike anywhere on the earth in under an hour.

  • Altitude of flying: These weapons fly low, remaining in the endo-atmospheric region (generally at altitudes below about 90 km), thereby reducing the chances of their detection by radar systems.

What are SCRAMJET Engines?

  • The tremendous speed in the bracket of 6-8 Mach is achieved through the use of Supersonic Combustion Ramjet (SCRAMJET) Engines.

  • Such engines, though operate on the same principal of ramjet air breathing engines, have the capability to support the combustion of supersonic air flows in their combustion Chambers.

  • When such air flows are made to pass through escape nozzles, they produce significantly higher acceleration, propelling the missiles at speeds that reach hypersonic ranges.

What are the two Main Versions of Hypersonic Weapons?

  1. Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCM): It is a typical cruise missile which is ‘all the way powered’ to achieve hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 or higher.

  2. Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV): Such a vehicle is also called a ‘wave-rider’ because it uses the shock waves generated by its own flight as a lifting surface to enhance the lift-to-drag ratio to reach the hypersonic regime of Mach 5 or even more. A typical HGV is launched by any solid propellant rocket/missile which can give it the initial boost.

What Makes Hypersonic Weapons So Lethal?

  • Speed: Hypersonic weapons strikes at a tremendous speed and prohibits the defender to get his defences to react to such a threat in time.

  • Undetectability: HCMs can fly lower than the traditional ballistic missiles, thus they tend to avoid radar detection. Since speed (aided by also flying low level) becomes a combat virtue for making such weapons undetectable, and hence unstoppable, it is said, "speed is the new stealth".

  • Huge Kinetic Energy Kill Capability: Experts opine that one kg of warhead carried by a hypersonic missile moving at Mach 6, has 36 times more kill capability than a conventional ballistic missile carrying the same warhead.

  • Unpredictability: The payloads gliding at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and more are so manoeuvrable due to their non-ballistic trajectories that they can change their targets at any point. Because of this, HGVs can hold huge areas of the defender's domain at risk of strike, while making targeting of such payloads extremely difficult (if at all).

What is the Global Trend in Hypersonic Weapon Development?

  • China and Russia are in the forefront of development in the hypersonic weapons, even ahead of USA. Other countries in the hypersonic arms development race are France, UK, Turkey and India.

  • Recently, in March 2019, it was reported that Russia is getting ready to launch the Zircon Hypersonic Missile which will have a capability of flying at Mach 8 and will be simply "unstoppable" by any known missile defence system in the world.

Where does India stands in the Hypersonic Field?

  • DRDO has developed a surface-to-surface tactical missile codenamed ‘Shaurya’ which has a hypersonic speed of 7.5 Mach. This missile is capable of carrying a payload of one ton which could either be conventional or nuclear.

  • BrahMos II Hypersonic Cruise Missile is under joint development by India and Russia. It is an upgraded version of BrahMos I, which will have a speed of about Mach 7 and a range of 600 km. This missile will be ready for testing in 2020.

How to counter the Hypersonic weapons?

  • The attempts to build the counter hypersonic are in their R&D phase.

  • The US’ Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is trying to research possible weapon options (called glide breakers) which could take on this futuristic threat.

  • Weapons that could be based on space with soft kill magazines firing at the speed of light etc are being researched as possible options.

  • Challenges in developing them: The target to be destroyed surely poses huge challenges - speeds in the region of Mach 20, unpredictable non-ballistic trajectory, high manoeuvrability, unpredictability of flight, low endo-atmospheric operation avoiding radar detection and more.

  • Way ahead: However, this concept must be kept alive as a future niche technology area and R&D directed towards it as deemed operationally necessary at a point in time.


Defence & Security
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