16TH OCTOBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. STARS Project

News: The Union Cabinet has approved implementation of the World Bank aided- Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) project with a total project cost of Rs. 5,718 crore with the financial support of World Bank amounting to about Rs. 3,700 crore.

Details:

  • The STARS project would be implemented as a new Centrally Sponsored Schemeunder the Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education (MoE). These are aligned with the objectives of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 of Quality Based Learning Outcomes.
  • Strengthening the government-managed school education system that primarily caters to the educational needs of girls and students from marginalised groups. Focus on initiatives of PM e-Vidya, Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission and National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

Features:

  • India’s participation in the 2022 cycle of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)survey will also be funded by this project.
  • PISA was introduced in 2000 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
  • It tests the learning levels of 15-year-old children in reading, mathematics, and science. The test is conducted every three years.
  • India stayed away from PISA in 2012 and 2015on account of its dismal performance in 2009, when it was placed 72nd among the 74 participating countries. The government decided to end the boycott in 2019.

STARS Project

  • ‘STARS’ is an acronym for Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS).
  • The STARS project will be implemented through the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the flagship central scheme.
  • The six states include- Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan.
  • It will help improve learning assessment systems, strengthen classroom instruction and remediation, facilitate school-to-work transition, and strengthen governance and decentralized management,
  • Some 250 million students (between the age of 6 and 17) in 1.5 million schools and over 10 million teachers will benefit from the STARS program.
  • STARS will support India’s renewed focus on addressing the ‘learning outcome’ challenge and help students better prepare for the jobs of the future – through a series of reform initiatives.

Key Areas:

  • Access and retention;
  • Right to education entitlements;
  • Quality interventions;
  • Teacher education and training;
  • Gender and equity;
  • Inclusive education; and
  • Upgradation of the learning environment.

Major components of the STARS

At the national level, the project envisages the following interventions which will benefit all states and UTs:

  • To strengthen MOE’s national data systems to capture robust and authentic data on retention, transition and completion rates of students.
  • To support MOE in improving states PGI scores by incentivizing states governance reform agenda through SIG (State Incentive Grants).
  • To support the strengthening of learning assessment systems.
  • To support MOE’s efforts to establish a National Assessment Center (PARAKH).

At the State level, the project envisages: 

  • Strengthening Early Childhood Education and Foundational Learning
  • Improving Learning Assessment Systems
  • Strengthening classroom instruction and remediation through teacher development and school leadership
  • Governance and Decentralized Management for Improved Service Delivery.
  • Strengthening Vocational education in schools through mainstreaming, career guidance and counselling, internships and coverage of out of school children

Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC):

  • The project includes a Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC) under the National Component which would enable it to be more responsive to any natural, man-made and health disasters.
  • It will help the government respond to situations leading to loss of learning such as school closures/infrastructure damage, inadequate facilities and use technology for facilitating remote learning etc. The CERC component would facilitate the rapid re-categorization of financing and the utilization of streamlined financing request procedures.

PARAKH:

  • A major component of the project is the establishment of PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development)as a National Assessment Centre.
  • Included in the National Education Policy 2020,this autonomous institution under the Union Education Ministry will set norms for student assessment and evaluation for all school boards across the country, most of which currently follow norms set by State governments. It will also guide standardised testing to monitor learning outcomes at the State and national levels, according to the NEP.

2. Thalassemia Bal Sewa Yojna

News: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the second phase of “Thalassemia Bal Sewa Yojna” for the underprivileged Thalassemic patients.

Details:

  • The Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT)program was launched in 2017 and is funded by Coal India Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It will be extended for next two years from 2020.
  • HSCT refers to the transplantation of stem cells from various sources (bone marrow, growth factor–stimulated peripheral blood, and umbilical cord blood) for the treatment of various diseases like autoimmune, and genetic diseases.
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell: It is an immature cell that can develop into all types of blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Hematopoietic stem cells are found in the peripheral blood and the bone marrow. Also called blood stem cell.
  • It aims to provide aone-time cure opportunity for Haemoglobinopathies like Thalassaemia and Sickle Cell Disease for patients who have a matched family donor.
  • Only patients whose monthly family income is below Rs 20,000will be eligible for this assistance.
  • The scheme has been extended to cover Aplastic Anaemia patients(lack of blood cell production in body).
  • The CSR initiative was targeted to provide financial assistance to a total of 200 patients by providing a package cost not exceeding rupees 10 lakhs per HSCT.
  • It is estimated 10,000 to 12,000 children are born with thalassemia every year in India.
  • Data on the prevalence of silent carriers(persons without symptoms but potential to transmit to off springs) for various Haemoglobinopathies show that silent carriers are 9-4.6% for Thalassemia, while it can be as high as 40% for sickle cell anaemia especially among the tribal population.
  • Haemoglobin variants like Hemoglobin E (HBE) – deformed hemoglobin- in eastern India can be as common as 3-50% which calls for more attention to these diseases.

What is Thalassemia?

  • Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder characterized by less oxygen-carrying protein (haemoglobin) and fewer red blood cells in the body than normal.
  • When there isn’t enough haemoglobin, the body’s red blood cells don’t function properly and they last shorter periods of time, so there are fewer healthy red blood cells travelling in the bloodstream.
  • Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, paleness and slow growth.
  • Mild forms may not need treatment. Severe forms may require blood transfusions or a donor stem-cell transplant.

3. Food and Agriculture Organization

News: On the occasion of 75th Anniversary of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on 16th October 2020, PM has released a commemorative coin of Rs 75.

About FAO

  • It is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security. It was founded in October 1945 and is headquartered in Rome.
  • It maintains regional and field offices around the world, operating in over 130 countries.
  • It also conducts research, provides technical assistance to projects, operates educational and training programs, and collects data on agricultural output, production, and development.
  • Composed of 197 member states, the FAO is governed by a biennial conference representing each member country and the European Union, which elects a 49-member executive council.
  • The Director-General serves as the chief administrative officer.

Important reports and Programmes (Have a brief overview):

  • Global Report on Food Crises. Every two years, FAO publishes the State of the World’s Forests.
  • FAO and the World Health Organization created the Codex Alimentarius Commissionin 1961 to develop food standards, guidelines and texts.
  • In 1996, FAO organized the World Food Summit. The Summit concluded with the signing of the Rome Declaration, which established the goal of halving the number of people who suffer from hunger by the year 2015. In 2004 the Right to Food Guidelines were adopted, offering guidance to states on how to implement their obligations on the right to food.
  • FAO created the International Plant Protection Convention or IPPC in 1952.
  • FAO is depositary of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, also called Plant Treaty, Seed Treaty or ITPGRFA, entered into force on 29 June 2004.
  • The Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) Partnership Initiativewas conceptualized in 2002 during World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

India and FAO

  • India has had a historic association with FAO.
  • Indian Civil Service Officer Dr. Binay Ranjan Sen was the Director-General of FAO during 1956-1967.
  • The World Food Programme, which has won the Nobel Peace Prize 2020, was established during his time.
  • India’s proposals for the International Year of Pulses in 2016 and the International Year of Millets 2023 have also been endorsed by FAO.

4. Phased Manufacturing Policy

Background of the Phased Manufacturing Policy

  • The Phased Manufacturing Programme (PMP) incentivised the manufacture of low value accessories initially, and then moved on to the manufacture of higher value components.
  • This was done by increasing the basic customs duty on the imports of these accessories or components.
  • The PMP was implemented with an aim to improve value addition in the country.
  • Recently, 16 firms in the mobile manufacturing sector were approved for the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme to transform India into a major mobile manufacturing hub.
  • The PLI comes on the back of a phased manufacturing programme (PMP) that began in 2016-17.

Issues to consider

More imports and less value addition in India

  • Firms such as Apple, Xiaomi, Oppo, and OnePlus have invested in India, but mostly through their contract manufacturers. As a result, production increased from $13.4 billion in 2016-17 to $31.7 billion in 2019-20.
  • But factory-level production data from the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI)shows that more than 85% of the inputs were imported. UN data for India, China, Vietnam, Korea and Singapore (2017-2019), show that except for India, all countries exported more mobile phone parts than imports.
  • More export than import by these countries indicate the presence of facilities that add value to these parts before exporting them. India, on the other hand, imported more than it exported.
  • Therefore, while the PMP policy increased the value of domestic production, improvement in local value addition remains low. The new PLI policy offers an incentive subject to thresholds of incremental investment and sales of manufactured goods.
  • Thus, focus remains on increasing value of domestic production, and not local value addition.

Shift from China unlikely

  • India produced around 29 crore units of mobile phones for the year 2018-19; 94% of these were sold in the domestic market. This implies that much of the incremental production and sales under the PLI policy will have to be for the export market.
  • Recently, a study by Ernst & Young showed that if the cost of production of a mobile phone is say 100 (without subsidies), then the effective cost (with subsidies and other benefits) of manufacturing mobile phone in China is 79.55, Vietnam, 89.05, and India (including PLI), 92.51.
  • So, it may be premature to expect a major chunk of mobile manufacturing to shift from China to India.

PLI doesn’t strengthen the current export competitiveness

  • India’s mobile phone exports grew from $1.6 billion in 2018-19 to $3.8 billion in 2019-20, but per unit value declined from $91.1 to $87, respectively. This shows that our export competitiveness seems to be in mobiles with lower selling price. However, for foreign firms chosen under the PLI policy, the incentive will be at and above ₹15,000 ($204.65).
  • So, it is clear that the PLI policy does not strengthen our current export competitiveness in mobile phones.

Absence of domestic firms

  • Domestic firms have been nearly wiped out from the Indian market. So, their ability to take advantage of the PLI policy and grab a sizeable domestic market share seems difficult.
  • Domestic firms may have the route of exporting cheaper mobile phones to other low-income countries.
  • However, their performance in the last couple of years has not been promising.

Importance of supply chain colocation

  • The six component firms that have been given approval under the specified electronic components segment’ do not complete the mobile manufacturing ecosystem.
  • For example, when Samsung set up shop in Vietnam, it relied heavily on its Korean suppliers which co-located with it to produce intermediate inputs, so much so that 63 among Samsung’s 67 suppliers then were foreign. Though Samsung is invested hugely in India, it has not colocated its supply chain in the country. So, the foreign firms chosen under the PLI policy should be encouraged to colocate their supply ecosystems in the country.

Complaint at WTO against PMP

  • In September 2019, Chinese Taipei contested the raise in tariffs under the PMP. If the PMP is found to be World Trade Organization (WTO) non-compliant, then we may be flooded with imports of mobile phones.
  • This might make the local assembly of mobile phones unattractive. This will affect the operations of the mobile investments done under the PMP.

Conclusion

  • The PMP policy, since 2016-17 has barely been helpful in raising domestic value addition in the industry even though value of production expanded considerably.