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1.Pension ecosystem (The Financial Express)

2.The online shape of you (The Hindu)

3.Wastewater treatment (Down to Earth)

1.Pension ecosystem (The Financial Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Pension system in India, which led people to concern over its post-retirement existence. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Pension payout is becoming an ever-growing burden in every country. In India with added features to modern-day life, changing demographic structure, enhanced longevity etc led the current generation of employees to concern over its post-retirement existence.
  • In India, almost 110 million people of retirement-age are not covered by any old-age security scheme at all. Despite best laid plans and good intentions, there are serious lacunae, warranting a surgical procedure to keep the pension pot from cracking and beneficiaries in good fettle.

Government approach

  • In all, less that 25 million people in a country of 1.3 billion get pensions, that to when employment in the organised sector is minuscule. In spite of such measly coverage of old-age security, the government has realised the problem of payment of pensions to its former employees even as it is keen on extending the cover of old-age security to a greater chunk of the citizenry.
  • Various reports like ‘Challenge of Old Age Income Security’ by the World Bank (2001), and from the Pension Reforms in the Unorganised Sector, a report by IDRA in to the Bhattacharya Committee report on assessing pension liabilities of state governments (RBI, 2003) had come up with a raft of suggestions.
  • Government on the basis of these reports has passed ‘Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) act, and the National Pension System (NPS).
  • There are various kinds of pension funds in India, some of which function on their own and enjoy all benefits without passing these on to the beneficiaries. There is no clear count of the pension funds operating in the country informal assessment puts it at less than 3,000.

What is NPS?

  • National Pension System (NPS) is a low cost, tax-efficient and flexible retirement savings scheme launched by the government of India. It is one of the saving schemes where you can invest money monthly or through a systematic saving plan during your working life to get an adequate retirement income. All Indian citizens of 18 to 60 years of age, including NRIs are eligible to apply for a pension fund account.

Failure of effective implementation

  • The implementation of pension schemes is riddled with serious shortcomings, and beneficiaries get short-changed. There are a host of factors working against the beneficiary.
  • The implementation of NPS has been half-hearted and perfunctory. The scheme has not been able to bring workers in the unorganised sector under old-age security cover, the primarily reason for which it was created.
  • There are no comprehensive and authentic statistics about the agencies working in the pension space and no reliable data on the number of funds, even as registration is mandatory under one law or another.
  • Many pension funds have gone bankrupt, causing hardship to the contributors. But the government has not taken any solid action against erring elements, around 90% of pension funds operate practically without any regulation.
  • Lack of regulation has led to reliance on activities that can be termed irregular. The Income-Tax Act, for instance, gives benefits to the contributors on fulfilment of certain conditions by pension funds. But nearly none of the assessing authorities are aware of these provisions and no forum has attempted to address this.
  • While contributors beef up pension funds without getting refund on time, many pension funds have short-changed contributors, some have invested funds in the parent firm’s equity and lost outright, to the lasting loss of the contributors. In certain cases, influential sections of contributors grabbed more benefits at the expense of others, mostly the uneducated without any clout or assertive rights.
  • Also there is no regulation of administrative charges levied by pension funds. Even after administrative charges were cut by a hefty 30% in the last two years, Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) still charges a high amount.
  • The guidelines about investment are not being followed by a significant number of pension funds, causing loss to pensioners, besides depriving the exchequer of more revenue at lesser rates.

Way ahead

  • There is need to involve multi stake holders, including the Centre, state governments, SEBI, the corporate sector, and banks and financial institutions, so that the concerns of the pensioners get duly addressed.
  • In the grim scenario we can suggest for an organisation on the lines of the Association of Mutual Fund in India. This new body can bring under its umbrella all retirement/pension funds; foster a code of conduct and genuine hand-holding for the pension/retirement funds which are now looking for due guidance and delivery.
  • Apart from this the Pension Institute or Pension Research Association, can also be floated by a few financial institutions, which can be in the form of instituting a new chair in some well-known institutes such as the IIMs, exclusively for doing pioneering work on pensions.

Question– Explain the importance of Pension products for socio-economic well-being of ageing population of India.

2.The online shape of you (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the rising privacy concerns due to increasing presence of internet. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Personal spaces and safeties that were previously granted simply by physical separation are no longer protected. The digital network enters the most proximate spaces and challenges the normally accepted notions of the private. It brings into focus new means of exercising social, economic, and political power, and reducing of autonomies.
  • The simple act of browsing a website is now very much like the Indian wedding, with uninvited third parties and strangers assessing your age, profession, and salary package. The tracker cookies that sites drop without your knowledge in your browser can now build and share an uncannily accurate profile of you based on the sites you visit, and deliver tailored advertisements.

Online Privacy

  • When online, our new fundamental right to privacy has to contend with the reasonable restrictions of national security and data collection for justifiable reasons such as “ensuring that resources are properly deployed to legitimate beneficiaries”.
  • The state must retain an important part in the organisation of new social and economic structures, which requires it to play a significant role in the data ecosystem. The public sector will need to manage some infrastructural social and economic databases above which the private sector can run a competitive economy.
  • Citizens will also require the assistance of a public interest agency to enable management of their personal data in a manner that they can obtain the best benefit of a data economy/society and its personalised services.
  • The court while balancing the right to privacy with what it is up against online mentioned about 9 principles (as suggested by the government’s expert group on privacy report 2012), the 9 principles are
  • Giving users notice on information collection;
  • Giving users the choice to opt out;
  • Limiting the nature of the information;
  • The purpose for which it is collected;
  • Giving users access to the collected information;
  • Ensuring security for the collected information;
  • Preventing unauthorised sharing of the information; and
  • Holding the information collector accountable.

Way forward-

  • The total number of Internet subscribers in India stood at 391.50 million at the end of 2016, reflecting an 18.04% change over the previous quarter. That is 391.50 million potential personal profiles.
  • The court have not given the clear directions on online privacy, the Centre’s commission headed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna which is reviewing data protection norms, and is to make its recommendations. It mentioned that “We expect that the Union government shall follow up on its decision by taking all necessary and proper steps”. However mere expectation might be too little.
  • We need a constitutional definition and guarantee of the right to individuality, personal autonomy and privacy in the digital age. It must be provided in the clearest terms by the Supreme Court.

Question– Internet has been a double-edged sword as on one hand it has empowered the people whereas on other hand it has introduced new set of vulnerabilities. Comment.

3.Wastewater treatment (Down to Earth)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the recent development on waste water treatment method. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • India is making headlines with its rising air pollution levels, but the water in the country is also not any better. A latest assessment by “WaterAid”, an international organization working for water sanitation and hygiene shows that an alarming 80% of India’s surface water is polluted.
  • Latest data from the Ministry of Urban Development (2013), Census 2011 and Central Pollution Control Board, estimates that 75-80% of water pollution by volume is from domestic sewerage, while untreated sewerage flowing into water bodies including rivers have almost doubled in recent years. ‘Hospital wastewater’ which includes drugs is also a major environmental problem.
  • Recently a method has been devised by the scientists to treat ‘Hospital wastewater’.

New method to treat harmful drugs from wastewater

  • A group of researchers from Belgium and India have developed a novel method of treating wastewater to get rid of such harmful substances from hospital waste.
  • Hospital wastewater may include cytostatic drugs such as cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide used for cancer treatment. The presence of such drugs in hospital waste not only pollutes environment but can also harm human health as these drugs often don’t break up easily.
  • The cytostatic drugs are known to cause severe and irreversible damages to human body. The concentration of these drugs is high in the wastewaters of hospitals specializing in cancer treatment.
  • The new method involves a slurry photo catalytic membrane reactor which has a filtration process similar to the one used to purify drinking water. This device needs a light source like an LED to work. Scientists used a catalyst, titanium dioxide, to breakdown drugs. It is easily available, efficient, stable and not toxic.
  • The membrane used as a barrier to stop the drugs could be made up of a polymer or ceramic. Though polymers have small and distinct pore sizes and are capable of stopping the large-sized cytostatic drugs, previous studies have proved that ceramic membranes are able to withstand the inevitable `wear and tear’ associated with the filtration process better when these membranes also come in contact with various chemicals. Ceramic membranes were used in the study.
  •  As waste water with cytostatic drugs enters photoreactor, the light source activates or ‘fires up’ the catalyst (titanium dioxide) breaking it up into two parts- ‘titanium’ and ‘free’ oxygen. The ‘free’ oxygen then combines with the cytostatic drugs in waste water and breaks them into smaller parts thus making them ‘safer’.
  • If any drug particles are left unchanged, the membrane prevents them from passing through. Thereafter, the mixture goes into another part of the reactor where the catalyst is removed and re-circulated to the photoreactor.

Way forward-

  • Water is a source of life and regarded as the most essential of natural resources, but the increasing contamination of freshwater systems with thousands of industrial and natural chemical compounds is one of the key environmental problems facing humanity worldwide.
  • The ever increasing world populations and rapidly advancing industrialization is causing more demand than ever for the dwindling supply of water, which makes it precious in more and more countries. Unprecedented health hazards are coming to light that did not previously exist resulting in an increased need for additional legislature.
  • In the coming decades, water scarcity may leads to social and political instability, water wars and diseases. Thus there is an urgent need to create awareness for pressing environmental problems and to develop solutions in close cooperation between science, governments, industry, and other relevant stakeholders. The research and development in the area of water treatment has to reach the real applications where needed as early as possible.

Question– What do you mean by grey water development. Explain India’s performance when compared with world countries.