UPSC Essentials: Weekly news express with MCQs— UPI payments to mystery paddy dwarfing


Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development

Mains Examination: General Studies III: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilisation, of resources, growth, development and employment

Why in news?

— Less than a week after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) came out with a discussion paper seeking stakeholder views on charges in payment systems, the Finance Ministry Sunday clarified that there is “no consideration” in the government to levy any charges for Unified Payments Interface (UPI) services.

Key takeaways

— RBI had asked stakeholders if merchant discount rate (MDR), a fee paid by merchants to acquiring banks, should be brought back for UPI transactions.

— The RBI paper, seeking feedback on the fee structure for a range of digital payment services through a set of 40 questions, is open for comments till October 3.

— The feedback received would be used to guide policies and intervention strategies, it said. However, the RBI had said that at this stage, it is “reiterated that RBI has neither taken any view nor has any specific opinion on the issues raised in this discussion”.

— It covered all aspects relating to charges in payment systems such as Immediate Payment Service (IMPS), National Electronic Funds Transfer (NEFT) system, Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system and Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and various payment instruments such as debit cards, credit cards and Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPIs), etc.

— MDR, or merchant discount rate, on UPI transactions has been a long-standing demand of the payments industry.

— Most other modes of digital retail payments attract a charge on transactions. Currently, the government has mandated a “zero-charge framework” for UPI transactions, with effect from January 1, 2020. This translates into charges on UPI for users as well as merchants being nil.

— In its discussion paper, the RBI has approximated that with an average value of Rs 800 for a merchant transaction, various stakeholders enabling the UPI transaction, including the payer and beneficiary banks, the third-party app, and the NPCI, incur a cost of Rs 2.

— As per official NPCI data, in July, there were 628.84 crore UPI transactions representing a value of Rs 10.63 lakh crore. It has 338 banks live on the platform. Recently, the RBI allowed UPI on credit cards as well starting with NPCI’s RuPay cards.

— Terming UPI services as a “digital public good”, the Finance Ministry stepped in on Sunday to clarify that the concerns for the service providers for cost recovery have to be met through other means.

— “UPI is a digital public good with immense convenience for the public and productivity gains for the economy. There is no consideration in Govt to levy any charges for UPI services. The concerns of the service providers for cost recovery have to be met through other means,” the ministry said in a tweet.

— It further said that the government had provided financial support for digital payment ecosystem last year and has announced the same this year as well to “encourage further adoption of #DigitalPayments and promotion of payment platforms that are economical and user-friendly”.

— In the Budget speech for 2022-23, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said: “The financial support for digital payment ecosystem announced in the previous Budget will continue in 2022-23.

— This will encourage further adoption of digital payments. There will also be a focus to promote use of payment platforms that are economical and user friendly”.

— The government allocated Rs 200 crore for reimbursement of charges towards RuPay debit card and UPI transactions. In 2021-22, it had budgeted Rs 1,500 crore towards this.

Point to ponder: How does UPI work? How is it different from other modes of electronic payment?

1. MCQ:

Which of the following is the most likely consequence of implementing the ‘Unified Payments Interface (UPI)’?

(a) Mobile wallets will not be necessary for online payments.

(b) Digital currency will totally replace the physical currency in about two decades.

(c) FDI inflows will drastically increase.

(d) Direct transfer of subsidies to poor people will become very effective.

Cause of mystery paddy dwarfing in Punjab and Haryana


Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.

Mains Examination: General Studies III: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, – different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

Why in news?

— Agriculture scientists have narrowed down the cause of a mystery disease causing “dwarfing” of rice plants in Punjab and Haryana – as first reported by The Indian Express — to either grassy stunt virus or phytoplasma bacteria.

— The vector responsible for their transmission is the brown plant hopper, an insect pest that sucks sap from the stems and leaves of rice plants.

Key takeaways

— Scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), who had collected samples of plants from farmers’ fields – which showed symptoms of stunting and yellowing — have undertaken their electron microscopy analysis and DNA isolation through PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technique.

— Preliminary laboratory analysis indicates the “phytoreovirus” or rice grassy stunt virus as the source of infection. This virus, which induces stunting and yellowing of rice plants, is transmitted by brown plant hopper.

— “The infected plants remained stunted even after application of the recommended dose of fertilisers,” a preliminary report submitted by the IARI to the Union Agriculture Ministry has said.

— The second possible source is phytoplasma, a bacterial pathogen that is spread by both brown plant hopper and green leaf hopper sucking insect pests.

— “What we have are interim findings. A clearer picture will emerge after high-throughput sequencing of the infected samples, the results of which are awaited. We are also not ruling out fusarium fungus and rice root nematode that are known to cause dwarfism,” IARI Director A K Singh told The Indian Express.

— Many farmers in Punjab, Haryana and even parts of western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have, for the past fortnight or more, been reporting stunting of paddy plants in their fields. Such stunting has taken place typically 30-35 days after transplanting or direct seeding of rice. Initially, all plants register uniform growth.

— But at a later stage, some stop growing while others continue. The proportion of dwarfed plants has been generally reported at 10 to 25 percent, even exceeding 40 percent in some cases.

— Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry has constituted an eight-member central team to conduct an on-spot assessment/ field visit of the affected crop areas in Punjab and Haryana.

Point to ponder: Why rice and wheat bans aren’t the answer to inflation?

2. MCQ (UPSC 2021):

Among the following, which one is the least water-efficient crop?

a) Sugarcane

b) Sunflower

c) Pearl Millet

d) Red gram

Europe’s great drought


Preliminary Examination: Indian and World Geography-Physical, Social, Economic Geography of India and the World.

Mains Examination: General Studies III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Why in news?

—Legendary rivers have been reduced to shallow streams, hitting power generation. After the record-breaking summer heat, 2022 may be the worst drought year in Europe in 500 years. China, US too are facing drought.

Key takeaways

—Drought is rainfall scarce period, affecting the availability of water for irrigation, drinking etc.

—Ministry of Agriculture is the nodal Ministry in respect of monitoring and managing drought conditions. It classifies droughts into meteorological droughts, hydrological droughts and agricultural droughts.

—Meteorological drought is classified based on rainfall deficiency w.r.t. long term average – 25% or less is normal, 26-50% is moderate and more than 50% is severe.

—Hydrological drought is best defined as deficiencies in surface and sub-surface water supplies leading to a lack of water for normal and specific needs. Such conditions arise even in times of average (or above average) precipitation when increased usage of water diminishes the reserves.

—Agricultural drought is identified by 4 consecutive weeks of meteorological drought. Scarcity of water starts affecting agricultural production.

—Apart from agriculture and drinking water supplies, the most visible impact has been the disruption in Europe’s waterways.

—Europe depends heavily on its rivers to move cargo in an economical manner, including coal to power plants.

—With water levels down to less than a metre in some stretches, most large ships have been rendered unusable.

—Supply disruptions in coal has hit power generation. Lack of adequate water has affected the operation of nuclear power plants, which use large amounts of water as coolant.

—The result has been a shortage of electricity and an unprecedented rise in energy prices. Household energy costs in the UK are projected to double by October from the levels of April. There is talk of power blackouts in winter.

—Droughts are part of the natural climate system, and are not uncommon in Europe. It is the severity of this drought that is making it stand out.

—The extraordinary dry spell has been the result of a prolonged and significant deviation from normal weather patterns.

—Rainfall has been scanty in several countries. The UK had its driest July since 1935, and France since 1959.

—In addition, unusually high temperatures have led to increased evaporation of surface water and soil moisture.

—Many areas in Europe were still to recover from that drought of 2018. Soil moisture had not been restored to normal, and the current dry spell has sapped it further of moisture.

—Many parts of China too are headed towards a serious drought, being described as the worst in 60 years.

—The country’s longest river, Yangtze, which caters to about a third of the Chinese population, is seeing water levels drop to record lows, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

—Two of the country’s biggest freshwater lakes, Poyang and Dongting, have touched their lowest levels since 1951, the report said.

—Water scarcity is leading to problems similar to those in Europe. Power shortages in some areas have begun to force factories to shut, adding to the strain on global supply chains.

—In some parts of southwest and central China, including Hubei, authorities are attempting to induce rainfall through ‘cloud seedings’.

—Cloud seeding is a process through which rockets carry chemicals into the sky to induce rainfall in drought-affected regions. However, in areas lacking cloud cover, authorities have struggled with this method.

—Over 40% of the area in the United States too is under drought conditions currently, affecting about 130 million people, according to the US government.

In Afghanistan, according to a report, drought is posing a migration concern for villagers. Climate change-induced droughts are causing strife nationwide and water shortage could force people to migrate to survive.

Point to ponder: What have been the reasons behind rain deficit monsoon this year in India?

3. MCQ:

Consider the following statements and answer the question below

1. The Ministry of Agriculture is the nodal Ministry in respect of monitoring and managing drought conditions in India.

2. India Meteorological Department (IMD) is the designated agency for providing drought early warning and forecasting.

3. The National Agricultural Drought Assessment and Monitoring System developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) monitors vegetation cover through satellite data-based helping in drought assessment

Which of the following statements is/are correct?

a) 1 and 2

b) 2 and 3

c) 1 and 3

d) 1, 2, 3

The One Nation One Fertiliser scheme


Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc.

Mains Examination: General Studies III: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, – different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.

Why in news?

—The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers announced on Wednesday (August 24) that it has been decided to implement One Nation One Fertiliser by introducing a “Single Brand for Fertilisers and Logo” under the fertiliser subsidy scheme named “Pradhanmantri Bhartiya Janurvarak Pariyojna” (PMBJP).

—Thus, the office memorandum said, “the single brand name for UREA, DAP, MOP and NPK etc. would be BHARAT UREA, BHARAT DAP, BHARAT MOP and BHARAT NPK etc. respectively for all Fertiliser Companies, State Trading Entities (STEs) and Fertiliser Marketing Entities (FMEs)”.

Key takeaways

—Under the new “One Nation One Fertiliser” scheme, companies are allowed to display their name, brand, logo and other relevant product information only on one-third space of their bags. On the remaining two-thirds space, the “Bharat” brand and Pradhanmantri Bharatiya Jan Urvarak Pariyojana logo will have to be shown.

—The government’s logic for introducing a single ‘Bharat’ brand for all subsidised fertilisers being marketed by companies is as follows:

(1) The maximum retail price of urea is currently fixed by the government, which compensates companies for the higher cost of manufacturing or imports incurred by them. The MRPs of non-urea fertilisers are, on paper, decontrolled. But companies cannot avail of subsidy if they sell at MRPs higher than that informally indicated by the government. Simply put, there are some 26 fertilisers (inclusive of urea), on which government bears subsidy and also effectively decides the MRPs;

(2) Apart from subsidising and deciding at what price companies can sell, the government also decides where they can sell. This is done through the Fertiliser (Movement) Control Order, 1973. Under this, the department of fertilisers draws an agreed monthly supply plan on all subsidised fertilisers in consultation with manufacturers and importers. This supply plan is issued before the 25th of each month for the following month, with the department also regularly monitoring movement to ensure fertiliser availability as per requirement, including remote areas.

(3) When the government is spending vast sums of money on fertiliser subsidy (the bill is likely to cross Rs 200,000 crore in 2022-23), plus deciding where and at what price companies can sell, it would obviously want to take credit and send that message to farmers.

—A couple of issues are immediately apparent:

(1) It will disincentivise fertiliser companies from undertaking marketing and brand promotion activities. They will now be reduced to contract manufacturers and importers for the government. Any company’s strength ultimately is its brands and farmer trust built over decades.

(2) Currently, in case of any bag or batch of fertilisers not meeting the required standards, the blame is put on the company. But now, that may be passed on fully to the government. Politically, the scheme might well boomerang rather than benefit the ruling party.

Point to ponder: What India needs to do to reduce its fertiliser bill?

4. MCQ :

What are the advantages of fertigation in agriculture (UPSC- CSE 2020) ?

1. Controlling the alkalinity of irrigation water is possible.

2. Efficient application of Rock Phosphate and all other phosphatic fertilizers is possible.

3. Increased availability of nutrients to plants is possible.

4. Reduction in the leaching of chemical nutrients is possible.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a) 1, 2 and 3 only

b) 1, 2 and 4 only

c) 1, 3 and 4 only

d) 2, 3 and 4 only

Chola dynasty


Preliminary Examination: History of India

Mains Examination: General Studies I: Art and culture

Why in news?

—Mani Ratnam’s upcoming period drama ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ tries to portray the exploits from the ‘golden age’ of South India’s medieval maritime dynasty, basing it on Kalki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 historical fiction by the same name. The narrative of the book, and the movie, is in tune with recent endeavours in Tamil Nadu of reclaiming its long and rich historicity, often highlighting the Cholas as the pinnacle of South Indian glory.

Key takeaway

—It is worth noting that the earliest references to the Cholas date as far back as the third century BCE, and were made by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. However, very little evidence exists about the early Cholas, apart from the early Tamil literature of the third Sangam, and the references made about them in an ancient Graeco-Roman periplus written in the early centuries of the Common Era.

—After a long eclipse, the Chola Empire as we know it in all its glory, emerged sometime in the mid ninth century under King Vijayalaya Chola. The dynasty of Vijayalaya left behind a vast number of stone inscriptions and some copper plate grants, which has, in the last few decades, been the main source for reconstructing the history of the Cholas.

—The Chola empire was at its most expansive under Arulmozhivarman, who on acceding to the throne in 985 CE, adopted the regnal title of Rajaraja or king of kings. The doyen of South Indian history, Nilakantha Sastri, in his 1955 book The Cholas, writes that under Rajaraja I and his successors, the Chola Empire had reached the capacity of ‘Byzantine royalty’ “with its numerous palaces, officials and ceremonials and its majestic display of the concentrated resources of an extensive empire.”

—According to Sastri, with the emergence of Rajaraja I, the monarchy underwent a substantial transformation, with the king now becoming an emperor. In his official records, Rajaraja I was referred to as the “emperor of the three worlds” or as possessing the whole universe.

—The Cholas, along with the Pandyas of Madurai and the Cheras were the three great kingdoms of ancient Tamilakam which roughly corresponds to present day Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Lakshadweep and the southern parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. By the time Rajaraja I came to the throne, the Cholas had gained the upper hand over the Pandyas and emerged as the primary power in the northern and eastern parts of the Tamil country. Under the new king though, the imperial expansions of the Cholas took a whole new turn, with maritime trade emerging as the hallmark of their rule.

—Author Hema Devare in a 2010 article notes that “the Cholas controlled the most extensive shipping from the Coromandel Coast across the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.” She adds: “They employed various sizes of ships. Colandia were large ships used on the voyage up the Ganges, light-coasting boats were for local traffic, and big ocean-going vessels reached Malaya and Sumatra.”

—“Rajaraja Chola understood that domination of lucrative trade routes was a sure way to distinguish himself and his court from the other fragmented polities of the Tamil country,” writes public historian Anirudh Kanisetti in his book, Lords of the Deccan: Southern India from the Chalukyas to the Cholas (2022). Rajaraja soon realised that his rivals, the Cheras who were in control of the Malabar coast, were receiving more and more traders from across the seas, especially from the prosperous Fatimid Egypt.

—Kanisetti, in his book, describes in vivid detail how the young Rajaraja I moved to seize the riches of the region by attacking the great port of Kandalur. Under his orders, what was possibly southern India’s largest collection of ships at the time, was burned down. “Masts must have collapsed, teak wood cracked and slipped under the roiling waves, probably to the cheers of thousands of Chola soldiers as they ransacked the populace and held back weeping merchants at spear-point,” writes Kanisetti. “Rajaraja I had seized a colossal loot and established himself and the Cholas as one of the rising powers of the southern tip of the subcontinent. Trade would only be allowed to flow if merchants reached an accommodation with the Cholas, it seemed.”

—Over the next decade, Rajaraja Chola established himself as one of the most astute political and military strategists that southern India had ever seen. By the close of the 10th century, he had overrun almost all of the Pandya territories and appointed his own governors there. He then moved to Sri Lanka, ransacking some of the greatest of Buddhist viharas and establishing the presence of the Cholas through the building of Shiva temples.

—The expansion of the Chola empire continued under Rajaraja Chola’s son, Rajendra Chola, also known as Rajendra the Great or Gangaikonda Chola (the Chola who conquered Ganga). He built the Chola capital at Gangaikondacholapuram (close to present day Tiruchirapalli) to commemorate his victory over the Pala dynasty in present day Bengal in 1025 CE. He then erected a gigantic Shiva temple in it as a mark of thanks giving to the lord.

—Rajendra became one of the only Indian monarchs to conquer territory outside the Indian subcontinent. In 1025 CE, he sent a naval expedition to Indochina, the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia. His expansion to Southeast Asia was crucial in establishing trade and cultural links with the region. In particular, the patronage of the arts under the Cholas, found their imprint in Southeast Asian cultures.

—“The Brahmanical sculptures in peninsular Siam (modern day Thailand) from the ninth to the eleventh centuries were dominated by the influence of Chola art, especially the stone sculptures on Pranarai Hill at Takuapa,” writes Devare. She points to the existence of Tamil inscriptions between Burma and Sumatra written in the Grantha script, which was a common script between Sanskrit and Tamil. Most of them belong to the Chola period of the 11th and 12th centuries.

—Srinivasan says “Chola motifs that travelled to southeast Asia include the sculpture of the Tamil woman saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar, playing cymbals in the Khmer Banteay Srei temple in Cambodia, and a medieval Thai Chola-inspired Nataraja bronze in Bangkok Museum.

—Influence of the Cholas can be seen in language and society of large parts of Southeast Asia as well. The deification of kings in Cambodia and Thailand as incarnations of Brahmanical Gods, for instance, is a most evident imprint of the Cholas.

—The medieval Chola empire began to decline from 1070 CE, after the death of Virarajendra Chola, the son of Rajendra Chola. A period of chaos prevailed, which ended with the emergence of the Later Cholas, a dynasty that was the product of alliances between the Cholas and the Eastern Chalukyas.

Point to ponder: Discuss the magnificent art and architecture left behind by the Cholas.

5. MCQ:

Consider the following events in the history of India (UPSC- CSE 2020) :

1. Rise of Pratiharas under King Bhoja

2. Establishment of Pallava power under Mahendravarman – I

3.Establishment of Chola Parantaka – I

4. Pala dynasty founded by Gopala

What is the correct chronological order of the above events, starting from the earliest time ?
a) 2-1-4-3
b) 3-1-4-2
c) 2-4-1-3
d) 3-4-1-2

Answers to the MCQs: 1 (a) , 2 (a) , 3 (a) , 4 (c), 5 (c)