Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 26 October 2023

Why India must offer student work visas?

Relevance: GS II (Social Justice; International Education and Policies)

Why in news?

An expanded provision of student work visas will amplify numerous advantages that will boost Socio-economic growth.

Background of the news:

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has made internationalization a pivot for reforms of the country’s higher education sector. This paradigm aims to raise the standards of Indian university in key parameters- an overhaul of syllabi, campuses with foreign students, foreign faculty, researchers, and joint and/or dual degrees conferred by Indian universities and colleges with foreign counterparts.

  • Firstly, it also involves encouraging top-performing Indian universities to establish campuses abroad. For instance, those from the top 100 universities in the world will be allowed to operate in India.
  • Secondly, each Higher Educational Institute (HEI) will set up an international student office to welcome and assist students arriving from abroad. Also, each HEI will be allowed to count credits earned at foreign universities when necessary and there will be courses and programmes in subjects like Indology, Indian languages, AYUSH systems of medicine, yoga, arts, etc.

Attracting foreign Universities with liberal work visa has both direct and indirect advantages:

  • Direct impacts:
    • Impacts on administrative burdens on public authorities: Overall, the visa-free regimes greatly reduces numbers of short-stay visa requests for third-country nationals with a biometric passport, with a corresponding decrease in the workload of diplomatic staff in consulates required to process them.
    • Building a Soft Power: It directly helps to develop India, into a vibrant and egalitarian knowledge society over time by offering high-quality education to everyone and elevating India to the status of a global knowledge superpower.
  • Indirect Impacts:
    • Countries of destination labour markets: Visa liberalization facilitates short trips for third-country nationals to explore employment opportunities. In specific instances prescribed by national law, third-country nationals can also apply for a residence permit when legally staying on the territory of a Member States, including on grounds of employment.
    • Impacts on Tourism Sector: Several Member States reported a positive impact of visa liberalization on tourism from the visa-free countries
    • Global well-being: One of the main impact includes developing knowledge, abilities, values, and attitudes that support a responsible commitment to human rights, sustainable development and living, and global well-being.

Limitations for attracting foreign Universities with liberal work visa:

  • Increase in the number of asylum applications: The number of asylum applications from visa-free countries if overall increased following the introduction of the visa-free regime; it will result into the situation like the 2014 - 2016 EU’s migration crisis.
  • Irregular stay and over stay issue: Overstay and in particular irregular stay are considered as a challenge, where the increase in the number of persons from visa-free countries overstaying the maximum period allowed.
  • Illegal Employment: The sectors like construction, commerce and agriculture, manufacturing industry, the hotel and catering sector and transport are the fields where most cases of illegal employment are detected by the countries of destination worldwide.
  • Security Issues: There are concerns that with more people being able to legally enter the Indian mainland, could constitute a higher security risk in some sensitive areas like north eastern states or Jammu & Kashmir areas.
    • In the context security risks refer to the following offences: economic and financial offences; offences against property; offences against public order and safety; offences against public trust (e.g. fraud, forgery, counterfeiting); offences against the person; sexual exploitation of children; sexual offences against adults; terrorism-related activity; and cybercrime.

Hence, it is necessary to step up their actions to fight against such crimes, particularly against organized crime groups. The prevention and fight against organized crime from the visa-free countries is a continuous process which is closely monitored and any shortfalls in the cooperation of visa-free countries could lead to the suspension of the visa-free travel for their nationals.

Bhutan-China relations and India’s concerns

GS Paper II (IR)


Bhutan and China held their 25th round of boundary talks and both sides discussed demarcating the boundaries soon.

Key Highlights of the meeting:

  • Both countries signed a cooperation agreement outlining the functioning of a new joint Technical Team for the delimitation and demarcation of the boundary.
  • Both countries also agreed to expedite the boundary demarcation process as well as establish formal diplomatic ties with each other.

History of boundary dispute between Bhutan and China:

  • Since 1857 the Chinese have repeatedly voiced the sentiment that Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Tibet all formed the part of Chinese empire.
  • Mao Zedong himself in 1930 declared that ‘the correct boundaries of China would include Burma, Bhutan, Taiwan, Nepal, Korea, and Ryuku islands’.
  • In the 1950s, China laid claim to three areas in Bhutan: Pasamlung and Jakarlung in the north near Tibet, and Doklam in the west near India.
  • For the Chinese, Bhutan & other Himalayan frontier states were ‘wrongly’ held by ‘imperial India’. This rhetoric was enough to scare Bhutan which became concerned following the capture of Tibet in 1959.
  • There have been many rounds of border talks between China and Bhutan but failed. In 1988, the ‘Guiding Principles on the Boundary Issues’ was agreed upon by both states.
  • China and Bhutan signed the ‘Treaty to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity’ in 1998 which promised no unilateral alterations to the status quo by either party.
  • Diplomatic ties between Bhutan and China have never been established
  • In recent times, China has attempted to claim areas such as the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary as a part of Mainland Chinese territory.
    • These claims provide evidence that China is in violation of both the 1988 and 1998 Sino-Bhutanese border agreements.

India’s concerns regarding China – Bhutan border deal:

1. China has used various forms of stealth mechanisms such as Salami Slicing in order to establish its claim over territories such as the Paracel Islands from Vietnam and Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. India fears that such tactics are at play in the case of Bhutan as well.

2. There is apprehension in India that Bhutan will accept the package deal that China offered it in 1996

3. China’s laying claim to territory in the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary since 2020 has added another dimension of the eastern sector to the China-Bhutan boundary issue.

    • The wildlife sanctuary is in close proximity to the Tawang Monastery in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
    • China has already declared parts of Arunachal Pradesh as disputed.

India – Bhutan relations:

  1. Diplomatic relations:
    • Formal diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan were established in 1968 with the establishment of a special office of India in Thimphu.
    • The basic framework of the relations is the “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” signed in 1949 between the two countries, which was renewed in February 2007.
  2. Trade and Economic Ties:
    • The India-Bhutan Agreement on Trade, Commerce, and Transit – which was first signed in 1972 and revised most recently for the fifth time in 2016 – establishes a free trade regime between the two countries.
    • The Agreement also provides for duty-free transit of Bhutanese exports to third countries. India is Bhutan’s top trade partner both as an import source and as an export destination.
    • Since 2014, India’s merchandise trade with Bhutan has almost tripled from USD 484 million in 2014-15 to USD 1422 million in 2021-22, accounting for about 80% of Bhutan’s overall trade, with the balance of trade in India’s favor.
    • India’s top exports to Bhutan are petrol & diesel, passenger cars, rice, wood charcoal, cellphones, Coke and semicoke, soya-bean oil, excavators, electric generators &motors, parts for turbines, transport vehicles, and bitumen.
    • India’s top imports from Bhutan are electricity (Rs. 2443 crore in 2021), Ferro-silicon, Ferro-silico-manganese, Portland pozzolana cement, Dolomite chips, ordinary Portland cement, Silicon Carbide, Cardamoms, betel nut, oranges, semi-finished products of iron or non-alloy steel, boulders, etc.
    • India is the leading source of investments in Bhutan, comprising 50% of the country’s total FDI. There are about 30 Indian companies in Bhutan operating in various sectors.
  3. Development Partnership:
    • India has been extending economic assistance to Bhutan’s socio-economic development since the early 1960s.
    • For the 12th Five Year Plan, India’s contribution of 4500 cr. constitutes 73% of Bhutan’s total external grant component.
    • The key areas of focus of GOI’s assistance include agriculture and irrigation development, ICT, health, industrial development, road transport, energy, civil aviation, urban development, human resource development, capacity building, scholarship, education, and culture.
    • At present over 82 large and intermediate projects and 524 Small Development Projects are at various stages of implementation in Bhutan.
    • The 4th India-Bhutan Development Cooperation Talks under the 12th FYP were held in January 2023.
  4. Educational, Cultural Cooperation, and People-to-People Exchanges:
    • There is close bilateral cooperation in the educational and cultural fields between India and Bhutan.
    • Over 950 scholarships are being provided annually by GoI for Bhutanese students to study in India in a wide range of disciplines including medicine, engineering, etc.
    • It is estimated that approximately 4,000 Bhutanese are studying undergraduate courses in Indian Universities on a self-finance basis.
    • India-Bhutan Foundation was established in August 2003 with the aim of enhancing people-to-people exchanges in areas such as education, arts and culture, and environment protection.
  5. Hydropower Cooperation:
    • Mutually beneficial hydro-power cooperation with Bhutan is a key pillar of bilateral economic cooperation.
    • Four hydroelectric projects (HEPs) totaling 2136 MW are already operational in Bhutan and are supplying electricity to India.
    • The 720 MW Mangdechhu was commissioned in August 2019 and handed over to Bhutan in December 2022.
    • Two HEPs namely, 1200 MW Punatsangchhu-I, and 1020 MW Punatsangchhu-II in Inter-Governmental mode are under various stages of implementation.
  6. Cultural and Buddhist Links:
    • A number of Bhutanese pilgrims travel to Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Sikkim, Udayagiri, and other Buddhist sites in India.
    • The Zhabdrung Statue, currently on exhibition at the Simtokha Dzong in Bhutan, has been loaned by the Asiatic Society, Kolkata to the Royal Government of Bhutan.
  7. New Areas of Cooperation:
    • Bhutan became the second country to launch the BHIM app, further deepening the financial linkages between our two countries.
    • Space cooperation is a new and promising area of bilateral cooperation. India and Bhutan agreed to collaborate on the joint development of a small satellite for Bhutan in 2019.
    • The India-Bhutan SAT was launched into space on 26 November 2022 by ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
  8. COVID-19 Assistance:
    • India ensured a continuous supply of trade and essential items to Bhutan, despite COVID-19-related lock-downs.
    • India provided essential medicines and medical supplies - including Paracetamol, Hydroxychloroquine, PPEs, N95 masks, X-ray machines, and test kits to Bhutan.
    • Under the Vaccine Maitri Initiative, GoI gifted 5.5 lakh doses of the Made-In-India Covishield vaccines to Bhutan
  9. Indians Working in Bhutan:
    • About 50,000 Indian citizens are working in Bhutan, mainly in the construction sector, education, and technical consultants involved in infrastructure projects.
    • Some Indian workers also enter and exit Bhutan every day in the border towns, as a sign of the close economic interdependence between both countries.

Way forward:

  • Given Bhutan’s unique dependence on India, Bhutan must always be careful regarding India’s security interests and red line while dealing with China.
  • Bhutan should keep China away from southern Doklam’s ridges that overlook India’s “Siliguri corridor”.
  • Bhutan need not be in a hurry in opening itself up to a permanent Chinese diplomatic presence while continuing with border talks.
  • India must approach the boundary negotiations with a greater understanding of Bhutan’s reasoning, and with confidence that India’s long-trusted neighbour will take both India’s interests and its own into consideration before any final agreement.

Nutrient-based subsidy

GS Paper - III


Cabinet approved nutrient-based fertilizer subsidy for Rabi season 2023-24.

More details on the news:

  • The Union Cabinet approved a Rs. 22,303 crore subsidy on P&K fertilizers for the current Rabi season to ensure farmers continue to get soil nutrients at reasonable rates despite high global prices.
  • The Centre will be providing 25 grades of P&K fertilizers to farmers at subsidized prices through fertilizer manufacturers/importers.
  • The subsidy would be provided to the fertilizer companies as per approved and notified rates so that fertilizers are made available to farmers at affordable prices.
  • The revised rates are lower than what was approved for the kharif season. The Union Cabinet had approved a Rs 1.08 lakh crore fertilizer subsidy for the 2023-24 Kharif season. 
  • The subsidy on P&K fertilizers is governed by the NBS Scheme.

What is Nutrient-based subsidy (NBS)?

  • The NBS Policy implied that subsidy would be fixed for each nutrient contained in the fertilizers. It has been instrumental in ensuring the availability of essential nutrients to farmers at subsidized prices since 1 April 2010.
  • Based on the nutrients (N, P, K &S), the fertilizers are provided to the farmers at the subsidized rate under NBS.
  • The government has now approved the revision in NBS rates to provide 25 grades of P&K fertilizers to farmers during the rabi and kharif seasons.
  • It will ensure the availability of diammonium phosphate DAP and other P&K fertilizers to farmers at subsidized, affordable, and reasonable prices during the Kharif season.
  • This will enable farmers to access essential fertilizers necessary for their agricultural activities.
  • The decision rationalizes the subsidy on P&K fertilizers, ensuring effective and efficient utilization of government resources.

Objective of NBS

  • To ensure balanced application of fertilizers
  • To improve the growth of the indigenous fertilizer industry
  • To contain the subsidy bill
  • To leave open MRP to be fixed by fertilizer manufacturer/importer at a reasonable level.

Issues with NBS

  • Production shortfall: NBS Policy expected growth of the indigenous fertilizer industry as well as an increase in agriculture productivity. It was, however, observed that production levels of DAP and complex fertilizers did not increase during the NBS regime.
  • Farmer Awareness: Many farmers, especially small and marginal ones, lack the knowledge and awareness of the NBS policy.
  • Distortions in Fertilizer Production: The NBS policy unintentionally encourages the production of fertilizers that are profitable due to higher nutrient content, leading to imbalances in the supply of different types of fertilizers.
  • Regional Variations: The nutrient requirements of crops and soils vary across different regions of India. A one-size-fits-all approach may not cater to these regional variations.
  • Absence of stringent quality control: The absence of stringent quality control measures can lead to substandard and adulterated fertilizers in the market, compromising their effectiveness.
  • Imbalance use of nutrients: NBS Policy did not succeed in controlling the imbalanced use of N, P, and K nutrients in the soil which indicates that the efforts to promote balanced fertilization were not well directed and publicized.
  • Worsening of soil quality:  While the NBS certainly did not lead to any decline in subsidy on fertilizer, it did lead to a worsening of soil nutrient quality

Way forward:

  • Price Rationalization: To reduce the overuse of certain fertilizers and encourage the use of more sustainable and environment-friendly alternatives
  • Crop diversification: To improve soil health and reduce the need for certain nutrients.
  • Promote organic farming practices: Support and promote organic farming practices, which reduce the reliance on chemical fertilizers.
  • Strengthen regulation: To prevent adulteration and ensure the quality of fertilizers.
  • Implement targeted subsidies: To ensure that they benefit small and marginalized farmers more effectively.
  • Promote soil health cards: To provide farmers with information about the specific nutrient requirements of their soil.


Addressing nutrient-based subsidies in India necessitates a comprehensive strategy that harmonizes farmers' needs, environmental sustainability, and food security, with ongoing policy evaluation and adaptation.

Prelims PYQ

Q1.    What are the advantages of fertigation in agriculture? (UPSC 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

Q2.    With reference to chemical fertilizers in India, consider the following statements:  

(UPSC 2020)

  1. At present, the retail price of chemical fertilizers is market-driven and not administered by the Government.
  2. Ammonia, which is an input of urea, is produced from natural gas.
  3. Sulphur, which is a raw material for phosphoric acid fertilizer is a by-product of oil refineries.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a)    1 only

(b)   2 and 3 only

(c)    2 only

(d)   1, 2 and 3

Mains PYQ

  1. What are the direct and indirect subsidies provided to the farm sector in India? Discuss the issues raised by the World Trade Organization (WTP) in relation to agricultural subsidies. (UPSC 2023)

Also In News


How Olympic cities are selected?

Why in news?

Recently, India expressed its interest to host the Olympic Games in 2036, and Youth Olympics in 2029 during the 141st International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Mumbai.

About Olympics:

  • Olympic Games are the leading sports event that features the seasonal - summer and winter sports competitions in which thousands of athletes come from around the world to participate.
  • These games are held every four years, and have alternated between the summer and winter Olympics every two years. However, the Modern Games was inspired by the ancient Olympic Games, held in Olympia, Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD.
  • The first modern Games were held in Athens in 1896 after Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894.The next Summer Games will be held in Paris in 2024 and 2028 in Los Angeles.

How a host country was initially selected?

  • Step 1: In the older system of electing an Olympic host, cities, through their respective national Olympic committees, would submit a letter of interest to the IOC to start a multi-year, multi-step evaluation process. The bidding cities would complete a series of questionnaires, evaluated by the IOC.
  • Step 2: The second step of the process involved scrutiny from the IOC Evaluation Commission and a series of inspections of all venues before the final bids are put to vote at an IOC session, ending in a host being decided seven years in advance as per the Olympic Charter. 

What is the new pattern of Selection of host cities?

  • In new pattern, the emphasis is laid on three main aspectsflexibility, sustainability and cost-effectiveness — with the motto being ‘the Games adapt to the region, the region does not adapt to the Games’.
  • There is a two-stage process without any fixed deadlines, to assess, discuss and guide potential hosts:
    • Continuous dialogue: Unlike the past, the Games can be planned to be held across cities or even in conjunction with another country.
    • Targeted dialogue: It explores the proposals to host a specific edition of the Olympic Games and brings the IOC’s executive board into the picture for detailed discussions. This is where each of the ‘preferred hosts’ answer the (Future Host Commission) FHC’s questions and provides guarantees on infrastructure, accommodation, security and public services among others and makes the final submission.

What is the significance of the Olympic Games for the hosting country?

  • Economic significance:
    • Tourism Potential: These Games will be the perfect opportunity for a country to boost its tourism potential as large numbers of tourists are expected to visit to watch the games.
    • Building source for Rural-Employment: Local hospitality industry will be greatly boosted due to the Olympic Games. This will help in reducing unemployment and poverty levels.
    • Foreign Revenue: Tourists visiting the country during the Olympic Games will help increase foreign revenue reserves of the host country.
  • International Significance: A country’s global brand can be built using these Games as an opportunity, as the event gives large-scale publicity. As of now, the developing countries have used the Olympic Games to demonstrate their progress on the world stage.
    • These Games are a reason for countries to improve their basic infrastructure, reduce pollution and modernize cities. In the absence of the Olympics, these changes may not have happened.



Cabinet has approved the Memorandum of Cooperation between India and Japan on the Japan-India Semiconductor Supply Chain Partnership


  • A semiconductor is a material product usually comprised of silicon, which conducts electricity more than an insulator, such as glass, but less than a pure conductor, such as copper or aluminum.
  • Their conductivity and other properties can be altered with the introduction of impurities, called doping, to meet the specific needs of the electronic component in which it resides.
  • Also, known as semis, or chips, semiconductors can be found in thousands of products such as computers, smartphones, appliances, gaming hardware, and medical equipment.

Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs)


The Centre is likely to meet cost overruns of nearly Rs 43,000 crore on the Eastern and Western Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) from its own pocket.


  • The Dedicated freight corridors in India are a network of broad gauge freight railway lines that solely serve freight trains, thus making the freight service in India faster and more efficient.
  • The Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India (DFCCIL) is responsible for undertaking the planning, development, and mobilization of financial resources and construction, maintenance, and operation of these corridors.
  • 80% of 2,843-km DFC was operational by August 2023.
  • Once it is fully completed, at least 70% of the freight trains will be transferred to the DFCCIL network which will help in the timely movement of cargo.

What is Cubism


October 25 marks the 142nd birth anniversary of the renowned Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). He pioneered Cubism — a revolutionary visual art movement that began in 1907 and lasted till 1914.


  • It involved artists seeing an object not from a single viewpoint but from every imaginable angle
  • It is about acknowledging the two-dimensional nature of the canvas and categorically NOT about trying to re-create the illusion of three dimensions.
  • It was the rejection of the traditional approach to making art, where art was just a copy of nature or an object and the artists adopted age-old techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening.
  • It was meant to make people pay more attention to everyday objects and present a more precise representation of how people actually perceive an object.
  • It also reflected the groundbreaking developments in science and technology during the early 1900s.

Evolution of Cubism:

It evolved in two different phases –

  1. Analytical Cubism (1907 - 1912):
    • It mostly displayed objects from different viewpoints, painted in mute tones of blacks, greys, and ochres.
  2. Synthetic Cubism (1912 - 1914):
    • It involved simpler shapes and brighter colors in comparison to the aforementioned phase.
    • Most significantly, however, it also entailed the use of real-life objects — Picasso and Braque incorporated wallpapers, newspaper cuttings, and oilcloths into their paintings.

 ‘Ghost particle’


China is building an enormous telescope in the western Pacific Ocean. Its job will be to detect “ghost particles”, also known as neutrinos.


  • Neutrinos are a type of electron but, like neutrons, they do not have any charge.
  • They are among the most abundant particles in our universe — with trillions of neutrinos passing through us at any given second — and also among the tiniest.
  • These were long believed to be massless until scientists found evidence that they do have a very small mass.
  • They can only be “seen” when they interact with other particles. The rarity of interactions with other particles makes them almost impossible to track. That’s why they’re called ghost particles.

Why does the detection of ghost particles matter?

  • Researchers believe that understanding the source of neutrinos will enable them to explain the origins of cosmic rays.
  • Neutrinos are essential for understanding the origins of our universe.

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