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17th January 2023

The Provident Fund pension scheme in India


Even though it has been over two months since the Supreme Court of India reiterated its approval of higher pensions, the government has no standing to raise the pensions under the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS), 1995.


  • In October 2016, the top court rejected the EPFO’s notion of a cut-off date and held that the cut-off date, as in the EPS rules, was meant to calculate the pensionable salary only.
    • An estimate shows that 24,672 pensioners got the benefit of higher pension.
  • Meanwhile, effective from September 1, 2014, the Centre made certain changes to the EPS which dealt with limiting the scheme’s applicability to those earning a monthly pensionable salary up to ?15,000.
    • This was a new basis of determination for the pensionable salary and requirement of employees and employers to give a fresh option, within six months and extendable by another six months, on contributions that exceeded the statutory ceiling (now ?15,000).
    • The decision was quashed by three High Courts and the matter went to the Supreme Court again.

Judgment by SC in a nutshell:

  • Employees who were existing EPS members(as on September 1, 2014) can contribute up to 8.33 per cent of their ‘actual’ salaries — as against 8.33 per cent of the pensionable salary capped at 15,000 a month — towards pension.
  • The court, however, read down certain provisions concerning the current subscribers to the scheme.
    • The amendment required members to contribute an additional 1.16 per cent of their salary exceeding Rs.15,000 a month as ultra vires (beyond the powers) of the provisions of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952.
  • The amendments to the scheme shall apply to employees of exempted establishments as they do to employees of regular establishments.
  • There are about 1,300 companies in the EPFO’s exempted establishments list.
  • Extended time: The ruling gives EPFO members (who have availed of the EPS) another opportunity over the next four months to opt.

What was the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS), 1995?

  • The Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952originally did not provide for any pension scheme.
  • 1995 Amendment: In 1995, through an amendment, a scheme was formulated for employees’ pensions, wherein the pension fund was to comprise a deposit of 8.33 per cent of the employers’ contribution to be made towards provident fund corpus.
  • Maximum pensionable salary:5, 000 per month which later rose to Rs 6,500.
Understanding the Pension Maths:
  • The Employees’ Pension Scheme aims to provide employees with a pension after the age of 58.
  • Contribution: Both the employee and the employer contribute 12 per cent of the employee’s basic salary and dearness allowance to the EPF.
  • Diversion of employer contribution: The employee’s entire part goes to EPF, while the 12 per cent contribution made by the employer is split as
    • 3.67 per cent contribution to EPF
    • 8.33 per cent contribution to EPS
  • Government’s contribution: Apart from this, the Government of India contributes 1.16 per cent as well for an employee’s pension. Employees do not contribute to the pension scheme.

What changed with the 2014 Amendment?

  • The scheme was amended in 2014.
  • Raised salary cap: It increased the pensionable salary cap to Rs 15,000 a month from Rs 6,500 a month.
  • Allowed Employee contribution: It allowed members along with their employers to contribute 8.33 per cent of their actual salaries (if it exceeded the cap) towards the EPS.
    • It gave all EPS members, as on September 1, 2014, six months to opt for the amended scheme (extendable by another six months).
  • Additional contribution: The amendment, however, required such members (with actual salaries over Rs 15,000 a month) to contribute an additional 1.16 per cent of their salary exceeding Rs 15,000 a month towards the pension fund.
  • Those who did not exercise the option within the stipulated or extended period were deemed to have not opted for contribution over the pensionable salary cap. With this, the extra contributions already made to the pension fund were to be diverted to the Provident Fund account of the member, along with interest.
Employment Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO):

EPFO is one of the World's largest Social Security Organisations in terms of clientele and the volume of financial transactions undertaken.

At present, it maintains 24.77 crore accounts (Annual Report 2019-20) pertaining to its members. The central board of trustees which administers the EPFO runs three schemes - EPF Scheme 1952, Pension Scheme 1995(EPS) and Insurance Scheme 1976 (EDLI).   


The World Economic Forum at Davos


The World Economic Forum, a non-governmental lobbying organisation has started annual meetings at Davos, Switzerland for the year 2023.


  • It was established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • It is independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests.
  • Formerly known as European Management Forum, in 1987 the name was changed to World Economic Forum.
  • This meeting was held under the European Commission and European industrial associations to introduce the European firms to American management practices.
  • Later, Klaus Schwab founded the World Economic Fund as a non-profit organization and conducted the annual meetings to draw European business leaders to Davos.
  • Recent geopolitical dynamics and health emergencies imposed the centrality of shared values to work together and restore trust among the nations.
  • From supply chain resilience infrastructure to vaccine equitable policy, WEF annual meeting of WEF has involved various stakeholders to curb the potential threats and attain the targets of SDGs.

About the World Economic Forum (WEF):

  • The world economic forum is the international organization for public-private cooperation.
  • The forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industrial agendas.
  • The forum strives in all its efforts to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance. Moral and intellectual integrity is the prime objective of its every action.
  • Activities of the forum are shaped by a unique institutional culture founded on the stakeholder theory, which asserts that an organization is accountable to all parts of society.
  • The institution carefully blends and balances the best of many kinds of organizations, from public and private sectors, international organizations and academic institutions.
Funding mechanism:
  • The WEF is largely funded by its partnering corporations. These are generally global enterprises with an annual turnover greater than $ 5 billion.
  • For these corporations, the WEF provides a platform to shape the future, accessing networks and experts to ensure strategic decision-making on the most pressing world issues. WEF also partners with public subsidies.

Why the meeting at Davos is significant?

  • Davos brings together some 3,000 paying members and selected participants, among whom are investors, business leaders, political leaders, economists, celebrities and journalists.
  • This is going to be a five days discussion on global issues across 500 sessions. However, its salience goes far beyond discussions on economic issues.
  • In the past, it has been used as a location for pivotal international diplomacy as leaders are able to break tensions in the town.
  • For instance, in 1988 Greece and Turkey avoided war, when the two signed the now-famous Davos Declaration.

India and World economic forum:

  • With the world economic forum’s 50th anniversary in 2022, India is also celebrating its 35 years of collaboration with the forum, providing an opportunity for India to showcase its unified presence.
  • The world economic forum could provide a potential platform to project India as an important and relevant stakeholder in shaping global initiatives. Also is an attractive destination in view of its robust economic growth and stable macroeconomic indicators.
  • To mark 75 years of independence, ‘AzaadikaAmritMahotsav’, DPIIT has taken initiative to have a consolidated presence at WEF, in 2022.

Gavi forest and Eco-sensitive zones of Kerala


As heated debates on buffer zones rage across the forest-fringe settlements in Kerala, the confusion on the impact of the buffer zone markings and resettlement reigns supreme among the residents in forest covered village at Gavi.

About the Gavi Forests:

  • Gavi is an Eco-Tourism project of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation located in the Pathanamthitta district, Kerala.
  • Gavi is inside the Ranni reserve forest. Gavi is a part of Seethathode Panchayath in Ranni Taluk.
  • Gavi is part of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and the route can be covered by car from Vandiperiyar.
  • The forests offer its visitors activities like trekking, wildlife watching, outdoor camping in specially built tents, and night safaris.
  • Species found: The mammals include elephant, tiger, Indian giant squirrel, jungle cat, sloth bear, Nilgiri tahr and barking dear among others.
  • Gavi is also home to over 150 species of butterflies and 40 species of reptiles. The forest also has 140 species of orchids and 170 species of grass.

What are Eco-sensitive zones?

  • As per the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016), issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, land within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are to be notified as eco-fragile zones or Eco-sensitive Zones.
  • However, the general rule of a 10km boundary may vary depending on the ecology of the land.
  • Areas beyond 10 km can also be notified by the Union government as ESZs, if they hold larger ecologically important “sensitive corridors”.

Judgements regarding the Eco-sensitive zones:

  • The Supreme Court order on June 3, 2022, to create a one-kilometre Eco-sensitive Zone (ESZ) within the boundaries of all wildlife sanctuaries, protected forest lands and national parks has been mounting protests and criticism in the hilly regions of Kerala.  
  • A three-judge bench of Justices L NageswaraRao, BR Gavai and Aniruddha Bose pronounced the judgement in a petition seeking the protection of forest lands in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
  • The judgement referred to the guidelines on buffer zones issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) of the Government of India on February 9, 2011.
    • If the existing ESZ goes beyond the one-kilometre buffer zone or if any statutory instrument prescribes a higher limit, then such an extended boundary shall prevail.

The issue in Kerala:

  • The total extent of the wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala is eight lakh acres.
  • If one km of ESZ is demarcated from their boundaries, around 4 lakh acres of human settlements, including farmlands, would come within that purview and that would be a matter of sheer survival of lakhs of people.
  • Due to the high density of human population around the forest lands, politicians and people are demanding that human settlements must be exempted from it. 

Trends of Cancer cases in India


According to a report by the American Cancer Society, deaths due to cancer have declined by 33% in the United States since 1991 attributing the success to early detection, lower rates of smoking, and improvements in cancer treatment.

  • This trend is yet to be reflected in India. Even with improvements in treatment, both the incidence of cancer and mortality continue to rise in the country.

About the Disease:

  • Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue.
  • It can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die and new cells take their place.
  • When cancer develops, this orderly process breaks down. As cells become more and more abnormal, old or damaged cells survive when they should die and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells can divide without stopping and forms tumours, which can spread through the blood or the lymph system and form new tumours far from the original tumour.
  • Causes of Cancer:
    • Biological or internal factors, such as age, gender, inherited genetic defects and skin type.
    • Environmental exposure, for instance to radon and UV radiation, and fine particulate matter.
    • Occupational risk factors, like carcinogens such as chemicals, radioactive materials and asbestos.
    • Lifestyle-related factors.

What is the incidence of cancer and mortality in India currently?

  • An estimated 14.6 lakh new cancer cases were detected in 2022, up from 14.2 lakhs in 2021 and 13.9 lakh in 2020, as per data from the National Cancer Registry of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) presented in Parliament.
  • Deaths due to cancer increased to an estimated 8.08 lakh in 2022 from 7.9 lakh in 2021 and 7.7 lakh in 2020.
  • The incidence of all cancers is estimated to increase to 15.7 lakh by 2025, according to the data.
  • One in nine Indians will develop cancer during their lifetime, according to an ICMR study using data from population-based cancer registries.
  • One in 68 men will develop lung cancer and one in 29 women will develop breast cancer, according to the study.
  • The incidence of cancer is higher among women — 103.6 per 100,000 in 2020 compared to 94.1 among men.
  • Among men, the most common cancers were of the lung, mouth, prostate, tongue, and stomach; for women, they were breast, cervix, ovary, uterus, and lung.

What is the pattern of cancer cases in India?

  • The incidence of cervical cancer has dropped in India over the last 50 years from 45 to 10 per 100,000 population
    • Rates of cervical cancer have declined because of later marriages, fewer children, better hygiene, and vaccination.
  • There is an increase in rates of breast cancer, especially in urban centres.
    • And the incidence of breast cancer has gone up because of the same reasons — later age of marriage, having the first child at a later age, not breastfeeding, and a high protein diet.
  • The rates of tobacco-related cancers — oral, and oesophageal cancers are also coming down.
    • This is largely due to tobacco laws that have brought down smoking in public places,
  • Lung cancers, however, remain a cause for concern.
    • Lung cancer is caused not only by smoking. For example, lung cancer rates are high in Arunachal Pradesh because they light fires indoors in winter. 
    • Unfortunately, the survival rate for lung cancer is not very high and it is mostly diagnosed in the late stages.
  • The cure rate for pancreatic cancer has doubled from 3% 50 years ago to 6%. 

Cancer Detection and its treatment:

  • The detection should be based on biopsy and histopathological studies of the tissue and blood and bone marrow tests for increased cell counts in the case of leukaemias.
  • Techniques like radiography (use of X-rays), CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are very useful to detect cancers of the internal organs.
  • Antibodies against cancer-specific antigens are also used for the detection of certain cancers.
  • Techniques of molecular biology can be applied to detect genes in individuals with inherited susceptibility to certain cancers.
  • While treating Cancer, the body is robbed of many vital nutrients. It is necessary to replenish those nutrients in the body to create a conducive environment for better recovery.
  • The common approaches for the treatment of cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
  • Several chemotherapeutic drugs are used to kill cancerous cells. Some of these are specific to particular tumours. The majority of drugs have side effects like hair loss, anaemia, etc.

Challenges in India:

  • In India, most cancer research is carried out in tertiary cancer centres and specialised institutions of biomedical science, against well-developed cancer research networks in high-income countries.
  • The rising burden of cancer in India acts as a major drain on research time, particularly for clinical staff. According to estimates, there are only 2,000 cancer specialists in India for 10 million patients. Besides, infrastructure to support cancer research has a long way to go.
  • Treatment of cancer is quite expensive and not every patient can afford it. The cost of the drug is around Rs. 50,000-60,000 per month and the duration varies from patient to patient.

Methods to reduce the cancer burden:

  • Patients should pay attention to symptoms and get check-ups regularly.
  • Advise persons who are addicted to tobacco to avoid it at any cost. Vaccines also help lower the cancer risk in humans.
  • Government should cap the prices of cancer medicines as these are very expensive.
  • Finally, changes in diets can make big difference in cancer prevention. Eating organic and loading up with good doses of antioxidants can help in the prevention of cancer.

Government Interventions:

  • The National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS) is being implemented under the National Health Mission (NHM). The primary components include awareness generation for cancer prevention, screening, early detection and referral to an appropriate institution for treatment.
  • 'Tertiary Care for Cancer’scheme was launched with the primary purpose to set up individual units in every state.
  • National Tobacco Control Programme is launched to create awareness about the dangerous effects of tobacco consumption, and reduce the demand and supply of tobacco products.
  • RashtriyaArogyaNidhi (RAN) was launched to meet the financial demands for cancer treatment
  • The recent finding of a drug for breast cancer patients will be able to extend the life duration. The drug has an advantage over chemotherapy and may have fewer side effects compared to standard treatment

Does ChatGPT have an ethical problem?


Teachers and academicians have expressed concerns over ChatGPT’s impact on written assignments, as have those at risk of running malicious code.

Ethics related to ChatGPT as an AI system:

  • ChatGPT is remarkable. It’s a new AI model from OpenAI that’s designed to chat in a conversational manner.
  • AI systems are not capable of behaving in an ethical or unethical manner on their own, as they do not have the ability to make moral judgments.
  • Instead, the ethical behaviour of an AI system is determined by the values and moral principles that are built into the algorithms and decision-making processes that it uses.
    • For example, an AI system designed to assist with medical diagnoses might be programmed to prioritize the well-being of patients and avoid causing harm.
  • Similarly, an AI system designed for use in a self-driving car might be programmed to prioritize safety and follow traffic laws.
  • In these cases, the AI system's behaviour is determined by the ethical guidelines that are built into its algorithms and decision-making processes.
  • However, it's important to note that these guidelines are determined by the humans who design and implement the AI system, so the ethics of an AI system ultimately depend on the ethics of the people who create it.

What is an Artificial Intelligence Ethics?

  • AI ethics is a system of moral principles and techniques intended to inform the development and responsible use of artificial intelligence technology.
  • As AI has become integral to products and services, organizations are starting to develop AI codes of ethics.
  • An AI code of ethics, also called an AI value platform, is a policy statement that formally defines the role of artificial intelligence as it applies to the continued development of the human race.
  • The purpose of an AI code of ethics is to provide stakeholders with guidance when faced with an ethical decision regarding the use of artificial intelligence.

Why is ethics becomes necessary for AI?

  • AI is a technology designed by humans to replicate, augment or replace human intelligence.
  • These tools typically rely on large volumes of various types of data to develop insights. Poorly designed projects built on data that is faulty, inadequate or biased can have unintended, potentially harmful, consequences.
  • Moreover, the rapid advancement in algorithmic systems means that in some cases it is not clear to us how the AI reached its conclusions, so we are essentially relying on systems we can't explain to make decisions that could affect society.

Ethical challenges while using AI:

  • Explainability: When AI systems go awry, teams need to be able to trace through a complex chain of algorithmic systems and data processes to find out why. Organizations using AI should be able to explain the source data, resulting data, what their algorithms do and why they are doing that. "AI needs to have a strong degree of traceability to ensure that if harms arise, they can be traced back to the cause," said Adam Wisniewski, CTO and co-founder of AI Clearing. 
  • Responsibility: Society is still sorting out responsibility when decisions made by AI systems have catastrophic consequences, including loss of capital, health or life. Responsibility for the consequences of AI-based decisions needs to be sorted out in a process that includes lawyers, regulators and citizens. One challenge is finding the appropriate balance in cases where an AI system may be safer than the human activity it is duplicating but still causes problems, such as weighing the merits of autonomous driving systems that cause fatalities but far fewer than people do.
  • Fairness: In data sets involving personally identifiable information, it is extremely important to ensure that there are no biases in terms of race, gender or ethnicity.
  • Misuse: AI algorithms may be used for purposes other than those for which they were created. Wisniewski said these scenarios should be analysed at the design stage to minimize the risks and introduce safety measures to reduce the adverse effects in such cases.

Characteristics of an ethics-based AI model:

  • An ethical AI system must be inclusive, explainable, have a positive purpose and use data responsibly.
  • An inclusive AI system is unbiased and works equally well across all spectra of society.
  • It also requires a careful audit of the trained model to filter any problematic attributes learned in the process. And the models need to be closely monitored to ensure no corruption occurs in the future as well.
  • An AI system endowed with a positive purpose aims to, for example, reduce fraud, eliminate waste, reward people, slow climate change, cure disease, etc.
  • An AI system that uses data responsibly observes data privacy rights. Data is key to an AI system, and often more data results in better models. However, it is critical that in the race to collect more and more data, people's right to privacy and transparency isn't sacrificed.
  • Responsible collection, management and use of data are essential to creating an AI system that can be trusted.

Short News Article

History (GS-I)

MukarramJah, last Nizam of Hyderabad died at 89

Jah, the successor and grandson of the seventh Nizam Mir Osman AliKhan Bahadur, passed away in Istanbul, Turkey.


  • He was born in France on October 6, 1933 to Prince AzamJah and Princess DurruShehvar, the daughter of the last Caliph of the Ottoman Empire Sultan Abdul Mejid II.
  • MukarramJah was coronated as AsafJah the Eighth on April 6, 1967 after the passing away of Mir Osman Ali Khan.
  • Following the passing of Osman Ali Khan in 1966, Jah continued to hold the title of the Nizam of Hyderabad till November 1971, when the government abolished the Privy Purse and royal titles.
  • MukarramJah’s grave will be located next to his father AzamJah’s at the AsafJahi tombs as per tradition.
  • MukarramJah’s demise brings down the curtains on the AsafJahi dynasty founded in 1724.

Science and Technology (GS-III)

ISRO pushing Venus mission ‘Shukrayaan’ to 2031

In a talk to the SatishDhawan Professor at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and advisor to its space science programme, the organisation is yet to receive approval from the Indian government for the Venus mission and that the mission could as a result be postponed to 2031.

About the mission:

  • The idea was born in 2012, five years later, ISRO commenced preliminary studies after the Department of Space received a 23% hike in the 2017-2018 budget.
  • The organisation sought payload proposals from research institutes in April 2017.
  • Shukrayaan I will be an orbiter mission.
  • Its scientific payloads currently include high-resolution synthetic aperture radar and ground-penetrating radar.
  • The mission is expected to study Venus’s geological and volcanic activity, emissions on the ground, wind speed, cloud cover, and other planetary characteristics from an elliptical orbit.
  • ISRO received an allocation of ?13,700 crore in the 2022-2023 budget, marginally higher than the year before.
  • According to data, both the U.S. and the European space agencies have Venus missions planned for 2031 — referring to VERITAS and EnVision respectively.

Environment (GS-III)

Noise pollution affects dolphins’ ability to communicate

A new study has found that the Noise from large commercial ships, military sonars or offshore drilling can severely impact the well-being of dolphins.

About the study:

  • A new study has found that noise generated by human activity makes it harder for dolphins to communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • As the levels of underwater noise increase, these mammals have to “shout” to each other to communicate.
  • Dolphins are social mammals that communicate through squeaks, whistles and clicks.
  • They also use echolocation in order to locate food and other objects.
  • Therefore, anthropogenic noise coming from large commercial ships, military sonars or offshore drilling can severely impact their well-being.


  • Marine animals are known to use sound to navigate, find food and protect themselves.
  • As sound travels faster in water than air, it makes for an important mode of communication because it can convey a lot of information quickly and over long distances.
  • Scientists believe that fish species rely on sounds during reproductive activities, including mate attraction, courtship and mate choice.
  • However, several studies and incidents have shown that sounds made by drilling, commercial ships and military operations lead to disruption of marine life.
  • In 2020, Australia witnessed one of its worst mass stranding of whales when around 200 of them died on Tasmania’s west coast.
  • Researchers suggest that mass strandings are linked to noise pollution in oceans.

Dolphins: The Aquatic animal of India

  • The Ganges River Dolphin or also called 'Susu,' is the National Aquatic Animal of India.
  • It is located in Bhagalpur district of Bihar, India andis among the oldest animals in the world.
  • The newly launched MV Ganga Vilas cruise, which will make stops at about 50 tourist and heritage sites along the Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems, could severely damage the habitat of the Ganges river dolphin, which already faces a number of threats, including water pollution and poaching.


Social equaliser


  • The Union Cabinet’s recent decision to earmark Rs 2,600 crore for providing banks to promote digital payments a welcome step towards broadening the alternatives to cash based payments India, but needs a regulated system for scrutiny as well.

The data for online transactions:

  • Digital payments ensure inclusive growth: India’s ‘Payments Vision 2025’ document observes that Digital payment systems foster economic development and financial stability while supporting financial inclusion. 
  • Drop in low-value transactions by cash: The rapid and widespread adoption of digital payment methods, coupled with steps to bring more people into the banking system’s fold, thus making more digital payment options.
  • Increase in better management of payments: As the Unified payment interface (UPI) has made things easier; the total monthly volume of UPI-facilitated transactions aggregated almost 71% jump in volume and a 55% increase in value from a year earlier.
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