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SAARC

Lesser importance of SAARC

The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has come under serious scrutiny in the last few years. Even after more than three decades of its existence, SAARC’s performance has been less than satisfactory, and its role in strengthening regional cooperation is being questioned.

SAARC is a regional organization that gives its participants a platform to interact. It is a wholly indigenous project not introduced by an outside power and this makes the regional forum free of foreign interference. Unlike the European Union and the ASEAN which were formulated as US-aided, localized resistances to outside hegemons like Russia and China, SAARC came into being out of a genuine need for regional integration.

SAARC is one of the major regional organizations operating today. It occupies a land area greater than the EU and ASEAN, and in terms of GDP, it stands second to the EU. It also enjoys superiority in terms of the population over the two. Although it has a large source of human capital, it is marred by high levels of illiteracy, poverty, and unemployment. 

SAARC has eight member countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. While the organisation was intended to enhance regional cooperation in South Asia, from its very inception, member countries treated it with suspicion and mistrust.

SAARC was first envisioned in the late 1970s by Gen. Ziaur Rahman, the military dictator of Bangladesh. Initially, India was apprehensive about SAARC because it perceived the grouping to be an attempt by its smaller neighbours to unite against it. The Cold War politics of the time too contributed to India’s anxiety. India had a close relationship with the Soviet Union, and it considered Ziaur Rahman to be aligned with the West. It was, therefore, suspicious that SAARC could be an American mechanism to counter Soviet influence in the region. It feared that the association might lead to Asia’s own Cold War, creating a pro-Soviet and an anti-Soviet rift. This would have played against India’s interest since it had close strategic ties with the Soviet Union. However, eventually,   India agreed to join SAARC due to the interest expressed by the neighbouring countries.

Reasons for concerns about the relevance of SAARC :

SAARC is aimed at promoting the welfare of the people; accelerating economic growth, social progress and culture development; and strengthening collective self-reliance. While SAARC has established itself as a regional forum, it has failed to attain its objectives. Numerous agreements have been signed and institutional mechanisms established under SAARC, but they have not been adequately implemented. The South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) is often highlighted as a prominent outcome of SAARC, but that, too, is yet to be implemented. Despite SAFTA coming into effect as early as 2006, the intra-regional trade continues to be at a meagre 5%. 

In the many failures of SAARC, lack of trust among the member countries has been the most significant factor between India and Pakistan. In recent times, Pakistan’s non-cooperation has stalled some major initiatives under SAARC. For example, at the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu in 2014, initiatives such as the SAARC–Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA)—crucial for harnessing regional connectivity across South Asia—could be not signed due to Pakistan’s dithering. SAARC faced another setback after the 19th summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan in 2016 was suspended for an indefinite period after the September 18, 2016 attack on the military base in Uri.

It can be asserted that much of the SAARC’s failures are rooted in a variety of reasons which are listed below:

Enmity between its two Largest States

The biggest obstacle to a functional SAARC is perhaps the rivalry between India and Pakistan, often stunting its growth and development. The long lingering Kashmir dispute has become a great obstacle in its path to progress as complications arising from Indo-Pak tensions tend to harm the organization. 

Fear of Indian Domination 

The asymmetry between India and other member countries in terms of geography, economy, military strength and influence in the global arena make the smaller countries apprehensive. They perceive India as “Big Brother” and fear that it might use the SAARC to pursue hegemony in the region. The smaller neighbouring countries, therefore, have been reluctant to implement various agreements under SAARC.

Role of External Powers, especially China

Some developed nations are always interrupting the SAARC nations. Especially China and America are responsible for the relationship between India and Pakistan. The increasing presence of China in the region and reservations of India with China has created roadblocks.

Unresolved Border and Maritime Issues

SAARC does not have any arrangement for resolving disputes or mediating conflicts. Disputes among the member countries often hamper consensus building, thus slowing down the decision-making process. SAARC’s inability in this regard has been detrimental to its growth. For example – long pending issues between members like fishermen issue between India and Sri Lanka, Teesta water sharing between India and Bangladesh, lack of direct access to Afghanistan to other members except Pakistan have restricted in arriving at common ground for regional integration and also resulted in increased mistrust among the members.

Rising Bilateralism

Given SAARC’s failures, member countries have turned to bilateralism, which in turn has adversely affected the organisation. Bilateralism is an easier option since it calls for dealings between only two countries, whereas SAARC, at a regional level, requires one country to deal with seven countries. Thus, bilateralism decreases the countries’ dependence on SAARC to achieve their objectives, making them less interested in pursuing initiatives at a regional level.

Civilizations Clash

Professor Samuel Huntington has mentioned in his book “The Clash of Civilizations” that SAARC has been a failure because according to him the countries belonging to organizations like the EU belong to the same culture but SAARC countries are those whose cultures are different. India and Pakistan are enemies of each other, they fight on minor things, and then how can these two countries support each other in one organization. No country in the region is having any feeling of belongingness with the other state.

Apart from these SAARC also faces a shortage of resources, and countries have been reluctant to increase their contributions. Almost every member is facing numerous internal crisis like Tamils issue in Sri Lanka, Constitutional crisis in Nepal, religious fundamentalism in Pakistan and Bangladesh, Terrorism and instability in Afghanistan has made these nations inward-looking with not much enthusiasm to achieve collaboration in the subcontinent.

Way Forward for SAARC :

The failure of SAARC to nurture cooperation in South Asia has pushed regional players to search for an alternative. After SAARC, BBIN(Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal), BIMSTEC(the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), BCIM(Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor) has also been initiated. Recently, BIMSTEC has gained more favour as an alternative to SAARC to deliver on connectivity, development, and counter-terrorism efforts because every nation is on board here. However, this does not make SAARC and BIMSTEC alternatives. SAARC is a purely regional organisation, whereas BIMSTEC is interregional and connects both South Asia and ASEAN. SAARC and BIMSTEC complement each other in terms of functions and goals. BIMSTEC provides SAARC countries with a unique opportunity to connect with ASEAN. Therefore, it is vital for the region that the organisation is strengthened. Whatever the flaws of the SAARC so far may be, it is the only platform where the local leaders meet and discuss issues of a region containing 1.7 billion people. It is up to the SAARC leaders to work together for a developed, peaceful and prosperous South Asia.

OTT

How do OTT Platforms make Money?

“I’ve been binge-watching a show on Netflix!” It’s not to difficult to believe that almost everyone belonging to Gen Z has heard this or, for that matter, said it themselves. But how does our binge-watching help these Over-the-top (OTT) Platforms?

With the industry expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.7% from 2018 to 2025 and the global OTT market projected to reach $332.52 billion by 2025, it is easy to conclude that all of us now have a respite from the soap operas and access to some “original content”. With our daily language being full of phrases like “Prime-time” or “Netflix and chill”, the extent to which these platforms have garnered the support of people is immeasurable.  

With the influx of desktops, laptops, mobile phones into human lives since the IT and the Jio Revolutions, as well as affordable and efficient 4G data services, something like this was not completely unpredictable. Netflix was launched in India in January 2016 and it has never looked back since then, while Hotstar already had control over Star Sports broadcasts which includes not just badminton, hockey or cricket, but also the coveted IPL. Initially gaining footfall from the sports enthusiasts since they then could watch sports on portable devices absolutely for free, the officials at Hotstar knew what they should capitalise on and hence launched a sports-subscription model.

Owned by the Sony Television Group, Sony Liv, started putting up its shows on the platform. Driven by shows like The Kapil Sharma Show, La Liga and the Champions League, the audience was a mix of demograhics, including kids, teenagers, middle-aged and the elderlies. 

Amazon joined the club in July 2016 with the launch of its Prime Membership in India. Starting with stand-up comedy, it eventually went on to produce original content just like its older rival, Netflix. Another platform, Alt Balaji, was launched around a year later with completely Indian shows. 

And the list goes on with Voot, Zee5, Eros Now, TVF, Disney Plus, Viu, even YouTube along with hundreds of others who challenged the much-pedestalized Television. With not much delay, Amazon launched its Fire Stick and brought more than 20 platforms on the television screen followed by other competitors. 

In a place where people own more smartphones than televisions, every OTT Platform has tried to reach out to people even in the remotest of places through these mobile devices, thus targeting a larger audience and higher viewership.

With the pandemic going on, a surge in the number of users is evident, and their huge popularity across the globe has led the silver screen to go online too. But unlike the cineplexes which offer the viewers to watch a movie in accordance with a fixed schedule, these platforms capitalise on Video-on-Demand (VOD) business model, which creates a divide, a divide that not only makes people watch whatever they want to but also whenever they want to, a divide that helps these platforms outweigh the cineplexes. 

The first model under the VOD is the basic Subscription Model. Platforms like Netflix, Prime and many others allow users to access all the videos available on these platforms for a regular subscription at equal intervals depending upon the company’s and the customer’s preference. Once subscribed, that is, once the viewers have paid the fee, they can watch as much as they want for the stipulated period of time. 

The other model is the Advertising VOD. It is basically the monetization of some services meant to be shown as an advertisement which is made available to the absolute end-consumer free of cost but is charged upon by the hosts or these platforms like YouTube, FilmOnX, etc. from the advertisers.  

Another model is the Transactional VOD which is, more or less, the opposite of Subscription VOD in the sense that here, the customers pay for a particular piece of content on a pay-per-view basis. There are two sub-categories; one where the customer can get a permanent access to the piece through electronic sell-through and the other is one where the customer can download to rent the piece for a relatively smaller fee but also for a certain period of time. Apple’s iTunes and Sky Box Office are some of the major companies running this model. 

But, what is better than one particular model? Two, of course! In practice, there are also models that contain multiple VOD models in themselves too. The audience can choose to watch only the free videos or pay a fixed subscription fee for a certain period of time and an additional fee too if they want to watch some brand new releases that command a fee other than the fixed subscription. The current leaders in the market are Hotstar, Amazon Video and Sky. 

The models are changed taking into consideration the preference of the consumers. While Netflix offers a shared account, Hotstar offers a sports-only version and Sony Liv capitalizes on daily or weekly subscription too.

These platforms put in a lot of time and money to acquire the rights to telecast content produced by other production houses. This could mean that some of these OTT platforms also run on an initial negative cash flow since they are able to garner funds only after these have been telecast, which are later translated into profits. 

These platforms are still mushrooming and would continue to mushroom for quite some time since the market is growing exponentially but only if the content is good enough. As it goes, “Caveat Venditor”!

Retail

Retail Apocalypse

When well-known retailers close large numbers of stores, we take notice. Parents couldn’t miss it when “Toys R Us” went bankrupt. Whether or not you’ve shopped at a “GAP” lately, you certainly know it has shrunk massively, and that “Victoria’s Secret”, “Barney’s”, “Macy’s”, “Shopko”, and other stalwart brands have shuttered many of their locations. Some chains are flirting with total closures. Others (farewell, “Radio Shack” and “Bon-Ton”) have already disappeared. Some of the United States’ most prominent retailers are shuttering stores or declaring bankruptcy in recent months amid sagging sales in the troubled sector.

Refugees

Darkness After the Dawn

With the Partition, two countries might have been able to successfully establish their identities, but there were a million identities which were fragmented in the divided landscapes. Refugees. The mass migration of refugees was an unparalleled political situation. While the rich and the foresighted migrated before the Partition, the poor majority came in after 1947.

Israel

Israel Palestine Conflict

One-state or Two-state?

The Knesset (Parliament) of Israel approved the controversial Jewish Nationality Bill on 19 July 2018 which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. As reported by the Irish Times the bill measure sets “the development of Jewish settlements nationwide as a national priority” and downgrades the status of Arabic from an official language to one with “special status”, consequently treating 20% of its 9 million population as second-class citizens. 

The Bill also sets into law the constitutional status of the Jewish calendar as the state’s official calendar as well as the status of Independence Day, Jewish festivals and memorial days.  

Internet

Internet of Things (IOT)

Internet of Things (IoT) in its simplest terms, means digitally connected universe of everyday physical devices. These devices are embedded with internet connectivity, sensors and other hardware that allow communication and control via the web. IoT converts once “dumb” devices “smarter” by giving them the ability to send data over the internet, allowing the device to communicate with people and other internet enabled things.

HISTORY

The concept of a network of smart devices was discussed in 1982, with a modified Coca-Cola vending machine at Carnegie Mellon University becoming the first Internet-connected appliance, able to report its stock and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or at normal temperature.  Between 1982 and 1997, several companies proposed solutions but the field gained momentum when Bill Joy envisioned device-to-device communication as a part of his “Six Webs” framework, presented at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 1999. The term “Internet of things” was likely coined by Kevin Ashton of Procter & Gamble in 1999, though he prefers the phrase “Internet for things”. 

APPLICATIONS

  1. CONSUMER APPLICATIONS 
  • Smart Homes: – The best example of IoT in action is the “smart home”. Internet-enabled thermostats, smoke detectors, doorbells and security alarms create a connected hub where data is shared between physical devices and users can remotely control the “things” in that hub via a mobile app or website. 
  • Elder Care: – The use of this technology in the healthcare industry is improving how professionals deliver elderly care. Cloud-based IoT allows efficient communication between different systems. A doctor can access the data from a heart monitor and see the progress of a patient without leaving the office.
  1. COMMERCIAL APPLICATION :-
  • Medical and healthcare: – IoT enabled devices can be used to enable remote health monitoring and emergency response systems. These health monitoring devices can range from blood pressure and heart rate monitors to advanced devices capable of monitoring specialized implants, such as pacemakers, Fitbit electronic wristbands, or advanced hearing aids.
  • Transportation: – Dynamic interaction between the components of a transport system enables inter- and intra-vehicular communication, electronic toll collection systems, logistics, smart traffic control, smart parking and fleet management, vehicle control, safety, and on road assistance.
  1. INDUSTRIAL APPLICATION
  • Manufacturing: – Network control and management of manufacturing equipment, asset and situation management or manufacturing process control also brings IoT into the field of industrial applications and smart manufacturing. IoT intelligent systems allow rapid development of new products, dynamic response to product demands and realtime optimisation of manufacturing and supply chain output.
  • Agriculture:-In agriculture, there are various IoT applications such as data collection on temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind speed, pest infestation and soil material. Such data can be used to automate farming practices, make informed decisions to increase quality and quantity, mitigate risk and waste, and reduce crop management efforts. Farmers can now track the soil temperature and humidity and even apply IoT acquired data to precision fertilization programs.

Research indicates that the effect IoT would have on the planet in coming years would be monumental. From consumer preferences for entertainment and media, infrastructure and energy management, agriculture, transportation and even medical care, the increase in its impact and application can be assessed. Given the current trends, the effect of IoT on human life is increasingly growing, and will only continue to increase. At the same time, however, concerns arose about the dangers and possible risks of inculcating the IoT into all facets of human life.

Here are some of the problems with the IoT:

  1. Security

One of the greatest risks to IoT stems from the burden put on the global knowledge sharing network on which the IoT depends. The 2018 Global Risks Report highlights the possibility of cyberattacks and the danger to all interconnected undertakings if the IoT is compromised by internal vulnerabilities. Clouds would be the first to be breached, despite how severe the problem is, as security regulations are still not completely established. Cybercrime’s annual economic cost is measured at around $1 trillion, which supersedes natural disaster costs including Hurricane Sandy and Katrina.

  1. Privacy

Another pressing issue with IoT is the safety of consumers. Hacking is not only a breach of security, but also a violation of user privacy. A new analysis at Glasgow University reveals users are generally unsatisfied with the lack of privacy that IoT allows. When consumers have become more aware of the scope of cyber surveillance, they have begun to take their privacy more seriously and thus insist that absolute authority of their data will remain with them. There is a need for enhanced organizational accountability to ensure customer data are not exposed to others.

  1. Internet Walls

The prospect of losing critical data by hacking is a risky proposition not only for businesses but for nations by cross-border attacks as well.The World Economic Forum predicts that such attacks will drive nations to build internet walls which will limit the IoT operation to different regions. In fact, nations will ultimately be compelled to protect their commercial interests, because economies are unable to function openly within a global network of online businesses. 

This essentially jeopardizes the whole concept of the IoT as walls prohibit unrestricted data sharing requested by several businesses.Such laws will also stand in the way of technical development by substantially slowing it down.

  1. Cloud attacks

Based at the signs of this global battle, it is extremely likely that cloud networks will be the next possible threats to IoT. This is because cloud networks have the biggest supplies of data to power the IoT. According to new estimates, cybercrime’s total economic expense in 2017 was measured at about $1 trillion, which is a multiple of the 2017 record year gross loss from natural disasters of nearly $300 billion. To understand the magnitude of the issue, the report of the World Economic Forum cites a study which put 

forward the takedown of only one cloud provider could cause financial harm of $50 billion to $120 billion.

  1. Understanding IoT

Rapid growth in technology has resulted in a limited understanding of the IoT. For consumers to make use of the internet and all that the IoT has to offer, it is essential to work upon their awareness of the changes taking place within IoT to make it more efficient. Not only will the comprehension empower them, it will prepare them mentally and they will possibly be able to find solutions on how to take caution from any of the mentioned problems.

Solutions to the hindrances of IoT Success: –

A report published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made the following three recommendations: 

  • Data security – At the time of designing IoT companies should ensure that data collection, storage and processing would be secure at all times. Companies should adopt a “defence in depth” approach and encrypt data at each stage.[155]
  • Data consent – users should have a choice as to what data they share with IoT companies and the users must be informed if their data gets exposed.
  • Data minimization – IoT companies should collect only the data they need and retain the collected information only for a limited time.

INDIAN GOVT ON IOT

The Indian Government’s proposal to build 100 smart cities in the country for which Rs. 7,060 crores have been allocated in the current budget could result in the country’s massive and rapid expansion of IoT. In addition, the government’s launch of the Digital India Program, which aims to ‘transform India into a digitally empowered society and an information economy’ would provide the impetus needed to grow the country’s IoT industry. The various initiatives proposed under the Smart City concept and the Digital India Program for setting up the country’s Digital Infrastructure will help boost the IoT industry. IoT would be key to smarter cities.The concept behind IoT is to build a device that will store all the data people need without getting a direct hand in collecting it. 

Conclusion:

It is very clear that companies around the world are embarking on IoT driven digital development projects to improve capabilities and market efficiency, in addition to serving their consumers and citizens ‘demands better. These projects may have risks, but if adequately managed, companies should be more assured and the path to success and performance in IoT would be impartially smooth.

Media

Political influence of media in India

Media, in literal terms, means a medium through which any sort of information can be transferred. Popularly known as the voice of the people, communication media is a platform through which people can access every piece of information, ranging from national news, international news, lifestyle, job options, intellectual articles and whatnot. It is the key driver in structuring public opinion and the sole agency for increasing transparency in the political system. 

The question here is, are the media houses in the Indian scenario as transparent and unbiased as they should be or are they functioning under the influence of one or the other political party? If all political parties have control over showing its information, will there be any accountability in the system?

coding

Can Low-code/ no-code platforms replace the traditional coding platforms?

Traditional coding, also known as custom application development, refers to working with a  team of programmers and developers to gather specific requirements, develop a plan, and work with a development team to design custom code for an application to fulfil the specified needs. This approach is totally fine and an utterly acceptable method, but is often complex, expensive, and time-consuming. Further, a traditional development approach needs a constant maintenance cycle by the developer to keep the custom software application up-to-date  and secure.

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