Type: oped-snap


Employment scenario- India & World Governance

[op-ed snap] Beyond the farm

Context:

  1. A critical point in India’s economic history, when jobs finally appear to have started shifting away from agriculture
  2. During the past few decades, even as policymakers celebrated a decline in the share of agriculture in jobs, the number of workers in agriculture was still rising as the population was growing; it grew from 10 crore in 1951 to 26 crore in the 2011 census
  3. If Indian farmers’ per person output were similar to the US, India would need only 88 lakh farmers (just 3.3% of the 26 crore it has now)

Background:

  1. India has too many people cultivating too little land has been observed at least as far back as 1880, by the First Indian Famine Commission (FIFC)
  2. FIFC observed that worker to land ratios in India were even then more than 10 times Britain’s
  3. This was after nearly a century of de-industrialisation in India
  4. Eminent thinkers including B.R. Ambedkar (1918) have regularly highlighted the problem of disguised unemployment in agriculture

Recent trend:

  1. Recent annual surveys however suggest a sharp drop in agricultural employment: From 52.2% of total workers in 2012 to 45.7% in 2015
  2. Two successive monsoon failures are a likely explanation
  3. Growth in the value of output of agriculture slowed from a 14% annualised rate for nearly a decade till 2014 to below 5% each in the following two years, workers had to start moving away
  4. However, where an average monsoon in 2016 was expected to revive agricultural income growth, it may not
  5. Higher volume growth has driven food prices down
  6. It appears unlikely that the decline in agricultural employment can be reversed
  7. At the root of this stagnation in agricultural incomes lies slowing demand for food while agricultural productivity rises sharply, with access to markets (roads), information (phones) and automation (electricity, machines) improving substantially in the last decade
  8. Little of our agricultural produce is processed further worsens the problem, as quality/processing is necessary to export the surpluses

Falling income growth and its impact:

  1. With nearly half of India’s households seeing anaemic income growth, demand for mass-consumption products like soaps and detergents weakens
  2. These households are also unlikely to add rooms to their houses: As nearly 60% of construction jobs are in rural house construction, this exacerbates the problem
  3. Landless manual labour moving out of agriculture is most easily redeployed in construction
  4. As farmers are generally the largest buyers of farmland (a form of saving they prefer), this is also likely to depress land prices, hurting wealth perceptions
  5. This is very likely the common theme behind the spate of protests by agricultural communities in the last two years — for example, the Jats in Haryana, the Patels in Gujarat and the Marathas in Maharashtra
  6. They were all protesting for government jobs: Given that nearly two-thirds of all salaried jobs in rural India are with the government or government-owned organisations, this is not surprising
  7. Worryingly, though, these protests seem likely to spread as agriculture sheds workers

Solution to this growing problem of rural unemployment:

  1. One solution that is perhaps politically expedient (and has been popular in the past) is fiscal largesse that inflates food prices (for example, through aggressive growth in agricultural credit, farm loan waivers, and directed subsidies)
  2. This supports agricultural income growth and also reduces income inequality
  3. But this medicine has other side-effects: High inflation, high fiscal deficits, high interest rates and a weak currency
  4. Second remedy is to create non-agricultural jobs
  5. The FIFC in 1880 suggested “the complete remedy for this condition (of famine will be found only in the development of industries other than agriculture”
  6. But how, is the question: Only 3.5% of rural households currently have private salaried jobs (as per the Socio-Economic Caste Census), that is, only slightly above 6 million jobs
  7. However, if, say, by 2040, agriculture in India employs 8 crore people, agriculture could be shedding 6-7 million workers every year
  8. This is over and above the 10-12 million people entering the workforce every year
  9. This poses a formidable policy challenge for the government

Advantages India has:

  1. The challenge, contrary to popular concerns, is not a lack of options or demand
  2. India be a competitive agricultural exporter (with its year-long sunshine, fertile land, good rainfall and cheap labour)
  3. There is significant growth potential (and therefore jobs) in food processing, and production of consumer appliances (where Indian per capita consumption levels can increase significantly)
  4. Even labour-intensive exports like leather (apparently a middle-school dropout can be trained in three months), where India’s total exports are less than the procurement by one large US retailer, can create jobs
  5. Indeed, industrial revolutions in the past have been built on cheap labour exiting agriculture

What must the government do?

  1. One can be tempted to intervene directly, but given the limitations of state capacity, such efforts have failed miserably in the past
  2. A wiser approach might be to provide the enabling environment — good law and order, roads, electricity, telephones (and data!), cheaper but market-priced credit, fair markets and easy government interfaces, and wait for the entrepreneurial instincts of our people to do the rest
  3. Providing these is not easy, and certainly not on the scale that these are needed

Note4Students:

This op-ed gives reports of the recent surveys that suggest a sharp drop in agricultural employment. It has points on what led to this agriculture unemployment and what must the government do? Read it and make notes for Mains.

Policy Wise: India’s Health Sector Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] The modern way: mental health law can be used to strengthen primary care

Context:

  1. The passage of the Mental Healthcare Bill in the Lok Sabha, putting it on course to become law and repealing the Mental Health Act of 1987
  2. It will potentially help India catch up with the advances made in the field by other countries

What India needs to do:

  1. India urgently needs to make a transition from old-fashioned approaches to providing care for those suffering from mental illnesses, something that China, for example, has achieved through state-led policy reform
  2. Even the sketchy studies on the nature of care available to Indians indicate that in terms of population coverage the new law faces a big challenge

Infrastructural issues:

  1. The country’s grossly inadequate base of professional resources is evident from its ratio of 0.3 psychiatrists for 100,000 people (with marginally higher numbers taking independent private practitioners into account), compared to China’s 1.7
  2. Then there are massive deficiencies in the availability of trained clinical psychologists and psychiatric social workers
  3. The National Mental Health Programme has not been sufficiently funded within the health budget; neither has capability been built in most States to absorb the meagre allocation

The new legislation:

  1. The New legislation can bring about change with its positive features
  2. The important provisions relate to the recognition of the right to medical treatment, decriminalisation of attempted suicide, explicit acceptance of agency of people with mental illness and their freedom to choose treatments, prohibition of discrimination and regulation of establishments working in the field
  3. The provision in the new legislation prohibiting seclusion of patients, something that is frequently resorted to in asylums, and the general use of electro-convulsive therapy is welcomed

What more should be done:

  1. Raising effective primary and district-level coverage of mental health services for the general population, without requiring people to travel long distances to see a specialist and get medicines, should be a priority
  2. Since the base of psychiatrists is low in relation to the need, the use of trained general practitioners as the first line of contact assumes importance
  3. Some studies show many of them are not confident enough with their training to detect, diagnose and manage mental illnesses
  4. With a concerted effort, primary care physicians can be trained to help people with mild and severe problems, ranging from anxiety disorders to depression, psychoses and conditions arising from alcohol and substance abuse
  5. Being able to get professional counselling will reduce the complications arising from extreme stress, often the trigger for suicide
  6. Extending health insurance cover is also a step forward, since out-of-pocket expenditure has risen along with the expansion of the private sector in this sphere, just as for other ailments
  7. Modern treatment approaches rely more on family and community support
  8. The Central and State regulatory authorities should speedily weed out shady non-governmental rehabilitation organisations in this field

Note4Students:

A step is being taken towards mental healthcare- providing facilities and changing norms. The op-ed is important for Mains exam.

Primary Education Issues and Policies

[op-ed snap] Renew The Classroom

Context:

  1. Elections and Board exams are arguably the biggest “social” events in our country
  2. While cheating is a global phenomenon, mass-cheating on the scale we witness in some of our exams, is not

The issues concerning mass cheating:

  1. Cheating has gone beyond the technique of copying from slips or books and has institutionalised itself in many places
  2. Examination centres providing various services for a price (even dictation to the examinees) are not uncommon
  3. However, the menace has been sought to be tackled only at the level of examination centres
  4. Little has been done to understand the various reasons that have, over time, made cheating an inexorable part of our education system

The reasons for cheating:

  1. Many of our examination boards, like CISCE and CBSE, are free from allegations of mass cheating
  2. Even in higher education, the examination environment in most of the state universities is very different from top engineering and medical colleges
  3. The reasons for mass cheating in board exams present a convoluted mass of interlinked issues, from pedagogy to the selection process for jobs
  4. The poor quality of teaching in most of our elementary schools — in both rural and urban areas — is not a secret
  5. The massive enrolment of first generation learners due to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the last decade-and-a-half has only resulted in an influx of semi-literate students at the high school level who have aspirations for jobs but, unfortunately, lack in learning
  6. Besides, the secondary and higher-secondary schools have also seen a massive lowering in quality due to various reasons of their own
  7. Students enroll in these schools but prefer to go to coaching institutes for studies, turning these schools into mere registering bodies for board exams
  8. Since various certificates/degrees are mandatory for different jobs, a student obviously wants to possess these through any manner possible
  9. The lure for jobs involving large-scale recruitments — like elementary school teachers and police personnel — done on the basis of marks obtained in the board exams, make our students and their parents strive to get the highest marks possible by any means
  10. When the working of examining agencies like Vyapam in Madhya Pradesh or the Public Service Commissions in various states start losing their credibility, both the educational institutions and the exam system start losing their value and sanctity

Effects of this mass cheating:

  1. In this scenario of poor quality teaching combined with the importance of board exam results, students take recourse to unfair means
  2. The examination centre facilitates the conversion of individual proclivities to a mass benefit arrangement
  3. The use of unfair means in the board exams undermines integrity and fairness at all levels
  4. Each successive generation of examinees becomes weaker, resulting in the making of poor professionals
  5. And imagine the values a teacher who is a product of this system will possess and propagate

Measures needed:

  1. Given the gravity of the situation, well-planned, holistic measures are imperative
  2. To begin with, academic supervision for quality should be ensured at all levels of school education
  3. If the teachers are made to teach, there would be no reason to use coercive action against examinees during exams
  4. Second, recruitment for government jobs should be on the basis of tests and not on board exam marks, thus reducing the premium on board exams
  5. Board exams should test understanding, not rote learning
  6. Objective tests make examining easier but make cheating easier as well
  7. Third, a semester system can be adopted in classes 9-12
  8. This will reduce the burden on students and boards, ensure continuous evaluation and teaching, and reduce the dependence on coaching and guide-books
  9. Finally, the board should frame questions requiring long answers and even allow text books in the exams
  10. This will test higher order cognition and ensure “sustainable learning”

Note4Students:

The op-ed brings forth the reasons for mass cheating in Board exams owing to the flaws of education system. Read this for answer writing in Mains.

Swachh Bharat Mission Governance

[op-ed snap] The twin pit solution

Context:

  1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set October 2, 2019 as the target date for rural India to be Open Defecation Free (ODF)
  2. Remarkable progress has been achieved, but there is still a very long way to go

The current situation:

  1. In rural north India, at least half the toilets that are functioning are not used by all members of the household all the time
  2. Often, the toilet is used sparingly, to delay it filling and to postpone all the costs and  pollution entailed in getting it emptied
  3. The solution widely favoured by rural people is to construct a septic tank, a large, sealed underground chamber, the larger the better
  4. They are too expensive for many poor people
  5. Septic tanks are the aspiration, which deflects attention from cheaper, better, more sustainable solutions; masons also recommend septic tanks because they can make more money from construction

Government recommendation:

  1. The government recommendation is the much smaller and cheaper twin pit
  2. This has two leach pits, with a ‘Y’ junction, so that one pit can be filled at a time
  3. The practice is to fill one, which may take the average family five to eight years, cover it over when nearly full, and leave it to stand while the second pit is used
  4. After about a year, the contents of the first pit have turned into harmless— and valuable — fertiliser: A family’s waste turns from being a liability in a septic tank to a growing asset
  5. Each visit to the loo is an investment; the more it is used, the quicker will be the return
  6. The pit can be emptied safely and its contents used or sold

Twin pit not accepted:

  1. People with twin pits pay masons to build septic tanks for them
  2. A mason in a village in Raipur district said that he had replaced over a hundred twin pits with septic tanks
  3. In general, it seems people do not know about, or do not believe in, the advantages of twin pits over septic tanks
  4. Information about twin pits does not seem to have been a major part of Information, Education, Communication (IEC) campaigns
  5. People see twin pits as too small and too quick to fill. They use them sparingly
  6. There is almost universal ignorance of rural people on these points

Swachh Bharat Mission:

  1. There was a major breakthrough a few weeks ago: Led by Parameshwaran Iyer, the secretary in charge of the Swachh Bharat Mission, principal secretaries from almost all states set a splendid example by themselves getting down into pits, digging out fertiliser and being photographed handling it
  2. They overcame the belief that it was polluting, finding the contents of the pits to be dry, crumbly and totally lacking in smell, a fertiliser some compared to coffee powder
  3. They returned to their states armed with the authority of personal experience, and a small jar of the fertiliser to prove the point
  4. If the principal secretaries inspire their staff to empty pits, and if this filters down the hierarchy to field workers, perhaps this could become transformative, and support efforts in changing norms and practices
  5. The transformative shift is from the lose-lose-lose of a septic tank — costly to build, nasty, expensive to empty, and used only partially — to the win-win-win of twin pits — cheaper to build, harmless, easy for owners themselves to dig out, and with a valuable product, giving an incentive for use by everyone all the time, with every deposit an investment in future fertiliser

Note4Students:

The op-ed is important for Prelims and Mains both.

The Mammoth Task Of Skilling India Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Do less, do it better

Context:

  1. Jawaharlal Nehru once said the Indian Civil Service was “Neither Indian, nor Civil, nor a Service”
  2. Sardar Patel said the civil service was the “steel frame of government machinery”
  3. Thankfully, this team of rivals worked together to create a model for non-elected civil servants that served India well when the primary task was nation-building
  4. But now that the task has shifted to poverty reduction, most citizens do not perceive the Indian state as a high-performance organisation

Four basics needed:

  1. High-performance organizations should get four levers right around human capital: Fresher selection, leadership selection, performance management and culture
  2. The State must also recognise that changing culture (accepted and rejected behaviour like punctuality, hard work, corruption, collaboration, etc.) and performance management (the fear of falling and the hope of rising) will take five years, but changing how senior roles are staffed is immediately impactful because personnel is policy
  3. NITI Aayog’s new recruitment rules for senior people (Additional and Joint Secretary rank) are a good template for hiring senior technocrats — a more accurate job description than bureaucrat — but they should be the thin end of a thick wedge to reboot government human capital on these four fronts

Four areas where rebooting of the government Human capital is needed:

  • Fresher hiring for central government officers:
  1.  First, fresher hiring for central government officers in the IAS, IPS, RBI, etc, is probably better than any private sector management trainee programme because of the high quality and quantity of applicants, the UPSC’s institutional integrity, starting compensation, process rigour, etc.
  2. Replicating transparency, process and institutional ability to non-officer hiring (85% of government hiring) and state government hiring (75% of government employees) could rapidly improve legitimacy, competence and trust
  • Avoid Monopoly:
  1. Second, any organisation whose leadership pipeline depends on a line (seniority) or a monopoly (only staffed by insiders) cannot be effective
  2. Such leadership selection needs thoughtful design, pathways to top jobs for young insiders, lateral entry at scale, specialisation opportunities by tenure and training for insiders
  3. In the US, when a new political CEO takes over, 4,000 technocrats resign. In India, 10 people do
  4. Both 4,000 and 10 are extremes and the right number is somewhere in-between
  5. An immediate tweak could be making 25 per cent of all senior appointments through open advertisements and giving insiders a real shot at these jobs when they are 45 years old
  • Culture eats structure for breakfast:
  1. The obvious downside of poor role models, excessive political interference and the lack of accountability in government is poor work culture around punctuality, hard work, integrity, etc.
  2. A more important victim has been collaboration
  3. The government is organised vertically but important horizontal problems like urbanisation and industrialisation seem unsolvable because of the lack of teamwork across departments
  4. A culture of accountability is heavily influenced by structure, the huge overlap in central ministry mandate creates policy orphans and needs reducing the number of ministries in the Central government to 20 (from 50-plus right now) and cutting people with Secretary to Government of India in Delhi rank to 50 (from 200-plus right now)
  5. Any organisation that does not punish its poor performers punishes its high performers
  6. All hierarchies need a pyramid but currently, almost all officers rise to the top rank unless you hit a senior officer or your corruption is caught on video
  7. It is difficult to measure performance in multi-dimensional senior government jobs but 95% being ranked outstanding is mathematically impossible because everybody can’t be above average
  8. Pending a revamp of appraisal systems, all central and state officer cadres should adopt the “colonel threshold” of the army under which, if you are not shortlisted from promotion, you retire at age 50

NITI Aayog rules:

  1. The new recruitment rules of NITI Aayog are thoughtful
  2. Their hiring context is different from large frontline government organisations and tweaking leadership selection will be ineffective without tackling culture and performance management
  3. But these rules are interesting because they create a level playing field for outsiders and insiders and confront issues like cost-to-government, promotion, equivalence, employment contract format, etc.
  4. Most importantly, their five-year contract, extendable by two years, should become standard for all senior positions

Note4Students:

The Indian state aims to be a high-performing organisation but faces the punishing combination of weak human capital, higher competition for talent and an entrenched status quo. Civil service reform is inevitable, unstoppable and overdue.

Sri Lanka’s Constitution – Strides in the Right Direction India & Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Whither human rights in Sri Lanka?

Background:

  1. Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009 and international actors have infused narratives of the war with stories of human rights abuses
  2. Eight years since, it has only become clear how irrelevant current human rights campaigns are to the war-torn people and their struggles
  3. It is the singular focus on international human rights intervention that is killing a once-vibrant local human rights movement in the country

Notes from Geneva:

  1. Sri Lanka was again in the limelight at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva this month
  2. The September 2015 resolution, adopted months after regime change in Sri Lanka, signalled a departure from the Council’s earlier antagonistic stand, with Sri Lanka itself co-sponsoring the resolution to address war-time accountability

The new resolution:

  1. The new resolution, on March 23, co-sponsored by the United States, Sri Lanka and other countries, accedes to Sri Lanka’s request for an extension of two more years to fulfil its commitments on accountability
  2. The Tamil nationalist campaign, including that by many Tamil politicians, was predictably about opposing such an extension
  3. In the island’s Sinhala-majority south on the other hand, the debate centred on whether any future justice mechanism for accountability should include foreign judges or not
  4. That Sri Lanka will get its extension, that foreign judges will never be allowed to enter the country and that the U.S. will shield Sri Lanka at the UN, are political realities that escape those firmly pursuing this prolonged engagement in Geneva

What has eight years of international human rights engagement really achieved?

  1. The record is one of reports and counter-reports by the human rights community, the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil nationalist lobby, as well as multiple resolutions in the UNHRC
  2. If only the spotlight on Geneva could be turned towards the ground situation, it will make evident the emptiness of these campaigns
  3. While the state has been rather slow to address the issue of disappearances and military land grabs, these campaigns hardly address the economic deprivation of the missing people’s families and the predicament of the landless
  4. Furthermore, the rights of women, fisherfolk, workers, oppressed castes and the northern Muslims seldom figure in popular human rights narratives

Shift in the movement:

  1. The human rights movement had a different character during its early decades
  2. The Civil Rights Movement emerged after the brutal state repression of the 1971 JVP insurrection, an uprising by rural Sinhala youth, and took up the legal cases of those in custody
  3. Some years later in the context of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 and a state of Emergency, the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality, a membership organisation with a significant presence in Jaffna, mobilised people against state repression of Tamil youth during the early years of the armed conflict
  4. Some of the trade unionists who organised the general strike of 1980, which was crushed by the J.R. Jayewardene-led regime, went on to form the Movement for the Defence of Democratic Rights to resist the authoritarian attacks on democracy
  5. With the war in the late 1980s, the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) tried creating space for the university community to monitor the various armed actors, including the Sri Lankan military, the Tamil armed movements and the Indian Peace Keeping Force
  6. Their work also addressed the disastrous political developments engulfing the Tamil community
  7. These organisations placed political critique and the mobilisation of people at the heart of their work
  8. However, the targeting of activists and increased political repression by the state and the LTTE, curtailed the democratic space for such work, particularly in the north and the east
  9. The growing international attention on the protracted conflict and increasing donor funding for non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Colombo, brought about the shift of appealing to international forums

After the war ended:

  1. Over the last decade, with the cataclysmic end to the war and the intransigent authoritarianism of the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led regime, human rights engagement backed by powerful western interests deviated the broad set of rights and justice concerns onto war crimes investigation in Geneva
  2. In effect, the international human rights community, national NGOs and the Tamil nationalist lobby, all placed their bets on internationalisation, without considering the political space that was opening after the war

War-time accountability:

  1. In this context, the deteriorating rural economy and the political marginalisation of the war-torn people continues even as year after year they are asked to await the verdict of human rights gods
  2. Indeed, Geneva has become a convenient cover for the state’s failings, the Tamil nationalists’ hollow politics and the international donors’ questionable agendas
  3. Together, these actors have made a real mess of post-war reconstruction

Sri Lankan war crimes horrific: U.N. report:

  1. The media in Sri Lanka dramatises the proceedings in Geneva, as if Sri Lanka is at the centre of the world
  2. The geopolitical changes with the crisis in Syria, the populist racism of the Trump Presidency and anti-immigrant xenophobia in Europe are rarely considered
  3. Human rights work has increasingly become about the perverse parading of victims and their families in front of powerful international actors, and dispatching statements signed by NGOs and individuals to the UN

Engaging the state:

  1. The earlier human rights movement with a left perspective valued international solidarity, for example with Palestine, which necessarily entailed a critique of imperialism
  2. Today’s campaigns have become dependent on western donors
  3. This apolitical variant of human rights activism has no qualms accommodating, or even endorsing, rabid Tamil nationalists who are at the forefront of the campaign for accountability, while remaining silent on the LTTE’s grave crimes

Core historical problems:

  1. The state is at the core of the historical problems, whether it is repressive militarisation, the reinforcement of majoritarian interests or the centralisation of state power in Colombo
  2. But reforming the state requires direct challenges by its citizenry, rather than flight to international forums
  3. That depends on a broad political movement and a domestic process consisting of all the communities, such as the one that threw out the Rajapaksa regime
  4. If the unravelling international order may finally end the internationalisation of Sri Lanka, the tremendous loss of credibility within the country with such internationalisation may make it impossible to revitalise the human rights movement
  5. However, recognising the hollowness of narrow, donor-driven human rights engagement that happily coexists with dangerous nationalist politics, is a necessary starting point for envisioning a broader social justice movement
  6. Such political rethinking and the forging of progressive movements is a priority to address the tremendous challenges facing post-war Sri Lanka

Note4Students:

For mains- the global issue of human rights violation using the case of Sri Lanka.

Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament India Beyond its Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Powered by a pause: delay in Indo-U.S. nuclear deal

Context:

  1. Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement’s operationalisation may be further delayed owing to Westinghouse’s financial difficulties and Japan’s procedural issues in ratifying the deal with India
  2. This sets back “work toward finalising the contractual arrangements by June 2017” for six reactors to be built in Andhra Pradesh by Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL)

The underlying problems:

  1. India has little control over both circumstances, and rather than seeing them as a setback, the government and officials should use this as an opportunity to re-examine the country’s engagement with nuclear energy for future needs
  2. Westinghouse’s near-bankruptcy is part of a larger pattern of worldwide cost overruns and delivery delays across the nuclear energy industry
  3. Nuclear manufacturer Areva (in partnership with Mitsubishi) has a similarly precarious position despite hopes of a bailout by the French government
  4. Even Russian supplier Rosatom’s Kudankulam units 1 and 2, in the only foreign collaboration now operational in India, were built in double the time budgeted, while units 3 and 4 could see delays
  5. The cost of importing reactors, relative to those based on indigenous design, is another concern
  6. Land acquisition issues remain, along with the need for large water reservoirs for the reactors, which will only grow if the government goes ahead with its plans for 55 reactors of 63,000 MW in total by 2032
  7. In addition, given concerns about a possible tsunami scenario along the Andhra coast, where many of these reactors are planned, the Department of Atomic Energy and NPCIL are looking for options farther inland

An agreement that was called a deal:

  1. The promise of nuclear power has thus far outweighed all of these concerns
  2. India has reason to be proud of its technology and determination to look for non-fossil alternatives in its energy planning
  3. However, with rapid progress in technology in other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, the collapse of oil prices and the expansion in gas projects as a viable and clean alternative, that promise has dimmed
  4. These could also be more cost-effective for a developing country such as India, as the energy can be made available in smaller units, and then built up
  5. Unlike in nuclear plants where nothing can be transmitted until the whole plant is complete and attains critical status
  6. Above all, the risk surrounding nuclear safety is yet to be fully mapped, post-Fukushima
  7. A Japanese court ruling holding both the state regulator and the operator responsible for the 2011 triple meltdown has sent sobering signals to the industry

Note4Students:

India’s energy planners and government should relook at the cost-benefit analysis on the nuclear power balance sheet. The op-ed has points on the costs of nuclear reactor, make note of these for Mains.

NPA Crisis Finance and Banking

[op-ed snap] A timely step: State-owned banks should address their NPAs

Context:

  1. The Finance Ministry’s unequivocal missive to 10 state-owned lenders to submit time-bound turnaround plans, or forsake any further capital infusion from the government
  2. The Reserve Bank of India had flagged in its last Financial Stability Report, risks to the banking sector remain worryingly “high”

Issues related to NPAs:

  1. The continuous deterioration in asset quality, especially at the public sector banks (PSBs), has led to low profitability and substantial value erosion to the principal shareholder — the government
  2. As the RBI’s report pointed out, PSBs saw the proportion of their gross non-performing assets to total advances almost double in the 12 months through September 2016 to 11.8%
  3. The RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya told bankers in a speech last month that the problem of bad loans has come to such a pass that, “we simply don’t as a society have any excuse or moral liberty to let the banking sector wounds fester and result in amputation of healthier parts of the economy”
  4. This is because commercial lenders have a central role in the economy, by serving to harness public savings and directing the flow of crucial credit to the most productive industrial and infrastructure sectors
  5. And when PSBs, with their revolving-door top managements, have little incentive or accountability to redress the burgeoning imbalance in their balance sheets, it is time the largest shareholder delivers an ultimatum: shape up or be prepared to face the consequences

The steps to be taken:

  1. The Ministry has identified 10 of these PSBs to administer a dose of tough love suggests they are the ones most in need of urgent corrective action
  2. The Centre has chosen to include the employees’ unions in the proposed MoUs it intends to enter into, with the lenders is also indicative of the seriousness with which it is approaching the resolution this time around
  3. Staff, who have been a key element in the growth and development of the sector, have a vested interest in the health of PSBs; the risk of continued failure is closure and job losses
  4. The Centre has to work simultaneously in close concert with the banking regulator and the lenders themselves to structure appropriate mechanisms to enable the implementation of the turnaround plans, including resolution of the stressed assets
  5. Also, as Mr. Acharya pointed out, the PSB managements would need to be empowered so that “haircuts [writedowns on the value of debt] taken by banks under a feasible plan would be required by government ruling as being acceptable by the vigilance authorities”

Time left:

  1. The stipulation of a three-year time limit for the implementation of the turnaround is also significant as Indian lenders have to meet Basel III capital regulations by March 31, 2019
  2. Therefore there is little time to lose, and the government and the banks have their work cut out if India is to avoid the spectre of weak banks having little incentive to lend, and economic activity affected for want of credit

Note4Students:

Another writeup on bad loans. Make note of these for Mains answer.

Child Protection & Child Rights in India Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Giving short shrift to children’s rights

Context:

  1. The recent notification of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, making Aadhaar compulsory for midday meals in government schools, has attracted the criticism it deserves
  2. This notification serves no clear purpose other than to force children to get enrolled under Aadhaar
  3. The government, unfortunately, managed to create the impression that the notification had been retracted, when nothing of the sort has happened

Attacks on child-related rights:

  • No maternity entitlements:
  1. First, the Central government has violated women’s right to maternity entitlements under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 for more than three years
  2. Under the Act, every pregnant woman is entitled to maternity benefits of ₹6,000, unless she is already covered by maternity schemes in the formal sector
  3. The Economic Survey 2015-16, in a welcome chapter on “Mother and child”, made a strong case for maternal and early-life health programmes, including maternity benefits, noting that they “offer very high returns on investment”
  4. Yet, the Union Budget that followed, for 2016-17, did not make any provision for maternity entitlements beyond the pilot scheme (for 53 districts only) initiated by the previous government
  5. The Central government had assured the Supreme Court in writing, on October 30, 2015, that this scheme — Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana — would be extended to all districts in 2016-17
  6. On December 31, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proudly announced that pregnant women nationwide would soon be getting maternity benefits of ₹6,000
  7. The allocation of ₹2,700 crore in the 2017-18 Union Budget is barely enough to cover a fourth of all births, even with the proposed 60:40 ratio for Centre:State funding
  8. Word has it that the Central government may restrict the benefits to one child per woman, against the law
  9. Further, there is still no sign of the said scheme
  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS):
  1. Second, the Central government is giving short shrift to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)
  2. ICDS is a critical programme that was making good progress until it was hit by Budget cuts in 2015-16
  3. The initial Budget cut was about 50%
  4. This was so mind-boggling that the government’s own Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, criticised the cuts in public, mentioning inter alia that they had made wage payments a “month-to-month suspense”
  5. The cuts were partly reversed later on, but, meanwhile, they had done much damage and sent a disastrous signal down the line
  6. For instance, in a letter sent to the Central government on July 15, 2016, the Government of Odisha complained that salary payments to anganwadi workers were held up by Budget cuts, while planned schemes for pre-school education and medicine kits “could not be taken up”
  • Mid-day Meal Scheme:
  1. Third, the midday meal scheme is also being starved
  2. Like ICDS, the midday meal scheme received shock treatment in the 2015-16 Budget, with an initial Budget cut of 36%
  3. The allocation for midday meals in this year’s Budget, ₹10,000 crore, is still 25% lower in money terms than the corresponding allocation four years ago (in real terms, the decline would be even larger)
  4. The Budget cuts, of course, must be seen in light of the fact that the share of States in the indivisible pool of taxes was raised from 32% to 42% in 2015-16
  • No money, no eggs:
  1. Many State governments are now providing eggs with midday meals in schools (and sometimes also in anganwadis)
  2. This is a real breakthrough, considering the high nutrition value of eggs
  3. Had the Central government taken this forward as a matter of national policy, millions of children would be better nourished today
  • Further blows:
  1. Fourth, plans are afoot to scrap the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), a scheme of conditional cash transfers aimed at promoting institutional deliveries
  2. Incidentally, the decline of maternal mortality has also accelerated in recent years
  3. Yet the Central government is now planning to phase out JSY
  4. In a presentation made at Vigyan Bhavan on February 22, 2017, the Secretary, Women and Child Development, explained that JSY would be “subsumed” under the maternity benefit scheme from next year, as the latter provides a “higher amount for institutional delivery”
  5. In other words, maternity benefits will be made conditional on institutional delivery, in violation of the NFSA, and further, this linkage will be taken as an excuse to discontinue JSY, even though maternity entitlements and JSY serve distinct purposes
  • Mandatory Aadhaar:
  1. Last but not least, Aadhaar is now being made compulsory for all these schemes — midday meals, ICDS (yes), maternity benefits, JSY, you name it
  2. This is being done in the name of curbing corruption, but no credible evidence has been given that identity fraud is a serious problem in these schemes, or that Aadhaar is the best possible solution
  3. Rather, this seems to be part of the blind drive to make Aadhaar ubiquitous and universal, regardless of the possible damage
  4. The imposition of Aadhaar on midday meals and related schemes exposes, once again, the claim that Aadhaar is a voluntary facility

Note4Students:

The children can easily fall off the policy radar. It is not that anyone is hostile to them, just that they have no voice. Make note of the points for Mains.

Civil Aviation Sector – CA Policy 2016, UDAN, Open Skies, etc. Infrastructure

[op-ed snap] Defusing air rage

Context:

  1. “Air rage” — or sudden and violent behaviour by a passenger affecting those who work on flights or associated people — is a menace that has led to civil aviation authorities issuing strict guidelines on deterrence and punishment for those responsible for such acts
  2. In India, while the laws on unruly and disruptive behaviour in an airliner are clear, they are difficult to enforce when the perpetrators take the cover of their positions of power

The case of unruliness:

  1. The outrageous conduct of Ravindra Gaikwad, the Member of Parliament from Osmanabad who belongs to the Shiv Sena, with Air India staff after seeking a business class seat in an all-economy flight from Pune to Delhi
  2. The Air India cabin crew had its task cut out
  3. The consequent steps taken by the national carrier and members of the Federation of Indian Airlines to put him on a “no-fly list”
  4. In 2015, a Jet Airways woman cabin crew member complained about alleged misbehaviour by Bihar MLA Pappu Yadav during a Patna-Delhi flight
  5. In November 2015, a case was registered against YSR Congress Party MP P. Mithun Reddy and others for allegedly assaulting an Air India station manager at Tirupati airport

The laws:

  1. Aircraft Rules of 1937 have outlined a course of actions to be taken after such disruptive behaviour
  2. The application of a “no-fly list” is a new development and is in line with similar practices adopted in many countries
  3. This practice should deter such outrageous actions by anyone, irrespective of whether the malefactor is in a position of power or not

Why such incidents?

  1. These incidents are symptomatic of a culture of entitlement that pervades many in power today and, sadly, gives credence to the flawed notion that political representatives are a law unto themselves
  2. Gaikwad’s actions were compounded by the fact that he brazenly justified his behaviour — of hitting an airline employee with his slippers after the latter said that he would complain to the Prime Minister
  3. While the Shiv Sena has said it does not condone his actions, its leader and MP, Sanjay Raut, has in bizarre fashion put the onus on Air India, asking it to think over “what would happen if the public decides to blacklist the airline”

Note4Students:

The Ministers who are elected by the people of the country, need to carry themselves with dignity. The op-ed is not a direct answer, but has points for the answer and Essay.

Environmental Conservation and Mitigation strategy Conservation & Mitigation

[op-ed snap] The river as being

Context:

  1. In a recent judgment, the Uttarakhand High Court declared the rivers Yamuna and Ganga as legal or juridical persons, enjoying all the rights, duties and liabilities of a living person
  2. Indian courts have granted this status to temple deities, religious books, corporations, etc., but it is for the first time that an element of the natural environment has been declared a legal person
  3. And it is not just the two rivers — all their tributaries, streams, every natural water body flowing continuously or intermittently of[f] these rivers will enjoy this status

The present state of the river:

  1. The dismal ecological state of these rivers, as well as the variety of factors responsible, is well documented
  2. And so are the crores of rupees spent by government agencies to (unsuccessfully) attempt a clean-up

The issues:

  1. The two issues before the High Court were: removal of illegal constructions on the banks of a canal in Dehradun, and the division of water resources between Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand (which had not been resolved since the formation of the new State)
  2. In December 2016, the High Court directed the removal of the constructions
  3. It also directed the constitution of the Ganga Management Board (a statutory body under the U.P. Reorganisation Act 2000), and prohibited mining of the Ganga riverbed and its highest flood plain area
  4. On the issue of resource division, the court directed the Central government to notify the settlement reached by the two States in a time-bound manner
  5. Three months later, when the matter came up before the court once again, the encroachments were still there, the settlement between the States was yet to take place, and the board had not been constituted

Three logical leaps that the Court took:

  1. First, for the court, an ‘extraordinary situation’ had been created which required extraordinary measures for the protection of the Ganga and the Yamuna
  2. From what was a clear breach of statutory duties under the U.P. Reorganisation Act, was the inability of the State to remove encroachments
  3. The case became one concerning the protection of health and well-being of the two rivers
  4. Second, the court recorded how the rivers provide ‘physical and spiritual sustenance’ to half the Indian population
  5. It found the constitution of the board to be necessary for various purposes including irrigation, water supply, and power generation
  6. And then, curiously, found it expedient to give legal status to the rivers as living persons
  7. Third, the court decides to exercise the parens patriae jurisdiction to declare the rivers and all their tributaries, etc. as living persons
  8. Parens patriae, literally ‘parent of the country’, is an inherent power of the sovereign, and not the courts, to provide protection to persons unable to take care of themselves
  9. The Director, Namami Gange, the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and the Advocate General of Uttarakhand have been appointed as the persons in loco parentis — persons who will act ‘in the place of parents’ for the two rivers
  10. These officers are now expected to act on behalf of the rivers for their protection and conservation
  11. They are ‘bound to uphold the status’ of the rivers and also to promote their health and well-being

The right to sue:

  1. The judgment comes close on the heels of New Zealand granting legal status to the Whanganui river
  2. But unlike the comprehensive Bill passed by the New Zealand Parliament recognising rights and settling claims, the High Court’s declaration is terse, and raises several questions
  3. In the eyes of the law, living persons such as companies, associations, deities etc., have rights and duties — primary among these being the right to sue and the capacity to be sued
  4. Which implies that from now on, the rivers can sue persons acting against their interests

Impertinent questions:

  1. The rivers have a right to be sued for what? Do they have a right not to be a receptacle for tons of sewage? Can they demand minimum ecological flows? A right not to be dammed, dredged, or diverted? If yes, who will sue whom? Can the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand now sue a Municipal Corporation in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar for the discharge of effluents downstream? Or will the Director, Namami Gange, sue the Central government for approving another hydro-power project on the river? Do other riparian State governments now have less of a role in the protection of the rivers as they are not the identified ‘custodians’? And what are rivers’ duties?

Is the judgment a game changer?

  1. The judgment does not take away existing statutory and constitutional rights and duties of citizens and government agencies to counter the pollution and degradation of these rivers
  2. What it does do is to identify three officers who will be the first-line defenders for the rivers
  3. Perhaps they will not be able to pass the (institutional) buck any more. But is that game-changing? Sadly, no.

Note4Students:

The op-ed has points that can be asked in Prelims and has good points regarding the judgment of the Court, which  can be used in Mains answer.

Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament India Beyond its Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Revisiting India’s nuclear doctrine

No First Use:

  1. There are calls for reassessing India’s nuclear doctrine as a regular feature of our strategic landscape
  2. The demand for revision rests either on scepticism about India’s commitment to a No First Use posture or the intention to retaliate massively to any nuclear first strike, no matter what the yield of the weapon used first
  3. What seems to receive much less attention, however, is the declaration that India reserves the right to nuclear retaliation “in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons
  4. In doing so, we are clubbing together nuclear first use — which has not occurred since 1945 — and biological and chemical first use which, especially chemical, continues to occur sporadically, whether by state or non-state actors

Use of chemical weapons:

  1. The dramatic assassination in Malaysia last month of North Korean Kim Jong-nam by the chemical agent VX, which was almost certainly orchestrated by elements within the North Korean state, adds another layer to questions about making sponsors of chemical attacks accountable
  2. The ease with which deadly chemicals can be transported across state borders, as demonstrated by the assault, gives further pause
  3. The fact remains that the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention has succeeded in only partly making their use utterly reprehensible; their use is beyond the pale but will not alter the course of history in the manner that we expect will follow a nuclear explosion
  4. Quite simply, there is a fairly strong norm governing the non-use of nuclear weapons; the norm against the use of chemical and biological weapons is still coalescing
  5. Despite being banned, chemical weapons have not gone away
  6. They have cropped up frequently in Syria and Iraq, where their recent use has been attributed to the Islamic State

India’s case:

  1. If a roughly similar attack were carried out against Indians, whether military personnel, politicians or indeed civilians, how would New Delhi define “major”?
  2. This is, of course, assuming India could definitely pin the blame on a state
  3. It might be worth recalling that Bashar al-Assad used the nerve agent sarin against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in August 2013, killing over 1,400 people
  4. The former President Barack Obama, at the very last moment of retaliatory attacks, (by some accounts, the day before the expected air strikes), Mr. Obama stopped short of authorising military action
  5. A diplomatic solution was eventually found with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin; Syria agreed to give up and dismantle a stockpile of 1,300 tonnes of chemical agents and acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (though Damascus’ adherence to the Convention has been patchy)
  6. Would New Delhi be able to resist popular pressure for decisive retaliation if Indians suffered a chemical or biological attack, especially when India appears to have committed itself to considering a nuclear response to such an attack?

A game changer:

  1. Nuclear weapons deter other nuclear weapons
  2. To require them to do more is to imbue these weapons with even more political meaning than they now carry
  3. This ultimate weapon is already a political force: from the limited number of states who can possess them, to the devastating generational and environmental consequences of their use
  4. A policy of No First Use works well: it builds stability into deterrence by credibly promising nuclear retaliation in the face of extreme provocation of a nuclear first strike by one’s adversary
  5. It promises to take both you and your adversary to the abyss and raises the cost of the adversary’s first strike immeasurably
  6. That is all we need these weapons to do militarily

Note4Students:

At the end of the day, nuclear weapons are not just another weapon in the military toolkit but a game changer and dangerous too. A good op-ed from Mains PoV.

Minority issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc. Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Protection whose time has come

Context:

  1. Shashi Tharoor, MP, introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill 2016 (ADE Bill) in the Lok Sabha
  2. As a Private Member’s Bill, however, this will not be enacted unless the government takes ownership of this Bill

Reasons for accepting this bill:

  1. There are at least three reasons why it should do so:
  • The Bill’s symmetric protection,
  • Its experiential understanding of discrimination as a lived reality,
  • Its proportionate regulation of the private sector

Discrimination:

  1. Discrimination is rife in India is not in doubt
  2. Women, Dalits, religious and sexual minorities, people from the North East, hijras, disabled persons and the elderly are especially at the receiving end
  3. Almost everyone in our country has faced, or is likely to face, some form of discrimination
  4. On the other hand, we have all also been perpetrators, sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously — by benefitting from unearned privileges that tend to accompany our dominant group status, sincerely believing in our merit, and in our innocence
  5. Recognising this universality in the experience and perpetration of discrimination, the ADE Bill seeks to symmetrically protect majorities as well as minorities (with exceptions for affirmative action and aggravated discrimination), and does so comprehensively, along multiple grounds of discrimination
  6. It is true that members of minority groups primarily suffer from discrimination
  7. But, given our multiple identities, no one person is a member of the dominant group in all respects
  8. Also, patriarchy will not end unless women as well as men are liberated from gender roles

A symmetric Bill:

  1. Under the symmetric ADE Bill, anyone could potentially be a victim, and anyone, whether from a majority or minority group, could be a discriminator
  2. The right wing has long complained that the left wing is selective about the victims it seeks to protect
  3. Whatever may be the truth of that allegation, here is one Bill that is genuinely universalist in its aspiration

Indirect discrimination:

  1. The Bill recognises that sometimes, one can discriminate indirectly by doing something that disproportionately impacts a group (say, a minimum height requirement that is unnecessary for satisfactorily performing a given job, and disproportionately excludes women since they tend to be shorter than men)
  2. It treats harassment, bullying, segregation, boycott, violence and victimisation as the various guises that discrimination can take
  3. By focussing on the experience of the victim, rather than the intention of the discriminator, the Bill understands that power is self-aggrandising and dynamic, with the ability to adopt ever subtler forms, and even deny its own existence in order to perpetuate itself

In private sector too:

  1. In prohibiting discrimination in public as well as private sectors (especially employers, landlords, retailers and service-providers), the ADE Bill recognises that decades of affirmative action in the public sector, while necessary, is insufficient to tackle discrimination
  2. It also imposes diversification duties, while ensuring that private businesses can discharge their social obligations with minimal regulatory burdens

What the bill intends to do?

  1. Marking a break from past laws that criminalised discrimination, the focus of the ADE Bill is to create a civil liability to protect and compensate the victim, rather than to punish the discriminator
  2. Criminalisation — which requires a very high burden of proof — probably contributed to the under-enforcement of existing laws
  3. The “lighter touch” approach of the ADE Bill is complemented by a dedicated, efficient and independent enforcement mechanism
  4. It therefore strikes a proportionate balance between competing demands

Note4Students:

For all these reasons, the central  government should have the Bill sent to a parliamentary standing committee for wider public consultation and scrutiny  and prepare for its enactment. If it fails, a pioneering state government or two should take the lead in championing the idea instead. The op-ed is important for both Prelims and Mains.

Geographic phenomenon : Key Concepts and Issues Climate Change

[op-ed snap] One India, two time zones

Context:

  1. The Gauhati High Court has dismissed a PIL seeking direction from the Central government to notify a separate time zone for the Northeast
  2. The court cites a high-level committee study, constituted by the Ministry of Science and Technology that recognised the difficulties faced by a single time zone in eastern India but concluded that Indian Standard Time (IST) should nonetheless be retained
  3. Legislators, activists, industrialists and ordinary citizens from the Northeast have often complained about the effect of IST on their lives, and pursued the issue of having a separate time zone with the Central government, without much success

Creation of a Time Zone:

  1. The idea of a standard time zone has become so integral to our lives that we often take it for granted and assume it to be a part of natural phenomena
  2. We tend to forget the complex contestations — including legal ones — that go into its making
  3. The creation of a time zone signals the victory of time over space with geographical areas being brought under a single time zone rather than relying on local solar time
  4. It entails a denial of local time — or a separation of time from space — a very significant fact if you consider what it means to the experience of social and economic lives

India’s time zone:

  1. In the case of India, the time difference between the westernmost part of India and the easternmost point is approximately two hours
  2. The effect of this is that the sun rises and sets much earlier than it does in the rest of the country
  3. The journalist, writer and academic Sanjoy Hazarika describes the Northeast as being stuck in “trapped in a time zone that makes neither common sense nor social and economic sense”

There is a strong case:

  1. In the Northeast, the sun rises as early as four in the morning and in winter it sets by four in the evening
  2. By the time government offices or educational institutions open, many daylight hours are already lost
  3. In winter this problem gets even more accentuated and the ecological costs are a disaster with much more electricity having to be consumed
  4. D.P. Sengupta, and Dilip Ahuja of the National Institute of Advanced Studies claim that advancing IST by half an hour would result in saving 2.7 billion units of electricity every year

Why aren’t we making two different time zones?

  1. None of the other proposals such as the introduction of daylight saving time in India has met with any approval and it is felt that having two time zones would be unsuitable
  2. There is of course a strong political dimension to granting a separate time zone in the Northeast given the region’s long history of self-determination movements
  3. The unstated assumption is that the grant of a different time zone is only the first temporal step towards conceding spatial autonomy
  4. If socioeconomic development is indeed one of the formulae to combat insurgency, might it not be worthwhile to consider the disastrous impact that IST has on productivity and efficiency in the region?

ChaiBagaan time:

  1. A few years ago, then Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, frustrated with the decision of the Centre not to have a separate Northeast time, unilaterally decided that Assam would follow ChaiBagaan time
  2. Bagaan time or tea time is a reference to an informal practice followed in tea gardens in Assam which is an hour ahead of IST
  3. It alerts us to the fact that there is indeed a long history of the application of different time zones in India
  4. We find evidence of this in the Constituent Assembly debates

Historical evidence:

  1. On December 28, 1948, responding to an amendment proposed by Naziruddin Ahmad, Dr. Ambedkar asked him what system of timing he had in mind: “Is it the Greenwich time, the Standard time, Bombay time or Calcutta time?
  2. Ambedkar’s reference to “Bombay time” and “Calcutta time” reminds us of an interesting aberration in the history of IST
  3. It was instituted in 1905 but after it had been adopted, Bombay traders found it difficult to convert to IST
  4. Because the conversion to IST was sought to be effected at a time when there was considerable public resentment over the Tilak sedition trial, the government found little support for this shift among the people in Bombay
  5. Bombay Time was maintained right up to 1955 with Bombay following its own time zone which was 38 minutes ahead of the rest of the country

Our use of time:

  1. In the U.S., battles over daylight-saving time regularly went to court and it was not until 1966 with the passing of the Uniform Time Act that they had a uniform national period of daylight-saving time
  2. Responding to the various objections raised about a separate time zone, journalist, writer and academic Sanjoy Hazarika raises critical questions and asks us to consider why it is that the development index leans considerably in favour of western India as opposed to the east, and what impact differential time may have on it

Note4Students:

A very significant issue of Daylight Saving Time is mentioned here. Refer to this op-ed for Prelims as well as for Mains. Read b2b to know about Daylight Saving Time.

Back2Basics:

History of Daylight Saving Time — DST

  1. Daylight Saving Time (DST) is used to save energy and make better use of daylight. It was first used in 1908 in Thunder Bay, Canada
  2. DST normally adds 1 hour to standard time with the purpose of making better use of daylight and conserving energy. This means that the sunrise and sunset are one hour later
  3. Germany became the first country to introduce DST when clocks were turned ahead 1 hour on April 30, 1916
  4. The rationale was to minimize the use of artificial lighting in order to save fuel for the war effort during World War I
  5. The idea was quickly followed by the United Kingdom and many other countries, including France
  6. Many countries reverted back to standard time after World War I, and it wasn’t until the next World War that DST made its return in most of Europe
Electoral Reforms In India Indian Polity

[op-ed snap] Cloak of invisibility

Context:

  1. Well before financial year 2017-18 begins, the Lok Sabha has signed off on the Budget with the passage of the Finance Bill of 2017
  2. It includes multiple amendments proposed by the government that did not figure in Arun Jaitley’s speech of February 1, either in letter or in spirit

Amendments made:

  1. While the speech devoted 420 words to proposed measures to improve transparency in electoral funding, amendments have been made to the Companies Act of 2013 that actually turn the clock back on existing disclosure standards
  2. Till now, companies could only contribute up to 5% of their average net profits in the past three financial years to political parties
  3. They were required to disclose in their profit and loss accounts the amount of contributions and the names of political parties to which they were made
  4. The ceiling has now been dropped, paving the way for a firm to deploy unlimited capital into political coffers irrespective of its own financial and operational health
  5. Companies would still have to reveal the extent of their financing of parties, but no longer have to name their preferred parties
  6. Doing away with the limit makes firms susceptible to funding ‘requests’ from local, regional or national political formations while taking away excuses — such as it being a loss-making unit, or breaching the funding cap

New opportunities:

  1. This would open up new opportunities in crony capitalism
  2. Pressure could be exerted on a company awaiting government clearances, or a loan restructuring from public or cooperative sector financiers
  3. Even a publicly listed company can set up subsidiaries just to fund parties
  4. This removes any pretence of transparency in the process as the donor will not have to disclose who he paid; the recipient has no such obligation either

How has this happened?

  1. The abandonment of the 7.5% requisite comes in tandem with the proposal to float electoral bonds to give anonymity to political donors
  2. The scheme for such ‘bearer’ bonds is still being worked out with the central bank, but how this will meet the objective of transparency isn’t clear yet
  3. The push for cashless modes for political contributions sounds worthy, but reducing the ₹20,000 limit on cash donations to ₹2,000 does nothing to guarantee that monetary muscle power will dissipate from electoral processes
  4. Instead of a lakh of such donors, a party can now share 10 lakh random names to justify cash holdings
  5. Transparency is not synonymous with anonymous transactions, unlimited corporate donations, relaxed disclosure norms and the persistence of cash
  6. The Budget’s promise of reform to bring about greater transparency and accountability in political funding, while preventing future generation of black money, truly rings hollow

Note4Students:

The op-ed is a critical analysis of how the government plans to bring about accountability and transparency in electoral funding. It is important for Mains.

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