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[Sansad TV] Perspective: WTO Reforms

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The 12th Ministerial Conference of WTO is scheduled to take place in Geneva.

Context

  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the principal forum for setting the rules of international trade.
  • For the past two and a half decades, it has helped reduce barriers to trade in both goods and services and created a dispute resolution system that supporters say reduced the threat of trade wars.
  • However with negotiations on a comprehensive development agenda due to disagreements, the WTO is under considerable pressure to achieve meaningful results.

About World Trade Organization

  • The WTO is an intergovernmental organization that is concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations.
  • The WTO officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 123 nations on 15 April 1994.
  • It replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948.
  • It is the largest international economic organization in the world.

Functions of WTO

  • The WTO deals with regulation of trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries.
  • It provides a framework for negotiating trade agreements and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants’ adherence to WTO agreements, which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments.

Working Principles of the WTO

The WTO establishes a framework for trade policies; it does not define or specify outcomes. That is, it is concerned with setting the rules of “trade policy.” Five principles are of particular importance in understanding both the pre-1994 GATT and the WTO:

  1. Non-discrimination: It has two major components: the most favored nation (MFN) rule and the national treatment policy. The MFN rule requires that a WTO member must apply the same conditions on all trade with other WTO members. National treatment means that imported goods should be treated no less favorably than domestically produced goods.
  2. Reciprocity: It reflects both a desire to limit the scope of free-riding that may arise because of the MFN rule and a desire to obtain better access to foreign markets.  
  3. Binding and enforceable commitments: The tariff commitments made by WTO members in multilateral trade negotiation and on accession are enumerated in a schedule (list) of concessions. These schedules establish “ceiling bindings”: a country can change its bindings, but only after negotiating with its trading partners.
  4. Transparency: The WTO members are required to publish their trade regulations, to maintain institutions allowing for the review of administrative decisions affecting trade, to respond to requests for information by other members, and to notify changes in trade policies to the WTO.
  5. Safety values: In specific circumstances, governments are able to restrict trade. The WTO’s agreements permit members to take measures to protect not only the environment but also public health, animal health and plant health

India and WTO

Ever since the inception of this organization, India has been an active participant in its affairs and policies and played a crucial role in raising the concerns and demands of developing countries.

  • Reforms Agent: India always worked towards a multilateral trading system that offers a fair, open, transparent and balanced level playing field in the interests of the developing and least developing countries.
  • Leadership: India’s role right from the inception of the institution has always been that of a leader of the South, trying to ensure that fair play is brought into a rule-based system of global trade. It has retained this role till now, given that many smaller developing countries rely on it.

Issues with WTO

(1) Persistent North-South divisions

  • WTO talks are mainly seen as a showdown between the North and the South.
  • This is particularly so with the growth in strength of the developing countries and their regional and continental groupings.

(2) Farm Subsidies

  • The tussle between developed and developing economies over farm subsidies also continues, with rich countries reserving the right to spend billions of dollars on supporting their farmers.
  • The livelihood issues raised by India, on the other hand, are considered only grudgingly, while the “peace” clause, allowing a 10 per cent subsidy on public stockholding of foodgrains, was extracted after many negotiations.

 (3) Developed vs. Developing Countries

  • Since the WTO allows countries to unilaterally classify themselves as “developing”, many countries have been happy to make use of this freedom. 
  • So, as many as two-thirds of the 164 members of the WTO have classified themselves as developing countries.

(4) Decision-making process

  • In WTO decision making is through consensus. This has translated into making the WTO decision making long and subject to external manipulation.
  • Most of the time political and ideological differences come in a way of reaching a consensus.

(5) Implementation problem

  • This relates basically to the difficulties that mainly developing countries face in meeting their obligations under the WTO agreements.
  • The two main areas that have affected implementation by developing countries have been the TRIPS and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures agreements.

(6) Not all countries joined

  • With an increasingly global trading system, member countries do not operate in isolation and trade with WTO member countries only.
  • Not all world countries have joined it makes it a less effective organization.  Countries such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Uzbekistan has not joined WTO yet.

(7) Strong influence of Corporate

  • The WTO essentially protects multinational corporations based in the North.
  • It is often accused to be acted as a tool of rich and powerful countries – notably the US, the EU, Japan and Canada.

(8) Protectionism Vs Free Trade

  • There is a trade war between US and China despite both being a member of WTO.
  • This negates the core non-discriminatory principle of WTO

(9) Dispute settlement mechanism

  • While WTO’s dispute settling mechanism allows aggrieved parties to file cases against member-states, some of the cases and issues have remained unresolved for a long time
  • The U.S. has systematically blocked the appointment of new Appellate Body members (“judges”) and de facto impeded the work of the WTO appeal mechanism.
  • Further, the dispute resolution mechanism of the WTO, which can pass judgments on disputes, lacks the powers to enforce them as the enforcement of decisions is left to individual member states.

Criticisms of WTO

Although tariffs and other trade barriers have been significantly reduced thanks to GATT and WTO, the promise that free trade will accelerate economic growth, reduce poverty, and increase people’s incomes has been questioned by many critics.

Pro-rich: New countries actively reduce trade barriers only after becoming significantly rich.

Failure in poverty alleviation: Trade liberalization does not guarantee economic growth and certainly not poverty alleviation.

No mutual benefits: Critics also put forward the view that the benefits derived from WTO facilitated free trade are not shared equally.

Rich-poor countries rift: The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, especially in China and India, where economic inequality is growing even though economic growth is very high.

Competition: Trade liberalization that is too early without any prominent domestic barriers is feared to trap the developing economies in the primary sector, which often does not require skilled labor.

Way forward

  • There is need for the structural reform in the WTO functioning as multilateral trading system
  • Need of free trade is required more by developing countries like India than developed countries. So developing countries must work collaboratively to strengthen WTO.
  • Despite WTO being a democratic organization, there is a need to make it more effective in protecting the interests of small nations against stronger countries.
  • WTO needs to strengthen the dispute settlement mechanism as there are issues in appointment of judges in new appellate body
  • Lastly, WTO needs to enhance discussion mechanism by introducing wider consultations.
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[Sansad TV] Perspective: Road to Safety

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Context

  • The third Sunday of November every year is observed as the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
  • Globally, over 3500 people die every day on the roads, which amounts to nearly 1.3 million preventable deaths and an estimated 50 million injuries each year – making it the leading killer of people worldwide.

Road Accidents in India

  • India recorded 3,74,397 accidental deaths in 2020 with road crashes constituting over 35 per cent of such fatalities, according to government data.
  • The number of accidental deaths in 2020 was, however, lower than 2019 when the figure stood at 4,21,104, the annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) showed.
  • The rate of ‘accidental deaths’ per lakh population stood at 27.7 in 2020, down from 31.4 the previous year.

Road traffic accident casualties bring about a great deal of human suffering in terms of social, medical, and economic costs, and it is crucial we mitigate them.

A global panacea

  • Recognizing the enormity of the problem and the need to act, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in September 2020, proclaiming the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
  • It set a ambitious target of preventing at least 50% of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030.
  • This year marks the beginning of the Second Decade for Action for Road Safety.
  • The Global Plan on Improving Road Safety was launched by the United Nations last month, calling on countries to deliver on the resolution’s target by make roads safer.

Causes of Road Accidents in India

There are multiple reasons for road accidents:

  • Sub-standard roads: The life of roads is not good due to the substandard raw materials and potholes accidents caused.
  • Traffic: The increasing traffic on roads and conditions of roads are not proportionate to each other.
  • Use of mobile phone: Most of the people are on call while driving thus they drive recklessly and accidents happen as most of the Indians now have mobile phones.
  • Drunk Driving: Drinking makes people lose the ability to focus and function properly. This makes it dangerous for the driver to operate the vehicle.
  • Dis-obedience for traffic rules: Indian drivers are quick to learn to drive but they don’t learn traffic rules and the purpose of such rules.
  • Malpractices: Malpractices such as over-speeding, triple riding, underage driving, etc are reducing the safety of road users.
  • Implementation drawbacks: Police are supposed to execute the rules but, it may be a lack of workforce or lack of intention, they also fail to execute.
  • Corrupt practices: Mostly police use the rules to mint money either officially by Chalan or in person.

Issue of non-Conviction

  • According to the report by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway, in 79% of all accidents, the driver was found to be at fault.
  • Though this did not mean the person behind the wheel was punished for the crime.
  • Conviction rates for urban road accidents typically hover between 5% and 10%.
  • In hit-and-run cases, lack of eyewitnesses and surveillance typically leads to a “blind” close of the case if the victim does not note the licence plate number of the vehicle.

Various Policy Initiatives

[A] Motor Vehicles Amendment Act 2019

Some of the important areas of the amendment are as follows

(1) Road Safety

  • In the area of road safety, the Act proposes to increase penalties to act as deterrent against traffic violations.
  • Stricter provisions are being proposed in respect of offences like juvenile driving, drunken driving, driving without licence, dangerous driving, over-speeding, overloading etc.
  • Stricter provisions for helmets have been introduced along with provisions for electronic detection of violations.

(2) Vehicle Fitness

  • Automated fitness testing for vehicles has been made mandatory.
  • This would reduce corruption in the transport department while improving the road worthiness of the vehicle.
  • Penalty has been provided for deliberate violation of safety/environmental regulations as well as for body builders and spare part suppliers.

(3) Recall of Vehicles

  • The Act allows the central government to order for recall of motor vehicles if a defect in the vehicle may cause damage to the environment, or the driver, or other road users.
  • The manufacturer of the recalled vehicle will be required to:
  1. reimburse the buyers for the full cost of the vehicle, or
  2. replace the defective vehicle with another vehicle with similar or better specifications.

(4) Road Safety Board

  • A National Road Safety Board, to be created by the central government through a notification to advise the central and state governments on all aspects of road safety and traffic management.
  • This would include standards of motor vehicles, registration and licensing of vehicles, standards for road safety, and promotion of new vehicle technology.

(5) Protection of Good Samaritan

  • The Act lays down the guidelines and provides rules to prevent harassment of Good Samaritan  to encourage people to help road accident victims.

(6) Cashless Treatment during Golden Hour

  • The Act provides for a scheme for cashless treatment of road accident victims during golden hour

[B] Old Vehicle Scrappage Policy

  • The non-maintenance of old non-compliant vehicles has been a leading cause of road accident.
  • With the scrappage policy, there will be some relief from the high risk of road accidents due to old vehicles and old technology.

[C] The 4 ‘E’ Approach

  • The Government of India put forth Engineering, Economy, Enforcement and Education as the fundamental areas to focus on in order to ensure road safety.
  • The black spot in every state, district and city shall be identified and removed.
  • The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have funded to assist the National Highways Authority to remove the black spots and improve the road conditions.

[D] Sadak Suraksha – Jeevan Raksha Initiative

  • The MoRTH has started a campaign to establish road safety involving the participation of citizens by promoting several activities like the Road Safety Hackathon, Article writing competition on Road Safety, movie-making on road safety.
  • This will bring mass awareness about road safety and educate the citizens.

[E] iRAD Mobile and Web Application

  • This is an Integrated Road Accident Database Project initiated by the MoRTH, GOI and funded by World Bank.
  • The database would enable the analysis of road accidents and provide the output through data analytics techniques.
  • This aims to assure a safe road for all.

Way forward

Road safety education from the primary level: Those already using our roads and driving or riding on it could have formed bad habits that are difficult to change or undo. So it’s important that we catch them young and start educating children on road safety and correct behavior on the road.

Better first aid and paramedic care: In most cases, the public and police are the first ones to reach the site of an accident. But sadly, neither has any first aid training and the police don’t even have even simple things like a first aid box or stretcher. This initial trauma care has to improve.  

Stricter criteria for driving licenses: Fortunately, the government has recognized the need for this, and getting a driving license is no longer as easy as before. Lots of the process has been digitalized and made more stringent. But it’s still far from perfect and lots more needs to be done

Better road design, maintenance, and signage: Many of our roads are poorly designed with badly placed junctions, acute corners, uneven gradients, sudden speed-breakers, etc. And this is made worse by poor road maintenance and many accidents occur because a driver suddenly swerves to avoid a pothole.

Heavy crackdown against non-compliance: This is one of the leading causes of road accidents in India and while we do have strict laws, the enforcement, particularly on our highways is quite lax. Consumption of drugs by truck drivers while driving is rampant, and this needs to stop completely.

Stricter enforcement of traffic rules: The Amended Motor Vehicles Act has higher penalties and punishment to deter people from committing traffic offenses and driving rashly. It’s high time we enforced our traffic rules and imposed discipline while driving and using the road.

Encouraging better road behavior: The people should motivate themselves to behave in a better manner on the road. The campaigns such as “Be the Better Guy”, need to be applauded, encouraged and expanded.

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[Yojana Archive] Drone Policy

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October 2021

Drones in India

  • Drones, officially known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), have been in widespread use in the Indian military since the 1990s.
  • While the first drones were imported into India from Israel for use in active combat, DRDO has since then developed numerous indigenous drones.
  • They have been successfully deployed by the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces.
  • The evolving nature of warfare has prioritised training in and preparation for stealth missions.
  • Drones are a key element of this transformation and are indispensable in reconnaissance, precision targeting, and intelligence gathering, among others.

Indian Drone Market

  • India is currently the third-largest importer of military-grade drones with 6.8 per cent of total Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) imports according to a report by SIPRI.
  • Reports suggest that India is already the fastest-growing drone market in the world.
  • A January 2020 report by PwC also suggested that the market size of drones in India would be USD 885 million.
  • To leverage this opportunity effectively, therefore, the liberalised policy has been welcomed by industry players and drone enthusiasts alike.
  • It also comes at an opportune time as global businesses expand to include drones in business-efficiency enhancement, speed delivery, and expand operations.

PLI Scheme for Drone Industry

  • Government has approved Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme for Drone Industry with incentives worth ₹ 26,058 crore will be provided to industry over five years.
  • This will incentivize emergence of Advanced Automotive Technologies global supply chain in India and help create additional employment of over 7.6 lakh people.
  • It will bring fresh investments of over₹5,000 crore in three years and incremental production of over ₹ 1,500 crore.

Drone Rules, 2021

These rules are built on the premise of trust, self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring. The policy is designed to usher in an era of super-normal growth while balancing safety and security considerations.

Some of the key features are as under:

Number of forms: The rules propose to reduce the number of forms required for manufacturing, importing, testing, certifying and operating drones in India from 25 to six.

Abolishing authorization number: The draft seeks to abolish the unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, and certificate of conformance that were previously required for approval of drone flights.

Digital Sky Platform: Digital Sky, a platform launched by the government in December 2018, will become a single-window system for all approvals under the newly proposed rules.

Airspace map: An airspace map segregating the entire landmass of India into Green, Yellow and Red zones will be published on the platform within 30 days of notification of the new rules, the government said. The map will also be machine-readable through an Application Programming Interface (API) for easier plotting of drone flight paths.

Airport Perimeter: The draft rules reduced the airport perimeter from 45 km to 12 km. The rules state that no flight permissions would be required to fly up to 400 feet in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12 km from the airport perimeter.

Drone corridors: The government will also publish a policy framework for Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) within 60 days of notifying the rules. This will also include frameworks for developing “drone corridors” for the safe transfer of goods by drones.

Drone Promotion Council: The Rules also propose the setting up of a Drone Promotion Council, with the aim of facilitating a business-friendly regulatory regime for drones in India, the establishment of incubators for developing drone technologies and organizing competitive events to showcase drones and counter-drone solutions.

Others: To implement safety features such as “no permission, no take-off”, real-time tracking and geofencing, drone manufacturers, importers and operators will get six months’ time to comply from the date of notification of the rules.

Security imperative and Drones

  • The integration of unmanned aircraft systems into national air-force is critical and challenging both.
  • We have incidences were arms, narcotic drugs have been dropped by drones. So, security challenges are increasing.
  • DRDO has come up with an Anti-drone system. This makes India capable of where drones can be jammed.
  • Other is one can shoot the drone through lasers. But this has potential threats to humans.
  • Drones are called eyes in the sky as they are used by law enforcement agencies, fire emergency services, health care facilities.

Conclusion

  • The drone industry (manufacturing and operation) is still grappling with evolutionary challenges in India.
  • The ministry of civil aviation’s decision to liberalize the drone policy even after the recent drone incidents in Jammu showcases the government’s bold approach.
  • They are necessary to promote the use of the drone and the government must focus on the development of counter-drone technology to address the threat posed by rogue drones.
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[Sansad TV] Perspective: The ‘Organic’ Growth

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Organic Farming is poised to become 75000 cr rupee market by 2025. The Indian Organic market is expected to grow at an annual rate of more than 20%.  However, India’s share in the global organic market is just 1%. India has potential but there are challenges.

The road to transforming the agricultural practices in India to absolutely an organic one, is accompanied by challenges that require expert intervention and a proper discussion.

We shall study them in brief.

Context

  • The relevance and need for an eco-friendly alternative farming system arose from the ill effects of the chemical farming practices adopted worldwide during the second half of the last century.
  • In the present times, the practice of organic farming has gathered immense prominence in India as the government introduced several welfare measures and subsidies to promote such practices.
  • Organic farming is one of the several approaches found to meet the objectives of sustainable agriculture.
  • It opens up a sustainable doorway to prevent various health hazards originating from the agro-based products that we consume.

What is Organic Farming?

  • Organic farming is an agricultural system that uses fertilizers of organic origin such as compost manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting.
  • It is a system of management and agricultural production that combines a high level of biodiversity with environmental practices that preserve natural resources.
  • It may also have rigorous standards for animal welfare.

Organic Farming in India

  • Organic farming is in a nascent stage in India. About 2.78 million hectare of farmland was under organic cultivation as of March 2020, according to the Union Agriculture Ministry.
  • This is two per cent of the 140.1 million ha net sown area in the country.
  • The top three states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra — account for about half the area under organic cultivation.
  • Madhya Pradesh tops the list with 0.76 million ha of area under organic cultivation — that is over 27 per cent of India’s total organic cultivation area.
  • Sikkim is the only state to be considered fully organic.

Important Government Initiatives

India introduced the organic farming policy in 2005.

The 2.78 million ha was covered under organic farming in India is about two per cent of the 140.1 million ha net sown area in the country. Of this,

  1. 1.94 million ha is under National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP)
  2. 0.59 million ha under Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY)
  3. 0.07 million ha under Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Regions (MOVCDNER)
  4. 0.17 million ha under state schemes or non-schemes

This shows that NPOP scheme covers about 70 per cent of the organic area of the country, of which 30 per cent is under conversion.

Need for Organic Farming in India

The present system of agriculture which we call ‘conventional’ promoted an overriding quest for accumulation of wealth ignoring many objects of sustainability.

  • Reducing ecological damage: The need for organic farming in India arises from the unsustainability of agriculture production and the damage caused to ecology through the conventional farming practices.
  • Averting heavy mechanization:  The high cost of the machines necessitated high profits, which in turn put pressure to raise productivity. Then, only those crops with high productivity were cultivated which needed increased quantities of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Increasing menace of pests: Increasing use of pesticides resulted in the damage to environment and increased resistance of insects to them. Pesticides harmed useful organisms in the soil.
  • Productivity issues: The monoculture of high yielding seeds required external inputs of chemical fertilizers. The fertilizers also destroy soil organisms leading to reduction of crop yields in the long run.
  • Food safety: The consumers are increasingly concerned about the quality of the products they consume and food safety has become a crucial requirement. Safety, quality and hygienic standards are increasingly becoming popular.
  • Employability of agriculture: The agriculture and allied sectors in India provides employment to 65 per cent of the workers and accounts for 30 per cent of the national income.  
  • Combatting desertification: Organically cultivated soils are relatively better attuned to withstand water stress and nutrient loss. Their potential to counter soil degradation is high and it may help to combat desertification.
  • Maintenance of genetic diversity: The genetic base of crops is very important and a reduction of genetic diversity leads to the emergence of pests on a large scale.

Benefits of Organic Farming

  • Establishing harmony with nature: Organic agricultural practices are based on a maximum harmonious relationship with nature aiming at the non-destruction of the environment.
  • Improvement in Soil Quality: Soil quality is the foundation on which organic farming is based. Efforts are directed to build and maintain the soil fertility through the organic farming practices.
  • Increased Crop Productivity and Income: The cost of cultivation is lower in the organic farming due to the non-use of fertilizers and chemical insecticides. The yields and net income are low, but it increased progressively with years.
  • Low incidence of Pests:  Bio-control methods have been successful in pest control. Indigenous technological products such as Panchagavya (five products of cow origin) which was experimented.
  • Employment Opportunities: Organic farming requires more labour input than the conventional farming system.
  • Indirect benefits:
  • Consumers get healthy foods with better palatability and taste and nutritive values
  • Farmers are indirectly benefited from healthy soils and farm production environment

Various challenges

(A) Raising agricultural productivity per unit of land:

  • This is the main engine of agricultural growth as virtually all cultivable land is farmed.
  • Water resources are also limited and water for irrigation must contend with increasing industrial and urban needs.
  • All measures to increase productivity will need exploiting, amongst them: increasing yields, diversification to higher value crops, and developing value chains to reduce marketing costs.

(B) Reducing rural poverty through a socially inclusive strategy that comprises both agriculture as well as non-farm employment:

  • Rural development must also benefit the poor, landless, women, scheduled castes and tribes.
  • Moreover, there are strong regional disparities: the majority of India’s poor are in rain-fed areas or in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic plains. Reaching such groups has not been easy.
  • Poverty alleviation is a central pillar of the rural development efforts of the Government and the World Bank.

(C) Ensuring that agricultural growth responds to food security needs:

  • The slow-down in agricultural growth has become a major cause for concern.
  • Policy makers need to initiate and conclude policy actions and public programs to shift the sector away from the existing policy.

Way forward

(1) Promoting new technologies and reforming agricultural research and extension:

  • Major reform and strengthening of India’s agricultural research and extension systems is one of the most important needs for agricultural growth.

(2) Improving Water Resources and Irrigation/Drainage Management:

  • Agriculture is India’s largest user of water. There is a need to manage as opposed to exploit the use of groundwater.

(3) Facilitating agricultural diversification to higher-value commodities:

  • Encouraging farmers to diversify to higher value commodities will be a significant factor for higher agricultural growth, particularly in rain-fed areas where poverty is high.

(4) Promoting high growth commodities:

  • Some agricultural sub-sectors have particularly high potential for expansion, notably dairy. The livestock sector, primarily due to dairy, contributes over a quarter of agricultural GDP and is a source of income for 70% of India’s rural families.

(5) Developing markets, agricultural credit and public expenditures:

  • India’s legacy of extensive government involvement in agricultural marketing has created restrictions in internal and external trade, resulting in cumbersome and high-cost marketing and transport options for agricultural commodities.
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[Sansad TV] Perspective: North East Infra in Focus

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Context

  • Several initiatives have been undertaken by the Centre Government to develop North Eastern Region holistically for improving basic infrastructure and providing connectivity in the region.
  • In this article, we shall discuss and analyse all these challenges and initiatives taken for Infrastructure Development in the NE region of our country.

North-East India: A Backgrounder

  • The Northeast region of India comprises eight states- Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim.
  • According to 2011 census this 3.78% of country’s population resides in this region.
  • It also comprises approx. 7.98% of country’s area including 5,483 Km of India’s international borders.
  • These eight states also constitute 3.37% of country’s total agriculture land holding and 34.5% of the total bamboo bearing area in the country.

Various associated issues

[A] Security

(i) Leftist insurgency

  • The Maoist rebellion in Northeast India is at present in its ‘latent phase’. It basically involves arms dumps and identification of local militant elements.
  • However, these days, militancy and extortion has become an organised activity in the region and is one of the major sources of funds for the militants.

(ii) Drug smuggling

  • Golden Triangle comprises of the regions of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar it has been one of the largest opium-producing areas of the world since the 1950s.
  • Drugs produced there enters into India through Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland from Bhamo, Lashio, and Mandalay in Myanmar.
  • Moreh (Manipur), Champai (Mizoram), Dimapur (Nagaland), and Guwahati (Assam) have become the nucleus of drug trafficking industry in India’s northeast.

[B] Developmental issue: Connectivity with mainland

  • The NER is connected to mainland India only through a narrow stretch of land (about 22 km wide) in West Bengal called the ‘Siliguri Corridor’, sometimes known as the “Chicken’s Neck”.
  • Except for this narrow Siliguri Corridor, the entire northeastern part of the country is bound by international borders.

[C] Sovereignty threats

  • Neighbouring countries like China and Myanmar are accused of promoting insurgency in the region.
  • China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh and its water diversion plans on the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet are creating a public perception in the northeast that China is a threat to India.
  • This has created positive influences on the minds of the insurgents .

[D] Sub-national aspirations

  • The region is populated by a number of different communities, with diverse cultures, languages and customs.
  • It is also marked by difficult terrain, backward areas, and limited connectivity. This area was known for the active presence of a number of militant groups.

Key issues:

1. Demands for autonomy: This demand arose in Tripura and Manipur which compromised the state of Assam. This majorly arose when the non-Assamese political leaders felt that the Assamese was forcibly imposed upon them.

2. Secessionist Movement: The Mizo hills area in Mizoram never felt that they were under the British therefore after independence they did not consider themselves as part of India. Several campaigns started to be independent states.

3. Movements against outsiders: This issue has taken place in several states of the Northeast. The Assam movement was such a movement against outsiders because they suspected that there were huge numbers of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Root causes of turmoil in NE

  • Colonial past: The connection between the NER and the rest of India is relatively recent, dating back to 1826 with the signing the Treaty of Yandaboo.
  • No historical ties: It was when Burma ceded Assam, Manipur, Jaintia hills, Tripura and Cachar to the British at the end of the First Anglo-Burmese War.
  • Heavy militarization and AFSPA: Even under the British, the region was mostly seen as providing a ‘buffer zone’ from Burma and China. This perspective continued after independence leading to heavy militarization.
  • Abrupt integration: The integration of NER into the rest of the country was ‘abrupt’, with no prior history. The states were integrated and demarcated into ad hoc units for administrative convenience.
  • Political disconnect: The participation of the northeastern state governments in any development activity is nearly non-existent. Politics for them has merely left to Tribal Affairs.
  • Local aspirations: The region’s own politics or the political aspirations of fragmented tribes were marginalised within the larger political discourse.
  • Others: Inflation is another fuel to the turmoil. Distribution is mostly road-based and disruptions in movement, particularly during the six-month-long rainy season, causes sporadic fuel scarcity in the hill States.

Opportunities in the NER

[A] Tourism

  • NE Region of India has immense resource potential to develop tourism.
  • Assam is the leading state in terms of overall inflow of tourists’ in the region while Sikkim proves to be preferred destination of foreign tourists.
  • The region offers enchanting visits for tourists interested in wild life, religious, cultural and ethnic tourism, river cruises, golf and a host of others.

[B] Emerging market

  • The North East is a fast-growing market with untapped opportunities for investment, trade and tourism.
  • It has the potential to become a nodal point of India’s growth story.
  • It is abundantly endowed with natural resources, mineral and forest wealth, diverse flora and fauna and fertile land for cultivation of exotic fruits and vegetables.

[C] Agricultural Potential

  • Traditionally, the North East is known for tea, but it could also offer plantation and export opportunities for a wide range of crops including oil palm.
  • Similarly, the region has about 50 species of bamboo, 14 varieties of bananas and 17 varieties of citrus fruits.
  • North-Eastern states also have a huge production of fruits such as pineapples and oranges.

[D] Rich mineral resources

  • The Northeast region of India has an abundant mineral comprising chiefly of lime- stone, coal, natural oil and gas, uranium, feldspar, and others.
  • The total hydrocarbon deposits (oil and gas) accounts for 20% of the total India.

[E] Gateway to the East

  • The NE region is a vantage entry point to south-eastern Asian markets.
  • Given its location, the Northeast assumes the role of bridging the space between mainland India and other Southeast Asian nations.
  • Taking this idea forward, the government decided to focus more on improving its relation with ASEAN and the East Asian countries.
  • It was also aimed at eliminating the insurgency problem in the NE once and for all by way of opening up the region to Southeast Asia.

Connectivity in the region

(A) Road

  • Under Bharatmala Pariyojana (BMP) roads stretches aggregating to about 5301 km in NER have been approved for improvement.
  • Out of this, 3246 km road length has been approved for development of Economic Corridors in the North East.
  • Under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, road length of 20,708 km has been already constructed.
  • Other major development include construction of bridges of over the Brahmaputra to narrow down distances.

(B) Railway

  • There are plans to provide a railway link for the NE states through 20 major railway projects, encompassing 13 new lines with a length of nearly 2,624 kms.
  • The Murkongselek (Assam) and Pasighat rail project is already under implementation.
  • The most important of them is 378-km Bhalukpong (West Kameng, Arunachal)-Tenga (Arunachal)-Tawang (Arunachal) rail connectivity that will reach a height of 10,000 ft to the Tibet border.

(C) Air connectivity

  • The Pakyong Airport in Sikkim is the first greenfield airport in Northeast India. It is situated around 30 kilometers from Gangtok.
  • The launch of the UDAN regional air connectivity scheme (2016) saw a number of new air links in the region.
  • The most important of them is Pasighat (2018), the first-ever commercial air link to Arunachal.

(D) Digital connectivity

  • Telecom Commission has approved a comprehensive strategy to implement BharatNet in North East Region (NER).
  • Under this strategy, 4240 Gram Panchayats (GPs) in the North-East are to be connected by broadband and by satellite connectivity.

Way forward

(i) Infrastructure and connectivity

  • These are two basic requirements essential for economic development of a region.
  • The need for infrastructure becomes more acute for hilly and mountainous areas that are on one hand difficult to traverse and on the other hand tend to be sparsely populated.
  • Thus, there is a need for heavy investments in infrastructure development.

(ii) Timely completion of projects

  • Most North Eastern States are resource-starved and it is vital that funds are properly accounted for.  
  • In addition, projects that are retained and put on priority lists raise the expectations of the people.
  • This further contributes towards deficits in confidence of the people upon the Central Government.

(iii) Single nodal agency

  • Another challenge is that there are multiple bodies and agencies like the NEC, DoNER and the recently created North East Forum.
  • There is a need for clarity on the roles between these bodies and budgets need to be allocated to the States.
  • Flexibility should be allowed for the State governments for utilization of these allocations.

(iv) Tourism

  • Tourism is one of the alternatives that can play a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of the NER.
  • The challenge lies in making the region accessible to the tourists from mainland India and other countries.
  • Sense of integration can be imbibed through various projects such as Dekho Apna Desh etc. among the NE youth.

Conclusion

  • It is evident fact that, for a long time, the North East was a neglected and forgotten part of the country.
  • The region has great potential to develop not just as a self, sustaining economic unit of India but also contribute to the success story of the country.
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[Sansad TV] Perspective: Urban Deluge (Floods)

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Context: Floods storms Chennai

  • Several parts in Chennai and its suburban areas reported waterlogging after heavy rains lashed the city.
  • The showers have now been marked as the heaviest downpour since 2015.
  • In fact, there has been an increasing trend of urban flood disasters in India over the past several years whereby major cities in India have been severely affected.

The increasing trend of urban flooding is a universal phenomenon and poses a great challenge to urban planners the world over.

What are Urban Floods?

  • Urban floods stem from a combination of various meteorological and hydrological extremes, such as extreme precipitation and flows in short spans of time.
  • Thus, flooding in urban areas is caused by intense and/or prolonged rainfall, which overwhelms the capacity of the drainage system.
  • It increases the flood peaks from 1.8 to 8 times and flood volumes by up to 6 times. Consequently, flooding occurs very quickly due to faster flow times.

Features of Urban Floods

  • Faster Flow times: Consequently, flooding occurs very quickly due to faster flow times, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
  • Catchment destruction: Urban flooding is significantly different from rural flooding as urbanization leads to developed catchments which are the most vulnerable areas.

Various causes

[A] Natural

  • Meteorological Factors: Heavy rainfall, cyclonic storms and thunderstorms causes water to flow quickly through paved urban areas and impound in low lying areas.
  • Hydrological Factors: Overbank flow channel networks, occurrence of high tides impeding the drainage in coastal cities.
  • Climate Change: Climate change due to various anthropogenic events has led to extreme weather events.

[B] Anthropological

  • Population densities: Population density and proximity to urban centres significantly alter the dynamics and complexity when it comes to urban flooding.
  • Unplanned Urbanization: This is the key cause of urban flooding. A major concern is blocking of natural drainage pathways through construction activity and encroachment on catchment areas, riverbeds and lakebeds.
  • Encroachment: Ideally, the natural drains should have been widened to accommodate the higher flows of stormwater. But on the contrary, there have been large scale encroachments. Habitations started growing over them.
  • Drainage System: Stormwater drainage systems in the past were designed for rainfall intensity of 12 – 20 mm. These capacities have been getting very easily overwhelmed whenever rainfall of higher intensity has been experienced.
  • Destruction of lakes: Lakes can store the excess water and regulate the flow of water. However, pollution of natural urban water bodies and converting them for development purposes has increased risk of floods.
  • Unauthorised colonies and excess construction: Reduced infiltration due paving of surfaces which decreases ground absorption and increases the speed and amount of surface flow.
  • Poor Solid Waste Management System: Improper waste management system and clogging of storm-water drains because of silting, accumulation of non-biodegradable wastes and construction debris.
  • Irresponsible steps: Lack of attention to natural hydrological system and lack of flood control measures.

Impact of Urban floods

Problems associated with urban floods range from relatively localized incidents to major incidents, resulting in cities being inundated from hours to several days.

  • Loss of life: Urban areas are densely populated and people living in vulnerable areas suffer due to flooding, sometimes resulting in loss of life.
  • Loss of property: Major cities in India have witnessed loss of life and property, disruption in transport and power.
  • Infrastructure damage: In most of the cities, damage to vital infrastructure has a bearing not only for the state and the country but it could even have global implications.
  • Health hazards: The secondary effect of exposure to infection also has its toll in terms of human suffering, loss of livelihood and, in extreme cases, loss of life.
  • Others:  The impact can also be widespread, including temporary relocation of people, damage to civic amenities, deterioration of water quality and risk of epidemics.

Losses caused

[a] Tangible losses: The losses that can be measured physically and can be assigned an economic value. These losses can be direct or indirect

  • Direct – Structural damage to buildings, property damage, damage to infrastructure
  • Indirect – Economic losses, Traffic disruption, and emergency costs

[b] Intangible losses: Intangible losses include loss of life, secondary health effects, and infections or damages to the environment which are difficult to assess in monetary terms since they are not traded.

  • Direct – Casualties, health effects, ecological losses  
  • Indirect – Post-flood recovery process, mental damage to the people

Who owes the responsibility?

  • Human determinism: The fact is that our cities have been built with little to no regard to the natural topography and severely lacks holistic action.
  • Weaker laws: We have in place the provisions of rainwater harvesting, sustainable urban drainage systems, etc, in regulatory mechanisms like the EIA, notification 2006.
  • Weaker implementation: Public bodies’ focus is largely on de-silting of storm water drains before monsoon and expansion of the over-burdened infrastructure, but at a crawling pace. 

Lacunae in Urban Planning

  • No mapping of water bodies: The preliminary work of mapping and documentation of the surface water bodies even though mentioned in NDMA under the National Database for Mapping Attributes has not been undertaken.
  • Failed early-warning system: During floods of Uttarakhand in 2013, there were questions about the role of NDMA, where it failed to implement the early warning systems to inform people about the floods and landslides.
  • Response rather than mitigation: The importance of preparedness for the disaster situation like urban floods was realized by the government agencies only after the devastations during Chennai Floods in 2015 and Kerala Floods in 2018.
  • Responsiveness of Local bodies: Sufficient training, equipment, and facilities for immediate response and to tackle the disaster situation efficiently is not being carried out by the local governments. More onus of mitigation lies with NDMA/SDMA.
  • Misutilization of Funds: NDRF/SDRF constituted by the government to deal with the disasters, were used for expenses that were not sanctioned for disaster management. There were cases of financial indiscipline in state management of funds.

Way forward

  • Climate variability assessment: As the incidence of climate variability and extreme weather events increases, it is inevitable that we look at the issue from a broad-based perspective.
  • Resilience building: Focus has to be on increasing the resilience of communities and adaptive capacity of our infrastructure.
  • Innovation: Water sensitive urban design and planning techniques — especially in the context of implementation — are of utmost importance. Ex. Sponge Cities.
  • Environmental determinism: Planning must take into consideration the topography, types of surfaces (pervious or impervious), natural drainage and leave very less impact on the environment.
  • Vulnerability Analysis: Vulnerability analyses and risk assessments should form part and parcel of city master plans.

Conclusion

  • Disabling spawning of squatter settlements in sensitive zones by providing adequate affordable housing will reduce number of persons vulnerable to changing climate.
  • All this means urban local bodies will continue to have a central role to play in cities’ battle with extreme weather events such as flooding and their overall resilience.
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[Sansad TV] Informal Economy: Challenges & Opportunities

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Context

  • The informal economy is a global and pervasive phenomenon.
  • According to ILO approximately 60 percent of the world’s population participates in the informal sector.

Defining Informal Economy

  • As the International Labour Organization defined the informal sector in 2002, the informal sector does not include the criminal economy.
  • While production or employment arrangements in the informal economy may not be strictly legal, the sector produces and distributes legal goods and services.
  • The informal economy also does not include the reproductive or care economy, which is made up of unpaid domestic work and care activities.
  • It is part of the market economy, meaning it produces goods and services for sale and profit.

India and informal economy

  • In developing countries like India, large share of the population typically depends upon the informal economy.
  • According to Periodic Labour Force Survey over 90 percent of workers in India are informal workers.
  • Out of these those engaged in rural areas is significantly more than urban areas.

What makes an economy ‘informal’?

The informal sector is largely characterized by several qualities:

  1. Skills gained outside of a formal education
  2. Easy entry (meaning anyone who wishes to join the sector can find some sort of work which will result in cash earnings)
  3. Lack of stable employer-employee relationships
  4. Small scale of operations

What characterizes the informal economy in India?

  • Workers who participate in the informal economy are typically classified as employed.
  • The type of work is diverse, particularly in terms of capital invested, technology used, and income generated.
  • The spectrum ranges from self-employment or unpaid family labour to street vendors.
  • Most workers in the informal sector do not have access to secure work, benefits, welfare protection, or representation.
  • Many workers engage in informal ventures by choice, for either economic or non-economic reasons.

What makes informality grow in an economy?

There are three basic views to explain the causes of informality:

  1. Informality due to overt regulation: Informal sector is a reservoir of potentially productive entrepreneurs who are kept out of formality by high regulatory costs, most notably entry regulation.
  2. Informality for profiteering: Informal forms are “parasitic” which are productive enough to survive in the formal sector but choose to remain informal to earn higher profits by not complying with taxes and regulations.
  3. Too unproductive to become formal: Informality is a survival strategy for low-skill individuals, who are too unproductive to ever become formal.

Distribution of Informal Workers

  1. Rural: A large number of informal workers are engaged in farm or agricultural activities.
  2. Urban: Those in urban areas are involved primarily in manufacturing, trade, hotel and restaurant; construction; transport; storage and communications; and finance, business and real estate.

Issues surrounding India’s informal sector

  • Work hazards: Most industries, especially mining, have inadequate safety and health standards. Environmental hazards are evident in the case of the informal sector.
  • Irregularities in Wages: The daily wages are below the minimum rate of wages for informal workers.
  • Long Hours of work: Long hours of work in the unorganised sector beyond the labour and regulatory norms are common in India.
  • Poverty and Indebtedness: Workers in the unorganised sector had a much higher incidence of poverty than their counterparts in the organised sector.
  • Inactivity of work: There are many times when a worker cannot be economically active. For instance, due to biological circumstances such as sickness or old age, on account of personal calamities such as an accident or unemployment.
  • No Social Security Net: There are no social security measures to provide risks coverage and ensure maintenance of basic living standards at times of crises such as unemployment or health issues.

Why does formalization matter?

  • Livelihood guarantee: Ignoring problems in the informal sector can be costly as it can lead to job and wage losses, higher inflation and even risk the livelihood of migrant workers.
  • Assuring minimum wages: For instance, following demonetisation, a disproportionately higher number of jobs were created in rural India which isn’t the positive it might seem as wages are 2.5 times lower than in urban India.
  • Migration control: Informal sector workers suffered far more from the national lockdown in 2020 than their formal sector counterparts. With an inadequate safety net, there were painful accounts of displaced informal workers trying to get back to their rural homes.
  • Inflation control: India was one of the few countries with high inflation throughout pandemic-stricken 2020. Some of this is likely to be associated with the disruption in informal firms, who in normal times are very active in the production of essential goods like food and textiles.

What does all of this mean for economic growth?

Ans. Formalization can be a double-edged sword

  • The constructive way to think about this is to differentiate between “forced” and “organic” formalisation.
  • Formalisation that comes only on the back of external pressure or leads to deep distress in the informal sector, may not be sustainable.
  • Formalisation that happens on the back of policy changes that help small and informal firms grow over time into medium or larger formal sector firms is more sustainable.

Various policy measures

(1) Labor legislations

The legal initiatives like the Employees State Insurance Act (1948), the Minimum Wages Act (1948), the Coal Mines Provident Funds Act (1948), The Employees Provident Fund Act (1952), the Maternity Benefit Act (1961) and the Contract Labour Act (1970) etc. are important for labour welfare.

(2) National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector

India is the first country to set up, a commission named National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) in 2004 to study the problems and challenges being faced by the informal economy.

(3) Govt schemes

The Government of India initiated several poverty-related development schemes which indirectly benefited the urban informal sector since independence.  Schemes like the MGNREGA and the Swarna Jayanti Shahri Rozgar Yojana were launched to provide support to the poor who constitute bulk of the informal sector.

(4) Social security legislations

The govt has enacted the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 in this regard. The government has also launched Atal Pension Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana etc.

(5) Skill development

To take care of the need for skills of workers in the informal economy, the government has started various programs such as the Skill India Mission, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushal Yojana, recognition of prior learning etc.

Way forward

  • Overhauling labour laws: Labour, as well as tax policies, are key to improving the business environment. Labour regulations have to allow for more flexible work arrangements. Moreover, the right to associate freely should be vigorously protected.
  • Preventing occupational hazards: Innovative means to prevent occupational accidents and diseases and environmental hazards need to be developed through cost-effective and sustainable measures at the work-site level to allow for capacity-building within the informal sector itself.
  • Local support: Building-on local institutional support to progressively extend social protection will be critical.
  • Sensitization: Special attention should be paid to the sensitization of policy makers, municipal authorities and labour inspection services to change their traditional role towards a preventive and promotional approach.
  • Regulatory ease: In the meantime, steps to promote reforms that are needed to help small businesses grow are critical. For example, lowering the regulatory burden associated with growing firms.
  • Social protection: The extension of occupational health care to workers in the informal sector should be promoted incorporating occupational health into public health care services at district and local levels and establishing a link between first aid and prevention at the work-site’s level.

Conclusion

  • India’s informal sector is the backbone of the economy.
  • The nation’s quality of life hinges on things becoming better for masses of informally employed people.
  • Over the longer term, the prospects for this group will depend on the progress of policy reforms and economic growth, which are the leading drivers of real wages.
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[Sansad TV] Need for Climate Equity

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PM Narendra Modi addressed the COP26 World Leaders’ Summit in Glasgow where he made a critical pitch for climate action and stood for the nations of the developing world.

India has been pushing for Climate Equity in terms of actions that need to be taken by the developed countries to achieve climate and energy goals.

In this regard, India has launched an online tool called the Climate Equity Monitor (CEM).

What is Climate Equity?

  • A small group of industrialised countries had burnt fossil fuels for 100 years and built-up enormous wealth.
  • This club had to decide what to do to cut emissions, and it claimed all countries were equally responsible for the problem.
  • Influential American think tanks broke the news that India, China and other developing countries were equally responsible for greenhouse gases.
  • Many nations including India rebutted this and brought in the issue of equitable access to the global commons.

About Climate Equity Monitor (CEM)

  • CEM aims to assess equity in climate action, inequalities in emissions besides energy and resource consumption across the world.
  • It tracks the performance of “Annex-I Parties” comprising developed countries under the UNFCCC based on the principles i.e. equity and the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC).  
  • The performance and policies of theNon-Annex-I Parties” which comprise developing countries will be also provided for comparison.

How did the idea of Climate Equity pace up?

  • China, which in 1990, with over a quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for only 10 per cent of annual emissions, contributed 27 per cent by 2010.
  • So, the fight over atmospheric space is now real.
  • While the rich countries have not reduced emissions, the new growth countries have started emitting more and more.
  • Similar is the case with coal and extractive economies like India. The world has run out of atmospheric space and certainly of time.

Significance of CEM

[1] Comparing actions vs commitments

  • The aim of launching the tracker seems to be to provide a comparison between the words and actions of developed countries vis a vis developing countries in many contentious areas.
  • And hence take the climate fight to the developed world.

[2] Unbiased analysis of climate actions

  • Most climate impact “tracking” websites are based in developed countries and are not seen to address the concerns of developing countries like climate equity and differentiation.  
  • It helps build awareness, especially among the public of the global South, that climate action is a global collective action problem.

[3] Holds developed countries accountable

  • It intends to debunk the narrative provided by many developed countries, and global non-government organizations that focus attention continually on what developing countries must do.
  • The CEM clearly illustrates the scale of developed country overuse and provides estimates of the carbon debt and credit of different countries in a clear and straightforward manner.

[4] For distributive justice

  • The developing countries are behaving too mean to give money or technology to poor nations for transition to low-carbon growth.
  • Even climate change negotiators do not really believe this form of climate-socialism can happen.

[5] Nearing net-zero target

  • The narrative on net-zero and the aggressive push for all countries to declare target years for it ignore the scientific understanding of the problem of global warming.
  • It is not the year of net-zero that is the determining factor for global temperature rise, but the cumulative emissions till the world reaches net-zero emissions.

[6] Accounting historicity and positionality

  • Unfortunately, many other websites that track climate efforts emerge from the Global North and completely side-line the issue of historical responsibility.
  • They provide no historical context to the pledges made for the future and many of them greenwash the repeatedly delayed action of developed countries that is responsible for the climate crisis we face today.

[7] Exposing the Greenwashing by developed countries

  • Developed nations also fall short on representing the science accurately.
  • For example, the ‘effort’ of the US on climate change is often termed “adequate” despite its high historical and per capita emissions.
  • It has a record of repeated withdrawal from climate agreements, and continued dependence on fossil fuels.

Way forward

  • Climate change is a global collective action problem and cannot be solved merely by self-sacrifice. India is a part of the solution to climate change, but it is not the sole answer.
  • A very incorrect idea is often floated —that those who are likely to feel the impact of climate change the most are obliged to do more by way of cutting emissions.
  • CEM analysis and website are geared to debunking this false narrative.
  • Countries that have historically caused the maximum impact through emissions must proportionately carry the responsibility to ensure a rapid decrease in emissions. 
  • Merely proportionately dividing future responsibility of emissions is not equitable because it ignores the highly unequal history.
  • We should not forget the simple fact that developed countries have contributed to a vast majority of emissions for most of history, which triggered global warming.

Conclusion

  • In India, too often we have been looking purely inward as if the entire responsibility to address the issue of climate change was ours.
  • With the CEM, India aims to represent a perspective on climate equity from the developing world.
  • India, therefore, is right in using, and placing upon the table for conversation, the topic of justice and positionality.
  • There can be no real climate equity without considering the point of climate justice, which may have been delayed but must not be denied.
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[Sansad TV] Climate Change & Public Perception

  • The year 2021 marks a crucial juncture for charting the future of climate action.
  • And for this all eyes are set on two events in particular – the G20 Summit in October end followed by the 26th UN Climate Change Conference or COP26 in November.

In this article, we will discuss the significance of public perception on the issue of climate change and how will it impact the decision-making process on actions which need to be taken to tackle this challenge.

About G20

  • Formed in 1999, the G20 is an international forum of the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies.
  • Collectively, the G20 economies account for around 85 percent of the Gross World Product (GWP), 80 percent of world trade.
  • To tackle the problems or address issues that plague the world, the heads of governments of the G20 nations periodically participate in summits.
  • In addition to it, the group also hosts separate meetings of the finance ministers and foreign ministers.
  • The G20 has no permanent staff of its own and its chairmanship rotates annually between nations divided into regional groupings.
  • India has been a member of the G20 since its inception in 1999.

Members: The 19 member countries of the forum are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.

G20 countries map

G20 and Climate Change

  • The G20 accounts for over 80% of global GDP, 60% of the world’s population, and more than 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In the run-up to the G20 Summit and COP26 the UNDP and the University of Oxford have published the G20 Peoples’ Climate Vote. 

The G20 Peoples’ Climate Vote

  • The G20 Peoples’ Climate Vote was polled over 689,000 people across 18 of the G20 countries from October 2020 until June 2021.
  • It focussed on various aspects of the issue of climate change including Climate Finance Policy, Cutting emissions and climate adaptation policy.
  • According to this report, on average 70 per cent of young people in G20 countries believe that we are in a global climate emergency.
  • Adults are also not far behind, with 65 percent overall believing the same.

What defines the public perception of climate change?

  • Climate change perception is a complex process that encompasses a range of psychological constructs such as knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and concerns about if and how the climate is changing.
  • Perception is influenced and shaped, among other things, by the individuals’ characteristics, their experience, the information that they receive, and the cultural and geographic context in which they live.
  • Therefore, measuring climate change perception and trying to find its determinants is not an easy task.
  • The short-term variations in the local weather tend to be more salient than long-term trends and hence can have a key impact on the formation of climate change perceptions.
  • The perceptions of those that directly depend on the weather, such as farmers, tend to be more accurate than that of their counterparts.
  • Life experiences influence perception; individuals who have been directly affected by extreme climatic events tend to report that the probability of such event happening again is relatively high.
  • It is important to make aware specifically those people whose livelihood is threatened due to climate change issue.
Proportion reporting knowing “something” or “a great deal” about global warming in 2007–08. Darker areas indicate a greater proportion of individuals aware, yellow indicates no data.

What is the significance of public perception of climate change?

  • It is very important that people are getting aware of climate change and it’s not actually the awareness per se but factually it is about the sufferance of people to make the think about climate change.
  • The new generation and the youth are going to face the consequences of climate change and thus they think that the coming COP26is the opportunity where effective and speedy action will result.
  • It forces world leader to take immediate and effective action and should contain the global warming which has the wide ranging consequences.
  • It also impacts what people do at an individual level to contain the global warming.
  • It needs to take some tougher decisions by leaders and the public perceptions shows how much appetite people have to accept such decision.

What are the expected tangible achievements of the COP26 in terms of public perception of climate change?

  • Climate change is the global issue and need commitment of all the leaders to do justice in terms of responding to the menace of climate change.
  • COVID-19 has refocused priorities and caused individuals and governments alike to pay closer attention to the environment. As many countries look to rebuild their economies in the wake of the pandemic, there has been a major emphasis on ‘building back better’ through a green recovery.
  • COP26 is being viewed as the successor to COP21 where the Paris Accord was signed, arguably the greatest success from the UNFCCC in recent years.
  • COP26 is seen as the summit to both address what has and hasn’t been achieved since 2015, while also setting concrete plans to reach the Paris Agreement targets.
  • The UN Environment Programme has warned that climate commitments are already falling far short of what is needed to meet these goals – but there is hope from net-zero pledges. This should be a “thundering wakeup call” for leaders ahead of the summit.
  • So it’s expected from countries around the globe to put forward ambitions in terms of GHGs reduction, net zero commitments, etc. As the window is very short, it is the high time that countries take harsh decisions.
  • The transition from carbon economy to carbon-less economy requires capital which many developing countries are lacking. Thus the carbon justice has to be brought.
  • This requires the developed countries to raise $100 billion which was supposed to be done by 2020 but is still not done.
  • The carbon neutrality or net zero is important but what is more important than this is deep cuts which are required first and the necessary financing required to install alternative energy sources which are renewable.

Conclusion

We are running short of time and the issue of climate change is a very serious problem and everyone across the globe has to work together for this and it is very important to see the summits like COP26 takes the harsh decisions required for containing the global warming and resolving financing issue as soon as possible. Public perception plays a major role in motivating global leaders to work towards a sustainable and climate risk-free global world.

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[Sansad TV] Global Solar Grid

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The Fourth Assembly of the International Solar Alliance – ISA was virtually held.  In this article we will discuss all issues related to ISA and the proposed global solar grid.

PM Modi deliberated on the key initiatives around the operationalization of:

  1. One Sun One World One Grid (OSOWOG) Initiative
  2. 1 trillion-dollar Solar Investment Roadmap for 2030, and
  3. Approval of a Blended Financial Risk Mitigation Facility

About International Solar Alliance (ISA)

Hq: Gurugram, India

  • The ISA is an alliance of more than 121 countries, most of them being sunshine countries, which lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
  • The primary objective of the alliance is to work for efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
  • The alliance is a treaty-based inter-governmental organization.
  • The initiative was launched by PM Modi at the India Africa Summit and a meeting of member countries ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015.

Fossil fuels have a 60% share in India’s total energy mix; non-fossil fuels contribute 37.9% and nuclear 1.7% (as on September 30). Among non-fossil fuels, hydro makes for 12% of the load while wind, solar and other renewable energy sources make up for 25.9% of the mix. India’s domestic solar power capacity has increased by more than 11 times in five years from 2.6 GW in March 2014 to 30 GW in July 2019.

Objectives of the ISA

  • To mobilize investments of more than USD 1000 billion by 2030
  • To take coordinated action for better harmonization, aggregation of demand, risk and resources, for promoting solar finance, solar technologies, innovation, R&D, capacity building etc.
  • Reduce the cost of finance to increase investments in solar energy in member countries
  • Scale up applications of solar technologies in member countries
  • Facilitate collaborative research and development (R&D) activities in solar energy technologies among member countries
  • Promote a common cyber platform for networking, cooperation and exchange of ideas among member countries

What does ISA formation signify?

  • Climate action commitment: It symbolizes about the sincerity of the developing nations towards their concern about climate change and to switch to a low-carbon growth path.
  • Clean energy: India’s pledge to the Paris summit offered to bring 40% of its electricity generation capacity from non-fossil sources (renewable, large hydro, and nuclear) by 2030.
  • Global electrification: India has pledged to let solar energy reach to the most unconnected villages and communities and also towards creating a clean planet.
  • Global cooperation: It is based on world cooperation irrespective of global boundaries.
  • India’s Soft power: For India, possible additional benefits from the alliance can be a strengthening of ties with the major African countries and increasing goodwill for India among them.

Key initiatives

[A] Global Solar Atlas

  • ISA alliance has partnered with World Bank to launch Global Solar Atlas at an ISA event at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.
  • Global Solar Atlas is a free online tool that displays annual average solar power potential at any location in the world and thus identify potential sites for solar power generation.

[B] OSOWOG Initiative

  • Under the ISA project, India envisaged having an interconnected power transmission grid across nations for the supply of clean energy.
  • The vision behind the OSOWOG mantra is ‘The Sun Never Sets’ and is a constant at some geographical location, globally, at any given point of time.
  • With India at the fulcrum, the solar spectrum can easily be divided into two broad zones viz. far East which would include countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia etc. and far West which would cover the Middle East and the Africa Region.

Implementation

  • The OSOWOG would have three phases.
  1. Phase I: Middle East, South Asia and South-East Asia would be interconnected
  2. Phase II: Solar and other renewable energy resources rich regions would be interconnected
  3. Phase III: Global interconnection of the power transmission grid to achieve the One Sun One World One Grid vision

Benefits of the project

  • Attracting investment: An interconnected grid would help all the participating entities in attracting investments in renewable energy sources as well as utilizing skills, technology and finances.
  • Poverty alleviation: Resulting economic benefits would positively impact poverty alleviation and support in mitigating water, sanitation, food and other socio-economic challenges.
  • Reduced project cost: The proposed integration would lead to reduced project costs, higher efficiencies and increased asset utilization for all the participating entities.

Various challenges

  • Lack of Funding: Providing the money for promoting solar electricity among the members is a challenge. The Alliance has very little money of its own.
  • Expensive implementation: The cost of power has two components. The variable cost is the payment made for the numbers of units of electricity purchased. In addition, the buyer is required to pay a certain amount towards the fixed cost of solar supply.
  • Battery-based Storage: Solar electricity is available only during the day when the sun shines. Thus, the storage of electricity is a difficult task.
  • Cross-border transmission: Solar electricity has to overcome the roadblocks of transmission.  Cross-border transmission of electricity requires the establishment of transmission lines from the producer to the consumer country.
  • Peak hour load:  The demand for electricity, however, is more during the morning and evening which are called “peak hours”. But it can be produced when the sun is shining.
  • Climate change: Sudden overcast and rainfall in many parts of the tropics has been a major issues these days. Such weather hampers solar energy production
  • Desired global consensus: It is hindered with the issues of intricate geopolitics, unfavourable economics, unwarranted globalisation and undue centralization that act against the concept.
  • Highly ambitious: In a nation like India, it took us this long to connect all the regions of the country through a national grid and we are talking about ‘one world, one grid’.

Way forward

  • OSOWOG can be positioned as an extension of India’s foreign policy rather than its domestic energy policy.
  • ISA should focus on its core goals such as- aggregating demand, tariff, technical collaborations, and financial assistance for achieving its target.
  • It further needs to ensure that solar benefits are clear and tangible to users beyond its cost ambitions.
  • ISA should demonstrate business models that are viable for users, suppliers and financiers.
  • Further, the alliance should support member countries in implementing policies to expedite these business models.
  • Geo-politically, this is being touted as a clever strategy however financially and technology-wise, this has to make sense.

Conclusion

  • India has always been eloquent in its promises and miserly in deliverables. Hopefully ISA won’t fall the same way.
  • To sum up, it can be stated that ISA is certainly going to add a new dynamism to energy diplomacy in the 21st century. 
  • In the foreseeable future, one can witness a just and equitable energy order if solar energy, along with other forms of renewable energy, can be harnessed more positively.
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[Sansad TV] Enhancing Cooperation in West Asia

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India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States began a new quadrilateral economic forum this week focused on trade, climate change, energy, and maritime security.

In September last year Israel, UAE and Bahrain had signed Abraham Accords brokered by the US which has subsequently led to normalising of relations between Israel and a number of Arab Gulf countries.

Abraham Accord: A backgrounder

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank.
  • The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

The idea of the Indo-Abrahamic Accord

  • The idea of an accord between India, the UAE and Israel was first suggested by Mohammed Soliman, an Egyptian scholar based in Washington.
  • The focus, then, was on India taking full advantage of the normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arabs.

Prospects of India joining the accord

  • Adding “Indo” to the Abrahamic Accords — from think tank level to the policy domain underlines the extraordinary churn in the geopolitics of the Middle East.
  • It also points to new openings for India in the region and ever-widening possibilities for Delhi’s strategic cooperation with Washington.

Significance for India

The new minilateral consultation with the US, Israel and the UAE have started breaking that political taboo by:

(1) Creating a minilateral in the Middle-East:

  • Such events mark an important turning point in Delhi’s engagement with the Middle East.
  • It suggests India is now ready to move from bilateral relations conducted in separate silos towards an integrated regional policy.
  • As in the Indo-Pacific, so in the Middle East, regional coalitions are bound to widen Delhi’s reach and deepen its impact.

(2) India bridging the Arab-Israeli rift:

  • Often the Arab nations and Israel are divided over Palestine.
  • The simultaneous expansion of Delhi’s cooperation with Israel and the Arab world was considered impossible.
  • However, India’s new foreign policy broke from that assessment and demonstrated the feasibility of a non-ideological engagement with the Middle East.
  • This diplomatic pragmatism allows Delhi to reimagine its policies towards the Middle East.

(3) Extension of cooperation with the US:

  • Thinking of the US as a partner in the Middle East is part of the reimagination.
  • For long, India defined the US, and more broadly the West, as part of the problem in the Middle East.
  • With this QUAD, U.S.-India relations have continued to deepen.

(4) Miscellaneous:

  • India’s scale with Israeli innovation and Emirati capital could produce immense benefits to all three countries.
  • Add American strategic support and you would see a powerful dynamic unfolding in the region.

India’s interest in the new QUAD

New Delhi sees the Middle East as strategically significant.  India has ramped up diplomacy with many regional players, including Saudi Arabia, but Israel and the UAE have long been key targets.

  • Energy basket: It depends heavily on its energy imports, and nearly 9 million Indian workers live in the Persian Gulf.
  • Armoury for India: Israel is a major arms supplier to India.
  • Agri-tech: Israel also has cutting-edge agricultural technologies that could help enhance water management.
  • Infrastructure financing: The UAE can provide India with much-needed infrastructure financing. This has very much implicated in the recent proposal by Dubai to invest in Jammu and Kashmir.

What is the kind of agenda that this group can develop?

Economic Cooperation: Like the eastern Quad, it would make sense for the new Middle Eastern minilateral to focus on non-military issues like trade, energy, and environment and focus on promoting public goods.

Technology cooperation: Beyond trade, there is potential for India, UAE and Israel to collaborate on many areas — from semiconductor design and fabrication to space technology.

A new geopolitical entity: The new “Quad” in the Middle East is likely to be India’s only new coalition in the region. It provides a thrust to new regionalism to the west involving India.

‘Extended’ neighbourhood: This engagement will open the door for extending the collaboration with other common regional partners like Egypt (better call it Suez Canal), who will lend great strategic depth to the Indo-Abrahamic accords.

How are the two QUADs different?

The two groups are distinct entities with different geographical remits, although their areas of cooperation may overlap. The two Quads are quite different in other ways.

  • No China factor: The so-called new Quad is not as focused on countering China’s rise as the original one.
  • Formal consensus in lacking: It lacks a strong, shared purpose, its future trajectory is more uncertain.
  • Not an Alliance: As with the other Quad, this arrangement is a loose grouping, not an alliance. It is framed as an economic forum and not as an strategic alliance.
  • Iran at the focus: The new quad does not appear to be aimed at any particular country, ideology or group. There is no one to gang up against, but Iran.

Way forward

  • This Quad will push India to transform itself.
  • While the US might be more lenient towards Indian stretchable time, Israel and the UAE are impatient countries.
  • This engagement has thus opened up a new opportunity for India to go for deeper engagement with Israel without risking its relations with the other Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Caution for India

  • India must not get drawn into the region’s conflicts.
  • Importantly, India must ensure that the new Quad’s decisions do not adversely impact its relationship with Iran.  It should not restrict India’s outreach to Iran
  • India should help the new Quad build bridges with Iran, just as Israel should use its good offices with Beijing to rein in China.
  • India is increasingly shedding its inhibitions over joining groupings and this is good, so long as it is not bound into exclusive relationships.
  • China manages strong parallel ties with both Iran and Israel. India should be able to do so, too.

Conclusion

  • The new and mini-Quad is innovative, non-confrontationist and hence will be enduring.
  • In the evolving scenario, there seems much scope for a profitable trilateral synergy.
  • Though its trajectory is uncertain, it has considerable potential because of the warm relations among the parties.
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[Sansad TV] Billion Dollar Club: India’s Unicorn Era

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Context

India has the second-largest number of unicorns and is only behind the United States (US). It is now home to 71 unicorns.  

World’s biggest investors, including SoftBank, Tiger Global and Falcon Edge, are pouring money into Indian start-ups, churning out unicorns at a record speed and valuations.

Unicorns: A Backgrounder

A unicorn is a start-up with a valuation of at least $1 billion.

  • The term was first coined by Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy ventures when she referred to the 39 start-ups that had a valuation of over $1 billion as unicorns.
  • The term initially was used to lay emphasis on the rarity of such start-ups.

Some of the successful Indian unicorns:

  • Lenskart
  • Cred
  • Meesho
  • PharmEasy
  • Licious
  • Grofers etc.

Unicorn boost in India

  • The growth of Unicorns in India has been phenomenal in the past two years.
  • From 17 Unicorns in 2018 the number went up to 38 in 2020 and it’s 71 and counting in 2021.
  • Many of these unicorns, which have cumulatively raised more than 9 billion dollars till date, have also seen a surge in valuations.

Features of a unicorn Start-up

To be a unicorn is no cakewalk and each unicorn today has its own story with a list of features that worked in its favour.

The few pointers that are commonly seen across all the unicorns is as under:

  • Disruptive innovation: Mostly, all the unicorns have brought a disruption in the field they belong to. Uber, for example, changed the way people commuted.  
  • ‘Firsts’: It is seen that unicorns are mostly the starters in their industry. They change the way people do things and gradually create a necessity for themselves.
  • High on tech: Another common trend across unicorns is that their business model runs on tech. Uber got their model accepted by crafting a friendly app.
  • Consumer-focused: Often, theirgoal is to simplify and make things easy for consumers and be a part of their day-to-day life.
  • Affordability: Keeping things affordable is another key highlight of these startups. Spotify, for example, made listening to music easier to the world. 
  • Privately owned: Most of the unicorns are privately owned which gets their valuation bigger when an established company invests in it. 
  • *Mostly software based: A recent report suggests that 87% of the unicorns’ products are software, 7% are hardware and the rest 6% are other products & services.

Entrepreneurship today is ‘survival-driven’ self-employment, formed out of necessity, as well as opportunity motivated, largely because poverty and lack of formal employment opportunities rear their ugly head in striving economies.

Reasons for sudden success

  • COVID pandemic: The pandemic accelerated adoption of digital services by consumers helping start-ups and new-age ventures that typically build tech-focused businesses delivering an array of offerings to customers.
  • Boost in online services: Many Indians who had traditionally been subscribers of brick-and-mortar businesses moved online and explored a host of services ranging from food delivery and edu-tech to e-grocery.
  • Work-from-home culture: This added significant numbers to start-ups’ user base and expedited their business expansion plans and attracting investors.

Inherent challenges to Start-ups in India

  • Financial scarcity: Availability of finance is critical for the startups and is always a problem to get sufficient amounts.
  • Lack of Infrastructure: There is a lack of support mechanisms that play a significant role in the lifecycle of startups which include incubators, science and technology parks etc.
  • Regulatory bottlenecks: Starting and exiting a business requires a number of permissions from government agencies. Although there is a perceptible change, it is still a challenge.
  • Compliance hurdles: For example, earlier Angel tax, which stands removed no, falls under corruption and bureaucratic inefficiencies.
  • Low success rate: Several startups fail due to shifting away the focus on the fundamentals of business grows.
  • Lack of an Innovative Business Model: To be successful a start-up must be innovative. Unfortunately, Indian startups are less innovative than startups elsewhere.  
  • Non-competitive Indian Markets: Too many startups serving too few consumers are saturating the Indian market.  Most startups serve the fraction of Indians who live in urban India.
  • Digital divide: The majority of Indians who live in rural areas and small towns remain untouched by most startups.

Various initiatives by the Govt.

There are numerous government initiatives to assist start-ups:

  • MUDRA Scheme: Through this scheme, start-ups get loans from the banks to set up, grow and stabilize their businesses.
  • SETU (Self-Employment and Talent Utilization) Fund: Government has allotted Rs 1,000 Cr in order to create opportunities for self-employment and new jobs mainly in technology-driven domains.
  • E-Biz Portal: It is India’s first government to business portal that integrates 14 regulatory permissions and licenses at one source.
  • Credit Guarantee Fund: launched by the GoI to make available collateral-free credit to the micro and small enterprise sector.  
  • Fund of Funds for Start-ups (FFS): 10,000 Rs corpus fund established in line with the Start-up India action plan under SIDBI for extending support to Start-ups.
  • Tax Sops: Tax exemption on Capital gain tax, Removal of Angel tax, Tax exemption for 3 years and Tax exemption in investment above Fair Market Value.

Roadmap for the future success of start-ups

Start-ups can judiciously take cues from unicorns in understanding the ecosystem and building a business model that adds value while being sustainable.

  • New-age startups should devise a customer-centric business model.
  • Through proper branding and strategy, they should make sure that this value proposition reaches the end-user.
  • What brings startups closer to success is the execution and customer acquisition strategy, where all the action occurs.  
  • Notably, technology (rather deep-technology) has played a key role in the making of pioneer business models.

Attracting venture capitalists

  • VCs are actively looking for investment opportunities in early-stage startups.
  • They possess the selection ability to effectively screen startups having a higher potential to succeed.
  • VCs primarily look for a mindset alignment with promoters and companies where they, as investors, can add value by leveraging their industry experience, expertise, network and reputation.

Conclusion

  • The current economic scenario in India is in expansion mode.  Indian Startups are now spread across the length and breadth of the entire country.
  • The word ‘unicorn’ has come a long way from just being a mythological creature to a regular feature in business and finance discussions.
  • Innovation and economic growth depend on being able to produce excellent individuals with the right skills and attitudes to be entrepreneurial in their professional lives.
  • The Indian government’s policies like Make in India, Digital India, Atmanirbhar etc. shows the enthusiasm to arrest this talent.
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[Sansad TV] Plastic Waste Management

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  • Recently a report on Plastic Waste Management was released by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
  • Also the Environment Ministry has issued draft rules on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that mandate producers of plastic packaging material to collect all of their produce by 2024.

Introduction

Plastic is ubiquitous, it’s visibly the backbone of globalisation. Plastic, without doubt, is the miracle commodity that has uses ranging from increasing shelf lives of eatables to medical equipment and automotive.

  • Plastic products have become an integral part of our daily life as a result of which the polymer is produced at a massive scale worldwide.
  • Its broad range of application is in packaging films, wrapping materials, shopping and garbage bags, fluid containers, clothing, toys, household and industrial products, and building materials.

Why is Plastic so popular?

  1. Durability and low maintenance
  2. Low material replacement
  3. Low weight
  4. Cheaper availability

Plastic Consumption in India

  • The CPCB Report of 2019-20 states that 3.4 million metric tonnes of plastic waste is generated in India annually.
  • The global average of plastic per capita consumption is 28 kg and India has a per capita plastic consumption of 11 kg.
  • India recycles over 60 per cent of its plastic (a/c to MoHUA), which was way higher than the recycling capacity of any developed country.
  • Only nine per cent of the plastic waste produced between 1950 and 2015 was recycled globally, according to a study by researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and others.

Hazards of Plastic

[A] Solid Waste generation

  • The disposal of plastics is one of the least recognized and most highly problematic areas of plastic’s ecological impact.
  • Ironically, one of plastic’s most desirable traits: its durability and resistance to decomposition, is also the source of one of its greatest liabilities when it comes to the disposal of plastics.
  • A very small amount of total plastic production (less than 10%) is effectively recycled; the remaining plastic is sent to landfills.
  • It is destined to remain entombed.

[B] Ecological Impact

(i) Groundwater and soil pollution

  • Plastic is a material made to last forever, and due to the same chemical composition, plastic cannot biodegrade; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
  • When buried in a landfill, plastic lies untreated for years.
  • In the process, toxic chemicals from plastics drain out and seep into groundwater, flowing downstream into lakes and rivers.
  • The seeping of plastic also causes soil pollution and have now started resulting in presence of micro plastics in soil.

(ii) Water Pollution

  • The increased presence of plastic on the ocean surface has resulted in more serious problems.
  • Since most of the plastic debris that reaches the ocean remains floating for years as it does not decompose quickly, it leads to the dropping of oxygen level in the water.
  • It has severely affected the survival of marine species.
  • When oceanic creatures and even birds consume plastic inadvertently, they choke on it which causes a steady decline in their population.
  • In addition to suffocation, ingestion, and other macro-particulate causes of death in larger birds, fish, and mammals.

[C] Health Hazards

  • Burning of plastic results into formation of a class of flame retardants called as Halogens.
  • Collectively, these harmful chemicals are known to cause the following severe health problems: cancer, neurological damage, endocrine disruption, birth defects and child developmental disorders etc.

Plastic Waste Management (PWM Rules) in India

These rules first rolled out in 2016 were amended and named as ‘Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018. Its salient features include:

Applied to: These rules shall apply to every Waste Generator, Local Body, Gram Panchayat, Manufacturer, Importer, Producer and Brand Owner.

Thickness of virgin plastic: Carry bags made of virgin or recycled plastic, shall not be less than 50 ( now 120  after Amendment in 2021) microns in thickness.

Waste Generators including institutional generators, event organizers shall not litter the plastic waste, shall segregate waste and handover to authorized agency and shall pay user fee.

Local Bodies shall be responsible for development and setting up of infrastructure for segregation, collection, storage, transportation, processing and disposal.

State Pollution Control Board (SPCB)/ Pollution Control Committee (PCC) shall be the authority for enforcement of the provisions of PWM Rules, 2018, relating to registration, manufacture of plastic etc.

The draft Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2021 has necessitated a few changes in the country’s handling of its plastic waste.

Expanded applicability: One, the amendment has extended the applicability of the rules to brand-owner, plastic waste processor, including the recycler, co-processor, etc. 

New definitions: It will also include new definitions of:

  1. Non-woven plastic bag
  2. Plastic waste processing
  3. Single-use plastic (SUP) item
  4. Thermoset plastic
  5. Thermoplastic

Increased thickness: The ministry has proposed increasing the thickness of carry bags made of virgin plastic to 120 microns from 50 microns.

Ban on certain items: The draft also proposes a ban on the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of specific single-use plastic from January 1, 2022. These include plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, and thermocol (extended polystyrene) for decoration.

Strategy for PWM

Issues in Plastic Management

Recycling here means ‘Down-cycling’

  • Most plastics that we claim can be recycled in India are rather down-cycled to some other material.
  • They are recyclable but recycled products are more harmful to the environment as this contains additives and colors.
  • The recycling of a virgin plastic material can be done 2-3 times only, because after every recycling, the plastic material deteriorates due to thermal pressure and its life span is reduced.
  • Hence recycling is not a safe and permanent solution for plastic waste disposal.
  • A classic example is that of PET bottles being recycled to t-shirts.

Way Forward

Given the broad range of possible actions to curb single-use plastics and their mixed impact, UN Environment has drawn up a 10-step roadmap for governments:

  1. Target the most problematic single-use plastics: by conducting a baseline assessment to identify the most problematic single-use plastic.
  2. Consider the best actions to tackle the problem: (e.g. regulatory, economic, awareness, voluntary actions), given the country’s socio-economic standing.
  3. Assess the potential social, economic and environmental impacts (positive and negative) of the preferred short-listed instruments/actions, by considering how will the poor be affected.
  4. Identify and engage key stakeholder groups – retailers, consumers, industry representatives, local government, manufacturers, civil society, environmental groups etc.
  5. Raise public awareness about the harm caused, by clearly explaining the decision and any punitive measures that will follow.
  6. Promote alternatives: Before the ban or levy comes into force, the availability of alternatives need to be assessed.
  7. Provide incentives to industry by introducing tax rebates or other conditions to support its transition.
  8. Use revenues collected from taxes or levies on single-use plastics to maximize the public good, thereby supporting environmental projects or boosting local recycling.
  9. Enforce the measure chosen effectively, by making sure that there is clear allocation of roles and responsibilities.
  10. Monitor and adjust the chosen measure if necessary and update the public on progress.

Best strategies:

Adoption of ‘Circular Economy’

  • A circular economy aims to eliminate waste, not just from recycling processes, but throughout the lifecycles of products and packaging.
  • A circular economy aims to maximize value and eliminate waste by improving the design of materials, products and business models.

Extended Producer’s Responsibilities (EPR)

  • State/ ULB to introduce ‘Buy back Depository Mechanism’ with a predefined buy back price printed on plastic products.
  • A national Framework on EPR is proposed where the producers/importers/brand owner is required to contribute to the EPR corpus fund at the central level.

Plastic Credit Mechanism

  • A producer is not required to recycle their own packaging, but to ensure that an equivalent amount of packaging waste has been recovered and recycled to meet their obligation.  
  • Producers are mandated to acquire evidence of recycling or recovery called the Plastic Credit from properly accredited processors.

Conclusion

Managing plastic waste requires effective knowledge, not only among those who produce the plastic, but also among those who handle it.

Brand owners, consumers, recyclers and regulatory authorities need to take long strides in ensuring that we first inventorize the total amount of plastic waste that we generate by means of proper calculations.

Best step would be to identify the avenues where the use of plastic can be minimised.  The brand owner and manufacturer should try and understand the fates a plastic packaging material would meet after its purpose of packaging has been served.

Last, as consumers, we should ensure that all plastic waste leaving our homes is segregated and is not contaminated with food waste.

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[SansadTV] Silver Economy: Challenges & Opportunities

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Context

  • India’s elderly population is on the rise.
  • As per surveys, the share of elders, as a percentage of the total population in the country, is expected to increase from around 8.6% in 2011 to almost 12.5% by 2026, and surpass 19.5% by 2050.
  • Given this sharp rise there is an urgent need to create a more robust eldercare ecosystem in India, especially in the post-COVID phase.
  • The government is exploring various ways to promote the idea of silver economy.

Silver Economy: An Explainer

  • The Silver Economy is dedicated to the elderly in our societies.
  • It is the system of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services aimed at using the purchasing potential of older and ageing people.
  • It seeks to satisfy their consumption, living and health needs.
  • It impacts every market and industry, such as: home accommodation, transport, food industry, insurance, robotics, health and e-health, communications, internet, sports and leisure.

Why focus on senior citizens?

  • Drivers of economy: Older people are no longer at the periphery of the economy. Seniors are now significant players in the economy and their role will get even bigger.
  • High income/savings: Since older people tend to have both high incomes compared to younger populations and high needs, they are major consumers.
  • High population: There are currently 750 million seniors in the world, and that figure will cross the 1 billion marks by 2030.
  • Wealth accumulation: Seniors are the wealthiest age cohort in the world, together with older professionals (45-64 years).

Issues

  • Many of the world’s “new seniors” will be in Asia and less wealthy than the current average.
  • Burden of diseases
  • Still, because they are relatively richer and relatively older, Western economies will remain the top “silver economies” into the next decade.

Issues in India

India is a young country with elaborate socio-cultural intricacies and an aging population.

  • Dependency: A large section of the senior population in India is still dependent on the joint family set up for their senior care and post-retirement needs, with financial planning for retirement taking a back seat.
  • High population: An increase in the number of seniors in India will reduce the percentage of India’s human resource capital and its ability to drive economic growth.
  • Increased retirement age: Many seniors in India expects to work beyond retirement age to raising the retirement age in India as longevity, expanded social benefits, increased homeownership, etc.
  • Second-life income: In developed economies a major share of the retirement income comes from social security. While in emerging markets like India, people rely on their personal savings as a primary source.
  • Low insurance penetration: This highlights the inadequacy and underscores the critical need to streamline retirement planning schemes and strengthen the pension programs in the country. There is a lacks of social security framework.

Key initiatives

As the senior population grows in size, India will need to look at them both as an important consumer segment as well as an essential part of its ambitious growth plan.

An understanding of their needs, preferences, and lifestyles will be critical in unlocking the economic potential of this segment.

[1] National Policy for Senior Citizens

  • The government of India has already taken steps in this direction with the introduction of the Draft National Policy for Senior Citizens 2020.
  • The Draft NPSC seeks to create a strong silver economy that caters to the new and evolving needs of seniors in the country.

[2] SAGE Project

  • A scheme has been launched to promote private enterprises that bring out innovation in products and processes for the benefit of the elders.
  • This project is known as Senior Aging Growth Engine or SAGE.
  • It will identify, evaluate, verify and aggregate the needs of elder persons to deliver products, solutions and services.

[3] SACRED Portal

  • Another portal SACRED- Senior Able Citizens for Re-Employment in Dignity, recently launched will connect the senior citizens with job providers in the private sector.

Way forward

(1) Universal pension program:

  • Income security in later years stems from multiple sources such as pensions, insurances (medical and life), investments.
  • This provides an opportunity for India to create a universal pension program for its 1.3 billion people.

(2) Financial incentives:

  • There is a pressing need to promote and facilitate fiscal planning in the early years and supplement it with senior-friendly tax structures and integrated insurance products.
  • Such measures can help provide multiple income options to seniors to help them embrace a lifestyle of their choice.

(3) Regulatory mechanism:

  • Income generated from savings is the go-to for most elders.
  • A regulatory mechanism will set a viable base rate for the interest accrued on senior citizen deposits and ensure market dips don’t affect retirement income and senior-specific saving plans.

Conclusion

  • As the demography undergoes changes of such massive proportions, we need to figure out ways to supplement the impending deficit.
  • Seniors can help elevate the economy by being active participants in both the income generation and income expenditure side of the market.
  • Keeping senior citizens meaningfully engaged, will also help them lead fuller lives and help achieve a healthy work-life balance.
  • This necessitates robust policy support to implement programs that encourage and simplify the process for seniors to opt for post-retirement employment.
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Sansad TV Archive

[Sansad TV Archive] Indian Economy: Growth in Core Sectors

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Context

  • For the second month in a row, output from India’s eight core sectors has shown acceleration.
  • It rose by 11.6%, in August, compared to a 6.9% contraction a year ago.
  • Although crude oil and fertiliser output has declined, 4 out of 8 core sectors registered strong double-digit growth according to the Index of Eight Core Industries released by DPIIT.

Growth in Core Industries

  • The ICI measures the combined and individual production in 8 core industries that include Coal, Crude Oil, Natural Gas, Refinery Products, Fertilizers, Steel, Cement and Electricity.
  • These 8 Core Industries make up 40.27 per cent weight of the items included in the IIP or the Index of Industrial Production.
  • The August output of ICI was 3.9% higher than pre-COVID levels, compared to July that recorded a 1.1% uptick above 2019 levels.
  • Cement production jumped 36% compared to a 14.5% contraction in August 2020, while coal and natural gas registered a 20.6% surge.

What are the Core Industries in India?

  • The main or the key industries constitute the core sectors of an economy.
  • In India, there are eight sectors that are considered the core sectors.
  • They are electricity, steel, refinery products, crude oil, coal, cement, natural gas and fertilizers.

Index of Eight Core Industries (ICI) vs Index of Industrial Production (IIP)

[A] Index of Eight Core Industries

  • The monthly Index of Eight Core Industries (ICI) is a production volume index.
  • ICI measures collective and individual performance of production in selected eight core industries viz. Coal, Crude Oil, Natural Gas, Refinery Products, Fertilizers, Steel, Cement and Electricity.
  • Prior to the 2004-05 series six core industries namely Coal, Cement, Finished Steel, Electricity, Crude petroleum and Refinery products constituted the index basket.
  • Two more industries i.e. Fertilizer and Natural Gas were added to the index basket in 2004-05 series. The ICI series with base 2011-12 will continue to have eight core industries.

Components covered in these eight industries for the purpose of compilation of index are as follows:

  • Coal – Coal Production excluding Coking coal.
  • Crude Oil – Total Crude Oil Production.
  • Natural Gas – Total Natural Gas Production.
  • Refinery Products – Total Refinery Production (in terms of Crude Throughput).
  • Fertilizer – Urea, Ammonium Sulphate (A/S), Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN), Ammonium chloride (A/C), Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), Complex Grade Fertilizer and Single superphosphate (SSP).
  • Steel – Production of Alloy and Non-Alloy Steel only.
  • Cement – Production of Large Plants and Mini Plants.
  • Electricity – Actual Electricity Generation of Thermal, Nuclear, Hydro, imports from Bhutan.

[B] Index of Industrial Production

  • The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) is an index for India which details out the growth of various sectors in an economy such as mineral mining, electricity and manufacturing.
  • The all India IIP is a composite indicator that measures the short-term changes in the volume of production of a basket of industrial products during a given period with respect to that in a chosen base period.

Difference between the two

  • IIP is compiled and published monthly by the National Statistics Office (NSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation six weeks after the reference month ends.
  • However, ICI is compiled and released by Office of the Economic Adviser (OEA), Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP), and Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
  • The Eight Core Industries comprise nearly 40.27% of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).
  • These are Electricity, steel, refinery products, crude oil, coal, cement, natural gas and fertilisers.

Importance of Core Industries

  • The core sectors have a major impact on the Indian economy and significantly affect most other industries as well.
  • Their measures help account the physical volume of production in India.
  • Their analysis offers clearer and realistic assessment of what’s happening in the economy
  • Their progress is used by government agencies for policy-making purposes.
  • They remain extremely relevant for the calculation of the quarterly and advance Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates.
  • The core sector is also known as Infrastructure output as they represent the basic industries that form the base of the economy.

Do you know about the Strategic Sectors?

The government has identified four strategic sectors where the presence of state-run companies will be reduced to a minimum.

  1. Atomic energy, space and defence
  2. Transport and telecommunications
  3. Power, petroleum, coal and other minerals and
  4. Banking, insurance and financial services
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Sansad TV Archive

[SansadTV Archive] AUKUS – Geopolitical Impact

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Recently a new trilateral security partnership was announced between Australia, the UK, and the USA. This has created ripples in the India-Pacific Region.

France is smarting from the humiliation at being blindsided by the AUKUS pact that it says was drawn behind its back and is furious at being “stabbed in the back”.

AUKUS: A Backgrounder

  • This new partnership is known as AUKUS and the major highlight of this arrangement is the sharing of US nuclear submarine technology with Australia.
  • The first major initiative of AUKUS would be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia thereby giving it a nuclear heft in the Pacific where China has been particularly aggressive.
  • Apart from this AUKUS will also involve the sharing of cyber capabilities and other undersea technologies.
  • This alliance is considered to be most significant security arrangement between these three nations.

Ripples created by AUKUS

(A) US shift of focus

  • AUKUS is both an acknowledgment of and a concession to the loss of US strategic primacy.  
  • It gives justification for the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan — to be able to better focus on the strategic rivalry and trade competition with China.

(B) Resentment in the EU and France

  • The deal has complicated the relations between France and Australia, and also France and the US. France is upset as it has been kept out of the loop.
  • France has even ordered the recall of its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra.  

(C) Chinese offensive reception

  • China, expectedly, has strongly criticised AUKUS and the submarine deal as promoting instability and stoking an arms race.

(D) Confusion among the SE nations

  • The new great power contestation might actually generate much room for the Southeast Asian states to manoeuvre, as they are wooed simultaneously by China, AUKUS, and the Quad.
  • They realise that AUKUS is a challenge to the hallowed notion of “ASEAN centrality”, a totemic rhetorical device which seeks to have others acknowledge its relevance.

Why is France offended?

  • France takes its role as an Indo-Pacific power seriously in a region.
  • One must know that France has 12 time zones. The areas in French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean are mainly responsible for this.
  • It maintains four naval bases, stations around 7,000 soldiers and has 1.5 million citizens in island territories such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
  • France’s anger also stems from the realization that NATO is now a defunct organization in absence of the glue, USSR, that held it together.
  • It is finding it difficult to deal with America’s clear shifting of focus from NATO to Indo-Pacific.

Why such an alliance?

(A) Deteriorating China-AU relations

  • Tensions have been high between Australia and an increasingly assertive China, its largest trade partner.
  • Australia banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei in 2108 and its PM called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 last year.
  • China retaliated by imposing tariffs on or capping Australian exports.

(B) US act of counterbalancing

  • China has nuclear-powered submarines, as well as submarines that can launch nuclear missiles.
  • The three signatories to the AUKUS deal have made it clear though, that their aim is not to arm the new subs with nuclear weapons.

(C) Bringing Australia at the centrestage of Indo-Pacific

  • In the context of the AUKUS agreement, nuclear-powered submarines will give the Royal Australian Navy the capability to go into the South China Sea.
  • This is primarily because a nuclear-powered submarine gives a navy the capability to reach far out into the ocean and launch attacks.
  • A nuclear-powered submarine offers long distances dives, at a higher speed, without being detected gives a nation the ability to protect its interests far from its shores.

Exactly, How?

  • To go from a diesel-electric fleet to a nuclear fleet is thus a change of strategy, not just of propulsion.
  • It provides a way to project power from the shipping lanes which feed the all-important Malacca Strait to the waters off Taiwan.
  • Add on the capacity to launch much longer-range missiles—a submarine could deliver missiles to China’s mainland while sitting to the east of the Philippines—and the country has a greatly expanded offensive capacity.

AU: Another US Base

  • If Australia’s strategic stance is changed by the deal, so is America’s.
  • Since the second world war the US has projected power across the region called as an archipelago of empire.
  • There are the island bases from Hawaii in the east to Guam, Okinawa in Japan and, in the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia, leased from Britain without the consent of its natives.
  • In Australia, America has now, in effect, a beefed-up continent-sized base for its own operations as well as a reinvigorated ally.

Outcomes of AUKUS

(A) Offensive front against China

  • There is no gainsaying the fact that rapid accretion in China’s economic and military capacities, but more particularly its belligerence, has led to a tectonic shift in regional security paradigms.
  • Several countries have been obliged to review their defence preparedness in response to China’s rising military power and its adverse impact on regional stability.

(B) India as a bridge in Anglosphere

  • The transatlantic fissure has also pointed to something inconceivable—that India could emerge as a potential bridge between different parts of the West.
  • Our PM was on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirming India’s strong commitment to the Indo-Pacific partnership with France.
  • India’s solidarity with France at a difficult moment is rooted in New Delhi’s conviction that preserving the West’s unity is critical in shaping the strategic future of the Indo-Pacific.

(C) Exposed Chinese double standards

  • China has the world’s fastest-growing fleet of sub-surface combatants.
  • This includes the Type 093 Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) and the Type 094 nuclear-powered Jin-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).
  • Its nuclear submarines are on the prowl in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Yet, China denies Australia and others the sovereign right to decide on their defence requirements.

Implications on QUAD

  • Not superseding: This alliance does not and will not supersede or outrank existing arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region such as the Quad, which the US and Australia form with India and Japan, and ASEAN.
  • Complimentary to QUAD: AUKUS will complement these groups and others.

Opportunities for India

While the Quad and Washington’s Indo-Pacific pivot generate much interest and anxiety, it is easy to forget that the two ideas are, in essence, about India.

  • India’s role has enhanced: Balancing China is the challenge confronting the United States, and Washington has recognized that India is an indispensable part of the answer.
  • Just another alliance: New Delhi has no reason to complain if Australia, Britain, and the United States raise the military capabilities of their coalition. The submarine deal is an undiluted example of strategic defence collaboration.
  • Intimidating China: The introduction of nuclear-powered submarine through AUKUS has a complicating impact on the Chinese maritime calculus. Anything that maintains a balance of power in the region is desirable.
  • Focusing inside on land border: AUKUS also leaves India with a less of a headache in securing its maritime flank from Chinese aggression and New Delhi may focus more fully on the threat emanating from the land border with China.

Creating affinity with France (the Submarine giant)

  • In fact, instead of constricting India, AUKUS has opened a window of strategic opportunity and a chance for New Delhi to deepen its partnership with France provided it plays the cards well.
  • India and France are strongly committed to making the Indo-Pacific an area of cooperation and shared values.

Way forward

  • The setback ‘down under’ may spur France to focus afresh on partners such as India.
  • India must strike a balance between continuing imports and implementing the all-important Atmanirbhar Bharat in defence manufacturing.
  • France should take AUKUS as a business deal.
  • Its momentary reaction at the cancellation of the contract by Australia should soon subside.
  • As a major Indo-Pacific power, France is an important part of the regional security calculus.
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Sansad TV Archive

[Sansad TV ] India and Persian Gulf Region

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The Indian Air Force is a few months back has participated for the first time in Exercise Desert Flag-VI in UAE along with air forces of the United Arab Emirates, United States of America, France, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Bahrain.

In this article, we will discuss and analyze various aspects of the strategic significance of the Persian Gulf Region for India.

Context

India’s relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have witnessed a significant upswing since 2015, across the areas of trade, investments, counter-terrorism, and security cooperation.

Regional and international developments, including the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), China’s growing regional footprint, as well as heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, also contributed to amplifying the importance of the GCC states in India’s foreign policy calculus.

Persian Gulf: A backgrounder

  • Persian Gulf also called Arabian Gulf is a shallow marginal sea of the Indian Ocean that lies between the Arabian Peninsula and southwestern Iran.
  • It is bordered on the north, northeast, and east by Iran; on the southeast and south by part of Oman and by the United Arab Emirates; on the southwest and west by Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia; and on the northwest by Kuwait and Iraq.
  • The Shatt al-Arab river delta forms the northwest shoreline.

Global fossil fuel depot

  • The Persian Gulf and its coastal areas are the world’s largest single source of petroleum, and related industries dominate the region. ‘
  • Safaniya Oil Field in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest offshore oilfield, is located in the Persian Gulf.

Conflicts in the Gulf

  • The Persian Gulf is a relatively constricted geographic area of great existing or potential volatility.
  • The smaller states of the gulf are particularly vulnerable, having limited indigenous populations and, in most cases, armed forces with little more than symbolic value to defend their countries against aggression.
  • All of them lack strategic depth, and their economies and oil industries depend on access to the sea.

Various threats

  • Over the last decade, the Gulf has been in ferment — the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011 deprived Saudi Arabia of its security partner and created in the kingdom a deep sense of strategic vulnerability.
  • It saw in Iran a hegemonic player in regional affairs and opted to challenge the expansion of Iran’s presence on a sectarian basis in the region that it considered its zone of exclusive influence.
  • This set up proxy conflicts between the two Islamic neighbours in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

What is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)?

  • The GCC is a regional, intergovernmental political and economic union that consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • The Charter of the GCC was signed on 25 May 1981, formally establishing the institution.

India-GCC engagement

  • The significant presence of the Indian community in the Gulf countries over the last 40 years and the role of Indian enterprises in the development of the region have taken place in the framework of important changes in bilateral political and economic relations.
  • The GCC countries also became India’s principal trade and investment partners.
  • The Gulf is an integral part of India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’, both by way of geographical proximity and as an area of expanded interests and growing Indian influence.

Diplomatic Relations

  • The governments of the GCC members are India-friendly and Indian-friendly.
  • Many GCC members have outrightly ignored Pakistan’s foul cries regarding Kashmir in the OIC.
  • The Prime Minister of India has received the ‘Order of Zayed’, the highest civilian order of the UAE and the ‘King Hamad Order of the Renaissance’, the third-highest civilian order of Bahrain.

Economic Relations

  • The GCC states are among India’s key suppliers of energy, and annual remittances from Indians in these countries are worth an estimated USD 4.8 billion.
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia are India’s third and fourth-largest trading partners respectively and the total bilateral trade of the GCC countries with India for the year 2018-19 stood at USD 121.34 billion.
  • UAE also features in the top 10 sources of FDI inflows into India.

Security Relations

  • Both India and the GCC are members of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
  • Apart from the participation of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, and others in India’s mega multilateral Milan Exercise, India also has bilateral exercises with most of them.

Cultural relations

  • India’s relations with the peoples of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula go back several millennia when Indian sailors, merchants, intellectuals and men of faith traversed the waters of the Indian Ocean, exchanging navigation skills, goods, ideas and belief systems.
  • They thus enriched each other materially and spiritually and created a shared ethos that endures to this day.

India and Iran

  • India has always shared a friendly relationship with Iran.
  • But the India-Iran relation faces one of the most complex phases at all times due to the USA’s pressure which has politico-economic impacts.
  • In May 2018, the USA abandoned the nuclear deal and reinstated economic sanctions against Iran.

Qatar Crisis and India

  • Qatar’s has connections with various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and groups supported by Iran.
  • Such developments are likely to have significant implications for India, given that its citizens make up the largest expatriate group in the region.

India’s importance to the Gulf

  • India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc.
  • Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism and Free Economic Zones.
  • Indian interests do not entail power projection but necessitate peace and regional stability. India has always avoided involvement in local or regional disputes in the region.

India’s interests in the Gulf

  • There are around seven million people of Indian origin working in the Middle East. Security and stability in the region is hence of paramount importance for India.
  • Further, the Indian diaspora in the region remits around USD 40 billion a year.
  • These funds are immensely valuable as they help India manage its current account deficit. Energy is another critical area of engagement.
  • A fifth of India’s oil, and about 65 per cent of gas imports, comes from countries of the Middle East including Iran, Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others.

Future of Cooperation

  • Economic recovery after the pandemic and the building of ties on fresh bases will need to take into account that the pandemic has accelerated many of the trends in the world economy that were at nascent stage earlier.
  • These are a shift in favour of clean energy, digitisation and the attendant need for skilled manpower, and the paramount importance of connectivity, both physical, to explore new trade links, and digital, to shape new regional value chains.
  • Water conservation can be a new area for cooperation between India and the GCC countries to sustain a better quality of life over the long-term, given that both regions are facing water stress.
  • Food security is also a priority concern for all GCC nations, with the countries being particularly anxious about supply disruptions due to market or political volatilities.
  • Given India’s huge fruit and vegetable produce and vast quantities that are wasted due to poor storage, the food processing sector has the greatest potential for GCC-India cooperation, especially investments.

Conclusion

  • Given the five millennia-old narrative of engagement that has defined India’s links with the Gulf, the pandemic has opened opportunities to reinvent our connections on new bases, as we have been doing over several centuries.
  • There will be a clear synergy in India and the GCC countries consolidating their traditional areas of cooperation — energy, trade and investment.
  • This will need adopting of an integrated and cohesive approach, backed by institutional support, to develop ties in the diverse areas set out above — renewables, water conservation, food security, digital technology and skills development.
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Sansad TV Archive

[Yojana Archive] Reforms in the civil Services

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Context

  • Civil Service is vital for the government to function.
  • It’s regarded as the ‘steel frame’ of administration in India from colonial days.
  • The colonial legacy of civil service continues amidst the fast-changing era of globalization.
  • It is therefore, indispensible that civil service reforms are carried out as a part of good governance.
  • A reboot and re-orientation of it is needed to ensure effective service delivery.

Civil Services in India: A backgrounder

  • Civil Services refer to the career civil servants who are the permanent executive branch of the Republic of India. It is the backbone of the administrative machinery of the country.
  • As India is a parliamentary democracy, the ultimate responsibility for running the administration rests with the people’s elected representatives.
  • The elected executive decides the policy and it is civil servants, who serve at the pleasure of the President of India, implement it.
  • However, Article 311 of the constitution protects Civil Servants from politically motivated vindictive action.

Evolution of Civil Services

Ancient India: Kautilya’s Arthasastra gives seven basic elements of the administrative apparatus- Swamin (the ruler), Amatya (the bureaucracy), Janapada (territory), Durga (the fortified capital), Kosa (the treasury), Danda (the army), and Mitra (the ally). The higher bureaucracy consisted of the mantrins and the amatyas. While the mantrins were the highest advisors to the King, the Amatyas were the civil servants.

Medieval India: During the Mughal era, the bureaucracy was based on the mansabdari system. The mansabdari system was essentially a pool of civil servants available for civil or military deployment.

Colonial India: The big changes in the civil services in British-India came with the implementation of Macaulay’s Report 1835. The report recommended that only the best and brightest would do for the Indian Civil Service to serve the interest of the British Empire.

Post-Independence: Indian civil services system retained the elements of the British structure like a unified administrative system such as an open-entry system based on academic achievements, permanency of tenure.

Post partition: When India was partitioned following the departure of the British in 1941, the Indian Civil Service was divided between the new dominions of India and Pakistan. The Indian remnant of the ICS was named the Indian Administrative Service, while the Pakistani remnant was named the Pakistan Administrative Service.

Classification of Services

  • The modern Indian Administrative Service was created under Article 312(2) in part XIV of the Constitution of India, and the All-India Services Act, 1951.
  • Constitution has not elaborated the types and categories of services. As per the Constitution, the services are categorized into the followings categories:
  1. All India Services (AlS)
  2. State Services
  3. Local and Municipal Services.
  4. There are four groups of central, services Central Services Group A(Indian Foreign Service, Indian Audit and Accounts Service, Indian Statistical Service etc.), B (Central Secretariat Service, Geographical Survey of India, Zoological Survey of India etc.), C & D.
  5. The highest personnel strength among the entire civil services system in India is with Central Secretariat Service and Indian Revenue Service (IT and C&CE).

Latest Developments

  • The Govt. of India approved the formation of the Indian Skill Development Service in 2015, Indian Enterprise Development Service in 2016.
  • Further, the Cabinet of India approved merging all civil services under Indian Railways into a single Indian Railways Management Service as part of structural reform in the sector in 2019.
  • Also the lateral entry of professionals in Civil Services has begun.

Our discussion: Civil Service Reform

  • Civil Service Reform is a deliberate change effort by the government to improve its capacity to effectively and efficiently execute policies.
  • The purpose of ‘reform’ is to reorient the Civil Services into a dynamic, efficient, and accountable apparatus for public service delivery built on the ethos and values of integrity, impartiality, and neutrality.
  • The reform is to raise the quality of public services delivered to the citizens and enhance the capacity to carry out core government functions, thereby, leading to sustainable development.

Why need CS reforms?

  • Accelerated change globally
  • Globalization
  • Technological advances
  • greater decentralization
  • social activism
  • Economic Reforms

What are the various bottlenecks of Indian Civil Services?

  • Poor capacity building
  • Inefficient incentive systems that do not appreciate upright and outstanding civil servants but reward the corrupt and the incompetent
  • Outdated rules and procedures that restrict the civil servant from performing effectively
  • Systemic inconsistencies empanelment in promotion
  • Lack of adequate transparency and accountability procedures
  • no safety for whistleblowers
  • Arbitrary and whimsical transfers: insecurity in tenures impedes institutionalization
  • Political interference and administrative acquiescence
  • Dominance of few elite services in promotions, work allocations, and assignments

Structural Issues

Generalist Vs Specialist: Civil Services was designed to deliver certain core functions: Law and Order; Government programs and realizing Governments’ orders. However, changes/Causes/Reasons mentioned above led to change in the role of the state. 

New Challenges: Cyber security, complex business, trade, legal aspects are some of the major emerging threats.

Recent Reforms

(1) Mission Karmayogi

  • It is aimed at better services delivery to the public.- “governance, performance, and accountability”. lt promises a shift from rules to roles, silos to coordination, interdisciplinary movements, and a continuous capacity building exercise.
  • The focus of the reform is the creation of a ‘citizen-centric civil service’ capable of creating and delivering services conducive to economic growth and public welfare.
  • Accordingly, Mission Karmayogi shifts the focus from “Rule-based training to Role-based training”. Greater thrust has been laid on behavioral change.

(2) National Programme for Civil Service Capacity Building:  

  • It aims for learning resources from the best institutions and practices from across the world while retaining Indian sensibilities and culture.
  • The mid-career training will now be available to all government staff instead of the top officers alone, and their profile and assessment will be continuous.
  • If there is a need for some special appointment, then authorities can do so by looking at the profile of the officers with the help of technology instead of depending on perceptions.

Key features of the new Reforms

  • ‘Rules based’ to ‘Roles based’ HR Management
  •  Aligning work allocation of civil servants by matching their competencies to the requirements of the post.
  • To emphasize on ‘on-site learning’ to complement the ‘off-site’ learning.
  • To create an ecosystem of shared training infrastructure including that of learning materials, institutions and personnel.
  • To calibrate all Civil Service positions to a Framework of Roles, Activities and Competencies (FRACs) approach and to create and deliver learning content relevant to the identified FRACs in every Government entity.
  • To make available to all civil servants, an opportunity to continuously build and strengthen their Behavioural, Functional, and Domain Competencies in their self-driven and mandated learning paths.
  • To enable all the Central Ministries and Departments and their Organizations to directly invest their resources towards co-creation and sharing the collaborative and common ecosystem of learning through an annual financial subscription for every employee.
  • To encourage and partner with the best-in-class learning content creators including public training institutions, universities, start-ups, and individual experts.

Way forward

  • Civil Service Reforms should realign the outdated structure and culture of the services and forgo its colonial hangover aiming to raise the quality and sensitivity of services to the citizens that are essential for sustainable economic and social development.
  • Rationalization and harmonization of service is the need of the hour.

Conclusion

  • Capacity augmentation of Civil Servants plays a vital role in rendering a wide variety of services, implementing welfare programs, and performing core governance functions.
  • A transformational change in Civil Service Capacity is proposed to be affected by organically linking the transformation of work culture, strengthening public institutions, and adopting modern technology to build civil service capacity with the overall aim of ensuring efficient delivery of services to citizens.
  • The future of the country cannot be progressive without a reformed bureaucracy.
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Sansad TV Archive

[Sansad TV Archives] Petroleum Products – Need for Price Cut

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The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council has recently decided to keep petroleum products out of the GST regimes.

As the retail prices of petroleum products are soaring, demand for price reduction has gained momentum.

Fuel prices in India

  • India meets its domestic oil demand mainly through imports.
  • While international crude prices have risen sharply in the last six months, a major reason for the high selling price of petrol is the high levy of local taxes.

Factors affecting fuel prices?

  1. Crude oil production and pricing
  2. Rupee vs. Dollar Rates
  3. Demand-Supply scenario
  4. Internal transportation
  5. Pricing mechanism

Present taxation of Fuels

  • Currently, taxes on petroleum products are levied by both the Centre and the states.
  • While the Centre levies excise duty, states levy value added tax (VAT).
  • For instance, VAT on petroleum products is as high as 40% in Maharashtra, contributing over ₹25,000 crore annually.
  • By being able to levy VAT on these products, the state governments have control over their revenues.
  • When a national GST subsumed central taxes such as excise duty and state levies like VAT on July 1, 2017, five petroleum goods – petrol, diesel, ATF, natural gas and crude oil – were kept out of its purview.

Why bring Petro/Diesel under GST?

  • GST is being thought to be a solution for the problem of near-record high petrol and diesel rates in the country, as it would end the cascading effect of tax on tax.
  • The state VAT is being levied not just on the cost of production but also on the excise duty charged by the Centre on such output.

Why were they left out of GST?

  • This is because both central and state government finances relied heavily on taxes on these products.
  • Since GST is a consumption-based tax, bringing petroleum under the regime would have mean states where these products are sold get the revenue and not the producer ones.
  • Simply put, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with their huge population and a resultant high consumption would get more revenues at the cost of states like Gujarat.
  • Under the present Covid situation, bringing petroleum products under GST will be a very tough call for both the Centre and states “as both will stand to lose”.

Typically, for every Re 1 of excise hike on petrol and diesel, the gain to the exchequer is around Rs 13,000-14,000 crore. However, with the Covid-related consumption slump, the gains may be a bit lower than this.

How does this impact consumers?

High oil prices add to inflationary pressures. Inflation poses a challenge to growth.

  • Record high prices for diesel means that the cost of transporting goods goes up across the country which in turn could result in increasing the prices of essential commodities like fruit and vegetables as well.
  • Household incomes see a perceptible drop and gradually even the demand for discretionary goods starts declining.
  • Petrol and diesel have a combined weight of 4.69% in the wholesale price index and 2.34% in the retail price index.
  • Any increase in the prices of the transport fuels affect the WPI more than the CPI but what is more worrisome is the pass-through effect the increase in fuel prices can cause.

Impact of inclusion of fuel under GST

  • If petroleum products are included under the GST, there will be a uniform price of fuel across the country.
  • However, petroleum products coming under GST not necessarily means that taxes or prices will come down.
  • If the GST council decides to opt for a lower slab, taxes may come down.
  • At present, India has four primary GST rates – 5 percent, 12 percent, 18 percent and 28 percent.
  • Levying a standard rate of GST on petrol would mean that the prices increase dramatically in Andaman and Nicobar, but on the flip side, they would fall in Maharashtra if the cumulative rate is lower than the current rate.

Way forward

  • The government can offset the prices by lowering excise duty slightly, which saw an exorbitant hike during March last year.
  • This window, the experts say, is available to the government only this year.
  • Next year, when the demand for transport fuels comes back to pre-pandemic levels and there is sharper upward revision, the risk to inflation will be much higher and may leave no ammunition with the government.
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Sansad TV Archive Yojana/Sansad TV

[RSTV Archive] Agriculture: Priorities & Challenges

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The Vice President a few months back had advised top priority and coordinated action by both the Centre and the states to bring in reforms. He suggested that the 4 Ps – Parliament, political leaders, policymakers and press – must proactively adopt a positive bias towards agriculture.

Observing that many people are leaving agriculture and migrating to urban areas because of rising input costs and unfavourable market conditions, he said the problems that are holding back Indian farmers from realizing their full potential must be identified and solved.

India Agriculture: A backgrounder

While agriculture’s share in India’s economy has progressively declined to less than 15% due to the high growth rates of the industrial and services sectors, the sector’s importance in India’s economic and social fabric goes well beyond this indicator as:

  • Population dependency: Nearly three-quarters of India’s families depend on rural incomes.
  • Rural sector: The majority of India’s poor (some 770 million people or about 70 percent) are found in rural areas.
  • Food Security: India’s food security depends on producing cereal crops, as well as increasing its production of fruits, vegetables and milk.

India is a global agricultural powerhouse. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses, and spices, and has the world’s largest cattle herd (buffaloes), as well as the largest area under wheat, rice and cotton.

It is the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, cotton, sugarcane, farmed fish, sheep & goat meat, fruit, vegetables and tea.

Challenges to Indian Agriculture

Three agriculture sector challenges will be important to India’s overall development and the improved welfare of its rural poor:

[1] Raising agricultural productivity per unit of land

  • Raising productivity per unit of land will need to be the main engine of agricultural growth as virtually all cultivable land is farmed.
  • Water resources are also limited and water for irrigation must contend with increasing industrial and urban needs.
  • All measures to increase productivity will need exploiting, amongst them: increasing yields, diversification to higher value crops, and developing value chains to reduce marketing costs.

[2] Reducing rural poverty

  • Rural development must also benefit the poor, landless, women, scheduled castes and tribes.
  • Moreover, there are strong regional disparities: the majority of India’s poor are in rain-fed areas or in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic plains.
  • Hence, poverty alleviation is a central pillar of the rural development efforts.

[3] Food security needs

  • The sharp rise in food-grain production during India’s Green Revolution of the 1970s enabled the country to achieve self-sufficiency in food-grains and stave off the threat of famine.
  • However, the recent slow-down in agricultural growth has become a major cause for concern.
  • India’s rice yields are one-third of China’s and about half of those in Vietnam and Indonesia. The same is true for most other agricultural commodities.

Ground challenges

[a] Small and Fragmented Land Holdings:

  • Small and scattered land holdings apply to a small plot of land that is uneconomical.
  • An agricultural farm must have a certain amount of land in order to be cost effective in terms of purchasing and utilizing inputs, as well as harvesting.

[b] Quality seeds

  • The seed is a vital and essential inputs for the crops yields and maintaining agricultural production growth.
  • The delivery of high quality seeds is just as important as its processing.
  • Unfortunately, good superiority seed are out of reach for the majority of the farmers,  marginal farmers and particularly small, due to exorbitant seed  rates.

[c] Manures, Fertilizers and Biocides

  • For hundreds of years, Indian soil were used to produce crops with no regard for replenishment. As a result, soils have been depleted and exhausted, leading to low productivity.
  • Almost all of the crop has among the lowermost average yields in the world.
  • It is a critical concern that can be resolved by increasing the use of fertilizers and manures.

[d] Irrigation challenges

  • Despite  the  fact  that  India  is a  world’s 2nd  largest  moistened  country  after  the  China,  only  one 3rd  of  the  crop  production  is  irrigated. 
  • In  a  rainy  climate  country  like  India,  where  rainfall  is  unpredictable,  unreliable,  and  erratic,  irrigation  is  the  most  significant  agricultural  input. 
  • India will  not  be  able  to  make  sustainable  development in agriculture until and unless much than half of the collected area is irrigated.

[e] Lack of Mechanization

  • Despite the large scales mechanization of the agriculture in few part of the world, most agricultural operation are still carried out manually.
  • Irrigating, sowing, thinning, ploughing and pruning, harvesting threshing, weeding, and transporting the crops all make little or no use of machines.
  • This is particularly true for small and marginal farmers.  It leads to significant waste of labour and human labour yields per capita.

Priority Areas for Support

[A] Enhancing agricultural productivity, competitiveness, and rural growth

(1) Promoting new technologies and reforming agricultural research and extension:

  • Major reform and strengthening of India’s agricultural research and extension systems is one of the most important needs for agricultural growth.
  • These services have declined over time due to chronic underfunding of infrastructure and operations, no replacement of aging researchers or broad access to state-of-the-art technologies.
  • Research now has little to provide beyond the time-worn packages of the past.

(2) Improving Water Resources and Irrigation/Drainage Management

  • Agriculture is India’s largest user of water.
  • However, increasing competition for water between industry, domestic use and agriculture has highlighted the need to plan and manage water on a river basin and multi-sectoral basis.
  • As urban and other demands multiply, less water is likely to be available for irrigation. Ways to radically enhance the productivity of irrigation (“more crop per drop”) need to be found.
  • Piped conveyance, better on-farm management of water, and use of more efficient delivery mechanisms such as drip irrigation are among the actions that could be taken.

(3) Facilitating crop diversification to higher-value commodities

  • Encouraging farmers to diversify to higher value commodities will be a significant factor for higher agricultural growth, particularly in rain-fed areas where poverty is high.
  • Moreover, considerable potential exists for expanding agro-processing and building competitive value chains from producers to urban centers and export markets.
  • While diversification initiatives should be left to farmers and entrepreneurs, the Government can, first and foremost, liberalize constraints to marketing, transport, export and processing.

(4) Promoting high growth commodities

  • Some agricultural sub-sectors have particularly high potential for expansion, notably dairy.
  • The livestock sector, primarily due to dairy, contributes over a quarter of agricultural GDP and is a source of income for 70% of India’s rural families, mostly those who are poor and headed by women.
  • Growth in milk production, at about 4% per annum, has been brisk, but future domestic demand is expected to grow by at least 5% per annum.
  • Milk production is constrained, however, by the poor genetic quality of cows, inadequate nutrients, inaccessible veterinary care, and other factors.

(5) Developing markets, agricultural credit and public expenditures

  • India’s legacy of extensive government involvement in agricultural marketing has created restrictions in internal and external trade.
  • Even so, private sector investment in marketing, value chains and agro-processing is growing, but much slower than potential.
  • While some restrictions are being lifted, considerably more needs to be done to enable diversification and minimize consumer prices.
  • Improving access to rural finance for farmers is another need as it remains difficult for farmers to get credit.

[B] Poverty alleviation and community actions

  • While agricultural growth will, in itself, provide the base for increasing incomes, for the 170 million or so rural persons that are below the poverty line, additional measures are required to make this growth inclusive.
  • For instance, a rural livelihoods program that empowers communities to become self-reliant has been found to be particularly effective and well-suited for scaling-up.
  • This program promotes the formation of self-help groups, increases community savings, and promotes local initiatives to increase incomes and employment.

[C] Sustaining the environment and future agricultural productivity

(1) Over-use management

  • In parts of India, the over-pumping of water for agricultural use is leading to falling groundwater levels. Conversely, water-logging is leading to the build-up of salts in the soils of some irrigated areas.
  • In rain-fed areas on the other hand, where the majority of the rural population live, agricultural practices need adapting to reduce soil erosion and increase the absorption of rainfall.
  • Watershed management programs can be implemented where communities engage in land planning and adopt agricultural practices that protect soils.
  • This can lead to increase in water absorption and raise productivity through higher yields and crop diversification.

(2) Climate change mitigation

  • More extreme events – droughts, floods, erratic rains – are expected and would have greatest impact in rain-fed areas.
  • The watershed program, allied with initiatives from agricultural research and extension, may be the most suited agricultural program for promoting new varieties of crops and improved farm practices.

[D] Marketing reforms

  • In the absence of properly organized market and sufficient transportations facilities, Indian farmers face a problem of the low incomes from their vendible surplus crops.
  • As a result, farmers have fallen prey to distributers for the fast discarding of their crop at the lower price and uneconomic.
  • Price fluctuations in agricultural product are also a significant threat in Indian agriculture.
  • Price stability is important not only for farmers, but also for buyers, exporters, and agro-based industry.
  • The price movements of the agricultural product in India are neither the smooth nor the uniform, resulting in a fluctuating pattern.

Various govt initiatives

The Government of India has taken several steps which include:

  • Improvement in soil fertility through the Soil Health Card scheme.
  • Providing improved access to irrigation and enhanced water efficiency through Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY).
  • Supporting organic farming through Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY).
  • Support for creation of a unified national agriculture market to boost the income of farmers.
  • A new scheme, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) has been launched for implementation from Kharif 2016 to mitigate the risk of crop loss in agriculture sector.
  • Marketing reforms through the three farm laws.

Conclusion

  • Among the major sources of agrarian distress are low levels of farmers’ incomes and their fluctuations over the years.
  • The problem is acute and is getting severe with the passage of time, affecting large chunks of the population that make living with agriculture.
  • Persistent low levels of income may also adversely affects the future of agriculture sector in India.
  • Adequate attention is required to improve the agricultural incomes and thus the welfare of the farmers to secure future of agriculture in the country.
  • Reaching this end will reduce persistent disparity between farm and non-farm income, alleviate agrarian distress, encourage inclusive growth and infuse dynamism in the farming sector.
  • Decent incomes in farm sector will also attract youth towards the farming profession relieving the non-farm job sector of the continuing burden.