August 2018
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India faces a stern test of its commitment to RCEP

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RCEP, ASEAN

Mains level: Dangers of easing tariff to India in spirit to maintain regional cooperation.


News

Context

  1. The government has set up a four-member group of ministers (GoM) headed by trade minister to advise PM on whether to continue with or withdraw from the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations.
  2. The GoM will find a way forward from the current deadlock.

India’s concerns

  1. ASEAN’s aggressive push to dismantle tariffs on about 90-92 per cent items and reduce tariffs to below 5 per cent on an additional 7 per cent of items is worrying for India.
  2. It would expose sensitive items, including farm and dairy goods, automobiles and steel products, to tariff cuts.
  3. For investment too, there are contentious areas such as liberalizing based on a negative list (wherein all items are to be included except those specifically mentioned in a list) and the inclusion of an Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism.
  4. This could lead to India getting involved in costly legal suits filed against it by corporates.

Trade deficit

  1. There is concern across ministries that joining the accord could severely dent local manufacturing and jobs.
  2. China’s $60-billion trade surplus with India will swell even further as it floods the market with cheap goods at zero tariffs.
  3. India has a trade deficit with as many as 10 RCEP countries, including China, South Korea and Australia, among others.

Way Forward

  1. It has so far maintained that a speedy and successful conclusion of the agreement would be possible only with the inclusion of a higher level of services and investment in the India-Asean trade basket.
  2. India is not part of any major trade group and wouldn’t want to get left out of this one, especially when the future of WTO is under a cloud due to global trade wars.

Back2Basics

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

  1. It is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between ASEAN and six Asia-Pacific states.
  2. Members: ASEAN Members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six Asia-Pacific states (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
  3. RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.
  4. The FTA is scheduled and expected to be signed in November 2018 during the ASEAN Summit and Related Summit in Singapore, after the first RCEP summit was held on 14 November 2017 in Manila, Philippines.
  5. RCEP is viewed as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement which includes several Asian and American nations but excludes China and India.
  6. Importance of RCEP:
  • In 2017, prospective RCEP member states accounted for a population of 3.4 billion people with a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP, PPP) of $49.5 trillion
  • It is approximately 39 percent of the world’s GDP with the combined GDPs of China and Japan making up more than half that amount.
  • RCEP is the world’s largest economic bloc, covering nearly half of the global economy.
  • RCEP’s share of the global economy could account for half of the estimated $0.5 quadrillion global GDP (PPP) by 2050.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

[pib] Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve becomes 11th Biosphere Reserve from India to be included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: Khangchendzonga NP

Mains Level: Read the attached story


News

Context

  1. The Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve has become the 11th Biosphere Reserve from India that has been included in the UNESCO designated World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).
  2. The decision to include it in WNBR was taken at the 30th Session of International Coordinating Council (ICC) of Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme of UNESCO held at Palembang, Indonesia.
  3. India has 18 Biosphere Reserves and with the inclusion of Khangchendzonga, the number of internationally designated WNBR has become 11, with 7 Biosphere Reserves being domestic Biosphere Reserves.

Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve

  1. Khangchendzonga in Sikkim is one of the highest ecosystems in the world, reaching elevations of 1, 220 metres above sea-level.
  2. It includes a range of ecolines, varying from sub-tropic to Arctic, as well as natural forests in different biomes that support an immensely rich diversity of forest types and habitats.
  3. The core area of the Biosphere Reserve is a major transboundary Wildlife Protected Area.
  4. The southern and central landscape, which makes up 86% of the core area, is situated in the Greater Himalayas.
  5. The northern part of the area accounts for 14% is characterized by trans-Himalayan features.
  6. Buffer zones are being developed to promote eco-tourism activities.
  7. The core zone – Khangchendzonga National Park was designated a World Heritage Site in 2016 under the ‘mixed’ category.
  8. Many of the mountains, peaks, lakes, caves, rocks, Stupas (shrines) and hot springs function as pilgrimage sites.
  9. The transition zone is targeted for eco-development activities, afforestation, plantation of medicinal herbs and soil conservation measures.
  10. Flora
  • Over 118 species of the large number of medicinal plants found in Dzongu Valley in north Sikkim are of ethno-medical utility.
  • The vegetation includes temperate broadleaf and mixed forests consisting of oaks, fir, birch, maple, willow etc.
  • The vegetation of the park also includes alpine grasses and shrubs at higher altitudes along with many medicinal plants and herbs.
  1. Fauna
  • The park contains many mammal species including musk deer, snow leopard, Himalayan tahr, wild dog, sloth bear, civet, Himalayan black bear, red panda, Tibetan wild ass, Himalayan blue sheep, serow, goral and takin etc.
  • A recent study revealed, that the Asiatic wild dog has become very rare in the area.
Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[pib] Mobile App Niryat Mitra

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the app

Mains level: Initiatives for Export Promotion by the Govt.


News

Niryat Mitra Mobile App

  1. Nodal Agency: Union Minister of Commerce & Industry
  2. The app developed by the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) is available both on Android and on IOS platforms.
  3. It provides wide range of information required to undertake international trade right from the policy provisions for export and import, applicable GST rate, available export incentives, tariff, preferential tariff, market access requirements – SPS and TBT measures.
  4. The most interesting part is that all the information is available at tariff line.
  5. The app works internally to map the ITC HS code of other countries with that of India and provides all the required data without the users bothering about the HS code of any country.
  6. Presently the app comes with the data of 87 countries.

Promoting Ease of Doing Business

  1. The exports are showing good sign and registering increase at the rate of 20%.
  2. The app will provide big opportunity to everybody and help promote export interests in the country.
  3. The Human Resource tool of the app enables candidates with interest in the international trade sector to register and apply against the vacancies arising in the sector.
  4. Companies can also search the profiles of the candidates and engage them.
Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

[pib] Bid round –II under ‘Discovered Small Field Policy’

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, and Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the policy

Mains level: Easing Hydrocarbon exploration in India


News

Context

  1. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), India is expected to account for almost one-third of the global growth in energy demand by 2040.
  2. To maintain the thrust on economic growth, it is imperative that the country’s Oil & Gas sector grows consistently so as to enable energy security and accessibility to its people.
  3. In context to this, Bid round –II under Discovered Small Field Policy will be launched by Minister of Petroleum.

Discovered Small Fields Policy

  1. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas India launched the DSF Policy in 2016.
  2. It is aimed at extracting the Oil, Natural gas from the un-monetized small oil/gas discoveries that are available in the country.
  3. It provides an easy investment option for new and existing players with minimal risk.
  4. Directorate General of Hydrocarbon (DGH) is the nodal agency to see its implementation.
  5. DSF Bid Round-I launched by the Government, was a splendid success and was completed in a record time of 10 months.
  6. Encouraged with the Success of Bid Round-I, and looking at the massive interest from Industry, especially from Private Sector; the Government is now to rolling out DSF Bid Round-II which is offering larger field areas in commercially producing basins.

Special features of DSF Bid Round–II:

  • No previous technical experience required for bidders, easy entry & investor friendly policy
  • Better fiscal system through Revenue Sharing Contracts
  • Easy bidding process; minimum requirements; transparent award; swift processing of approvals
  • Single licence for all types of hydrocarbons
  • No signature bonus
  • Exploration allowed during the entire contract period
  • Full pricing and marketing freedom
  • Royalty rates further reduced for shallow water compared to DSF-I

[pib] Swachh Survekshan 2019, ODF+ & ODF ++ Protocols and Swachh Manch Web Portal

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims Level: Various initiatives under Swachh Bharat Mission

Mains Level: The newscard aims to assess impacts of SBM on the onset of its final phase.


News

Context

  1. Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is set to launch the Swachh Survekshan 2019.
  2. Parallelly, a slew of new initiatives under the SBM-Urban as well as the Ease of Living Index will also be launched.

Success of Swachh Bharat

  1. The recently concluded Swachh Survekshan 2018 ranked 4,203 Cities.
  2. Swachh Survekshan has caught the imagination of citizens and stakeholder alike: in 2016, 1 lakh citizens provided their feedback in the survey.
  3. In 2017, nearly 20 lakh citizen feedback was received. 2018 garnered feedback from 38 lakh citizens, a milestone to the way in which the SBM has become an integral part of citizens’ mental maps.
  4. The survey has already succeeded in fostering a spirit of healthy competition among towns and cities to improve their service delivery to citizens, towards creating cleaner cities.

Highlights of Swachh Survekshan 2018

  1. 79% of residents find their area cleaner than last year
  1. 73,875 waste pickers provided formal livelihood
  2. In 137 cities, > 60% of the bulk garbage generators are doing on-site composting
  3. 33% cities of >1 lakh population have ICT based monitoring of their Community and Public Toilets

Swachh Survekshan 2019

  1. With an aim to increase the coverage of the ranking exercise MoHUA now proposes to conduct its fourth survey – Swachh Survekshan 2019 to rank all cities under Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U).
  2. The distinctive features of the survey includes encouraging large scale citizen participation, ensuring sustainability of initiatives taken towards garbage free and open defecation free cities, providing credible outcomes which would be validated by third party certification etc.
  3. The Swachh Survekshan 2019 toolkit that will be launched will contain the detailed survey methodology and component indicators with scores to help cities to prepare themselves for taking the survey.

SBM ODF+ and ODF++ Protocol

  1. The SBM ODF+ protocol focuses on sustaining community/ public toilet usage by ensuring their functionality, cleanliness and maintenance.
  2. The SBM ODF++ will focus on achieving sanitation sustainability by addressing complete sanitation value chain, including safe containment, processing and disposal of fecal sludge and septage.
  3. The ODF+ and ++ protocol and toolkit to be launched will detail out the necessary conditions to be achieved by cities for declaring themselves as ODF+ and ODF++, along with the detailed steps required for third party certifications.

Swachh Manch web portal

  1. It is a web-based platform which aims to bring together every stakeholder contributing to the Swachh Bharat Mission under a common platform.
  2. It will allow stakeholders to create/invite/participate in volunteering opportunities around neighborhoods.
  3. It will enable uploads of pictorial evidence of citizens and organizations participating in the initiatives, as well as record the number of hours volunteered, as acknowledgement of citizens’/organisations’ efforts and contributions to the cause of ‘swachhata’.
  4. The Swachh Manch will also be integrated with the existing Swachhata App to act as a citizens’ grievance redressal platform.

Ease of Living Index

  1. The Ease of Living assessment standards are closely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will provide a strong impetus to India’s effort for systematic tracking progress of SDGs in the urban areas.
  2. It will also be launched along with an Ease of Living Index dashboard.
  3. Apart from presenting the overall national ranking of 111 cities, the dashboard will present ranking of the cities across pillars, category, geographical zone and population classifications.
  4. This framework comprises four pillars namely Institutional, Social, Economic and Physical which are further broken down into 15 categories and 78 indicators.
  5. The dashboard will also have a comparison feature that will allow users to analyse the performance across cities on various liveability parameters.
Swachh Bharat Mission

[pib] World Biofuel Day, 2018 to be observed on 10th August

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: World Biofuel Day

Mains level: The newscard summarizes various initiatives by government to reduce dependence of fossil fuels.


News

World Biofuel Day

  1. It is observed every year on 10th August to create awareness about the importance of non-fossil fuels as an alternative to conventional fossil fuels.
  2. It is also aimed to highlight the various efforts made by the Government in the biofuel sector.
  3. It is being observed by the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas for the last three years.

Focus on Biofuel generation

  1. Biofuels have the benefits of reducing import dependency on crude oil, cleaner environment, and additional income to farmers and employment generation in rural areas.
  2. The biofuels programme is also in synergy with the Government of India initiatives for Make in India, Swachh Bharat and enhancing farmers’ income.
  3. The interventions include administrative price mechanism for ethanol, simplifying the procurement procedures of OMCs, amending the provisions of Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951 and enabling lignocellulosic route for ethanol procurement.

Outcomes of Bio-fuel Programme

  1. Ethanol blending in petrol has increased from 38 crore litres in the ethanol supply year 2013-14 to an estimated 141 crore litres in the ethanol supply year 2017-18.
  2. Oil PSUs are also planning to set up 12 Second Generation (2G) Bio-refineries to augment ethanol supply and address environmental issues arising out of burning of agricultural biomass.

National Policy on Biofuels-2018

  1. The policy has the objective of reaching 20% ethanol-blending and 5% biodiesel-blending by the year 2030.
  2. The policy expands the scope of feedstock for ethanol production and has provided for incentives for production of advanced biofuels.

Other initiatives

  1. Recently the Government has increased the price of C-heavy molasses-based ethanol to Rs. 43.70 from Rs. 40.85 to give a boost to EBP Programme.
  2. Price of B-heavy molasses-based ethanol and sugarcane juice-based ethanol has been fixed for the first time at Rs. 47.40.
  3. The Government has reduced GST on ethanol for blending in fuel from 18% to 5%.
Biofuel Policy

[op-ed snap] The urgent need for states to get fiscally fit

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Deteriorating condition of state finances and need for reforms in economic planning


Context

RBI state finances report

  1. The recent report, “State Finances: A Study of State Budgets 2018” by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) confirms that the state of state finances is in “deep trouble” territory
  2. Even as the levers of India’s development increasingly shift to states, there has been a sharp and swift reversal of the assiduous fiscal consolidation by states over the previous decade

Rising problems of the states due to increased spending

  1. The share of states in development expenditure rose from about half of all development spending by the Centre and states in FY11 to over two-thirds by FY16
  2. Revenue deficit of states was up by 50%, from ₹40,500 crore in FY17 to ₹61,100 crore in FY18
  3. The 3% GFD/GSDP (gross state domestic product) threshold has been breached for three years in a row, with 19 states crossing the threshold in FY18
  4. Overall liabilities sans guarantees grew to 24% of GDP in FY18, the highest in the last five years, driven by the issuance of Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (Uday) bonds in FY16 and FY17, farm loan waivers and pay commission awards

Actions needed

1. Continued efforts to make the goods and services tax (GST) buoyant

  • Corrective actions since the GST was launched seem to be showing results, as reflected in an uptick in revenue recently
  • GST remains a work-in-progress and relentless attention is required to make good the promise of a simple, and distortion-free indirect tax regime for states to reap revenue buoyancy benefits sustainably

2. Unlocking resources for infra-spending through asset monetization

  • Earlier, CRISIL Advisory had pegged India’s infrastructure investment needs during FY18 and FY22 at ₹50 trillion, with states having to account for 35-40% of this
  • Asset monetization in sectors including state highways and power transmission could possibly help recycle capital into newer infrastructure spending without adding incremental debt
  • It will also crowd-in long-term private capital and bring efficiencies in management

3. Empowering city governments and public utilities

  • Municipal bonds have made a comeback with Pune, Hyderabad, and Indore tapping capital markets successfully
  • States should do more to empower cities to translate their economic potential into resource mobilization
  • The vicious cycle of low tariffs, poor services and institutional incapacitation needs to be tackled head-on
  • Differentiated tariffs, directed subsidy and universal services access ought to replace flat tariffs, universal handouts and poor services

4. Engendering a vibrant investment climate

  • While some strides have been made on the “doing business” front over the years, the bar needs to be raised beyond the promise of “single-window” clearance and red carpet to large investors
  • Expediting structural reforms to enable timely clearances, fair and effective land acquisition, and flexible labour markets will help sustainably scale-up sluggish private investment, which is showing early signs of a pick-up
  • A recalibrated public-private partnership programme with judicious risk allocation, contract enforceability, and consistent policy regime can further augment resources for infrastructure creation

5. Redressing agrarian stress durably through wholesome reforms

  • Loan waivers announced by states since 2014 amount to ₹1.69 trillion or roughly 14% of all incremental market borrowings by state governments during this period
  • The RBI attributes 40% of slippage in consolidated revenue expenditure in FY18 vis-à-vis budget to loan waivers
  • Durable transformation in agriculture calls for progressive policies for stable prices and market linkages, farm-level support, including on crop insurance, farm inputs, soil and crop advice, and investments in logistics, irrigation, and food processing

Way Forward

  1. Financially empowered and fiscally sound state governments are a prerequisite to lift India’s growth trajectory sustainably
  2. States will need to tackle the headwinds with speed, resolve and responsibility
  3. The time for states to get their act together on the fiscal front is now
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

[op-ed snap] India’s wrong approach to paid maternity leave

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | mechanisms, laws, institutions & Bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Changes in the maternity benefits act and its impact on women


Context

Declining percentage of women in the workforce

  1. A common concern for India and the US is the decline or stagnation in female labour force participation in recent decades
  2. In India, not only have female LFP rates been lower than other comparable economies, the trend reveals declining rates over time

Adverse consequences expected

  1. While India has had a maternity leave policy on the books since 1961, it recently expanded the law in 2017
  2. Now, there are increasing concern and speculation that the law may have the unintended consequence of worsening the labour market for women, who already deal with social stigmas often associated with working women

Why would the policy backfire?

  1. India’s maternity benefit amendment offers new mothers 26 weeks of paid leave from their workplace, with an average wage replacement rate of 100%
  2. The policy is problematic because it is imposed as an employer mandate
  3. Employers have to bear the entire cost of providing leave to employees
  4. This is in terms of both continued pay while on leave, as well as the indirect cost of having to get the work done by employing other workers to finish the work of the absent employee
  5. This raises the concern that employers will begin to discriminate against women of childbearing age, both in hiring as well as in salaries, since this group is entitled to the benefit of paid family leave and is most likely to use it

Need of an employee payroll tax

  1. The solution could lie in imposing the cost of the paid leave policy on employees through a tax
  2. While employers would provide job-protected leave, the wage replacement could be funded through an employee payroll tax
  3. The tax should be levied only on employees to minimize any additional costs on the employer when providing paid leave

Gender neutrality essential

  1. An important aspect of the design of such a policy is gender neutrality
  2. It is critical in today’s day and age that any paid leave law be gender-neutral and thus available to both fathers and mothers
  3. This ensures that the onus of childcare is not placed solely on the mother, and instead places it on both parents
  4. At the same time, it recognizes the important role that fathers can play in the early years of a child’s birth

Way Forward

  1. What India gets right about the maternity leave law is that it is a federal law guaranteeing uniform access to paid leave to all eligible employees across the country
  2. But there is much that can be improved about the design of the policy to ensure that it works well not only for workers but also businesses
Women empowerment issues: Jobs,Reservation and education

[op-ed snap] Reforming the civil services

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Role of civil services in a democracy

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Debate surrounding the lateral entry scheme


Context

Lateral entry scheme

  1. A recent move by the Centre seeking applications from ‘outstanding individuals’ to fill in 10 posts of Joint Secretary has caused consternation
  2. The response from applicants, however, has been overwhelming

Need for Lateral Entry

  1. In our Cabinet system of government with collective responsibility, the Secretariat plays a crucial role
  2. The concept of a ‘generalist’ higher civil service can be contextualised against technical/specialised bodies on one side and the lay political executive on top
  3. Higher bureaucracy in the secretariat often has to examine proposals received from specialised departments/corporations
  4. They prepare a cohesive note in consultation with other ministries/departments like Finance, Personnel and Law to facilitate the Minister concerned or the Cabinet to take a final decision
  5. To steer a proposal through this labyrinth requires both expertise and experience
  6. The key officials in the secretariat, from the Joint Secretary to the Secretary, are the point persons guiding this consultative process and advising the political executive to take a final call
  7. A Joint Secretary to the government has this crucial “line” function to perform in policy formulation and its implementation
  8. The final decision rests with the Joint Secretary/Additional Secretary, the Secretary and finally the Minister/Cabinet

Apprehensions regarding IAS officers expertise

  1. Can an IAS officer, however brilliant and diligent she might be, based on her experience at the sub-district and district levels, handle diverse portfolios from civil aviation to power to defence
  2. Can a career civil servant, recruited through a tough competitive examination, cope with the increasingly complex matrix of decision-making at the senior levels of government
  3. Whether the higher bureaucracy is equipped to comprehend complex economic and technical issues in order to properly aid and advise the Minister

Lateral entry already exists

  1. Lateral entry at the level of Secretary has met with some success
  2. Secretaries to the Departments of Atomic Energy, Science & Technology, Scientific and Industrial Research, Health Research, and Agricultural Research have always been scientists of eminence
  3. In departments like the Railways, Posts, etc., all senior positions are manned by Indian Railway or Postal Service officers

What needs to be done?

  1. Concerted efforts should be made to help IAS officers, after their first decade of “immersion” in districts, acquire specialisation in broad sectors like social, infrastructure and financial, based on their qualification, aptitude and preference
  2. The government must ensure that only candidates, the likes of whom are not available in the existing system, are appointed
  3.  If they turn out to be truly outstanding, there should be provisions to induct them permanently in the government, with the approval of the UPSC, and consider them for higher postings
  4. IAS and other officers can be allowed to gain work experience, for a limited period, in the private sector

Way Forward

  1. The government should have the best people at the helm of affairs and if there is a need to supplement the existing stock of talent by attracting fresh blood into the system, the IAS should welcome such an inclusionary move
  2. The lateral entry scheme, if implemented properly, may foster more competitive spirit, break the complacency of the higher civil servants and eventually prove to be a pioneering initiative in public interest
Civil Services Reforms