September 2018
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[op-ed snap] Why ethanol blending in petrol might not work for India


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Food processing & related industries in India

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Biofuels, Crops from which biofuels can be generated

Mains level: India’s current biofuel policy and its unsustainability


India’s ethanol blending plans

  1. It is being increasingly suggested that India should increase the use of biofuels to reduce dependence on oil imports
  2. Among biofuels, ethanol appears to be the most viable alternative, and the government intends to raise ethanol blending in petrol to 20% by 2030 from the current 2-3%

Why this is not a good idea

  1. Increasing the production of biofuels can strain India’s water resources and affect food availability
  2. Biofuels, such as jatropha, have often proven to be commercially unviable

Analysing water usage

  1. Water footprint, that is water required to produce a litre of ethanol, includes rainwater at the root zone used by ethanol-producing plants such as sugarcane, and surface, groundwater, and fresh water required to wash away pollutants
  2. India’s water footprint is not only high in overall terms, but India also uses more surface and groundwater than the US and Brazil
  3. India has the least internal surface and groundwater compared with both countries
  4. Most of our daily uses of water come from this source and therefore it needs to be used judiciously

Another major problem:  Land resources

  1. Sugarcane currently accounts for around 3% of India’s net sown area
  2. To raise the petrol-ethanol blend rate to even 10%, India will have to devote another 4% of its net sown area to sugarcane
  3. In order to achieve 20% blend rate, almost one-tenth of the existing net sown area will have to be diverted for sugarcane production
  4. Any such land requirement is likely to put a stress on other crops and has the potential to increase food prices

Biofuel policy mandate

  1. India’s biofuel policy stipulates that fuel requirements must not compete with food requirements and that only surplus food crops should be used for fuel production
  2. Producing ethanol from crop residue will be a good alternative but the annual capacity of required bio-refineries is stipulated to be 300-400 million litres, which is still not enough to meet the 5% petrol-ethanol blending requirement

Way Forward

  1. Increasing petrol-ethanol blending does not seem viable in the current scenario
  2. Concerted efforts need to be made to either increase sugarcane yield and decrease water usage through better irrigation practices, or increase the ethanol production capacity of bio-refineries
  3. Trying to increase blending without these efforts can encroach upon land and water available for food production
Biofuel Policy

[op-ed snap] Green shoots of revival: on BIMSTEC summit


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: BIMSTEC, Kathmandu declaration, Bangkok declaration

Mains level: Importance of BIMSTEC for India and areas of focus for its revival


BIMSTEC Summit 2018

  1. The road to the fourth summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in Kathmandu, Nepal was marked by scepticism and hope
  2. Grouping’s past performance has been modest in the previous 19 years and promising in the past two years
  3. On the positive side, the fact that the summit could be held was a success in itself as it had been delayed

Important decisions taken to revive BIMSTEC

  1. Work begins now on drafting a charter for BIMSTEC, which has functioned so far on the basis of the Bangkok Declaration of 1997, and outcomes of the past three summits and the Leaders’ Retreat in 2016
  2. A Permanent Working Committee will be set up to provide direction during the period between two summits and also to prepare the Rules of Procedure
  3. The Secretariat has been promised additional financial and human resources and enhancement of its role to coordinate, monitor and facilitate the grouping’s activities
  4. As the institution has been handicapped due to lack of financial muscle, the leaders took the bold decision to establish the BIMSTEC Development Fund
  5. A push to increase its visibility and stature in the international fora will also be made by BIMSTEC
  6. Recognising that 16 areas of cooperation represent too wide a spectrum, the BIMSTEC governments will make a serious endeavour to review, restructure and rationalise various sectors, identifying a few core areas

Groundwork achieved in the summit & what remains to be done

  1. Of at least six legal instruments awaiting finalisation, only one, the Memorandum of Understanding on Grid Interconnection, could be inked in Kathmandu
  2. Fourteen years after signing the framework agreement on the Free Trade Area (FTA), the leaders could only renew their “commitment to an early conclusion” of FTA negotiations
  3. The grouping had established its Energy Centre in 2009, but it was still struggling for the “early operationalisation” of the Centre

Various new forums established

  1. There are plans to revitalise the Business Forum and the Economic Forum
  2. Cooperation in the security domain has been widened with a new instrument added to the arsenal: a meeting of home ministers
  3. This will be in addition to annual meetings of national security advisers and the first meeting of army chiefs to be held this year in India
  4. There is a sound plan to establish forums for parliamentarians, universities, cultural organisations and the media community

Focus on connectivity

  1. India emphasised that the biggest opportunity is connectivity — trade connectivity, economic connectivity, transport connectivity, digital connectivity, and people-to-people connectivity
  2. The Kathmandu Declaration has spelt out a number of measures, old and new, to secure this objective
  3. But the Motor Vehicle Agreement and the Coastal Shipping Agreement would still need more time for finalisation

Way Forward

  1. The summit articulated a vision for the Bay of Bengal Region heading towards a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future
  2. The region is now widely viewed as a common space for security, connectivity and development
  3. BIMSTEC can become a dynamic, effective and result-oriented organisation if it focuses on not just to deliberate, but also to deliver
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Still too many children out of school


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RTE Act, Rights of children

Mains level: The worrying condition of out-of-school children and ways to reduce their number


Data on out-of-school children

  1. The official numbers of out-of-school children in India are either out of date or contradictory
  2. According to the 2011 Census, the number of out-of-school children in the 5-17 age group was 8.4 crore
  3. However, according to a survey commissioned in 2014 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the number of out-of-school children in the 6-13 age group was only 60.64 lakh

Using NSS data to find a better estimate

  1. On the basis of the 71st round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) carried out in 2014 and taking into account the 6-18 age group, out-of-school children in this age group were more than 4.5 crores in the country
  2. The proportion of out-of-school children was higher in rural India (17.2%) than in urban India (13.1%)
  3. The proportion of children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) was the highest, followed by Other Backward Classes (OBCs)
  4. Among religious groups, the proportion of Muslims was as high as 24.1% in rural areas and 24.7% in urban areas
  5. Out-of-school children came mostly from low-income, landless and marginal families

Reasons for dropping out of school

  1. The most important reason for boys to drop out of school was to take up jobs to supplement the family earning
  2. For girls, it was the compulsion to participate in household work
  3. There is also a prejudice against educating girls that is prevalent in India
  4. An important reason for drop-out is the socio-economic conditions of the parents of the children
  5. The most important social reason for drop-out is a lack of awareness of the importance of school education and of the fact that education is now a legal right

Reason for child labour too?

  1. According to the RTE Act and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, these out-of-school children fall under the category of child labour
  2. It is, therefore, not surprising that the largest number of child labourers in the world is in India

What can be done to bring more children to school?

  1. We would not have been confronted with this high proportion of drop-outs if all the provisions of the RTE Act had been implemented within the time limit prescribed in the Act (latest by April 2015)
  2. The Act provided for the availability of a school at a distance of 1 km from the residence of the child at the primary level and 3 km at the upper primary level
  3. If these provisions had been implemented, a major reason for drop-out (the distance of school) would have been eliminated
  4. Until an adequate number of schools at the prescribed distances from the children’s homes becomes available, it would be necessary to provide secure modes of subsidised travel to schools, particularly for girls
  5. Another important provision which ought to have been included in the RTE is financial support to poor parents, adequate to enable them to send their children to school

Way Forward

  1. It is a matter of serious concern that nearly 10 years after the enactment of the RTE Act, and 16 years after the right to education was elevated to a fundamental right, such a large number of children are out of school
  2. Education is a quintessential example of being vested with intrinsic as well as instrumental value — being both the means and the end
  3. Steps need to be taken to provide education to India’s potential demographic dividend
Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

Health Ministry comes out with draft rules on sale of drugs by e-pharmacy


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Developments and their applications and effects in everyday life

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Draft Policy

Mains level: E-Commerce of Pharmaceuticals in India



  1. The Union Health Ministry has come out with “Draft Rules on “Sale of Drugs by e-pharmacy”” with an aim to regulate online sale of medicines across India
  2. This seeks to provide patients accessibility to genuine drugs from authentic online portals.
  3. These pharmacies will be purchasing directly from the drug manufacturer so they will also be able to give 20-30 per cent discounts, thus benefiting the patients.

Registration Mandatory for e-Pharmacy

  1. The draft states that no person will distribute or sell, stock, exhibit or offer for sale of drugs through e-pharmacy portal unless registered.
  2. Any person who intends to conduct business of e-pharmacy shall apply for the grant of registration to the Central Licensing Authority in Form 18AA through the online portal of the Central Government.
  3. The Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), the country’s apex drug regulator and central licensing authority is the nodal agency.
  4. The application will have to be accompanied by a sum of Rs 50,000 while asserting that an e-pharmacy registration holder will have to comply with provisions of Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000).
  5. The supply of any drug shall be made against cash or credit memo generated through the e-pharmacy portal and such memos shall be maintained by the e-pharmacy registration holder as record.
  6. The registration will remain valid for a period a three years from the date of its issuance and a renewal of registration will have to be done.

Patients Privacy to be Protected

The details of patient shall be kept confidential and shall not be disclosed to any person other than the central government or the state government concerned, as the case may be.

Certain Restrictions to be there

  1. Sale of tranquillisers, psychotropic drugs, narcotics and habit forming drugs have been prohibited through these portals.
  2. The premises from where the e-pharmacy business is conducted shall be inspected, every two years, by a team of officers authorised by the Central Licensing Authority.
  3. It would binding on the e-pharmacies to deliver the drugs in the specific time that will be told to the patient during the time of purchase.
  4. The e-portals are mandatorily required to have 24/7 call centres.
  5. No e-pharmacy shall advertise any drug on radio or television or internet or print or any other media for any purpose if it contravenes any provision of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

Draft charter of Patients’ Rights released


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Importance of recognizing Patients Rights


NHRC’s draft on Patient Rights

  1. The Health Ministry plans to implement the Charter of Patients’ Rights through State governments for provision of proper health care by clinical establishments.
  2. There was a need for a consolidated comprehensive document on patient’s rights in India.
  3. Some States have adopted the national Clinical Establishments Act 2010 and certain others have enacted their own State-level legislations to regulate hospitals.
  4. However there was no consolidated document on patients’ rights that can be followed by all States uniformly.

Particulars of the Draft

  1. The draft charter includes 17 rights with description which includes all relevant provisions and is inspired by international charters.
  2. This charter expects that Patients’ Rights are given adequate protection and operational mechanisms are set up to make these rights functional and enforceable by law.

Need for Right to Non-Discrimination

  1. Every patient has the right to receive treatment without any discrimination based on his or her illnesses or conditions, including HIV status or other health condition, religion, caste, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
  2. The hospital management has a duty to ensure that no form of discriminatory behaviour or treatment takes place with any person under the hospital’s care.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Panel urges plan to save Himalayan springs


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level:  Need for conserving the natural springs in Himalayan region.



  1. While Meghalaya with 3,810 villages with springs had the highest number of these water sources in the Eastern Himalayan States, Sikkim had the greatest density with 94% of its villages having a spring.
  2. In the Western Himalayas, Jammu & Kashmir had both the highest number of villages with springs at 3,313 and the greatest density of 50.6%.
  3. These springs are under threat due to ever increasing urbanisation in region.

Mission to revive Himalayan springs

  1. NITI Aayog constituted a group of experts that has urged the government to set up a dedicated mission to salvage and revive spring water systems in the Himalayan States.
  2. This is due to their vital importance as a source of water for both drinking and irrigation for the region’s inhabitants.

Why such move?

  1. The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) has been heavily reliant on the natural groundwater sources that are under increasing threat from the urbanisation.
  2. Almost half of the perennial springs have already dried up or have become seasonal and tens of thousands of villages are currently facing acute water shortage for drinking and other domestic purposes
  3. Almost 60% of low-discharge springs that provided water to small habitations in the region have reported clear decline during the last couple of decades.

Shimla crisis

  1. The extent of the crisis plaguing the mountainous region was recently evident when some districts of Himachal Pradesh and the capital Shimla faced a severe drinking water crisis this summer.
  2. Reduced snowmelt and depressed flow from springs was the main reason of the crisis.
  3. Also, with almost 64% of the cultivable area in the Himalayas fed by natural springs, they are often the only source of irrigation in the region.

Pollution of these Springs

  1. There were multiple sources of pollution in springs and these were due to both geogenic and anthropogenic.
  2. Microbial content, sulphates and nitrates were primarily because of anthropogenic reasons and contamination from fluoride, arsenic and iron was mainly derived from geogenic sources.
  3. Coliform bacteria in spring water could originate from septic tanks, household wastewater, livestock facilities, and manure lagoons in the source area or in the aquifers feeding springs.
  4. Similarly, nitrate sources were septic tanks, household wastewater, agricultural fertilisers, and livestock facilities.

Way Forward

  1. A multidisciplinary, collaborative approach of managing springs involving the existing body of work on spring water management must be developed.
  2. The programme could be designed on the concept of an action-research programme as part of a hydrogeology-based, community-support system on spring water management.
  3. The task force moots an 8-year programme to overhaul spring water management.
  4. This includes: preparing a digital atlas of the country’s springsheds, training ‘para-hydrogeologists’ who could lead grassroots conservation and introduction of a ‘Spring Health Card.’
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

India to take part in tsunami mock drill


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: IOWave18

Mains level: Enhancing preparedness against menace of Tsunami


Mock Tsunami Drill – IOWave18

  1. India along with 23 other nations would be participating in a major Indian ocean-wide tsunami mock exercise (drill) which would involve evacuation of thousands of people from coastal areas in over half a dozen states.
  2. The exercise IOWave18 is being organised by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.
  3. The purpose of exercise is to increase tsunami preparedness, evaluate response capabilities in each state and improve coordination throughout the region.
  4. The exercise would involve the evacuation of more than 1,25,000 people from the coastal communities of Odisha, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Gujarat and Goa.
  5. The exercise will simulate Indian Ocean countries being put in a tsunami warning situation and require the National Tsunami Warning Centre (NTWC), i.e., INCOIS in case of India, and the National and Local Disaster Management Offices to implement their strategies.

Tsunami Warning System in India

  1. The IOC coordinated the setting up of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWMS) in the aftermath of December 26, 2004 tsunami.
  2. The Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre (ITEWC), based out of the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad, is an autonomous institution under the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  3. The centre has all necessary infrastructure for the reception of real-time data from seismic and sea-level networks, tsunami modeling, as well as generation and dissemination of tsunami bulletins for the entire IOR.
Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

[pib] 6th East Asia Summit and 15th India-ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting, Singapore


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ASEAN

Mains level: Importance of India-ASEAN Trade



  1. Commerce & Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu attended the 6th East Asia Summit- Economic Ministers’ Meeting (EAS-EMM) and 15th India-ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting (AEM) in Singapore.
  2. Singapore is currently holding the Chair of ASEAN.

Importance of the meet

  1. ASEAN has emerged as the second largest trade partner of India in 2017-18 with bilateral trade valued at USD 81.33 billion, comprising 10.58% of India’s total trade with the world.
  2. The ASEAN-India Business Council (AIBC) presented their recommendations to the forum  to sustain the momentum of trade and investment in the region.
  3. Issues related to promoting connectivity, collaboration on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) development, blue economy, healthcare, and tourism as well as women and youth economic empowerment were discussed.

About East Asia Summit

  1. Established in 2005, EAS allows the principal players in the Asia-Pacific region to discuss issues of common interest and concern, in an open and transparent manner, at the highest level.
  2. The membership of EAS consists of ten ASEAN Member States (i.e. Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam), Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the USA.
  3. EAS is an initiative of ASEAN and is based on the premise of the centrality of ASEAN.
  4. The six priority areas of EAS are – Environment and Energy, Education, Finance, Global Health Issues and Pandemic Diseases, Natural Disaster Management, and ASEAN Connectivity. India endorses regional collaboration in all six priority areas.
  5. Following the 12th EAS in November 2017 in Manila, Philippines and following the adoption of the Manila Plan of Action for Maritime Cooperation.
  6. In 2009, the EAS endorsed the proposal for the revival of Nalanda University by former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN