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[op-ed snap] Farewell to South Asia

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: SAARC, BBIN, BIMSTEC

Mains level: The end of SAARC era and the need of embracing new diplomatic frontiers by India in regional groupings


Context

Decreasing South Asian influence

  1. Two recent developments on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly suggest that “South Asia” as a political construct, at least the one built from the top down, may have had its moment
  2. According to reports, three of the eight South Asian foreign ministers left the room after making their speeches at the annual gathering in New York
  3. They were from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India
  4. This shows the deepening crisis of credibility of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
  5. The second was an event that did not take place. A meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan.
  6. Within 24 hours after announcing talks, India chose to pull out

Pakistan is a common problem

  1. India, of course, is not the only one having problems with Pakistan
  2. Its other South Asian neighbour, Afghanistan, like India, had entertained hopes for a fresh beginning in the ties with Pakistan
  3. Kabul’s hopes that new PM can quickly deliver on peace have been tempered
  4. Pakistan’s relations with Bangladesh have been in a deep chill for such a long time that no one expects a reversal of fortunes any time soon

Moving ahead of SAARC

  1. The SAARC project has now lost all steam
  2. All countries are finding alternatives
  3. After the Kathmandu Summit, PM Modi declared that he will not hold regional cooperation hostage to Pakistan’s veto
  4. India moved to focus on the so-called BBIN forum that brings together four countries of South Asia — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal — for sub-regional cooperation in the eastern Subcontinent
  5. The government has also sought to reactivate the BIMSTEC forum that brings the BBIN countries as well as Sri Lanka with Myanmar and Thailand

SAARC partners not sharing the same thoughts

  1. Not everyone in these subregional and trans-regional groupings has the same dream
  2. Even as Kathmandu sleeps in the BBIN and BIMSTEC beds, sections of Nepal’s ruling elite want to “escape” South Asia into the vast folds of the Chinese embrace
  3. Sri Lanka has begun to describe itself as an Indian Ocean country
  4. The Maldives, too, has so much to gain by leveraging its Indian Ocean location rather than pin its hopes on the dystopian SAARC

Influence of China increasing

  1. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is connecting different parts of South Asia to the adjoining provinces of China
  2. Pakistan is being connected with Xinjiang, Nepal and Bhutan with Tibet, and Bangladesh with Yunnan
  3. Beijing also seeks to integrate the Maldives and Sri Lanka into its maritime strategy
  4. China’s rise has begun to irrevocably alter the economic geography of the Subcontinent

America’s balancing act

  1. Washington is changing its geopolitical playbook for our neighbourhood
  2. Even as it looks for a way out of Afghanistan, it has embarked on an explicit strategy of balancing China in the region
  3. Its new imagination privileges India and merges the rest of the Subcontinent into the vast Indo-Pacific

Way forward

  1. “Political South Asia” was an invention of the 1980s. It has not survived the test of time
  2. As India’s footprint goes way beyond the Subcontinent, Bangladesh becomes the throbbing heart of the Bay of Bengal and an economic bridge to East Asia and Sri Lanka emerges as an Indian Ocean hub, Delhi needs to reimagine its economic and political geography
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] More teeth for NHRC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Statutory, regulatory & various quasi-judicial bodies.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: National Human Rights Commission (NHRC),  Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act 1993,  Paris Principles on Human Rights

Mains level: Proposed amendments to the PHR Act and how it would improve the functioning of NHRC


Context

25th anniversary of NHRC

  1. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
  2. The Commission, which draws its mandate from the Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act 1993, has been mired in controversies since its formation
  3. The government seeks to introduce amendments to the Act in Parliament’s Winter Session

Proposed amendments

  1. The proposed amendment will strengthen human rights institutions for the effective discharge of their mandates, role and responsibilities
  2. The salient features of the proposed amendments bill include making the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights as deemed member of the National Human Rights Commission, adding a woman member in the composition of the commission, enlarging the scope of eligibility and scope of selection of chairperson, NHRC as well as State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs)
  3. It also proposes to incorporate a mechanism to look after the cases of human rights violation in Union Territories, to amend the term of office of chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRCs to make them in consonance with the terms of chairperson and members of other commissions.
  4. The amendment to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 will make NHRC and state human rights commissions more compliant with the Paris Principle concerning its autonomy, independence, pluralism and wide-ranging functions in order to effectively protect and promote human rights

Grading of NHRC

  1. In 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Paris Principles on Human Rights
  2. This led to the constitution of national human rights institutions in almost every country
  3. Every five years, India’s human rights agency, the NHRC, has to undergo accreditation by an agency affiliated to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR)
  4. The Commission’s compliance with the Paris Principles is ascertained in this process, which is similar to NAAC accreditation of Indian colleges — better the grade, higher the benefits
  5. In 2016, the accreditation agency deferred grading the NHRC because of the Commission’s poor track-record — especially, political interference in its working
  6. But the agency was satisfied with the government’s commitment to introduce necessary changes to the Commission and granted the NHRC A-status in 2017
  7. The PHR (Amendment) Bill, 2018 is an outcome of this commitment

Problems with NHRC

  1. The selection committee tasked with appointing the chairperson and the members to the Commission is dominated by the ruling party
  2. It consists of the prime minister, home minister, Leaders of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Deputy-Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
  3. NHRC’s selection process is very obscure
  4. Very often, the government does not publicise vacancies in the Commission & the criteria to assess candidates is also not specified
  5. As a result, appointments to the NHRC have been fraught with disputes

Changes required

  1. The much-needed diversification that the Amendment Bill seeks to introduce could be realised through the inclusion of civil society members and academicians with a proven track record in the improvement of human rights
  2. The NHRC could certainly benefit from the grassroots level experience, widespread community outreach and the expertise of these organisations or individuals

Need of officers

  1. Police officials investigating for the NHRC are sent on deputation by their forces
  2. Their allegiance lies with their home cadre to which they return after their tenure at the Commission is over
  3. This conflict of interest restricts the scope of their work, as they often are charged with investigating abuse of power by law enforcement personnel
  4. These officials are not answerable to anyone, there is no parliamentary oversight on their functioning, they do not owe financial accountability to the Comptroller and Auditor General, and have often been accused of human rights violations themselves
  5. The NHRC urgently requires officers of its own to carry out independent investigations, and the government should provide it resources for the same

Way forward

  1. The Amendment Bill intends to strengthen human rights institutions in this country. But it falls short of this objective by some distance
  2. A year after the Supreme Court called the NHRC a “toothless tiger”, the onus is on the government to bestow the Commission with more teeth
NHRC Reforms

[op-ed snap] Deadly roads in India

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan Committee for road safety

Mains level: Rising instances of road accidents in India and the factors responsible for them


Context

Report on road accidents

  1. The Road Accidents in India report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for 2017 comes as a disappointment
  2. It expresses concern at the large number of people who die every year and the thousands who are crippled in accidents
  3. The remedies it highlights are weak, incremental and unlikely to bring about a transformation
  4. By reiterating poorly performing policies and programmes, it has failed to signal the quantum shift necessary to reduce death and disability on the roads

Not following SC mandate

  1. The lack of progress in reducing traffic injuries is glaring, given that the Supreme Court is seized of the issue
  2. SC has been issuing periodic directions in a public interest petition with the assistance of the Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan Committee constituted by the Centre
  3. The Centre has watered down the national bus body standards code in spite of a commitment given to the Supreme Court, by requiring only self-certification by the builders
  4. Relaxing this long-delayed safety feature endangers thousands of passengers

Institutions for road safety not adequate

  1. Valuable time has been lost in creating institutions for road safety with a legal mandate, starting with an effective national agency
  2. The Road Safety Councils at the all-India and State levels have simply not been able to change the dismal record, and the police forces lack the training and motivation for professional enforcement
  3. The urgent need is to fix accountability in government
  4. Little has been done to fulfil what the Road Transport Ministry promises: that the Centre and the States will work to improve safety as a joint responsibility, although enforcement of rules is a State issue

Way forward

  1. It is welcome that greater attention is being paid to the design and safety standards of vehicles, but such professionalism should extend to public infrastructure
  2. This includes the design of roads, their quality and maintenance, and the safety of public transport, among others
Road and Highway Safety – National Road Safety Policy, Good Samaritans, etc.

MEA launches ‘India for Humanity’ initiative

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Ministries & Departments of the Government

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: India For Humanity Initiative

Mains level: India’s welfare measures for the Divyangjans across the globe.


News

Context

  • External Affairs Minister Mrs. Swaraj has launched ‘India for Humanity’ initiative to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

‘India for Humanity’ Initiative

  1. The initiative will feature a year-long series of artificial limb fitment camps in a various countries across the globe.
  2. For this MEA is collaborating with the renowned charitable organisation — “Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti” (BMVSS).
  3. These camps will be initially held in 12 countries identified through our missions with financial support of the central government.
  4. The larger aim is to provide for the physical, economic and social rehabilitation of the differently-abled.
Ministry of External Affairs : Important Updates

India’s first ever National Environment Survey to start in Jan 2019

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: National Environment Survey

Mains level:  Utility of the survey in decision-making related to environmental concerns.


News

Context

  • India’s first ever National Environment Survey (NES) will be kicked off from 55 districts across 24 states and three Union Territories in January, 2019.

National Environment Survey (NES)

  1. The Environmental Information System (ENVIS) will conduct the survey through its hubs and resource partners across the country.
  2. The NES will rank all the districts on their environmental performance and document their best green practices.
  3. The earliest the first set of complete green data from the survey will be available is 2020, providing an important tool in the hands of policy-makers for decision making at all levels – district, state and national.
  4. The survey will be done through a grid-based approach, using grids measuring 9×9 km.
  5. It will collect comprehensive data on various environmental parameters such as air, water, soil quality; emission inventory; solid, hazardous and e-waste; forest & wildlife; flora & fauna; wetlands, lakes, rivers and other water bodies.
  6. It will also assess carbon sequestration potential of all the districts across the country.

Utility of the Survey

  1. At present, the country has secondary data on most of these parameters.
  2. The NES for the first time will provide primary data on all the green heads in the same way that the National Sample Survey (NSS) periodically collects various socio-economic data.
  3. The first set of complete green data from the survey will be available is 2020 providing an important tool in the hands of policy-makers for decision making at all levels – district, state and national.

Other details

  1. The first set of data will be compiled in one year because it needs to cover seasonal cycles in terms of air pollution and flora & fauna.
  2. Presently the survey is planned for 55 districts across the country.
  3. All 716 districts in the country are expected to be surveyed in a period of three to four years.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Centre sets ‘minimum river flows’ for the Ganga

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Ecological Flow

Mains level: River planning initiatives in India


News

Context

  1. In a first, the Union Govt. has mandated the Minimum quantity of water or Ecological flow as it’s called in scientific circles that various stretches of the Ganga must necessarily have all through the year.
  2. The new norms would require projects located along the river to modify their operations so as to ensure they are in compliance.

Ecological Flow for Ganga

  1. The National Mission for Clean Ganga has laid down the mandatory flow specifications.
  2. The upper stretches of the Ganga from its origins in the glaciers and until Haridwar would have to maintain:
  • 20% of the monthly average flow of the preceding 10-days between November and March, which is the dry season;
  • 25% of the average during the ‘lean season’ of October, April and May;
  • 30% of monthly average during the monsoon months of June-September.
  1. For the main stem of the Ganga from Haridwar in Uttarakhand to Unnao, Uttar Pradesh — the notification specifies minimum flow at various barrages:
  • Bhimgoda (Haridwar) must ensure a minimum of 36 cubic metres per second (cumecs) between October-May, and 57 cumecs in the monsoon;
  • Bijnor, Narora and Kanpur must maintain a minimum of 24 cumecs in the non-monsoon months of October-May, 48 cumecs during the monsoon months of June-September.

Norms for on-stream Project

  1. The compliance of minimum environmental flow is applicable to all existing, under-construction and future projects.
  2. Power projects that don’t meet these norms as yet would be given three years to comply and “mini and micro projects” would be exempt from these requirements.
  3. The flow conditions in these river reaches will be monitored at hourly intervals from time to time.
  4. The Central Water Commission (CWC) would be the designated authority to collect relevant data and submit flow monitoring-cum-compliance reports on a quarterly basis to the NMCG.
  5. The concerned project developers or authorities will have to install automatic data acquisition and data transmission facilities at appropriate locations at project sites within six months.
  6. The Central Government through NCMG may direct release of additional water in the River Ganga to meet special demand as and when required.

Ecological Flow is yet undisclosed

  1. The government hasn’t disclosed the existing ecological flows at these stretches while setting the minimum levels due to certain strategic reasons.
  2. Flow data isn’t made public by the CWC because it can be used by neighbouring countries to put pressure regarding hydro-electric projects.
  3. The flow will not necessarily represent what’s needed for the ideal health of the river.
Mission Clean Ganga

Cabinet nod to merger of skill development bodies

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Development & Employment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NSDA, NCVT, NCVET

Mains level: State of skill development institutes in the country and measures to improve their quality


News

Context

  • The Union cabinet on has approved the merger of the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) and the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA).
  • The merger is aimed to consolidate fragmented regulatory structures and improve the outcome of the Skill India mission.

National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET)

  1. The merged entity would be called the NCVET.
  2. The NCVET will regulate the functioning of entities engaged in vocational education and training, both long-term and short-term, and establish minimum standards for the functioning of such entities.
  3. The primary functions of NCVET will include recognition and regulation, assessment, approval of qualifications developed by different bodies and industry governed sector skill councils.
  4. The merger would bring in accountability in skill sector that caters to nearly 15 million students at any given time.
  5. This reform will ultimately increase credibility of the skill sector and encourage greater private investment.

About NCVT and NSDA

  1. The NCVT was a regulator and assessment body of the long-term skill education space comprising more than 13,000 industrial training institutions.
  2. While the NSDA was policy formulating bodies of the skill development ministry helping it devise training and industry collaboration policy for the Skill India mission.
  3. The NCVT had been in existence for more than four decades as part of the directorate general of training, while the NSDA was a relatively new body that came into force in 2013.
Skilling India – Skill India Mission,PMKVY, NSDC, etc.

[pib] Sir Chhotu Ram and his Agricultural Reforms

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Freedom Struggle| Various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Sir Chhotu Ram and his Reforms

Mains level: Agricultural reforms in colonial period


News

Context

  • PM unveiled a statue of Deenbandhu Sir Chhotu Ram in Rohtak, Haryana.

Sir Chhotu Ram (1881-1945)

  1. Sir Chhotu Ram was a prominent politician in British India’s Punjab Province, an ideologue of the peasants of pre-Independent India.
  2. He championed the interest of oppressed peasants of the Indian Sub-continent.
  3. He tried to create a non-sectarian peasant group consciousness.
  4. He formed the Unionist Party (Zamindara League) in 1923, which was a cross-communal alliance of Hindu Jats and Muslim agriculturists.
  5. He was awarded the title of ‘Rao Bahadur’ and was accorded knighthood in 1937.
  6. He popularly came to be known as Deen Bandhu.

Political activities

  1. The Congress boycotted the 1920 elections, while Chhotu Ram got elected on a Zamindara Party ticket.
  2. His coalition party won the general elections of 1936 and formed a coalition government with himself becoming Revenue Minister.
  3. Chhotu Ram helped in the British Army recruitment effort for the First World War, and was instrumental in the recruitment of 22,144 from Rohtak area.
  4. He again backed a massive recruitment drive of the British during the Second World War.

Notable Agricultural Reforms

  1. As a member of the pre-Partition Punjab Legislative Council, his first major achievement was the passage of the Punjab Land Revenue (Amendment) Act, 1929, which remains a landmark social legislation till date.
  2. The exploitation of the peasantry by moneylenders was brought to an end with a series of measures, starting with the Punjab Regulation of Accounts Act, 1930.
  3. It was followed by the Punjab Debtors Protection Act of 1936 and the Punjab Relief of Indebtedness Act, 1943.
  4. It became mandatory for moneylenders to register themselves, without which they could not advance loans or prosecute farmers.
  5. All land attached and sold after June 8, 1901, and mortgaged for 37 years, was restored to its owners. Farmers were required only to give an application on plain paper to the district collector.
  6. If any moneylender had recovered twice the loan amount, the farmer was given his land back.
  7. Reconciliation boards were set up; confiscation of milch cattle, oxen, camels and carts or means of earning was barred.
  8. The Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets Act was passed in 1939, popularly called the Mandi Act which provided for the constitution of market committees in notified areas, and helped free the farmer from exploitation.
  9. A consolidation of land holdings was undertaken after passing the Consolidations Holding Act, 1936, amended in 1945.
  10. Not only were all these laws passed; Chhotu Ram also ensured their implementation.
History- Important places, persons in news

[pib] Goa Maritime Symposium – 2018

Note4students

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: Read the attached story

Mains level: India’s Maritime relations with the IOR countries


News

Goa Maritime Symposium – 2018

  1. Towards fostering friendly relations with our maritime neighbours, the Indian Navy, through the Naval War College, Goa is hosting the Goa Maritime Symposium – 2018.
  2. The event is likely to be attended by senior naval officers and representatives from 16 Indian Ocean littoral countries and island nations.
  3. The theme for the one day symposium is “Building Stronger Maritime Partnerships in IOR.”
  4. The focus of the symposium is on capacity building among IOR Navies to tackle emerging maritime threats, as well as discussing cooperative strategies for enhancing interoperability among partner maritime agencies.
Indian Navy Updates

[pib] Online Assurances Monitoring System

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: OAMS

Mains level: Ensuring better service delivery in Parliamentary Procedures.


News

Context

  • The union govt. has inaugurated the Online Assurances Monitoring System (OAMS), developed by the Union Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (MPA).

Online Assurances Monitoring System (OAMS)

  1. Different Ministers, while giving replies to questions or making statements in Parliament, give assurances on the floor of the House.
  2. This system has made the information regarding assurances given on the floor of the Houses of Parliament paperless and available in digital format.
  3. The MPA takes such assurances from the proceedings of the House, based on the guidelines for this purpose, and sends the extract of those assurances to the concerned Ministries for their fulfillment.
  4. Information regarding OAMS, including data and figures, will available on the web portal oams.nic.in.

Imbibing Accountability

  1. With OAMS, all assurances being taken out by the Ministry through e-Office would be reflected on this system and various Ministries/Departments.
  2. This would encompass various actions related to Parliamentary Assurances including sending implementation reports, request for dropping, request for extension and decision thereon.
  3. Hereafter, physical communication would not be accepted.

Why need online monitoring of Assurances?

  1. A number of problems arise in the process of fulfillment of assurances due to human factors and non-compliance of guidelines, making the process less transparent.
  2. Hence, the need arose for an online assurances monitoring system to track the exact status of pending assurances and expedite their fulfillment.
  3. Since 2007, a total of 26,830 assurances given by the Ministers on the floor of the Houses were culled out by the MPA.
  4. Out of these 21,439 assurances have been fulfilled and 1,903 have been dropped, leaving a total of 3,488 assurances still pending for compliance.
Digital India Initiatives