Bills/Act/LawsDOMRExplainedGovt. SchemesHistorical Sites in NewsIOCRMains Onlyop-ed of the dayop-ed snapPIBPlaces in newsPrelims OnlyPriority 1SC JudgementsSpecies in NewsStates in News
December 2018

Tax Reforms

[op-ed snap] The challenge of taxing value-creation in India


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: Not much

Mains level: Taxing Digital services in India


  1. French finance minister Bruno Le Maire announced the introduction of a GAFA tax—named after Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon—on large technology and internet companies in France from 1 January 2019.
  2. What distinguishes technology companies from traditional businesses is user participation in creating value, which, in turn, translates into revenue.
  3. Although using consumer data to improve businesses is not exclusive to the digital economy, the unique ability of digital businesses lies in their power to analyse big data collected via constant user interaction and data mining.

Why needed?

The rationale behind devising a separate framework to tax online service providers is this:

  • Existing tax norms that are framed envisaging brick and mortar business models are not suitable to regulate online services.
  • This is because the digital economy is characterized by a unique system of value creation resulting from a combination of factors such as sales functions, algorithms and personal information of users.

Indian perspective

  • The need for India to consider the adoption of an accurate methodology to assess value created in India through user contributions so that digital service providers in India can be taxed more effectively.

Present Scenario

  1. The Finance Act, 2016, accommodated a 6% equalisation levy (EL) in lieu of specified digital services provided to residents in India. However, EL can only be imposed on advertising services.
  2. The Finance Act, 2018, the Income Tax Act was amended to expand the meaning of business connection to “significant economic presence”, which includes digital services.
  3. It defines any entity that have significant economic presence in India if it
  • provides data or software in India exceeding a payment threshold (yet to be notified) or
  • engages in systematic and continuous solicitation of business activities to a prescribed number of users digitally.

Issues from Indian Perspective

  1. When it comes to taxing value created by Indian users of foreign digital service providers, it is not clear whether the assessment of attributability is based on value creation per se.
  2. As the basis of attributability to Indian services/activities is not clear, this can raise a serious problem at the time of assessing income tax. For instance, ride-for-hire companies such as Uber use data of users as inputs to develop their surge pricing algorithm.

Equalisation Levy

  • Equalisation Levy was introduced in India in 2016, with the intention of taxing the digital transactions i.e. the income accruing to foreign e-commerce companies from India. It is aimed at taxing business to business transactions.

Applicability of Equalisation Levy

  1. Equalisation Levy is a direct tax, which is withheld at the time of payment by the service recipient.
  2. The two conditions to be met to be liable to equalisation levy:
  • The payment should be made to a non-resident service provider;
  • The annual payment made to one service provider exceeds Rs. 1,00,000 in one financial year.

Issues in General

  1. OECD has been unable to devise a definite method of assessing the value that users generate in a source country.
  2. Due to this anomaly, the GAFA tax and other proposals floated in the EU, UK and France impose an approximate digital tax of 3% on the revenue generated by entities that operate in the digital economy above a certain threshold.
  3. This resulted mostly from the slow ongoing process of quantifying user contribution and political pressure to resist further delay of taxing these entities.
  4. The lack of consensus is exacerbated due to a difference in the interests of developed (residence) countries and developing (source) countries.
  5. The imposition of an EL instead of a more precise assessment of user contribution poses several questions regarding its enforceability.
  6. For example, countries like France have suggested imposing such an interim tax only on high profit big-tech businesses like Google and Amazon, making net valuation the metric for determining threshold
  7. An even bigger challenge is the assessment of value of user contribution in the source country is subjective.
  8. It creates greater friction between the government of the source country and where the entity is established and thereby undermine the efficacy of double taxation agreements.

Way Forward

  • It is imperative, therefore, that policymakers deliberate upon the possibility and feasibility of adopting a methodology to assess value creation objectively to tax digital players more effectively in the source country.

e-Commerce: The New Boom

[op-ed snap] Retrospective policy changes damaging


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: Not much

Mains level: E-commerce regulations in India and associated FDI issues


  • The Centre has barred online retailers from selling products of companies in which they own stakes.
  • The revised policy on FDI in e-commerce which comes into effect from February 1, 2019 has also disallowed the online retail firms to sell its products exclusively on its platform only.

The main features of the clarification include:

  • Vendors that have any stake owned by an e-commerce company cannot sell their products on that e-commerce company’s portal.
  • Any vendor who purchases 25% or more of its inventory from an e-commerce group company will be considered to be controlled by that e-commerce company, and thereby barred from selling on its portal. This provision aims to ensure that vendors in which marketplaces, such as Amazon, have a stake do not sell the bulk of their items to a third-party vendor who then goes on to sell those items on the e-commerce marketplace.
  • In other words, the provision seeks to deny control by the marketplace entity over vendors.
  • E-commerce firm will not be allowed to influence the price of a product sold on its portal by giving incentives to particular vendors.

E-com companies can operate under two different models in India

  1. The first is the marketplace model where the e-commerce firm simply acts as a platform that connects buyers and sellers.  FDI is allowed in e-commerce companies in this model.
  2. The second model is inventory-based where the inventory of goods sold on the portal is owned or controlled by the e-commerce company.
  3.  FDI is not allowed under this model.

What is the context for these changes?

  • What has been happening is that large e-commerce giants while not owning inventory themselves, have been providing a platform for their group companies such as CloudTail and WS Retail respectively.
  • Some see this as skewing the playing field, especially if these vendors enjoyed special incentives from the e-commerce firm, over others.
  • These controlled or owned vendors may then be able to offer discounts to customers that competitors may not be able to match.


  1. The thrust of the DIPP policy is directed at protecting small vendors on e-commerce websites.
  2. It seeks to ensure small players selling on the portals are not discriminated against in favour of vendors in which e-commerce companies have a stake.
  3. The new set up will ensure a level playing field for all vendors looking to sell on the e-commerce portals. Smaller marketplaces that do not have stake in any vendors will also be able to now compete with the big daddies.
  4. The small traders were complaining that deep discounts offered by the likes of Amazon and Flipkart are driving them out of business
  5. The new norms aim to tackle the anti-competitive behaviour by e-commerce entities and to ensure that there is no wrong subsidization and the marketplace remains neutral to all vendors.

Who else will be affected?

  1. The main players to be affected will be group companies and affiliates of the biggest e-commerce platforms, Amazon and Flipkart.
  2. The provision that bars companies — in which e-commerce firms have a stake — from selling on their portals will hurt start-ups as well, since many of these will be barred from selling due to minor equity stakes being held by the e-commerce companies.
  3. Small vendors will not be as affected because most of them do not purchase more than 25% of their inventory from a single source and so they will be allowed to sell their items on the e-commerce platforms.


  1. The revised e-commerce norms will hurt consumers, harm investments made in the sector, reinforce the perception of India as a country of policy uncertainty in the eyes of foreign investors and reduce efficiency in retail.
  2. Several of the provisions reiterate or amplify those contained in earlier policy pronouncements. But the effective ban on private labels and the banning of equity participation by e-commerce platforms or group companies in vendors that sell on these platforms are new.
  3. The banning of procurement by vendors on these platforms hurts the business model not only of e-commerce marketplaces but also of business-to-business (B2B) investments.
  4. If a B2B company that also has a marketplace is barred from utilising the marketplace to sell the produce it aggregates from Indian suppliers, it loses a part of its attraction for those Indian suppliers, and amounts to restricting the B2B operation.
  5. Such bans also abort efficiency gains in production planning, inventory management and delivery time. Since such restrictions do not apply to brick-and-mortar sales, the guidelines are discriminatory against e-commerce.

Way Forward

  • The best way to protect Indian industry in the age of globally mobile capital is to allow shares with differential voting rights, not to carve out sanctuaries of protection within an economic sector.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

[Explained] Why do farmers need more than loan waivers


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Issues related to direct & indirect farm subsidies & minimum support prices

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Alternatives to farm loan waivers


Farm Loan Waivers: A business usual with elections

  1. After the recent Assembly elections, the new governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh announced farm loan waivers, a key promise.
  2. Last year, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu announced waivers as farmers were in distress.
  3. Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Haryana are likely to announce sops ahead of elections.

A populist measure yet ineffective

  1. According to SBI Research, around ₹70,000 crore will be spent on farm debt waivers till May 2019.
  2. The clamor for farm loan waivers has been growing, but this “’populist” measure alone cannot be a permanent solution to mounting agrarian distress.
  3. Since the post-reforms policy regime in 1991, agriculture has been facing multiple crises.
  4. The rising pressure of population on land and agriculture, besides sluggishness in the shifting of workforce away from agriculture, has adversely affected small and marginal farmers.

Waiver: Not an electioneering tool

  1. Rising costs drop in income and increasing incidence of indebtedness among small and marginal farmers manifested in a spate of suicides over the years.
  2. Experts believe it is the responsibility of the Union government to waive farm loans, but insist that it is only a “stop-gap” arrangement.
  3. Until policies are not tweaked in favour of farmers to address their risks related to production, weather-disaster, price, credit and market, the loan waiver will become a periodical instrument for temporary relief.
  4. A large number of small and marginal farmers are distressed as the current system of market institution doubly squeezes them, in input as well as output.

Govt stand on Farm Loan Waivers

  1. The NITI Aayog recently pointed out that waiving loan is not a lasting answer to the problem of agrarian distress as this step only helps a small number of farmers.
  2. The number of farmers, especially the small and marginal who avail themselves of institutional loans, are very few.
  3. This is the reason that even after spending huge sums of money on loan waivers not even half the farmers are benefiting.
  4. In some of the States, not even 25% of farmers get loans from institutional sources.
  5. A NITI Aayog study had also highlighted the fact that in some States, about three-fourths of the farm loans were being used for consumption instead of meeting agricultural needs.
  6. The RBI’s study concluded that debt relief helps in reducing household debt but there appears to be no evidence of increase in investment and productivity of beneficiary households.

Policy Measures needed at the moment

  1. As a short-term measure, farmers need to be freed of the tyranny of the middlemen by reforming the rent-seeking, anti-farmer commission agent (arthiya) system.
  2. The inter-locking of the credit and the output markets is a major factor for the crises of indebtedness.
  3. The system of making payments through the commission agent needs to be dismantled to break the credit-crop nexus.
  4. For a permanent solution to agrarian distress, the government should give agro-processing industry a policy push to pull rural people out of agriculture.
  5. The subsidies and tax concessions which have been offered or given to the corporate sector should be given to rural entrepreneurs who are willing to start manufacturing firms that will process local raw materials and employ rural labour.

Way Forward

  1. In the long run, there’s an urgent need for integration of agriculture with industry, and that too with the involvement of the local workforce in such a manner that surpluses should be invested locally.
  2. The transformation is possible if primary producers are integrated with both manufacturing and marketing activities for reaping surpluses generated by them.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

China’s BeiDou navigation satellite, rival to US GPS, starts global services


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: BeiDou Navigation Satellite System

Mains level: Particulars of the Chinese navigation system


  • China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), touted as a rival to the widely-used American GPS, has started providing global services.

BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS)

  1. Named after the Chinese term for the ‘Big Dipper’, the BeiDou system started serving China in 2000 and the Asia-Pacific region in 2012.
  2. It will be the fourth global satellite navigation system after the US GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo.
  3. The positioning accuracy of the system has reached 10 metres globally and five metres in the Asia-Pacific region.
  4. Its velocity accuracy is 0.2 metres per second, while its timing accuracy stands at 20 nanoseconds, he said.
  5. Pakistan has become the first country to use the BeiDou system ending its reliance on the Global Positioning System (GPS).

What makes its special?

  1. The total number of satellite navigation patent applications in China has reached 54,000, ranking first in the world.
  2. More than 14,000 companies and organisations are doing business related to BDS, employing over 500,000 people.
  3. In China, about 6.17 million vehicles, 35,600 postal and express delivery vehicles, as well as 80,000 buses in 36 major cities, use BDS. T
  4. The system is also used in 3,230 inland river navigation facilities and 2,960 marine navigation facilities.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

India submits sixth national report to Convention of Biological Diversity


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CBD NR6, Aichi Targets

Mains level:  India’s commitment towards conserving Biodiversity


  • India submitted its sixth national report (NR6) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) highlighting the progress it has made in achieving the 12 National Biodiversity Targets (NBT) set under the convention process.

Highlights of the Report

  1. The report was submitted online to the CBD Secretariat during the inaugural session of the 13th National Meeting of the State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs).
  2. The report says that India had already exceeded two targets, it was on track to achieve another eight soon.
  3. The remaining two would be met by the stipulated time of 2020.

India’s Promptness

  1. Globally, biodiversity is facing increasing pressure on account of habitat fragmentation and destruction, invasive alien species, pollution, climate change and over-use of resources.
  2. India is one of the few countries where forest cover is on the rise, with its forests teeming with wildlife.
  3. India was among the first five countries in the world, the first in Asia and the first among the biodiversity-rich mega-diverse countries to have submitted NR6 to the CBD Secretariat.

On track to Aichi Targets

  1. The submission of national reports is a mandatory obligation on parties to international treaties, including the CBD.
  2. India is on track to achieve the biodiversity targets at the national level and is also contributing significantly towards achievement of the global biodiversity targets.
  3. Submission of national reports is a mandatory obligation on parties to international treaties, including CBD, and they were required to submit their NR6 by December 31.
  4. The NR6 provides an update of progress in achievement of 12 National Biodiversity Targets (NBT) developed under the convention process in line with the 20 global Aichi biodiversity targets.

Highlights of NR6

  1. India is striving to meet the targets by the stipulated time of 2020.
  2. The report highlights that while India has exceeded/ overachieved two NBTs, it is on track to achieve eight NBTs and with respect to two remaining NBTs.
  3. According to the report, India has exceeded the terrestrial component of 17 per cent of Aichi target 11, and 20 per cent of corresponding NBT relating to areas under biodiversity management.
  4. As per the NR6 report, India had been investing a huge amount on biodiversity directly or indirectly through several development schemes to the tune of Rs 70,000 crore per annum as against the estimated annual requirement of nearly Rs 1,09,000 crore.
  5. Measures have been adopted for sustainable management of agriculture, fisheries and forests, with a view to provide food and nutritional security to all
  6. Programmes are in place to maintain genetic diversity of cultivated plants, farms livestock and their wild relatives, towards minimising genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.
  7. Mechanisms and enabling environment are being created for recognising and protecting the vast heritage of coded and oral traditional knowledge relating to biodiversity.

Wildlife growth in India

  1. India has nearly two-thirds of the population of wild tigers in the world.
  2. The population of lion has risen from 177 in 1968 to over 520 in 2015, and elephants from 12,000 in 1970s to 30,000 in 2015.
  3. One-horned Indian Rhino which was on the brink of extinction during the early 20th century, now number 2,400.
  4. Further, while globally over 0.3 per cent of total recorded species are critically endangered, in India only 0.08 per cent of the species recorded are in this category.


Aichi Targets

  1. The ‘Aichi Targets’ were adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at its Nagoya conference.
  2. The short term plan provides a set of 20ambitious yet achievable targets, collectively known as the Aichi Targets.
  • Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  • Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use.
  • Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building
  1. The IUCN Species Programme provides advice to Parties, other governments and partners on the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and it’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2011 – 2020), and is also heavily involved in work towards the Target.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

PM inaugurates Rice Research Institute, to improve production of crop


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: GM technology

Mains level: Various researches related to GM crops and how GM technology can help Indian farmers


  • The International Rice Research Institute South Asia Regional Centre (IRRI SARC) in Varanasi was dedicated to the nation by PM.


  1. With an aim to double farmers’ income the 6th IRRI SARC campus will serve as a hub for rice research and training in South Asia and SAARC region.
  2. The major aim of IRRI is to improve livelihood and nutrition, abolishing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition among those countries which depend on rice-based agri-food systems.
  3. This new Centre is expected to improve crop production, seed quality and the nutritional value of rice.
  4. It will also work with national partners to enhance farmers’ knowledge and income and deliver advanced research, teaching and services in the connection.
  5. It will also teach scientists and agriculture leaders about the latest technologies and innovations for sustainable farming; and laboratories for digital crop monitoring and assessment, and demonstration fields where variety testing is conducted.

Other Features

  1. IRRI SARC facilities will include the Centre of Excellence in Rice Value Addition (CERVA), a suite of modern laboratories where rice grains are assessed for: quality and nutritional value and sensory evaluations for grain taste, texture, and aroma are conducted; on-site facilities.
  2. This centre will catalyze South-South collaboration, strengthen the research expertise and capacity of rice-growing countries in the region, and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

About IRRI

  1. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is an international agricultural research and training organization with headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna in the Philippines.
  2. IRRI is known for its work in developing rice varieties that contributed to the Green Revolution in the 1960s which preempted the famine in Asia.
  3. The Institute, established in 1960 aims to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability of rice farming.
  4. It advances its mission through collaborative research, partnerships, and the strengthening of the national agricultural research and extension systems of the countries IRRI works in.
  5. It is also the largest non-profit agricultural research center in Asia.
  6. IRRI’s semi-dwarf varieties, including the famous IR8 saved India from famine in the 1960s.

Coastal Zones Management and Regulations

Govt’s reason for CRZ amendments


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: India’s efforts for marine environment conservation and various initiatives related to it


  • The Union Cabinet has cleared the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 2018.
  • The last time such a notification came was in 2011, though amended several times.
  • The draft notification was widely debated for its adverse impacts on local ecology.

What’s all included in the notification?

  1. The Cabinet decision has de-freezed parameters under the CRZ 2011 notification for CRZ-II (Urban) areas, Floor Space Index (FSI) or the Floor Area Ratio (FAR).
  2. These were based on the 1991 Development Control Regulation (DCR) levels.
  3. In densely populated rural areas near the coast with population density of 2,161 per square km (based on Census 2011), development works are now allowed beyond 50 metres from the high tide line (HTL).
  4. Under the 2011 CRZ notification this was 200 metres.
  5. However, areas with density below 2,161 per square km will have the ‘No Development Zone’ (NDZ) restriction of 200 metres from HTL.

Propositions for enhancing Tourism

  1. In another concession, temporary tourism infrastructure for “basic amenities” like shacks, toilet blocks, change rooms, drinking water facilities etc, will be allowed now in the NDZ of CRZ-III areas but at a distance of 10 metres from HTL.
  2. For islands near the coast and backwater islands, the new notification has fixed NDZ of 20 metres from the coastline.
  3. Government has also decentralized the CRZ clearance procedure, the state government now has the power to clear projects.
  4. Only in the case of ecologically sensitive areas (known as CRZ-I) and those covered in low tide line and 12 Nautical Miles seaward, the  MoEFCC will give clearance.

Benefits of proposed amendments

  1. The new notification has done away with or diluted many stringent restrictions in place at coastal areas.
  2. The notification will lead to enhanced activities in the coastal regions thereby promoting economic growth while also respecting the conservation principles of coastal regions.
  3. It will not only result in significant employment generation but also to a better life and add value to the economy of India.

Way Forward 

  1. Tourism has been one of the greatest creators of livelihood and jobs.
  2. The notification is so designed that it balances the needs in such a way that both are fulfilled.
  3. This will also give boost to people desirous of seeing and enjoying the beauty of the mighty seas.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

[op-ed snap] A bridge across the Brahmaputra


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Importance of infrastructure development in Northeast India


Bogibeel bridge inaugrated

  1. Bogibeel, the longest railroad bridge of India, spanning nearly five-km across the Brahmaputra was inaugurated recently
  2. It will link Dibrugarh with North Lakhimpur district of Assam and parts of eastern Arunachal Pradesh
  3. For thousands of poor people, living in eastern Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, this is truly a momentous occasion

Why the bogibeel bridge is important?

  1. For decades, the only recourse for people to cross the Brahmaputra would be to chug along for over an hour, in a diesel-propelled ferry, which would also carry their vehicles and goods, even cattle
  2. Crossing the river could be a costlier proposition than flying between Mumbai and Goa
  3. Commissioning the bridge has reduced the journey time across the river to less than five minutes, bringing relief to people living in these remote parts

New era for northeast India

  1. The single biggest factor which has shackled the development of the Northeast region is the absence of robust connectivity
  2. A maze of river systems across Arunachal Pradesh, with their confluence in the Brahmaputra, have posed an enormous challenge
  3. The commissioning of Bogibeel, therefore, is a harbinger of hope
  4. The bridge’s significance goes well beyond the succour to local residents
  5. It has the potential to infuse economic dynamism in the region and provide opportunities for the expansion of tourism, industrial development and trade
  6. The iconic Bhupen Hazarika bridge over the Lohit river was commissioned recently
  7. A 7.5 km long bridge over the Dibang river was dedicated to the nation a few days ago
  8. The Trans Arunachal Highway has seen considerable progress, especially in the eastern part of the state
  9. An airport has been commissioned at Pasighat, barely two hours away from Dibrugarh

Dibrugarh connectivity is essential

  1. Dibrugarh is reclaiming its lost glory
  2. It used to be a thriving centre of the plantation industry during the colonial times
  3. For the people of the region, it remains a hub of higher education and medical treatment
  4. Dibrugarh lies at the heart of a crucial oil and gas axis in Assam, given its proximity to Digboi and Duliajan oilfields
  5. Further east lie the Kharsang gas fields and Kumchai oilfields of Arunachal Pradesh. The district also has significant coal deposits
  6. There are more than 200 tea factories in Dibrugarh
  7. Commissioning of the bridge has raised the prospects of industrial development and opportunities of productive employment for the youth, especially in the mining and plantation sectors

Foreign policy implications

  1. Bogibeel is the gateway to the historic Stilwell Road, which connects Ledo in Assam to Kunming in China, passing through Myanmar’s Kachin state, via Arunachal Pradesh
  2. The 1,800 km long route was used for transporting arms to the Chinese by the Americans during World War II
  3. Its revival for trade is well within grasp now
  4. The route could well become the centrepiece of the ambitious Act East Policy

Strategic importance

  1. From a strategic standpoint, movement of troops has become a much quicker, efficient and reliable proposition
  2. The road beyond Dibrugarh leads to the frontier parts of Arunachal Pradesh, with a fully functional advanced landing ground of Air Force at Walong, barely 100 km from the Chinese border
  3. This was a theatre of armed incursion in 1962. Now access to one of the remotest border outposts in Anjaw has been made much easier

Way forward

  1. Bogibeel is poised to usher winds of change in this part of the world
  2. However, the advantage of connectivity must be accompanied by an imaginative blueprint of economic development, drawing upon the region’s advantages
  3. The symbolism of Bogibeel goes well beyond the Brahmaputra

e-Commerce: The New Boom

[op-ed snap] Strange deal: on new e-commerce policy


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: E-commerce sector regulation in India


New guidelines for e-commerce

  1. Tighter rules governing e-commerce platforms were notified by the government
  2. They are designed to level the playing field for all vendors in an online marketplace
  3. These impose restrictions on related-party transactions, preferential treatment to suppliers, and inventory dumping
  4. All of these were market imperfections that had crept in since the government had announced the foreign direct investment (FDI) policy for the sector in 2016, during which US retail giants Amazon and Walmart came to occupy a commanding position in India’s $41-billion e-commerce industry

Reasons behind new rules

  1. In March 2016, foreign investment up to 100% was allowed under the automatic route for e-com firms engaged in business-to-business transactions using the marketplace model — one where a firm sets up an enabling IT platform to facilitate trade between sellers and buyers
  2. However, FDI was not allowed where the e-com player owned the inventory of goods to be sold, or for business-to-consumer purposes, barring a few exceptions
  3. Indian brick-and-mortar retailers have grown restive, claiming online marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart have acquired the power to influence retail prices, in contravention of the policy that restricts FDI in business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce, but not in business-to-business (B2B)
  4. The government appears to have bought this argument

Changed rules

  1. Earlier a single vendor or its group firms couldn’t account for over 25% of sales in a marketplace; now the rules bar sales by any entities where the e-com firm has an equity stake
  2. A vendor’s inventory will be deemed to be controlled by the e-com player if more than 25% of its purchases are from the latter or related firms
  3. Separately, any specialised back-end support for some sellers must now be extended to all vendors, while discounts, cash-backs and preferential subscription services have been made far trickier to implement
  4. An e-commerce marketplace entity will not mandate any seller to offer a product exclusively on its platform under the new rules
  5. The companies will now have to furnish reports to the Reserve Bank of India annually, adding another dimension to compliance and monitoring of the e-commerce industry

Implications of the new rules

  1. The Centre’s curiously timed attempt to ‘clarify’ foreign direct investment norms for e-commerce players could end up scuttling investor interest in the sector that has attracted large foreign players and generated thousands of jobs
  2. The fresh restrictions and the clarifications on certain operational aspects could reinforce investor complaints about India being unpredictable in terms of policies

Way forward

  1. Globally, India has been taking on protectionism has been emphasizing that free trade is essential so consumers get the best deal everywhere
  2. The same consumer focus and non-protectionist tenets must be applied for internal trade

ISRO Missions and Discoveries

[pib] Cabinet approves Indian Human Spaceflight Initiative: Gaganyaan Programme


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Gaganyaan  Mission

Mains level: India’s aspiration for a manned mission in Space.


  • The Union Cabinet has approved the Gaganyaan Programme with demonstration of Indian Human Spaceflight Initiative.

Indian Human Spaceflight Initiative

  1. This will demonstrate capability of the mission to low earth orbit for a mission duration ranging from one orbital period to a maximum of seven days.
  2. A human rated GSLV Mk-lll will be used to carry the orbital module which will have necessary provisions for sustaining a 3-member crew for the duration of the mission.
  3. Two unmanned flights and one manned flight will be undertaken as part of Gaganyaan Programme.
  4. The necessary infrastructure for crew training, realization of flight systems and ground infrastructure will be established to support the Gaganyaan Programme.
  5. ISRO will collaborate extensively with National agencies, laboratories, academia and industry to accomplish the Gaganyaan Programme objectives.

Implementation Strategy and Targets

  1. Gaganyaan Programme will be a national effort in collaboration with Industry, Academia and other scientific agencies and laboratories as stake holders along with ISRO.
  2. ISRO will be responsible for realizing the flight hardware through Industry.
  3. National agencies, laboratories and Academia will participate in crew training, human life science technology development initiatives as well as design reviews.
  4. First human space flight demonstration is targeted to be completed within 40 months from the date of sanction.
  5. Prior to this, two unmanned flights in full complement will be carried out to gain confidence on the technology and mission management aspects.

Expected Outcomes

  1. The programme is expected to spur research and development within the country in niche science and technology domains.
  2. Huge potential for technology spinoffs in areas such as medicine, agriculture, industrial safety, pollution, waste management, water and food resource management etc.
  3. Human spaceflight programme will provide a unique micro-gravity platform in space for conducting experiments and test bed for future technologies.
  4. The programme is expected to give impetus to economic activities within the country in terms of employment generation, human resource development and enhanced industrial capabilities.
  5. Human Spaceflight capability will enable India to participate as a collaborating partner in future Global space exploration initiatives with long term national benefits.

Developments so far

  1. ISRO has completed the development of launch vehicle GSLV Mk-lll which has the necessary payload capability to launch a 3-member crew module in low earth orbit.
  2. ISRO has also tested the crew escape system which is an essential technology for human space flight.
  3. The aerodynamic characterization of crew module has been completed as part of GSLV Mk-lll X mission flight.
  4. Elements of life support system and Space suit also have been realized and tested.
  5. In addition, the orbital & re-entry mission and recovery operations have been flight demonstrated in Space Capsule Re-entry experiment (SRE) mission.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[pib] Cabinet approves setting up of the National Commission for Indian System of Medicine Bill, 2018


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the draft bill

Mains level: Features of the proposed Commission


  • The Cabinet has approved the draft National Commission for Indian Systems of Medicine (NCIM) Bill, 2018, which seeks to replace the existing regulator Central Council for Indian Medicine (CCIM) with a new body to ensure transparency.

Salient features of the Bill

  1. The draft bill is aimed at bringing reforms in the medical education of Indian medicine sector in lines with the National Medical Commission proposed for setting up for Allopathy system of medicine.
  2. The draft bill provides for the constitution of a National Commission with four autonomous boards entrusted with conducting overall education of Ayurveda, under Board of Ayurveda and Unani, Siddha & Sowarigpa under Board of Unaini, Siddha and Sowarigpa.
  3. There are two common Boards namely, Board of assessment and rating to assess and grant permission to educational institutions of Indian systems of Medicine and Board of ethics and registration of practitioners of Indian systems of medicine to maintain National Register and ethical issues relating to practice under the proposed Commission.
  4. It also proposes a common entrance exam and an exit exam, which all graduates will have to clear to get practicing licenses.
  5. Further, a teacher’s eligibility test has been proposed in the Bill to assess the standard of teachers before appointment and promotions.
  6. The proposed regulatory structure will enable transparency and accountability for protecting the interest of the general public.
  7. The NCIM will promote availability of affordable healthcare services in all parts of the country.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Govt approves submission of India’s second Biennial Update Report to UNFCCC


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: UNFCCC Biennial Update Report

Mains level:  India’s commitment towards climate change agreements


  • The Cabinet has approved submission of India’s second Biennial Update Report (BUR) to the UNFCCC towards fulfillment of the reporting obligation under the convention.

Biennial Update Report (BUR)

  1. India had submitted its first BUR in 2016.
  2. As per the first report, the country had emitted 2,136.84 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases in 2010.
  3. It said energy sector was the prime contributor to emissions and with 71 per cent of total emissions.

About the Report

  1. The submission of India’s second BUR would fulfil the obligation of India to furnish information regarding implementation of the convention, being a party.
  2. The BUR contains five major components:
  • National Circumstances
  • National Greenhouse Gas Inventory
  • Mitigation Actions, Finance, Technology and Capacity Building Needs and Support Received and
  • Domestic Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV)
  1. The BUR has been prepared based on a range of studies conducted at the national level.

2nd Biennial Update Report (BUR)

  1. This year, India emitted around 2.607 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHGs in 2014, with the energy sector contributing over 70 per cent of the total.
  2. In 2014, a total of 26,07,488 Gigagram (Gg) CC-2 equivalent (around 2.607 billion tonnes of CC-2 equivalent) of GHGs were emitted from all activities (excluding LULUCF) in India.
  3. The net national GHG emissions after including LULUCF were 23,06,295 Gg COa equivalent at around 2.306 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

*(LULUCF stands for Land use, land-use change, and forestry)

Sectorwise Emissions

  1. Out of the total emissions, the energy sector accounted for 73 per cent, Industrial Processes and Product Use (IPPU) 8 per cent, agriculture 16 per cent and waste sector 3 per cent.
  2. About 12 per cent of emissions were offset by the carbon sink action of forest land, cropland and settlements.


India’s obligations to UNFCCC

  1. India is a Party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  2. The Convention, in accordance with its Article 4.1 and 12.1, enjoins upon all Parties, both developed country Parties and developing country Parties to furnish information, in the form of a National Communication regarding implementation of the Convention.
  3. The UNFCCC in COP-16 Cancun decided vide paragraph 60 (c) of decision 1 that developing countries, consistent with their capabilities and the level of support provided for reporting, should also submit biennial update reports .
  4. Decision 2 of COP17, in paragraph 41 (f) states that Biennial Update Reports shall be submitted every two years.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Govt institutes annual awards to recognise excellent work in disaster management


Mains Paper 3: Disaster Management | Disaster & disaster management

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  Subhash Chandra Bose Aapda Prabandhan Puraskaar

Mains level: Role of individuals and organizations in Disaster Management in India


  • The Centre has instituted annual awards to recognise the excellent work done by individuals and institutions in the country in the field of disaster management.

Subhash Chandra Bose Aapda Prabandhan Puraskaar

  1. Three eligible institutions and individuals will be given the aforesaid award every year with cash rewards ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 51 lakh by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
  2. If the awardee is an institution, it will be given a certificate and a cash prize of Rs 51 lakh and the prize money will be utilised for disaster management-related activities only.
  3. If the awardee is an individual, the person shall receive a certificate and a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh.
  4. An application by an institution does not debar any individual from that institution to apply for the award in his individual capacity.
  5. The applications has to be filed online on

Criteria for the Award

  1. Only Indian nationals and Indian institutions can apply for the award.
  2. For institutional awards, voluntary organisations, corporate entities, academic, research institutions, response, uniformed forces or any other institution may apply for the award.
  3. The applicant must have worked in the area of disaster management like prevention, mitigation, preparedness, rescue, response, relief, rehabilitation, research, innovation or early warning related work in India.
  4. The application must be accompanied by details of the work done in disaster management and must highlight achievements in any one or more of the areas like saving human lives, reduction in impact of disasters on lives, livestock, livelihoods, property, society, economy, or environment.
  5. Mobilisation and provision of resources for effective response during disasters, immediate relief work in disaster hit areas and communities, effective and innovative use of technology in any field of disaster management and disaster mitigation initiatives in hazard prone areas are some of the other criteria.

RBI Notifications

Economic Capital Framework Committee of RBI


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Economic Capital of RBI

Mains level: Debate regarding the independence of RBI and Fiscal Strain on Govt.


A new Committee to decide on EC

  1. The Central Board of RBI in consultation with the Govt. of India has constituted an Expert Committee to review the extant Economic Capital Framework of the RBI.
  2. The RBI has named former RBI governor, Bimal Jalan to head the Framework committee.
  3. Expert committee on economic capital framework will have to give its report within 90 days from its first meeting.

Mandate of the Committee

  1. Review status, need and justification of various provisions, reserves and buffers presently provided for by the RBI.
  2. Review global best practices followed by the central banks in making assessment and provisions for risks which central bank balance sheets are subject to.
  3. To suggest an adequate level of risk provisioning that the RBI needs to maintain.
  4. To determine whether the RBI is holding provisions, reserves and buffers in surplus / deficit of the required level of such provisions, reserves and buffers.
  5. To propose a suitable profits distribution policy taking into account all the likely situations of the RBI, including the situations of holding more provisions than required and the RBI holding less provisions than required.
  6. Any other related matter including treatment of surplus reserves, created out of realised gains, if determined to be held.

Past Committees Recommendations

  1. In the past, the issue of the ideal size of RBI’s reserves was examined by three committees — V Subrahmanyam (1997), Usha Thorat (2004) and Y H Malegam (2013).
  2. While the Subrahmanyam committee recommended that contingency reserve should be built up to 12 per cent, the Thorat committee had said the reserve adequacy should be maintained at 18 per cent of the total assets.
  3. The RBI board did not accept the recommendation of the Thorat committee and decided to continue with the recommendation of the Subrahmanyam panel.
  4. The Malegam committee recommended that adequate amount of profits should continue to be transferred each year to contingency reserves.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Another olive ridley nesting site soon


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Olive Ridley species

Mains level: Conservations measures


  • The Odisha forest department is all set to add another olive ridley mass nesting site to its wildlife.

New Mass Nesting Site

  1. Odisha forest department has started preparing the beach at the Bahuda river mouth in Ganjam district to lure the endangered turtles to come over for mass nesting next year.
  2. Around 3-km stretch of the beach from Sunapur to Anantpur at Bahuda rookery is being developed as a possible olive ridley mass nesting site.
  3. The Bahuda rookery is located around 20 km to the south of Rushikulya rookery coast, a major mass nesting site of olive ridleys on the Indian coastline.

Encouraging signs

  1. This year, a few hundred olive ridleys had nested at Bahuda river mouth in February.
  2. This encouraged the forest department to develop it as a second mass nesting site for the turtles on the Ganjam coast.
  3. It is being hoped that the turtles will find the beach conducive and their mass nesting number at Bahuda will increase in 2019.


Oliver Ridleys 

  1. The olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, is a medium-sized species of sea turtle found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans
  2. They can also be found in warm waters of Atlantic ocean.
  3. Olive ridley turtles are best known for their behavior of synchronized nesting in mass numbers, termed arribadas.
  4. Interestingly, females return to the very same beach from where they first hatched, to lay their eggs.
  5. They lay their eggs in conical nests about one and a half feet deep which they laboriously dig with their hind flippers.
  6. In the Indian Ocean, the majority of olive ridleys nest in two or three large groups near Gahirmatha in Odisha.
  7. The coast of Odisha in India is the largest mass nesting site for the olive ridley, followed by the coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica.
  8. In 1991, over 600,000 turtles nested along the coast of Odisha in one week. Nesting occurs elsewhere along the Coromandel Coast and Sri Lanka, but in scattered locations.
  9. However, olive ridleys are considered a rarity in most areas of the Indian Ocean.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

River Dolphins go missing in Sunderbans as water salinity rises


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Gangetic Dolphin and its Habitat

Mains level: Conservation of the national aquatic animal


  • Rise in salinity in the water system that makes the Indian Sunderbans has resulted in the decrease of population of the Ganges River Dolphins (GRDs) in the region.

Findings of the study

  1. A recent study covering 100 km of rivers and channels around the Sunderbans have revealed that the national aquatic animal is no longer sighted in the central and eastern parts of the archipelago.
  2. Only in the western part of Sunderbans, where the salinity is lower, could researchers find some evidence of the species.
  3. The hyper-saline zone in the central part of the Sunderbans, which includes areas such as Raidighi and Patharpratima has lost connectivity with the upstream freshwater flow.
  4. Though there is some fresh water connectivity and flow in the eastern part, salinity levels were still high and thus there was no evidence of the GRDs.


  1. The study is indicative of how natural changes including the phenomenon of climate change and human interventions in the Indian Sunderbans are having an adverse impact on the habitat of the species.
  2. Because of its unique body shape, it becomes difficult for the dolphin to remain submerged in waters with high salinity.
  3. Hence freshwater flow to the Sunderbans is crucial for the subsistence of these species.

Impact of Sea-Level Rise

  1. The rise in sea level, triggered by climate change, is one of the reasons for the increase in salinity of waters of rivers and channels.
  2. Hydrological modifications like water diversion and commission of large barrages upstream have had a great impact on the salinity profile of the rivers downstream in the Sunderbans.


Gangetic Dolphin

  1. Gangetic river dolphins fall under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act.
  2. It has been declared an ‘endangered’ species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  3. The Gangetic river species found in India, Bangladesh and Nepal is almost completely blind.
  4. It finds its way and prey using echoes with sound being everything for them to navigate, feed, escape danger, find mates, breed, nurse babies and play.
  5. The Gangetic river dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world.
  6. The other three are found in the Yangtze river, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Russia ‘successfully’ tests hypersonic missile


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  INF Treaty, Avangard System

Mains level: Recent trend of USA’s disregard of bilateral and multilateral treaties and its impact on India as well as global geopolitics


INF treaty pull-back implications

  1. Russia has a tested new type of strategic weapon, the intercontinental “Avangard” system.
  2. The hypersonic missile could fly at 20 times the speed of sound and manoeuvre up and down, meaning that it could breach defence systems.
  3. The final test comes after U.S. announced plans to pull out of a key Cold War-era nuclear weapons pact, the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

Avangard hyper-sonic boost-glide missile system

  1. Avangard, also known as “Objekt 4202,” is supposed to combine a high-performance ballistic missile with an unmanned glider vehicle for significant improvements in maneuverability and sustained top speed.
  2. It is powered by a scramjet engine that accelerates it up to Mach 27.
  3. When approaching a target, the glider is capable of sharp high speed evasive maneuvers in flight making it “absolutely invulnerable for any missile defence system”.
  4. This technology allows Avangard missiles to travel at up to 20 Mach or approximately 24,700 km per hour.
  5. It is a speed made possible by the use of “new composite materials” to stay within a stable range of 1,600 to 2,000 degrees Celsius.
  6. Its boost-glider system grants it “lateral” and “vertical” evasive maneuvers by “several thousand kms.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[op-ed snap] The shape of growth matters


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Indian Economy Issues relating to planning

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Strategy for New India @ 75

Mains level: Measuring India’s growth till date and formulating future plans according to the changing dynamics


NITI Aayog’s new development plan

  1. NITI Aayog recently released its ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’
  2. The strategy affirms that “policymaking will have to be rooted in ground realities” rather than economic abstractions
  3. The intent to change the approach to planning from preparations of plans and budgets to the creation of a mass movement for development in which “every Indian recognises her role and experiences the tangible benefits” is laudable
  4. The strategy emphasises the need to improve the implementation of policies and service delivery on the ground, which is what matters to citizens
  5. Its resurrection of the 15 reports of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission and recommendation that they must be implemented vigorously are welcome

Focus on employment led growth

  1. Employment and labour reforms, the second chapter in the strategy, have rightly been given the highest priority, which was not the case in the previous plans
  2. Overall growth is also emphasised by NITI Aayog: “Besides having rapid growth, which reaches 9-10 per cent by 2022-23, it is also necessary to ensure that growth is inclusive, sustained, clean and formalised
  3. The employment-generating capacity of the economy is what matters more to citizens than the overall GDP growth rate
  4. There is no joy for citizens if India is the fastest-growing economy and yet does not provide jobs and incomes
  5. The growth of industry and manufacturing is essential to create more employment, and to provide bigger opportunities to Indians who have been too dependent on agriculture so far
  6. Here, too, it is not the size of the manufacturing sector that matters but its shape. Labour-intensive industries are required for job creation
  7. If the manufacturing sector is to grow from 16% to 25% of the GDP, which the strategy states as the goal, with more capital-intensive industries, it will not solve the employment problem
  8. The strategy does say that labour-intensive industries must be promoted, but the overall goal remains the size of the sector
  9. The goal must be clearly set in terms of employment, and policies and measurements of progress set accordingly
  10. Indian statistical systems must be improved quickly to measure employment in various forms, formal as well as informal

Providing tax incentives 

  1. The strategy highlights the urgency of increasing the tax base to provide more resources for human development
  2. It also says financial investments must be increased to strengthen India’s production base
  3. Managing this trade-off will not be easy
  4. If tax incentives must be given, they should favour employment creation, not more capital investment

Increasing mid-level industries

  1. A big weakness in the Indian economy’s industrial infrastructure is that middle-level institutions are missing
  2. Rather than formalising small enterprises excessively, clusters and associations of small enterprises should be formalised
  3. Small enterprises cannot bear the burden of excessive formalisation — which the state and the banking system need to make the informal sector ‘legible’ to them
  4. Professionally managed formal clusters will connect the informal side of the economy with its formal side, i.e. government and large enterprises’ supply chains
  5. NITI Aayog’s plan for industrial growth has very rightly highlighted the need for strong clusters of small enterprises as a principal strategy for the growth of a more competitive industrial sector

Labour laws revamp

  1. It recommends complete codification of central labour laws into four codes by 2019
  2. While this will enable easier navigation for investors and employers through the Indian regulatory maze, what is required is a fundamental reorientation of the laws and regulations — they must fit emerging social and economic realities
  •  First, the nature of work and employment is changing, even in more developed economies
  1. It is moving towards more informal employment, through contract work and self-employment, even in formal enterprises
  2. In such a scenario, social security systems must provide for all citizens, not only those in formal employment
  3. Indeed, if employers want more flexibility to improve the competitiveness of their enterprises, the state will have to provide citizens the fairness they expect from the economy
  4. The NITI Aayog strategy suggests some contours of a universal social security system. These must be sharpened
  • Second, in a world where workers are atomised as individuals, they must have associations to aggregate themselves to have more weight in the economic debate with owners of capital
  1. Rather than weakening unions to give employers more flexibility, laws must strengthen unions to ensure more fairness
  2. Indeed, many international studies point out that one of the principal causes of the vulgar inequalities that have emerged around the world is the weakening of unions
  3. The NITI Aayog strategy mentions the need for social security for domestic workers too
  4. This will not be enforceable unless domestic workers, scattered across millions of homes, have the means to collectively assert their rights
  • Third, all employers in India should realise that workers must be their source of competitive advantage
  1. India has an abundance of labour as a resource, whereas capital is relatively scarce
  2. Human beings can learn new skills and be productive if employers invest in them
  3. Employers must treat their workers — whether on their rolls or on contract — as assets and sources of competitive advantage, not as costs

Way forward

  1. The shape of the development process matters more to people than the size of the GDP
  2. Development must be by the people (more participative), of the people (health, education, skills), and for the people (growth of their incomes, well-being, and happiness)
  3. How well India is doing at 75 must be measured by the qualities of development, as experienced by its citizens, along these three dimensions

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Being a good neighbour


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations.

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SAARC

Mains level: Need for better regional integration in South Asia


Weak regional integration of India

  1. If South Asia is one of the world’s least integrated regions, India is one of the world’s least regionally-integrated major powers
  2. While there indeed are structural impediments (posed by both India and its neighbours) in fostering regional integration, the most significant handicap is New Delhi’s ideational disinclination towards its neighbourhood
  3. Successive regimes have considered the neighbourhood as an irritant and challenge, not an opportunity
  4. Seldom have India’s policies displayed a sense of belonging to the region or a desire to work with the neighbourhood for greater integration and cooperation

Neighbourhood policy shaky

  1. The Narendra Modi government’s neighbourhood policy began exceptionally well with Mr. Modi reaching out to the regional capitals and making grand foreign policy commitments
  2. But almost immediately, it seemed to lose a sense of diplomatic balance, for instance, when it tried to interfere with the Constitution-making process in Nepal and was accused of trying to influence electoral outcomes in Sri Lanka
  3. While India’s refugee policy went against its own traditional practices, it was found severely wanting on the Rohingya question and seemed clueless on how to deal with the political crisis in the Maldives
  4. While it is true that 2018 seems to have brought some good news from the regional capitals, it has less to do with our diplomatic finesse than the natural course of events there
  5. The arrival of an India-friendly Ibrahim Mohamed Solih regime in Male has brought much cheer, and the return of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Sri Lankan Prime Minister is to India’s advantage too
  6. Nepal has reached out to India to put an end to the acrimony that persisted through 2015 to 2017
  7. Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh are also positively disposed towards India, though the relationship with Pakistan continues to be testy and directionless
  8. What this then means is that New Delhi has a real opportunity today to recalibrate its neighbourhood relations

Learnings from the past

  • India must shed its aggression and deal with tricky situations with far more diplomatic subtlety and finesse
  1. The manner in which it weighed down on Nepal in 2015 during the Constitution-making process is an example of how not to influence outcomes
  2. The ability of diplomacy lies in subtly persuading the smaller neighbour to accept an argument rather than forcing it to, which is bound to backfire
  • It must be kept in mind that meddling in the domestic politics of neighbour countries is a recipe for disaster, even when invited to do so by one political faction or another
  1. Preferring one faction or regime over another is unwise in the longer term
  • New Delhi must not fail to follow up on its promises to its neighbours
  1. It has a terrible track record in this regard
  • There is no point in competing with China where China is at an advantage vis-à-vis India
  1. This is especially true for regional infrastructure projects
  2. India simply does not have the political, material or financial wherewithal to outdo China in building infrastructure
  3. Hence India must invest where China falls short, especially at the level of institution-building and the use of soft power
  4. India could expand the scope and work of the South Asian University (SAU), including by providing a proper campus (instead of allowing it to function out of a hotel building) and ensuring that its students get research visas to India without much hassle
  5. If properly utilised, the SAU can become a point for regional integration
  • While reimagining its neighbourhood policy, New Delhi must also look for convergence of interests with China in the Southern Asian region spanning from Afghanistan to Nepal to Sri Lanka
  1. There are several possible areas of convergence, including counter-terrorism, regional trade and infrastructure development
  2. China and India’s engagement of the South Asian region needn’t be based on zero-sum calculations
  3. For example, any non-military infrastructure constructed by China in the region can also be beneficial to India while it trades with those countries
  4. A road or a rail line built by China in Bangladesh or Nepal can be used by India in trading with those countries

What India can do?

  1. There needs to be better regional trading arrangements
  2. The reason why South Asia is the least integrated region in the world is because the economic linkages are shockingly weak among the countries of the region
  3. The lead to correct this must be taken by India even if this means offering better terms of trade for the smaller neighbours
  4. Several of India’s border States have the capacity to engage in trading arrangements with neighbouring counties
  5. This should be made easier by the government by way of constructing border infrastructure and easing restrictions on such border trade
  6. India prefers bilateral engagements in the region rather than deal with neighbours on multilateral forums
  7. However, there is only so much that can be gained from bilateral arrangements, and there should be more attempts at forging multilateral arrangements, including by resurrecting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

Way forward

  1. India’s neighbourhood policy is at a critical juncture: while its past policies have ensured a steady decline in its influence and goodwill in the region, the persistent absence of a coherent and well-planned regional policy will most definitely ensure that it eventually slips out of India’s sphere of influence
  2. India must have a coherent and long-term vision for the neighbourhood devoid of empty rhetoric and spectacular visits without follow up

Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

Mobile towers are harmless, says declassified CPCB report


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: ICNIRP, non-ionizing radiations

Mains level: Health issues raised by Telecom radiations


  • A recently-declassified study of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) states that mobile towers do not have any negative effect on human health.

Details of the Report

  1. The study is one among several done in the previous decade by the CPCB, which had not been declassified since 2010.
  2. They have been published recently after the Supreme Court instructed to make public, all reports related to the impact of environmental pollution on health and the economy.
  3. The safety limits are prescribed by the International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
  4. The report had said that there was no substantive or convincing evidence of cell phone radiation’s biological effects that could harm a person’s health.
  5. The ICNIRP standard uses the limit of 450 μW/cm2 (micro-watts per sq cm).

Effects of exposure to radiations

  1. However, the report does admit that the current exposure safety standards are purely based on the thermal effect while ignoring the non-thermal effects of radiation.
  2. In international standards, “thermal effect” of radiation refers to the heat that is generated due to absorption of microwave radiation which causes cellular and physiological changes in living beings.
  3. This effect may be responsible for genetic defects, effects on reproduction and development, central nervous system behavior and many similar serious health consequences.
  4. Non-thermal effects of radiation have been shown to be responsible for fatigue, irritability, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, disruption and other psychological disorders, memory loss and difficulties in concentration.

New norms

  1. In 2015,the Department of Telecommunications had come up with new norms of radiation from mobile phone towers which came into force in September 2015.
  2. And the limits on power density from mobile phone towers were restricted to one-tenth of the existing limit.