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December 2018

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Rethinking the Gulf


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Opportunities for India in the Gulf region and the need for a better-focused gulf foreign policy


Blossoming relation with Gulf nations

  1. India’s relations with the key Gulf countries have never been as good as they are today
  2. The deepening energy interdependence is marked by growing volumes of energy imports into India and the prospect of substantive investments from the Gulf into the Indian hydrocarbon sector
  3. The number of Indian migrant workers in the region stands at more than 7 million
  4. The Gulf is among India’s top trading partners
  5. A high-level engagement between India and the Gulf has blossomed in recent years
  6. PM Modi and External Affairs Minister have travelled frequently to the Gulf and there has been a steady stream of senior Gulf leaders visiting India
  7. The expansion of the political engagement has been matched by the growing security cooperation, especially on counter-terrorism
  8. India and its Gulf partners are also taking tentative steps towards defence cooperation

Still lacking focus

  1. India’s relations with the Gulf have been constrained by too strong a focus on the bilateral
  2. Delhi is paying too little attention to the growing weight of the Gulf in regional affairs and the strategic possibilities that it opens up for India

How Gulf nations are important?

  1. Saudi Arabia has long been a pivotal state
  2. As the nation with one of the world’s largest petroleum reserves and capable of modulating its oil production, Riyadh has played a critical role in shaping the world energy markets since the 1970s
  3. As the home to Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has a unique place in the Islamic world
  4. Since the late 1960s, Riyadh has exercised significant political influence in the evolution of the Middle East
  5. The rise of the UAE, in contrast, has been less noticed
  6. What differentiates the UAE from other petrostates is a rare purposefulness that has turned it into a strategic actor of consequence in the Middle East and beyond
  7. The UAE was the fourth-largest importer of weapons during 2013-17 and has a defence budget which is nearly 40 per cent of India’s defence spending
  8. The UAE is also a major player in the global logistics market, thanks to the successful development of Dubai as a major port and aviation hub
  9. It is now striving to emerge as a centre of art, higher education and technological innovation

Opportunities for India

If Delhi looks beyond the bilateral, it will find two very important axes of potential partnerships in the Middle East

  • One is the idea of a “moderate Arab centre”. The UAE leadership has made the construction of a moderate bloc in the region its highest regional priority
  1. It sees the construction of such a core around Egypt and Saudi Arabia
  2. Abu Dhabi believes that only a coalition of moderate Arab states can move the region out of its current deeply troubled state
  3. Abu Dhabi also believes that the values of cultural openness, religious tolerance, women’s empowerment, and economic opportunities for younger people — which helped the Emirates succeed — can be extended to other parts of the Middle East
  4. The idea of a moderate Arab centre should resonate deeply with India’s natural ethos and its traditional empathy for modernising forces in the Arab world
  5. Helping the construction of a moderate Arab centre envisaged by Abu Dhabi, then, is very much in India’s interest
  • Second is the growing impact of the Gulf countries in the Indian Ocean region
  1. Nowhere is this more evident than the Horn of Africa
  2. The recent success of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in brokering peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea who had been locked in a prolonged conflict underlines the positive role of the Gulf in Africa
  3. Alliances, military bases, interventions and peace-making have long been considered as the preserve of great powers
  4. But the Gulf countries today are bringing a combination of financial resources and political will to shape the geopolitics of their neighbouring regions
  5. Some of the Gulf countries like the UAE are eager to collaborate with India on development assistance and the construction of strategic infrastructure in the Indian Ocean littoral
  6. If India continues to be disinterested, they are bound to look for other partners

Way forward

  1. The Gulf states have relied in the past on the Anglo-Americans for their security
  2. As America and Britain gaze at their own navel, the Gulf states are taking greater responsibility for managing the regional order
  3. The conditions under which India could afford to take a purely bilateral approach to the Gulf nations are beginning to disappear
  4. India needs an integrated regional strategy to secure its ever-rising stakes in the Middle East and the Western Indian Ocean

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

[op-ed snap] J&J case is a step in the right direction, finally


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Central Drugs Standard Control Organization

Mains level: The long road of justice for people seeking compensation and changes required in the system


Compensation to victims of faulty implants

  1. India made a big stride in compensation, a critical appraisal in terms of various aspects of human life
  2. The government announced that the patients fitted with faulty hip implants supplied by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson Pvt. Ltd (J&J) be compensated between ₹30 lakh and ₹1.23 crore, along with an additional ₹10 lakh paid towards non-pecuniary damages
  3. This is by far the highest ever compensation announced for a living human being in India
  4. The compensation amount would set a precedent for future cases of medical negligence to be paid to patients in case of injury caused by “faulty” medical devices

Previous cases of neglect

  1. Decades ago, on the intervening night of 2-3 December 1984, a highly toxic chemical made its way into and around the small towns located near the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal exposing more than 500,000 people to the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC)
  2. In 1989, the Supreme Court ordered UCIL to cough up ₹750 crore for the tragedy touted as the “world’s worst industrial disaster”
  3. That sum was to be distributed among the 105,000 people affected by the leakage of MIC gas, including 3,000 dead and 102,000 injured
  4. There is no disputing that in India, compensation for death or disability arising from the fault of others is paltry
  5. Life in India is obviously much cheaper than in developed nations

More changes coming up

  1. The government is now contemplating changes in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, to make pharmaceutical companies liable to pay compensation for injuries and damage caused to consumers by their products, including drugs and medical devices
  2. The Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, the national regulatory body for Indian pharmaceutical and medical device makers, has proposed changes in the existing law to introduce a compensation provision for approved drugs and medical devices that have an adverse impact on a patient
  3. Once this becomes law, it would have large implications, not the least of which is that affected parties will not be given the runaround for the compensation as it would become mandatory for the company or entity concerned to make the payment

Way forward

  1. Indians have always felt powerless, doubting if progress will ever be made in getting a fair compensation in such cases
  2. The right of the victim for compensation has suffered in India but with the J&J case, India has definitely set a new precedent

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[op-ed snap] Make planning fashionable again


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Role of planning in an economy and need of bringing planning back in vogue


History of planning in India

  1. India under Nehru’s leadership inaugurated a strategy for industrialisation of the country in the early 1950s
  2. This involved the setting up of public sector units (PSUs) in diverse areas of manufacturing; research institutions in cutting-edge technologies of the time such as space and atomic energy; and centres of higher learning, including the Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs)
  3. By consciously entering into sectors such as machine building and nuclear research, which needed capital and technology more critically than labour, India was also challenging a deeply held orthodoxy in economic theory
  4. The theory of comparative advantage argued that countries should develop industries based on their comparative advantage
  5. According to this theory, a labour-surplus country like India should be limiting its industrial development ambitions to labour-intensive sectors, such as garments or leather
  6. The British government in India had indeed been putting the theory of comparative advantage into practice — to the disadvantage of most Indians

Evaluating the Indian model of planning

  1. The programmes launched in India from the 1950s onwards to build indigenous capabilities in the capital- and technology-intensive sectors, despite the general poverty of the country, became a model for other developing and Third World nations
  2. The foundations for India’s diversified economic base had been laid during the planning years
  3. The successes that India enjoys today in the information technology and knowledge-intensive sectors owe much to the research and educational institutions that were built during the early decades
  4. At the same time, however, planning did very little to remove the hurdles to the growth of agriculture and small-scale industries
  5. India’s record during the post-Independence period in implementing land reforms and ensuring primary education for all has been rather unimpressive
  6. As a result, the benefits from state-led development have so far reached only a minority of Indians

LPG reforms led to the diminishing of planning

  1. India’s commitment towards development through planning had begun to diminish from the early 1990s itself — much before the Planning Commission was formally dismantled in 2014
  2. After the introduction of economic reforms in 1991, public investment, especially on agriculture and industry, has been on a decline in the country
  3. PSUs have begun to be valued only for the returns they bring as commercial entities
  4. There has been little recognition of the important role that PSUs can play as creators of new technologies and knowledge, particularly in fields in which the private sector may have little interest or capabilities

Impact of reduced role of planning

  1. The disregard for planning and the general withdrawal of the state from economic decision-making have had important consequences on Indian industry
  2. India is today one of the largest markets in the world for a wide range of goods, whether passenger cars, mobile phones or food products
  3. Despite the emergence of such a large domestic market, the record of Indian manufacturing in absorbing the large labour reserves in the country remains abysmal
  4. The imports of machinery, transport equipment, electronic goods and all their components have been rising continuously in India from the 2000s onwards
  5. This trend has not been reversed after the introduction of the ‘Make in India’ initiative

Need of planning

  1. Planning is not incompatible with markets and globalisation
  2. On the contrary, a developing country trying hard to stay afloat amidst the turbulence of a global economy requires more, and not less, guidance through industrial policies
  3. The successes achieved by East Asian countries such as South Korea in manufacturing are, to a great extent, the result of strategic planning over several decades by their governments
  4. The Chinese achievements owe much to the careful planning and investments made by its government, particularly in the area of science and technology

Interventions required

  1. The employment challenge that India faces — close to 15 million waiting to be absorbed in the industrial and services sectors every year — is possibly bigger than that faced by any other country (except China) in the world
  2. It cannot be resolved with the technologies that foreign companies bring into India, which tend to be labour saving
  3. What India requires, on the other hand, are technological advances that create new economic opportunities and absorb — not displace — labour
  4. India’s research institutions and our PSUs should engage in the creation and dissemination of such technologies
  5. The country’s industrial policies should be able to enthuse young and educated entrepreneurs from rural areas to make use of these technologies to create new jobs

Way forward

  1. Economic planning is not considered fashionable today
  2. Nevertheless, contemporary economic debates will have much to gain by revisiting the ideas on planning
  3. Planning should be brought back to the centre of our economic discussions

Railway Reforms

Train 18: Top features and facilities of the country’s ‘fastest train’


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Everything about Train 18

Mains level: Modernization of Railways


India’s fastest train

  1. India’s first engine-less train-breached the 180 kmph speed threshold during a test run in the Kota-Sawai Madhopur section, becoming the country’s fastest train.
  2. If trials go well it may replace the Shatabdi Express soon.

Top features and facilities

  • Aerodynamically designed driver cabins at both ends for quicker turn-around at destinations
  • Alternate coaches are motorized to ensure even distribution of power and faster acceleration or deceleration
  • Regenerative braking system to save power
  • Inter-connected, fully sealed gangways
  • Automatic doors with retractable footsteps
  • Onboard Wi-Fi and infotainment
  • GPS-based passenger information system
  • Modular toilets with bio-vacuum systems
  • Rotational seats which can be aligned in the direction of travel (executive class)
  • Roller blinds and diffused LED lighting
  • Disabled-friendly toilets
  • Emergency talk-back units to contact train crew
  • CCTVs in all coaches for safe and secure travel

In Numbers

  • Approximate cost of train: ₹100 crore
  • Possible peak speed: 200 kmph
  • Expected commencement of commercial run: Jan. 2019
  • Number of Train 18s in the pipeline: 5
  • Number of coaches: 116 (same as Shatabdi)
  • The time reportedly taken to conceive, design and develop the train: 18 months

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

Central guidelines for crèches at workplaces


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017

Mains level: Impact of the proposed guidelines


  • The Centre has prepared guidelines for setting up of crèches at workplaces, which prescribe trained personnel to man the facility as well as infrastructure requirements and safety norms.

Adding another benefit

  1. In March this year, Parliament passed the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017, enhancing paid maternity leave from a period of 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
  2. The law is applicable to all institutions with 10 or more employees.
  3. It also makes it mandatory for every organisation with 50 or more employees to have a crèche.

Guidelines for Crèche

  1. A crèche be either at the workplace or within 500 metres of it.
  2. Alternatively, it could also be in the beneficiaries’ neighbourhood.
  3. The facility should be open for eight to 10 hours and if the employees have a shift system, then the crèche should also be run accordingly.
  4. A crèche must have a minimum space of 10 to 12 square feet per child to ensure that she or he can play, rest and learn.
  5. There should be no unsafe places such as open drains, pits, garbage bins near the centre.
  6. The crèches should have at least one guard, who should have undergone police verification.
  7. There should also be at least one supervisor per crèche and a trained worker for every 10 children under three years of age or for every 20 children above the age of three, along with a helper.

Other recommendations

  1. The government has also recommended that no outsiders such as plumbers, drivers, and electricians be allowed inside the crèche when children are present.
  2. A crèche monitoring committee with representations from among crèche workers, parents and administration should be formed.
  3. There should also be a grievance redressal committee for inquiring into instances of sexual abuse.
  4. The guidelines are not mandatory but are a yardstick for NGOs and organisations for setting up of creches.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu


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: Osiris-Rex

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived on December 3 at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.

Why it is important?

  1. The carbon-rich asteroid Bennu could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
  2. As such, it is an astronomical time capsule.
  3. NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples.

About Osiris-Rex

  1. The $800 million Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  2. Both the spacecraft and asteroid’s names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
  3. Osiris-Rex is actually a NASA acronym for origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer.
  4. Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60g of dust and gravel.
  5. The spacecraft won’t land, but rather use a 10-foot (3-metre) mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touchdown and vacuum up particles.
  6. The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.
  7. The collection parachuting down to Utah would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Japan’s quest on asteroids

  1. A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples.
  2. It is Japan’s second asteroid mission. This latest rock is named Ryugu and about double the size of Bennu.
  3. Japan has also managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission, also named Hayab

Danger posed by these asteroids

  1. Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially hazardous asteroids.
  2. That means they could smack Earth years from now. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.
  3. Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more dangerous to us.

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

Policy Commission of World Customs Organization


Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions, agencies & fora, their structure, mandate

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: WCO

Mains level:  Mandate of WCO in global trade


  • Recently the 80th Session of the Policy Commission of the World Customs Organization (WCO) was held in Mumbai.
  • The Session was organized by the WCO and hosted by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC).
  • India has discussed on various issues relating to World Customs Tariffs, trade facilitation measures, international issues on trade under the ambit of WCO.

Policy Commission, WCO

  1. The Policy Commission is essentially an advisory body for the Council and normally arrives at its recommendations by consensus.
  2. Each member of the Policy Commission shall have one vote, representatives of a simple majority of the Policy Commission’s members shall constitute a quorum, and a two-thirds majority of those present and entitled to vote is needed in order to carry a decision.
  3. The WCO Secretariat is responsible for making the arrangements and preparations for Policy Commission sessions, providing professional, administrative and technical services during the sessions, and performing follow-up tasks after the sessions.

About World Custom Organisation

  1. The World Customs Organization (WCO) is an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.
  2. The WCO maintains the international Harmonized System (HS) goods nomenclature and administers the technical aspects of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreements on Customs Valuation and Rules of Origin.
  3. The WCO’s primary objective is to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of member customs administrations, thereby assisting them to contribute successfully to national development goals, particularly revenue collection, national security, trade facilitation, community protection, and collection of trade statistics.
  4. The WCO is noted for its work in areas covering the development of international conventions, instruments, and tools on topics such as commodity classification, valuation, rules of origin, collection of customs revenue, supply chain security, international trade facilitation, customs enforcement activities, combating counterfeiting in support of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), drugs enforcement, illegal weapons trading, integrity promotion etc.

Indian Air Force Updates

[pib] Ex SHINYUU Maitri-2018


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: Exercise SHINYUU Maitri 2018

Mains level:  India-Japan strategic relations


Ex SHINYUU Maitri-18

  1. It is a bilateral air exercise of Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) with Indian Air Force from at A F Station Agra.
  2. The theme of the exercise is joint Mobility/Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief (HADR) on Transport aircraft.
  3. The JASDF C2 aircraft along with aircrew/observers are part of this first air exercise between the two Air Forces.
  4. IAF is participating with An-32 and C-17 aircraft with aircrew & observers.
  5. The focus of the exercise is set for the IAF and JASDF crews to undertake Joint Mobility/ HADR operations.
  6. Display of heavy loading/ off loading are also planned to be practiced during this exercise.