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December 2018

Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

[op-ed snap] Structural reforms for decarbonising India


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)

Mains level: Need of decarbonisation in India and hurdles in achieving it


India’s growth and subsequent energy demands

  1. Earlier this year, India surpassed France to become the sixth largest economy of the world
  2. It is also one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, poised to become the third-largest by 2028
  3. Rapid economic growth is often driven by an increase in energy demand and consequently higher carbon dioxide emissions

 Facilitating India’s decarbonisation

  • India’s electricity pricing policy needs to be significantly overhauled
  1. Current policy subsidises electricity prices for agricultural and residential consumers while penalising commercial and industrial consumers
  2. Research by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) finds that in the business-as-usual scenario, the industrial sector would account for one-third of India’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2050
  3. In the absence of electricity pricing reforms, it would be next to impossible to mitigate direct carbon emissions from India’s industrial sector
  4. Shifting these emissions to the electricity generation sector through electrification and, in turn, mitigating the emissions via renewable and other low-carbon electricity sources would be an effective strategy
  • Revamping the market design of India’s electricity sector is a must
  1. For absorbing a greater percentage of variable renewable energy (VRE), i.e. solar and wind, into the grid, conventional power plants, especially those running on coal, would need to operate differently
  2. Currently, most coal power plants operate to serve the baseload demand
  3. In the future, with a higher share of VRE in India’s electricity mix, such plants would primarily operate to only serve mid-peak demand, peak demand and super-peak demand
  4. Liberalised electricity markets like those in the EU or the US are already finding integrating renewable energy difficult
  5. The challenge is far more complex for India where we are likely to have different power plants operating under different market paradigms
  6. If the electricity market design is not reformed, and the share of renewables crosses 40%, tussles between thermal power generators and VRE generators, due to loss of revenue for the former, could become very frequent
  • Banking sector reforms are pivotal for meeting India’s ambitious renewable energy goals
  1. CEEW’s research has highlighted in the past that the cost of finance contributes to 60% of the total cost of solar electricity in India
  2. For years, the banking sector has been plagued by the issue of non-performing assets
  3. A risk-averse banking sector means less capital and high-interest rates for unconventional energy businesses, invariably the renewable energy sector
  4. To reach scale, and that too rapidly, availability of adequate capital at favourable interest rates will make or break the transition to clean energy sources
  5. Only banking sector reforms can ultimately assure this
  • India’s bond market needs to take off
  1. While green bonds are being issued for supporting renewable energy, India ironically does not have a well-functioning larger bond market
  2. Unless bond market reforms are undertaken at a larger scale for deepening of capital markets in India, its immense potential will be largely untapped

Way forward

  1. Under a changing climate, extreme weather events like the floods in Kerala are becoming more common across the country
  2. India needs to meet its decarbonisation goals not only for meeting its climate commitments and economic targets, but also for fulfilling its human development objectives

Issues related to Economic growth

[op-ed snap] China and India: Struggling to rebalance


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: IMF, WTO

Mains level: Comaprison between India-China growth levels and various factors affecting growth


Economic challenges for India-China

  1. China and India make up for two contrasting—but fascinating—case studies of economic management in emerging economies
  2. Policymakers in both countries are struggling to rapidly rebalance their economies
  3. China, which is demand-constrained, is trying to cushion its structural deceleration, whereas India, which is supply-constrained, is struggling to unlock its potential for higher trend growth

The wide gap between India and China

  1. Economic reforms took off in China in 1978, while India was a late bloomer, with major structural reforms seeing the light of day following the balance of payments crisis in 1991
  2. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) pegs India’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) this year at $2,135. This is around a fifth of China’s per-capita GDP of around $10,000
  3. The gap in per capita GDP in the two economies was less than $40 in 1990
  4. China was at India’s current per-capita GDP back in 2006, a gap of 12 years that is similar to the 13-year head start China had compared to India in initiating economic reforms
  5. China’s per capita GDP surged slightly less than five times between 2006 and 2018, while India’s increased two-and-a-half times

Factors for China’s unprecedented growth

  1. China benefited immensely from its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001
  2. China adopted and adapted to the export-driven model of development, with a strong emphasis on keeping its exchange rate undervalued
  3. The disinflationary impact of its stepped-up supply-side and the ballooning of its current account surplus also facilitated a sustained downshift in the structure of local interest rates
  4. This in turn also boosted growth
  5. China’s early focus on education, skills and infrastructure is an important reason that it can make everything, from a simple but good-quality and reasonably-priced toy to cars; specialized and fancy electrical and electronic gadgets to high-speed railways

What are areas in which India lags behind?

  1. Frequent worries about the size of its chronic current account deficit and about its stable financing sometimes cause dislocations that undermine growth
  2. An often overlooked feature of India’s half-baked economic model is that policymakers have reformed end product markets before addressing the entrenched problems in factor markets: high cost of capital, inadequate and insufficiently skilled labour force, and recurring palpitations with land acquisition
  3. All these factors compromise the pace, magnitude and nature of the unlocking of India’s economic potential
  4. Manufacturing, which is critical for absorbing the growing pool of labour, remains a suboptimal link in India’s economic evolution
  5. Also, India is still lost about reforms in agriculture and education
  6. India wants more investment-driven growth, especially focused on upgrading its creaky infrastructure, but is still struggling to jump-start the upturn in investment

The challenge for China

  1. China took up a multi-year investment surge that also contributed to its undisputed status as the factory to the world
  2. The debt-fuelled investment binge that cushioned the hit from the global financial crisis in 2008 has now become the proverbial albatross around China’s neck
  3. The challenge for China is cushioning its deceleration in growth to avoid any social upheaval from a hard landing and/or rising unemployment

Common problems for India & China

  1. The pace of economic rebalancing in both economies is substantially held to ransom by their banking sectors, including the shadow-banking channels
  2. The underlying problem in both cases is home-grown, with politics distorting the more efficient allocation of savings
  3. Both rely substantially on their clunky banking systems for intermediation of domestic savings, though India’s financial sector can justifiably claim to be relatively better regulated and more transparent than China’s

Way forward

  1. The pace of rebalancing in both countries will continue to be slower than what investors expect
  2. Financial markets suffer from tunnel vision and look for quick outcomes, while adjustments in the real economy take time
  3. India’s challenges to unlock its growth potential aren’t unprecedented; several other emerging economies have had to cross several similar hurdles

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

[op-ed snap] She is the answer


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Role of women & women’s organization

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Sustainable Development Goals, UNDP

Mains level: How women can play a key role in India’s food security


SDGs and gender equality

  1. Countries globally, including India, have agreed to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched by the UNDP in 2016 as “a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity”
  2. Among the 17 goals and 169 targets to be achieved by 2030, SDG 5 on gender equality is seen as a key goal, both in itself and for achieving other goals
  3. SDG 5 holds substantial potential for promoting food security

Role of women in food security

  1. Women play key roles in food provisioning as producers, home food managers, and consumers
  2. As producers, they constitute a high and growing proportion of farmers. In India, 35 per cent of agricultural workers are women (NSSO 2011-12) and women farm operators grew from 12.8 per cent to 13.9 per cent between 2010-11 and 2015-16 (agricultural censuses), not counting women working on male-managed farms
  3. Women also contribute to food systems through forests and fisheries
  4. One in six persons globally depends on forests for supplementary food, green manure, fodder, firewood, etc.
  5. Women and girls are the main gatherers of forest products, especially food and firewood; the latter continues to be the primary cooking fuel in most of rural India, cooking energy is essential for food security
  6. Seafood is globally the main source of protein for a billion people. Women constitute 46 per cent of workers in small-scale fisheries and 54 per cent in inland fisheries
  7. Although marine products are harvested mainly by men, it is aquaculture — more in women’s domain — which is the fastest-growing and predicted to provide over 50 per cent of fish consumed globally by 2020 (according to World Bank figures)

Challenges for women

  1. Women’s productivity depends crucially on access to land, which is highly gender unequal due to male bias in inheritance, government land transfers, and market access
  2. They also have poor access to credit, irrigation, inputs, technology and markets
  3. As agriculture gets feminised, the challenge of dealing with climate change, which is predicted to greatly lower food-crop yields, will increasingly fall on women
  4. But few of them have access to technological advances such as heat-resistant crops or water-conserving practices
  5. And higher temperatures will increase their labour in food processing and preservation
  6. A fall in household food will also affect females more than males due to unequal intra-household allocations, as evident in anthropometric and malnourishment measures, and female anaemia — 53 per cent of Indian women are anaemic
  7. Besides, as family food managers, women’s autonomy in food allocation decisions is adversely affected by their limited asset ownership: Child survival, nutrition and health are found to be notably better if the mother also has assets

Potential of SDG 5

  1. The potential lies in its focus on women’s access to land and property, and natural resources
  2. Secure land rights for women can improve both their productivity as farmers and family nutritional allocations
  3. Women can obtain land via the family (especially inheritance), the market and the state
  4. Target 5A only mentions inheritance laws, but since 86 per cent arable land in India is privately owned, gender equality in family land would improve tenure security for women farmers
  5. Also, SDG 5 mentions financial services. Affordable credit would help women farmers invest in necessary inputs
  6. Similarly, SDG 5 emphasises natural resources. Although it does not specify forests or fisheries, if policymakers so interpret it, it could enhance nutritional diversity, given women’s roles in forest food and fisheries
  7. Moreover, Target 5.5 emphasises women’s participation in public life. Although it focuses on legislatures and village councils, this could be extended to community institutions managing forests and water

Limitations of SDG 5

  1. Target 5A on inheritance is diluted by the clause “in accordance with national laws”, which provides a loophole to bypass the goal’s mandate
  2. Also, social norms obstruct legal rights, such as “good sisters” foregoing their claims to parental property, or distant marriages reducing women’s ability to manage inherited land
  3. Government policy cannot directly change norms, but SDG 5 is silent even on government land transfers to women, which policy can affect
  4. And women farmers need inputs beyond the financial services mentioned in Target 5A
  5. Similarly, the failure of SDG 5 to explicitly recognise access to forests and fisheries, or the challenges of climate change, restricts its potential

How can SDG 5 further the goal of food security?

  1. First, it can interpret women’s access to natural resources to specifically cover forests, fisheries, and irrigation
  2. Second, it can connect with SDG 1 (no poverty) and SDG 2 (zero hunger) which recognise the need for women to access land, credit, knowledge and markets
  3. Third, it can interpret goals which mention gender to include support for women farmers, as in SDG 13 on climate change
  4. Fourth, it can engender SDGs which bear crucially on food security but at present disregard gender, viz. SDG 15 on forests and SDG 14 on marine resources

Way forward

  1. Gender equality is key to food security
  2. Beyond SDGs, we need institutional innovations
  3. Farming in groups could provide an unexplored pathway for enhancing food security and strengthening SDG 5

Rural Distress, Farmer Suicides, Drought Measures

Why are farmers all over India on the streets?


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Transport & marketing of agricultural produce & issues & related constraints

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: APMC Act, Economic survey

Mains level: Rural distress and ways to resolve it



  • Mass farmer protests have erupted across the country over the past few months from Maharashtra to Bengal, with the October march in Delhi leading to violent clashes with the police.

Reality Check on Farm Distress

  1. NCRB statistics show more than 3 lakh farmers have killed themselves in the last two decades.
  2. Indebtedness was cited as the reason for more than 55% of farmers’ suicides in 2015.
  3. Maharashtra, which saw the highest number of farmers’ suicides, has 57% of its farm families in debt.
  4. NSSO data show more than half of all farmers are in debt, with each household owing an average of ₹47,000.
  5. In States like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where levels of indebtedness are around 90%, the average debt of a household hovers around ₹1 lakh.
  6. Almost 70% of agricultural households spend more than they earn and almost a quarter of all farmers live below the poverty line.

Landless workers bettered than small cultivators

  1. Census data for 2011 show the number of cultivators who own land have been overtaken by landless agricultural workers for the first time.
  2. Many of these 144 million workers earn less than ₹150 a day working in the fields, and the failure to generate jobs in other parts of the economy gives them few options.

Reasons behind Distress

  1. Long-term issues include the increasing fragmentation of land — average plot sizes are barely more than one hectare — a lack of post-production infrastructure, marketing mechanisms and supply chains.
  2. The last two years have actually seen record farm output in most major crops, but the resultant glut has led to crashing prices.
  3. Most summer crops have been selling at below MSP rates in the marketplace this year.
  4. At the same time, input costs have spiked, with diesel prices surging 26% this year and fertilizer costs shooting up more than 15%.
  5. Demonetization was a blow to many in the rural cash economy.
  6. The move affected farmers’ ability to buy seeds and fertilizers, pay off loans and hire farm labour, according to an initial Agriculture Ministry report to a parliamentary panel last month.
  7. The hovering clouds of El-Nino and drought are again surmounting further pushing this distress.

Policy Measures

  1. The M.S. Swaminathan Commission had recommended that the minimum support prices for 23 major crops be set at 1.5 times the cost of production, and the government claims it has fulfilled its promises to do so.
  2. However, the government’s calculation of the cost of production only includes actual paid-out costs and the imputed cost of family labour, while the Commission’s formula also included the imputed cost of capital and the rent on the land.
  3. Moreover, the government only procures wheat, rice and a limited amount of pulses and oilseeds at MSP rates, benefiting only a fraction of farmers.
  4. While loan waivers are a popular poll promise and have been implemented in some States, small farmers without access to institutional credit are often left out.
  5. The cap on waivers and poor implementation has led to absurd situations such as farmers receiving cheques for just ₹1.

Policy solutions ahead

  1. A government panel aiming to double farmers’ income by 2022 has come up with a 13-volume report, but its final set of policy recommendations is still pending with the Agriculture Ministry.
  2. It is expected to focus on ways to ensure sustainability of production, monetisation of farmers’ produce, re-strengthening of extension services and recognising agriculture as an enterprise and enabling it to operate as such by addressing structural weaknesses.
  3. This week, the Cabinet approved an agriculture export policy, lifting restrictions on organic and processed food, which it hopes will double farm exports by 2022 and widen the market for domestic produce.
  4. Farmers groups are urging political parties to support two private member Bills introduced in the last session of Parliament for guaranteed implementation of MSP and a comprehensive loan waiver and debt reduction scheme.
  5. However, they have also come out with a wider charter of demands, which deals with input costs, social security, farm workers employment, land rights, irrigation, agro-ecology, crop insurance and contract farming.

Way forward

  1. Like any other economic activity, the farming sector has its own set of risks
  2. To increase and ensure a stable flow of income to farmers it is vital to manage and reduce the risks by analysing, categorizing and addressing them.

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

Report on ‘toxic’ talc worries India


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Talc

Mains level:  Cancer and its preventive measures


  • The debate over whether talcum powder poses serious health risks is in the spotlight again as its perineal use is possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Risks posed by Talcum Powder

  1. A risk assessment on talc published by Health Canada, states that talcum powder is harmful to the lungs when inhaled during breathing and could possibly cause ovarian cancer when used by women in the genital area.
  2. Breathing in products containing talc can lead to coughing, difficulty in breathing, decreased lung function, scarring of the lung tissue.
  3. Its contact with the skin (excluding the female genital area) and mouth is, however, not a health concern.
  4. The draft assessment would be confirmed in a final assessment that would entail Canada adding talc to a list of toxic substances if the proposed conclusions are confirmed.
  5. At that point in time it would also decide on the measures it would take to prohibit or restrict the use of the clay mineral, which finds wide use including in cosmetics, paints, ceramics.

Talcum powder in India

  1. In India, talcum powder is among the most widely known talc-based self-care products.
  2. Most Indians use talcum powder to get rid of sweat and the odour that it generates.
  3. But talcum powder clogs the pores, which are supposed to remain open. This is the main cause of local infections like folliculitis, boils, skin eruptions.
  4. From fighting perspiration and odour, to helping lend the user a ‘fairer’ skin tone, a large number of Indian consumers rely on talcum powder and the market is estimated to be worth about ₹700 crore.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Are drugs discharged into the Yamuna toxic to aquatic life?


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Drugs mentioned in the newscard

Mains level: Water pollution crisis faced by India and how it can be toned down


Discharge of drug-containing effluents can cause drug resistance

  1. By studying nine different pharmaceutical active compounds in Yamuna River, researchers have now pointed out that it can “possibly cause chronic toxicity” to aquatic life and to humans who use this water.
  2. As our body does not use the entire quantity of the drug we take, most of it is excreted and end up in aquatic systems via domestic sewage.
  3. The researchers from IIT-Delhi and National Mission for Clean Ganga collected water samples from six sites across the 25 km river stretch during three different seasons (November 2010, April and July 2011).
  4. Using different extraction processes, the pharmaceutical residues in the water were recovered and analysed.

Findings of the Research

  1. The team looked at six over-the-counter drugs (aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, ranitidine, caffeine, diclofenac) and three prescription drugs (carbamazepine, codeine, diazepam).
  2. Ibuprofen and paracetamol were found at a high concentration of 1.49 and 1.08 microgram per litre respectively.
  3. Previous studies have shown that even small concentration of ibuprofen could cause an antagonistic effect on aquatic organisms.
  4. Studies have also shown that ibuprofen exposure could increase cyanobacterial growth in the water.
  5. Caffeine was found in high concentration in most of the sites. Caffeine is used as a stimulant in medicine; residue from beverages and other food products may be a contributor.
  6. Even prescription drugs such as carbamazepine were found in the samples with the highest level at 1.35 microgram per litre.

Hazards of the effluents

  1. Though the individual levels were small and cannot cause acute toxicity to the marine life, the mixture of compounds can cause chronic toxicity.
  2. We need more studies on the pharmaceutical residues as this is found to be an emerging problem in many countries.
  3. This not only affects the biodiversity of the river but can also lead to the rise of superbugs.

Way Forward

  1. Uncontrolled discharge of drug-containing effluents in our rivers and other water bodies can potentially make many microbes drug-resistant.
  2. Our sewage treatment plants are not designed to take care of these pharmaceutical compounds.
  3. Also, we have no guidelines or specific rules in place about this.
  4. There is a need to sensitize the government and this report is the first step toward it.

Citizenship and Related Issues

Centre amends rules for minorities from three nations


Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Population & associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: National Register of Citizens (NRC), Citizenship Act, 1955, Assam Accord, 1985

Mains level: Updation of NRC and its implications on demography as well as security situation of Assam as well as other neighbouring states



  1. A parliamentary committee has been examining the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, that proposes citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who came to India before 2014.
  2. It has run into strong resistance in the Assam because it will pave the way for giving citizenship mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam, who came after March 1971, in violation of the 1985 Assam Accord.

Separate column for Minorities

  1. The contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is pending in Parliament, but the Union Home Ministry has notified amendments to the Citizenship Rules, 2009.
  2. It seeks to include a separate column in the citizenship form for applicants belonging to six minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
  3. Since 2011, nearly 30,000 Pakistanis, mostly Hindus, have been granted long-term visas.

New amendments

  1. The Centre has made the changes under Section 18 of the Citizenship Act, 1955. New rules were notified on December 3.
  2. Under the amendments, a separate entry in the form will ask the applicant: Do you belong to one of the minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikhs and Christians?

Benefits of the move

  1. The amendments are done to provide relief to the people.
  2. The amended rules are expected to benefit those who escaped persecution.
  3. They are not in violation of the work of the parliamentary committee.

Additional Readings:

The citizenry test: Assam NRC explained

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

Four new devices notified as drugs for regulation


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:  Not much

Mains level: Issues related to medical devices, implants etc.


  • The Drug Technical Advisory Body (DTAB), the country’s highest drug advisory body, had approved the proposal to include nebulizers, blood pressure monitoring devices, digital thermometers and glucometers under the purview of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.

Why such move?

  1. The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) would regulate the import, manufacture and sale of these devices from January 1, 2020.
  2. All these devices will have to be registered under the quality parameters prescribed under Medical Devices Rules 2017 and other standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) certification.
  3. This is a step which will enable the government to ensure their quality and performance.
  4. Once the proposal gets approved, it would mean companies which are engaged in manufacture and import of this equipment will have to seek necessary permission or license from the Drug Controller General of India.
  5. With this there are only 27 medical devices monitored for quality by the country’s drug regulator.

Expanding list of devices

  1. The health ministry has proposed expanding the list of devices in eight new categories, under the definition of ‘drugs’ to bring them under the purview of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
  2. The eight categories include implantable medical devices, MRI equipment, CT scan equipment, defibrillators, dialysis machines, PET equipment, X-ray machines and bone marrow cell separator.
  3. The proposal to bring high-end medical devices like implants, X-ray machines, MRI and CT scan equipment, dialysis machines under the purview of the drug law is under consideration.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] 1st International Conference on Sustainable Water Management


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Conference on Sustainable Water Management

Mains level: India’s dual challenge of water conservation and interventions that can be made to prevent a water crisis


International Conference on Sustainable Water Management

  1. The first International Conference under the aegis of National Hydrology Project, Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation is being organised by Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) in Mohali.
  2. The aim of the Conference is:
  • to foster the participation of and dialogue between various stakeholders, including governments, the scientific and academic communities, so as to promote sustainable policies for water management,
  • to create awareness of water-related problems, motivate commitment at the highest level for their solution and thus promote better management of water resources at local, regional, national and international levels.
  1. The theme of the Conference “Sustainable Water Management” deals with promoting integrated and sustainable development and management of Water Resources.