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December 2018

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

[op-ed snap] The shackled Indian farmer


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Problems in Indian agricultural setup and solutions for these problems


Woes of farmers rising

  1. Farming in India, mostly done on a small scale, without much technology, or insurance, is one of the most difficult jobs
  2. Farmers deal with tens, if not hundreds, of variables and uncertainty, and still manage
  3. The problem is that farmers are not allowed to use all their resources and engage with global markets

Ways in which Indian farmers are shackled

  • Market limitations
  1. The government has over the years, under the guise of protecting farmers, severely limited the market for their produce
  2. This is institutionalized through the agriculture produce market committee (APMC)
  3. It is obvious that a larger market for any farmer means that more consumers can compete for the produce enabling better prices
  4. However, the APMC prevents this, by dividing the market geographically into different regions and insisting that a farmer can only sell to the mandi in his region
  5. Further, traders in a mandi need a licence
  6. This prevents consumers, wholesale and retail food companies from buying directly from the farmer
  7. Mandi licences are naturally given only to those with political patronage, often used as a side business for politicians
  8. The farmer receives depressed prices, while the final consumer pays a high price for the same produce
  • Minimum support price (MSP)
  1. MSP has been impoverishing farmers and consumers for decades
  2. The government promises high prices, to “help” farmers, but is not able to deliver on those promises by actually buying all the produce
  3. Farmers produce more expecting a high MSP and are forced to dump their produce when MSPs are not delivered
  4. Indian farmers lament when they have a bumper crop as prices and MSP fall
  5. One reason for this is also that India has either heavily regulated or banned futures trading in agriculture
  6. Futures trading helps smooth cycles in the market
  7. However, Indian farmers are not allowed to participate in this kind of market and so they cannot use the bumper crop in a given year to prevent the downside from bad crops in other years
  • The absence of land market
  1. Farmers have been denied a market for land, their biggest asset
  2. In several cases, farmers are not allowed to sell their land to non-farmers, and they cannot themselves easily change the use of their land
  3. This has limited and depressed the market for agricultural land, and the price agricultural land can fetch
  4. Farmers, thus, are unable to exit farming
  • Land titling
  1. Land titling records are such a mess and farmers face additional uncertainty
  2. Goons may possess land illegally in areas where there are no good records
  3. Worse, without good land records, the ability to raise credit using land as collateral is limited
  4. The government has also, with good intention, regulated local moneylenders by limiting the interest rates, further reducing access to credit
  5. This means farmers essentially only have state-owned banks and cooperatives to turn to for credit and are at the mercy of government policies to avail farm loans
  • Controlled inputs
  1. The inputs used by farmers are severely controlled
  2. Farmers are prevented from buying most of their inputs in market settings, because of statutes such as the Essential Commodities Act
  3. The government, having killed the private market for any of these inputs, forces the farmers to now beg for and rely on subsidies
  4. The government, in turn, promises free electricity and water, which are unreliable because of the massive shortages caused without a price system
  5. Farmers would rather pay for the reliable supply of water and electricity than a free subsidy, but in most input areas, private players cannot enter and sell to farmers
  • No experiments in new technologies
  1. Farmers are not allowed to experiment with new technologies used across the world
  2. Whether this is technology in fertilizer, machinery, or pesticides, the Indian government does not allow it
  3. So, farmers must wait for a state-ordained “green revolution”, where new technology is introduced once a century
  4. On the other hand, farmers could be creating their own mini-revolutions every season if they could experiment with global technologies
  5. The most problematic is the partial ban on genetically modified (GM) seeds
  6. A lot of the new GM seeds are more resistant to pests and bacteria, and reduce the need for other inputs such as pesticides, water and fertilizer, with potential for huge gains for farmers
  7. Any experimentation is done illegally and a black market has emerged for GM seeds, harming both farmers and produce

Way forward

  1. Farmers don’t need the help the government has provided over seven decades
  2. The government’s “help” is the cause of the distress
  3. Farmers actually need the government to get out of their way

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: The tech wars are here


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Rising tensions between US and China and its impact on India


Tech war between China & US

  1. The arrest of a top executive of a Chinese company in Vancouver marks the sharpening contest between Washington and Beijing for leadership in such new areas as artificial intelligence, robotics and synthetic biology
  2. The immediate focus is on fifth-generation wireless technologies that promise to transform digital connectivity in the next few years
  3. The US, which has maintained a massive technological lead against other major powers through much of the 20th century, is now concerned that China is catching up
  4. Losing the technological leadership to Beijing, Washington knows, will begin to undermine America’s global primacy in the 21st century

Not the first instance

  1. This is not the first time that the US is targeting Chinese tech companies
  2. Earlier this year, the Trump administration banned the export of American components to the Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, on charges similar to those being considered against Huawei
  3. As ZTE began to implode, Trump agreed to lift the sanctions after the company agreed to pay a huge fine and punish those responsible for defrauding US financial institutions
  4. The case of Huawei could turn out to be a bigger challenge for both countries
  5. Unlike the ZTE case, the Huawei case is being treated as a criminal offence and could lead to severe punishment for Meng
  6. Huawei is a much larger corporation than ZTE and showcases China’s technological advance and global commercial reach

Impact on India

  1. India will not be unaffected by the technology war between America and China
  2. As Washington goes after Huawei, the crown jewel of China’s technology companies, Delhi’s own exposure to the company will come under scrutiny
  3. Even more important, the new dynamic between the US and China will severely test India’s great power relations
  4. Just as India’s traditional defence relationship with Russia is coming under stress amidst the new conflict between Washington and Moscow, Delhi’s ties with Huawei will come under the American scanner, sooner rather than later
  5. India’s strategy of playing all sides among the great powers seemed sensible when Russia and China had a relatively benign relationship with America
  6. That approach, however, is becoming difficult to sustain amidst Washington’s rapidly deteriorating relations with Moscow and Beijing

Trade relations under stress

  1. Washington, too, will have to consider the impact of this move on its technology giants, all of whom are joined at the hip with China
  2. Any effort to decouple this massive interdependence will certainly hurt Beijing
  3. But it will also inflict much pain on the American companies

Warning bells for India

  1. Over the last few weeks, the Western intelligence agencies have come out in the open to voice security concerns in relation to Huawei and the dangers of letting it build 5G networks in the world
  2. The concerns of these agencies regarding China’s 5G equipment include the opaque nature of Huawei’s links with the People’s Liberation Army, the danger of enhanced Chinese espionage, and the potential boost to China’s offensive cyber capabilities
  3. These arguments are not very different from those that India’s security agencies had articulated nearly two decades ago when Huawei was trying to break into the Indian telecom market
  4. But commercial interests and foreign policy considerations of strengthening economic engagement with China helped tip the argument in Huawei’s favour
  5. Since then, Huawei has acquired a dominant position in the smartphone sales domain and the supply of network equipment

Way forward

  1. Amidst the new global pushback against Huawei and India’s own plans to introduce 5G mobile technology, Delhi might have to revisit the old arguments and take a fresh look at its relationship with the Chinese tech giant

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

[op-ed snap] Don’t believe the anti-GMO campaign


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 research related to GM crops and how GM technology can help Indian farmers


GM crops debate

  1. A review article, “Modern technologies for sustainable food and nutrition security” authored by geneticist P.C. Kesavan and leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan describes Bt cotton as a “failure”
  2. In 2016, 107 Nobel laureates signed a letter challenging Greenpeace to drop its anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) technology stance
  3. They stated that the anti-GMO campaign is scientifically baseless and potentially harmful to poor people in the developing world

GM crops effectiveness

  1. Genetic modification is the technology of choice for solving abiotic problems like drought flood, salinity, etc
  2. It may not be equally effective in the case of biotic stresses since new strains of pests and diseases arise all the time

Usefulness of GM crops

  1. Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%
  2. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops
  3. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries
  4. Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards

GM crops not a failure in India

  1. Bt cotton is not a failure in India
  2. The yields hovering around 300 kg/ha at the time of introduction of Bt cotton (2002) have increased to an average of over 500 kg/ha, converting India from a cotton-importing country to the largest exporter of raw cotton
  3. India has one of the strongest regulatory protocols for field trials of GM crops

Way forward

  1. GM technology is not a magic bullet. It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis
  2. There is definitely scope for improvement in terms of technology and regulatory protocols
  3. But it is time to deregulate the Bt gene and lift the embargo on Bt brinjal

Land Reforms

Land acquisition law challenged in court


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Land Acquisitions Act, 2013

Mains level: Fair compensation and transparency in Land Acquisitions


  • The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine a plea challenging the legality of amendments brought in by Tamil Nadu and four other States.
  • The present law allows authorities to bypass the need to take farmers’ consent before their land is acquired for large infrastructure projects.

Problem with the Amendments

  1. A SC Bench had issued notice to the Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand governments for amending their land acquisition laws.
  2. These states amended the laws to the extent that consent of farmers or land owners is not required before their land is acquired for projects like industrial corridors, expressways and highways.
  3. The petition filed states that the States allow land acquisition without participation of representative local bodies like gram sabha in social impact assessment studies.
  4. The States have removed the consent clause of PPP, paving the way for many private projects that are running under the garb of PPP.
  5. There are no provisions for expert appraisal processes, public hearings, objections, and safeguard provisions to ensure food security.
  6. The petition said the amendments violate the “core spirit” of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act of 2013.

About LARR Act, 2013

  1. It mandates that 70% of the affected land owners should consent to the acquisition of land for a public private participation project.
  2. The 2013 Act replaced its colonial predecessor of 1894 and was intended to uphold the farmers’ right to dignity and life.

India plans deep dive for seabed minerals


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ISA and its license grants to India

Mains level: India’s deep sea missions


Exploring oceanic beds

  1. The floor of the world’s seas is scattered with vast beds of black potato-shaped polymetallic nodules comprising copper, nickel, cobalt, manganese, iron and rare earth elements.
  2. These natural goodies are key to making modern gadgets, from smartphones and laptops to pacemakers, hybrid cars and solar panels.
  3. As expanding technology and infrastructure fuel, global demand for these resources — whose supply is dwindling fast onshore — more and more countries are eyeing the ocean.

Deep sea explorations now a reality

  1. Once thought to be too costly and difficult, industrial-scale sea mining could begin as early as 2019.
  2. Canada’s Nautilus Minerals is on track to become the first company to start operations, which it plans to launch near the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea, according to a company statement.
  3. All countries are as yet in the experimental or exploratory phase, and the ISA is still hammering out regulation and royalty terms for commercial mining.

Indian exploration initiatives

  1. Over the next decade, the Indian government plans to pump in more than $1 billion to develop and test deep sea technologies like underwater crawling machines and human-piloted submarines, according to the earth sciences ministry.
  2. If it works, the equipment will be able to reach depths of up to 6 km (3.7 miles), where metals can be 15 times more concentrated than in land deposits.

ISA Licenses and India

  1. India, Asia’s third-largest economy, is going full steam ahead in anticipation of the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
  2. ISA is a U.N. body that oversees mining on the high seas giving the green light for commercial exploitation.
  3. The ISA allows India to explore an area in the Indian Ocean of 75,000 square kilometres (about 29,000 square miles), equal to roughly 2% of the country’s size.
  4. The prospect has excited India, which depends heavily on China, the world’s biggest producer of elements.
  5. China provides about 90% of rare earths, which are used in aviation and defence manufacturing.
  6. It has four of the 29 licences awarded by the ISA, and Beijing controls more exploration areas in the high seas than any other country, according to the Jamaica-based agency.

Why India needs seabed minerals?

  1. India is most interested in copper, nickel and cobalt, as it ramps up clean power generation.
  2. Cobalt, also produced in Democratic Republic of Congo, is used to make batteries that can store energy from renewable sources, including solar and wind.
  3. These metals are not widely available in India, so they have strategic importance.
  4. India’s goal is to become self-reliant in the minerals, and it is “not in a race with anybody”.

Environmental Challenges

  1. Experts warn that in the absence of a clear international charter, deep sea mining operations could cause irreversible damage to a little understood ecology.
  2. The seabed is home to a unique ecology where colonies of organisms and creatures have evolved over millions of years, free of wild currents, sunlight, vibrations and noise which mining would bring.
  3. Environmentalists fears private players could sound the death knell for Earth’s “final frontier”, which he said has been explored only 0.0001%.
  4. It could also have long-term effects on how the ocean, which absorbs carbon dioxide and heat, regulates the world’s climate.
  5. While the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) already includes regulation of mineral-related activities, environmentalists say the rules are not good enough.
  6. It urged countries to put vested interests aside in agreeing the new ISA framework, given the damage humans have already done to the planet’s atmosphere, land and surface water.

India to minimize its mining footprint

  1. India’s deep ocean exploration programme dates back more than two decades, during which it has been surveying the sea floor and testing environmental impacts.
  2. India believes that sediment kicked up by underwater mining would dissolve and resettle, and there would be no carbon emissions, unlike on land.
  3. There would be no need to build roads, infrastructure or relocate communities nothing major like we see on land.
  4. But some experts warned even minor alterations could cause substantial harm to marine habitats and sea creatures.
  5. With the plan only to scoop up mineral nodules rather than digging into the sea floor, flora and fauna would not be destroyed.

Way Forward

  1. Deep sea mining will be pure commerce, but there are certain situations where we cannot put profit before people.
  2. We should not rush it, otherwise we will head towards another disastrous environmental damage.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

India’s tallest bridge pier built in Manipur


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Noney Bridge and its details

Mains level: Development projects in the NE


  • The Northeast Frontier Railway Construction Organization has constructed India’s tallest pier as part of the project to build a railway bridge at Noney in Manipur.
  • The proposed bridge will be the world’s tallest railway bridge.

Noney Bridge

  1. The bridge is being constructed across the valley of river Ijai near Noney, with the height of the final pier being 141 metres.
  2. On completion, the bridge will surpass the existing world record, held by the 139-metre Mala-Rijeka viaduct in Montenegro.
  3. The total length of the Noney bridge will be 703 metres.
  4. The bridge is a part of the 111-km Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal new broad gauge line project, a national project which is set to be completed by 2022.
  5. The project also includes 45 tunnels, the longest being 10.28 km, which will be the longest railway tunnel of the northeast.

Maldives applies to rejoin Commonwealth


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Commonwealth of Nations

Mains level: Impact of regime change in Maldives on India


Maldives applies to rejoin

  1. The Maldives has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth, reversing a policy of isolation under autocratic leader Abdulla Yameen who suffered a shock defeat in September.
  2. Yameen earlier withdrew the Maldives from the Commonwealth after it mounted pressure on him to protect human rights and ensure the rule of law amid a ferocious crackdown on dissent.
  3. The new president’s administration believed in the values of the bloc, which consists mainly of former territories and colonies of the British Empire.

Impact of regime change

  1. The Maldives’ interest in re-joining the Commonwealth stems from a deep conviction that the values and principles enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter are more vital than ever.
  2. The former accused the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat of interfering in the nation’s affairs.
  3. During Yameen’s reign, the US had repeatedly warned democracy was under serious threat in the strategically-located archipelago sitting on key international shipping lanes.
  4. After Solih’s election, political prisoners have been freed and opposition figures in exile have returned home.
  5. Solih has expressed “dire” economic crisis in the Maldives and asked regional power India for help. Yameen had drifted closer to China and the Maldives saw its foreign debt balloon under his leadership.


Commonwealth of Nations

  1. The Commonwealth of Nations, normally known as the Commonwealth is an intergovernmental organisation of 53 member states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire.
  2. The Commonwealth dates back to the first half of the 20th century with the decolonization of the British Empire through increased self-governance of its territories.
  3. It was originally created as the British Commonwealth of Nation through the Balfour Declaration at the 1926 Imperial Conference, and formalized by the UK through the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
  4. The current Commonwealth of Nations was formally constituted by the London Declaration in 1949, which modernized the community, and established the member states as “free and equal”.
  5. The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II, who is the Head of the Commonwealth.
  6. The Queen is head of state of 16 member states, known as the Commonwealth realms, while 32 other members are republics and five others have different monarchs.
  7. The chief institutions of the organisation are the Commonwealth Secretariat, which focuses on intergovernmental aspects, and the Commonwealth Foundation, which focuses on non-governmental relations between member states.
  8. Member have no legal obligations to one another. Instead, they are united by language, history, culture and their shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

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

[pib] ‘India Day’ inaugurated as Partners ‘Forum 2018 takes Centre stage


Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:

Prelims Level: India Day, RMNCHA+A

Mains level: Addressing Maternal and Child health issues


  • The ‘India Day’, an official side event was organized jointly by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the development partners in the run up to the Partners’ Forum 2018.

India Day 2018

  1. India Day event is aimed to reflect on the journey of the RMNCH+A programme.
  2. RMNCHA+A stands for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent.
  3. It aims to share and learn from the good practices and innovations implemented by different States/UTs and organisations to address various health challenges around maternal and child health.
  4. The RMNCH+A strategy is centred on the continuum of care approach, catering to health needs at every stage of the lifecycle.

RMNCH+A strategy in India

  1. RMNCH+A is aligned with the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.
  2. Its key programming tenets include well-defined targets to end preventable deaths, ensure health and well-being and expand enabling environments, popularly known as the Survive, Thrive and Transform approach.
  3. In India, maternal, child, neonatal and adolescent health gained tremendous momentum since RMNCH+A was rolled out.
  4. India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) has fallen from 556 in the year 1990 to 130 in 2014–16 (SRS data).
  5. The country’s progress can be gauged from the 77% decline in MMR that it achieved during 1990­–2015, compared to global decline of 44% during this period.
  6. Under-five mortality rate (U5MR) in India has fallen significantly, from 126 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 39 per 1,000 live births in 2016.

About Partners Forum 2018

  1. The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) has organised 2018 Partners’ Forum in New Delhi.
  2. The 2018 Forum, hosted by the Government of India will centre on improving multisectoral action for results, sharing country solutions and capturing the best practices and knowledge within and among the health sector and related sectors.
  3. It will also emphasize the importance of people- centred accountability bringing forward the voices and lived realities of women, children and adolescents through innovative programming and creative projects.
  4. Specific goals of the Partners’ Forum include:
  • Greater political momentum, sustaining attention to the “Survive-Thrive-Transform” agenda of the Global Strategy, and its contribution to driving the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the 2030 SDG.
  • Knowledge exchange, through sharing of lessons learned and best practices to innovate and improve implementation strategies for results.
  • Improved cross-sectoral collaboration through knowledge exchange and joint advocacy strategies.