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January 2019

Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

[op-ed snap] ASER data shows early education is crucial, one-size-fits-all policy doesn’t work


Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| 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: Basic knowledge of the ASER 2018 assessment.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the recently released ASER 2018 data which shows how crucial is early education for the children of the country, in a brief manner.


  • The recently released Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2018 showed how crucial is early education for the children of the country.

Early Childhood Education

  • Early childhood education (ECE) is included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 that were approved by India among many countries around the globe.
  • SDG Target 4.2 states that by 2030 countries should “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education”.This global goal emerged thanks to extensive international research in disciplines as varied as neuroscience, psychology and economics, which show that early childhood (defined internationally as the age group of 0-8 years) is a critical period.
  • During this time, the foundations of life-long learning are built, with 90 per cent of all brain development taking place by age six.

Early Childhood Care and Education in India

  • In India, the importance of early care and stimulation has been recognised in the National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Education (2013).
  • The policy aims to provide “developmentally appropriate preschool education for three to six-year-olds with a more structured and planned school readiness component for five to six-year-olds.”
  • The recently created Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan scheme has also brought renewed focus and attention on ECE through the Integrated Scheme on School Education that aims to treat school education “holistically without segmentation from pre-nursery to Class 12”.

Main avenues for accessing early childhood education in India

There are currently two main avenues for accessing early childhood education in India.

  • Anganwadi centres: The most widespread comprises the 1.3 million anganwadi centres run by the Ministry of Women and Child Development across the country under the Integrated Child Development (ICDS) Scheme.
  • Private sector: The other is the burgeoning private sector, with more than 40 per cent of privately managed primary schools reportedly offering pre-primary LKG and UKG classes as well.
  • Some states in India offer a third possibility as well, in the form of preschool classes integrated within government primary schools, for example in Assam and Jammu & Kashmir.

RTE Act and ASER assessment

  • According to the RTE Act, enrolment in formal schools should begin at age six, with ECE exposure recommended for children between age three and six.
  • However, 26 of India’s 35 states and union territories allow children to enter Class 1 at age five.
  • National trends from the recently released Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2018) indicate that enrolment patterns broadly meet these policy prescriptions.
  • At age three, two-thirds of children were enrolled in some form of preschool; while seven out of every 10 were enrolled in primary school at age six.
  • However, fairly large proportions of children are already in primary grades even at age three and four; and many are still in preschool at age seven and even eight.

Major variations across the country

  • As with many estimates at the all-India level, these national trends hide major variations, both across the country as well as at different ages.
  • For example, at age three, national policy recommends that children should be in an ECE programme.
  • Gujarat comes close to meeting the norm, with well over 90 per cent children in some form of preschool, the majority in ICDS Anganwadis.
  • In contrast, in Uttar Pradesh, almost two thirds are not attending anywhere.
  • At age four, almost a quarter of all four-year-olds in Rajasthan are already in primary school, with almost equal proportions in government and private schools.
  • But in Assam, about seven out of 10 children are attending an anganwadi.
  • At age five, nationally, about a third of all children are already in primary school.
  • But in UP, close to two in every 10 children are not enrolled anywhere; and, in Rajasthan over 60 per cent children are in primary school.
  • At age six, although all children are expected to be in primary school, over 40 per cent of all six-year-olds in both Telangana and Assam continue in some form of pre-primary class.
  • These varied pathways in the early years have major consequences for what children experience and learn along the way.

ASER 2018 data

  • ASER 2018 data shows that nationally, more than a quarter of children entering primary school are five years old or younger.
  • From the perspective of the primary school, children in Class 1 are far from homogenous in terms of age.
  • Less than 40 per cent are at the mandated age of six years and a third are seven or older.


  • These age-grade distributions have implications for teaching and learning.
  • A four- or five-year-old child is simply not developmentally ready to handle Class 1 curriculum.
  • From the point of view of a teacher, moreover, teaching the same content to a class with wide variation in students’ age is not a trivial challenge.
  • The requirement that teachers complete the curriculum for a given grade in a given year and that the children master the content being taught does huge disservice to both.

Outcome in terms of learning: ASER assessment

  • In the elementary school sector, ASER has demonstrated for more than a decade that getting all children into school is undoubtedly a major achievement but it does not by itself ensure that children are able to learn at the expected level.
  • ASER data shows that gaps between what children can do and what is expected of them emerge very early in children’s school trajectories and widen as they move through the system.
  • A quick look at the Class 1 language textbook in any state provides a good indication of what children are expected to do during their very first year in school.
  • But ASER 2018 data shows that even several months into Class 1, nationally more than 40 per cent of children are unable to recognise letters of the alphabet, let alone read words or connected text.

Way Forward

  • As implementation of the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan rolls out across the country, ASER data on young children suggests that a “one size fits all” solution is unlikely to be successful.
  • Experts are of the view that while helping children get a head start in the early years is important, it is critical to ensure that all stakeholders (parents, teachers, policymakers and textbook developers) understand that the key words are “quality” and “developmentally appropriate”.
  • The continuum envisaged for the early years curriculum should start from and build on what children bring with them when they enter preschool and school. So that they are able to grow and thrive.

Banking Sector Reforms

[op-ed snap] Legislating payments out of RBI’s excess capital could compromise its independence


Mains Paper 3: Economic Development | Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of RBI’s equity holding capacity.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issue that how much equity the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should hold, in a brief manner.


  • A committee is examining the issue that how much equity the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should hold.

Many dimensions to the issue

The issue under examination has many dimensions such as:

  • How should the RBI’s equity level be computed?
  • What should be the structure of the RBI’s assets?
  • Should the RBI pay the government any excess equity holdings as a special one-time payment?

About RBI’s equity

  • The RBI’s current equity holding is around 27 per cent of its total assets.
  • This overall equity level can be divided into four categories: Paid-up capital, contingency capital, revaluation capital and asset development fund.
  • The two largest components of these are contingency capital (6.6 per cent) and revaluation capital (around 20 per cent).
  • The revaluation capital is an accounting entry that offsets changes in the rupee value of the foreign assets and gold holdings of the RBI due to changes in the exchange rate of the rupee and changes in the dollar price of gold, respectively.


  • The total equity of 27 per cent has attracted a lot of attention lately.
  • Arguments have been made that this is too high, especially when compared with other countries.
  • There are views that the RBI should transfer a part of this “excess” capital to the government as a one-time payment.

Method to calculate this apparent excess: VaR analysis

  • One way of judging whether or not this level of equity holding is excessive is to use a metric that is typically applied to commercial banks.
  • Under this method, one computes the fraction of the value of the banks’ assets that are at risk due to fluctuations in the market value of the asset. This is known as VaR analysis.
  • This approach tries to look at the worst “x” per cent changes in the asset value of the bank during the sample period and estimates the associated size of the fall in asset value.
  • If the bank has capital greater than this value then one can say it has enough capital to withstand negative shocks in 1-x per cent of cases.
  • The higher x is, the greater is the safety level that the bank has.
  • Thus, if the chosen x is 1 per cent then the bank has enough capital to absorb 99 per cent of the shocks that typically hit the system.

Study shows RBI’s current core equity level needs to be more than doubled

  • In a recent study, it was shown that the RBI would require a 30 per cent overall equity to asset ratio to cover 95 per cent of all shocks it faces.
  • Thus, its overall equity level has to be raised from the current 27 per cent level.
  • If, instead, one only focuses on non-exchange rate-related shocks, then the core equity to asset ratio needed by the RBI to cover 95 per cent of all such shocks is around 17 per cent.
  • That implies that the RBI’s current core equity level of 6.6 per cent needs to be more than doubled.

Central Bank cannot be treated like a Commercial bank

  • When the equity of a commercial bank becomes negative, they are bankrupt and their shareholders typically demand liquidation.
  • However, the central bank of a country is not a commercial bank.
  • Its owner is usually the government, which certainly will not demand liquidation of the central bank in the event its equity turns negative.
  • Indeed, there do exist central banks with negative equity.
  • What is crucial for a central bank is the level of its assets and the riskiness of the portfolio it chooses in terms of its term structure and currency composition.
  • In the event of an emergency, the central bank would need assets to fight it.
  • So, a VaR analysis of the asset portfolio of the central bank is a worthwhile exercise but only for determining its riskiness relative to the country’s risk appetite.

Central bank should hold equity rather than paying it out to the government

There are two important reasons for it:

(a) Builds fiscal credibility of the country

  • Putting a part of the country’s assets in a protected entity like the central bank builds fiscal credibility of the country as long as the central bank is viewed by markets as being independent of the government.
  • This can improve the country’s international credit rating.
  • It also gives the central bank greater credibility in committing to perform its emergency functions without worrying about the fiscal contingencies of the government.

(b)  Mandating payments from the Central bank: a policy moral hazard

  • Mandating payments from the capital of the central bank creates a policy moral hazard.
  • For example, a cut in the policy rate raises the value of government securities that the central bank holds.
  • If the resultant rise in the central bank’s equity sparks a payment to the government then there would be greater spending and inflationary pressure in the economy.
  • Anticipating this, the central bank would be tempted to not lower rates as much.
  • A similar argument operates with exchange rate depreciation.
  • More generally, legislating payments out of the central bank’s excess capital will tend to compromise its operational independence in achieving its policy mandate.

Way Forward

  • In light of the above, an advisable route for the committee currently looking into the RBI’s capital structure is to recommend a formal agreement between the government and the RBI with the agreement stipulating:
  1. a target band for the equity level of the RBI based VaR computations;
  2. the time frame within which the RBI needs to bring its capital level back within the band every time the bounds of the band are breached, and
  3. explicitly prohibit any payments to the government that is based on the equity level of the RBI.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] India stares at water scarcity


Mains Paper 3: Disaster Management| Disaster and disaster management.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing as such.

Mains level: The news-card discusses about tackling drought that must be the immediate priority for administrators across the country today, in a brief manner.


  • The coming elections to the Lok Sabha which are crucial to the future of our democracy, pluralism and federalism, are only a few weeks away.
  • However, according to the experts, tackling drought must be the immediate priority for administrators across the country.


  • India is facing a low rainfall year. The rains’ let down this time comes on top of an already low-rain and, in many places, no-rain ground situation.
  • The next nearest rains are six months away and there is no guarantee that June will see the onset of a normal monsoon.
  • The political class is ware of the situation since the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has given them enough data.
  • But when droughts and elections intersect, it is extremely uncomfortable to leaders.

Need to create awareness over the issue

  • Just weeks before the elections, the reservoirs might dry up, taps will sputter to a stop and we may well be looking at water-rationing.
  • Public awareness, prodded by public discussions on meteorological data and media reports, has kept droughts from deepening into famines in our country.
  • However, the IMD report on scant rains has not received much attention so far, with exceptions being provided by several experts of relentless warnings and observations.
  • The failure of rains this time is so serious that ‘drought’ now means not just a farm crisis but a national crisis that will affect towns and cities no less than villages.

Rain deficit facts

  • The actual deficit last monsoon was modest — barely 10%.
  • But the post-monsoon rainfall (October to December, 2018) or PMR as it is called by meteorologists has registered a 44% deficit.
  • This national average deficit conceals shortages in some regions where it is much higher.
  • In Marathwada, according to the IMD, the deficit is 84%, in Vidarbha, 88%.

 Reasons to worry this time

  • This low-rain and no-rain situation is going to aggravate the water crisis that we have brought upon ourselves without the ‘help’ of a dry sky.
  • Years of policy-driven, corporate-driven water transfers from rural to urban, agriculture to industry, poor to rich and so on have made our country-side chronically water-scarce.
  • Urban India does not realise this well enough until when there are power-outages and air-conditioners do not work.
  • According to experts, by April-May, this drought could be tormenting millions in several States and that is when election-campaigning will be at its peak.

Drought is going to be the real issue for the next general Elections

  • The pre-election mood nowadays is all about agrarian distress and farm-loan waivers. However, the need is to think about drought and what can be done to address it.
  • It does not take more than one failed farm-season to turn the farmers to impatience and then to rage.
  • It is going to be the biggest and immediate test for the new governments in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh.
  • The drought is going to be the real challenge to the ‘collective opposition’ as it seeks to oust the present regime.
  • The rural voter will vote against the government unless the ‘government party’ makes drought relief, water-use, food security and massive earth-related programmes its absolute priority.

Way Forward

  • Appointing a commission like the Farmers’ Commission: The next Prime Minister should appoint a commission like the Farmers’ Commission, which Dr. M.S. Swaminathan headed, to advise him or her on how water scarce India needs to face drought.
  • The Commission must be given just one month to complete its study and make its recommendations.
  • Penalties should be incorporated rather than making mere advisories or appeals to the defaulters.
  • Addressing the deepening drought, agrarian distress and water-management are the most critical issues that India faces today.

UDAY Scheme for Discoms

Govt must learn from its failure before launching UDAY 2.0


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: UDAY Scheme

Mains level: The newscard critically evaluates UDAY Scheme


  • While the Centre plans to come up with Ujjwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) 2.0 after the first one failed, experts highlights certain issues to prevent it against failure.
  • The Ministry of Power has put its faith in the second leg of power distribution company reforms under the UDAY 2.0.

UDAY 1.0 was a failure

  1. When the government launched UDAY in 2015, it wanted to improve the financial health and operational efficiency of the country’s debt-ridden power distribution companies.
  2. However, the scheme failed to achieve this target.
  3. According to the latest numbers, the nationwide AT&C losses stood at 18.6 per cent at the end 2017-18.
  4. So far, only seven states including, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Himachal Pradesh, have registered losses below 15 per cent while rest of the states have failed to achieve even this.
  5. The scheme also requires DISCOMs to bring down the gap between average cost of supply and average revenue realized to zero.
  6. Instead of reducing this gap, a number of states — Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Goa — have seen this gap widen in the last few years.
  7. It added that only few states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana have performed well on most parameters of the scheme.

Way Forward

  1. UDAY 2 addresses the problems of meter reading, billing, collections and leakages or theft.
  2. The government should ensure that short-term borrowings by DISCOMS are monitored.
  3. DISCOMS should get regular payments.
  4. All states should follow one methodology to measure aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C).

Read more about UDAY Scheme at:

UDAY scheme for financial turnaround of Power Distribution Companies

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

India ranks 80th on Global Talent Competitive Index 2019


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: GTCI

Mains level: Not Much


  • Global Talent Competitive Index (GTCI) for 2019 was recently released.

About GTCI

  1. Launched for the first time in 2013, the GTCI is an annual benchmarking report that measures the ability of countries to compete for talent.
  2. It is released by INSEAD business school in partnership with Tata Communications and Adecco Group.
  3. The report measures levels of Global Talent Competitiveness by looking at 68 variables such as ease of ease of hiring, gender earnings gap, and prevalence of training in firms.

India’s Progress

  1. At 80th rank, India moves up one position on the Global Talent Competitive Index (GTCI) 2019, according to a report.
  2. According to the report, India’s biggest challenge is to improve its ability to attract and retain talent.
  3. There is a need to address its poor level of Internal Openness in particular with respect to weak gender equality and low tolerances towards minorities and immigrants.
  4. China emerged as the best performer among the BRICS countries, with an overall position of 45th.
  5. However, India performed better than its lower-income peers when it comes to growing talent and access to growth opportunities.

Global Performance

  1. Switzerland followed by Singapore, the US, Norway and Denmark were in the top five on the list.
  2. In the top ten of talent competitiveness ranking, only two non-European countries can be seen: Singapore and the USA.
  3. This underlines that Europe remains a talent powerhouse, but also that countries with great universities and a strong education sector are best at attracting talents.

Textile Sector – Cotton, Jute, Wool, Silk, Handloom, etc.

Project ReWeave enables handloom weavers to sell crafts online


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: Project ReWeave

Mains level: The importance of textiles and apparels industry and issues related to it.


  • Microsoft India Saturday announced the launch of a new e-commerce platform here for handloom weavers under its Project ReWeave, as part of its philanthropic initiative.

Project ReWeave

  1. It is e-commerce platform that would help connect artisans to the buyers directly enabling them to expand to newer customers and markets.
  2. It hosts signature collections created by the weaver communities, showcase traditional designs and products created from natural dyes.
  3. It would help sell to a broad set of customers, support weavers in increasing their income and earning a sustainable livelihood while also reviving traditional forgotten Indian art.
  4. Microsoft, in association with the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), has also curated a special curriculum in ‘CAD and Colour for Handloom Weaving’ to provide digital training in handloom design.

Benefits of such initiatives

  1. With the introduction of our new e-commerce platform, digital empowerment centres and the new design curriculum, the weavers will be able to build on the rich handloom heritage of India and also reach out to a wider customer base.
  2. These initiatives like e-commerce marketplace and design training would ensure weaver communities sustain themselves and provide livelihood to artisans.
  3. This also is a practical solution to motivate younger generation of weavers to continue with their traditions and not divert into other professions.

Electoral Reforms In India

[pib] ECI reaffirms Non-Tamperability of EVMs


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: EVMs and VVPATs

Mains level: Feasibility of using EVMs and VVPATs amid allegations of tampering


  • In wake of rumours about EVMs tampering and manipulating, ECI rules out all such possibilities.

How are EVMs and VVPATs non-tamperable?


  1. The ECI-EVMs are stand-alone machines designed to connect only amongst ECI-EVM units (Ballot Unit, Control Unit and VVPAT) through cables that remain in full public view.
  2. There is no mechanism in them to communicate with any device through wireless communication on any Radio Frequency.
  3. All their versions are regularly and rigorously tested against low to high wireless frequencies. These tests include and go beyond the standard tests specified for electronic equipments
  4. They are regularly tested for proper functioning under all kind of operating conditions.
  5. They are also regularly tested for code authentication and verification.


  1. In the context alleging about the two side printing of VVPAT paper which allegedly retains lower tampered print while the front side print as verified by the voter, getting erased.
  2. VVPATs use thermal printers which can print only on one side of thermal paper.
  3. The print is fully visible through the viewing window.
  4. The paper rolls used in VVPATs have only one-sided thermal coating and hence can be printed only on one side.
  5. The VVPAT paper print lasts atleast for five years.

Verified by Manufacturers

  1. Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Limited, are the sole manufacturers of EVMs and now also VVPATs.
  2. They also reaffirmed that all the TEC prescribed Standard Operating Procedures are scrupulously adhered to and observed.
  3. It is however reiterated that while ECI-EVMs might malfunction sometimes like any other machine due to component failures and stop working, but even such a malfunctioning ECI-EVM would not record any vote incorrectly.
  4. It is reaffirmed that ECI-EVMs are not tamperable.