February 2019

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

[op-ed snap] A Crossroads In Kabulop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India-Afghanistan relations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India’s Afghan policy in the light of US withdrawing from Afghanistan, in a brief manner.


  • India’s Afghan policy is at a crossroads.
  • A period of adjustment has become essential following US President Donald Trump’s unilateral announcement that he is pulling US troops out of the conflict-ridden country.


  • Trump is the third, and perhaps the last US president, to try to wind up America’s costly military involvement in Afghanistan.
  • But the announcement of a draw-down before the final peace deal with the Taliban is concluded was certainly a blunder.
  • More fighting and political instability in Afghanistan would be damaging, as much for Indian interests as for regional stability.

Framework deal between the US and Afghan Taliban

  • Another development is the “framework” deal between the US and Afghan Taliban after six days of discussions at Doha.
  • Washington’s hasty timetable (18 months) to disentangle itself from the Afghan quagmire has narrowed the US’s options.
  • India too is trapped in a strategic blind-spot in Afghanistan.

US pull-out: role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly

  • For Pakistan’s security establishment, Trump’s frustration at the current military stalemate in Afghanistan is a godsend — it can re-engage with Washington, largely on its own terms.
  • Trump has frequently criticised Pakistan for turning a blind eye to the Taliban’s insurgency.
  • But he now appears reconciled to Pakistan’s centrality to the endgame in the region.
  • The role of Pakistan is going to expand significantly, with the US depending upon it to implement the interim deal.
  • This will be a diplomatic victory for Pakistan.

Trump’s decision against Pentagon’s advice

  • James Mattis, who was forced to resign as secretary of defence, was against the pull-out.
  • The head of the US Central Command, Lt General Kenneth McKenzie, had argued that Afghanistan would be doomed to a downward spiral if abandoned by the US at this critical juncture.
  • But Trump decided to ignore Pentagon’s advice.

An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process seems to has vanished

  • Fully aware of the deadline, the Taliban are playing their hand well, trying to secure maximum concessions from Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, without offering anything meaningful in return.
  • The Kabul government is nowhere in the picture.
  • The Taliban’s determined refusal to engage the Kabul regime constitutes the biggest obstacle to a meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue.
  • In all probability, the Trump administration is going to finalise the deal with the Taliban without consulting President Ashraf Ghani, leave alone taking into consideration New Delhi’s concerns.
  • All talk of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process has vanished.
  • The Afghan presidential election, originally scheduled in April, stands postponed till July.

India finding itself marginalised

  • Despite being an important stakeholder in Afghanistan, India finds itself increasingly marginalised in negotiations involving the key regional players.
  • New Delhi is concerned about the vital role that all the powers are giving to Pakistan.
  • Iran and Russia, two of India’s closest allies during the Northern Alliance’s battle against the Taliban regime in the 1990s, seem out of sync with New Delhi’s interests.

India’s soft power strategy has limitations

  • Since the Taliban’s ouster, Washington’s financial, diplomatic and military support to the Kabul regime has allowed New Delhi to avoid direct military involvement in the Afghan conflict.
  • India’s developmental approach has earned it immense goodwill among the Afghan people.
  • However, the “soft power” strategy has limitations.
  • The manner in which Trump hit out at India’s contribution towards Afghan stabilisation is largely symptomatic of his fundamentally transactional view of India’s relationship with the US.
  • India cannot send troops to Afghanistan since there is a domestic consensus against it.
  • But ironically, without any military footprint, India cannot convincingly push for Pakistan’s exclusion from the peace process.
  • New Delhi today has little influence over Afghanistan’s future.

Taliban might effect security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley

  • An emboldened Taliban is sure to impinge on security scenario in India’s troubled Kashmir Valley.
  • The outfit seems positioned to emerge as the ideological bulwark of Kashmir’s renewed insurgency.
  • Pakistan’s security establishment, in cahoots with the Taliban, will likely project a potential American exit from Afghanistan as a vindication of its policies.

US and India not on the same page over Afghanistan

  • Trump is unlikely to be bothered even if America’s disengagement in Afghanistan is viewed as a strategic defeat .
  • Trump’s criticism of India’s Afghan policy and his plans to exit could cast serious doubt on the US’s role as a strategic ally for India.
  • Trump’s ill-conceived strategy gives India a chance to reconsider its long-standing belief that it has the US’s backing in Afghanistan.

Way Forward

  • According to experts, India cannot be out of the bandwagon because if “you are not sitting on the high table you will not know what is happening”.
  • It is time for New Delhi to engage the Taliban to secure its interests.
  • India also needs to reassess its policy choices in close coordination with Russia and Iran, constantly reminding them that a complete surrender to the Taliban’s demands will be detrimental to their own security.
Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Checks and balance On EVMsop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of EVM process.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues in the EVM process and demand for implementation of VVPAT during the general elections, in a brief manner.


  • In a significant and welcome change from their earlier demand for a return to paper ballots, representatives of a large section of the mainstream Opposition parties met the Election Commission (ECI) to demand changes to the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail counting process during the general elections.

Returning to paper ballots will be regressive

  • The Electronic Voting Machine process, despite the plethora of grievances about its functioning from the Opposition parties, is a major improvement over paper-based voting.
  • There has been no evidence of EVM-tampering as claimed by some parties, and administrative and technical safeguards instituted by the ECI and EVM manufacturers have held steady since the introduction of the EVM.

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail

  • Despite this, the ECI had fast-tracked the implementation of the VVPAT, an adjunct to the EVM that allows for a paper trail for voting and later verification of the electronically registered mandate in the ballot unit of the EVM.
  • VVPATs are now deployed in all Assembly and parliamentary elections with EVMs.

Some misgivings remains

  • This implementation has not been without some misgivings.
  • The Opposition’s demand for a count of 50% of the VVPAT slips, as opposed to the current system of counting VVPAT slips in one randomly selected booth of each constituency, is aimed at ensuring that EVMs have not been tampered with.
  • ECI safeguards are robust enough to prevent this, but VVPAT recounts could eliminate any remaining doubt about possible “insider fraud” by errant officials or manufacturers.

Whether counting one booth per constituency is statistically significant sample?

  • While the demand to count half of all the slips is an over-reaction, as a scientifically and randomly chosen sample of booths is a reasonable enough verification for the process.
  • However, there remains the question whether counting one booth per constituency is a statistically significant sample to rule out errors.
  • A more robust sampling technique that factors in the average size of the electorate in any constituency for each State and voter turnout, involving the counting of more than a single booth in some States, may be a better method.
  • The ECI’s response that it is waiting for a report on this from the Indian Statistical Institute should be encouraging.

Machine glitches

  • The other issue with the VVPAT is more significant: machine glitches.
  • During the parliamentary by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and Assembly elections in Karnataka in 2018, VVPAT glitches resulted in machine replacement rates rising to 20% and 4%, respectively.
  • Glitches in the VVPAT machines were largely due to spooling issues in the print unit, which was sensitive to extreme weather.
  • Some hardware-related changes were introduced, which improved its functioning in the recent elections in five States
  • Machine replacement rates due to VVPAT failures came down to 1.89% for Chhattisgarh.
  • Deployment of improved machines should help curb glitches in the Lok Sabha elections.

Way Forward

  • Seeking a count of 50% of VVPAT slips seems to be way too much.
  • The focus should be on ending Electronic Voting Machine glitches.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] We need a leap in healthcare spendingop-ed snapPriority 1


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 India’s per capita expenditure on health.

Mains level: The news-card analyses India’s per capita expenditure on health which remains among the lowest in the world, in a brief manner.


  • India’s per capita expenditure on health remains among the lowest in the world
  • In the Interim Budget 2019, 10.6% of the total amount in the Interim Budget is allocated to defence, while only 2.2.% is allocated to healthcare.


  • Despite several innovations in the healthcare sector in recent times, in line with India’s relentless pursuit of reforms, the government remains woefully short of its ambition to increase public health spending to 2.5% of GDP.
  • At present, health spending is only 1.15-1.5% of GDP.
  • Funding need not be redirected from current allocations to preventive care, but surely India can make health spending a priority, much like defence.

Meagre allocation to health sector

  • While the Interim Budget is responsive to the needs of farmers and the middle class, it does not adequately respond to the needs of the health sector.
  • The total allocation to healthcare is ₹61,398 crore.
  • While this is an increase of ₹7,000 crore from the previous Budget, there is no net increase since the total amount is 2.2% of the Budget, the same as the previous Budget.
  • The increase roughly equates the ₹6,400 crore allocated for implementation of the Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY).

Per capita spending on health

  • According to the National Health Profile of 2018, public per capita expenditure on health increased from ₹621 in 2009-10 to ₹1,112 in 2015-16.
  • These are the latest official numbers available, although in 2018 the amount may have risen to about ₹1,500.
  • This amounts to about $20, or about $100 when adjusted for purchasing power parity.
  • Despite the doubling of per capita expenditure on health over six years, the figure is still abysmal.

Comparison with other countries (US example)

  • The U.S. spends $10,224 per capita on healthcare per year (2017 data).
  • A comparison between two large democracies is telling: the U.S.’s health expenditure is 18% of GDP, while India’s is still under 1.5%.
  • In Budget terms, of the U.S. Federal Budget of $4.4 trillion, spending on Medicare and Medicaid amount to $1.04 trillion, which is 23.5% of the Budget.
  • Federal Budget spending per capita on health in the U.S. is therefore $3,150 ($1.04 trillion/ 330 million, the population).

Per capita Budget expenditure on health in India is among the lowest in the world

  • In India, allocation for healthcare is merely 2.2% of the Budget.
  • Per capita spending on health in the Budget in India is ₹458 (₹61,398 crore/ 134 crore, which is the population). (Medicare and Medicaid come under ‘mandatory spending’ along with social security.)
  • Adjusting for purchasing power parity, this is about $30 — one-hundredth of the U.S.
  • Admittedly, this runaway healthcare cost in the U.S. is not to be emulated, since comparable developed countries spend half as much per capita as the U.S.
  • Yet, the $4,000-$5,000 per capita spending in other OECD countries is not comparable with India’s dismal per capita health expenditure.
  • The rate of growth in U.S. expenditure has slowed in the last decade, in line with other comparable nations.
  • The ₹6,400 crore allocation to Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY in the Interim Budget will help reduce out-of-pocket expenditure on health, which is at a massive 67%.
  • This notwithstanding, per capita Budget expenditure on health in India is among the lowest in the world which requires immediate attention.

Health and wellness centres

  • Last year, it was announced that nearly 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres would be set up under Ayushman Bharat.
  • The mandate of these centres is preventive health, screening, and community-based management of basic health problems.
  • The mandate should include health education and holistic wellness integrating modern medicine with traditional Indian medicine.
  • Both communicable disease containment as well as non-communicable disease programmes should be included.

Budget allocation to various health programmes

  • An estimated ₹250 crore has been allocated for setting up health and wellness centres under the National Urban Health Mission.
  • Under the National Rural Health Mission, ₹1,350 crore has been allocated for the same.
  • The non-communicable diseases programme of the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke has been allocated ₹175 crore, from ₹275 crore.
  • Allocation to the National Tobacco Control Programme and Drug De-addiction Programme is only ₹65 crore, a decrease of ₹2 crore.
  • The allocation for each of the wellness centres is less than ₹1 lakh per year which is a meagre amount.


  1. Higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food has not found its way into the Interim Budget
  • NITI Aayog has proposed higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food in order to revamp the public and preventive health system.
  • This has not found its way into the Interim Budget.
  • A focused approach in adding tax on tobacco and alcohol, to fund non-communicable disease prevention strategies at health and wellness centres, should be considered.

2. Cancer screening and prevention are not covered

  • There is no resource allocation for preventive oncology, diabetes and hypertension.
  • Prevention of chronic kidney disease, which affects 15-17% of the population, is not appropriately addressed.
  • The progressive nature of asymptomatic chronic kidney disease leads to enormous social and economic burden for the community at large.
  • This is in terms of burgeoning dialysis and transplant costs which will only see an exponential rise in the next decade and will not be sustainable unless we reduce chronic kidney disease incidence and prevalence through screening and prevention.
  • Due to lack of focus in preventive oncology in India, over 70% of cancers are diagnosed in stages III or IV.
  • Consequently, the cure rate is low, the death rate is high, and treatment of advanced cancer costs three-four times more than treatment of early cancer.
  • The standard health insurance policies cover cancer but only part of the treatment cost.
  • As a consequence, either out-of-pocket expenditure goes up or patients drop out of treatment.

Way Forward

  • Increase of GDP alone does not guarantee health, since there is no direct correlation between GDP and health outcomes.
  • However, improvement in health does relate positively to GDP, since a healthy workforce contributes to productivity.
  • The 1,354 packages for various procedures in PMJAY must be linked to quality.
  • For various diseases, allocation should be realigned for disease management over a defined time period, not merely for episodes of care.
  • Since a major innovation in universal healthcare, Ayushman Bharat, is being rolled out, it must be matched with a quantum leap in funding.
  • History shows that where there is long-term commitment and resource allocation, rich return on investment is possible.
  • For instance, AIIMS, New Delhi is the premier health institute in India with a brand value because of resource allocation over decades.
  • AIIMS Delhi alone has been allocated nearly ₹3,600 crore in the Interim Budget, which is a 20% increase from last year.
  • Similar allocation over the long term is needed in priority areas.
  • Only if we invest more for the long-term health of the nation will there be a similar rise in GDP.
Services Sector

[pib] International Financial Services Centres Authority Bill, 2019PIB


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: IFSC Authority Bill

Mains level: Terms of reference of the IFSC Authority


  • The Union Cabinet has approved establishment of a unified authority for regulating all financial services in International Financial Services Centres (IFSCs) in India through International Financial Services Centres Authority Bill, 2019.
  • The first IFSC in India has been set up at GIFT City, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

What is an IFSC?

  1. An IFSC enables bringing back the financial services and transactions that are currently carried out in offshore financial centers by Indian corporate entities.
  2. They offer business and regulatory environment that is comparable to other leading international financial centers in the world like London and Singapore.

Why regulate IFSCs?

  1. Currently, the banking, capital markets and insurance sectors in IFSC are regulated by multiple regulators, i.e. RBI, SEBI and IRDAI.
  2. The dynamic nature of business in the IFSCs necessitates a high degree of inter-regulatory coordination.
  3. It requires regular clarifications and frequent amendments in the existing regulations governing financial activities in IFSCs.
  4. The development of financial services and products in IFSCs would require focussed and dedicated regulatory interventions.
  5. It provides world class regulatory environment to financial market participants.
  6. Further, this would also be essential from an ease of doing business perspective.


  1. The establishment of a unified financial regulator for IFSCs will result in providing world-class regulatory environment to market participants from an ease of doing business perspective.
  2. This will provide a stimulus for further development of IFSCs in India and enable bringing back of financial services and transactions that are currently carried out in offshore financial centres to India.
  3. This would also generate significant employment in the IFSCs in particular as well as financial sector in India as a whole.

Features of IFSC Authority Bill, 2019

Management of the Authority

  • The Authority shall consist of a Chairperson, one Member each to be nominated by the RBI, the Securities Exchange Board of India SEBI, the IRDAI and the PFRDA.
  • Two members are to be dominated by the Central Government and two other whole-time or full-time or part-time members.


  • The Authority shall regulate all such financial services, financial products and FIs in an IFSC which has already been permitted by the Financial Sector Regulators for IFSCs.
  • The Authority shall also regulate such other financial products, financial services or FIs as may be notified by the Central Government from time to time.
  • It may also recommend to the Central Government such other financial products, financial services and financial institutions which may be permitted in the IFSCs.


  • All powers exercisable by the respective financial sector regulatory (viz. RBI, SEBI, IRDAI, and PFRDA etc.) under the respective Acts shall be solely exercised by the Authority in the IFSCs.
  • This is so far as the regulation of financial products, financial services and FIs that are permitted in the IFSC are concerned.

Grants by the Central Govt

  • The Central Govt. may, after due appropriation made by Parliament by law in this behalf, make to the Authority grants of such sums of money as the Central Government may think fit for being utilized for the purposes of the Authority.

Transactions in foreign currency

  • The transactions of financial services in the IFSCs shall be done in the foreign currency as specified by the Authority in consultation with the Central Govt.
Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

[pib] National Gas GridPIB


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: National Gas Grid

Mains level: Ensuring clean fuel across the country


  • The Government has envisaged to develop the National Gas Grid and has informed about the operational status.

National Gas Grid

  • At present about 16,788 Km natural gas pipeline is operational and about 14,239 Km gas pipelines are being developed to increase the availability of natural gas across the country.
  • These pipelines have been authorized by Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) and are at various stages of execution viz. Pre-Project activities/laying/testing/commissioning etc.

Aims and Objective

  • To remove regional imbalance within the country with regard to access of natural gas and provide clean and green fuel throughout the country.
  • To connect gas sources to major demand centres and ensure availability of gas to consumers in various sectors.
  • Development of City Gas Distribution Networks in various cities for supply of CNG and PNG.
Animal Husbandry, Dairy & Fisheries Sector – Pashudhan Sanjivani, E- Pashudhan Haat, etc

[pib] National Cow CommissionPIB


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Economics of animal-rearing

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Mandate of the National Cow Commission

Mains level: Various issues associated with animal rearing and role of animals in the agricultural sector in India


  • The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal for establishment of National Cow Commission (Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog) for Conservation protection and development of cows and their progeny.

Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog

  1. The commission will work in collaboration with other government institutions working on research in the fields such as breeding and rearing of cows, organic manure and biogas.
  2. The commission will be tasked with providing a framework for cow conservation and development programmes.
  3. The setting up of Aayog will lead to conservation, protection and development of cattle population in the country including development and conservation of indigenous breeds.
  4. It will result in increased growth of livestock sector which is more inclusive, benefitting women, and small and marginal farmers.


The creation of this Aayog will provide the policy framework and direction to the cow conservation and development programmes in the country and for ensuring proper implementation of laws with respect to the welfare of cows.

Oil and Gas Sector – HELP, Open Acreage Policy, etc.

Ujjwala scheme takes India to second rank in LPG importsPriority 1


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: WLPGA, Asia LPG Summit

Mains level: PMUY , its prospects and challenges.


Status report of PMUY

  1. The PM Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) has so far provided over 6.31 crore free LPG connections since its launch, and now the target has been upped to 8 crore connections by March 2020.
  2. This has helped the country achieve LPG coverage of close to 90 per cent, but this has also led to a rapid increase in LPG imports, said Petroleum Ministry at Asia LPG Summit.

Rise in LPG Imports

  1. With estimated imports of above 12 million metric tonnes in the financial year 2018-19, India stands as world’s second largest importer of LPG, after China.
  2. LPG consumption is expected to grow to 30.3 million tonnes by 2025 and 40.6 million tonnes by 2040
  3. With only kerosene and LPG have subsidized categories, and LPG being the growing segment, government’s subsidy burden can increase especially in case of higher global oil prices.

About Asia LPG Summit

  • The summit is organized by the World LPG Association (WLPGA) in along with major Indian public-sector oil companies (OMCs) Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum, and Bharat Petroleum.

World LPG Association

  1. Based out of Paris, the WLPGA is the voice of the global LPG Industry representing the full LPG value chain.
  2. The Association was established in 1987 and granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1989.
  3. The primary goal of the Association is to add value to the sector by driving premium demand for LPG, while also promoting Compliance to good business and safety practices.
  4. The WLPGA brings together over 200 private and public companies operating in more than 125 countries involved in one, several or all activities of the industry.
  5. It develops long-term partnerships with international organisations; and implements projects on local and global scales.
Mission Clean Ganga

National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Conservation and Management) Bill, 2018Priority 1


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Draft Bill

Mains level: Maintaining ecological flow of River Ganga


Draft Ganga Bill, 2018

  1. The government has banned the construction of jetties, ports or “permanent hydraulic structures” in the Ganga, unless permitted by the National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority, according to the proposed ‘Ganga Act’.
  2. The legislation, formally called the National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Conservation and Management) Bill, 2018, proposes to create a management structure that will supervise the health of the 2,500-kilometre long banks.
  3. The bill declares that the Centre will take control of the management, regulation and development of Ganga as the river is of unique importance.
  4. It defines Ganga as India’s National River.

For Maintenance of Ecological Flow

  1. The Bill lays down a host of restrictions to ensure the uninterrupted, ecological flow of the river.
  2. Currently, a host of dams in the upper stretches of the river lead to the river’s flow being obstructed say several activists and researchers, and persistent campaigns notably led by the late G.D. Agrawal.
  3. This led government finally recognising the need for proposed and existing hydropower projects to change their design plans to ensure minimum flows all through the year.

Cognizable offences under the act

The Bill has listed out a list of offences marked as cognizable which includes:

  • construction activities causing obstruction in the river,
  • withdrawal of ground water for industrial or commercial consumption from the land fronting the river and its tributaries;
  • commercial fishing or aqua culture in the river and its tributaries;
  • discharging untreated or treated sewage into the river.

Preventing Unauthorized Activities

  1. The proposed legislation specifies that “unauthorized” activities that cause obstruction or discontinuity of water in the River Gang due to engineered diversion of water or stoppage of water.
  2. Carrying out such activities are liable to a prison term of 3 years or fines upto ₹50 crore, or both.
  3. The legislation looms even as the government is developing a National Waterways Project-1 (River Ganga) from Haldia to Varanasi (1,390 km).
  4. The waterways project involves creating permanent and movable terminals that require dredging and frequent de-silting to ensure that minimum river depths for the smooth movement of the vessels.

Armed Ganga Protection Corps (GPC)

  1. The Armed Ganga Protection Corps (GPC) personnel will be provided by the ministry of home affairs and will be deployed by the National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority.
  2. The GPC personnel will have power to arrest those who pollute the river covering offences like obstructing the flow of the river to commercial fishing.

Section 54 : A Contentious Clause

  1. Section 54 of the bill on offences by companies, states that if an offence is committed by a company, every person who in charge of the company when the offence is committed and the company will be deemed guilty.
  2. But if the in-charge is able to prove that the offence was committed without his or her knowledge or that they exercised due diligence to prevent the offence, they will not be punished under the act.
  3. This section first strongly puts the onus of those heading operations and activities of companies that are damaging the river.
  4. But then promptly adds a protective clause by saying that action will not be taken if the offence was taken without his or her knowledge.