February 2019
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[op-ed snap] A dialogue, an opportunity


Mains Paper 2: International relations | Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the India-US trade relations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and concerns w.r.t India-US trade relations, in a brief manner.


  • The US commerce secretary will be visiting India this week amid the reports of trade tensions between the two countries.

Opportunity to step back from confrontation

  • The US might withdraw India’s trade benefits under the so-called Generalised System of Preferences that Delhi has enjoyed since the mid-1970s.
  • This week’s dialogue must be seen as an opportunity to step back from confrontation and take a more strategic approach to resolving the current differences over a large number of issues.
  • They include market access, reciprocity in tariffs, trade deficit, predictable investment rules and data localisation to mention a few.
  • Over the last two decades, Delhi and Washington have dealt with and resolved far more complex issues.

Issues and Concerns

  1. To recognise the value of the trade relationship between the two countries and its huge potential
  • There was a time, less than two decades ago, when “flat as a chapati” was the preferred label for US-India trade relations.
  • Since then, the annual two-way trade has grown rapidly to touch nearly $130 billion last year (including trade and services).
  • For India, the US is probably the most important trade partner today and will remain so for a long time.
  • For Washington, the size of the trade volume with India is quite low in comparison with its other key partners like Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Japan and China.
  • But the potential remains high as India emerges as the world’s third-largest economy.
  • It should, therefore, be the highest political priority for India and the US to turn this trade relationship into a deeper and more sustainable one.

2. Both countries need to be sensitive to the domestic political considerations

  • As India enters the election mode, this is perhaps the worst possible moment for the US to take actions like the withdrawal of GSP benefits.
  • The volume of Indian exports involved is quite small, but the political impact could be way out of proportion.
  • On its part, Delhi needs to pay greater attention to the profoundly altered environment in Washington on trade related issues.

“Free trade” to “fair trade”

  • Trump has begun to turn America, for long, the champion of “free trade”, into an advocate of “fair trade”.
  • Trump has convinced himself that the rest of the world has taken advantage of America’s open market.
  • He is now ready to bring the whole house down if the rest of the world does not address his grievances.
  • India must bet Trump’s concerns about trade outlast his stint as US president.

3. Turning the two “estranged democracies” into “indispensable strategic partners”

  • It is quite easy to forget the personal role of the Indian prime minister and the US president in turning the two “estranged democracies” into “indispensable strategic partners” in the 21st century.
  • In India, successive Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi chose to defy conventional political and bureaucratic wisdom to advance the country’s relationship with the US.
  • Washington has little reason to politically embarrass Prime Minister Modi — who has moved the security and political relationship beyond any one’s imagination — on trade issues just before a tough general election.
  • Delhi, on the other hand, should appreciate the great political value of a trade deal with India for Trump and the importance of having the White House on India’s side.

Never stop negotiating

  • Finally, the secret to successful engagement with the US involves two simple propositions — never stop negotiating and keep making deals small or big.
  • India often can’t close a negotiation because it’s opening bid tends to remain the final position.
  • Americans, on the other hand, are always open to splitting the difference, finding a compromise and moving on.

Way Forward

  • It was with the ability to give and take, while keeping the larger and long-term interests in mind, that India and the US were able to overcome the multiple problems in the nuclear and defence negotiations during the last two decades.
  • Continuous forward movement however slow and incremental is critical.
  • Unlike security issues, trade is not a zero-sum-game and should be more amenable to deal-making.
  • Given the return of geopolitical confrontation and the unfolding rearrangement of the global trading order, “doing nothing” is not an option for Delhi.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed snap] All is still not well in court


Mains Paper 2: Constitution | Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the issues in Judiciary.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues relating to the independence of the judiciary, transparency and accountability in the institution, in a brief manner.


  • A year ago, four judges of the Supreme Court of India called an unprecedented press conference and posed troubling questions relating to the independence of the judiciary, transparency and accountability in the institution and so on.

Recent issues in Judiciary

  1. The idea of the CJI as the “master of the roster”
  • The previous CJI was criticised by many for the manner in which cases were allocated to judges and for selectively choosing the benches that would hear cases of public importance.
  • In democratic countries around the world, notably in the UK, Canada and Australia, the allocation of work and the selection of benches is a consultative process, and necessarily involves a culture of trust.
  • Alternatively, there are clear and defined rules in this regard, as, for example, in the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice.
  • It is not acceptable for the chief justice to have unbridled power.
  • Even in high courts in India, where a chief justice may have official roles such as presiding over administrative meetings, at no point is the chief justice considered or made to believe that he/she is superior to other judges in the court.
  • Unfortunately, the trend of the CJI assuming the role of master of the roster, with unbridled and unrestricted power, continues even under the present CJI, which may have disturbing implications for the dispensation of justice in our country.
  • Urgent reforms in this regard are necessary.

2. How appointments to and transfers within the higher judiciary continue to be made

  • Every time a new cohort of judges is announced for selection, a new set of problems emerges.
  • Two incidents over the past month have been particularly distressing.
  • One relates to a recent proposal to transfer a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court, whose decisions have been attacked by those within or close to the present Union government.
  • Another case is the inexplicable reversal of a decision of the collegium to elevate two high court chief justices, both well-regarded as fine judges, to the Supreme Court.
  • Equally problematic is the overwhelming silence of the government.
  • On an earlier occasion, the same government had staunchly defended the seniority convention in judicial appointments.

Not enough attention is being paid to the judiciary as an institution

  • Ideally, in any democratic set-up, we need the best individuals running the judiciary.
  • One important criterion for selecting judges is merit.
  • But it has been seen, many brilliant judges are overlooked.
  • The appointments of judges on grounds other than merit can be self-perpetuating.
  • Many such appointees will become members of the the collegium and may make the same kinds of choices their seniors made.
  • Short-term decisions to appoint certain individuals affect the long-term condition of the judiciary.

3. Recent fascination of the Supreme Court for the “sealed cover”

  • The recent fascination of the Supreme Court for the “sealed cover” as a means of receiving information about cases, having used it in three highly-documented litigations in the past few months, is completely against the idea of open, transparent justice.
  • Unfortunately, our judiciary is not only opaque in its own workings but is also becoming partial to opacity in its public function, as an arbiter of public disputes.
  • Jurisprudence clearly shows that such secretive information should be resorted to only in exceptional cases.
  • But here, it is being asked for in an ad hoc manner without any clear or rational reason.

4. Post-retirement appointments.

  • Such appointments really compromise the independence of the judiciary.
  • They raise potential conflicts of interest, if not in reality, certainly in matters of perception.
  • Ideally, there should be a policy decision to introduce a cooling-off period after retirement before taking up new appointments.
  • Or such appointments should be made by a neutral body which is free from executive influence.
  • In any case, such offers of appointments should neither be made nor considered when a judge is still in office.

5. Appeal made to the Supreme Court by itself against the order of the Delhi High Court

  • The fifth issue is that of the appeal made to the Supreme Court by itself against the order of the Delhi High Court on the applicability of the Right to Information Act, 2005, to the judiciary.
  • The Delhi High Court judgment has been stayed, and the case has been languishing in the court for a decade now.
  • Closure on this account is more urgently needed than ever, especially in the context of issues of transparency in the judiciary.


  • The 2018 press conference gave a flicker of hope that maybe things will turn around soon.
  • However, the issues relating to the independence of the judiciary, transparency and lack of accountability in the institution still remain a pressing concern.
  • Urgent reforms are necessary in this regard.
Judiciary Institutional Issues

[op-ed snap] The state of the States


Mains Paper 3: Economic Development | Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of Sustainable Development Goals.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the recently released NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018, in a brief manner.


  • Recently NITI Aayog released the SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018.


  • India was one among the 193 United Nations member states to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015.
  • It has been making sincere efforts to achieve these goals.

SDG India Index: Baseline Report 2018

  • The report is a useful comparative account of how well different States and Union Territories have performed so far in their efforts to achieve these goals.
  • However, it has not been possible to establish suitable indicators for three of the 17 goals, including climate action (SDG-13).
  • This is on account of either lack of identification of appropriate indicators or of the inability to compare different States.
  • On the whole, 62 indicators representing 14 goals have been identified based on their measurability across States over time.
  • A progress performance assessment has been made towards targets set by the Government of India, or the UN SDGs target for 2030, or the average of the three best-performing States.
  • For reasons of comparability, all these indicators are normalised.

States are categorised into four groups

  • Based on a scale of 0 to 100, the States are categorised into four groups: achievers, front runners, performers, and aspirants.
  • Achievers are those States which have already accomplished the set target.
  • Front runners are those States that are very close to realising them.
  • A majority of the States are categorised as performers and some lag behind as aspirants.

Arbitrariness in the exercise

  • Although classification sounds like an appropriate thing to do, there is arbitrariness in the exercise.
  • In a unitary range, those States with scores till the midpoint are categorised as aspirants and a cluster of States in a close range of progress are termed as performers.
  • A few States are designated as front runners.
  • The three front runner States — Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Himachal Pradesh — assume values of 66, 69 and 69, respectively, as against a range of States with values between 50 and 64.
  • With the national score being 57, almost 17 States qualify as above or equal to the national score.
  • Plotted on a graph, there is a negatively skewed distribution of scores.
  • This needs to be recognised in classification; otherwise the arbitrariness with which the classification is made somewhat hints at a purposive designation of a few States in two extremes and a major share of them in between.

The problem of averaging

  • Further, when one reads into the performance on various SDGs, it is found that many States fall into the aspirant category, especially for SDG-5 (gender equality), SDG-9 (industry innovation and infrastructure) and SDG-11 (sustainable cities and communities).
  • These kinds of differences could well be emerging owing to a different number of indicators considered under different SDGs as well as their corresponding variability across the States.
  • This is evident in the variation of scores across different goals.
  • For instance, in case of goals 1 and 2, the range for the majority of the States is between 35 and 80.
  • For goals 3 and 6, the range is between 25 and 100.
  • Again, for goal 5, it ranges between 24 and 50.
  • Given these variations across different goals, merely averaging them not only compromises on robustness but also masks the disaggregated story to a large extent.

Difference between two states doesn’t give a clear picture

  • The difference in progress between the three front runner States is three points.
  • This is perhaps not similar to the distance between the performing States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, which too have a three-point difference.
  • Such comprehension of achievement is limited as regards to comparing States, let alone designating them into four categories.

Way Forward: What can be done?

  • Finally, the process of aggregation adopted to present the summary index of compliance with the targets being a simple average assumes that each of the goals as well as the corresponding set of indicators are equally important and can substitute for each other.
  • This also overlooks the aspect of inter-dependence of various goals, although it is upfront stated in the exercise.
  • To ensure minimum robustness of this measure, a geometric average would have served towards avoiding perfect substitutability of one goal with the other.
  • While this exercise serves as a report card of performance of States as regards compliance with the SDGs, its scientific adequacy is compromised with arbitrariness that presents a stereotypical pattern of performance rather than bringing out surprises.
  • The choice of indicators representing specific goals need not necessarily be guided by availability but also their explicit independence from one another.
  • This may help in making a uniform set of indicators for each of the goals with proper representation without duplication.


  • On the whole, this performance assessment may not be misleading, but it does not help us understand the relative significance of compliance in some goals that helps in compliance of the other.
  • Thus, performance assessment of SDGs while overlooking the strict interdependence of them may not be rewarding.
NITI Aayog’s Assessment

[pib] Constitutional and Legislative Measures to Protect and Safeguard Land Rights of STs


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Various Acts and their provisions

Mains level: Issue of Tribal Rights and various safeguards


  • The Scheduled Tribes (STs) have been the most marginalized, isolated and deprived population.
  • To protect and safeguarding the land rights and other rights of Scheduled Tribes, following constitutional and legislative measure have been put in place:

I. Forest Rights

  • The Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 to recognize and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land to forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes.

II. Fair Compensation

  • Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 safeguards against displacement of Scheduled Tribes.
  • Special provisions have been made for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under Sections 41 and 42 of the Act, which protect their interests.
  • The RFCTLARR Act, 2013 also lays down procedure and manner of rehabilitation and resettlement.


  • The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 , provides that the Gram Sabha or the Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be consulted before making the acquisition of land in the Scheduled Areas.
  • The actual planning and implementation of the projects in the Scheduled Areas shall be coordinated at the State Level.

IV. Fifth Schedule

  • Constitutional provisions under Schedule – V provide for safeguards against displacement of tribal population because of land acquisitions etc.
  • The Governor of the State, having scheduled Areas, is empowered to prohibit or restrict transfer of land from tribals and regulate the allotment of land to members of the Scheduled Tribes in such cases.
  • Land being a State subject, various provisions of rehabilitation and resettlement as per the RFCTLARR Act, 2013 are implemented by the concerned State Governments.

V. Legal Services

  • The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 provides for legal services to members of Scheduled Tribes.

VI. Prevention of Atrocities Act

  • The SCs and the STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989” has been introduced to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities.
  • It aims to provide for the trial of such offences and for the relief of rehabilitation of the victims of such offences and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
  • Wrongfully dispossessing members of SCs and STs from their land or premises or interfering with the enjoyment of their rights, including forest rights, over any land or premises or water or irrigation facilities or destroying the crops or taking away the produce there from amount to atrocities and are offence.
Tribal Development

[pib] Cultural Heritage Youth Leadership Programme (CHYLP)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ICHR

Mains level: Better governance and management of historical research


Cultural Heritage Youth Leadership Programme

  1. Nodal Agency: Ministry of Culture
  2. The scheme CHYLP  aims to enrich awareness of Indian culture and heritage amongst the youth in order to promote, understand and develop fondness for India’s rich cultural heritage, with a view to develop appropriate leadership qualities amongst youth.
  3. The focus of the programme was is on less privileged children residing in backward areas by interacting with them in vernacular languages for their better understanding.
  4. The programme was given to Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT), an autonomous organization working under the purview of Ministry of Culture.
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[pib] Reconstitution of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ICHR

Mains level: Better governance and management of historical research


  • The Government has reconstituted the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi for a period of three years till 2022.

Indian Council of Historical Research

  1. The ICHR is an autonomous body of the HRD Ministry, which had been established by an Administrative Order of the then Ministry of Education.
  2. The body has provided financial assistance to the historians and direction to the research scholars in their multifarious topics of historical research through established historians and scholars of the country.
  3. ICHR disburses funds for carrying out research to Indian as well as foreign scholars on their applications for fellowships, grants, and symposia.


The objectives of the ICHR, as enunciated in the initial pamphlet published by the Department of Education, Government of India in 1972 are as under:

  • to bring historians together and provide a forum for exchange of views between them;
  • to give a national direction to an objective and scientific writing of history and to have rational presentation and interpretation of history;
  • to promote, accelerate and coordinate research in history with special emphasis on areas which have not received adequate attention so far;
  • to promote and coordinated a balanced distribution of research effort over different areas; and
  • to elicit support and recognition for historical research from all concerned and ensure the necessary dissemination and use of results


  • An eminent historian nominated by the Government of India shall be Chairman of the Council;
  • Eighteen historians nominated by the Government of India;
  • A Representative of the U.G.C;
  • Director-General of Archaeology;
  • Director, National Archives;
  • Four persons to represent Government who shall be nominated by the Government of India and which shall include one representative each of the Ministry of Education, the Department of Culture and the Ministry of Finance; and Member Secretary.
Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

[pib] India-Norway Ocean Dialogue


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: India-Norway Ocean Dialogue

Mains level: Marine pollution and measures being undertaken to address it


  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has signed a letter of Intent establishing the India-Norway Marine Pollution Initiative together with the Norwegian ministry of Foreign Affairs.

India-Norway Ocean Dialogue

  1. Earlier, the Indian and Norwegian governments agreed to work more closely on oceans by signing a MoU and establishing the Dialogue.
  2. A joint Task Force on Blue Economy with government officials, researchers and experts as well as private sector was established to develop sustainable solutions within strategic areas of the blue economy, such as maritime and marine sector in addition to energy sector.
  3. Both partners will share experiences and competence, and collaborate on efforts to develop clean and healthy oceans, sustainable use of ocean resources and growth in the blue economy.
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Diversion of Nirbhaya Fund


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these scheme

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nirbhaya Fund

Mains level: Women Safety Issues


  • A parliamentary panel headed has taken strong exception to the utilization of the Nirbhaya Fund in the construction of buildings, saying such allocations defeat the very purpose of the project — that of safety for women.

About Nirbhaya Fund

  1. Nirbhaya Fund is an rupee 10 billion corpus announced by Government of India in its 2013 Union Budget.
  2. This fund is expected to support initiatives by the government and NGOs working towards protecting the dignity and ensuring safety of women in India.
  3. Nirbhaya (fearless) was the pseudonym given to the 2012 Delhi gang rape victim to hide her actual identity.
  4. The non-lapsable corpus fund was instituted following gang-grape of a girl in Delhi in 2012 which triggered a nation-wide outrage and protests.
  5. The Fund is administered by Department of Economic Affairs of the finance ministry.
  6. Rs 200 crore funds has been sanctioned as one-time grant for Central Victim Compensation Fund (CVCF) Scheme for compensating women victims of acid attacks, rape, trafficking, etc.


  1. Sanctioning money from the Nirbhaya Fund for schemes pertaining to compensation would render it as a fund merely for disbursal.
  2. This would not have a desired impact at the ground-level in enhancing the security scenario for women.
Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.