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[op-ed snap]Ease the flow

Note4Students

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 open market operations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the reasons for high interest rates its implications over the economy, in a brief manner.


NEWS

CONTEXT

RBI’s tight monetary policy has kept real interest rates high, impacting investment flow and job creation.

High Interest Rates

  • Between January 2018 and January 2019, India’s consumer price inflation has fallen from 5.07 per cent to 2.05 per cent, year-on-year.
  • Yet, the State Bank of India’s MCLR or marginal cost of funds-based lending rate for three years has gone up from 8.10 per cent to 8.75 per cent.
  •  ICICI Bank, likewise, has raised its MCLR for one year from 8.2 per cent to 8.8 per cent.
  • Even yields on 10-year government of India bonds have fallen only marginally from 7.67 per cent to 7.37, despite inflation sliding so sharply.

Impact on Growth

  •  We have today are very high “real” rates of interest.
  • If businesses are borrowings at not less than 9 per cent — micro, small and medium enterprises would obviously be paying much more — when inflation, whether based on the consumer or wholesale price index, is below 3 per cent, it is something serious.
  • During 2012-13 and 2013-14, consumer price inflation averaged 9.7 per cent, whereas benchmark prime lending rates ranged at 9.75-10.25 per cent.
  • Average consumer inflation has come down to 3.6 per cent in 2017-18 and 2018-19 (till January 2019).
  • High real interest rates for a prolonged period is why investments have slowed down and very few jobs are being created.

Reasons for high interest rates

  • The source of it has been the RBI’s tight monetary policy. 
  • A firm commitment to low inflation and macroeconomic stability helped restore investor confidence badly dented during the loose fiscal and monetary policies.
  • But the tightening has gone on for too long.

Way Forward

  • The RBI should cut its overnight lending or “repo” rate in the next policy review meeting in April.
  •  It can even go in for a 0.5 percentage point reduction, instead of the usual 25 basis points.
  • The central bank could also consider more open market operations to bring down bond yields across all maturities. 
  • The government, too, should slash interest rates on the Employees Provident Fund, small savings and other administered schemes.

 

Monetary Policy Committee Notifications

[op-ed snap]The flawed unit of academic quotas

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Social empowerment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level:  Making faculty at universities more inclusive.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Much more needs to be done to improve faculty diversity on university campuses.

History of Quota

  • Parliament has sometimes had to resort to even constitutional amendments to overturn some court rulings that have the effect of protecting the interests of ‘general candidates.
  • The 77th constitutional amendment of 1995, which was recently extended to Kashmir, restored reservation in promotions as a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney (1992) while upholding Other Backward Classes reservation based on Mandal Commission recommendations had prohibited Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) reservation in promotions.

Instances of overturning Judgements

  • The 81st constitutional amendment was made to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision against the ‘carrying forward’ rule, which permitted the filling of unfilled reserved seats in subsequent years.
  • Similarly, the 85th constitutional amendment was passed in 2001 to restore consequential seniority to promotee SC/ST employees as a ‘catch-up’ rule introduced by the court in Ajit Singh (1999) was causing hardship to SC/ST employees.
  • Last week, the  government promulgated an ordinance to undo the Allahabad High Court’s judgment in Vivekanand Tiwari (2017) which had relied on a number of other High Courts and a few apex court judgments such as Suresh Chandra Verma (1990), Dina Nath Shukla (1997) and K. Govindappa (2009) that had made ‘department’ rather than ‘university’ as the unit of reservation in universities.

Vivekanand tiwari Judgement

  •  In the beginning, Justice has said, “It is not a mandate but liberty given to the state. It is an enabling provision.” Thus, according to him, the government may not provide for reservation.

Article 335

  • Article 335 categorically says that “claims” of SC/STs to posts in Centre and the States ‘shall’ be taken into consideration. 
  • As opposed to ‘may’ or ‘will’, the use of the word ‘shall’, in law, means mandatory.
  • Judge devoted several additional pages to make out a case for the re-examination of the reservation policy by the government though there were no pleadings on this issue. He asked it to examine whether reservation at all is needed in university teaching posts.

Whether university or department as a unit for reservation

  • With the ‘university’ as the unit, in over 40 Central universities we have huge under-representation of SCs and STs especially at the level of professor and associate professor. If ‘department’ was allowed to be taken as a unit, these numbers would have been far less.
  • the government did share with the Supreme Court the BHU’s example of the adverse effect of using ‘department’ as the unit.
  •  For example, there were 1,930 faculty posts on May 12, 2017. If the BHU were to implement reservation based on using ‘university’ as the unit of reservation, 289 posts would have had to be reserved for SCs, 143 for STs and 310 for OBCs.
  • Under the new formula of using ‘department’ as the unit, the number of reserved positions would go down to 119 for SCs, 29 for STs and 220 for OBCs.

Impact of department as a unit on representation from weaker sections

  • Implementation of the department-wise reservation policy would have had a disastrous effect on other universities as well.
  • A study of 20 Central universities by the Central government has shown that reserved posts will come down from 2,662 to 1,241 in a year.
  • Thus department-wise reservation was a sophisticated beginning of an end of reservation. If SC/ST candidates do not become professors, they cannot become vice-chancellors as only a professor with 10-year experience is eligible for this. In 2018, out of some 496 vice-chancellors of Central and State universities, there were just six SC, six ST and 48 OBC vice-chancellors.

Way Forward

  • The government deserves appreciation for the ordinance.
  •  But we need to do more to improve diversity on our campuses with more SCs, STs, OBCs, Muslims, persons with disabilities and sexual minorities being recruited as faculty as our campuses do not reflect social diversity despite the university being a unit for reservation.
  • Let the score on the diversity index be a major criterion in giving grants to universities.
Minority Issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap]Resolution, at last: on Essar Steel case

 

Note4students

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: Read the attached stories

Mains level: The issues discussed in the newscard regarding the IBC’s various aspects through Essar ruling.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Essar Steel case has clarified many aspects of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code process.

Significance of Case

  • The National Company Law Tribunal’s approval of ArcelorMittal’s bid for the insolvent Essar Steel Ltd. is significant for several reasons.
  • First, the ₹42,000-crore bid will be the largest single recovery of debt under the fledgling Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) enacted in 2016.
  •  Second, the case, which took 583 days to resolve, compared to the 270 days provided under the Code, has tested several aspects of the law and set important precedents for the future.
  •  Among the aspects that have been clarified are the eligibility of those who have defaulted in repaying their borrowings elsewhere to bid, the time-limits for bidding and the place of unsecured, operational creditors under the resolution mechanism.
  •  In the event, the successful culmination of the Essar Steel case will be a big leg-up for the insolvency resolution process that is less than three years old.

Challenges 

  • The Code provides for an appeal to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal and then to the Supreme Court, and it is unlikely that the promoters, who bid a much higher ₹54,389 crore, will let go without a fight.
  • The banks, though, will be hoping that the process ends in the next couple of weeks as they would want to account for the receipts from the resolution process within this financial year.
  • After all, only four cases (excluding Essar Steel) out of the initial list of 12 big defaulters referred by the Reserve Bank of India for resolution back in June 2017 have been successfully resolved till now.
  • Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India data also point to a pile-up of cases in the various benches of the NCLT.
  • As many as 275 companies, representing 30% of the total of 898 undergoing resolution, have exceeded the 270-day limit set for resolution under the Code.

Way Forward

  • The fact is that there is a need for more benches of the NCLT to clear the pile-up. The government would do well to look into this issue.
Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code

Explained: Model Code of Conduct

Note4Students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: MCC

Mains level: Ensuring fair elections


News

Background

  • The Election Commission of India has announced dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with the country voting in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 and the with results on May 23.
  • With this the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has come into effect and has called upon all parties to strictly adhere to the same.
  • The code lays down a list of dos and don’ts for the political parties ahead of elections.

Model Code of Conduct

  • It is a set of guidelines issued by ECI to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections.
  • The rules range from issues related to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, content of election manifestos, processions and general conduct, so that free and fair elections are conducted.

When does it come into effect?

  • According to the PIB, a version of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.
  • It was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections.
  • In October 1979, the EC added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.
  • The MCC comes into force from the date the election schedule is announced until the date that results are out.

Restrictions imposed under MCC

The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, the party in power, and election manifestos.

I. For Governments

  • As soon as the code kicks in, the party in power whether at the Centre or in the States should ensure that it does not use its official position for campaigning.
  • Hence, no policy, project or scheme can be announced that can influence the voting behaviour.
  • The code also states that the ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.
  • The ruling government cannot make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc. which may influence the voters.
  • Political parties or candidates can be criticised based only on their work record and no caste and communal sentiments can be used to lure voters.

II. For Political Parties

  • The party must also avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.
  • The ruling party also cannot use government transport or machinery for campaigning.
  • It should also ensure that public places such as maidans etc., for holding election meetings, and facilities like the use of helipads are provided to the opposition parties on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power.

III. Campaigning

  • Holding public meetings during the 48-hour period before the hour fixed for the closing of the poll is also prohibited.
  • The 48-hour period is known as “election silence”.
  • The idea is to allow a voter a campaign-free environment to reflect on events before casting her vote
  • The issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media is also considered an offence.
  • Mosques, Churches, Temples or any other places of worship should not be used for election propaganda. Bribing, intimidating or impersonation of voters is also barred.

Is it legally binding?

  • The fact is the MCC evolved as part of the ECI’s drive to ensure free and fair elections and was the result of a consensus among major political parties.
  • It has no statutory backing. Simply put, this means anybody breaching the MCC can’t be proceeded against under any clause of the Code..
  • The EC uses moral sanction or censure for its enforcement.

What if violated?

  • The ECI can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the MCC either on its own or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual.
  • Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing either accepting fault and tendering an unconditional apology or rebutting the allegation.
  • In the latter case, if the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the ECI — something that many see as a mere slap on the wrist.
  • However, in extreme cases, like a candidate using money/liquor to influence votes or trying to divide voters in the name of religion or caste, the ECI can also order registration of a criminal case under IPC or IT Act.
  • In case of a hate speech, a complaint can be filed under the IPC and CrPC; there are laws against the misuse of a religious place for seeking votes, etc.

Using powers under Art. 324

  • The Commission rarely resorts to punitive action to enforce MCC, there is one recent example when unabated violations forced EC’s hand.
  • During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the EC had banned a leader and now party president from campaigning in order to prevent them from further vitiating the poll atmosphere with their speeches.
  • The Commission resorted to its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to impose the ban.
  • It was only lifted once the leaders apologised and promised to operate within the Code.

What if given Statutory Backing?

  • Both the ECI and several independent experts, believe that giving statutory backing to the MCC would only make the job of the Commission more difficult.
  • This is because every alleged offence will then have to go to an appropriate court, and right up to the Supreme Court.
  • Given the flaws of our legal system, election petitions filed decades ago are still pending before many High Courts — it is anybody’s guess what that situation might lead to.

For additional readings, pls navigate through:

Model Code of Conduct: Evolution, Enforcement, Effects, Legal Status

Electoral Reforms In India

Sundarbans Wetlands

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Sunderbans

Mains level: Conservation of Wetlands


News

Sundarbans Wetlands

  • This January 30th, the Indian Sundarban was accorded the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ under the Ramsar Convention.
  • It comprises hundreds of islands and a network of rivers, tributaries and creeks in the delta of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal in India and Bangladesh.
  • Located on the southwestern part of the delta, the Indian Sundarban constitutes over 60% of the country’s total mangrove forest area.
  • It is the 27th Ramsar Site in India, and with an area of 4,23,000 hectares is now the largest protected wetland in the country.

Richness of Sundarbans

  • The Indian Sundarban met four of the nine criteria required for the status of ‘Wetland of International Importance’ — presence of rare species and threatened ecological communities, biological diversity, significant and representative fish and fish spawning ground and migration path.
  • The Indian Sundarban, also a UNESCO world heritage site, is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.
  • The Ramsar website points out that the Indian Sundarban is also home to a large number of “rare and globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).
  • Two of the world’s four horseshoe crab species, and eight of India’s 12 species of kingfisher are also found here.
  • Recent studies claim that the Indian Sundarban is home to 2,626 faunal species and 90% of the country’s mangrove varieties.

Importance of Ramsar recognition

  • The Ramsar status will help to highlight conservation issues of the Sundarbans at the international level.
  • The part of the Sundarban delta, which lies in Bangladesh, was accorded the status of a Ramsar site in 1992, and with Indian Sundarban getting it too, international cooperation between the two countries for the protection of this unique ecosystem will increase.
  • This could lead to a better conservation strategy for flagship species such as the tiger and the northern river terrapin.

Various threats

  • While the Indian Sundarban is a biodiverse preserve, over four million people live on its northern and northwestern periphery, putting pressure on the ecosystem.
  • Concerns have been raised about natural ecosystems being changed for cultivation of shrimp, crab, molluscs and fish.
  • The Ramsar Information Sheet lists fishing and harvesting of aquatic resources as a “high impact” actual threat to the wetland.
  • The other threats are from dredging, oil and gas drilling, logging and wood harvesting, hunting and collecting terrestrial animals.
  • Salinity has been categorised as a medium and tourism as a low impact actual threat in the region.
  • Along with anthropogenic pressures, it is also vulnerable to climate change and requires better management and conservation practices.

Back2Basics

 Ramsar Convention

  • The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (better known as the Ramsar Convention) is an international agreement promoting the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
  • It is the only global treaty to focus on a single ecosystem.
  • The convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975.
  • Traditionally viewed as a wasteland or breeding ground of disease, wetlands actually provide freshwater and food, and serve as nature’s shock absorber.
  • Wetlands, critical for biodiversity, are disappearing rapidly, with recent estimates showing that 64% or more of the world’s wetlands have vanished since 1900.
  • Major changes in land use for agriculture and grazing, water diversion for dams and canals and infrastructure development are considered to be some of the main causes of loss and degradation of wetlands.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

A SWIFT response could have saved banks : RBI

Image Source

Note4students

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: SWIFT

Mains level: RBI’s move preventing bank fraud


News

  • Much before the scam came that to light at the PNB in 2018, the RBI had earlier cautioned the banks about the possible misuse of the SWIFT infrastructure and directed them to implement safeguards.

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication

  • The SWIFT infrastructure is the global messaging software that enables financial entities to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardised and reliable environment.
  • In order to use its messaging services, customers need to connect to the SWIFT environment.
  • Messages sent by SWIFT’s customers are authenticated using its specialised security and identification technology.
  • Messages remain in the protected SWIFT environment, subject to all its confidentiality and integrity commitments until they are safely delivered to the receiver.
  • It does not facilitate funds transfer, rather, it sends payment orders, that must be settled by correspondent accounts that institutions have with each other.
  • On receiving this message through SWIFT, banks abroad, mostly branches of domestic banks abroad provide funds to the company.

RBI fines banks for non-compliance

  • Even the PNB scam failed to wake up banks was mainly due to people and process failure not so much a technology failure.
  • Despite repeated warnings, the PNB fraud, touted to be among the biggest in the industry, happened. This prompted the banking regulator to again remind banks about the possible misuse of SWIFT.
  • The RBI came down heavily on the banks, imposing monetary penalty on 36 banks, including the SBI, ICICI Bank and the Yes Bank — to name a few.
  • These banks failed to implement the safeguard which was mainly integrating the SWIFT infrastructure with Core Banking Solution (CBS) within a time frame.
  • The Banking Regulation Act allows the RBI to impose a maximum penalty of Rs. 1 crore for a single breach.

Now, what is Core Banking Solution?

  • Core Banking Solution (CBS) is networking of branches, which enables Customers to operate their accounts, and avail banking services from any branch of the Bank on CBS network.
  • It is regardless of where he maintains his account.
  • The customer is no more the customer of a Branch. He becomes the Bank’s Customer.

Why such move?

  • One of the main reason is for not maintaining the timeline though many of them have complied with the norms now.
  • Another is, since the CBS was required to be integrated with SWIFT, the question is whether CBS was equipped for this.
  • It means compliance was required from third-party vendors and their lack of readiness also could have led to delays.
  • Third, even if the third-party software was ready, the bank may not have used it effectively.
  • And, finally, there could be some small banks who may be not have started the process.
RBI Notifications

National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage

Note4students

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: About the mission

Mains level:  Issues related to the (possible) early adoption of the EVs in India.


News

  • The Union Cabinet has approved setting up of National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage to drive clean, connected, shared and sustainable mobility initiatives in the country.
  • It also approved a Phased Manufacturing Program to support large-scale, export-competitive integrated batteries and cell-manufacturing giga plants in India, to localize production across the electric vehicles value chain.

About the Mission

  • It entails creation of a phased manufacturing programme (PMP) valid for five years till 2024 to support setting up of a few large scale, export competitive integrated batteries and cell manufacturing Giga plants in India.
  • To implement gigawatt-scale battery manufacturing, a National Storage Mission will initially focus on large-scale module and pack assembly plants during the fiscal year that starts next month, followed by integrated cell manufacturing by 2021-22.
  • It will prepare a roadmap for India to leverage its size to produce innovative, competitive multi-modal mobility solutions to be deployed globally.

Why such move?

  • India has a significant market potential for batteries and electric vehicles.
  • Electric vehicles are creating a big demand and due to this demand, the cost of batteries will further come down.
  • IESA estimates the market for energy storage would grow to over 300 GWh during 2018-25.
  • It is working with various EV and charging infrastructure companies through its MOVE – Moving Onwards with Vehicle Electrification – initiative to catalyze the adoption, through indigenous manufacturing, of EV components.
  • Currently, more than ten companies are engaged in module and li-ion pack assembly in India and we expect four to five large companies to enter cell manufacturing in the next two to three years.
  • With appropriate policy support through this mission, Indian companies will be able to diversify into energy storage business.

Terms of reference

  • The programme will provide a plan which will send a clear signal to the industry to make the necessary investments in capacity to localize the value chain.
  • The creation of a PMP would localize production along the entire electric vehicles value chain.
  • The mission will have an inter-ministerial steering committee chaired by Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant.
  • The mission will also coordinate with key stakeholders in ministries/ departments and states to integrate various initiatives to transform mobility in India.
Electric and Hybrid Cars – FAME, National Electric Mobility Mission, etc.

White Label ATM

Image Source

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: WLAs and other types of ATMs

Mains level: RBI guidelines for currency handling and cyber-security framework


News

  • The RBI has relaxed norms for white label ATM (WLA) operators.
  • All guidelines, safeguards, standards and control measures applicable to banks relating to currency handling and cyber-security framework for ATMs shall also be applicable to the WLA operators, the RBI said.

Who are the White Label ATM Operators?

  • Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) set up, owned and operated by non-bank entities are called WLAs.
  • They provide the banking services to the customers of banks in India, based on the cards (debit/credit/prepaid) issued by banks.
  • Non-bank entities that set up, own and operate ATMs are called “White Label ATM Operators” (WLAO).
  • The WLAO’s role is confined to acquisition of transactions of all banks’ customers by establishing technical connectivity with the existing authorized, shared ATM and Card Payment Network Operators.

Relaxed norms by RBI

  • The RBI has been decided to allow WLAs to buy wholesale cash, above a threshold of 1 lakh pieces (and in multiples thereof) of any denomination, directly from the RBI.
  • The RBI also permitted WLA operators to source cash from any bank, including cooperatives and regional rural banks.
  • They are also being allowed to source cash from any scheduled bank, including cooperative banks and regional rural banks and to offer bill payment and Interoperable Cash Deposit services, subject to technical feasibility and certification by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).
  • RBI has also allowed WLA operators to display advertisements pertaining to non-financial products or services anywhere within the WLA premises, including the ATM screen, except the main signboard.
RBI Notifications

[pib] India Urban Observatory & Video Wall

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Urbanization – problems and remedies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  India Urban Observatory, Smart cities mission

Mains level: Making the cities data-smart


News

  • Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has launched the state-of-the-art India Urban Observatory and Video Wall.

What is Urban Observatory?

  • It is a platform that uses data from different sources to enable analysis and visualization over a geospatial platform can make this possible.
  • The concept of Urban Observatories was formally initiated at the UN Habitat-II Conference in 1997 in Istanbul.
  • Some examples of well-established Urban Observatories are the Global Urban Observatory network, the Dublin Dashboard and the City Dashboard of London.
  • Such platforms churn out interesting analyses and visualizations by collating massive datasets.

India Urban Observatory

  • It is an important component of the recently launched DataSmart Cities strategy that envisions creating a ‘Culture of Data’ in cities, for intelligent use of data in addressing complex urban challenges.
  • Making cities ‘DataSmart’ is key to realizing the full potential of technology interventions and innovation ecosystems in cities.
  • The Data Smart Cities Policy allows cities to open their data to public view, such as number of hospitals, gardens, people, public toilets and other city management, the official added.
  • It will be a separate portal for Smart Cities under the data.gov website.
Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.