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May 2019

WTO and India

[op-ed snap] Talking fair trade in Delhi


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WTO

Mains level : Issues to be discussed in Delhi Mini Ministerial meeting


India will host the second mini-ministerial meet of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), on May 13-14, 2019. To discuss the interests of developing and least developed countries in global trade, this informal meet will also focus on the accusation by the U.S. that these economies benefit from exemptions meant for the poorer nations.

US’s Stern attitude

  • The U.S. has refused a reduction in subsidies and also pulled back on its commitment to find a perennial solution to public stockholding
  • In fact, the deadlock left many trade analysts wondering whether this was the beginning of the end for the WTO.

Issues Up for discussion

  • The issues under discussion will relate to protectionist measures, digital trade, fisheries, subsidies, environmental goods, standardisation and implementation of sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and other matters ripe for negotiation and agreement, mainly investment facilitation.
  • From a plurilateral approach toward multilateralism, members may also ensure the sanctity and ‘drivability’ of the WTO.

Issues of concerns


1.Agricultural Subsidies

  • Disagreement – The disagreements between developed countries (the European Union and the U.S.) and developing countries (Malaysia, Brazil and India) to discipline the farm regime in their favour continue, thereby threatening the WTO’s comprehensive development agenda.
  • Support by developed countries to Farms – The expectations of developing countries from trade also get belied due to sizeable support by the developed nations to their farmers in a situation of market failure and other uncertainties.
  • OECD’s estimate – The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates the quantum of subsidies by developed nations to vary from $300 to $325 billion annually, which is much higher than that estimated for developing countries.
  • This has become a bone of contention in trade talks as farm lobbies in the U.S., Europe and Japan have steadily exercised political clout to influence officials and lawmakers to continue giving subsidies to farmers.

2.Non-Tariff measures

Measure by developed countries – Another point of concern is that developed countries design and implement stringent non-tariff measures (NTMs) which exacerbate the problems faced by poor countries that are willing to export.

The high cost of trading – NTMs significantly add to the cost of trading.

Asymmetry among exporters – However, the costs of acquiescence with many NTMs are asymmetrical across exporters because compliance depends on production facilities, technical know-how and infrastructure — factors that are usually inadequate in developing economies.

No gain from comparative advantage – These countries are, therefore, unable to compete in international markets and hardly gain from sectors with comparative advantage such as agriculture, textiles and apparels.

The goal of developing countries

  • India, in particular, seeks amendment of laws on unilateral action by members on trade issues and a resolution of the WTO’s dispute settlement system.
  • The expectation is that the meeting may lead to policy guidance on issues such as global norms to protect traditional knowledge from patenting by corporates, protection through subsidies, e-commerce, food security and continuation of special and differential treatment to poor economies.

Past negotiations

 1. The 10th Ministerial Conference (Nairobi, December 2015)

  • It laid emphasis on agriculture trade. But it was a setback to most agrarian economies, including India and in Africa, when developed countries directly challenged their models of food security designed for the poor.
  •  In what has become an increasingly politicised environment, members with wide and divergent interests have simply halted the process and refused to negotiate in good faith across a spectrum of issues’.

2.Buenos Aires

  •  Developed nations created alliances to prepare the ground to push nascent issues such as investment facilitation, rules for e-commerce, gender equality and subsidy on fisheries, while most developing nations were unable to fulfil or implement rudimentary dictums.
  • It was agreed to ‘establish a work programme to examine global e-commerce, with a focus on the relationship between e-commerce and existing agreements.
  • It generated a sizeable debate on the fringes of the conference as many accredited NGOs opposed it and raised concerns that it was a push by dominant global players.

Hopes from Delhi Meeting

  •  The time is opportune for developing countries to voice their concerns and push for a stable and transparent environment for multilateral trade.
  • India must do its homework to focus on the unresolved issues and address the newer ones which are of interest to developed nations, mainly investment facilitation.
  • The WTO needs to be sustained as countries need an international platform to formulate trade rules and bring convergence on divergent matters

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

[op-ed snap] Surviving Fani


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cyclone Fani

Mains level : Change in disater managemnet from past and efforts required to rebuild Odisha


The Odisha government has shown by example how to manage a natural disaster.


Cyclone Fani has left a trail of destruction across a large part of coastal Odisha, but its management has emerged as a global example of how timely weather alerts, preparedness and informed public participation can dramatically reduce loss of life.

Change from Past cyclones – The toll from the extremely severe cyclonic storm on May 3 stood, at last count, at 34 deaths. In terms of material losses, several districts were battered, houses flattened and electricity and telecommunications infrastructure destroyed, but the relatively low mortality shows a dramatic transformation from the loss of over 10,000 lives in 1999 when super cyclone 05B struck.

Preparedness during Fani

Odisha then worked to upgrade its preparedness, which was tested when very severe cyclonic storm Phailin struck in 2013.

It was able to bring down the number of deaths to 44 then, in spite of a wide arc of destruction: 13 million people were hit and half a million houses destroyed.

Pathway for future

Rebuilding infrastructure – The Odisha government and the Centre now have the task of rebuilding infrastructure.

Upgradation – They should use the opportunity to upgrade technology, achieve cost efficiencies and build resilience to extreme weather, all of which can minimise future losses.

Global Environment Funding – Given the vulnerability of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to cyclones, the frequency and intensity of which may be influenced by a changing climate, the Centre should press for global environmental funding under the UN framework to help in the rebuilding.

Both States have received funding from the World Bank in cyclone risk mitigation efforts since 2011.

Steps to be taken to restore normalcy in Odisha

Restoring Electricity and telecommunications – The priority in Odisha is to restore electricity and telecommunications, which will require massive manpower.

Health Interventions – This should be treated as a national mission. Public health interventions are paramount to avoid disease outbreaks.

Other measures – The State government has been able to restore some physical movement by opening up highways and district roads; the Centre has relieved tension among students by postponing the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test in Odisha.

Overall Preparedness for disasters

Building resilience – Looking ahead, India must prepare for many more intense and frequent cyclones along the coastal States. Preparedness has to focus on building resilience and strengthening adaptation.


This can be achieved through better-designed houses and cyclone shelters, good early warning systems, periodic drills and financial risk reduction through insurance.

Early weather warnings-

Early weather warnings hold the key to better management, and during the Fani episode the India Meteorological Department played a crucial role. Its commendable performance has been recognised by the UN as well.


Odisha’s experience, which coincides with similar devastation along east Africa this year, will be keenly followed at the UN Disaster Risk Reduction conference convening on May 13 in Geneva.


Electoral Reforms In India

Explained: Dissent in the Election Commission


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ECI and its composition

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • Election Commissioner has dissented with the opinion of his colleagues in the Election Commission in five different matters pertaining to alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct.

Business of ECI

  • Section 10 (Disposal of business by Election Commission) of The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, lays down that “all business of the EC shall, as far as possible, be transacted unanimously”.
  • Dissent is, however, provided for in the Act itself, which says: “If the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners (ECs) differ in opinion on any matter, such matter shall be decided according to the opinion of the majority”.


  • The Election Commission of India draws its authority from the Constitution itself.
  • Under Article 324, the powers of “superintendence, direction and control of elections” are to be vested in an Election Commission.
  • The CEC and ECs are appointed by the President to a tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  • All three Election Commissioners have equal say in the decision making of the Commission.

Members of the ECI

  • The Constitution does not, however, fix the size of the Election Commission.
  • Article 324(2) says that “the Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix”.
  • From the beginning, the Election Commission of India consisted of just the Chief Election Commissioner.
  • However, on October 16, 1989, the Congress government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appointed two more Election Commissioners, making the Election Commission a multi-member body.

Monsoon Updates

Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PDO

Mains level : Factors affecting Monsoon

Low monsoon rainfall in NE

  • Northeast India, one of the wettest places on the Earth has been experiencing rapid drying, especially in the last 30 years.
  • Some places which used to get as high as 3,000 mm of rain during the monsoon season have seen a drop of about 25-30%.
  • This decreasing monsoon rainfall is associated with natural changes in the subtropical Pacific Ocean.
  • The team used observed rainfall and sea surface temperature data for the period 1901-2014 for the study.
  • The results show out that the reduction in rainfall during a major part of the last 114 years may be associated with global man-made factors, while the trend during the last 36 years is associated with natural phenomena.
  • Only about 7% of the rainfall in this region is associated with local moisture recycling, which means that anthropogenic activities can affect only this small percentage.
  • So the rapid drying is a part of inter-decadal variability of monsoonal rainfall which is strongly associated with the PDO.

Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO)

  • PDO is a long-lived El Niño-like pattern of Pacific climate variability.
  • Both PDO and ENSO have similar spatial climate fingerprints yet the major difference is that PDO persists for 20-30 years while the typical ENSO persists for 6 to 18 months.
  • The PDO, like ENSO, consists of a warm and cool phase which alters upper level atmospheric winds.
  • During a “warm”, or “positive”, phase, the west Pacific becomes cooler and part of the eastern ocean warms; during a “cool” or “negative” phase, the opposite pattern occurs.
  • Shifts in the PDO phase can intensify or diminish the impacts of ENSO according to its phase.
  • If both ENSO and the PDO are in the same phase, it is believed that El Niño/La Nina impacts may be magnified.
  • This in turn affects the northeast Indian summer monsoon during its negative phase.
  • Conversely, if ENSO and the PDO are out of phase, it has been proposed that they may offset one another, preventing “true” ENSO impacts from occurring.

Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

Not keeping record of pre-natal tests is commission of offence of foeticide


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Particulars of the act

Mains level : PCPNDT Act

  • In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court upheld provisions in the anti-pre-natal sex determination law which ‘criminalises’ non-maintenance of medical records by obstetricians and gynaecologists and suspend their medical licence indefinitely.
  • The particular provisions in the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) PCPNDT Act of 1994 were necessary to prevent female foeticide in the country.

Apex court rulings

  • The main purpose of the Act is to ban the use of sex selection and misuse of pre-natal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortions and to regulate such techniques.
  • The court dismissed averments made by doctors that the provisions in the law criminalise even the smallest anomaly in paperwork which is in fact an inadvertent and unintentional error.
  • The sections have made obstetricians and gynecologists vulnerable to prosecution all over the country.
  • It is a responsible job of the person who is undertaking such a test i.e., the gynecologist/medical geneticist/radiologist/ pediatrician/director of the clinic/centre/laboratory to fill the requisite information.
  • In case he keeps it vague, he knows well that he is violating the provisions of the Act.



  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India.
  • The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.

Why such an act?

  • In the early 1990s ultrasound techniques gained widespread use in India . Foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion became rampant.
  • There was a tendency for families to continuously produce children until a male child was born.   Social discrimination against women and a preference for sons have promoted female foeticide in various forms skewing the sex ratio of the country towards men.

Features of the Act

  • The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect:
  1. genetic abnormalities
  2. metabolic disorders
  3. chromosomal abnormalities
  4. certain congenital malformations
  5. haemoglobinopathies
  6. sex linked disorders
  • No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
  • No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  • Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.Any subsequent conviction entails upto 5 years imprisonment and upto Rs.50,000 fine.
  • The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.
  • Metropolitan Magistrate or 1st class Judicial Magistrate will try any offence punishable under this law . According to Section 27 every offence is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.

Recent Amendments

  • The 1994 Act was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.
  • Amendment of the act mainly covered bringing the technique of pre conception sex selection within the ambit of the act.
  1. Bringing ultrasound within its ambit
  2. Empowering the central supervisory board, constitution of state level supervisory board.
  3. Provision for more stringent punishments
  4. Empowering appropriate authorities with the power of civil court for search, seizure and sealing the machines and equipments of the violators
  5. Regulating the sale of the ultrasound machines only to registered bodies

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

How to strengthen the National Occupational Safety and Health systems


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Ensuring occupational safety in India

Occupational Safety is at peril in India

  • It’s been a decade since the National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at the Workplace (NPSHEW) was announced.
  • It called for a legislation on safety, health and environment at workplaces.
  • Yet, only the manufacturing, mining, ports and construction sectors are covered by existing laws on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH).
  • Around 2.3 lakh workers were affected and 2,500 died in more than 81 industrial accidents in the past three-and-a-half decades.
  • Yet sectors such as agriculture, services and transport remain unlegislated from the point of work-safety.

Why in news again?

  • The issue has been flagged by the Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) of the Union Ministry of Labour & Employment.
  • In 2018, the DGFASLI suggested that a comprehensive legislation on OSH covering all sectors needed to be developed within three years.
  • Progress, however, hasn’t been much. There has also not been a specific budget to support the effective implementation of policy.

Various sectors are uncovered. Why?

I. Factories Act not enforced

  • Under the Factories Act, 1948, the state governments are empowered to frame their respective state factories rules and enforce both the Act and the Rules in their states.
  • But these functionaries are not adequately staffed for enforcing the Act and the Rules. In fact, many posts under have been lying vacant.
  • Besides this, the central rules under this are not available.
  • These rules are required to be framed and enforced by an authority under the central government for the factories under the administrative control of the central government and public sector undertakings.
  • It is also worrying that the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises too do not have any legislation to cover the safety and health of the workers.

II. Dock Workers Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1990 enforced in major ports only

  • The Dock Workers (Safety, Health and Welfare) Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1990 have been enforced only in major ports by the DGFASLI.
  • In other ports, the state governments are required to frame respective state regulations and enforce the provisions of the both, the Act and the Regulations, in these ports.
  • However, till date, none of the states have framed their regulations for enforcement in these ports.
  • These ports are also handling huge quantities of cargo, including dangerous goods; the absence of regulation on safety and health of the workers and its enforcement is a major gap

III. Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act not being enforced in true spirit

  • The Building and Other Construction Workers’ Act, 1996, is being enforced by the Labour Commissioners at the centre and at the state Level.
  • However the safety and health provisions under the Act are highly technical in nature and are not being enforced in true letter and spirit.

IV. Limited research on occupational safety

  • Modern approaches for dealing with safety, health and environment at workplace demands research in the area.
  • But the number of institutes in the country for research and development are limited and these too are not fully equipped for carrying out their activities effectively.
  • Capturing data related to occupational safety and health across all the sectors has also been an issue for a long time, which has not been taken seriously till date.
  • The most recent facts and figures shared by the ministry in Parliament in February 2019 were up to 2016 only.
  • It is important to have suitable schemes for subsidy and provision of loans to enable effective implementation of the policy. However, such a scheme too has not been launched so far.

V. The glooming Agriculture sector

  • The agriculture sector is the largest sector of economic activity and needs to be regulated for safety and health aspects.
  • But the sector is lacking on legislation on safety and health for workers in this sector.
  • There are certain Acts on occupational safety and health pertaining to certain equipment or substances, namely, the Dangerous Machines Regulation Act, the Insecticides Act.
  • But the enforcement authorities are not identified under these Acts and hence are not being enforced.
  • Lack of legislation on safety and health in the agriculture sector is hindering the ratification of ILO convention 155.
  • Ratification of ILO conventions concerning occupational safety and health needs to be expedited, says the profile document on occupational health prepared by the DGFASLI.