Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] The immediate neighbourhoodMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC, Bimstec

Mains level : Bimstec can't be a replacement of SAARC.


The government has shown its commitment to its strategy of “Neighbourhood First” by inviting the leaders of neighbouring countries for the second time to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on May 30. . The focus will continue this week when he makes his first visit in this tenure to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, something that has become tradition for all Indian Prime Ministers.

Importance of SAARC

South Asian identity – SAARC, as an organisation, reflects the South Asian identity of the countries, historically and contemporarily.

Geographically independent – This is a naturally made geographical identity. Equally, there is a cultural, linguistic, religious and culinary affinity that defines South Asia.

Common concerns –

As a result, since 1985 when the SAARC charter was signed, the organisation has developed common cause in several fields: agriculture, education, health, climate change, science and technology, transport and environment.

Modest growth –

  • Each area has seen modest but sustainable growth in cooperation.
  • For example, from 2010, when the South Asian University began in Delhi, the number of applicants for about 170 seats has more than doubled.

Failure of SAARC – SAARC’s biggest failure, however, comes from the political sphere, where mainly due to India-Pakistan tensions, heads of state have met only 18 times in 34 years; it has been five years since the last summit in Kathmandu.

  •  It is essentially a grouping of countries situated around the Bay of Bengal, and began in 1997 (Bhutan and Nepal joined in 2004), a decade after SAARC.
  •  While it has made some progress in technical areas, leaders of BIMSTEC nations have held summits just four times in 22 years.
  • With India’s growing frustration over cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, it hopes to build more on BIMSTEC’s potential.

No alternative for SAARC

  • One of BIMSTEC’s two founding principles is: “Cooperation within BIMSTEC will constitute an addition to and not be a substitute for bilateral, regional or multilateral cooperation involving the Member States.”
  • Its official literature describes it as “a bridge between South and South East Asia” and a “platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] members.”

India’s SAARC aversion

  •  Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is clearly the biggest stumbling block cited by the government. 
  • This principled stand by India, however, doesn’t extend to other organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
  • It is difficult to reconcile the staunch opposition to attending a SAARC summit where India is at least the largest country, with the acquiescence to the SCO, where Russia and China take the lead.
  • Another reason offered by those declaring SAARC becoming defunct is the logjam because of Pakistan’s opposition to connectivity projects such as the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA), energy sharing proposals and others such as the South Asia Satellite offered by Mr. Modi.

Way Forward

ASEAN minus X – Going forward, SAARC could adopt the “ASEAN minus X” formula — members who are unwilling to join the consensus can be allowed to join at a future date, while members who wish to go ahead with connectivity, trade or technology cooperation agreements are not impeded.

An alternative to Chinese interference – In a region increasingly targeted by Chinese investment and loans, SAARC could be a common platform to demand more sustainable alternatives for development, or to oppose trade tariffs together, or to demand better terms for South Asian labour around the world.

This potential has not yet been explored, nor will it be till SAARC is allowed to progress naturally and the people of South Asia, who make up a quarter of the world’s population, are enabled to fulfil their destiny together.

Skilling India – Skill India Mission,PMKVY, NSDC, etc.

[pib] Jan Shikshan SansthansPIB


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Jan Shikshan Sansthans

Mains level : Vocational training in India

  • Fee for SC/ST candidates, who join vocational training under Jan Shikshan Sansthans (JSS), has been waived off.
  • These decisions aim to further strengthen the skill ecosystem benefiting those in the underprivileged sections of society.

About Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS)

  • The scheme of JSS was initially launched in 1967 as Shramik Vidyapeeth, a polyvalent or multi-faceted adult education institution.
  • Formerly under the Ministry of Human Resources Development, JSS was transferred to the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in 2018.
  • It was aimed at improving the vocational skills and quality of life of the industrial workers and their family members as well as those persons who had been migrating from rural to urban settings.
  • Now it has challenging mandate of providing vocational skills to non-literate, neo-literates as well as school drop-outs by identifying skills that have a market in the region of their establishment.

Scope of work of JSS includes:

  • Develop/Source appropriate curriculum and training modules covering vocational elements general awareness and life enrichment components.
  • Wherever possible, JSSs are encouraged to undertake training equivalent to courses designed by the Directorate of Adult Education, National Institute of Open Schooling and Director General, Employment & Training.
  • Provide training to a pool of resource persons and master trainers for conducting training as also availability of infrastructure and training – specific equipment.
  • Administer simple tests and award certificates.
  • Network with employers and industries for trainees to get suitable placements
Indian Army Updates

[pib] Retired Officers Digital Records Archive (RODRA)PIB


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RODRA

Mains level : Not Much

Retired Officers Digital Records Archive

  • Manpower Planning (MP) Directorate, (MP 5&6) is responsible for custody and maintenance of approximately 1.2 Lakh service records of serving and retired officers of the Indian Army.
  • Due to lack of digitization and non-availability of latest address and contact details of veterans, connecting with veteran officers/family pensioners and addressing their grievances was a major challenge.
  • To overcome the same a website Retired Officers Digital Records Archive (RODRA, was launched.
  • This aims to create a digital data repository in order to address documentation/pension related grievances and update on relevant policies.

Utility of the Website

  • With this launch various types of Pension Payment Order (PPOs) issued by PCDA (P) from time to time to veterans has now been discontinued thereby saving of manpower, stationery and postal charges.
  • The PPOs are now uploaded on the website and veterans are able to download it from the website. Monitoring and management of grievances of veterans has been streamlined thereby improving satisfaction levels.
Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)Priority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CBI

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • Reversing the predecessor decision, new CM of AP has decided to allow the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to go ahead with its raids and investigations in the State without prior permission of the State government.


  • Few days back AP and WB governments withdrew “general consent” to the CBI for investigating cases in their respective states.
  • The state governments said they had lost faith in the CBI in the backdrop of its internal turmoil marked by the open war among the agency’s top officers.
  • They have also alleged that the Centre is using the CBI to unfairly target Opposition parties.

General Consent

  • Unlike the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is governed by its own NIA Act and has jurisdiction across the country, the CBI is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.
  • This makes consent of a state government mandatory for conducting investigation in that state.
  • There are two kinds of consent: case-specific and general.
  • Given that the CBI has jurisdiction only over central government departments and employees, it can investigate a case involving state government employees or a violent crime in a given state only after that state government gives its consent.

When is Consent needed?

  • General consent is normally given to help the CBI seamlessly conduct its investigation into cases of corruption against central government employees in the concerned state. Almost all states have given such consent.
  • Otherwise, the CBI would require consent in every case.
  • For example, if it wanted to investigate a bribery charge against a Western Railway clerk in Mumbai, it would have to apply for consent with the Maharashtra government before registering a case against him.

What does withdrawal mean?

  • It means the CBI will not be able to register any fresh case involving a central government official or a private person stationed in these two states without getting case-specific consent.
  • Withdrawal of consent simply means that CBI officers will lose all powers of a police officer as soon as they enter the state unless the state government has allowed them.

Under what provision has general consent been withdrawn?

  • Section 6 of the Act says, nothing contained in Section 5 shall be deemed to enable any member of the Delhi Special Police Establishment to exercise powers and jurisdiction in any area in a State, not being a Union Territory or Railway, area, without the consent of the Government of that State.
  • In exercise of power conferred by Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (Central Act No 25 of 1946), the government can withdraw the general consent to exercise the powers and jurisdiction.

Is it the first time a state government has withdrawn consent?

  • Over the years, several states have done so, including Sikkim, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka — which stands out as an example.
  • In 1998, the Janata Dal-led government had withdrawn general consent.
  • In 1999, the S M Krishna-led government took over and did not revoke earlier order.
  • The CBI had to virtually close down its office.
  • It had to seek permission of the state government for every case and every search it conducted on central government employees.

Does that mean that the CBI can no longer probe any case in the two states?

  • The CBI would still have the power to investigate old cases registered when general consent existed.
  • Also, cases registered anywhere else in the country, but involving people stationed in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal would allow CBI’s jurisdiction to extend to these states.
  • There is ambiguity on whether the agency can carry out a search in either of the two states in connection with an old case without the consent of the state government.

Legal Remedies for CBI

  • The CBI can always get a search warrant from a local court in the state and conduct searches.
  • In case the search requires a surprise element, there is CrPC Section 166, which allows a police officer of one jurisdiction to ask an officer of another to carry out searches on his behalf.
  • And if the first officer feels that the searches by the latter may lead to loss of evidence, the section allows the first officer to conduct searches himself after giving a notice to the latter.

What happens in Fresh Cases?

  • Withdrawal of consent will only bar the CBI from registering a case within the jurisdiction of Andhra and Bengal.
  • The CBI could still file cases in Delhi and continue to probe people inside the two states.
  • An October 2018, order of the Delhi HC made it clear that the agency can probe anyone in a state that has withdrawn “general consent” if the case is not registered in that state.
  • The order was given with regard to a case of corruption in Chhattisgarh, which also gives consent on a case-to-case basis.
  • The court ordered that the CBI could probe the case without prior consent of the Chhattisgarh government since it was registered in Delhi.

Mere out of fear of Political Misuse

  • If a state government believes that the ruling party’s ministers or members could be targeted by CBI on orders of the Centre, and that withdrawal of general consent would protect them.
  • This is a wrong assumption.
  • CBI could still register cases in Delhi which would require some part of the offence being connected with Delhi and still arrest and prosecute ministers or MPs.
  • The only people it will protect are small central government employees.


Central Bureau of Investigation: Composition, Functions

J&K – The issues around the state

Explained: OIC’s reference to J&K, and India’s response to itIOCR


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : OIC

Mains level : OIC and Kashmir Issue


  • India has rejected the reference to J&K by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at its meeting last week.
  • OIC has no locus standi in matters relating to J&K being an integral part of India.
  • India reiterated that OIC should refrain from making such unwarranted references.

OIC stance on Kashmir

  • The OIC met in Mecca affirmed its support for the people of J&K for the realization of their legitimate right to self-determination, in accordance with relevant UN resolutions.
  • It condemned the recent outbreaks of violence in the region and invited India to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions to settle its protracted conflict with its neighbour.
  • It also called for the expedited establishment of a UN commission of inquiry to investigate into the alleged HR violations in Kashmir.
  • It called on India to allow this proposed commission and international human rights organizations to access Indian-occupied Kashmir.
  • The Conference approved the appointment of Saudi Arabia’s Yousef Aldobeay as its Special Envoy for Jammu and Kashmir.

About OIC

  • OIC — formerly Organisation of the Islamic Conference — is the second largest inter-governmental organisation in the world after the UN.
  • It describes itself as the collective voice of the Muslim world, and its stated objective is to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.
  • It has reserved its membership for Muslim-majority countries.

India: Still not even an Observer

  • Russia, Thailand, and a couple of other small countries have Observer status.
  • Last year, Bangladesh had suggested that India, where more than 10% of the world’s Muslims live, should be given Observer status, but Pakistan had opposed the proposal.
  • However, EAM Sushma Swaraj had addressed the Inaugural Plenary of the 46th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC in Abu Dhabi on March 1 this year.
  • Indian counterpart was after invited by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of the UAE as the Guest of Honour.

OIC on Kashmir

  • The communique issued in Mecca is not new or unusual.
  • The OIC has been generally supportive of Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir, and has repeatedly issued statements criticizing the alleged Indian “atrocities”.
  • At the 2018 meeting in Dhaka, however J&K figured in only one of the 39 resolutions adopted, that too, along with 12 other states or regions worldwide.
  • Pakistan had complained about the Dhaka Declaration and accused Bangladesh of circulating the text very late.

India’s response

  • India has consistently and emphatically underlined that Jammu and Kashmir is an “integral part of India and is a matter strictly internal to India.
  • The strength with which India has made this assertion has varied slightly at times, but never the core message.
  • OIC having no locus standi on J&K itself is stronger statement.

Championing relations with OIC giants

  • Individually, India has excellent relations with almost all member nations of the OIC.
  • Ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, especially, have looked up significantly in recent years.
  • The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh MBZ Al Nahyan, was a very special Chief Guest at the 68th Republic Day celebrations in 2017.
  • This was the first time that India laid out the Republic Day red carpet for a leader who was neither a Head of State nor Head of Government.
WTO and India

WTO moratorium on e-commerce customs dutiesIOCR


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : WTO moratoruim on E-commerce

  • India and South Africa have asked the WTO to revisit the issues related with moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce trade, which is expiring in December this year.

WTO moratorium

  • Since about 75 countries, led by developed country members, have launched pluri-lateral talks on e-commerce at the WTO.
  • It is a good time for developing countries to discuss common concerns related to e-commerce.
  • The member countries will brainstorm on straightforward matters such as whether binding rules on e-commerce could result in concrete gains for poorer countries.
  • In addition, nuanced issues, such as the possibility of developing nations influencing the outcome of negotiations, will also be explored.

Why scrap WTO moratorium?

  • The existing industries and tariffs play an important role in protecting infant domestic industries from more established overseas competitors until they have attained competitiveness and economies of scale.
  • According to industry experts, India wants an end to the moratorium and imposition of import duties to protect domestic industry and revenue.
  • Since 1998, the moratorium is being extended time and again for two years.
  • The potential tariff revenue loss to developing countries is estimated at $10 billion.
  • The moratorium will negatively impact the efforts of many developing countries, which are laggards as far as digital industrialization is concerned, to industrialize digitally.

Impacting digital industry

  • Customs duty-free imports of digital products may also hinder the growth of the infant digital industry in developing countries.
  • This will also negatively impact digital industrialization, local employment creation and erode trade competitiveness of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries.