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[oped of the day] Mission successful, end product defunct

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Railway reforms


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

CONTEXT

In October 2018, the country was celebrating a technological achievement: the successful rolling out of a state-of-the-art, semi-high-speed train set called ‘Train 18’. 

Facts behind its significance

  • It was achieved in an incredibly short time span of 18 months. 
  • Train 18 propelled India into the exclusive club of about a half a dozen countries in the world that have the capability to turn out a brand new design of a high-speed/semi-high-speed train set in such a short time.
  • The train has provided a trouble-free performance in the last six months. 

Challenges faced by the train

  • A vigilance investigation was launched into certain alleged procedural irregularities and allegations of undue favours shown to a particular indigenous firm in awarding contracts for the propulsion system.
  • It was also reported that deviations had been observed from the specifications prescribed by the Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO).
  • A few months after the train’s inauguration, it was announced that “the Railways would be willing to start the import of complete train sets from foreign suppliers if they agreed to establish the coach manufacturing facility in India. 
  • If contrasted with ISRO, it is like going in for import of its rockets and space vehicles from the U.S. or Russia.

What are the reasons behind failure

  • Though both ISRO and railways are public sector organisations and reflected the spirit of ‘Make in India’, their objectives and organisational structure are entirely different. 
  • While ISRO functions mostly in ‘mission mode’ to achieve specific goals of a mission, the Indian Railways operates in ‘maintenance mode’, to keep the wheels of the railway network moving with the least disruption. 
  • This aim of Railways is achieved through more than a dozen functional departments that normally work in close coordination.
  • Only certain specific projects or initiatives are undertaken in ‘mission mode’. The Train 18 project was one such undertaking that required the planners to cut red tape and reduce needless procedural hassles. 
  • The scourge of interdepartmental rivalries and turf wars within the Indian Railways has damaged the organisational morale and synergy in the functioning of the nation’s prime public transporter. 

Way ahead

  • A committee of experts under NITI Aayog member Bibek Debroy gave its recommendations in 2015. 
  • The ‘Mission Train 18’ is proof that nothing has changed since then and that the departmental silos are alive and well.
  • Political leadership has to push for reforms in this area.
Railway Reforms

[op-ed snap] Let the farmer choose

Mains Paper 3 : Issues Related To Farm Subsidies & Msp |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ZBNF

Mains level : ZBNF analysis


CONTEXT

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) has received an endorsement from the NITI Aayog, FM and the PM. 

Challenges with ZBNF

  • India’s premier academy of agricultural scientists came out against this “unproven technology”.
  • They say that it brings no incremental gain to either farmers or consumers. 
  • Since the mid-1960s, India’s annual foodgrain output has risen from 80-85 million tonnes (mt) to 280 mt-plus. It has risen from 20 mt to 176 mt for milk and by similar magnitudes in vegetables, fruits, poultry meat, eggs, sugarcane, and cotton. 
  • A significant part of these increases have come from crossbreeding or improved varieties/hybrids responsive to chemical fertiliser application, and crop protection chemicals to ensure that the resultant genetic yield gains aren’t eaten away by insects, fungi or weeds. 
  • Without IR-8 rice, urea, chlorpyrifos or artificial insemination, the nation would simply not have been able to feed itself.
  • The basic idea of “zero budget” itself rests on very shaky scientific foundations. Agriculture can never be zero budget. 
  • Its propounder claims that nitrogen, the most important nutrient for plant growth, is available “free” from the air. But being in a non-reactive diatomic (N2) state, it has to be first “fixed” into a plant-usable form — which is what ammonia or urea is. 
  • Even maintaining indigenous cows and collecting their dung and urine in microbial, seed treatment and insect pest management solutions — entails labor cost. 
  • Crop yields cannot go up beyond a point with just cow dung that has only around 3% nitrogen (as against 46%t in urea), 2% phosphorous (46% in di-ammonium phosphate) and 1% potassium (60% in muriate of potash).

What should be done

  • Promoting techniques such as conservation tillage, trash mulching, green manuring and vermicomposting.
  • Reducing the use of chemical fertilisers and insecticides through integrated nutrient and pest management. 
  • Eliminating fertiliser subsidies to encourage their judicious use. 
  • Give farmers a fixed sum of money per acre, which they can use to buy chemical-based inputs or to engage the extra labour necessary for organic agricultural practices.

CONCLUSION

Let the farmer choose between non-organic, organic or even ZBNF.

 


Back2Basics

Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)

Organic Farming – Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojna (PKVY), NPOF etc.

[op-ed snap] Waiting for reforms: On the economic stimuli

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Structural slowdown - need for reforms


CONTEXT

Finance Minister presented the third round of stimulus measures to resuscitate the struggling economy. Once again these have largely failed to live up to the initial hype around them. 

Previous plans

  • The previous two rounds of the stimulus plan over the last few weeks focused on:
    • reviving the automobile sector
    • boosting the confidence of foreign investors
    • improving the health of state-owned banks

Present round

  • This time, the focus has been on helping out the export and real estate sectors through fiscal reforms. 
  • A new tax refund scheme and greater priority sector lending for the export sector were announced to incentivise exports. 
  • It is expected that the new tax breaks to the export sector will cause a dent of up to ₹50,000 crore to the government’s revenue. 
  • External commercial borrowing norms have been eased to make it easier for Indian real estate companies to tap funds from abroad.
  • Funds worth ₹10,000 crore have also been allocated to aid the completion of affordable housing projects. 

Problems

  • Lack of demand and supply-side bottlenecks are the primary issues facing exports and real estate.
  • The government has been relying almost entirely on providing fiscal relief in the form of tax cuts coupled with a tiny amount of government spending, to tackle the structural crisis. 
  • Without enacting any major supply-side reforms like land and labor reforms, it is hard to see how greater spending can raise growth in the long term. 

CONCLUSION

The government should aim higher by trying to push through long-pending structural reforms that can raise India’s growth trajectory to the next level.

Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

Explained: Collegium of Judges

Mains Paper 2 : Executive & Judiciary |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Collegium system

Mains level : Issues over Judicial appointments and transfers


Context

  • The recent controversy over the transfer of the Chief Justice of the Madras HC to the Meghalaya HC has once again brought to the fore a long-standing debate on the functioning of the ‘Collegium’ of judges.
  • On being questioned for the transfer as well as the lack of transparency, the Supreme Court has stated that the Collegium indeed had cogent reasons and that these could be revealed, if necessary.

 What is Collegium System?

  • The Collegium of judges is the Indian Supreme Court’s invention.
  • It does not figure in the Constitution, which says judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are appointed by the President and speaks of a process of consultation.
  • In effect, it is a system under which judges are appointed by an institution comprising judges.
  • After some judges were superseded in the appointment of the CJI in the 1970s, and attempts made subsequently to effect a mass transfer of High Court judges across the country.
  • Hence there was a perception that the independence of the judiciary was under threat. This resulted in a series of cases over the years.

The Judges Cases

  • The First Judges Case (1981) ruled that the “consultation” with the CJI in the matter of appointments must be full and effective.
  • However, it rejected the idea that the CJI’s opinion, albeit carrying great weight, should have primacy.
  • The Second Judges Case (1993) introduced the Collegium system, holding that “consultation” really meant “concurrence”.
  • It added that it was not the CJI’s individual opinion, but an institutional opinion formed in consultation with the two senior-most judges in the Supreme Court.
  • On a Presidential Reference for its opinion, the Supreme Court, in the Third Judges Case (1998) expanded the Collegium to a five-member body, comprising the CJI and four of his senior-most colleagues.

The procedure followed by the Collegium

Appointment of CJI

  • The President of India appoints the CJI and the other SC judges.
  • As far as the CJI is concerned, the outgoing CJI recommends his successor.
  • In practice, it has been strictly by seniority ever since the supersession controversy of the 1970s.
  • The Union Law Minister forwards the recommendation to the PM who, in turn, advises the President.

Other SC Judges

  • For other judges of the top court, the proposal is initiated by the CJI.
  • The CJI consults the rest of the Collegium members, as well as the senior-most judge of the court hailing from the High Court to which the recommended person belongs.
  • The consultees must record their opinions in writing and it should form part of the file.
  • The Collegium sends the recommendation to the Law Minister, who forwards it to the Prime Minister to advise the President.

For High Courts

  • The CJs of High Courts is appointed as per the policy of having Chief Justices from outside the respective States. The Collegium takes the call on the elevation.
  • High Court judges are recommended by a Collegium comprising the CJI and two senior-most judges.
  • The proposal, however, is initiated by the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned in consultation with two senior-most colleagues.
  • The recommendation is sent to the Chief Minister, who advises the Governor to send the proposal to the Union Law Minister.

Does the Collegium recommend transfers too?

  • Yes, the Collegium also recommends the transfer of Chief Justices and other judges.
  • Article 222 of the Constitution provides for the transfer of a judge from one High Court to another.
  • When a CJ is transferred, a replacement must also be simultaneously found for the High Court concerned.There can be an acting CJ in a High Court for not more than a month.
  • In matters of transfers, the opinion of the CJI “is determinative”, and the consent of the judge concerned is not required.
  • However, the CJI should take into account the views of the CJ of the High Court concerned and the views of one or more SC judges who are in a position to do so.
  • All transfers must be made in the public interest, that is, “for the betterment of the administration of justice”.

Loopholes in the Collegium system

  • Many have faulted the system, not only for its being seen as something unforeseen by the Constitution makers, but also for the way it functions.
  • Opaqueness and a lack of transparency, and the scope for nepotism are cited often.
  • The attempt made to replace it by a ‘National Judicial Appointments Commission’ was struck down by the court in 2015 on the ground that it posed a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
  • Some do not believe in full disclosure of reasons for transfers, as it may make lawyers in the destination court chary of the transferred judge.
  • Embroilment in public controversies and having relatives practising in the same High Court could be common reasons for transfers.

Scope for transparency

  • In respect of appointments, there has been an acknowledgement that the “zone of consideration” must be expanded to avoid criticism that many appointees hail from families of retired judges.
  • The status of a proposed new memorandum of procedure, to infuse greater accountability, is also unclear.
  • Even the majority opinions admitted the need for transparency, now the Collegium’s resolutions are now posted online, but reasons are not given.
Judicial Appointments Conundrum Post-NJAC Verdict

Exclusion from NRC

Mains Paper 1 : Population & Associated Issues |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NRC

Mains level : NRC and its aftermath



Context

  • The final list of Assam’s NRC excluded names of over 19 lakh applicants. A total of 3.30 crore applicants had applied to be included in the NRC.

The “Updated” NRC

  • Witness to decades of migration from Bangladesh — formerly East Bengal and then East Pakistan — Assam already has an NRC, which was published in 1951 on the basis of that year’s Census.
  • The only state with such a document, Assam is currently updating it to identify its citizens.
  • The update, mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court is fallout of the Assam Accord of 1985, which sets March 24, 1971 as the cutoff date for citizenship.
  • Those who entered Assam before that date are recognised as citizens.

But was there not an updated NRC last year itself?

  • That was a draft, published in July 2018.
  • In that list, 2.89 crore residents were included as Indian citizens, while 40 lakh were left out. After that, those who were left out were allowed to file claims for inclusion.
  • Meanwhile, citizens had the option of filing objections against anyone who they felt was wrongly included.
  • Earlier this year, NRC authorities put out an additional exclusion list, with 1 lakh individuals, who had originally been included in the NRC draft but were later found eligible.

Does this mean that the 19 lakh are illegal migrants?

  • Not necessarily. They still have the option of appealing.
  • They can approach, within a deadline, a Foreigners Tribunal with a certified copy of the rejection order from the NRC, along with the grounds for appeal.
  • In addition to the 100 existing Foreigners Tribunals, 200 more will be functional soon.
  • If the applicant loses their case before such a Tribunal, he or she can appeal in the High Court, and then the Supreme Court if necessary.
  • Someone who is not only excluded from the final NRC but also loses his or her case in a Foreigners Tribunal, however, faces possible arrest, and the prospect of being sent to a detention centre.

Claiming inclusion

  • The excluded persons will need to prove that they or their ancestors were citizens on or before March 24, 1971.
  • This is the cutoff date in the Assam Accord of 1985, agreed upon by the Centre, the state and the All Assam Students’ Union, at the end of a six-year movement against migration from Bangladesh.
  • Surviving citizens from the 1951 NRC are automatically eligible for inclusion in the updated version.
  • So are descendants of the survivors and of the deceased — provided that they can prove their lineage. Linkage to the 1951 NRC is, however, not compulsory.
  • Going by the cutoff under the Assam Accord, anyone who figured in electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or who are descendants of such citizens, are eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC.
  • Various other documents are admissible — such as birth certificates and land records — as long as these were issued before the cutoff date.

Will there be any Deportation?

  • Although the Assam movement was for deportation, Bangladesh has never officially acknowledged that any of its citizens migrated illegally to Assam.
  • The state also has six detention camps (with plants to build more) for illegal migrants within existing jails, and proposes to build a seventh with a capacity for 3,000.
  • These cannot, however, be expected to accommodate all the exclusions, which could finally run into lakhs.

State of Statelessness

  • The final excluded would officially be non-citizens, but what happens to them remains a grey area. India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons, a/c to MHA.
  • The only aspect that is more or less clear is that a “stateless” person will not have voting rights.
  • As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education.
  • There have been suggestions in Assam that they be given work permits.

Excluded ultimately: Refugees or Stateless?

  • Being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee.
  • India has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan. Among them, only the last group has the right to vote — in Lok Sabha elections but not in Assembly polls.
  • For Tibetans, the government allows Indian citizenship with a rider that they move out of Tibetan settlements and forgo refugee benefits.
  • Under the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014, adopted in part by a few states, refugees are eligible for certain benefits under government schemes for labour, rations, housing and loans.

Back2Basics

[Burning Issue] Assam NRC

Citizenship and Related Issues

In news: Survey of India

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Survey of India

Mains level : Read the attached story



Context

  • India’s oldest scientific department, the Survey of India (SoI) historically tasked with mapping the country will for the first time rely on drones to map the country.

Why such move?

  • The aim is to map 75% of India’s geography— about 2.4 million sq km of the 3.2 million sq km — within the next two years.
  • The organisation aims to procure about 300 drones — so far about 30 have been sourced — for the gargantuan exercise.
  • However forests, hills and deserts are likely to be left out.
  • Every square kilometre mapped by drones will be encapsulated in 2500 pictures and thus be a trove of digital data.

For Precise Mapping

  • A consequence of the mapping will be creating high resolution maps of land in villages facilitating the digitization of land titles in villages, according to officials involved with the survey.
  • Currently the best SoI maps have a resolution of 1:250000, meaning a 1 cm on the map represent 2500 cm on the ground.
  • The maps being prepared, according to senior officials associated with the project will be of 1:500 resolution, meaning 1 cm will represent 500 cm.

Sorting rural issues

  • A major consequence of the drone-based exercise will be the mapping of settled habitations in villages (called abaadi areas in legal parlance).
  • Based on the availability of accurate maps, residents will finally be able to get property cards as well as proper legal titles to their lands.

Back2Basics

Survey of India

  • The Survey of India is India’s central engineering agency in charge of mapping and surveying.
  • First modern scientific survey of India” was undertaken by W. Mather in 1793–96 on instructions of Superintendent of Salem and Baramahal (TN), Col. Alexander Read.
  • Set up in 1767 to help consolidate the territories of the British East India Company, it is one of the oldest Engineering Departments of the GoI.
  • Its members are from Survey of India Service cadre of Civil Services of India and Army Officers from the Indian Army Corps of Engineers.
  • It is headed by the Surveyor General of India. At present, Survey of India is headed by Lt Gen Girish Kumar, VSM.

Responsibilities

  • Advisor to Govt: Survey of India acts as adviser to the Government of India on all cartography of India related matters, such as geodesy, mapping and map reproduction.
  • Geo names: It is responsible for the naming convention and spellings of names of geographical features of India.
  • Certification and publication: Scrutiny and certification of external boundaries of India and Coastline on maps published by the other agencies including private publishers.
  • Surveys: geodetic datum, geodetic control network, topographical control, geophysical surveys, cadastral surveying, geologic maps, aeronautical charts within India, such as for forests, army cantonments, large scale cities, guide maps, developmental or conservation projects, etc.
  • National borders: Demarcation of the borders and external boundaries of India as well as advice on the demarcation of inter-state boundaries.

Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centres (VCBCs)

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Diclofenac, Indian Vulture

Mains level : Not Much



News

  • Starting with just a few vultures, the total number of vultures in the VCBCs has increased to more than 700.

Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centres

  • The VCBC were started in 2004 when the vulture population had already crashed significantly, almost by 99 %.
  • At present there are nine (VCBC) in India, of which three are directly administered by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
  • The three species of vultures bred in the VCBC are the White-backed, Long-billed and the Slender-billed vulture.
  • The objective of the VCBCs was not only to look after the vultures and breed them in captivity, but also to release them into the wild.
  • The first objective of the VCBC was to produce a few hundred pairs of each of the three species of the endangered vultures.

Threat to vultures

  • The major reason behind the vulture population getting nearly wiped out was the drug Diclofenac found in the carcass of cattle the vultures fed on.
  • The drug, whose veterinary use was banned in 2008, was commonly administered to cattle to treat inflammation.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

RBI report on Loan Waivers impact

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Impact of loan waivers on economy


News

  • Recently the RBI shared the report of an Internal Working Group (IWG), which was set up in February to look at, among other things, the impact of farm loan waivers on state finances.
  • Since 2014-15, many state governments have announced farm loan waivers.

Highlights of the report

  • The report has shown how farm loan waivers dented state finances and urged governments — both central and state — to avoid resorting to farm loan waivers.
  • This was done for a variety of reasons including relieving distressed farmers struggling with lower incomes in the wake of repeated droughts and demonetization.
  • Also crucial in this regard was the timing of elections and several observers of the economy including the RBI warned against the use of farm loan waivers.

Impact of Loan Waivers

Impact on state finances

  • Chart 1 from the RBI report details the impact on state finances in successive years.
  • Typically, once announced, farm loans waivers are staggered over three to five years.
  • Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, the total farm loan waiver announced by different state governments was Rs 2.36 trillion. Of this, Rs 1.5 trillion has already been waived.
  • For perspective, the last big farm loan waiver was announced by the UPA government in 2008-09 and it was Rs 0.72 trillion. Of this, actual waivers were only Rs 0.53 trillion — staggered between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
  • In other words, in the past five years, just a handful of states have already waived three-times the amount waived by the central government in 2008-09.
  • The actual waivers peaked in 2017-18 — in the wake of demonetization and its adverse impact on farm incomes — and amounted to almost 12 per cent of the states’ fiscal deficit.

Impact on economic growth

  • In essence, a farm loan waiver by the government implies that the government settles the private debt that a farmer owes to a bank.
  • But doing so eats into the government’s resources, which, in turn, leads to one of following two things: either the concerned government’s fiscal deficit goes up or it has to cut down its expenditure.
  • A higher fiscal deficit, even if it is at the state level, implies that the amount of money available for lending to private businesses — both big and small — will be lower.
  • It also means the cost at which this money would be lent (or the interest rate) would be higher. If fresh credit is costly, there will be fewer new companies, and less job creation.
  • If the state government doesn’t want to borrow the money from the market and wants to stick to its fiscal deficit target, it will be forced to accommodate by cutting expenditure.
  • More often than not, states choose to cut capital expenditure — that is the kind of expenditure which would have led to the creation of productive assets such as more roads, buildings, schools etc — instead of the revenue expenditure.
  • But cutting capital expenditure also undermines the ability to produce and grow in the future.

Overall impact

  • As such, farm loan waivers are not considered prudent because they hurt overall economic growth apart from ruining the credit culture in the economy since they incentivise defaulters and penalise those who pay back their loans.

How much do state finances matter for India’s macroeconomic stability?

  • Far too often, analyses of the Indian economy focuses on the Union government’s finances alone.
  • But the ground realities are fast changing. The study of state finances reveals that all the states, collectively, now spend 30 per cent more than the central government.
  • Moreover, since 2014, state governments have increasingly borrowed money from the market.
  • In 2016-17, for instance, total net borrowings by all the states were almost equal (roughly 86 per cent) of the amount that the Centre borrowed.
  • In other words, state-level finances are just as important as the central government finances for India’s macroeconomic stability and future economic growth.

Recommendations

  • The IWG recommends that GoI and state governments should undertake a holistic review of the agricultural policies and their implementation.
  • Both should evaluate the effectiveness of current subsidy policies with regard to agri inputs and credit in a manner which will improve the overall viability of agriculture in a sustainable manner.
  • It stated that loan waivers should be avoided.
Agricultural Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

[pib] Exercise Samudra Laksamana

Mains Paper 3 : Various Security Forces, Agencies & Their Mandates |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Exercise Samudra Laksamana

Mains level : Indian ocean security


News

  • The Indian Navy and Malaysian Navy had recently participated in the bilateral exercise ‘Samudra Laksamana’.

Exercise Samudra Laksamana

  • The exercise includes two phases: A harbour phase wherein professional interactions social engagements, visits by the local populace and various sports events would be conducted.
  • The Sea Phase of the exercise would enable the two navies to further sharpen their skills in order to enhance interoperability between the navies to ensure peaceful and secure seas for all.
  • From the Indian side, Indian Navy Ships Sahyadri and Kiltan will participate in the exercise.
  • The visit of the IN ships would further bolster the strong bonds of friendship between the two countries and contribute to the security and stability in the region.
Indian Navy Updates