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September 2019

[op-ed snap of the day] Can legislative action change the behaviour of a country?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Effect of law in bringing behaviour change


Behavior change

  • Will the passing of the triple talaq bill change the status of Muslim women in this country?
  • Will the abrogation of Article 370 make Kashmiris emotionally closer to India?
  • Will the dramatic increase in fines under the amended Motor Vehicles Act, 2019, change our driving behaviour?
  • There are many instances when legislative action has been an utter failure in changing the behaviour of a nation.

A myth

  • Attempts to make citizens stop drinking alcohol by introducing prohibition have failed across the world, from the US to the Indian states of Gujarat and Kerala.
  • Every time a law tried to curb alcohol consumption, consumption disappeared from the mainstream of society to its underbelly.
  • This created even bigger problems for the state.
  • Several laws have been passed in the US to end racial discrimination. Despite these, discrimination based on race is still a reality in that country.

With few successes

  • But there are also cases where legislation has gone on to create fundamental changes in social behaviour.
  • Several measures, including health warnings, were used to curtail smoking.
  • But one factor that has demonstrably contributed to a sustained decline in smoking was a ban on it in public places.
  • One of the first pieces of legislation to curb smoking in public places followed an order of the Kerala high court, way back in 1999.

Why are some laws effective?

  • Dopamine is the brain chemical critical to its “pleasure” centres.
  • Dopamine makes us feel enjoyment and pleasure, thereby motivating us to seek out pleasurable experiences such as sex, drugs, food and speed.
  • This reward system doesn’t have satiety built in. So, it is not easy for any legislative action to curtail this pleasure-seeking behaviour initiated by the brain’s dopamine release system.
  • That is why, despite the combined effort of all organized religions and governments for thousands of years, harmful behaviour related to sex and alcohol continues unabated.

Biases are undeterred

  • Cognitive biases are short cuts the brain takes to go about its day-to-day affairs.
  • But some of these systematic deviations tend to create a tendency or prejudice toward or against something or someone.
  • Many of the biases are implicit and escape conscious detection.

Limitations of legislations

  • It is almost impossible for legislation to erase deep-rooted biases about race, gender, ethnicity, etc.
  • So, legislation alone will not be enough to create equality for women, especially when it comes to issues involving religion.
  • Several other behavioural interventions will have to be introduced in organizations and society to achieve gender parity.

Going beyond legislation

  • To change social norms, we need interventions beyond legislation.
  • There has been a greater transformation of attitudes towards gay rights in the past 30 years in the US than there has ever been in recorded attitudes on any other issue.
  • This dramatic shift did not happen because of any legislation, but the knowledge that someone within one’s personal world—family or friends’ circle— may have this sexual orientation.
  • Similarly, the solution to the Kashmir problem lies in the government’s ability to get ordinary Kashmiris to interact with others outside their state.

Prejudice is not behaviour

  • Driving is an activity that is done in a public space.
  • Most driving-related violations of rules, like not wearing a helmet or seat belt, are not the result of any deep-rooted brain processes.
  • Over speeding is the only exception. So the attempt of the government to mitigate such behaviour through a drastic increase in fines has a high chance of success, provided it is implemented well.

Still laws are indispensable

  • Legislation has a higher chance of success when it is trying to manage a public behaviour.
  • Many a time, an individual’s action in a public place can have an impact on others too.
  • This wider impact of an individual’s action on the larger society can be used as a valid excuse to instil more responsibility in the individual’s action.
  • The success of the ban on public smoking can be attributed to this facet.

Stringent laws serve such purpose

  • Humans tend to make judgements on whether to engage in a prohibited activity based on the expected cost of that behaviour.
  • If the severity and probability of punishment exceed the expected benefit or pleasure of the act, then the actor will refrain from that behaviour.
  • Now that the law has been amended, the fines for bad behaviour are steep enough to cause significant pain to the offender.
  • With stricter traffic policing, the likelihood of getting caught and punished goes up as well.
  • In all, the loss caused by stiff fines is likely to leave a deep imprint on the memory of the offender. This will surely deter future offences.

Towards a more law abiding society

  • This particular legislation has another benefit too.
  • The very sight of all two-wheeler riders on the road wearing helmets will form a vivid image of India taking an important step towards becoming a more law-abiding society.
  • This will have cascading impact on other spheres of society too.
  • India has a golden opportunity to initiate broad behaviourial changes across the country, one that must not be missed.

Government Budgets

[op-ed snap] An independent fiscal watchdog for Parliament


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Parliamentary Budget Offices

Mains level : Utility of such PBO for Indian parliamentarians

Monitoring money flow

  • When most people arrive at the ballot box, they vote with their gut.
  • But getting there requires absorbing and shaping months and years of conversations, long-held opinions and ideally, hard facts and evidence.
  • What is then important for our electorate and the representatives we vote for is that they have an independent, non-partisan source for these hard facts and evidence.
  • This is particularly important for our Parliament, which controls where and how money flows into our government and our country.

Need for expertise

  • The money flow needs to be not based on political allegiance or expediency, but on its expertise in budgetary, fiscal and economic matters.
  • Regardless of a majority or minority government, this body serves parliamentarians equally and without prejudice.
  • Even in a majority government, besides few expertises from the civil service, most parliamentarians do not benefit from timely access to good quality analysis on economic, fiscal or financial matters.

The Parliamentary Budget Offices

  • The body exists in many countries around the world, going by many names but most commonly as Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs).
  • These bodies help shape the debate and discourse around the state of the nation’s finances and the fiscal implications of significant proposals.
  • The work done by PBOs naturally ends up in the public sphere; when they do, they help drive smarter, more focused debate in the media and with our electorate.

Learning from examples: Defence costing

  • Take an example: the Rafale deal. Part of the controversy resulted from uncertainty regarding the true lifecycle costs of the aircraft bought.
  • In 2011, the Canadian PBO released a cost estimate for purchase of F-35 jets. This estimate far exceeded the one presented by defense analyst.
  • Defence costing, typically the purview of the Defence Ministry, was a completely new area of analysis, information and research that parliamentarians could now access to hold the government to account.

What PBOs provide

  • Besides costing policies and programmes, PBOs provide significant and sometimes the sole source of information on fiscal and economic projections.
  • The role of such an office does not always mean challenging the government; it is often the case that economic and fiscal projections of a PBO and the Ministry of Finance are similar.
  • This is unsurprising as data sources and economic methodologies for such projections are well established and uniform.
  • However, without the existence of another data point, generated by an independent, non-partisan office, it is difficult for parliamentarians to ensure that these projections and estimates continue to be reliable enough for them to make decisions on.
  • When these projections come into question, the Cabinet can tap the civil service for further research and analysis.
  • Most parliamentarians do not have this luxury and may have to rely on poor quality third-party data and analysis, done without relevant expertise. This is a situation that must be avoided.

Co-existing with the AG

  • A question — and a reasonable one — that often arises is the necessity of such an office when we already have an auditor general.
  • However, this misunderstands the role the auditor general performs, which is to provide retrospective audits and analysis of the financial accounts and performance of government operations.
  • These audits are often focused on the day-to-day goings on of government, and often hone in on the performance of the civil service.
  • A PBO provides prospective, forward-looking economic and fiscal projections, as well as policy costings.
  • This distinguishes it from an auditor general, which provides useful information, but only after the fact.

Global examples

  • Internationally, similar offices have been established across the world, with the most prominent being the Congressional Budget Office in the US which provides impartial advice to both upper and lower houses of the legislature.
  • Offices in the Netherlands, Korea, Australia and the UK have also been established for varying lengths of time. PBOs are also making an appearance in emerging economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
  • In some countries, including Australia and most recently, Canada, PBOs have been playing the unique role of costing electoral platforms during an election campaign.
  • In this period, PBOs provide independent cost estimates of electoral platform measures to political parties.

India needs such office

  • A PBO, or a similar independent fiscal institution, will not solve all these problems but is a relatively cost-efficient way to arrive at a solution.
  • As the process toward the Union Budget 2020 has already kicked off, it would be prudent for parliamentarians to examine the case for a PBO more deeply.
  • The amount of information parliamentarians need to scrutinise in Budget documents has exponentially increased and a PBO would assist parliamentarians in this process of scrutiny.
  • Legislatures across the world have witnessed an increasingly stronger executive try to wrest away its rightful power of the purse.
  • A PBO would help resuscitate these powers that have fallen into disuse.

Way forward

  • What distinguishes India’s democracy, besides its diversity of views and opinions, is its ability to evolve and remain dynamic.
  • What is gravely in danger is evidence-based discussion around important policies that affect the trajectory of our Republic, discussions which can quickly blur the line between fact and fiction.
  • This is why India’s Parliament and government need to work quickly and energetically to establish such an office; it is in everyone’s interests to do so.

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

[op-ed snap] Joining RCEP should be seen as an extension of Look East policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RCEP

Mains level : RCEP and its benefits to India



  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) aims to bring the 10 countries of ASEAN with Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, China and Japan to create the world’s largest trading block.
  • If it comes into being, RCEP will constitute more than 40 per cent of the global population and almost half of world’s economy.
  • It consists of three of the six largest economies of the world, especially, the two fastest growing large economies — India and China.
  • Out of the top 16 countries with the largest GDP, six belong to the proposed RCEP.

Act of Balancing with China

  • There is a huge debate in India over joining RCEP. India’s allies in Southeast Asia, as well as Australia, want India to join it to balance China.
  • On the other hand, many in India feel that RCEP will aggravate India’s burgeoning trade deficit with China.
  • The Indian industry feels that China does not provide a level playing field for items that they could export, especially in fields like pharma, IT, films, indigenous medicines, wellness and yoga.
  • Some of these are founded on opacity that surrounds the Chinese government’s decision making.

The Indian protectionism

  • There is a tendency in Indian industry to seek protection, whenever any steps towards globalization are taken.
  • The “Bombay Club” long used for protectionism, protested when liberalisation was introduced and tried to prevent imports for as long as they could.
  • However, it is an acknowledged fact that globalisation did benefit the Indian economy, it brought in newer technology and made Indian industry far more competitive.
  • RCEP does provide Indian industry a huge market to grow and expand, provided it transforms and the government frees it from bureaucratic controls that have been stifling growth.

Not to blame anyone

  • When import access was given to Chinese goods, it did not eliminate Indian industry.
  • Of course, some industries which are uneconomical, have not modernized and imbibed new technologies will fall by the way side.
  • More significantly, opening up markets and reducing tariffs will benefit consumers.
  • The automobile, telecom and even IT boom would not have been feasible without liberalisation.
  • Similarly, the recent spurt in solar power generation is directly a result of the availability of cheap imported solar films.

No Chinese fear

  • The apprehensions about China’s non-tariff barriers are not unfounded.
  • But, China’s track record shows that it has scrupulously followed multilateral arrangements.
  • By entering RCEP, India may be able to get greater market access to even China as it is vulnerable due to its ongoing trade war with the US.
  • More significantly, with China facing the demographic crunch, India could easily edge it out, if we go for economies of scale, made feasible by a large trading block like RCEP.

Visible benefits for joining

  • India’s presence in this trading block could lead to a large number of multinationals shifting their production facilities from China to India.
  • RCEP being effective would enable them to access Chinese markets, without being present there, to comply with US sanctions.
  • This could also bring in huge investments from many companies in the West.
  • With the Trans-Pacific Partnership having unraveled, it is quite feasible that a post-Trump US administration may join RCEP if it takes off.

Natural extension of own policy

  • RCEP is nothing but a natural follow up of India’s Act East policy.
  • India’s main strength lies in the services sector and it must therefore, ensure that RCEP includes unbridled access for Indian service providers as well as a liberalized visa regime for people working in these fields.
  • Similarly, protection will need to be ensured for some sensitive industries crucial for national security.
  • Some temporary protection may be required for certain sectors of agriculture, crucial for food security.

A win-win situation

  • RCEP is one sure shot way of forcing China to provide a level playing field.
  • India has the largest arable land and one of the largest pool of scientists, engineers, technicians, so there is no reason for India to be concerned.

Way forward

  • India’s welcome to RCEP is one way of controlling China and keeping it in check.
  • In a big grouping like this, China is unlikely to have its way, nor is it going to antagonize everyone.
  • India’s absences from RCEP will virtually handover this significant grouping to China, which is certainly not in India’s interest.
  • Thus RCEP is a huge opportunity which India should not miss.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Explained: Global Climate Strike movement


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Climate Strike movement

Mains level : Consequences of inaction on climate change

  • Students in more than 2,000 cities across the world are holding demonstrations under the #FridaysforFuture movement, protesting inaction towards climate change.

The Global Climate Strike movement

  • The #FridaysforFuture movement, also known as the Youth Strike for Climate Movement was started in August 2018 by Greta Thunberg.
  • She sat outside the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks to protest against inaction towards climate change and called for concrete government action.
  • Then in September 2018, Thunberg called for a strike every Friday until the Swedish parliament revised its policies towards climate change.
  • Gradually, students and adults from across the world started mobilizing and demonstrating in front of parliaments and local city halls in their respective countries, making global, a local movement.

Who is Greta Thunberg?

  • Thunberg describes herself as a “16-year-old climate activist with Asperger’s”.
  • She says that she first heard about “something called climate change or global warming” when she was eight years old.
  • Since 2018, when she started skipping school, Thunberg has come a long way to become one of the world’s youngest climate change crusaders.
  • She has delivered speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the EU Parliament, COP24, and to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
  • Earlier this year, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2019, the winners of which will be announced in October.

Why such strike?

  • In the present phase of the strikes, students are demanding “urgent” and “decisive” action in order to keep global average temperatures from rising above 1.5 degree Celsius.
  • The global strikes will commence just as the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 is set to take place in New York on September 23, where Thunberg has been invited.

What started the global school student movements?

  • The global school movements began in 2015.
  • A Climate Strike was organised in November 2015, the idea for which came to the organisers at the Global Youth Summit of 2015.
  • Under this strike, students were urged to skip school and join other protestors. The strike was meant to be a “wake-up call” for the young generation.
  • Their demands at that time were to stop the extraction of fossil fuels and to make the transition to 100 per cent clean energy.

Why are students protesting this time?

  • Even though climate change affects everyone, the present generation of youngsters is the ones who are going to be bearing the brunt of it in the coming decades.
  • The sentiments behind these are the “broken promises” of older generations, members of which continue to extract and use fossil fuels, leading to increased CO2 emissions and subsequently, increasing average global temperatures.
  • Distrust of political leaders among the younger generation is also a reason why they feel the need to take things into their own hands.

Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Sangam era older than previously thought, finds study


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sangam Age, Literature

Mains level : Sangam Age

Sangam era is much older

  • In a major turning point in the cultural historiography of the ancient Sangam Age, the TN Archaeology Department found that the cultural deposits unearthed during excavations at Keeladi are dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE.
  • This is the first time the date has been officially announced.
  • The new findings in the report place Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than previously believed — 3rd century BCE.
  • The results from the fourth excavations suggest that the “second urbanisation [the first being Indus] of Vaigai plains happened in Tamil Nadu around 6th century BCE as it happened in Gangetic plains.”

 Tamil-Brahmi Script

  • The recent scientific dates obtained for Keeladi findings push back the date of Tamil-Brahmi script to another century, i.e., 6th century BCE.
  • These results clearly ascertained that they attained literacy or learned the art of writing as early as 6th century BCE.

Tamil-Brahmi potsherds

  • Fifty-six Tamil-Brahmi inscribed potsherds were recovered from the site of excavation.
  • Pottery specimens from Keeladi confirmed that water containers and cooking vessels were shaped out of locally available raw materials.
  • Recovery of 10 spindle whorls, 20 sharply pinpointed bone tip tools used for design creations, hanging stones of the yarn, terracotta spheres, copper needle and earthen vessels to hold liquid clearly attest to the various stages of weaving industry from spinning, yarning, looming and weaving and later for dyeing.

Standard of living

  • Apart from the matter of the settlement’s age, the report highlights the supposedly high standard of living in the Sangam era.
  • The document describes “well-laid floors made of fine clay”, “roof tiles” with “grooves” to “drain water”, joints fastened with “iron nails”, etc.
  • Archaeologists also unearthed 110 dies made of ivory, and attributed them to the Sangam people’s alleged participation in sports and other recreational activities.
  • The report additionally discusses evidence of cattle-rearing, structural engineering, handicrafts, a local weaving industry, household utensils, and ornaments and terracotta figurines.


Sangam Age

  • The ‘Sangam’ describes a period from the sixth century BC to the third century AD encompassing today’s Tamil Nadu, Kerala, the southern parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and northern Sri Lanka.
  • The Tamil Sangams or Cankams were assemblies of Tamil scholars and poets that, according to traditional Tamil accounts, occurred in the remote past.
  • It is named for scholarly congregations in and around the city of Madurai, located about 400 km southwest of Chennai.
  • The period is noted for its Tamil literature and its literary output is closely associated with a significant politico-literary movement in early 20th century TN, which held that the Dravidian people could be descended from the people of the Indus Valley civilisation.
  • The Sivaganga discovery is the first major one of its kind in the state that claims to attest to the presence of an ancient urban civilisation in the subcontinent’s south, a civilisation that has often been pooh-poohed as political rhetoric.
  • It also strengthens the purported connection between the Indus Valley settlers and the ancient residents of Keezhadi.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Controlled Human Infection Model (CHIM)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CHIM

Mains level : CHIM and ethical issues with it

  • The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is close to finalising three projects involving Indian and European scientists to develop new influenza vaccines using a Controlled Human Infection Model (CHIM).

About CHIM

  • In a Controlled Human Infection Model (CHIM) study, a well-characterized strain of an infectious agent is given to carefully select adult volunteers.
  • This is done in order to better understand human diseases, how they spread, and find new ways to prevent and treat them.
  • These studies play a vital role in helping to develop vaccines for infectious diseases.
  • Such studies, which are being employed in vaccine development in the US, the UK and Kenya, are being considered in India.


  • A CHIM approach will speed up the process whereby scientists can quantify whether potential vaccine candidates can be effective in people and identify the factors that determine why some vaccinated people fall sick and others do not.
  • CHIM models help vaccine-makers decide whether they should go ahead with investing in expensive trials.


  • The risk in such trials is that intentionally infecting healthy people with an active virus and causing them to be sick is against medical ethics.
  • It also involves putting human lives in danger.

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

Global threats to children


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Various threats to children across the world

  • The UNICEF has enlisted eight growing challenges for the children across globe.

Children at risk

  • Protracted conflicts, the worsening climate crisis, a decline in mental health, mass migration and online misinformation are some of the most concerning emerging global threats to children.
  • Majority of children will grow up as natives of a digital environment saturated with online misinformation.
  • For example, so-called ‘deep fake’ technology uses artificial intelligence techniques to create convincing fakes of audio and video content, relatively easily.

Threats to the future of world’s children as highlighted by UNICEF

  • Access to clean water, clean air and a safe climate
  • Conflict and disaster zones
  • Mental illness
  • Migration
  • Need for Twenty-first century skills for a twenty-first century economy
  • Protecting their Digital footprint
  • Vulnerability for being the least trusting generation of citizens

Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

[pib] Emergency Response Support System  


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ERSS

Mains level : Policing reforms

  • The MHA has launched three citizen centric services of the Chandigarh Police.
  • These valuable public services would effectively reduce the response time of police to address the distress calls of the public and strengthen the police-public interface endeavour of community policing.

 Emergency Response Support System

  • ERSS is one of the key projects of the Union MHA under Nirbhaya Fund.
  • It has been designed to play a pivotal role in mitigation or preventing escalation of crime, especially against women and children.
  • ERSS provides a single emergency number (112), computer aided dispatch of field resources to the location of distress.
  • Citizens can send their emergency information through call, sms, email and through the 112 India mobile app.
  • The ‘Dial 112’ emergency response service is an initiative to strengthen proactive community policing that would end confusion amongst distress callers, who at times end up dialling 100 in fire or medical emergency cases.

E-Beat Book

  • The ‘E-Beat Book’ is a web and mobile based application which will ease the collection, updation and analysis of the information related to crime and criminals in a real time.
  • In each division, there is one ‘Atal Sehbhagita Kendra’that is under the supervision of a Beat Officer, having an Android Phone to the use the app.
  • The E-Beat Book would be linked with Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS), which would help in a real time updation of crime/criminal data.
  • The citizen can directly approach the‘Atal Sehbhagita Kendra’ for redressal of their grievances and can render their suggestions too.

E-Saathi App

  • The ‘E-Saathi’ App would help the general public, including senior citizens, to remain in touch with the police and also give suggestions to facilitate participative community policing (‘Your Police at Your Doorstep’ initiative).
  • The beat officer would be able to provide services like passport verification, tenant verification, servant verification, character certification etc. at a click of a button through the app, without the people needing to visit the police station.
  • With this initiative, on one hand, where the beat officer would become more efficient in his/her working, this would make police-people communication a two-way process, on the other.