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October 2019

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

[oped of the day] Farm lessons from China


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Agriculture lessons from China


India and China have limited arable land — China has about 120 million hectares (mha) and India 156 mha. The challenge before the two countries is to produce enough food, fodder, and fiber for their population. 

Similar story

  • Both have adopted modern technologies in agriculture, starting with high yield variety (HYV) seeds, increasing irrigation cover and using more chemical fertilisers to produce more food. 
  • Irrigation cover – China’s irrigation cover is 41% of the country’s cultivated area, while India’s irrigation cover is 48%. 
  • Total sown area – China’s total sown area is 166 mha, compared to India’s gross cropped area of 198 mha. 

Differed on output

  • Even though China has less land under cultivation, its agriculture output is valued at $1,367 billion, more than three times that of India’s agriculture output, $407 billion.

Reasons for the difference in output – R&D

  • China spends a lot more on agriculture knowledge and innovation system (AKIS), which includes agri R&D and extension. 
  • China invested $7.8 billion on AKIS in 2018-19, 5.6 times the amount spent by India — $1.4 billion. 
  • More impact than subsidies – A study on the impact of investment and subsidies on agri-GDP growth and poverty alleviation revealed that the highest impact is from investments in agriculture research and education (R&E). 
  • Poverty alleviation – For every rupee invested in R&E, agriculture GDP increases by Rs 11.2; and for every million rupees spent on agri-R&E, 328 people are brought out of poverty. 
  • Impact on other sectors of agriculture – Better seeds that result from higher R&D expenditures generally require more fertiliser. As per World Bank estimates, China’s fertiliser consumption in 2016 was 503 kg/ha of the arable area compared to just 166 kgs/ha for India.

Indian investment in R&D

  • India invests just about 0.35% of its agri-GVA while China spends 0.8%.
  • India needs to increase expenditure on agri-R&D. It should make the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) accountable for targeted deliveries.

Better investment – Incentives: PSEs

  • The incentive structure, measured by producer support estimates (PSEs) is much better for Chinese farmers than Indian farmers. 
  • The PSE concept measures the output prices that farmers get in a free trade scenario. It also measures the input subsidies received by them. 
  • For Chinese farmers, the PSE was 15.3% of the gross farm receipts during the triennium average ending (TE) 2018-19. Indian farmers had a PSE of -5.7%
  • It shows – that Indian farmers had been taxed much more than they have been subsidised — despite high amounts of input subsidies. 
  • Reasons for negative PSE – This negative PSE is a fallout of restrictive marketing and trade policies that do not allow Indian farmers to get free trade prices for their output.
  • Impact – This negative market price support exceeds the input subsidy support the government gives to farmers through low prices of fertilisers, power, irrigation, agri-credit, and crop insurance. 

Chinese MSP experience

  • Chinese gave procurement prices to farmers that were much higher than international prices. 
  • The result was a massive accumulation of stocks of wheat, rice, and corn. 
  • In 2016, such stocks touched almost 300 million metric tonnes (MMT). 
  • China had to incur a large expenditure as a result. 
  • Having burnt their fingers, China dropped the price support scheme for corn and has been gradually reducing the support prices of wheat and rice. 
  • India’s stock situation in July 2019 was 81 MMT as against a buffer stock norm of 41 MMT. 

Direct Income support

  • China has combined its major input subsidies in a single scheme, which allows direct payment to farmers on a per hectare basis and has spent $20.7 billion for this purpose in 2018-19. 
  • This gives the farmers the freedom to produce any crop rather than incentivising them to produce specific crops. 
  • Inputs are priced at market prices giving right signals to farmers to use resources optimally. 
  • India spent only 3 billion dollars under its direct income scheme, PM-KISAN in 2018-19, but the country has spent $27 billion on heavily subsidising fertilisers, power, irrigation, insurance, and credit. 
  • This leads to large inefficiency in their use and also creates environmental problems.

Way ahead

  • Large scale agri-marketing reforms (APMC and Essential Commodities Act). 
  • Instead, the Indian government has been trying to jack up MSPs for 23 crops for farmers. 
  • India needs to reduce the gamut of commodities under the MSP system and keep MSPs below international prices.
  • India should consolidate all its input subsidies and give them directly to farmers on a per hectare basis and free up prices from all controls.

Hunger and Nutrition Issues – GHI, GNI, etc.

[op-ed snap] National dishonour


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hunger Index

Mains level : Reasons for persisting hunger in India


Despite unprecedented quantities of wealth, India is unable to overcome hunger and malnourishment. Along with this, government warehouses are overflowing with stocks of rotting rice and wheat.


    • Hunger is the failure to access the calories that are necessary to sustain an active and healthy life. 
    • It results in intense human suffering and indignity as their brains and bodies are unable to grow to full potential they fall ill too often and are snatched away too early.

Why it is a dishonor

    • Entirely preventable – With appropriate public policies — sensitively designed, adequately resourced and effectively implemented — the country has both the wealth and the food stocks to end hunger entirely. 
    • The success of our neighbors in combating hunger — Nepal emerging from 15 years of civil war and Pakistan still torn by internal conflict is a reminder of what India has not accomplished. 

GHI ranking

    • 4 indicators — undernourishment (the share of the population with insufficient calorie intake); child wasting (children with low weight for height, indicating acute undernutrition); child stunting (children with a low height for age, reflecting chronic undernutrition); and child mortality (death rate of children under five).
    • The GHI report ranks India at 102 out of 117 countries. 
    • State of India – India has the highest rate of child wasting (20.8%). Its child stunting rate (37.9%) also remains high.
    • India’s poorer neighbors — Bangladesh, Nepal, and even Pakistan — have overtaken India in the battle against hunger.

The success story of Bangladesh and Nepal 

    • The Bangladesh success story is attributed to pro-poor economic growth raising household incomes as well as significant improvements in “nutrition-sensitive” sectors like education, sanitation, and health. 
    • Nepal shows increased household wealth, maternal education, sanitation, health and nutrition programs.

What must India do better

    • In the latest 2018-19 India Exclusion Report of the Centre for Equity Studies, it is found that the largest population of food-insecure people are food producers — farmworkers, tenants, marginal and small farmers, fish workers and forest gatherers. 

People with farm jobs

    • Food producers must be supported to receive adequate remuneration. 
    • Measures to protect farmer income – income transfers to farmers, MSP guarantees and crop insurance, and massive expansion of farm credit. 
    • For farmworkers – refocus on land reforms is called for. An expanded and managed rural employment guarantee programme with attention to land and watershed development, small irrigation and afforestation is needed. 
    • Shift to sustainable agricultural technologies less dependent on irrigation, chemical fertilisers, and pesticides, to reverse our agro-ecological crisis.

Non – farm jobs

    • Informal workers – Hunger can’t be combated without addressing the burgeoning job crisis. It also entails labour reforms that protect job security, fair work conditions and social security of all workers. 
    • Urban employment guarantee program is needed to help build basic public services and infrastructure for the urban poor — especially slum and pavement residents, and the homeless. 
    • Employment in the care economy – with services for child-care, children and adults with disabilities and older persons.

Nutrition schemes

    • Public Distribution System must be universalised and should distribute not just cereals but also pulses and edible oils. It should be a decentralised system where a variety of crops are procured and distributed locally. 
    • Pre-school feeding and school meals need adequate budgets. Meals should be supplemented with nutrient-rich foods such as dairy products, eggs, and fruits. 

Social security

    • Universal pension for persons not covered by formal schemes, universal maternity entitlements to enable all women in informal work to rest and breast-feed their children, a vastly expanded creche scheme, and residential schools for homeless children and child workers.


    • Absorption of food – Malnourishment results not just from inadequate food intake, but also because food is not absorbed due to frequent infections caused by bad drinking water, poor sanitation and lack of healthcare. 
    • WASH – India’s nutrition failures are also because of persisting gaps in securing potable water to all citizens, and continued open defecation despite optimistic official reporting.
    • Right to healthcare – India needs a legally enforceable universal and free out-patient and hospital-based care, free diagnostics, and free medicines.

Tribes in News

Explained: Naga Peace Talks


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nagalim

Mains level : Naga peace process

  • The deadline set by the Centre for wrapping up the Naga peace talks, October 31, arrives this week.
  • While the Centre’s interlocutor and now Nagaland’s Governor, R N Ravi, has stressed that some key issues remain unresolved with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN(I-M).

What are the Naga peace talks?

  • The talks seek to settle disputes that date back to colonial rule.
  • The Nagas are not a single tribe, but an ethnic community that comprises several tribes who live in the state of Nagaland and its neighbourhood
  • One key demand of Naga groups has been a Greater Nagalim that would cover not only the state of Nagaland but parts of neighbouring states, and even of Myanmar.

Rise of Naga nationalism

  • The British had annexed Assam in 1826, in which they subsequently created the Naga Hills district and went on to extend its boundaries.
  • The assertion of Naga nationalism, which began during British rule, has continued after Independence, and even after Nagaland became a state.
  • Along the way, the unresolved issues gave rise to decades of insurgency that claimed thousands of lives, including of civilians.

How has the Naga assertion played out historically?

  • The earliest sign of Naga resistance dates back to 1918, with the formation of the Naga Club.
  • In 1929, the Club famously told the Simon Commission “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.
  • In 1946, A Z Phizo formed the Naga National Council (NNC), which declared Naga independence on August 14, 1947, and then, in 1951, claimed to have conducted a referendum.
  • The referendum got overwhelming majority in support of an independent Naga state.
  • By the early 1950s, the NNC had taken up arms and gone underground.
  • The NNC split in 1975, the breakaway group being the NSCN, which split further in later years, most prominently into the NSCN(I-M) and NSCN (Khaplang) in 1988.

And how have the peace talks played out in recent years?

Before the ongoing talks, which followed a framework agreement in 2015, there were two other agreements between Naga groups and the Centre.


  • A peace accord was signed in Shillong in which the NNC leadership agreed to give up arms.
  • Several NNC leaders, including Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and S S Khaplang refused to accept the agreement and broke away to form the NSCN.
  • In 1988 came another split, with Khaplang breaking away to form the NSCN(K) while Isak and Muivah headed the NSCN(I-M).


  • The NSCN(I-M ) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997, preceded by rounds of talks since 1995.
  • The key agreement was that there would be no counter-insurgency offensive against the NSCN(I-M), who in turn would not attack Indian forces.
  • The NSCN(I-M) had then announced to “every citizen of Nagalim wherever they may be”, that a ceasefire agreement was entered into between India and the outfit to bring about a lasting political solution.


  • In August that year, the Centre signed a framework agreement with the NSCN(I-M).
  • PM Modi described it as a “historic agreement” towards settling the “oldest insurgency” in India. This set the stage for the ongoing peace talks.
  • In 2017, six other Naga armed outfits under the banned of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) joined the talks.
  • Today, Muivah remains the senior-most Naga rebel leader. Isak died in 2016. In the NSCN(-K), its leader Khaplang died in 2018.

What was in the framework agreement?

  • The government has not yet spelt out the details in public.
  • Following the agreement, the government had said in a press statement: “The Government of India recognised the unique history, culture and position of the Nagas and their sentiments and aspirations.
  • The NSCN understood and appreciated the Indian political system and governance.
  • On the other hand, the NSCN(I-M) issued a statement earlier this year which said that Nagaland State does and will not represent the national decision of the Naga people.
  • The statement was in opposition the proposal for a Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN) in the state of Nagaland.

Where does the territorial demand currently stand?

  • The accord being finalised “does not change the boundary of states; provides autonomous Naga territorial councils for Arunachal and Manipur; a common cultural body for Nagas across states.
  • It provides for specific institutions for state’s development, integration and rehabilitation of non-state Naga militia and the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
  • The map of Greater Nagalim in the NSCN(IM) vision, on the other hand, covers a 1,20,000 sq km sprawl across the Northeast and Myanmar — the area of Nagaland state itself is only 16,527 sq km, a fraction of this vision.
  • Amid the anxiety this has caused among citizens in neighbouring states, state governments have assured them that their respective states’ territorial integrity would not be compromised.

What are the other issues?

  • The government and the NSCN(I-M) have failed to agree on issues relating to a separate Naga flag and a constitution.
  • In its latest statement, the NSCN(I-M) has said it will not budge from the demand for the flag and the constitution — and that it is looking for a lasting solution.
  • However the NSCN(I-M) has adopted a procrastinating attitude to delay the settlement raising the contentious symbolic issues of separate Naga national flag and constitution.

Where could the disagreement lead to?

  • The statement from the Governor’s office has given rise to speculation that the government is ready to sign a final peace agreement with other groups without the NSCN(I-M), the largest group.
  • Civil society groups in Nagaland are divided in their opinion.
  • Some have said the talks should be wrapped up with whatever is offered now and keep other issues open for later negotiations.
  • Others believe all issues should be settled and the NSCN(I-M) should be on board, even if it takes longer than the deadline.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Pakistan Suspends Exchange of Postal Mails


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Universal Postal Union (UPU)

Mains level : India-Pakistan relations in recent times

  • In a unilateral decision, Pakistan has stopped exchange of postal mails with India since August 27.
  • Pakistan’s decision was taken without any prior notice and is in direct contravention of international norms.

Who regulates postal exchange between one country and another?

  • The United Nations’ Universal Postal Union (UPU) frames rules for international mail exchange, and fixes rates for international postal services.
  • The UPU has 192 member-countries and is headquartered in Bern.
  • Constituted in 1874, the UPU has four units: the Congress, the Council of Administration, the International Bureau, and the Postal Operations Council.
  • It regulates 6.40 lakh postal outlets worldwide.
  • India joined the UPU on July 1, 1876 and Pakistan on November 10, 1947.

What has mail exchange between India and Pakistan been like?

  • Before Pakistan’s move, mailbags were being exchanged almost daily.
  • With no regular, direct flight connectivity between the two countries, mail was being routed through the Saudi Arabia air route.
  • In India, all international posts are handled through the 28 Foreign Post Offices, with those in Delhi and Mumbai designated to handle mails for Pakistan.
  • The mailbags of both countries were exchanged at airports after a customs check.
  • Other than the UPU, three agreements cover postal exchange between India and Pakistan — Exchange of Value Payable Article, 1948; Exchange of Postal Article, 1974; and International Speed Post Agreement, 1987.

Can one UPU member-country unilaterally stop postal exchange with another?

  • Under UPU rules, when a country decides to suspend exchange with a country, it must notify the operator of the other country and if possible, the duration for which services is being stopped.
  • The UPU’s International Bureau too has to be notified.
  • The International Bureau issued a Convention Manual in 2018, in which Article 17-143 details ‘Steps to be taken in Event of Temporary Suspension and Resumption of Services’.
  • If services are temporarily suspended, the designated operator concerned must be notified of the fact by telecommunications, indicating, if possible, the probable duration of the suspension of services.
  • The same procedure shall be applied when the suspended services are resumed,” the Manual reads.
  • According to the three bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan, too, a prior notice has to be served before suspending services, sources in India Post said.

So, did Pakistan skip the UPU protocol?

  • India was not given prior notice when Pakistan suspended postal exchange.
  • Even two months later, India is yet to receive a direct communication.
  • Pakistan only handed over a copy of an internal order to airline operators, which handed them to Indian representatives.
  • On August 23, the customs and postal departments of Pakistan issued an internal order stopping postal exchange with India and handed its copy it to airlines.
  • India is also unaware if Pakistan has notified the UPU about suspension of postal service with India.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Dirac metals: New class of quantum materials for clean energy technology


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Dirac Metals

Mains level : Applications of Dirac materials

  • Researchers from IIT Bombay have discovered special properties in a class of materials called “semi-Dirac metals” that have been recently talked about in the scientific literature.

What are Dirac metals?

  • Normal metals like gold and silver are good conductors of electricity.
  • A key aspect that decides the quality of conduction is the way energy depends on the momentum of electrons.
  • Dirac metals differ from normal metals in that the energy depends linearly on the momentum. This difference is responsible for their unique properties.
  • Semi-Dirac metals behave like Dirac metals in one direction and like normal metals in the perpendicular directions (since their microscopic structure is different along the two directions).
  • Within any material, charge carriers, such as electrons, acquire an effective mass which is different from their bare mass depending on the nature of the material.
  • The effective mass and the number of states available for the electron to occupy when it is excited by an electric field, for example, determine the conductivity and other such properties.
  • This is also true of a semi-Dirac metal. In particular, the effective mass becomes zero for conduction along a special direction.


  • Examples of semi-Dirac metals are systems such as TiO2/V2O3 nanostructures (Oxides of Titanium and Vanadium).
  • Through calculations, the researchers have shown that such materials would be transparent to light of a given frequency and polarization when it is incident along a particular direction.
  • The material would be opaque to the same light when it falls on it from a different direction.
  • There are many known applications for transparent conducting films – the common example being touch screens used in mobiles.
  • Optical conductivity is a measure of the opacity offered by the material to the passage of light through it.
  • The research shows a very high optical conductivity of semi-Dirac materials for electromagnetic waves [light waves] of a specific frequency and specific polarization.


  • The researchers show theoretically that semi-Dirac materials can display such thermoelectric properties.
  • The study of thermoelectrics dwells on the heat-to electricity conversion efficiency, for which there has been recent and tremendous interest due to the advent of nanomaterials and quantum materials.
  • Thermoelectricity is a clean energy technology that uses waste heat to produce electricity typically in low power applications.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Specie in news: Nelloptodes gretae


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nelloptodes gretae

Mains level : Not Much

Nelloptodes gretae

  • Between 1964 and 1965, an entomologist called William Brock collected samples of soil from around east Africa.
  • Inside one of these samples, taken in Kenya and stored in the British Natural History Museum until now, was a tiny species of beetle, pale yellow and gold.
  • Measuring just 0.79 millimetres, the beetle has no eyes or wings, with a small pit between where the eyes should have been.
  • The species has just got a name Nelloptodes gretae, after the teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

What’s behind the name?

  • Biological names comprise two words, one for the genus and the second for the species.
  • Traditionally, it is the species name that scientists coin to honour a prominent personality, and sometimes even a friend or a relative.
  • While the species name gretae derives from Greta, the genus Nelloptodes too is new.

Indian Navy Updates

Place in news: INS Baaz


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : INS Baaz

Mains level : Maritime Security in Bay of Bengal region

  • Recently Navy Chief Admiral visited INS Baaz, the southernmost air station of the Indian Armed Forces.

INS Baaz

  • The Indian Naval Station (INS) ‘Baaz’ was commissioned in July 2012, and is the southernmost air station of the Indian Armed Forces.
  • INS Baaz is located at Campbell Bay on the Great Nicobar island, the southernmost and largest island in the UT of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • It is a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the only tri-services formation of the Indian Armed Forces that was started in 2001.
  • This island is also the location of the Indira Point and is less than 250 km by sea from Banda Aceh in Indonesia.
  • Campbell Bay, where the base is located, is more than 1,500 km away from the Indian mainland, and 500 km from Port Blair.


  • The A&N Islands are strategically important for India’s national security as they provide a critical capability to monitor sea areas in the region.
  • The primary functions of the INS Baaz include helping build Maritime Domain Awareness by providing information via airborne surveillance using aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
  • The base was first equipped with a runway of 3,500 feet but was later lengthened to enable larger aircraft to operate from it.
  • The location has been described as India’s “window into East and Southeast Asia”, and is in close vicinity of the Six Degree Channel, also called the Great Channel.
  • It is one of the Indian Ocean’s busiest shipping lines, carrying strategic cargo to East Asian countries.
  • It is also close to the Strait of Malacca. The INS Baaz helps to ensure maritime security in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
  • The base also assists the local populace in times of need such as facilitating evacuation during medical emergencies.

Forest Fires

Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas

Mains level : Forest fires and their global impact

Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas

  • The Sentinel-3 World Fires Atlas Prototype product has been developed by European Space Agency.
  • It uses a method that enables it to identify all active fires at night.
  • The sensors on satellites measure thermal infrared radiation to take the temperature of Earth’s land surfaces. This information is used to detect and monitor the heat emitted by the fires.
  • The Atlas uses the satellite data to plot the number of fires occurring monthly.

Why it’s significant?

  • Quantifying and monitoring fires is important for the study of climate.
  • Forest fires have a significant impact on global atmospheric emissions, with biomass burning contributing to the global budgets of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide.

Forest fires on rise

  • Compared to August 2018, there were almost five times as many wildfires across the world in August 2019 the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced citing data from its Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas.
  • August and September 2019 were also the months during which fires in the Amazon rainforest were at the centre of worldwide attention.
  • A detailed analysis of the August 2019 fires, however, shows that it was Asia that accounted for nearly half of these fires.


  • The ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission recorded 79,000 fires in August this year, compared to just over 16,000 fires detected during the same period last year.
  • These figures were achieved by using data from the Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas Prototype, which also provided a breakdown of these fires per continent.
  • The data revealed that 49% of the fires were detected in Asia, around 28% were detected in South America, 16% in Africa, and the remaining were recorded in North America, Europe and Oceania.

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

IndiGen Initiative


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IndiGen Initiative

Mains level : Applications of Genome Sequencing

  • Anyone looking for a free mapping of their entire genome can sign up for the IndiGen initiative.

IndiGen initiative

  • Under this, the IndiGen mobile application enables participants and clinicians to access clinically actionable information in their genomes.
  • Those who do get their genes mapped this way will get a card and access to an app, which will allow them and doctors to access “clinically actionable information” on their genomes.
  • The programme is a culmination of a six-month project by the CSIR in which 1000 Indians, had their genomes scanned in detail.
  • It is managed by the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB).
  • The aim of the exercise was twofold: To test if it’s possible to rapidly and reliably scan several genomes and advise people on health risks that are manifest in their gene and, understand the variation and frequency of certain genes that are known to be linked to disease.

Why such move?

  • A genetic test, which is commercially available at several outlets in the country, usually involves analysing only a portion of the genome that’s known to contain aberrant genes linked to disease.
  • A whole genome sequencing is more involved and expensive — it’s about ₹100,000 and a single person’s scan take a whole day — and generally attempted only for research purposes.
  • The human genome has about 3.2 billion base pairs and just 10 years ago cost about $10,000. Now prices have fallen to a tenth.


  • The whole genome data will be important for building the knowhow, baseline data and indigenous capacity in the emerging area of Precision Medicine.
  • The benefits include epidemiology of genetic diseases to enable cost effective genetic tests, carrier screening applications for expectant couples, enabling efficient diagnosis of heritable cancers and pharmacogenetic tests to prevent adverse drug reactions.
  • The outcomes will have applications in a number of areas including predictive and preventive medicine with faster and efficient diagnosis of rare genetic diseases.
  • The outcomes will be utilized towards understanding the genetic diversity on a population scale, make available genetic variant frequencies for clinical applications and enable genetic epidemiology of diseases.