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November 2019

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[oped of the day] On a new footing


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Sri Lanka future of ties


India receives the new Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a big effort to normalise the relationship; but the fractures in Sri Lanka’s power structure and its poor governance limited the possibilities.


  • It is feared as heralding the renewal of authoritarian rule in Sri Lanka.
  • The previous government in Colombo became dysfunctional due to deep differences between the president and prime minister.
  • The Rajapaksas are expected to bring political coherence.

With respect to India

  • The first trip to India – Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s visit to Delhi, the first trip abroad since the election, is an occasion to build mutual trust.
  • Moving ahead – Both sides have learnt much from their past mistakes and will have to find a new balance in the relationship. 
  • Managing proximity – For Gotabaya, the challenge is to be mindful of the sensitivities of its larger neighbour. For Modi, it is about respecting the sovereignty of its smaller neighbour.
  • Sri Lanka’s affirmation – Gotabaya has affirmed that Colombo will not do anything that might harm Delhi’s interests. He also expects that Delhi will respect Colombo’s freedom of choice in the conduct of its foreign and domestic policies. 

Indo – Sri Lankan issues

  • SL’s foreign relations – Sri Lanka’s ties to other powers have been of some concern to Delhi. This is focused on the nature of the ties between Colombo and Beijing. 
  • Tamil minorities – the prolonged conflict between the Sinhala majority and Tamil minority in Sri Lanka has undermined bilateral ties in recent decades.
  • No power game – Sri Lanka has affirmed that it does not want to be caught in the rivalry among the major powers and that it will follow a policy of “neutrality”. 
  • Red lines – India can’t accept a situation where Sri Lanka lets the People’s Liberation Army turn the Emerald Island into an aircraft carrier for China.

New regime

  • On Hambantota – Gotabaya said that it was a mistake for the previous government to have handed over the Hambantota port on a 99-year lease to China. He said that his government would like to renegotiate the agreement with China. 
  • On national interest – on economic issues, Lanka made it clear that it has every right to follow its national interest in engaging China. It wants all major countries including India, Japan, Singapore and the US to invest in Sri Lanka. The government has promised to reform and reorient the economy.

Legacy of the civil war

  • India’s involvement in the conflict saw India become a major collateral casualty in the war. 
  • The end of the war did not materially improve India’s position vis a vis Lanka.
  • There is scepticism that the grievances of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka and the strong majoritarian sentiment of their support base may complicate the peace process. 
  • The intervention in the 1980s proves that Delhi’s ability to shape its neighbour’s domestic politics is limited. India may be the loser if it makes the entire relationship hostage to the question of Tamil minority rights.
  • In the past, coalition politics saw Delhi cede a veto to Chennai over its Lanka policy. The present government is stronger vis a vis Chennai.

Way ahead for both nations

  • Colombo’s confidence-building measures with the Tamils.
  • India’s strong support for practical advances between Colombo and Jaffna.
  • Greater cross-border economic cooperation as well as between northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
  • Delhi’s political investment in resolving the fisheries dispute.


India must be seen as a friend of all the communities in Sri Lanka that can offer its good offices to resolve problems between themselves. Sri Lanka has to find that incremental progress on the Tamil question will widen its space in regional and global affairs and create better conditions for a much-needed economic renewal.

Citizenship and Related Issues

[op-ed snap] The misadventure of a new citizenship regime


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NRC

Mains level : Citizenship issues


Too much moves on counting

  • The Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner has recently completed a 10-year project of data collection, at the household level, for the Census of 2021.
  • The individual level data collection for the National Population Register is also to be uploaded next summer, alongside the Census.
  • As of January 2019, nearly 123 crore Aadhaar cards had been issued.

Nationwide NRC in queue

  • In Parliament, recently, an exercise in counting was proposed, for a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).
  • While its predecessors were counting “residents” rather than “citizens”, the objective of this latest initiative is to count citizens — specifically to sift and sort citizens from non-citizens.
  • This move is to include and exclude, and having done so to weed out “infiltrators” destined for detention camps and potential deportation.

Eliminating aliens

  • The rationale for a nationwide NRC, its feasibility, and, above all, its moral legitimacy, is questionable.
  • Under the Foreigners’ Act, 1946, the burden of proof rests on the individual charged with being a foreigner.
  • Since the Citizenship Act provides no independent mechanism for identifying aliens — remember the Supreme Court struck down the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, or IMDT Act, in 2005 — the NRC effectively places an entire population under suspicion of alienage.
  • This is tantamount not only to using an elephant to crush an ant, but of torturing the elephant to do it.

Why is Nationwide NRC unfeasible?

The cost of ‘authentication’


  • Let us also consider the resources needed to conduct such an NRC before discussing the deep moral misgivings such a project must provoke.
  • The Assam NRC is reported to have cost ₹1,600 crore with 50,000 officials deployed to enroll almost 3.3 crore applicants in an exercise that even its champions acknowledge to be deeply flawed excluding 19 lakh people.
  • On this basis, and taking as an indicative number the Indian electorate of 87.9 crore, a nationwide NRC would require an outlay of ₹4.26 lakh crore.
  • This is more than double the presumptive loss in the 2G scam, and four times the budgetary outlay for education this year.

Personnels required

  • The work of “authenticating” 87.9 crore people would entail the deployment of 1.33 crore officials.
  • In 2011-12 (the most recent official data available), the total number of government employees in India was 2.9 crore.
  • If, like the Census, this exercise is to be managed exclusively by the Central government, the additional personnel needed would make this a truly novel employment generation programme.

Not an easy task

  • Yet the limitation of administrative capacity in India is a public secret.
  • One way or another, the entire population of India and more than half its government officials will be involved, for at least the next 10 years, in counting and being counted.
  • The remainder can be involved in building the new detention centres that will be needed to incarcerate the unhappily excluded.

Learning from Assam

  • Few lessons have evidently been learned from the Assam experience that yielded unanticipated outcomes, especially unwelcome to those who were most enthusiastic about it.
  • It would increase the illegal practices of “paper citizenship” acquired through “networks of kinship” and “networks of profit”.
  • As in Assam, such an enrolment drive could actually put undocumented nationals at risk of losing their citizenship in a futile search for non-national migrants who are invariably better documented.
  • The fear of not having papers has already led to many suicides; we should brace ourselves for many more.

Confusion over cutoff date

  • Among the many uncertainties that persist is that about the cut-off date. March 1971 has little relevance beyond Assam.
  • The speculation about a July 1948 date for the rest of India is implausible in light of constitutional provisions, post-Partition jurisprudence, and the enactment of the Citizenship Act in 1955.
  • Second, will enrolment in the NRC be compulsory or voluntary (as in Assam), and what might the consequences of not seeking registration be?
  • Finally, there is the federal imperative of seeking the consent of State governments. Already, many States in northeast India are erupting in protest.
  • It is sobering to recall that political considerations alone have prevented the implementation, for over two decades, of the Supreme Court ruling awarding citizenship to Chakma and Hajong tribals in Arunachal Pradesh.

Weak assurances of CAB

  • It has been asserted in Parliament that the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) are unrelated.
  • Such assurances are however unlikely to assuage the anxieties of Muslim citizens given the larger ecosystem for minorities in India.
  • Vigilante violence against minorities and legal impunity for its perpetrators, the triple talaq legislation and the reading down of Article 370, are suggestive of a state-society consensus on the status of minorities as second-class citizens in the New India.

A move for racial citizenship?

  • At the end of a prolonged debate the Constituent Assembly settled on the principle of jus soli or birth-based citizenship as being “enlightened, modern, civilized” as opposed to the “racial citizenship” implied by the rival descent-based principle of jus sanguinis.
  • A shift from soil to blood as the basis of citizenship began to occur from 1985 onwards.
  • In 2004, an exception to birth-based citizenship was created for individuals born in India but having one parent who was an illegal migrant (impliedly Bangladeshi Muslim) at the time of their birth.
  • The CAB and the NRC will only consolidate this shift to a jus sanguinis citizenship regime.


  • Constitutionally, India is a political community whose citizens avow the idea of the nation as a civic entity, transcending ethnic differences.
  • The NRC-CAB combination signals a transformative shift from a civic-national conception to an ethno-national conception of India, as a political community in which identity determines gradations of citizenship.

Roads, Highways, Cargo, Air-Cargo and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

Explained: FASTags


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RFID technology

Mains level : FASTags

From December 1, lanes on NH toll plazas across India will accept toll only through FASTag. One hybrid lane will continue to accept cash in addition to being tag-enabled.

What is ‘FASTag’?

  • FASTags are stickers that are affixed to the windscreen of vehicles and use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to enable digital, contactless payment of tolls without having to stop at toll gates.
  • The tags are linked to bank accounts and other payment methods.
  • As a car crosses a toll plaza, the amount is automatically deducted, and a notification is sent to the registered mobile phone number.

How does it work?

  • The device employs Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology for payments directly from the prepaid or savings account linked to it.
  • It is affixed on the windscreen, so the vehicle can drive through plazas without stopping.
  • RFID technology is similar to that used in transport access-control systems, like Metro smart card.
  • If the tag is linked to a prepaid account like a wallet, or a debit/credit card, then owners need to recharge/top up the tag.
  • If it is linked to a savings account, rthen money will get deducted automatically after the balance goes below a pre-defined threshold.
  • Once a vehicle crosses the toll, the owner will get an SMS alert on the deduction. In that it is like a prepaid e-wallet.

How can one buy it?

  • E-commerce portals like Amazon and PayTM sell these tags issued by various banks.
  • Places, where these counters are set up, include Road Transport Authority offices, transport hubs, bank branches, and selected petrol pumps.
  • A FASTag bought from NHAI comes with a one-time fee of Rs 100 besides a refundable security deposit of Rs 150.
  • Apart from the currently free tags at NHAI booths, there is also a cashback of 2.5 per cent on FASTag transactions as an offer.
  • In the tag taken from NHAI, the Rs 150 security deposit, which the government is bearing as a promotion, comes back to the user as wallet value if the FASTag is linked to the NHAI e-wallet in the “My FASTag app” mobile app.
  • So in this particular scheme, the user gets Rs 150 back without even paying it.


  • A FASTag is valid for five years, and can be recharged as and when required.
  • Vehicles entering FASTag lanes without FASTag will be charged twice the toll amount.

Will those living close to toll roads not end up paying more frequently?

  • As per a government notification, users living within 10 km of a toll plaza can avail a concession on toll to be paid via FASTag.
  • They need to submit proof of residence and nearest point-of-sale location to validate.
  • Once the address is verified, the concession is ensured via FASTag affixed on the vehicle.

Is it working smoothly?

  • The tags sold by banks are not “bank-neutral”.
  • A FASTag bought from one bank can be recharged through that particular bank only and not through other banks.
  • However, tags sold/distributed by NHAI are bank-neutral as one can use any bank account to recharge/top up the value in the tag.

What about state highways?

  • Under a new “One Nation One FASTag” scheme, the NHAI is trying to get states on board so that one tag can be used seamlessly across highways, irrespective of whether it is the state or the Centre that owns/manages it.
  • Recently as part of a pilot, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana signed MoUs with the Centre to accept FASTags in state highways also.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capability (CBDR-RC)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CBDR-RC

Mains level : Developed countries and thier negligence for Climate action

India will insist upon the principle of ‘equity and common but differentiated responsibilities’ at next week’s COP-25 in Madrid, Spain.

What is CBDR-RC?

  • It is a principle within the UNFCCC that acknowledges the different capabilities and differing responsibilities of individual countries in addressing climate change.
  • In simpler terms, it means that while all countries should do their best to fight global warming, developed countries – with deeper pockets, which were primarily responsible for the climate mess – should take a bigger share of the burden than the developing and under-developed countries.

India’s agenda at COP-25

  • India will stress upon the need for fulfilling pre-2020 commitments by developed countries.
  • The ‘pre-2020 period commitments’ refers to the promises made by the developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol — developing countries faced no binding commitments under the protocol.


Paris Agreement (COP-21)

  • The Paris Agreement that was signed by all countries (and since ratified by the required number of countries) was hammered out in the 21st COP, in 2015.
  • In that agreement, all countries agreed upon a common target of “2 degrees Celsius” – they resolved not to allow the world to warm more than 2 degrees over the average temperatures that existed in the pre-industrialisation period of the mid 19th century.
  • To limit global warming to not more than 2 degrees, all countries brought in their own action plans — NDCs — and pledged to walk the talk.
  • They also agreed that the developed countries should mobilise funds for the developing countries to undertake climate-action projects — but neither any quantum of funds nor the nature of such funds was specified.
  • In general, it was agreed that the developed countries would provide technology and that all countries would sit for a review of the status once in five years – called ‘global stocktake’ – and would “raise ambition”.

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

UNDP Accelerator Lab


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Accelerator Lab

Mains level : SDGs and various initiatives for their attainment

The UNDP Accelerator Lab India project was recently launched in collaboration with the government’s Atal Innovation Mission.

Accelerator Lab

  • It seeks to address some of the most pressing issues facing India, including air pollution, through innovation.
  • The laboratory will be housed in the UNDP India office has partnered with the Indian government’s Atal Innovation Mission to achieve its objectives.
  • Other issues that the laboratory will seek to address include sustainable water management and client-resilient livelihood.
  • The vision is to make faster progress in meeting the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the U.N. by 2030.

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



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Dendrochronology

Mains level : Bio-indicators

Reconstructions of past responses of vegetation from different ecosystems can predict the impact of climate change on weather and other environmental parameters.


  • It is the study of tree rings that hold a wealth of information about not only a tree’s past but also that of the ecosystem in which it lives.
  • Tree rings are layers of growth that a tree acquires in a year.
  • The colour of old wood is always darker than a comparatively newer wood which creates a contrasting pattern of rings year on year.
  • In the years of good growth, characterized by a healthy supply of resources, the ring is thick.
  • It is thin when the ecosystem has dearth of resources.
  • Trees can be great records for past and recent climates, much better than climate records as their density in a region is much greater than climate observatories and their information close enough to actual conditions.

How does Dendrochronology help?

  • As trees are sensitive to local climate conditions, such as rain and temperature, they give some information about that area’s local climate in the past.
  • For example, tree rings usually grow wider in warm, wet years and they are thinner in years when it is cold and dry.
  • If the tree has experienced stressful conditions, such as a drought, the tree might hardly grow at all in those years.

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

[pib] Yuwaah Youth Skilling Initiative


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : YuWaah

Mains level : Various initiatives for Skill development in India

UNICEF has informed that they have launched ‘YuWaah’ Generation Unlimited in India.


  • YuWaah in is a multi-stakeholder alliance which aims to facilitate youth to gain relevant skills for productive lives and the future of work.
  • The target age group of YuWaah includes adolescent girls and boys and its key mission is to promote access to foundational, transferable and 21stcentury skills for youth inside and outside formal education systems.
  • This includes defining foundational skills, life skills and flexible learning and identifying and scaling impactful delivery models.
  • It intends to create platforms to guide youth to market opportunities (career guidance, mentorship, internships, apprenticeships) and facilitate integration of career guidance in school education.

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

[op-ed snap] Widening gap: On UN’s Emissions Gap Report


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Emissions Gap

Mains level : IPCC Emissions Gap report


The UN’s Emissions Gap Report comes as a sharp warning to countries preparing to meet in Madrid in December.


    • No more inaction – the report proves that every year of inaction is jeopardizing the main goal of the Paris Agreement: to keep the rise in global temperature over pre-industrial times below 2°C at 1.5°C
    • Emissions gapthe UN report estimates that there would have to be a 2.7% average annual cut in emissions from 2020 to 2030 for temperature rise to be contained at 2°C. The more ambitious 1.5° C target would require a 7.6% reduction. 
    • More risk for high emissions nations – countries with large emissions, such as the U.S., China, the European Union (EU) nations and India, will face more challenging demands if corrective measures to decarbonize are not implemented now.

Action on ground

    • EU is considering an emergency declaration, and the British Parliament adopted a resolution earlier this year. 
    • If sufficient action is not taken, hundreds of millions of people could face extreme impacts.
    • In the U.S., the Trump administration has initiated the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
    • The EU is working on legislation to bring about net-zero emissions. 
    • The U.K., which is responsible for a large share of historical emissions, has turned its net-zero 2050 goal into a legal requirement.

Rich – poor divide

    • Innovation – For these rich nations, the road to lower emissions is mainly through innovation and higher efficiencies in energy use. 
    • Development needs – China and India have to reconcile growing emissions with development needs. 
    • Innovations needed – They should scale up investments in renewable energy, leapfrog to clean technologies in buildings and transport, and greater carbon sequestration.

Role of India

UN report points out that India could do much more. 

    • Renewable – It needs to provide more consistent support for renewable energy.
    • Coal – India should have a long-term plan to retire coal power plants.
    • Other steps – enhance ambition on air quality, adopt an economy-wide green industrialization strategy, and expand mass transport. 
    • Buildings – the energy conservation code of 2018 needs to be implemented under close scrutiny.


India could use green technologies to galvanize its faltering economy, create new jobs and become a climate leader.


Emissions gap

It represents the difference between current actions to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and what is needed to meet the target.