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December 2019

Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[oped of the day] The many structural flaws in India’s higher education system


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Institutions of Eminence

Mains level : Higher Education quality in India


The furore surrounding fee hikes at the Jawaharlal Nehru University has spurred deeper questions about the quality of university education. 

Higher Education

    • India’s higher education system is structurally flawed and underfunded.
    • This crisis will affect innovation and human capital, the two pillars of labour productivity and GDP growth.
    • It will hurt India’s largest demographic of its potential.

Fault Lines

    • A surge in women’s enrolment does not necessarily imply better outcomes. 
    • ‘India Skills Report’ suggests that only 47% of Indian graduates are employable.
    • India has startlingly low faculty figures.

Faculty shortage

    • Faculty vacancies at government institutions are at 50% on average. 
    • A Deloitte gathering of 63 Deans of top-tier institutions revealed that 80% listed lack of quality faculty as their biggest concern. 
    • The problem lies in increased demand and stagnant supply. 
    • The number of institutions has surged in India since the 2000s, while the number of students doing PhD has remained constant. 
    • There are over a 1,00,000 India-born PhDs in universities around the world. They are kept away by paltry salaries and poor funding. 
    • China attracted Chinese-origin PhDs back home with dollar salaries and monetary incentives for published research. 
    • Tsinghua University is designed on the Western model of teaching and research and is even ahead of MIT in terms of published papers.

The problem of Indian universities

    • Indian universities separate research and teaching activities, depriving students of exposure to cutting-edge ideas. 
    • Monetary incentives for academia are practically non-existent.
    • Indian R&D expenditure at 0.62% of GDP is one of the lowest in emerging economies. 
    • Indian universities rank low in both research and teaching. 
    • The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, at rank 155, was our highest in the Scimago Institutions Rankings (SIR) for research. 6 Chinese institutes figured in the top 50.

Macroeconomic impact

    • These flaws could affect macroeconomic indicators such as labour productivity, determined by innovation and human capital. 
    • The workers of tomorrow need to transition to the formal, non-agricultural sector, with higher education credentials.
    • An increase in research could lead to more innovation in the economy. It might drive up labour productivity. 
    • The Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) proposed ambitious reforms. It aims to double education spending to 6% of GDP and close the research-teaching divide in higher education. 
    • It is coupled with an ‘Institutions of Eminence’ programme started in 2018 that gave increased funding to some research universities. 


    • The dramatic increases may not be politically feasible.
    • The implementation of such reforms may go the path of previous NEPs — watered down and eventually shelved.

Way ahead

    • The government needs to ensure that higher education’s role in innovation and human capital is not ignored. 
    • The reforms must be pushed through and must lead to legislation that will fund research-based universities. 
    • Only this can bring a culture of discovery and accountability to India’s higher education institutions.


Institutions of Eminence

Institution of Eminence Scheme

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Another quota question: On creamy layer for SCs


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Reservation - creamy layer for SC/ ST


There is a need for an authoritative pronouncement on the question of whether the concept of ‘creamy layer’ ought to be applied to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. 

Supreme Court – M Nagaraj

    • The Union government has called upon the Supreme Court to form a seven-judge Bench to reconsider the formulation.
    • In the judgment, the court said that the “creamy layer” should be applied to the SC and ST communities. 
    • The judgment upheld Constitutional amendments meant to preserve reservation in promotions as well as consequential seniority.
    • It contained an exposition of the equality principle. Through that, it hedged reservations against a set of constitutional requirements. Without it, the structure of equal opportunity would collapse. 
    • These were ‘quantifiable data’ to show the backwardness of a community, the inadequacy of its representation in service, and the lack of adverse impact on “the overall efficiency of administration”

Impact of judgment

    • This questioned the continuance of quota policies of various State governments due to non-compliance with these parameters. 
    • In Jarnail Singh (2018), another Constitution Bench reaffirmed the applicability of creamy layer norms to SC/STs. 
    • It ruled that Nagaraj was wrong to require a demonstration of backwardness for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, as it was directly contrary to the nine-judge Bench judgment in Indra Sawhney (1992).
    • Indira Sawhney laid down that there is no need for a test of backwardness for SC/STs, as “they indubitably fall within the expression ‘backward class of citizens’.”
    • Jarnail Singh accepted the presumption of the backwardness of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. 
    • But it favored applying the ‘means test’ to exclude from the purview of SC/ST reservation those who had achieved some level of economic advancement. 
    • It specifically rejects an opinion by the then Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan in Ashoka Thakur (2008) that the ‘creamy layer’ concept is a principle of identification and not one of equality.

The current debate

    • The Centre has accepted that the ‘creamy layer’ norm is needed to ensure that only those genuinely backward get reservation benefits.
    • It is upset that this principle has been extended to Dalits, who are the most backward among the backward sections. 
    • The question is whether the exclusion of the advanced sections among SC/ST candidates can be disallowed only for promotions. 
    • Most of them may not fall under the ‘creamy layer’ category at the entry-level, but after some years of service and promotions, they may reach an income level at which they fall under the ‘creamy layer’. 
    • This may defeat the constitutional amendments that the court had upheld to protect reservation in promotions as well as consequential seniority. 


Another landmark verdict in the history of affirmative action jurisprudence may be needed to settle these questions.

Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the bill

Mains level : Old age care

The Union Cabinet has approved The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

About the Bill

  • The Bill seeks to amend The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, 2007, passed by Parliament during the term of UPA-I.
  • The 2007 Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on March 20, 2007, and passed on December 5 and 6 of that year by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.
  • Among the key features of the Bill, as per a summary were:
  1. Children and heirs were legally obligated to provide maintenance to senior citizens.
  2. State governments were permitted to establish old age homes in every district.
  3. Senior citizens who are unable to maintain themselves, were given the right to apply to a maintenance tribunal seeking a monthly allowance from their children or heirs.
  4. State governments were to set up maintenance tribunals in every subdivision to decide the level of maintenance. Appellate tribunals were to be established at the district level.
  5. State governments were to set the ceiling for the maximum monthly maintenance allowance. The Bill capped the maximum monthly allowance at Rs 10,000 per month.
  6. Punishment for not paying the required monthly allowance was fixed at Rs 5,000, or up to three months in prison, or both.

The proposed changes

  • The “major salient features” of the proposed Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Amendment Bill are:

(i) Definition of ‘children’ and ‘parents’ has been expanded.

(ii) Definition of ‘maintenance’ and ‘welfare’ has been expanded.

(iii) Mode of submission of application for maintenance has been enlarged.

(iv) Ceiling of Rs 10,000/- as maintenance amount has been removed.

(v) Preference to dispose of applications of senior citizens, above eighty years of age, early has been included.

(vi) Registration of Senior Citizens Care Homes/Homecare Service Agencies etc. have been included.

(vii) Minimum standards for senior citizen care homes has been included in the Bill.

(viii) Appointment of Nodal Police Officers for Senior Citizens in every Police Station and District level Special Police Unit for Senior Citizens has been included.

(ix) Maintenance of Helpline for senior citizens has been included.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) Funding and Summit


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NATO

Mains level : NATO and its fading relevance

What is the news: The U.S. contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) operating budget has been cut down at the cost of an increase in Germany’s payments to the alliance. This move comes after repeated criticism of European members of the organisation by the U.S.

  • This will come into effect from 2021, wherein the U.S. and Germany will contribute equally to the NATO budget.
  • In other news, leaders of member states were gathered in London to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Key Points

  • Under the new agreement, the U.S. will cut its contribution to 16.35% of the total NATO’s budget while Germany and other allies’ contributions will go up.
    • The U.S. currently pays 22.1% of the NATO budget and Germany pays 14.8%, under a formula based on each country’s gross national income.
  • France has refused to accept the new arrangement and will keep its contribution the same at 10.5%.
  • All allies have agreed on a new cost-sharing formula under which cost shares attributed to most European allies and Canada will go up, while the US share will come down.


  • Earlier at the 2014 summit, NATO allies had agreed to spend 2% of their GDP on defence.
  • However, the US suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% expenditure on defence but also increase it to 4% immediately.
  • Till 2019, only eight of 29 members are able to spend 2% of their GDP on defence. Germany has also failed to meet this target.

NATO summit: The founding and purpose of the alliance

  • NATO was founded to ensure collective protection for its members — the United States, Canada, and American allies in Europe — against the threat of possible post-War communist expansion and aggression by the Soviet Union.
  • The Soviet Union also formed its own defence and political alliance with Eastern European nations as a counterbalance to NATO — the Warsaw Pact that was signed in 1955.
  • This alliance was disbanded after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

  • It is a military alliance established by the North Atlantic Treaty (also called the Washington Treaty) of April 4, 1949, by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union.
  • It is headquartered at Brussels, Belgium.
  • A key provision of the treaty, the so-called Article 5, states that if one member of the alliance is attacked in Europe or North America, it is to be considered an attack on all members. That effectively put Western Europe under the “nuclear umbrella” of the US.
    • NATO has only once invoked Article 5, on September 12, 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the US.
  • NATO’s protection does not extend to members’ civil wars or internal coups.
  • As of 2019, there are 29 member states, with Montenegro becoming the latest member to join the alliance in 2017.
    • France withdrew from the integrated military command of NATO in 1966 but remained a member of the organization. However, it resumed its position in NATO’s military command in 2009.

Relevance of NATO

  • With the collapse of the USSR, NATO lost its essential raisons d’etre, and for most NATO members, the primary concern now is the expansionist ambition of China.
  • NATO has traditionally focused on Russia and the European neighbourhood and recognizes the need to deter “revisionist” and “militarily advanced” Russia, and the threat posed by rogue nations such as North Korea.

Deviance of members

  • Turkey has rejected NATO’s military plan for the Baltic nations against Russia, unless it receives support to defeat Syrian Kurds at its borders, something that France and the US do not agree with.
  • The tensions have come in the backdrop of “Operation Peace Spring” conducted by the Turkish military along the Syrian border in October.
  • During NATO’s Brussels Summit last year, Trump criticised European nations, especially Germany for not spending enough on defence.
  • As per an agreement that was reached in 2014, member nations are supposed to spend up to 2% their GDP on defence on a voluntary basis.
  • Until 2018, the US spends the highest percentage of its GDP (at least 3.5%) on defence, while the Europeans, including the French, the Germans, the Italians, and the Spaniards, spend less than 2%.

Challenges before NATO

  • The great challenge before NATO is its seeming inability to align the diverging priorities of its member nations.
  • France’s priority at the moment is the eradication of terrorism from northeast Syria, while the US under Trump clearly wants to get out of the Middle East and focus more on the military rise of China.
  • The challenge is made stronger by the personalities of the leaders — the Europeans are clearly impatient with Erdogan, and Trump’s unpredictability and repeated attacks on European countries and leaders has not endeared him to them.

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

Global Carbon Project estimates of emission by India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GCP

Mains level : Impact of slow economic growth on emission

  • The Global Carbon Project, which puts out emission estimates for across the world every year, has said India’s emissions in 2019 was likely to be only 1.8 per cent higher than in 2018.
  • This is significantly lower than the 8% growth that India showed last year and the more-than-5% average growth over the last ten years.

Global Carbon Project (GCP)

  • The GCP is a Global Research Project of Future Earth and a research partner of the World Climate Research Programme.
  • Established in 2001, its projects include global budgets for three dominant greenhouse gases — CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide — and complementary efforts in urban, regional, cumulative, and negative emissions.
  • The main object of the group has been to fully understand the carbon cycle.
  • It collaborates with many groups to gather, analyze, and publish data on greenhouse gas emissions in an open and transparent fashion, making datasets available on its website and through its publications.
  • It releases the Global Carbon Atlas (established in 2013) a tool for visualizing data related to the global carbon cycle.

What arrested the growth

  • The economic slowdown has been blamed for a lower emission growth in the rest of the world as well, and also in China, the world’s largest emitter.
  • Weak economic growth in India has led to slower growth in oil and natural gas use.
  • With a weakening economy, growth in India’s generation of electricity has slowed from 6 per cent per year to under 1 per cent in 2019, despite electrification of villages adding to potential demand.
  • Moreover, the addition of a very wet monsoon led to very high hydropower generation and a decline in generation from coal.

Why the report matters

  • The numbers put out by Global Carbon Project are estimates, and not official.
  • But these offer important indicators to global trends in carbon dioxide emissions in near-real time.
  • In India’s case, the most recent official numbers relating to all kinds of emissions pertain to 2014. Those were submitted to the UN climate body in 2018.
  • According to those numbers, India’s CO2 emissions in 2014 was 1.99 billion tonnes, while its total greenhouse gas emissions, which include other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide, was 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
  • The GCP 2019 estimates the carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 alone to be about 2.6 billion tonnes. They do not give the estimates of emissions of other greenhouse gases.

Bougainville referendum


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bougainville and its location

Mains level : Montevideo Convention

  • Bougainville, an island in the Pacific, is holding a referendum to decide if it wants to remain a part of Papua New Guinea or become an independent country.
  • Nithyananda, India’s fugitive godman has reportedly founded his own country somewhere in the Pacific.

How does a territory become a new country?

  • There is no straightforward rule.
  • Beyond a few set requirements, a region’s quest for nationhood mainly depends on how many countries and international organisations it manages to convince to recognise it as a country.
  • The biggest sanction of nationhood is the United Nations recognising a territory as a country.

Who can declare itself a country?

  • There is no law barring regions from declaring independence.
  • In Jharkhand in 2017-18, as part of the Pathalgadi movement, stone plaques had come up outside villages, declaring the gram sabha as the only sovereign authority.
  • Somaliland in Somalia has been calling itself a country since 1991, but no one else recognises it. Kosovo in Serbia declared independence in 2008, and only a few other countries recognise it.

What criteria must a nation-hopeful meet?

  • Broadly, four, as decided in 1933’s Montevideo Convention.
  • A country-hopeful must have a defined territory, people, government, and the ability to form relationships with other countries.
  • A country’s “people” are defined as a significantly large population sharing a belief in their nationality.
  • Factors also kept in mind are if a majority has clearly expressed the desire to break away from the parent country, and if the minority communities’ rights will be safeguarded.

Self-determination versus territorial integrity

  • In June 1945, the right of “self-determination” was included in the UN charter. This means that a population has the right to decide how and by whom it wants to be governed.
  • However, another of the oldest, widely accepted international rules is that of countries respecting each other’s territorial integrity. This is conflicting.
  • While a population has the right to break off from the parent country, quick recognition of their claim would mean other nations is agreeing to the carving up of one country.
  • The right to self-determination was introduced when a few colonial powers were dominating most countries, and questions of right were relatively easier to settle.
  • Today, the issue becomes thorny and shapes up either as granting of greater autonomy to certain regions within a country, prolonged armed conflicts, or both.
  • Thus, though Taiwan says it is a country other nations defer to China’s feelings about it. Last year, Air India changed the name of Taiwan to Chinese Taipei on its website when China “raised concerns”.

Why UN recognition matters?

  • UN recognition means a new country has access to the World Bank, the IMF, etc. Its currency is recognised, which allows it to trade.
  • Often, UN member states recognise a country, but not the UN as a body.
  • This puts a country in the grey area with respect to protection against parent country’s aggression, and international trade.
  • By and large, so far, a country swinging the UN’s opinion in its favour has depended on how many of the big powers back it, and how much international clout its parent country wields at that time.
  • East Timor, then a Portuguese colony, was invaded by Indonesia in the 1960s. But the western powers then needed Indonesia as an ally against Russia, and East Timor’s woes didn’t get much attention.
  • By the 1990s, power alignments had changed, and East Timor managed to hold a referendum by 1999 and declare independence in 2002.

NITI Aayog’s Assessment

Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA)

Mains level : Not Much

Alcohol manufacturers citing a shortage of domestic supplies have sought a reduction in import duty of Extra Neutral Alcohol to make it cost-effective for them to import from global markets.

Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA)

  • Like ethanol, ENA is a byproduct of the sugar industry and is formed from molasses that are a residue of sugarcane processing.
  • It is the primary raw material for making alcoholic beverages.
  • It is colourless food-grade alcohol that does not have any impurities.
  • It has a neutral smell and taste and typically contains over 95 per cent alcohol by volume.
  • It is derived from different sources — sugarcane molasses and grains — and is used in the production of alcoholic beverages such as whisky, vodka, gin, cane, liqueurs, and alcoholic fruit beverages.

Uses of ENA

  • ENA also serves as an essential ingredient in the manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products such as perfumes, toiletries, hair spray, etc.
  • Given its properties as a good solvent, ENA also finds industrial use and is utilized in the production of some lacquers, paints and ink for the printing industry, as well as in pharmaceutical products such as antiseptics, drugs, syrups, medicated sprays.
  • Consultancy firm IMARC Group’s estimates put the ENA market in India at a volume of 2.9 billion litres in 2018.

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

[pib] Bharat Bond Exchange Traded Fund (ETF)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bharat Bond Exchange Traded Fund (ETF)

Mains level : Not Much

The Union Cabinet has given its approval for creation and launch of Bharat Bond Exchange Traded Fund (ETF).

Bharat Bond ETF

  • Bharat Bond ETF would be the first corporate Bond ETF in the country.
  • It aims to create an additional source of funding for Central Public Sector Undertakings (CPSUs) Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), Central Public Financial Institutions (CPFIs) and other Government organizations.
  • ETF will be a basket of bonds issued by CPSE/CPSU/CPFI/any other Government organization Bonds.
  1. Tradable on exchange
  2. Small unit size Rs 1,000
  3. Transparent NAV (Periodic live NAV during the day)
  4. Transparent Portfolio (Daily disclosure on website)
  5. Low cost (0.0005%)

Bharat Bond ETF Structure:

  • Each ETF will have a fixed maturity date
  • The ETF will track the underlying Index on risk replication basis, i.e. matching Credit Quality and Average Maturity of the Index
  • Will invest in a portfolio of bonds of CPSE, CPSU, CPFI or any other Government organizations that matures on or before the maturity date of the ETF
  • As of now, it will have 2 maturity series – 3 and 10 years. Each series will have a separate index of the same maturity series.

Index Methodology

  • Index will be constructed by an independent index provider – National Sock Exchange
  • Different indices tracking specific maturity years – 3 and 10 years

Benefits to investors

  • Bond ETF will provide safety (underlying bonds are issued by CPSEs and other Government owned entities), liquidity (tradability on exchange) and predictable tax efficient returns (target maturity structure).
  • It will also provide access to retail investors to invest in bonds with smaller amount (as low as Rs. 1,000) thereby providing easy and low-cost access to bond markets.
  • This will increase participation of retail investors who are currently not participating in bond markets due to liquidity and accessibility constraints.
  • Tax efficiency compared to Bonds as coupons from the Bonds are taxed at marginal rates. Bond ETFs are taxed with the benefit of indexation which significantly reduces the tax on capital gains for investor.

Benefits for CPSEs

  • Bond ETF would offer CPSEs, CPSUs, CPFIs and other Government organizations an additional source of meeting their borrowing requirements apart from bank financing.
  • It will expand their investor base through retail and HNI participation which can increase demand for their bonds. With increase in demand for their bonds, these issuers may be able to borrow at reduced cost thereby reducing their cost of borrowing over a period of time.
  • Further, Bond ETF trading on the exchange will help in better price discovery of the underlying bonds.
  • Since a broad debt calendar to assess the borrowing needs of the CPSEs would be prepared and approved each year, it would inculcate borrowing discipline in the CPSEs at least to the extent of this investment.

Indian Army Updates

Prithvi-2 missile


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Prithvi Missiles

Mains level : Integrated Guided Missile Development Program

India successfully conducted another night trial of its indigenously developed nuclear-capable Prithvi-2 missile as part of a user trial for the armed forces..


  • Prithvi-2 is capable of carrying 500-1,000 kilograms of warheads and is powered by liquid propulsion twin engines.
  • It has a strike range of 350 kilometres.
  • It uses an advanced inertial guidance system with manoeuvering trajectory to hit its target.


Prithvi Missiles

  • Prithvi is a tactical surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missile developed by DRDO of India under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program.
  • Prithvi was the first missile to be developed under the program. DRDO attempted to build a surface-to-air missile under Project Devil.
  • It is deployed by India’s Strategic Forces Command.
  • The Prithvi missile project encompassed developing three variants for use by the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy:
  1. Prithvi I (SS-150) – Army version (150 km (93 mi) range with a payload of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb))
  2. Prithvi II (SS-250) – Air Force version (350 km (220 mi)[4] range with a payload of 500 kg (1,100 lb))
  3. Prithvi III (SS-350) – Naval version (350 km (220 mi) range with a payload of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb))

Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] Close encounters: On faking anti-Naxal fight


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Human Rights violations by security forces


The Justice V.K. Agarwal judicial inquiry commission said that no evidence existed to support the claim that 17 people who died in the “encounter” in 2012, in three villages in Bijapur and Sukma districts were “Naxalites”. The security forces in Chhattisgarh have to live down this assertion.


    • In the official narration, two teams led by a DIG marched into the forests to outflank subversives in a meeting. It was met by gunfire. 
    • 17 Naxalites lay dead, and six uniformed personnel hurt. 
    • The commission found no evidence of a gunfight.
    • It held that firing had been one-sided beginning to end.

What it means

    • The findings catalog that truth can be subverted and buried by the very officers who are supposed to enforce the law. 
    • The commission puts it down to a disproportionate reaction from the anti-Naxal formation.

Botched up story

    • The findings make it clear that the entire operation was botched from the start by poor intelligence, inadequate training, lack of communication, and hasty reaction.
    • Postmortem reports showed injuries on 10 of those killed were on their backs.
    • This is not consistent with claims that firing had been in self-defense.
    • The nature and location of the injuries suggest that they were fired upon while fleeing. 
    • There were bullet shots on some of the heads from close quarters. 
    • There were injuries on the upper torsos caused by the butt of guns or rifles which show signs of physical assault. 
    • The cataloging and managing of the evidence of armaments such as guns and detonators suffered from imprecise documentation. 
    • There are signs of manipulation in the timing of injury and post-mortem reports in at least one case. 
    • The commission concluded that injuries sustained by the uniformed personnel were more likely caused through friendly fire. 


    • Training is to be imparted “to improve the mental fabric of security forces”.
    • It aims “to make them more balanced so that they act with equanimity and do not succumb to panic reaction even in a critical situation”. 
    • Ways must be found to initiate action against the officers involved in this unfortunate operation.