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December 2019

WTO and India

Explained: WTO’s dispute settlements mechanism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WTO

Mains level : India and its outstanding issues with WTO

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) dispute settlement mechanism is on the brink of collapsing.Of the three members currently on the seven-member body, the terms of two end today.

Issues with the WTO Appellate Body

  • The Appellate Body, set up in 1995, is the standing committee that presides over appeals against judgments passed in trade-related disputes brought by WTO members.
  • Over the last couple of years, the membership of the body has declined to three persons instead of the required seven.
  • US has blocked the appointments of new members, and the reappointments of members who had completed their four-year tenures.
  • It believes the WTO is biased against it, and has criticised it for being “unfair”.
  • Over 20 developing countries met in New Delhi in the summer to discuss ways to prevent the WTO’s dispute resolution system from collapsing all together. Their efforts have not produced the desired results.

Why in news?

  • This dispute settlement mechanism of WTO requires at least three members to function.
  • But with no members, world trade is about to enter a phase in which there will be no official resolution for many international disputes — potentially creating the circumstances for a free-for-all.
  • It could also signal the demise of the 24-year-old WTO itself.

How has the shortage of members impacted the working of the Appellate Body?

  • The three members have been proceeding on all appeals filed since October 1, 2018.
  • India has been impacted directly as a result of this situation.
  • In February 2019, the body said it would be unable to staff an appeal in a dispute between Japan and India over certain safeguard measures that India had imposed on imports of iron and steel products.
  • The panel had found that India had acted “inconsistently” with some WTO agreements.
  • Though India had notified the Dispute Settlement Body of its decision to appeal certain issues of law and legal interpretations in December 2018.
  • While the US is directly involved in more disputes than other WTO member countries, several countries — including India — enter disputes as third parties.

Trump being Trump: Yet again

  • Trump sees the WTO — which seeks to ensure equal treatment for all its members — as standing in the way of “America First”, tying its hands when it tries to protect American workers or seeks to effectively employ the advantages of being the world’s most powerful economy.
  • Trump supporters believe the WTO has encouraged China — helping it to strengthen its economy at the cost of other nations including the US, while doing nothing about the unfair trade practices that it uses widely.

What lies ahead?

  • The WTO’s dispute settlement procedure is seen as being vital to ensuring smooth international trade flows. The Appellate Body has so far issued 152 reports.
  • The reports, once adopted by the WTO’s disputes settlement body, are final and binding on the parties.
  • There is now great uncertainty over the dispute settlement process.
  • Once the body becomes non-functional, countries may be compelled to implement rulings by the panel even if they feel that gross errors have been committed.
  • A country which refuse to comply with the order of the panel on the ground that it has no avenue for appeal may run the risk of facing arbitration proceedings initiated by the other party in dispute.

Implications for India

  • This does not bode well for India, which is facing a rising number of dispute cases, especially on agricultural products.
  • In the last few months alone, four cases have been brought to the WTO against India’s alleged support measures for its sugar and sugarcane producers.



  • The WTO is an intergovernmental organization that is concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations.
  • The WTO officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 123 nations on 15 April 1994.
  • It replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948.
  • It is the largest international economic organization in the world.

Functions of WTO

  • The WTO deals with regulation of trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries.
  • It provides a framework for negotiating trade agreements and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants’ adherence to WTO agreements, which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments.

Human Development Report by UNDP

Human Development Report (HDR) 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Human Development Index (HDI)

Mains level : India's performance in HDR and various pulling factors

The Human Development Report (HDR) for 2019 has been released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Global scene

  • Norway, Switzerland, Ireland occupied the top three positions in that order.
  • Germany is placed fourth along with Hong Kong, and Australia secured the fifth rank on the global ranking.
  • Among India’s neighbours, Sri Lanka (71) and China (85) are higher up the rank scale while Bhutan (134), Bangladesh (135), Myanmar (145), Nepal (147), Pakistan (152) and Afghanistan (170) were ranked lower on the list.

India’s performance

  • India ranks 129 out of 189 countries on the 2019 HDI — up one slot from the 130th position last year.
  • India’s HDI value increased by 50% (from 0.431 to 0.647), which places it above the average for other South Asian countries (0.642).
  • However, for inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI), India’s position drops by one position to 130, losing nearly half the progress (.647 to .477) made in the past 30 years. The IHDI indicates percentage loss in HDI due to inequalities.

46% growth in S.Asia

  • As per the report, South Asia was the fastest growing region in human development progress witnessing a 46% growth over 1990-2018.
  • It is followed by East Asia and the Pacific at 43%.

Gender inequality

  • The report notes that group-based inequalities persist, especially affecting women and girls and no place in the world has gender equality.
  • In the Gender Inequality Index (GII), India is at 122 out of 162 countries. Neighbours China (39), Sri Lanka (86), Bhutan (99), Myanmar (106) were placed above India.
  • The report notes that the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030 as per the UN’s SDGs.
  • It forecasts that it may take 202 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity — one of the three indicators of the GII.

New inequalities on rise

  • The report presents a new index indicating how prejudices and social beliefs obstruct gender equality, which shows that only 14% of women and 10% of men worldwide have no gender bias.
  • The report notes that this indicates a backlash to women’s empowerment as these biases have shown a growth especially in areas where more power is involved, including in India.
  • The report also highlights that new forms of inequalities will manifest in future through climate change and technological transformation which have the potential to deepen existing social and economic fault lines.


Human Development Index (HDI)

  • It is a statistical tool used to measure a country’s overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions. The social and economic dimensions of a country are based on the health of people, their level of education attainment and their standard of living.
  • Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq created HDI in 1990 which was further used to measure the country’s development by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
  • Calculation of the index combines four major indicators: life expectancy for health, expected years of schooling, mean of years of schooling for education and GNI per capita for standard of living.
  • Every year UNDP ranks countries based on the HDI report released in their annual report.
  • HDI is one of the best tools to keep track of the level of development of a country, as it combines all major social and economic indicators that are responsible for economic development.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

The New Seeds Bill, 2019


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Salient features of The New Seeds Bill, 2019

Govt plans to change existing law to ensure availability of quality seeds to farmers with a proposed Bill to replace The Seeds Act, 1966

The New Seeds Bill, 2019

  • The new Seeds Bill, 2019 provides for compulsory registration of “any kind or variety of seeds” that are sought to be sold.
  • According to Section 14 of the draft Bill, “no seed of any kind or variety… shall, for the purpose of sowing or planting by any person, be sold unless such kind or variety is registered”.
  • In other words, even hybrids/varieties of private companies will need to be registered, and their seeds would have to meet the minimum prescribed standards relating to germination, physical and genetic purity, etc.
  • Breeders would be required to disclose the “expected performance” of their registered varieties “under given conditions”.
  • If the seed of such registered kind or variety “fails to provide the expected performance under such given conditions”, the farmer “may claim compensation from the producer, dealer, distributor or vendor under The Consumer Protection Act, 1986”.

Why need such a bill?

  • The 1966 Act only covers “notified kinds or varieties of seeds”.
  • Thus, regulation of quality, too, is limited to the seeds of varieties that have been officially notified.
  • Such varieties would be mostly those that are bred by public sector institutions — the likes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the state agricultural universities (SAUs).
  • And the provisions of The Seeds Act, 1966, apply only to certified seeds produced of notified varieties.

What is the context for bringing the Bill?

  • The 1966 legislation was enacted at the time of the Green Revolution when the country hardly had any private seed industry.
  • The high-yielding wheat and paddy varieties, which made India self-reliant in cereals by the 1980s, were developed by the various ICAR institutes and SAUs.
  • These public sector institutions have retained their dominance in breeding of wheat, paddy (including basmati), sugarcane, pulses, soyabean, groundnut, mustard, potato, onion and other crops.
  • Over the last three decades or more, however, private companies and MNCs have made significant inroads, particularly into crops that are amenable to hybridization.
  • Their seeds are first-generation hybrids produced by crossing two genetically diverse plants, and whose yields tend to be higher than that of either of the parents; the grains from these, even if saved as re-used as seed, will not give the same “F1” vigour.

So, are privately-bred hybrids not covered under any regulation?

  • The current Seeds Act, as already noted, applies only to notified varieties. Also, unless a variety or hybrid is notified, its seeds cannot be certified.
  • Most of the private hybrids marketed in India, by virtue of not being officially “released”, are neither “notified” nor “certified”. Instead, they are “truthful labeled”.
  • The companies selling them simply state that the seeds inside the packets have a minimum germination (if 100 are sown, at least 75-80, say, will produce plants), genetic purity and physical purity (proportion of non-contamination by other crop/weed seeds or inert matter).

How does the proposed Seeds Bill, 2019 address the above lacuna?

  • It does away with the concept of “notified” variety.
  • By providing for compulsory registration of “any kind or variety of seeds”, private hybrids — whether officially “released” or “truthful labeled” — will automatically be brought under regulatory purview.
  • It must be mentioned here that the Seeds (Control) Amendment Order of 2006 under the Essential Commodities Act mandates dealers to ensure minimum standards of germination, purity, and other quality parameters even in respect of “other than notified kind or variety of seeds”.
  • Enforcing mandatory registration under a new Seed Act, encompassing all varieties and hybrids, is expected to bring greater accountability from the industry, even while rendering the Seeds Control Order redundant.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] Per Capita availability of Water


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM)

Mains level : Ensuring safe drinking water for all

The per capita availability of water in India is reducing due to the increase in population.

Water availability per person

  • The average annual per capita water availability in the years 2001 and 2011 was assessed as 1816 cubic meters and 1545 cubic meters
  • It may further reduce to 1486 cubic meters in the year 2021.

About Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM)

  • The govt. has launched Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), which aims at providing functional household tap connections to every rural household by 2024 at the service level of 55 litre per capita per day.
  • This mission will focus on integrated demand and supply side management of water at the local level, including creation of local infrastructure for source sustainability like rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge and management of household wastewater for reuse in agriculture.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme (NAQUIM)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NAQUIM

Mains level : Acquifer mapping in India

Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) is implementing ‘National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme’ (NAQUIM) for aquifer mapping in the country.


  • Water being a State subject, initiatives on water management including conservation and artificial recharge to ground water in the Country is primarily States’ responsibility.
  • The NAQUIM is one such initiative of the Ministry of Jal Shakti for mapping and managing the entire aquifer systems in the country.
  • The vision is to identify and map aquifers at the micro level, to quantify the available groundwater resources, and to propose plans appropriate to the scale of demand and aquifer characteristics, and institutional arrangements for participatory management.

Highlights of the mapping

  • Out of the total mappable area of nearly 25 lakh sq km, so far aquifer maps and management plans have been prepared for an area of nearly 11.24 lakh sq km spread over various parts of the country.
  • As per the ground water resource assessment carried out jointly by CGWB and State ground water departments, 1186 assessment units in the country have been categorized as over-exploited, of which aquifer mapping has been completed in nearly 75% Units.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

[op-ed snap] Lethal misgovernance: On Anaj Mandi fire tragedy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Fire Safety in India


The deadly fire at an unregistered bag factory in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi area killed 43 workers.

Worker Safety

  • This is a reminder that for every big industrial unit shown as evidence of an emerging power, there are scores of ratholes in which workers toil under crushing, dangerous conditions. 
  • Poorly paid laborers live and work in several residential buildings turned into unregistered factories. 
  • Most of them came from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and virtually slept at night next to the machines they worked on. 
  • If the probe confirms that the victims were locked in and obstructed by materials stacked on staircases, the culpability of the respondents would be enormously higher. 
  • Several people could escape through the narrow approach to the stricken building and a mass of tangled wires. 
  • Though the owner and the manager have been arrested, administrative agencies cannot escape responsibility for allowing the factory and other such units to function illegally, without safety audits.

State of Fire safety – Governance

  • This is the third deadliest building fire in the national capital in two decades.
  • Delhi’s Chief Minister has been blaming the lack of complete authority and obstruction by the Centre for his party not being able to deliver on a broader development agenda. 
  • Public safety cannot be allowed to fall victim to this irresponsible wrangling.
  • A reason for the chaotic urban development is the compact arrived between governments and violators. 
  • This allows rezoning to accommodate illegal commercial establishments in residential zones, weak enforcement of regulations and post facto regularisation of illegalities.
  • The culpability of building owners, as in the Uphaar Cinema case, has not been dealt with sternly.

Way ahead

  • Political parties, civil society, and government must chart a new plan to make the older, built-up areas safe. 
  • The Supreme Court of India has come down on municipal authorities in Delhi in the past for this.
  • Rules under the new occupational safety code must be strong enough to protect workers. 
  • Less government and lax enforcement is bad policy.

Citizenship and Related Issues

[op-ed snap] Unequal, unsecular: On Citizenship Amendment Bill


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Citizenship Amendment Bill

Mains level : Analysis of the provisions


The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (CAB), is discriminatory and its constitutionality has to be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny. 

Passing of the bill

  • The government went ahead with it, despite opposition in Parliament, as well as from enlightened sections. 
  • The proposed amendment singles out a community for hostile treatment. 
  • The Bill chooses to open its citizenship door to non-Muslims from three nations with a Muslim majority — Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. 


  • It provides an opportunity for members of minority communities from these countries who had entered India prior to December 31, 2014, to apply for citizenship through naturalisation. 
  • The residential requirement for this category for naturalisation is reduced from 11 years to five. 
  • The Bill avoids the words ‘persecuted minorities’. The Statement of Objects and Reasons says, “many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religions” in these three countries. 
  • The Home Ministry notifications in 2015-2016 had exempted these undocumented migrants from the adverse penal consequences under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and the Foreigners’ Act, 1946. It refers to this notification.
  • The CAB creates a category of people on the basis of their religion and renders them eligible for its beneficial effects.

Arguments against it

  • It will not extend to those persecuted in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, from where Rohingya Muslims and Tamils are staying in the country as refugees. 
  • It fails to allow Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims, who also face persecution, to apply for citizenship. 
  • CAB’s provisions do not apply to tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, and the Inner Line Permit areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Mizoram. 
  • The main provisions fail to do careful and meaningful categorisation. 


  • The central feature of the equal protection of the law in Article 14 is that the basis for classifying a group for a particular kind of treatment should bear a rational nexus with the overall objective. 
  • If protecting persecuted neighborhood minorities is the objective, the classification may fail the test of constitutionality because of the exclusion of some countries and communities using religion.


Back in debate: The Citizenship Amendment Bill