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January 2020

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

[op-ed snap] Horror in Kota


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2-Issues relating to development and management of Social sector/services relating to health,education, Human resources.


Death of 100 children in the month of December at a Government Hospital in Kota highlights the state of the public health system in India.

Public health as a political agenda

  • After the incident of a large number of children in such a short span, Rajasthan CM appealed not to politicise the issue.
  • But it is high time the issue is in fact politicised.
  • The issue of public health needs to be pushed at the top of the political agenda.
  • Citizens must hold political parties accountable for the state of healthcare in the country.

Poor infrastructure

  • Until the number of deaths crosses a certain threshold the poor state of infrastructure fails to attract the attention of the authorities.
  • This hospital came to light like Gorakhpur Medical college where scores of children had died only after media reports of 963 child deaths.


Every single death in a hospital ought to be seen as a failure that needs to be addressed urgently. For that, the government needs to make public health a priority.

The Crisis In The Middle East

[op-ed of the day]Bracing for global impact after Soleimani’s assassination


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much.

Mains level : Paper 2- International relations


The recent targeted killing of Commander of Quds Forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by the US raised the tension in the region to a new high level. The imminent blowback from Iran could have several consequences for the rest of the world including India.

Different from past killings

  • Though the U.S. has carried out many such targeted killings in the past but this case bears two important differences to the past killings.
  • Unlike Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr, Gen. Soleimani was a state actor.
  • Unlike the above mentioned two, he was not past his prime.

Roles played by Gen. Soleimani

  • He was the founder-commander of Iran’s Quds Force-formed for extra-territorial operations.
  • He enhanced Iran’s influence in the Arab countries by leveraging the disarray in the region.
  • Arab countries with a significant Shia population such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen came under Iranian influence.

What could be the fallouts

  • Tit-for-tat between Iran and the U.S. could easily go out of hand and precipitate into a major confrontation.
  • Both countries have domestic compulsions- there are elections due in both countries.
  • These compulsions limit options for both countries to low-intensity skirmishes.
  • The fact that the killing was carried on the Iraqi soil also assumes significance.
  • The incident could increase the problems in Iraq which is rocked by three months of youth protests against undue foreign interference by both Iran and the U.S.
  • The event is also likely to re-polarise the Iraqi society along sectarian lines.
  • In the worst-case scenario Iraq could turn into the new Syria.

Potential fallout for India

  • Global oil prices have already seen a 4% rise in within hours of the incident.
  • India has already faced difficulty in maintaining relations with both countries because of the U.S.-Iran cold war.
  • While we want to be on the right side of the U.S., our ties with Iran apart from being civilisational have their own geostrategic logic.
  • With conflict turning hot, its adverse impact on India could magnify.
  • High oil prices will definitely increase our import bill and increase difficulties in supplies.
  • Safety of an estimated 8 million expatriates in the Gulf may be affected.
  • Iran could influence the U.S.-Taliban peace process in Afghanistan which in turn increases India’s woes.
  • After Iran, India has a large number of Shia population and some of them could be radicalised due to the event.


The event, if turn into a wider conflict between the two countries, could have many consequences for India from soaring oil prices and maintaining the balance between the two countries to the safety of expatriates in the Gulf.

Tuberculosis Elimination Strategy

[op-ed snap]Eradication of TB by 2025


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2-Issues relating to development and management of social sector/ services relating to health, education, human resources.

At the End TB summit, 2018 the prime minister of India made a bold commitment to end tuberculosis by 2025-five years ahead of the global target. Which is possible to achieve if the efforts are put at the level it was done in case of polio.

The toll taken by TB

  • Despite the disease being fully curable, people still die from it.
  • TB usually affects people in their most productive years and drives families into debt.
  • It has a direct link to human suffering, discrimination and also poverty.
  • Due to its infectious spread, it directly affects our economic growth as well.
  • With resilience, sufficient investment, innovative approaches and strategies and the participation of all stakeholders, TB can be defeated.

First Step- Awareness

  • The first step is the creation of awareness and empowering of communities.
  • TB affects millions, yet very few know enough about it.
  • Multilingual, multi-stakeholder awareness effort to ensure that all Indians knows about the challenges of TB and where to seek treatment is required.
  • With the expansion of the media and evolving technology, it is possible to reach everyone with the right information.

Second Step- Access to diagnosis and treatment

  • Ensuring that every Indian get access to correct diagnosis and treatment for TB, regardless of their ability to pay for it is the second step.
  • To do so, working with the private sector is necessary as was done in the case of polio.
  • There are numerous innovative private-sector programmes and partnership schemes for TB.

Role of  Private sector

  • Recently launched programmes for doctors and labs offer the private sector various incentives.
  • Even today, about half a million TB cases go unnotified, especially those seeking care in the private sector.
  • Those cases need to be tracked and ensured that everyone in the need of treatment and care gets it.
  • Organisations like Indian Medical Association and Indian Academy of Paediatrics are working with the private sector to ensure patient-centric care as per “Standards of TB Care in India” (STCI).

Drug-resistant TB

  • A key challenge is building a forward-looking plan to address and control drug resistance.
  • Drug-resistant TB is a man-made menace that is a major roadblock in a fight against TB.
  • Every TB patient must be tested for drug resistance at the first point of care, whether in the public or private sector, to rule out any drug resistance.

Efforts by the government

  • Nikshay Poshan Yojana -in which TB patients receive Rs 500 every month while on treatment was launched.
  • Nikshay Poshan Yojana ensure that the patients have economic support and nutrition during the required period.
  • ‘TB Harega Desh Jeetega Campaign’ was launched to accelerate the efforts to end TB by 2025.
  • The campaign aims to initiate preventive and promotive health approaches.
  • By applying “multi-sectoral and community-led” approach, the government is building a national movement to end TB by 2025.
  • Resource allocation towards the TB Elimination Programme has been increased by four-fold.
  • Sincere efforts need to be made to make our health systems more accessible and reliable.
  • It also required to ensure that those seeking care trust the healthcare system and get the appropriate care for completing treatment.
  • There is a need to create more labs, point of care tests, an assured drug pipeline, access to new drugs.
  • The government should also ensure counselling and support for those affected.
  • Every patient who is diagnosed late and does not receive timely treatment continues to infect others.
  • To break this cycle, government machinery at the field level should work with communities and provide free diagnosis and treatment to every affected individual.


With all the efforts, planning and resource put in place to eradicate the menace of TB from India, it is possible to achieve the goal by 2025.

Wetland Conservation

India’s policies for ‘Urban Lakes’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Urban lakes in India

Mains level : Wetland conservation in India


  • Historically, cities were built along waterways or lakes.
  • Over time, human settlements near water bodies and lakes have transformed the natural environment into the towns and cities we see today.
  • Urban lakes are an important part of city ecosystems as they play a major role in providing environmental, social and economic services.

Famous Urban Lakes in India

Carambolim (Goa), Chilika (Odisha), Dal (Jammu and Kashmir), Deepor Beel (Assam), Khabartal (Bihar), Kolleru (Andhra Pradesh), Loktak (Manipur), Naini (Uttrakhand), Nalsarovar (Gujarat), and Vembanad (Kerala)

Threats to these Lakes

These lake ecosystems are presently endangered due to anthropogenic disturbances caused by Urbanisation as they have been heavily degraded due to pollution from disposal of untreated local sewage or due to encroachment, resulting in shrunken lakes.

Why conserve them?

  • Lakes in urban areas provide us with prime opportunities for recreation, tourism and domestic purposes.
  • They hold historical and traditional values and at places are a source of water supply for a municipality.
  • Appropriate lake function can ease the impact of floods and droughts by storing large amounts of water and releasing it during shortages.
  • Lakes also help in replenishing groundwater level as they are essential receptors for groundwater recharge, positively influencing water quality of downstream watercourses and preserving the biodiversity and habitat of the surrounding area.
  • Lakes in urban areas are also used as a source of water for industries, irrigation and agriculture.

Defining Urban Lakes

  • There is no specific definition for ‘urban lakes’ in India.
  • According to the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), a water body having a minimum depth of three metres, spread over more than 10 hectares, and having no or very little aquatic vegetation, is considered as a lake.

The definition provided by NLCP is based on broad hydrological and morphometry criteria of a lake:

  • The apparent definition of urban lakes seems to those located entirely within city limits (census town) and directly surrounded by urban developments, with some recreation facilities limited to the shoreline area (parks, playgrounds).


  • The lakes which are predominantly affected by urban human populations and their drainage basin is dominated by urbanisation, rather than geology, soils or agriculture. Such lakes are situated only partially within city limits, or attached but not necessarily surrounded, entirely by city development.

Issues with the definition

  • One of the obstacles for effective protection of these interlinked lakes in cities is the lack of a clear definition of an ‘urban lake’ in the Indian context.
  • The definition provided under the guideline of NLCP acknowledges only broad hydrological criteria to define a water body as a lake.
  • This definition ignores the fact that the water depth and spread keep changing every year, depending on various environmental factors.
  • In fact, there are very few urban lakes that fit into this definition since most of them occupy a small area (<10 ha), are seasonal and shallow.

Various policy measures

Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in 1974

  • Planning interventions for water bodies started as early as 1927.
  • In the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in 1974, directions were given to control the flow of sewage and industrial effluents into water bodies.

Ramsar Convention

  • The need for lake conservation was felt when India became a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 1982.
  • The Convention called for the conservation and wise use of wetlands (including water bodies).
  • Twenty-six Ramsar sites, covering an area of 689,000 ha, were identified in India.

National Wetland Conservation Programme

  • The Indian government operationalised the Programme in closed collaboration with concerned state governments during 1985-86 under the MoEFCC notification.
  • Recognising the importance of lakes, the Ministry launched NLCP, a centrally sponsored scheme exclusively aimed at restoring the water quality and ecology of lakes in different parts of the country.
  • Under the programme, 115 wetlands were identified, which required urgent conservation and management initiatives.
  • The selection of lakes was on hydrological (Lake size over 10 acres or 3 acres if of religious and cultural importance and lake depth more than three metres), scientific and administrative criteria.
  • The scheme was approved by the Union government during the Ninth Plan (June 2001) as 100 per cent central grant.
  • From 100 per cent central funding, the costs are now shared according to a ratio of 70:30 between the Union and the concerned state government.

Repair, Renovation and Restoration of Waterbodies’ Scheme

  • In continuation with the NLCP, the Centre had launched this Scheme in 2005,
  • The objectives of the scheme were comprehensive improvement and restoration of traditional waterbodies, including increasing tank storage capacity, ground water recharge, etc.

National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA)

  • Later, in 2016, the National Lake Conservation Plan was merged with National Wetlands Conservation Programme to form NPCA.
  • The principal objectives of NPCA are holistic conservation and the restoration of lakes and wetlands through an integrated and multidisciplinary approach with a common regulatory framework.
  • All lakes that were a part of NLCP, were brought under this scheme, and are being restored till date.

Why Urban Lakes still needs more attention?

  • Even after 26 years of pollution abatement works, only ten per cent of waste water generated in the country is treated.
  • The rest collects as cess pools or is discharged into the 14 major, 55 minor and several hundred other rivers.
  • It is quite clear that the overall status of quality of water in rivers, lakes and its links to groundwater has not been adequately addressed.
  • Out of the 43 Indian guidelines passed by the central and state government, 41 per cent of those talk about conservation and restoration of waterbodies but only 10 per cent exactly describe the conservative measure.
  • Only 22 per cent of the guidelines are on subjects related to policies to be adopted by state government, urban local bodies etc.
  • This clearly identifies the missing links and marks the future prospects that India should adopt for the preparation of better and sustainable lake management plans.

Need for a comprehensive Lake Management Plan

  • ‘Lake management planning’ is an approach for different stakeholders to come together with a common interest in improving and protecting their lake.
  • Focusing on planning process rather than quick-fix solutions makes lake rejuvenation a manageable process.
  • Moreover, it guides how time and resources are utilised, keeping future sustainability of the lake in account.  It includes:
  1. Encourages partnerships between concerned citizens, special interest groups, government body and water resources management practitioners
  2. Identifies the concerns regarding the catchment/watershed of the lake
  3. Sets realistic goals, objectives, and (short, medium and long-term) actions, and identifies needed funds and personnel.


  • Under the Jal Shakti mission and AMRUT, the revival /rejuvenation of water bodies is in piecemeal approach, with short-term measures like beautification, enhancing recreational activities, addressing immediate solid waste dumping into waterbody etc.
  • Although cities have initiated to work towards water bodies’ rejuvenation, the long-term approach is still missing.

Way Forward

  • Since a lake is a reflection of its catchment area, it is essential to first understand the significant changes or trends concerning the primary land uses within the catchment area / watershed draining into the lake.
  • There is no approach which defines the planning process for preparation of short, medium and long-term action plans for lake rejuvenation, considering its watershed area.
  • It is essential to have a document with clear understanding of the lake’s watershed area, with specific goals, objectives, producing time-bound action plans.
  • Conservation of Lakes and wetlands through an integrated and multidisciplinary approach with a common regulatory framework should be carried out.

Railway Reforms

Restructuring of the Railways Board


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Railways Board

Mains level : Read the attached story

The Cabinet recently approved trimming of the Railway Board, the powerful body that governs the Indian Railways. From nine, the Board will now have only five Members.

The move has led to protests from serving civil servants, prompting the Railway Board to reach out to them to allay their concerns.

What is the proposed restructure?

  • The Cabinet has decided to merge all central service cadres of Railways officers into a single Indian Railways Management Service (IRMS).
  • Now, any eligible officer could occupy any post, including Board Member posts, irrespective of training and specialization since they will all belong to IRMS.
  • The five members of the Board, other than a Chairman-cum-CEO, will now be the Members Infrastructure, Finance, Rolling Stock, Track, and Operations and Business Development.
  • The Board will also have independent Members, who will be industry experts with at least 30 years of experience, but in non-executive roles, only attending Board meetings.
  • A separate exam under the Union Public Service Commission is proposed to be instituted in 2021 to induct IRMS officers.

What is the present system like?

  • The Indian Railways is governed by a pool of officers, among whom engineers are recruited after the Indian Engineering Service Examination, and civil servants through the Civil Services Examination.
  • The civil servants are in the Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS), Indian Railway Accounts Service (IRAS) and Indian Railway Personnel Service (IRPS).
  • The engineers are in five technical service cadres — Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE), Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME), Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers (IRSEE), Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers (IRSSE) and the Indian Railway Stores Service (IRSS).
  • Until the 1950s, the Railways system was run by officers from just three main streams: Traffic, Civil Engineering, and Mechanical. The other streams emerged as separate services over time.

Why was the reform needed?

  • The railways departments were working “in silos” and hence the government wanted to end this inter-departmental rivalries, which was been hindering growth for decades.
  • Several committees including the Bibek Debroy committee in 2015 have noted that “departmentalism” is a major problem in the system.
  • Most committees have said merger of the services in some form would be a solution.
  • The Debroy report recommended merging of all services to create two distinct services: Technical and Logistics. But it did not say how to merge the existing officers.

Why are officers opposed to the move?

  • The questions started with a proposal to merge all 8,400 officers in the eight services — five technical and three non-technical — to prepare a common seniority list.
  • Those protesting the government’s decision say that the merger is unscientific and against established norms, because it proposes to merge two fundamentally dissimilar entities, with multiple disparities.
  • First, the civil servants come from all walks of life after clearing the Civil Services Examination.
  • The engineers usually sit for the Engineering Services Examination right after getting an engineering degree.
  • Various studies have noted that engineers join the Railways around the age of 22-23, while the civil servants join when they are around 26, barring exceptions.
  • The age difference starts to pinch at the later stages of their careers, when higher-grade posts are fewer. There are more engineers than civil servants.
  • Protesters are also saying that the merger is against the service conditions which civil servants sign up for while choosing an alternative if they cannot make it to IAS.

What will change with the restructure?

  • In inter-departmental seniority — a complex process to fix, which has led to court cases in the past — problems arise when different services compete for posts that are open to all.
  • those of Divisional Railway Managers (DRMs), GMs, and subsequently, the Chairman Railway Board. And here lies the major criticism of the move.
  • The civil servants are saying that if all present cadres are merged and even higher departmental posts become open to all, engineers, being in larger numbers and of a certain age profile, may end up occupying most posts.
  • Another aspect is the suitability of jobs. The move, many say, emerges from the “simplistic” belief that while non-technical specialists cannot do technical jobs, technocrats can do both.
  • The counter-argument is that civil servants in government, by virtue of the screening process and subsequent training, possess acumen and skills that go beyond academic specialization.

How did the Railways get here?

  • Departmental posts are ring-fenced; promotions happen within each department from officers of that service.
  • The problem starts when, within a department, there are too many officers eligible for a few posts.
  • A department needs a constant supply of posts in higher grades to keep promoting its seniors so that the juniors can keep getting timely promotions.
  • In the Railways, this has happened either organically when the government restructured the cadres and created new posts at intervals of several years, or through the execution of projects.
  • Across the Railways, the internal attempt by each department has always been to get a bigger share of resources to spend on projects, although the limited funds are meant for all.
  • The departments grew, promotional prospects expanded, even if Railways did not. The “temporary” posts were almost never surrendered, and were “regularised” over time.
  • This was most prevalent in the technical departments and, to an extent, in the Accounts department as well, officials say.

What’s next?

  • The current demand is for two distinct services instead of one — a civil services, and one that encompasses all engineering specialisations.
  • The logic is that functionally, departments will continue to exist through various technical and non-technical specialisations, so merging them will not end departmentalism per se.
  • The government has on record assured all existing officers that no one’s seniority will be hampered and promotion prospects will be protected.

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

Savitribai Phule’s impact on women’s education in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule and thier legacy

Mains level : Pioneers of women education in the colonial India

Yesterday, January 3rd was birth anniversary of one of India’s first modern feminists and a social reformer Savitribai Phule. She is especially remembered for being India’s first female teacher who worked for the upliftment of women and untouchables in the field of education and literacy.

Who was Savitribai Phule?

  • Phule was born in Naigaon, Maharashtra in 1831 and married activist and social-reformer Jyotirao Phule when she was nine years old.
  • After marriage, with her husband’s support, Phule learned to read and write and both of them eventually went on to found India’s first school for girls called Bhide Wada in Pune in 1948.
  • Before this, she started a school with Jyotirao’s cousin Saganbai in Maharwada in 1847.
  • Since at that time the idea of teaching girls was considered to be a radical one, people would often throw dung and stones at her as she made her way to the school.
  • Significantly, it was not easy for the Phule’s to advocate for the education of women and the untouchables since in Maharashtra a nationalist discourse was playing out between 1881-1920 led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • These nationalists including Tilak opposed the setting up of schools for girls and non-Brahmins citing loss of nationality.

Her work

  • Essentially, both Jyotirao and Savitribai recognised that education was one of the central planks through which women and the depressed classes could become empowered and hope to stand on an equal footing with the rest of the society.
  • The Phules started the Literacy Mission in India between 1854-55.
  • They started the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society for Truth-Seeking), through which they wanted to initiate the practice of Satyashodhak marriage, in which no dowry was taken.
  • Because of the role played in the field of women’s education, she is also considered to be one of the “crusaders of gender justice”.
  • Her books of poems “Kavya Phule” and “Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar” were published in 1934 and 1982.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Turtle rehab centre in Bhagalpur, Bihar


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Op Save Kurma

Mains level : Wildlife conservation in India

A first-of-its-kind rehabilitation centre for freshwater turtles will be inaugurated in Bihar’s Bhagalpur forest division in January 2020.

About the rehab centre

  • The centre, spread over half a hectare, will be able to shelter 500 turtles at a time.
  • Earlier, rescued turtles were released into rivers without much treatment in the absence of any facility.
  • In the rehab centre they will be properly monitored before being released in their natural habitat.

Why need such centre?

  • The need to build such a centre was felt after several turtles were found severely wounded and sick when rescued from smuggles by rescue teams.
  • This centre will play a significant role in treating these animals and their proper upkeep before being returned to their natural habitat.

Why Bhagalpur?

  • Eastern Bihar has been an ideal breeding ground for turtles.
  • In Bhagalpur, the flow of water in the Ganga is ample. Also, there are many sandbanks in the middle of the river, which are ideal breeding ground for turtles.

Significance of turtles

  • According to environmentalists, the turtles play a significant role in the river by scavenging dead organic materials and diseased fish.
  • They control fish population by their predation and control aquatic plants and weeds.
  • They are also described as indicators of healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Various threats

  • According to a recent study conducted by Traffic India, around 11,000 turtles are being smuggled in India every year. In the past 10 years, as many as 110,000 turtles have been traded.
  • These species are now under severe threats due to habitat fragmentation and loss through dams and barrages, pollution, illegal poaching, accidental drowning through fishing nets and threats to their nesting habitats etc.
  • The turtles have come under serious threat primarily for two reasons — food and the flourishing pet trade.
  • Turtles are being frequently targeted for meat due to the prevailing belief that it gives an energy boost and keeps various diseases away.


Operation Save Kurma

  • It is a periodic species specific operation on turtles conducted by Wildlife Crimes Control Bureau since 2017.
  • Under this, a total of 15,739 live turtles were recovered from 45 suspects, having inter-state linkages.
  • It helped the enforcement agencies to focus on the existing trade routes and major trade hubs in the country, which will be continued in future.

Textile Sector – Cotton, Jute, Wool, Silk, Handloom, etc.

[pib] Patola Saree


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Patola Saree

Mains level : Promoting Khadi and village industries

In a historic initiative taken by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), a first Silk Processing Plant was inaugurated at Surendranagar in Gujarat.

It would help cut down the cost of production of silk yarn drastically and increase the sale and availability of raw material for Gujarati Patola Sarees.

Patola Sarees

  • Patola is a double ikat (dying technique) woven sari, usually made from silk made in Patan, Gujarat.
  • They are very expensive, once worn only by those belonging to royal and aristocratic families. These saris are popular among those who can afford the high prices.
  • Reason being the raw material silk yarn is purchased from Karnataka or West Bengal, where silk processing units are situated, thus increasing the cost of the fabric manifolds.
  • Patola-weaving is a closely guarded family tradition. There are three families in Patan that weave these highly prized double ikat saris.
  • It can take six months to one year to make one sari due to the long process of dying each strand separately before weaving them together.