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January 2020

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed of the day]Spotting an opportunity in changing fundamentals


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2-Effects of politics and policies of developed and developing countries on India's interest, Indian diaspora.

“Phase one” of the trade deal between the U.S. and China notwithstanding, the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and China and other changing scenarios could turn out opportunities in various forms for India.

Oil prices windfall

  • Slack demand and increased production by the U.S., had lowered oil prices which was good news for India.
  • It could also help India address its current account deficit.
  • But oil prices have surged more than 4% following the killing of Iranian general by the U.S.
  • An outbreak of hostilities could send the oil prices soaring.
  • India’s energy import from the U.S. is likely to touch $10 bn by 2019-20.
  • While China is increasing its stake in Saudi Aramco- one of the largest oil production company in the world.
  • China is also increasing its ties with the other oil producers which gives China the opportunity to increase its naval presence in the Indian Ocean increasing the Strait of Hormuz.

On trade front

  • According to the State Bank of India report-Ecowrap, India has scarcely benefited from the trade war.
  • Of the $35bn decline in China’s export to the U.S. $21bn was diverted to the other countries and the rest $14bn was made good by the U.S. producers.
  • India contributed only $755-million of this diversion.
  • The U.S. tariff made some other players-Mexico, Taiwan, Vietnam even more competitive.
  • China is facing pork shortage but India exports pork indirectly through Vietnam, increasing its cost and reducing market share.
  • China’s thrust on the AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles, and space technology has raised the U.S. suspicion, raising the prospects of high-tech war.
  • The big three Chines high-tech companies, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent together invested $5bn in India.
  • India could use this opportunity to insist China open its market for the IT sector and other tech exports.
  • India has allowed all the players including Huawei to participate in the 5G trials but the outcomes are far from over.
  • With all that said, the U.S.-China tensions drive supply chains out of China, with the right policies as Vietnam has done, India could emerge as an alternative destination.
  • Restriction by the U.S. on  China could lead to difficulties in reducing emissions and mitigate climate change in China.
  • Restrictions on technology export often lead to an increase in domestic research.
  • So, China could succeed in developing all the technologies that are denied to it by the U.S. under the restrictions.
  • With the protests in Hong Kong showing no signs of abating, India may have to cater to refugees of Indian origin if things turn uglier.

Key regional issues

  • The situation in the South China Sea is in favour of China as it already has occupied several of them.
  • Though India is a member of “Quad” dialogue on border issues, it has no role in negotiating the “Code of Conduct” with the ASEAN.
  • On the connectivity issues, the U.S. position is helpful for India. Recently the U.S. criticised China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
  • India is not a member of the Indo-Pacific Business Forum created by the U.S., Japan, and Australia.
  • India is also not a member of Blue Dot network created by the U.S., Japan, and Australia.
  • In future India might have to reconcile its regional connectivity issues with BRI projects that have mushroomed in the region.
  • On the ideological fronts, China is so emboldened by its economic success that it seeks to challenge the liberal democratic model and offers an alternative based on its own system.
  • India might have to contend with the greater Chinese presence in the Asia-Pacific theatre.


India’s relations with the U.S. and Chinas growing influence in economic as well as all the other sphere represents multiple challenges for India and are likely to grow in the future.

Citizenship and Related Issues

[op-ed snap]Secularism’s Brexit moment


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 1-Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism and secularism.



In India, the debate on the issue of secularism needs to be based on a more principled and practical basis.

Change in public discourse

  • Popular skepticism of secularism has been growing these days.
  • Secularism is being increasingly discounted not only by the hardliners but also by the moderate middle.
  • It is no longer taboo to raise questions that were formerly the preserve of the fringe.
  • Today, democracy is taken for granted by all the Indians. No one raises questions over its utility.
  • Secularism need to be elevated to the same level as is the democracy today, where no one raises the question on its utility.

What are the issues with the defenders of secularism?

  • Rather than make case for secularism, its champions indulge in name-calling and citing the example from the past to tarnish and shut down critics.
  • They also cite the Constitution in their support-without realising that it is this very document’s secular thrust that has became suspect.
  • They also assume the obvious correctness of their cosmopolitan worldview.

What changes need to be made?

  • They must make a case for secularism anew-principled and practical.
  • On principled basis-individual equality, freedom of conscience and personal habits.
  • On a practical basis-no country can flourish by degrading their minority.
  • They must stress the India’s plurality and “live and let live” culture, syncretic traditions and long history of respect and accommodation of differences.
  • They also need to show some humility.
  • They also have to show openness to fair-minded criticism.


These suggestions are urgently needed to be followed by those arguing in the defence of secularism otherwise there is a very real possibility of a large section of a society losing faith in secularism. In this anxious hours India needs to engage in open and self-critical debate-rather than polarising polemic.




Food Procurement and Distribution – PDS & NFSA, Shanta Kumar Committee, FCI restructuring, Buffer stock, etc.

[op-ed snap]Lifting growth, containing inflation


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices, Public Distribution System- Objectives, functioning, limitations,revamping, issues of buffer stocks, and food security, Technology missions, economics of animal rearing.


There is a large scope for  the improvement in the efficiency of grain management system under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Declining Agri-sector growth rate

  • India’s growth rate plummeted to 4.5 per cent in the second quarter of this fiscal.
  • The quarterly growth in GDPA (agri-GDP) is hovering at around 2 percent, it is a cause for great concern.
  • Agriculture still engages about 44 per cent of India’s workforce, which has serious consequences for the overall economy of the country.

The bleak picture of the economy

  • Recently inflation has started to surge after a long time.
  • Inflation is led by the different components of the food segment- cereals, pulses, and vegetables.
  • There is a challenge of containing inflation and increasing the demand at the same time.
  • At the same time, there is also the challenge of maintaining the fiscal deficit by 3.3 %.
  • Recently Finance minister has launched an investment package of 102 lakh crores.
  • So, there is a need to take a look at the inefficiencies in food grain management.

Inefficiencies in NFSA

  • It supplies a certain quantity of wheat and rice to 67 percent population.
  • It gives wheat at Rs. 2/kg and rice at Rs. 3/kg.
  • While the cost of these grains to FCI is at Rs. 25/kg and Rs. 35/kg respectively.
  • This led to the provision of Rs 1.84 lakh crores for food subsidy.
  • The buffer stocks with the FCI is far more than double the buffer stock norms as on January 1 every year.
  • This excess stock is the result of an inefficient strategy for food management.
  • The strategy where the procurement of these grains is open-ended while the disbursement is restricted.
  • The money locked in these excess stock is about 1 lakh crores.
  • If the rabi season procurement is good FCI may run out of storage space to accommodate.

Suggestions for improvement

  • The open market operation should be increased.
  • Even if the government liquidate half of the excess stock it would fetch Rs.50,000 crores.
  • The Shanta Kumar panel had submitted the blueprint for the improvement in the grain management system.
  • Only three reiterations are needed.
  • First-while the Antyodaya category should keep getting the maximum food subsidy, the issue price should be fixed at 50% of the procurement for the rest.
  • Second- restrict the percentage of population covered under the scheme to 40 % from the present 67%
  • Third-stop the procurement of rice in the north-western states of Punjab and Haryana where the water table is depleting.


  • If the government implements these three points it can save the country another Rs. 50,000 crores annually. On top of this, it will help the government to reduce its fiscal deficit.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Miyawaki Method


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Miyawaki Method

Mains level : Miyawaki Method of Afforestation

Kerala Forest Dept. has adopted Miyawaki afforestation concept to be used in govt. offices, schools and puramboke land.

Miyawaki Method

  • Miyawaki method is a method of urban afforestation by turning backyards into mini-forests.
  • It includes planting trees as close as possible in the same area which not only saves space, but the planted saplings also support each other in growth and block sunlight reaching the ground, thereby preventing the growth of weed.
  • Thus the saplings become maintenance-free (self sustainable) after the first three years.
  • It helps to create a forest in just 20 to 30 years while through conventional methods it takes anywhere between 200 to 300 years.

The technique

  • The native trees of the region are identified and divided into four layers — shrub, sub-tree, tree, and canopy.
  • The quality of soil is analysed and biomass which would help enhance the perforation capacity, water retention capacity, and nutrients in it, is mixed with it.
  • A mound is built with the soil and the seeds are planted at a very high density — three to five sapling per square meter.
  • The ground is covered with a thick layer of mulch.

Air Pollution

Smog Tower


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Smog Tower, PM 2.5

Mains level : Curbing air pollution in Delhi

Recently New Delhi got its first smog tower (a prototype air purifier). In November, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre and the Delhi government to prepare a plan to install ‘smog towers’ across the capital to deal with air pollution.

What is a ‘Smog Tower’?

  • Smog towers are structures designed to work as large-scale air purifiers.
  • They are usually fitted with multiple layers of air filters, which clean the air of pollutants as it passes through them.
  • The smog tower installed at Lajpat Nagar is capable of treating 6,00,000 cubic metres of air per day and can collect more than 75 per cent of particulate matters (PM) 2.5 and 10.
  • After the cleaning, the tower releases clean air.
  • The project is collaboration between the IIT Bombay, IIT-Delhi and the University of Minnesota, the latter having helped design a similar tower of over 100 metres in China’s Xi’an city.
  • The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) will also be involved with the project.

How it works?

  • The 20-metre (65 feet) high tower will trap particulate matter of all sizes suspended in the air.
  • Large-scale air filters shall draw in the air through fans installed at the top before passing it through the filters and releasing it near the ground.
  • The filters installed in the tower will use carbon nanofibres as a major component and will be fitted along its peripheries. The tower will focus on reducing particulate matter load.

Other examples in the world

  • China, which has been battling air pollution for years, has two smog towers — in its capital Beijing and in the northern city of Xi’an.
  • The Xi’an tower is dubbed the world’s largest, and has reportedly brought down PM 2.5 by 19% in an area of around 6 sq km in its vicinity.
  • The 100-metre (328 feet) high tower has produced 10 million cubic metres of clean air every day since its launch.
  • On severely polluted days the tower is able to bring down smog close to moderate levels.



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Drosophila

Mains level : Not Much

Pune is set to host the fifth edition of the Asia Pacific Drosophila Research Conference (APDRC5) is being organised in the country for the first time by the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER).


  • Drosophila is a genus of two-winged flies commonly known as fruit flies that are used in evolutionary and developmental studies.
  • It is a genus of flies, belonging to the family Drosophilidae, whose members are often called “small fruit flies” or pomace flies, vinegar flies, or wine flies, a reference to the characteristic of many species to linger around overripe or rotting fruit.
  • It is one of the most widely-used and preferred model organisms in biological research across the world for the last 100 years.
  • Several discoveries in biology have been made using this. Its genome is entirely sequenced and there is enormous information available about its biochemistry, physiology and behaviour.

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

Carbon Stock in Indian forests


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Carbon Stock

Mains level : India's INDC

  • The State of Forest Report (SFR) 2019 has shown an increase in the carbon stock trapped in Indian forests in the last two years.
  • However it shows why it is going to be an uphill task for India in meeting one of its international obligations on climate change.

India’s carbon commitment

  • India, as part of its contribution to the global fight against climate change, has committed itself to creating an “additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent” by 2030.
  • That is one of the three targets India has set for itself in its climate action plan, called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, that every country has to submit under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
  • The other two relate to an improvement in emissions intensity and an increase in renewable energy deployment.
  • India has said it would reduce its emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) by 33% to 35% by 2030 compared to 2005.
  • It has also promised to ensure that at least 40% of its cumulative electricity generation in 2030 would be done through renewable energy.

What is the relationship between forests and carbon?

  • Forests, by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the process of photosynthesis, act as a natural sink of carbon.
  • Together with oceans, forests absorb nearly half of global annual carbon dioxide emissions.
  • In fact, the carbon currently stored in the forests exceeds all the carbon emitted in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial age.
  • An increase in the forest area is thus one of the most effective ways of reducing the emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere every year.

How do the latest forest data translate into carbon equivalent?

  • The latest forest survey shows that the carbon stock in India’s forests (not including tree cover outside of forest areas) have increased from 7.08 billion tonnes in 2017.
  • This translates into 26.14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent as of now.
  • It is estimated that India’s tree cover outside of forests would contribute another couple of billion of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

How challenging does this make it for India in meeting its target?

  • An assessment by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) last year had projected that, by 2030, the carbon stock in forests as well as tree cover was likely to reach 31.87 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
  • An additional 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of sink, as India has promised to do, would mean taking the size of the sink close to 35 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
  • Considering the rate of growth of the carbon sink in the last few years, that is quite a stiff target India has set for itself.
  • In the last two years, the carbon sink has grown by just about 0.6%%. Even compared to 2005, the size of carbon sink has increased by barely 7.5%.
  • To meet its NDC target, even with most optimistic estimates of carbon stock trapped in trees outside of forest areas, the sink has to grow by at least 15% to 20% over the next ten-year period.

Way Forward

  • There are two key decisions to be made in this regard — selection of the baseline year, and addition of the contribution of the agriculture sector to carbon sink.
  • When India announced its NDC in 2015, it did not mention the baseline year.
  • India’s emissions intensity target uses a 2005 baseline, so there is an argument that the forest target should also have the same baseline.
  • But there is a strong demand for a 2015 baseline as well, so that it results in some concrete progress in adding new forest cover.
  • The NDC specifically mentions that and “additional” 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon sink would be created through additional forest and tree cover by 2030 MoEFCC insist that tree cover outside forest areas must include agriculture as well.
  • India would also have to specify whether it wants to count the carbon sink in the agriculture sector in its target.

Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

WHO prequalifies Serum’s low-cost Pneumococcal Vaccine


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pneumococcal Vaccine

Mains level : Not Much

Pneumococcal vaccine developed by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India has been pre-qualified by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Pneumococcal Vaccine

  • Pneumococcal vaccination is a method of preventing a specific type of lung infection (pneumonia) that is caused by the pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumonia) bacterium.
  • There are more than 80 different types of pneumococcus bacteria – 23 of them covered by the vaccine.
  • The vaccine is injected into the body to stimulate the normal immune system to produce antibodies that are directed against pneumococcus bacteria.
  • This method of stimulating the normal immune system to be directed against a specific microbe is called immunization.
  • It does not protect against pneumonia caused by microbes other than pneumococcus bacteria, nor does it protect against pneumococcal bacterial strains not included in the vaccine.

About the Vaccine

  • The pneumococcal vaccine PNEUMOSIL is a conjugate vaccine to help produce stronger immune response to a weak antigen.
  • Serum Institute had optimized an efficient conjugate vaccine manufacturing processes for its meningitis A vaccine (MenAfriVac).
  • It was used for manufacturing the pneumococcal vaccine. This helped the company reduce the manufacturing cost of pneumococcal vaccine.


  • It pneumonia caused 1,27,000 deaths in India in 2018, the second highest number of child mortality under the age of five in the world.
  • In India, pneumonia and diarrhoea cause the most deaths in children under five years.
  • In 2017, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine was included in the under India’s Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP).
  • It has been introduced in a phased manner starting with Himachal Pradesh, parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
  • The efficacy of the Serum vaccine was tested against an already approved pneumococcal vaccine (Synflorix).

Policy Wise: India’s Power Sector

[pib] UJALA & Street Lighting National Programme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UJALA and Street Lighting National Programme

Mains level : Success of these scheme

The Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All (UJALA) and LED Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP) has completed five years of successful implementation.


  • SLNP is the world’s largest streetlight replacement programme and UJALA is the world’s largest domestic lighting project.
  • Both have been spearheaded and implemented by Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a joint venture of PSUs under the Ministry of Power.

Major accomplishments


  • UJALA project brought the market transformation in energy efficiency sector.
  • Prices of LED bulbs being distributed under UJALA programme have fallen to one-tenth of their rates in 2015 from INR. 310 to INR 38 in 2018.
  • The switch from inefficient incandescent bulbs to LEDs is helping families reduce their electricity bills while also enabling them to access better brightness in homes.
  • Through the UJALA over 36.13 crore LED bulbs have been distributed across India.
  • This has resulted in estimated energy savings of 46.92 billion kWh per year, avoided peak demand of 9,394 MW, and an estimated GHG emission reduction of 38 million t CO2 annually.


  • Under the SLNP programme, over 1.03 crore smart LED streetlights have been installed till date, enabling an estimated energy savings of 6.97 billion kWh per year with an avoided peak demand of 1,161 MW and an estimated GHG emission reduction of 4.80 million tonnes CO2 annually.
  • LED streetlights have been installed in various states across the country, helping generate approximately 13,000 jobs to support Make in India initiative.
  • This has enabled citizens to increase productivity at night and made roads safer for pedestrians and motorists due to enhanced brightness and reduced dark spots.
  • As these lights are automated, they switch on and off at sunrise and sunset thereby reducing wastage.
  • In the last five years, the LED streetlights installed have illuminated 3,00,000 km of roads in India, enabling public safety and energy efficient lighting.