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May 2020

Coronavirus – Economic Issues

How the economic package will play out for MSMEs?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Measures announced for MSMEs

Mains level : Paper 3- Significance of MSMEs and measures for supporting the MSME during corona crisis.

Recently, a stimulus package worth 20 lakh crore was announced by the government. How effective will these measures prove for the MSMEs? How the liquidity issue plaguing the NBFCs is sought to be solved? Finally, what are the issues with the package? All such question are dwelled upon here!

Why ensuring flow of credit is important?

  • While assessing policy measures during the lockdown there are two over-arching principles one must keep in mind
  • One, the flow of funds will slow down with economic activity.
  • Two, firms do not go bankrupt because of insolvency, but because of lack of access to funds also called liquidity.
  • World over policymakers are pulling out all stops to make sure that the flow of credit continues.
  • Of the Rs 20-lakh-crore economic support announced by the Prime Minister on May 12, we have details for about Rs 16 lakh crore.
  • Monetary and financial interventions taken by the government and the RBI to provide credit to those who need it make up more than 90 per cent of it.

Limited impact of RBI’s measures

  • Most of the measures announced by the RBI earlier have not had the desired effect.
  • The quantum of cheap funds being made available being more or less the same as the increase in the amount being deposited in the RBI every night by banks.
  •  Just reducing the cost of funds (i.e. lower Repo rate and LTRO) had no impact on the volume and cost of the credit they provided.
  • This happened due to the heightened risk aversion in banks.

So, how government sought to address this problem?

  • The series of measures announced to provide credit support to the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) attempts to address this gap.
  • For MSMEs that have been servicing their loans so far new loans up to 20 per cent of the current outstanding credit will be fully backstopped by the government.
  • That is, if there is a default, the government will pay the bank.(i.e. act as a backstop).
  • So, how backstop by the government could help?
  • The move could lead to immediate credit creation, as guarantees are available only for loans extended in the next six months.
  • Also, the lenders have zero risk, and the borrowers are most likely stressed and would want these funds.
  • It is possible if not likely that firms will use these loans to just pay interest and cover losses.
  • But if so, that in a way is the purpose of this scheme — the government absorbing losses upfront rather than the likely larger lost taxes and potential bank bailouts if there is a bankruptcy.
  • For the government, the costs of this guarantee would be spread over several years, with at most 10 per cent incurred in this fiscal year.

Move to provide liquidity to NBFCs

  • The two schemes together, targeting to provide Rs 75,000 crore of liquidity to non-banking finance companies (NBFCs), may be a bit less successful.
  • The special purpose vehicle that is to provide liquidity to NBFCs provides funds for three months at a time, may succeed in addressing problems like an NBFC defaulting due to lack of liquidity.
  • But it may not suffice to get them to grow.
  • The partial credit guarantee given to banks’ loans to NBFCs may be more effective for a subset of NBFCs.
  • But as it is only available to public sector banks, it would depend on their willingness and ability to extend new loans.

Fund to provide equity for MSMEs

  • The Rs 50,000 crore fund to provide equity for MSMEs, with a corpus of Rs 10,000 crore being provided by the government, which would then be leveraged, is an interesting initiative.
  • Losses incurred in the current lockdown are depleting risk capital.
  • Replenishing if not growing that is paramount to restoring India’s growth potential.
  • While global as well as local private equity and venture capital funds would continue to explore and invest in smaller firms, such a fund can scale up the funds availability significantly.

Issues with the package

  • The natural limitation of the policy interventions thus far is that they only affect enterprises in the formal sector and in agriculture.
  • The problems in informal non-agricultural enterprises may stay unaddressed, and remain an impediment on growth.
  • While less than 10 per cent of the announcements thus far has been the fiscal cost.
  • One senses a fiscal caution in government measures that is overdone, and could hurt more than it helps. (avoiding direct expenditure)

Stability: of bond market and value of rupee

  • Two things minimised the volatility in the bond market: 1) pre-announcing the additional bond issuance for the year 2) giving an implicit assurance that additional deficits would be financed separately.
  • Even though that potentially means the RBI purchasing government bonds, the rupee has been remarkably stable.
  • There was fear that fiscal spending financed by the central bank would be frowned upon and drive currency weakness.

Consider the question-“MSME sector forms the backbone of Indian economy. List challenges it faces in present times. Critically analyse whether the current stimulus package is suitable to boost growth in this sector.”


The road ahead remains unclear, but it is likely that the economic damage is already much larger than the measures undertaken so far. A continued focus on reforms and on sustaining India’s growth potential will be critical in preventing macroeconomic instability.

Back2Basics: The two schemes announced for NBFCs

  • The FM announced a Rs 30,000-crore liquidity scheme for NBFCs.
  • The government will buy debt papers by NBCs, MFIs and HFCs.
  • The buying of papers will be fully guaranteed by the government of India.
  • Under this scheme investment will be made in both primary and secondary market transactions in investment-grade debt paper ofNBFCs/HFCs/MFIs.
  • The move is seen providing liquidity support for NBFCs and mutual funds and create confidence in the market.
  • The FM also announced Rs 45,000 crore partial credit guarantee scheme (PCGS) 2.0 for NBFCs.
  • Existing PCGS scheme will be extended to cover borrowings such as primary issuance of bonds/ CPs of such entities.
  • The first 20 per cent of loss will be borne by the government of India.

50000 Crore fund for MSMEs

  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced Rs 50,000-crore equity infusion through Fund of Funds for MSMEs.
  •  The Fund of Funds will be set up with a corpus of Rs 10,000 crore.
  • The Fund of Funds will be operated through a mother fund and a few daughter funds.
  • The fund structure will help leverage Rs 50,000 crore at daughter-fund levels.
  • This will help MSMEs expand size as well as capacity.
  • It will encourage MSMEs to get listed on the main board of stock exchanges, the government said.
  • Based on the recommendations of UK Sinha Committee, the Fund of Funds was first announced in the Union Budget on February 1, 2020.
  • An investment of Rs. 10,000 crore was proposed in the Budget for the scheme.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pacific Island Nations

Role of ESCAP in the Asia-Pacific


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ESCAP

Mains level : Paper 2-Challenges facing Asia-Pacific region and scope for cooperation

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is one of the five regional commissions under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. This article examines the common challenges that ESCAP region faces- such as danger of pollution to the marine ecosystem, lack of data about ocean, connectivity issue faces by small island nations etc. Scope for the collaboration between ESCAP nations is explored.

Strain on marine ecosystem and its implications

  • The Asia-Pacific seas provide food, livelihoods and a sense of identity, especially for coastal communities in the Pacific island states.
  • Escalating strains on the marine environment is threatening our growth and way of life.
  • In less than a century, climate change and unsustainable resource management have degraded ecosystems and diminished biodiversity.
  • Over-fishing has exponentially increased, leaving fish stocks and food systems vulnerable.
  • Marine plastic pollution originating from region’s rivers has contributed to most of the debris flooding the ocean.

Lack of data for SDG 14: Life below water

  • Insights from ‘Changing Sails: Accelerating Regional Actions for Sustainable Oceans in Asia and the Pacific’, the theme study of this year’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), focuses a lot on the need of data collection in the region.
  • At present, data are available for only two out of ten targets for the Sustainable Development Goal 14, ‘Life Below Water’.
  • Due to limitations in methodology and national statistical systems, information gaps have persisted at uneven levels across countries.

Challenges facing the region

1. Plastic Pollution

  • Asia and the Pacific produces nearly half of global plastic by volume, of which it consumes 38%.
  • Plastics represent a double burden for the ocean1) their production generates CO2 absorbed by the ocean, 2) as a final product enters the ocean as pollution.
  • Need of the hour is effective national policies and re-thinking production cycles i.e. promoting a circular economy approach.
  • Economic incentives and disincentives are necessary for the adoption of these policies as well as for minimizing resource use.

2. Decline in fish stocks

  • Region’s position as the world’s largest producer of fish has come at the cost of over-exploitation.
  • The percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels has increased threefold from 10% in 1974 to 33% in 2015.
  • Generating complete data on fish stocks, fighting illicit fishing activity and conserving marine areas must remain a priority.

3. Connectivity of island nations

  • While the most connected shipping economies are in Asia, the small island developing States of the Pacific experience much lower levels of connectivity.
  • This leaves them relatively isolated from the global economy.
  • Closing the maritime connectivity gap must be placed at the centre of regional transport cooperation efforts.
  • We must also work with the shipping community to navigate toward green shipping. Enforcing sustainable shipping policies is essential.

Areas of cooperation

  • Trans-boundary ocean management and linking ocean data in the region can be the starting step.
  • Harnessing ocean statistics through strong national statistical systems will serve as a compass guiding countries to monitor trends, devise timely responses and clear blind spots.
  • ESCAP by using Ocean Accounts Partnership can help to harmonise ocean data and provide a space for regular dialogue among nations.
  • Translating international agreements and standards into national action is the key here. Also ensuring capacity building among nations to do so.
  • ESCAP is working with member states to implement International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements.

Consider the question-“What are the challenges facing the nations of Asia-Pacific amid growing levels of pollution and climate change. How cooperation among the countries of the region mitigate the risks? “


Our oceans keep our economy and our lives above the waves. We must use the years ahead to steer our collective fleets toward sustainable oceans.

Back2Basics: ESCAP- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

  • India has been the founding member of ESCAP.
  • UNESCAP is the regional development arm of the United Nations in Asia and the Pacific, with a membership of 62 Governments, including 58 from the region.
  • Established in 1947 with its headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand.
  • UNESCAP serves as the highest intergovernmental regional platform to promote cooperation among member States for creating a more interconnected region working to achieve inclusive and sustainable economic and social development.
  • It carries out work in the areas of macroeconomic policy, poverty reduction and financing for development; trade and investment; transport; environment and sustainable development; information and communications technology and disaster risk reduction; social development; statistics, sub-regional activities for development; and energy.
  • UNESCAP also focuses on sub-regional activities to provide in-depth technical assistance to address specific key priorities, including poverty reduction and sustainable development, in the respective sub-regions.

IMO- International Maritime Organisation

  • The IMO was established following agreement at a UN conference held in Geneva in 1948.
  • And the IMO came into existence ten years later, meeting for the first time in 1959.
  • As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping.
  • Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.
  • IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector for remains safe, environmentally sound, energy-efficient and secure.


Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Is the suspension of labour laws a silver bullet?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various labour laws.

Mains level : Paper 2- Legal issues in the suspension of labour laws by the States.

In keeping with the exigencies caused by the pandemic, some State governments have suspended several provision of labour laws. This article analyses the implications of such suspensions. And also emphasises the lack of legal basis in the State governments actions. Evolution of the labour laws in India is also discussed here. So, what are these legal issues? Read to know more…

Some labour laws suspended by the UP government

  • The Uttar Pradesh government has issued an ordinance keeping in abeyance almost all labour statutes.
  • Which includes laws on maternity benefits and gratuity.
  • The Factories Act, 1948.
  • The Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
  • The Industrial Establishments (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
  • The Trade Unions Act, 1926.
  • This will take away the protection conferred on organised labour by Parliament.

Some repressive labour laws in colonial era

  • Bengal Regulations VII, 1819 was enacted for the British planters in Assam tea estates.
  • Workers had to work under a five-year contract and desertion was made punishable.
  • Later, the Transport of Native Labourers’ Act, 1863 was passed in Bengal.
  • The Act strengthened control of the employers and even enabled them to detain labourers in the district of employment and imprison them for six months.
  • Bengal Act VI of 1865 was later passed to deploy Special Emigration Police to prevent labourers from leaving and return them to the plantation after detention.

Workers’ struggle in British India

  • The labour laws in India have emerged out of workers’ struggles, which were very much part of the freedom movement against oppressive colonial industrialists.
  • Since the 1920s there were a series of strikes and agitations for better working conditions.
  • Several trade unionists were arrested under the Defence of India Rules.
  • The workers’ demands were supported by our political leaders.
  • Britain was forced to appoint the Royal Commission on Labour, which gave a report in 1935.
  • The Government of India Act, 1935 enabled greater representation of Indians in law-making.
  • This resulted in reforms, which are forerunners to the present labour enactments.
  • The indentured plantation labour saw relief in the form of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951.

Acts passed in India to protect workers’ rights

  • The Factories Act lays down eight-hour work shifts, with overtime wages, weekly offs, leave with wages and measures for health, hygiene and safety.
  • The Industrial Disputes Act provides for workers participation to resolve wage and other disputes through negotiations so that strikes/lockouts, unjust retrenchments and dismissals are avoided.
  • The Minimum Wages Act ensures wages below which it is not possible to subsist.

Constitutional basis of the labour laws

  • These enactments further the Directive Principles of State Policy.
  • These laws also protect the right to life and the right against exploitation under Articles 21 and 23.
  • Trade unions have played critical roles in transforming the life of a worker from that of servitude to one of dignity.
  • In the scheme of socio-economic justice the labour unions cannot be dispensed with.

Is the suspension of labour laws legally sound?

  • The Supreme Court, in Glaxo Laboratories v. The Presiding Officer, Labour (1983) said about contract between employer and employee “the contract being not left to be negotiated by two unequal persons but statutorily imposed.”
  • The ‘two unequal’ here refers to the inequality between employee and employer.
  • In Life Insurance Corporation v. D. J. Bahadur & Ors (1980), the Supreme Court highlighted that any changes in the conditions of service can be only through a democratic process of negotiations or legislation.
  • Moreover, Parliament did not delegate to the executive any blanket powers of exemption. 
  • Section 5 of the Factories Act empowers the State governments to exempt only in case of a “public emergency”.
  • Which is explained as a “grave emergency whereby the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance”.
  • There is no such threat to the security of India now.
  •  Labour is a concurrent subject in the Constitution and most pieces of labour legislation are Central enactments.
  • The U.P. government by Ordinance has said that labour laws will not apply for the next three years.
  •  How can a State government, in one fell swoop, nullify Central enactments?
  • The Constitution does not envisage approval by the President of a State Ordinance which makes a whole slew of laws enacted by Parliament inoperable in the absence of corresponding legislations on the same subject.
  • The orders of the State governments therefore lack statutory support. 

Consider the question, “Several State governments have resorted to the suspension of labour laws in the aftermath of corona crisis. Examine the implications of the suspension of the laws for the rights of the labours.”


Governments have a constitutional duty to ensure just, humane conditions of work and maternity benefits. The health and strength of the workers cannot be abused by force of economic necessity. Labour laws are thus civilisational goals and cannot be trumped on the excuse of a pandemic.



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

‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ System


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ONORC Scheme

Mains level : Assurance of Food Security with the ONORC Scheme

Finance Minister has announced the nationwide rollout of a ‘One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC)’ system in all states and UTRs by March 2021. As of now, about 20 states have come on board to implement the inter-state ration card portability.

Practice question for mains:

Q. The  ‘One nation one ration card ‘scheme would bring perceptible changes to the lives of India’s internal migrant workers. Comment.

What is PDS?

  • The Public distribution system (PDS) is an Indian food Security System established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution.
  • PDS evolved as a system of management of scarcity through distribution of food grains at affordable prices.
  • PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and the State Governments. 
  • The Central Government, through Food Corporation of India (FCI), has assumed the responsibility for procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments.
  • The operational responsibilities including allocation within the State, identification of eligible families, issue of Ration Cards and supervision of the functioning of Fair Price Shops (FPSs) etc., rest with the State Governments.
  • Under the PDS, presently the commodities namely wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene are being allocated to the States/UTs for distribution. Some States/UTs also distribute additional items of mass consumption through the PDS outlets such as pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.

Evolution of PDS in India

  • PDS was introduced around World War II as a war-time rationing measure. Before the 1960s, distribution through PDS was generally dependant on imports of food grains.
  • It was expanded in the 1960s as a response to the food shortages of the time; subsequently, the government set up the Agriculture Prices Commission and the FCIto improve domestic procurement and storage of food grains for PDS.
  • By the 1970s, PDS had evolved into a universal scheme for the distribution of subsidised food
  • Till 1992, PDS was a general entitlement scheme for all consumers without any specific target.
  • The Revamped Public Distribution System (RPDS) was launched in June, 1992 with a view to strengthen and streamline the PDS as well as to improve its reach in the far-flung, hilly, remote and inaccessible areas where a substantial section of the underprivileged classes lives.
  • In June, 1997, the Government of India launched the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) with a focus on the poor.
  • Under TPDS, beneficiaries were divided into two categories: Households below the poverty line or BPL; and Households above the poverty line or APL.
  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY): AAY was a step in the direction of making TPDS aim at reducing hunger among the poorest segments of the BPL population.
  • A National Sample Survey exercise pointed towards the fact that about 5% of the total population in the country sleeps without two square meals a day. In order to make TPDS more focused and targeted towards this category of population, the “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” (AAY) was launched in December, 2000 for one crore poorest of the poor families.
  • In September 2013, Parliament enacted the National Food Security Act, 2013. The Act relies largely on the existing TPDS to deliver food grains as legal entitlements to poor households. This marks a shift by making the right to food a justiciable right.

How does the PDS system function?

  • The Central and State Governments share responsibilities in order to provide food grains to the identified beneficiaries.
  • The centre procures food grains from farmers at a minimum support price (MSP)and sells it to states at central issue prices. It is responsible for transporting the grains to godowns in each state.
  • States bear the responsibility of transporting food grains from these godowns to each fair price shop (ration shop), where the beneficiary buys the food grains at the lower central issue price. Many states further subsidise the price of food grains before selling it to beneficiaries.

Importance of PDS

  • It helps in ensuring Food and Nutritional Security of the nation.
  • It has helped in stabilising food prices and making food available to the poor at affordable prices.
  • It maintains the buffer stock of food grains in the warehouse so that the flow of food remains active even during the period of less agricultural food production.
  • It has helped in the redistribution of grains by supplying food from surplus regions of the country to deficient regions.
  • The system of minimum support price and procurement has contributed to the increase in food grain production.

Issues Associated with PDS System in India

  • Identification of beneficiaries: Studies have shown that targeting mechanisms such as TPDS are prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors. This implies that entitled beneficiaries are not getting food grains while those that are ineligible are getting undue benefits.
  • According to the estimation of an expert group set up in 2009, PDS suffers from nearly 61% error of exclusion and 25% inclusion of beneficiaries, i.e. the misclassification of the poor as non-poor and vice versa.
  • Leakage of food grains: (Transportation leakages + Black Marketing by FPS owners) TPDS suffers from large leakages of food grains during transportation to and from ration shops into the open market. In an evaluation of TPDS, the erstwhile Planning Commission found 36% leakage of PDS rice and wheat at the all-India level.
  • Issue with procurement: Open-ended Procurement i.e., all incoming grains accepted even if buffer stock is filled, creates a shortage in the open market.
  • Issues with storage: A performance audit by the CAG has revealed a serious shortfall in the government’s storage capacity.
  • Given the increasing procurement and incidents of rotting food grains, the lack of adequate covered storage is bound to be a cause for concern.
  • The provision of minimum support price (MSP) has encouraged farmers to divert land from production of coarse grains that are consumed by the poor, to rice and wheat and thus, discourages crop diversification.
  • Environmental issues: The over-emphasis on attaining self-sufficiency and a surplus in food grains, which are water-intensive, has been found to be environmentally unsustainable.
  • Procuring states such as Punjab and Haryana are under environmental stress, including rapid groundwater depletion, deteriorating soil and water conditions from overuse of fertilisers.
  • It was found that due to the cultivation of rice in north-west India, the water table went down by 33 cm per year during 2002-08.

What is the one ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system?

  • Under the National Food Security Act, 2013, about 81 crore persons are entitled to buy subsidized foodgrain — rice at Rs 3/kg, wheat at Rs 2/kg, and coarse grains at Re 1/kg — from their designated Fair Price Shops (FPS) of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
  • Currently, about 23 crore ration cards have been issued to nearly 80 crore beneficiaries of NFSA in all states and UTs.
  • In the present system, a ration cardholder can buy foodgrains only from an FPS that has been assigned to her in the locality in which she lives.
  • However, this will change once the ONORC system becomes operational nationally.

How would that work?

  • Under the ONORC system, the beneficiary will be able to buy subsidised foodgrains from any FPS across the country.
  • The new system, based on a technological solution, will identify a beneficiary through biometric authentication on electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) devices installed at the FPSs.
  • This would enable that person to purchase the number of foodgrains to which she is entitled under the NFSA.

How will the system of ration card portability work?

  • Ration card portability is aimed at providing intra-state as well as inter-state portability of ration cards.
  • While the Integrated Management of PDS portal provides the technological platform for the inter-state portability of ration cards.
  • It enables a migrant worker to buy foodgrains from any FPS across the country.
  • The Annavitaran portal hosts the data of the distribution of foodgrains through E-PoS devices within a state.
  • The portal enables a migrant worker or his family to avail the benefits of PDS outside their district but within their state.
  • While a person can buy her share of foodgrains as per her entitlement under the NFSA, wherever she is based, the rest of her family members can purchase subsidised foodgrains from their ration dealer back home.

Revamping of the PDS

  • The PDS system was marred with inefficiency leading to leakages in the system. To plug the leakages and make the system better, the government started the reform process.
  • For, this purpose it used a technological solution involving the use of Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries. Under the scheme, the seeding of ration cards with Aadhaar is being done.
  • Simultaneously, PoS machines are being installed at all FPSs across the country.
  • Once 100 per cent of Aadhaar seeding and 100 per cent installation of PoS devices is achieved, the national portability of ration cards will become a reality.
  • It will enable migrant workers to buy foodgrains from any FPS by using their existing/same ration card.

How many states have come on board?

  • It was initially proposed to nationally roll out the ONORC scheme by June 1, 2020.
  • So far, 17 major states and UTs have come on board to roll out the inter-state portability of ration cards under the NFSA.
  • Three more states — Odisha, Mizoram, and Nagaland — are expected to come on board by June 1, taking the number of States and UTs to 20 under the One Nation, Once Ration Card System.

How has been the experience of Ration Card Portability so far?

  • The facility of inter-state ration card portability is available in 20 states as of now but the number of transactions done through using this facility has been low so far.
  • According to data available on the IMPDS portal, only 275 transactions have been done until May 14.
  • However, the number of transactions in the intra-state ration card portability is quite high.
  • The data available on the Annavitaran portal shows that about one crore transactions took place using the facility last month.
  • It means that usages of intra-state ration card portability are way higher than the inter-state portability.

Back2Basics: National Food Security Act, 2013

  • The NFS Act, 2013 (also Right to Food Act) aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people.
  • It was signed into law on 12 September 2013, retroactive to 5 July 2013.
  • The NFSA 2013 converted into legal entitlements for existing food security programmes.
  • It includes the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System.
  • Further, the NFSA 2013 recognizes maternity entitlements.
  • The Midday Meal Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme are universal in nature whereas the PDS will reach about two-thirds of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas).
  • Pregnant women, lactating mothers, and certain categories of children are eligible for daily free cereals.

The Crisis In The Middle East

West Bank Annexation plans by US


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Oslo Peace Accord, West Bank

Mains level : Israeli claims over West Bank and Gaza

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

The strategic location of Gaza strip, West Bank, Dead Sea etc. creates a hotspot for a possible map based prelims question.  Consider this PYQ from 2015 CSP:

Q. The area known as ‘Golan Heights’ sometimes appears in the news in the context of the events related to:

a) Central Asia
b) Middle East
c) South-East Asia
d) Central Africa

Where is West Bank Located?

  • The West Bank is located to the west of the Jordan River.
  • It is a patch of land about one and a half times the size of Goa, was captured by Jordan after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
  • Israel snatched it back during the Six-Day War of 1967 and has occupied it ever since.
  • It is a landlocked territory, bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel to the south, west, and north.
  • Following the Oslo Accords between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during the 1990s, part of the West Bank came under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
  • With varying levels of autonomy, the Palestinian Authority controls close to 40 percent of West Bank today, while the rest is controlled by Israel.

Back2Basics: Gaza Strip

  • The Gaza Strip is a small boot-shaped territory along the Mediterranean coast between Egypt and Israel.
  • A couple of years later in 2007, Hamas, an anti-Israel military group, took over Gaza Strip. The militia group is often involved in violent clashes with the Israeli Defence Forces.
  • While Palestine has staked claim to both territories — West Bank and Gaza Strip — Israel’s objective has been to keep expanding Jewish settlements in these regions.

For complete details on Israel-Palestine conflict, kindly refer:

[Burning Issue] West Asia Peace Plan

Indian Army Updates

“Tour of Duty (ToD) Scheme” for Short Service in Indian Army


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ToD Scheme

Mains level : Need for restructure of the armed forces

The Indian Army has planned to take civilians on a three-year “Tour of Duty” (ToD) or short service” on a trial basis to serve as officers and in other ranks initially for a limited number of vacancies which will be expanded later.

Practice question for mains:

Q. The “Tour of Duty” (ToD) Scheme is a significant move to free up funds for the Army’s modernization. Comment.

Tour of Duty Scheme

  • Indian Army is thinking to induct youngsters for three-year “Tour of Duty (ToD) tenure as both officers and jawans.
  • The ToD scheme, in case approved, will initially be launched with around 100 vacancies for officers and 1,000 for jawans.
  • As per Army, a ToD officer will earn Rs 80,000-90,000 per month. After ToD tenure, youngsters can find lucrative private and public sector jobs.
  • The Army says it will restructure the cadre and help modernize the force.

Advantages of ToD Scheme

  • ToD is expected to result in a significant reduction in the expenditure on pay and pensions and free up funds for the Army’s modernization.
  • The overall purpose of the ToD concept is ‘internship/temporary experience’.
  • There will be no requirement of attractive severance packages, resettlement courses, professional encashment training leave, ex-servicemen status, ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme for ToD officers and other ranks.
  • Analysing the cost of training incurred on each personnel compared with the limited employment of the manpower for three years, the proposal calculates that it will indeed have a positive benefit.

The cost factor

  • The approximate cost incurred is nearly ₹5.12 crore and ₹6.83 crores for a Short Service Commission (SSC) officer if he or she is released from service after 10 and 14 years, respectively.
  • The costs for those released after a three-year ToD is just ₹80-85 lakh.
  • Similarly, estimates for a jawan with 17 years of service as compared to a ToD recruit with three years’ service shows that the prospective lifetime savings of just one jawan are ₹11.5 crores.
  • Thus, savings for only 1,000 jawans could be ₹11,000 crores, which could be used for the much-needed modernization of the Army.

Other benefits

  • This scheme is for those who did not want a full career in the Army but still wanted to put on the uniform.
  • Individuals who opted for ToD would get a much higher salary than their peers in the corporate sector.
  • They would also have an edge after leaving the service and going to the corporate sector.
  • The Army hoped that this would attract individuals from the best colleges, including the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Back2Basics: Permanent Commission (PC) Vs. Short Service Commission (SSC)

  • SSC means an officer’s career will be of a limited period in the Indian Armed Forces whereas a PC means they shall continue to serve in the Indian Armed Forces, till they retire.
  • The officers inducted through the SSC usually serve for a period of 14 years. At the end of 10 years, the officers have three options.
  • A PC entitles an officer to serve in the Navy till he/she retires unlike SSC, which is currently for 10 years and can be extended by four more years, or a total of 14 years.
  • They can either select for a PC or opt-out or have the option of a 4-years extension. They can resign at any time during this period of 4 years extension.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Global Forest Resources Assessment, 2020


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Forest Resources Assessment

Mains level : Global afforrestation measures and its success

The deforestation rate globally declined between 2015 and 2020, according to the Global Forest Resources Assessment, 2020. This decline is a result of sustainable management measures worldwide.

Possible prelim question:

Q. The Global Forest Resources Assessment Report recently seen in news is published by-


b) UN Forum on Forests

c) International Union of Forest Research Organizations

d) None of these

Global Forest Resources Assessment

  • The Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) reports on the status and trends of the world’s forest resources.
  • It is led by the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • The FRA reports the extent of the world’s forest area as well as other variables, including land tenure and access rights, sustainable forest management (SFM), legal and institutional frameworks for forest conservation, and sustainable use.

Click here for amazing visuals of the FRA

Highlights of the 2020 report

  • The rate of forest loss in 2015-2020 declined to an estimated 10 million hectares (mha), down from 12 million hectares (mha) in 2010-2015, according to the FRA 2020.
  • The FRA 2020 has examined the status of, and trends in, more than 60 forest-related variables in 236 countries and territories in the period 1990–2020.
  • The world lost 178 mha of forest since 1990, an area the size of Libya, according to the report.
  • However, the rate of net forest loss decreased substantially during 1990–2020 due to a reduction in deforestation in some countries, plus increases in the forest area in others through afforestation.
  • The largest proportion of the world’s forests were tropical (45 per cent), followed by boreal, temperate and subtropical.

Data on losses and gains

  • The world’s total forest area was 4.06 billion hectares (bha), which was 31 per cent of the total land area. This area was equivalent to 0.52 ha per person.
  • Among the world’s regions, Africa had the largest annual rate of net forest loss in 2010–2020, at 3.9 mha, followed by South America, at 2.6 mha.
  • On the other hand, Asia had the highest net gain of forest area in 2010–2020, followed by Oceania and Europe.
  • However, both Europe and Asia recorded substantially lower rates of the net gain in 2010–2020 than in 2000–2010.
  • Oceania experienced net losses of forest area in the decades 1990–2000 and 2000–2010.
  • More than 54 per cent of the world’s forests were in only five countries — the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China.
  • The highest per cent of plantation forests were in South America while the lowest was in Europe.

Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

Global Energy Transition Index, 2020 and its highlights


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Energy Transition Index

Mains level : India's transition towards renewable energy

India has moved up two positions to rank 74th on a Global ‘Energy Transition Index (ETI)’ with improvements on all key parameters of economic growth, energy security and environmental sustainability.

Possible prelim question:

Q. The Global Energy Transition Index recently seen in news is released by:

a) International Energy Agency (IEA)

b) World Economic Forum (WEF)

c) International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

d) International Solar Alliance

Energy Transition: What does it mean?

  • Energy transition refers to the global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption — including oil, natural gas and coal — to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, as well as lithium-ion batteries.
  • The increasing penetration of renewable energy into the energy supply mix, the onset of electrification and improvements in energy storage are all key drivers of the energy transition.

What is the Energy Transition Index (ETI)?

  • The ETI is a fact-based ranking intended to enable policy-makers and businesses to plot the course for a successful energy transition.
  • The benchmarking of energy systems is carried out annually across countries.
  • Part of the World Economic Forum’s Fostering Effective Energy Transition initiative, it builds on its predecessor, the Energy Architecture Performance Index.
  • The ETI is a tool for energy decision-makers that strive to be a comprehensive, global index that tracks the performance of energy systems at the country level.
  • It also incorporates macroeconomic, institutional, social, and geopolitical considerations that provide enabling conditions for an effective energy transition.

Global rankings

  • Results for 2020 show that 75 per cent of countries have improved their environmental sustainability.
  • Sweden has topped the ETI for the third consecutive year and is followed by Switzerland and Finland in the top three.
  • Surprisingly, France (ranked 8th) and the UK (7th) are the only G20 countries in the top ten.
  • The scores for the US (32th), Canada (28th), Brazil (47th) and Australia (36th) were either stagnant or declining.

India’s highlights

  • India is one of the few countries in the world to have made consistent year-on-year progress since 2015.
  • India’s improvements have come across all three dimensions of the energy triangle — economic development and growth, energy access and security, and environmental sustainability.
  • The WEF said that the emerging centres of demand such as India (74th) and China (78th) have made consistent efforts to improve the enabling environment.
  • For India, gains have come from a government-mandated renewable energy expansion programme, now extended to 275 GW by 2027.
  • India has also made significant strides in energy efficiency through bulk procurement of LED bulbs, smart meters, and programs for labelling of appliances.

Threats posed by COVID-19

Beyond the uncertainty over its long‑term consequences, COVID-19 has unleashed cascading effects in real-time:

  • The erosion of almost a third of global energy demand
  • Unprecedented oil price volatilities and subsequent geopolitical implications
  • Delayed or stalled investments and projects
  • Uncertainties over the employment prospects of millions of energy‑sector workers