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September 2020

Women empowerment issues – Jobs,Reservation and education

Weighing in on the efficacy of female leadership


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Women's Reservation

The article analyses the issue of women representation and leadership.

Role of female leaders in pandemic

  • Germany, Taiwan and New Zealand have women heading their governments.
  • Three countries seem to have managed the pandemic much better than their neighbours.
  • A detailed recent study by researchers in the United States reports that States which have female governors had fewer COVID-19 related deaths.
  •  The authors of the study conclude that women leaders are more effective than their male counterparts in times of crises.

Role of women as pradhans in gram panchayats

  • Women leaders perform significantly better than men in implementing policies that promote the interests of women.
  • This was demonstrated in study conducted by Nobel Laureate Esther Duflo and co-author Raghabendra Chattopadhyay.
  • They used the system of mandated reservations of pradhans in gram panchayats to test the effectiveness of female leadership.
  • Study concluded that pradhans invested more in rural infrastructure that served better the needs of their own gender.
  • This is also an important goal from the perspective of gender equality.

Underrepresentation of women in politics

  •  Female members make up only about 10% of the total ministerial strength in India.
  • The underrepresentation of female Ministers in India is also reflected in the fact that there is only one female Chief Minister.
  • Despite this, women constitute just over 14% of the total strength of the Lok Sabha.
  • This gives us the dismal rank of 143 out of 192 countries for which data are reported by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

State of Women’s Reservation Bill

  • Women running for elections face numerous challenges, it is essential to create a level-playing field through appropriate legal measures.
  • Attempts have also been made to extend quotas for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies through a Women’s Reservation Bill.
  •  Male members from several parties opposed the Bill on various pretexts.
  • Although the Rajya Sabha did pass the bill in 2010, the Lok Sabha and the State legislatures are yet to give their approval.
  • 24 years that have passed since it was first presented in the Lok Sabha.

Way forward

  • Political parties can sidestep the logjam in Parliament by reserving say a third of party nominations for women.


There is substantial evidence showing that increased female representation in policy making goes a long way in improving perceptions about female effectiveness in leadership roles. This decreases the bias among voters against women candidates, and results in a subsequent increase in the percentage of female politicians contesting and winning elections.

NGOs vs. GoI: The Conflicts and Scrutinies

Exploring the idea of Social Stock Exchange


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Social Stock Exchange

Mains level : Paper 2- Social Stock Exchange


  • The Securities and Exchange Board’s (SEBI) working group has submitted its report with recommendations regarding the structure, mechanisms, and regulatory framework for the proposed Social Stock Exchange (SSE).

What are Social Stock Exchanges (SSEs)?

  • An SSE is a platform which allows investors to buy shares in social enterprises vetted by an official exchange.
  • The Union Budget 2019 proposed setting up of first of its kind SSE in India.
  • The SSE will function as a common platform where social enterprises can raise funds from the public.
  • It will function on the lines of major stock exchanges like BSE and NSE. However, the purpose of the Social Stock Exchange will be different – not profit, but social welfare.
  • Under the regulatory ambit of SEBI, a listing of social enterprises and voluntary organizations will be undertaken so that they can raise capital as equity, debt or as units like a mutual fund.

Issues with the idea of Social Stock Exchange

  • SSE exists in one form or another in UK, Singapore, South Africa, Canada and Brazil, but it is yet to take off in any country.
  • It has been an instrument focussed on social enterprises with rather poor results.
  • The proposed SSE in our country could have been an interesting innovation if it was first.
  • Replicating an experiment from elsewhere in an extremely complex environment of endemic poverty, high inequality and regional variation does not seem a reasoned decision.
  • It is therefore important to analyse why it has been pushed as a key policy.

Why civil society is sceptical

  • The 2020-21 Union Budget says that not-for-profit organisations will need to apply every five years for income tax registration to ascertain their charitable status.
  • They will also need to renew their 80(G) certificate that provides tax relief to their donors.
  • The not-for-profit sector would not be able to survive without the tax-exempt charitable status.
  • These restrictions will open the gates to corruption and bullying by the tax and government bureaucracy.
  • The SEBI working group was constituted of business leaders, government and SEBI officials with a token representative from civil society.
  • Composition of the committee reflects the real intent of the SSE, which is to create instruments for market to enter the social sector.
  • However, the way the exchange is envisioned makes it clear that the interests of the private sector are guiding the idea of SSE.

Will the entry of private sector benefit social sector

  • The proponents of the SSE argue that it would help set standards and a performance matrix for the social sector.
  • SSE is also expected to help bench-marking of sector actors (credibility checks), organise information and data, help in impact assessments, and do capacity building for the sector.

Solving complex social problems

  • Poverty or injustice are essentially systemic and political questions that need multi-pronged dynamic engagement.
  • Developing set standards of impact assessment and performance matrix has the risk of privileging only one approach to the developmental challenges at hand.
  • The SSE would create more intermediaries and benefit larger organisations.
  • More than 99 per cent of the three million NGOs in the country are in the small category and will be untouched by the SSE.


The core business of the SSE is to strengthen the social sector and bring new resources to it, SEBI for sure itself would admit that it is not the appropriate anchor.

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Upholding transparency in governance


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI

Mains level : Paper 2- RTI and issue of transparency

The article discusses the issue of growing lack of transparency in the functioning of government.

Issues with Transparent Governance in India

1) Electoral bond

  •  They were introduced in February 2017— they allowed anonymous donations to political parties and, therefore, protected the privacy of the donors.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) criticised the opacity of this financial mechanism.
  • The ECI told the government that this arrangement would prevent the state from ascertaining whether a political party has taken any donation in violation of provisions under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act.
  • Section 29B prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources.
  • Electoral bonds also made it impossible to check whether a company was giving to parties more than what the Companies Act (2013) permitted, that is 7.5 per cent of the net average profit of the three preceding financial years.

2) Sealed envelopes

  • Sealed envelope has become a modus operandi in several Indian institutions, including the Supreme Court (SC).
  • In the case of political funding by electoral bonds or otherwise, a three-judge bench in 2019 directed political parties to submit the details of donations received to the ECI in sealed cover.
  • The Assam administration had to show the progress it was making in the implementation of the National Register of Citizens by submitting reports in sealed covers.

3) Undermining RTI

(A) Reluctance to fill vacancies

  • The government did not appoint a Chief Information Commissioner for a year after the incumbent retired in August 2014.
  •  Similaryly, government did not fill vacant information commissioner posts in the Central Information Commission (CIC) between 2016 and 2018.
  • The backlog of pending appeals had reached 30,000 cases in late 2019 as the CIC has become a rather dysfunctional body.

(B) Government refusing to disclose infromation

  • The government refused to disclose information which was previously available under the RTI Act.
  • Queries about phone tapping are not responded to anymore.
  • In 2016-17, the home and finance ministries rejected close to 15 per cent of the applications they received while the RBI and public sector banks rejected 33 per cent.
  • The RBI, for instance, refused to give any information about the decision-making process that led to demonetisation.

(C) Limiting the powers of CIC

  • During the 2019 Monsoon Session of Parliament, government amended the RTI Act to limit the power of the CIC.
  • The five-year fixed tenure for the Chief Information Commissioner and information commissioners was abolished.
  • Their salaries were not fixed any more,  but notified separately by the government.

4.Diluting Whisleblower’s Protection Act

  • Whistleblowers can now be prosecuted for possessing the documents on which the complaint has been made.
  • Issues flagged by them have to be in “public interest”.
  • Issues flagged should not be “affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India”, related to “commercial confidence” or “information received in confidence from a foreign government.

5.Issues with statistical information

  • The National Statistical Commission and the Chief Statistician of India faced a credibility crisis when the new GDP series was released.
  • Similarly, the National Crime Records Bureau has been affected by delays (its 2017 report was released in October 2019) and deletions.
  • The National Sample Survey Office has also raised several concerns.


Transparency is not only necessary for maintaining a democratic polity, it is also necessary for making the economy work. Government actions must be informed by this fact.


Electoral bond

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

What are Abraham Accords?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Abraham Accord

Mains level : Balance of relations between India, Israel and the Gulf

The White House has marked the formal normalization of Israel’s ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Bahrain has created a significant inflexion point in regional history and geopolitics.

Try this question:

Q. What are Abraham Accords? Discuss how the Israel-Gulf synergy could impact India’s relations with Israel.

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

New friendships

  • Externally, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share the common threat perception of Iran.
  • Internally, while all three have their respective hotheads opposing this reconciliation, these seem manageable.
  • They are relatively more modern societies which share the overarching and immediate priority of post-pandemic economic resuscitation.
  • They have lost no time to set up logistics such as Internet connectivity and direct flights to pave the way for more active economic engagement.
  • If these sinews evolve, other moderate Arab countries are likely to join the Israel fan club.

India and the Gulf

  • Now India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries.
  • With over eight million Indian diasporas in the Gulf remitting annually nearly $50 billion, annual merchandise trade of over $150 billion.
  • It sources nearly two-thirds of India’s hydrocarbon imports, major investments, etc. Hence it is natural to ask how the new regional dynamic would affect India.

The Israel-GCC synergy

  • With defence and security cooperation as a strong impetus, both sides are ready to realize the full potential of their economic complementarity.
  • The UAE and Bahrain can become the entrepôts to Israeli exports of goods and services to diverse geographies.
  • Israel has niche strengths in defence, security and surveillance equipment, arid farming, solar power, horticultural products, high-tech, gem and jewellery, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Tourism, real estate and financial service sectors on both sides have suffered due to the pandemic and hope for a positive spin-off from the peer-to-peer interactions.
  • Further, Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to the GCC states, particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic.
  • Even the Israeli Arabs may find career opportunities to bridge the cultural divide. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its stakeholders could easily fit in the various duty-free incubators in the UAE.

Implications of the new trinity

  • Geopolitically, India has welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, calling both its strategic partners.
  • In general, the Israel-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) breakthrough widens the moderate constituency for peaceful resolution of the Palestine dispute, easing India’s diplomatic balancing act.
  • However, nothing in West Asia is monochromatic: The Israel-GCC ties may provoke new polarization between the Jihadi fringe and the mainstream.
  • The possibility of the southern Gulf becoming the new arena of the proxy war between Iran and Israel cannot be ruled out, particularly in Shia pockets.
  • India would have to be on its guard to monitor and even pre-empt any threat to its interests in the Gulf.

Way forward

  • Israeli foray into the Gulf has the potential to disrupt the existing politico-economic architecture India has carefully built with the GCC states.
  • India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc.
  • Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism and Free Economic Zones.
  • In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Explained: How remunerative is farming in India?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Debate over profitability of farming in India

The government’s push to reform India’s agriculture sector has divided opinions and triggered a debate about the state of Indian agriculture.

Try this PYQ:

Q.In view of the declining average size of land holdings in India which has made agriculture nonviable for a majority of farmers, should contract farming and land leasing be promoted in agriculture? Critically evaluate the pros and cons. (UPSC 2015)

Features of Indian Agriculture

In the context of this debate, two long-standing characteristics of Indian agriculture are noteworthy:

  1. Indian agriculture is highly unremunerative
  2. It has been heavily regulated by the government and protected from the free play of market forces

Why are the new legislation introduced?

  • According to the government, the new Bills passed by Parliament attempt to make it easier for farmers to sell to and produce for the private sector.
  • The hope is that liberalizing the sector and allowing greater play for market forces will make Indian agriculture more efficient and more remunerative for the farmers.
  • In this context, it is important to understand some of the basics of Indian agriculture.

Basics of Indian agriculture

(1) Workforce engaged

  • At the time of Independence, about 70% of India’s workforce (a little less than 100 million) was employed in the agriculture sector.
  • Even at that time, agriculture and allied activities accounted for around 54% of India’s national income.
  • Over the years, agriculture’s contribution to national output declined sharply. As of 2019-20, it was less than 17% (in gross value added terms).
  • And yet, the proportion of Indians engaged in agriculture has fallen from 70% to just 55% (Chart 1).
  • As the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income (2017) observes, “the dependence of the rural workforce on agriculture for employment has not declined in proportion to the falling contribution of agriculture to GDP”.

(2) Land holdings

  • While the number of people dependent on agriculture has been burgeoning over the years, the average size of landholdings has become reduced sharply — even to the extent of being unviable for efficient production.
  • Data shows that 86% of all landholdings in India are small (between 1 and 2 hectares) and marginal (less than 1 hectare — roughly half a football field).
  • The average size among marginal holdings is just 0.37 ha which hardly provides enough income to stay above the poverty line.

(3) Debts

  • The combined result of several such inefficiencies is that most Indian farmers are heavily indebted (Chart 2).
  • The data shows that 40% of the 24 lakh households that operate on landholdings smaller than 0.01 ha are indebted. The average amount is Rs 31,000.
  • A good reason why such a high proportion of farmers is so indebted is that Indian agriculture — for the most part — is unremunerative.
  • Chart 3 provides the monthly income estimates for an agriculture household in four very different states as well as the all-India number.
  • Some of the most populous states like Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh have very low levels of income and very high proportions of indebtedness.

(4) Buying & selling

  • Another way of understanding the plight of the farmers relative to the rest of the economy is to look at the Terms of Trade between farmers and non-farmers.
  • Terms of Trade is the ratio between the prices paid by the farmers for their inputs and the prices received by the farmers for their output.
  • As such, 100 is the benchmark. If the ToT is less than 100, it means farmers are worse off.
  • As Chart 4 shows, ToT rapidly improved between 2004-05 and 2010-11 to breach the 100-mark but since then it has worsened for farmers.

(5) MSP

  • A key variable in the debate is the role of minimum support prices. Many protesters fear governments will roll back the system of MSPs.
  • MSPs provide “guaranteed prices” and an “assured market” to farmers, and save them from price fluctuations. This is crucial because most farmers are not adequately informed.
  • But although MSPs are announced for around 23 crops, actual procurement happens for very few crops such as wheat and rice.
  • Moreover, the percentage of procurement varies sharply across states (Chart 5). As a result, actual market prices — what the farmers get — are often below MSPs.

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

Redefining essential items: why it was needed, and who it will impact


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Essential Commodities

Mains level : Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020

Recently, the Rajya Sabha passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which is aimed at deregulating commodities such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes.

Try this question:

What are the salient features of Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020?

Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • It amends the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, by introducing a new Subsection 1(A) in Section 3.
  • After the amendment, the supply of certain foodstuffs — including cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, potato — can be regulated only under extraordinary circumstances, which include an extraordinary price rise, war, famine, and natural calamity of a severe nature.
  • In effect, the amendment takes these items out from the purview of Section 3(1), which gives powers to the central government to “control production, supply, distribution, etc, of essential commodities”.
  • Earlier, these commodities were not mentioned under Section 3(1) and reasons for invoking the section were not specified.

How is an ‘essential commodity’ defined?

  • There is no specific definition of essential commodities in the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Section 2(A) states that an “essential commodity” means a commodity specified in the Schedule of the Act.
  • The Act gives powers to the central government to add or remove a commodity in the Schedule.
  • The Centre, if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in the public interest, can notify an item as essential, in consultation with state governments.

Which are those commodities?

  • According to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, which implements the Act, the Schedule at present contain seven commodities.
  • They are drugs; fertilizers, whether inorganic, organic or mixed; foodstuffs including edible oils; hank yarn made wholly from cotton; petroleum and petroleum products; raw jute and jute textiles; seeds of food-crops and seeds of fruits and vegetables, seeds of cattle fodder, jute seed, cottonseed.
  • By declaring a commodity as essential, the government can control the production, supply, and distribution of that commodity, and impose a stock limit.

Under what circumstances can the government impose stock limits?

  • While the 1955 Act did not provide a clear framework to impose stock limits, the amended Act provides for a price trigger.
  • It says that agricultural foodstuffs can only be regulated under extraordinary circumstances such as war, famine, extraordinary price rise, and natural calamity.
  • However, any action on imposing stock limits will be based on the price trigger.
  • Thus, in case of horticultural produce, a 100% increase in the retail price of a commodity over the immediately preceding 12 months or over the average retail price of the last five years, whichever is lower, will be the trigger for invoking the stock limit.
  • For non-perishable agricultural foodstuffs, the price trigger will be a 50% increase in the retail price of the commodity over the immediately preceding 12 months or over the average retail price of the last five years, whichever is lower.

Why was the need for this felt?

  • The 1955 Act was legislated at a time when the country was facing a scarcity of foodstuffs due to persistently low levels of foodgrains production.
  • The country was dependent on imports and assistance (such as wheat import from the US under PL-480) to feed the population.
  • To prevent hoarding and black marketing of foodstuffs, the Essential Commodities Act was enacted in 1955. But now the situation has changed.
  • The production of wheat has increased 10 times while the production of rice has increased more than four times since five decades.
  • The production of pulses has increased 2.5 times, from 10 million tonnes to 25 million tonnes. In fact, India has now become an exporter of several agricultural products.

What will be the impact of the amendments?

  • The key changes seek to free agricultural markets from the limitations imposed by permits and mandis that were originally designed for an era of scarcity.
  • The move is expected to attract private investment in the value chain of commodities removed from the list of essentials, such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potatoes.
  • While the purpose of the Act was originally to check illegal trade practices such as hoarding, it has now become a hurdle for investment in the agriculture sector in general, and in post-harvesting activities in particular.
  • The private sector had so far hesitated about investing in cold chains and storage facilities for perishable items as most of these commodities were under the ambit of the EC Act.
  • The amendment seeks to address such concerns.

Why is it being opposed?

  • This was one of the three ordinances/Bills that have seen protests from farmers in parts of the country.
  • The Opposition says the amendment will hurt farmers and consumers, and will only benefit hoarders.
  • They say the price triggers envisioned in the Bill are unrealistic — so high that they will hardly ever be invoked.