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

Reform is about giving farmers choice

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Agriculture reforms

The article analyses the regional variation in the problems and issues of the farmer and how it has implications for the reforms in agriculture.

An issue of estimating the number of farmers in India

  • Almost 111 million are registered for the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan).
  • Other than some categories being barred from PM-Kisan benefits, not every eligible farmer has necessarily registered for PM-Kisan.
  • The last Agriculture Census in 2015-16 gave us 146 million holdings.
  • If the agricultural landholding is conditional on being a farmer, apart from a possible further increase since 2015-16, 146 million is possibly the upper bound.
  • Every definition of “farmer” is not contingent on the ownership of land.
  • The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 is an example where status as a farmer depends on cultivating land (or supervising cultivation), not owning it.
  • That issue was also flagged by the National Commission on Farmers, such as in the Draft National Policy for Farmers (2006), where “farmers” included agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants and so on.

Issues with making landholding prerequisite for being a farmer

  • The Committee on State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task in Land Reforms (2009) noted that “the Survey and Settlement Operations in the Permanently Settled Areas have not been taken up and where they have been taken up, for instance in Bihar, they tend to never conclude”
  • The last extensive survey and settlement in India was conducted two to three decades prior to Independence.
  • Post-Independence, some states have not undertaken a revisional survey and settlement so far.
  • There have been improvements since 2009 and the Department of Land Resources has a Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP).
  • Punjab and Haryana rank 16th and 18th respectively in Records and Services Index (LRSI).
  • Gujarat, West Bengal and Tripura score high on this Index (over 90 per cent).

Variation across the States

  • If land records are in this condition, some farmers will conceivably be excluded from the farmer definition.
  • With diverse and heterogenous agriculture, all farmers will not have identical views.
  •  2015-16 Agricultural Census tells us that most operational holdings are in UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and MP, in that order.
  • The highest operated areas are in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, UP and MP, in that order.
  • 86.1 per cent of holdings are small and marginal (less than 2 hectares) and only 0.6 per cent are large (more than 10 hectares).

Conclusion

The face of Indian agriculture has changed and is no longer what it was in the Green Revolution days, centred on Punjab, Haryana and western UP. Farmers, and governments, in Bihar and Kerala, don’t want APMCs, nor do UP, MP, Gujarat and Karnataka. There is no evidence that this has made those farmers worse off.

Medical Education Governance in India

Dealing with the problems of medical education

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with medical education in India

The article discusses the issues with medical education in India and how it affects the principle of equality.

Role of private entities

  • Due to demand for high-quality medical care on the one hand and constraints on public resources on the other, private entities have been permitted to establish medical educational institutions to supplement government efforts.
  • In the field of health care, there is a continuing shortage of health-care personnel.
  • The infrastructure required for high-quality modern medical education is expensive.
  • The three stated objectives of medical education has been — providing health-care personnel in all parts of the country, ensuring quality and improving equity.
  • None of the three stated objectives of medical education has been achieved by the private sector.
  • Though they are supposed to be not-for-profit, taking advantage of the poor regulatory apparatus and the ability to both tweak and create rules, these private entities, with very few exceptions, completely commercialised education.

Demand for regulation and equity

  • There have been attempts to regulate fees, sometimes by governments and sometimes by courts.
  •  These efforts have not been fruitful.
  • The executive, primarily the Medical Council of India, has proven unequal to the task of ensuring that private institutions comply with regulations.
  •  When the courts are approached, which issues are seen as important depends on the Bench.
  • It was in this situation that led to the introduction of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Undergraduate), or NEET-UG, as a single all-India gateway for admission to medical colleges.
  •  Challenged in courts, after an initial setback, the NEET scheme has been upheld.

How NEET affected equity

  • NEET may have improved the quality of candidates admitted to private institutions to some extent, but it seems to have further worsened equity.
  • Under any scheme of admission, the number of students from government schools who are able to get admission to a medical college is very low.
  • With NEET, the number has become lower.
  • The high fees of private medical colleges have always been an impossible hurdle for students from government schools, whatever the method used for admission.

Way forward

  • The basic cause of inequity in admission to higher educational institutions is the absence of a high quality school system accessible to all.
  • Allowing government medical colleges to admit students based on marks in Standard XII and using NEET scores for admission to private colleges will be more equitable right now.

Conclusion

Only a resolute government, determined to ensure that economic policy facilitates quality and equity in education, can do it.

Coronavirus – Economic Issues

Growth compulsion, fiscal arithmetic

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fiscal deficit and government budget

Mains level : Paper 3- Impact of pandemic on Indian economy

The government faces the challenge of high fiscal deficit and declining revenue. This article discusses the challenge and suggests the way forward to deal with the situation.

Dismal growth prospects

  • At (-)23.9% contraction for the first quarter of 2020-21, India’s growth showed one of the highest contraction globally.
  • What is most surprising in the Q1 data is that the sector ‘Public Administration, Defence and other Services’ contracted at (-) 10.3%.
  • This means that there was no fiscal stimulus.
  • The 2020-21 real GDP growth for India is forecast in the range of (-) 5.8% (RBI) to (-) 14.8% (Goldman Sachs).
  • The OECD in its September 2020 Interim Economic Outlook has projected a contraction of (-) 10.2% in FY21 for India.

Challenge of decline in revenue

  • Due to a sharp contraction in nominal GDP growth, central and State tax revenue, both may contract.
  • . In the first quarter of 2020-21, the Centre’s gross tax revenues contracted by (-) 32.6%.
  • The CAG-based data pertaining to 19 States show a contraction of (-) 45% in their own tax revenues.
  • Given the adverse impact of the lockdown, even the budgeted non-tax revenues are not likely to be realised.
  • The revenue calculations of the Budget were made on the assumption that the nominal income of the country would grow at 10%.
  • Some estimates indicate that the tax and non-tax revenue and non-debt capital receipts in the current fiscal may fall well short of the budget estimates by an amount higher than ₹5-lakh crore.
  • The combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and the States will have to make up for the shortfall in tax and non-tax revenues, if the level of budgeted expenditures is to be maintained.

Challenge of widening of fiscal deficit

  • In order for the central government to maintain the level of budgeted expenditure and also provide for additional stimulus, its fiscal deficit may have to be increased to close to an estimated 8.8% of GDP.
  • If one adds the Centre’s and States’ fiscal deficit, the combined fiscal deficit amounts to 13.8% of GDP.
  • If the nominal GDP actually contracts in 2020-21, the fiscal deficit as the percent of GDP would go up further.

Role of the RBI

  • The International Monetary Fund, in its June 2020 update of the World Economic Outlook, estimated the fiscal deficit of India and China at 12.1% of GDP.
  • India doesn’t have adequate resources to support a fiscal deficit of nearly 14% of GDP.
  • All this will therefore require substantial support from the Reserve Bank of India which will have to take on itself, either directly or indirectly, a part of the central government debt.
  • In the direct mode, the RBI takes on the debt directly from government at an agreed rate.
  • It took India long to move away from the automatic monetisation of debt.
  • Even if the RBI wants to support the borrowing programmes, it should not do so directly.
  • The indirect method is preferable as the market still sends out the signals on interest rate.
  • In both cases, the RBI is the provider of liquidity.
  • The question ultimately relates to the extent of debt monetisation that may be undertaken.
  • The country has also to guard against high inflation.

Role of government

  • The economic situation warrants enhanced government expenditure.
  • It appears that governments are withholding expenditure. That is not the right approach.
  • At the same time, there is a limit to monetisation of debt.

Conclusion

Perhaps the best course of action would be to keep the combined fiscal deficit at around 14% of GDP in the current year and find ways to finance it. This will have to be brought down gradually. It may take several years of normalisation.

Tax Reforms

Where are the funds collected through cess parked?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cess, Office of the CAG

Mains level : Cess deposits

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its latest audit report of government accounts, has observed that the government withheld in the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI) more than ₹1.1 lakh crore out of the almost ₹2.75 lakh crore collected through various cesses in 2018-19.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following items:

  1. Cereal grains hulled
  2. Chicken eggs cooked
  3. Fish processed and canned
  4. Newspapers containing advertising material

Which of the above items is/are exempted under GST (Goods and Services Tax)? (CSP 2018)

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1, 2 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Issues with the cess deposits

  • The CAG found this objectionable since cess collections are supposed to be transferred to specified Reserve Funds that Parliament has approved for each of these levies.
  • The nation’s highest auditor also found that over ₹1.24 lakh crore collected as Cess on Crude Oil over the last decade had not been transferred to the designated Reserve Fund — the Oil Industry Development Board.
  • Similarly, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Compensation Cess was also “short-credited” to the relevant reserve fund.

What is Cess?

  • The Union government is empowered to raise revenue through a gamut of levies, including taxes (both direct and indirect), surcharges, fees and cess.
  • While direct taxes, including income tax, and indirect taxes such as GST are taxes where the revenue received can be spent by the government for any public purpose in any manner it deems appropriate for the nation’s good, a cess is an earmarked tax that is collected for a specific purpose and ought to be spent only for that.
  • Every cess is collected after Parliament has authorised its creation through enabling legislation that specifies the purpose for which the funds are being raised.
  • Article 270 of the Constitution allows cess to be excluded from the purview of the divisible pool of taxes that the Union government must share with the States.

How many cesses does government levy?

  • A report submitted to the Fifteenth Finance Commission listed 42 cesses that have been levied at various points in time since 1944.
  • The very first cess was levied on matches, according to this report.
  • Post Independence, the cess taxes were linked initially to the development of a particular industry, including a salt cess and a tea cess in 1953.
  • Subsequently, the introduction of cess was motivated by the aim of ensuring labour welfare.
  • Some cesses that exemplified this thrust were the iron ore mines labour welfare cess in 1961, the limestone and dolomite mines labour welfare cess of 1972 and the cine workers welfare cess introduced in 1981.

Cesses after GST

  • The introduction of the GST in 2017 led to most cesses being done away with and as of August 2018, there were only seven cesses that continued to be levied.
  • These were Cess on Exports, Cess on Crude Oil, Health and Education Cess, Road and Infrastructure Cess, Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess, National Calamity Contingent Duty on Tobacco and Tobacco Products and the GST Compensation Cess.
  • And in February, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced a new cess — a Health Cess of 5% on imported medical devices — in the Finance Bill for 2020-2021.

Why is the issue in the news currently?

  • For one, most crucially, the express purpose of this particular cess is to help recompense States for the loss of revenue on account of their having joined the GST regime by voluntarily giving up almost all the power to levy local indirect taxes on goods and services.
  • Also, the share of revenue to the Centre’s annual tax kitty from cess had risen to 11.88% of the estimated gross tax receipts in 2018-19, from 6.88% in 2012-13.
  • Given that cess does not need to be a part of the divisible pool of resources, this increasing share of cess in the Union government’s tax receipts has a direct impact on fiscal devolution.

Surrogacy in India

Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2020

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ART

Mains level : ART Regulation Bill, 2020

The Centre moved to standardize protocols of the growing fertility industry and introduced the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2020, in Lok Sabha on the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament.

Try this question for mains:

Q. What is Assisted Reproductive Technology? Discuss the salient features of ART Regulation Bill, 2020?

Features of the ART Regulation Bill, 2020

(1) Defining ART

  • The Bill defines ART to include all techniques that seek to obtain a pregnancy by handling the sperm or the oocytes (immature egg cell) outside the human body and transferring the gamete or the embryo into the reproductive system of a woman.
  • Examples of ART services include gamete (sperm or oocyte) donation, in-vitro-fertilisation (fertilising an egg in the lab), and gestational surrogacy (the child is not biologically related to surrogate mother).
  • ART services will be provided through: (i) ART clinics, which offer ART related treatments and procedures, and (ii) ART banks, which store and supply gametes.

(2) Regulation of ART clinics and banks

  • The Bill provides that every ART clinic and the bank must be registered under the National Registry of Banks and Clinics of India.
  • The National Registry will be established under the Bill and will act as a central database with details of all ART clinics and banks in the country.
  • State governments will appoint registration authorities for facilitating the registration process.
  • Clinics and banks will be registered only if they adhere to certain standards (specialised manpower, physical infrastructure, and diagnostic facilities).
  • The registration will be valid for five years and can be renewed for a further five years. Registration may be cancelled or suspended if the entity contravenes the provisions of the Bill.

(3) Conditions for gamete donation and supply

  • Screening of gamete donors, collection and storage of semen, and provision of oocyte donor can only be done by a registered ART bank.
  • A bank can obtain semen from males between 21 and 55 years of age, and oocytes from females between 23 and 35 years of age.
  • An oocyte donor should be an ever-married woman having at least one alive child of her own (minimum three years of age).
  • The woman can donate oocyte only once in her life and not more than seven oocytes can be retrieved from her.
  • A bank cannot supply gamete of a single donor to more than one commissioning couple (couple seeking services).

(4) Conditions for offering ART services

  • ART procedures can only be carried out with the written informed consent of both the party seeking ART services as well as the donor.
  • The party seeking ART services will be required to provide insurance coverage in the favour of the oocytes donor (for any loss, damage, or death of the donor).
  • A clinic is prohibited from offering to provide a child of pre-determined sex. The Bill also requires checking for genetic diseases before the embryo implantation.

(5) Rights of a child born through ART 

  • A child born through ART will be deemed to be a biological child of the commissioning couple and will be entitled to the rights and privileges available to a natural child of the commissioning couple.
  • A donor will not have any parental rights over the child.

(6) National and State Boards

  • The Bill provides that the National and State Boards for Surrogacy constituted under the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 will act as the National and State Board respectively for the regulation of ART services.
  • Key powers and functions of the National Board include:
  1. advising the central government on ART related policy matters,
  2. reviewing and monitoring the implementation of the Bill,
  3. formulating code of conduct and standards for ART clinics and banks, and
  4. overseeing various bodies to be constituted under the Bill
  • The State Boards will coordinate enforcement of the policies and guidelines for ART as per the recommendations, policies, and regulations of the National Board.

(7) Offences and penalties

  • Offences under the Bill include:

(i) abandoning, or exploiting children born through ART, (ii) selling, purchasing, trading, or importing human embryos or gametes, (iii) using intermediates to obtain donors, (iv) exploiting commissioning couple, woman, or the gamete donor in any form, and (v) transferring the human embryo into a male or an animal.

  • These offences will be punishable with a fine between five and ten lakh rupees for the first contravention.
  • For subsequent contraventions, these offences will be punishable with imprisonment for a term between eight and 12 years, and a fine between 10 and 20 lakh rupees.
  • Any clinic or bank advertising or offering sex-selective ART will be punishable with imprisonment between five and ten years, or fine between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, or both.
  • No court will take cognizance of offences under the Bill, except on a complaint made by the National or State Board or any officer authorised by the Boards.

With inputs from PRS: https://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/assisted-reproductive-technology-regulation-bill-2020

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Gilgit-Baltistan: The land of peaks, streams and disputes

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gilgit-Baltistan Region, CPEC

Mains level : China's vested interests in the Kashmir Valley

Seven decades after it took control of the region, Pakistan is moving to grant full statehood to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), which appears as the northernmost part of the country in its official map.

Try this PYQ:

Q. If you travel through the Himalayas, you are likely to see which of the following plants naturally growing there?

  1. Oak
  2. Rhododendron
  3. Sandalwood

Select the correct option using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Pak occupation of GB

  • During the first Indo-Pak war of October 1947, Pakistan occupied 78,114 sq km of the land of Jammu and Kashmir, including the ‘Northern Areas’.
  • The Northern Areas is the other name of Gilgit-Baltistan that Pakistan has used for administrative reasons because it was a disputed territory.
  • This November, Pakistan will pave the way for fuller political rights for the roughly 1.2 million residents of the region, which will become the fifth State of Pakistan after Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

GB through history

  • One of the most mountainous regions in the world that is rich with mines of gold, emerald and strategically important minerals, GB is known for its extraordinary scenic beauty, diversity and ancient communities and languages.
  • The political nature of Gilgit-Baltistan has been directionless from the beginning.
  • Pakistan initially governed the region directly from the central authority after it was separated from ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ on April 28, 1949.
  • On March 2, 1963, Pakistan gave away 5,180 sq km of the region to China, despite local protests.
  • Under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the name of the region was changed to the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA).
  • Pakistan passed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order in 2009, which granted “self-rule” to the ‘Northern Areas’.

Sense of alienation

  • GB is largely an underdeveloped region.
  • One of the main reasons for the rebellion in the region in 1947 was the sense of alienation that the population felt towards the Dogra rulers of Srinagar, who operated under the protection of the British government.

It’s geographical features

  • It’s home to K-2, the second tallest mountain in the world.
  • Tourism remains restricted by many factors, including military hostility, though the region has some of the ancient Buddhist sculptures and rock edicts.
  • It is also home to an old Shia community, which often finds itself subjected to persecution in Pakistan’s urban centres.
  • At present, a Governor and an elected Chief Minister rule the region, which is divided into Gilgit, Skardu, Diamer, Astore, Ghanche, Ghizer and Hunza-Nagar.

Indian protest

  • Following Pakistan’s announcement of holding the legislative election in Gilgit-Baltistan, India reiterated its territorial sovereignty over the region.
  • India has consistently opposed Pakistan’s activities in Gilgit-Baltistan. It also opposed the announcement of the commencement of the Diamer-Bhasha dam in July this year.
  • There have been local and international concerns as reports suggest priceless Buddhist heritage will be lost once the dam is built.
  • India has objected to the use of Gilgit-Baltistan to build and operate the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

GB resists

  • Gilgit-Baltistan in recent years has witnessed sporadic protests against Islamabad.
  • The protests were fuelled by the loss of land and livelihood of the locals to mega projects that are being championed by Pakistan and its international partners like China.
  • There is a growing feeling that full statehood will help the locals fight their battles inside Pakistan on an equal basis.
  • On the other hand, there is a widespread feeling that Pakistan, under pressure from China, is firming up its control over Gilgit-Baltistan, eventually creating conditions for the declaration of the LoC as the International Border.

China’s vested interest

  • Gilgit-Baltistan is important for China as it is the gateway for the CPEC.
  • Significantly, the ongoing stand-off with China at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh has a Gilgit-Baltistan connection.
  • The Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road of India is viewed as a tactical roadway to access the Karakoram Pass, which provides China crucial access to Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan.
  • Full statehood for the region may give Pakistan a political and legal upper hand and strengthen China’s position in the region.

The Crisis In The Middle East

Armenia and Azerbaijan Conflict

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nagorno-Karabakh region

Mains level : Usual crisis in the middle east and caucasus region

Clashes have erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the volatile Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Consider this PYQ:

Q.The area is known as ‘Golan Heights’ sometimes appears in the news in the context of the events related to: (CSP 2015)

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

What is the dispute?

  • Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region that is inside Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians, declared martial law and mobilized their male populations.
  • Armenia said Azerbaijan had carried out an air and artillery attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Epicentre: The Nagorno-Karabakh region

  • Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
  • Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994 after thousands of people were killed and many more displaced.
  • Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.

Economics behind the clashes

  • The clashes prompted a flurry of diplomacy to prevent a new flare-up of a decades-old conflict between majority Christian Armenia and mainly Muslim Azerbaijan.
  • Pipelines shipping Caspian oil and natural gas from Azerbaijan to the world pass close to Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • The clashes have raised concerns about instability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines transporting oil and gas to world markets.

History- Important places, persons in news

Eden Gardens: India’s oldest cricketing ground

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Eden Gardens

Mains level : NA

This newscard is an excerpt from the original article published in TH.

UPSC may ask a question like this:

Q. In which Governor-General/Viceroy’s term was the famous cricketing ground ‘Eden Gardens’ was built?

Eden Gardens

  • The first cricket club outside Britain was the Calcutta Cricket Club founded in 1792, and the first match was played 12 years later between the Etonians, senior civil servants and other company officials.
  • In 1825 the club got a plot of land on the ground between Government House and Fort William to be used as a cricket ground.
  • In 1841, the club was permitted to enclose the ground with a fence. But the Army at Fort William described the club as an “encroacher”.
  • Cricket Club of Calcutta authorities then looked for an alternative ground and at ₹1,000, found a new one, fenced it and made it playable.
  • In 1864, the land was laid out for a ground for Calcutta Cricket Club in the extended part of Eden Gardens.

Deriving its name

  • Eden Gardens made its first appearance during the time of Governor-General Lord Auckland (1836-42).
  • According to the achieves, a local landlord gifted this land to Lord Auckland and his sisters Emily Eden and Fanny Eden helped him save his third daughter from a deadly disease.