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[op-ed snap] The IBSA task list

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IBSA

Mains level : Kochi meet revive IBSA to secure south south cooperation.


CONTEXT

Even as two member-states (India and South Africa) of the IBSA Dialogue Forum have been busy with national elections and the third (Brazil) is settling down after its recent presidential elections, their foreign policy mandarins met in Kochi, May 3-5. The central goal was to develop a blueprint to rejuvenate IBSA, widely viewed as a unique voice for the Global South. Will this endeavour succeed?

History of IBSA

  • The idea of creating a grouping composed of major democracies of three continents, Asia, Africa and South America, emerged from the disarray at the end of the 20th century, and the perceived need for developing countries to forge decisive leadership.
  • IBSA was launched through the Brasilia Declaration in 2003.
  • Its summits, between 2006 and 2011, gave it a special global profile.

Downfall of IBSA

  • But, 2011 onwards, BRICS, the larger group comprising IBSA countries, China and Russia, started to overshadow IBSA.
  • IBSA has been unable, until now, to hold its sixth summit.
  • Nevertheless, a series of events marking its 15th anniversary, held during 2018-19, have imparted new momentum to the endeavour to revitalise IBSA.

Importance of IBSA

Solidarity among developing countries – Throughout the period of its marginalisation by BRICS, a strong body of officials and experts in the three countries has held the view that IBSA is the true inheritor of solidarity among developing countries, which was nurtured from the Bandung Conference (1955) through UNCTAD and G-77 to the BAPA+40 Declaration (2018).

South – South Cooperation – It is the champion of South-South Cooperation, and the advocate of a coordinated response by developing economies to secure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 Shared Values – The glue that binds IBSA countries together is their faith in democracy, diversity, plurality, inclusivity, human rights and rule of law. This was reiterated through the IBSA Declaration on South-South Cooperation, issued in Pretoria in June 2018.

Reforms in International Organisations –

  • Notably IBSA remains determined to “step up advocacy for reforms of global governance institutions in multilateral fora”.
  • In particular, it is strongly committed to the expansion of the UN Security Council.
  • As Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj put it, “We three have to ensure that our collective voice is heard clearly in BRICS and other groups on UN Security Council reforms, since if we do not speak for our own interests, no one else will.”

Kochi meeting

  •  The IBSA Academic Forum, comprising independent experts, held its sixth session in Kochi after a hiatus of over seven years.
  • This forum hosted a candid and comprehensive exchange of views on the continuing relevance of IBSA; the need for a strategy to secure SDGs and cement South-South Cooperation; expanding trade cooperation; and the shared goal of enhancing academic collaboration on issues relating directly to the needs of democratic societies.

Revitalisation Of IBSA

  • First, the three Foreign Ministers have been meeting regularly to provide coordinated leadership to the grouping.
  • Second, while the India, Brazil and South Africa Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation (IBSA Fund) is small in monetary terms, it has succeeded in implementing 31 development projects in diverse countries: Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, State of Palestine, Cambodia and Vietnam, among others.
  • Third, India has been running an innovative IBSA Visiting Fellows Programme through the Delhi-based think tank, RIS or Research and Information System for Developing Countries.

 

Conclusion

  • The idea of IBSA remains valid.
  • The special responsibilities it bears cannot be discharged by BRICS. I
  • n fact, strengthening IBSA could increase the effectiveness of BRICS and encourage it to follow a more balanced approach on key issues of interest to India, Brazil and South Africa.
  • Hence, the current endeavours to infuse greater dynamism in IBSA are well-timed.
  • They would need buy-in by the government that comes to power in India. Support by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, who has just won re-election as President, would be crucial.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Being responsive

Mains Paper 2 : Laws, Institutions & Bodies Constituted For The Vulnerable Sections |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : India's rejection of human rights report on J&K requires an insight into Rights violation in valley.


CONTEXT

The government’s decision to shut down communication with UN Special Rapporteurs seeking to question India on alleged human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir may appear extreme, but is in line with its reaction to such international reports over the last few years.

Background

  • In a letter dated April 23, India’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva wrote to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights rejecting any reference to the UN’s original June 2018 report on J&K as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and refused to respond to questions about deaths of 69 civilians between 2016 and 2018 in violence in the Valley.
  • In its objections, the government said the report was “false and motivated”, that its conclusions and recommendations were violative of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and accused the Special Rapporteurs preparing the report of “individual prejudices” against India.
  • In addition, India drew notice to the Pulwama attack this year, calling terrorism the “grossest” violation of human rights, not the allegations against the security forces.
  • As a result, the government has decided to treat all allegations made by the UN Special Rapporteurs as a “closed chapter” and will not engage further on it.

Objection to OHCHR report

Justified Objections

  • India’s objections to the OHCHR report, the first of its kind when it was released in 2018, and the follow-up this year are understandable, given the often selective nature of allegations raised by the UN body.
  • It is also clear that demands for action against Indian officials and amendment of laws can cross the line on Indian sovereignty.
  • The call by the previous HCHR that the UN Human Rights Council set up an independent and international tribunal to investigate India’s record in Kashmir was seen to be invasive, and could be dismissed by New Delhi as well.

Question in need of answers

  • However, the government cannot quell the troubling questions that the UN report and the Special Rapporteurs’ submissions raise simply by rejecting them.
  • To begin with, most of the sources for the OHCHR report are official Indian authorities, State and national human rights commissions, international human rights agencies as well as reputed Indian NGOs.
  • This is therefore a view from within India, not some disengaged UN official, and must be taken very seriously.
  • Two Kashmiri NGOs also released a report on Monday documenting 432 specific cases of alleged brutality by security forces in Kashmir, including electrocution, ‘water-boarding’ and sexual torture of civilians, of which only about 27 were taken up by the State Human Rights Commission.

Way Forward

  • The government must press for due process and justice in each of these.
  • Eventually, India will be judged not only by how close it stands to the world’s most powerful countries, but how much the state extends itself to the most vulnerable within its own boundaries.
Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] Power under pressure

Mains Paper 3 : Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UDAY

Mains level : UDAY has not been Successful in achieving its aim.


CONTEXT

Launched in November 2015, the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) was designed to turn around the precarious financial position of state distribution companies. But as the NDA government ends its term, indications are that the turnaround hasn’t materialised, with several targets being missed.

Background

  • Broadly, the scheme had three critical components.
  • Takeover of discom debt by state governments, reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, timely tariff revisions and elimination of the gap between the average per unit cost of supply (ACS) and average revenue realised (ARR) by FY19.
  1. AT&C losses
  • First, at the aggregate level, the AT&C losses for major states stood at 19.05 per cent as against the target of reducing them to 15 per cent by the end of FY19.
  • In the case of some states, especially in the northern and central parts of the country, the losses are of a much higher magnitude, suggesting that pilferage continues to be rampant.

2. ACS- ARR Gap

While the ACS-ARR gap was supposed to be eliminated by FY19, it remains as high as Rs 0.25 per unit. In many states, the gap is even higher. Part of the problem can be traced to inadequate tariff hikes. While it is true that some states have aggressively raised tariffs, the median hike remains muted. This is where political compulsions overtake commercial decisions.

3. Power subsidy

Then there’s also the issue of whether the power subsidy released by state governments is adequate. As a result, discoms have reported financial losses to the tune of Rs 21,658 crore at the end of FY19, reversing the declining trend since the launch of UDAY, say reports.

Impact

  • This deterioration in the financial position of discoms does not bode well for the entire power sector chain.
  • Reports suggest that dues by state discoms to power generators have in fact risen.
  • And though the recent CERC order on tariff relief for independent power producers is positive for producers, it runs the risk of timely realisation, as the financial position of discoms continues to precarious.

Conclusion

Other Inefficiencies –

  • Apart from these, there are several other operational efficiency targets under UDAY, such as feeder metering, smart metering and feeder segregation. Progress on these is mixed.
  • For instance, not much progress has been made in the case of smart metering above 200 and upto 500 kwh and above 500 kwh.

Need for quick action – These issues need to be addressed quickly or else discom losses will rise further to levels where talks of another bailout are likely to surface.

More fiscal space with states – The only difference being that, this time around, state governments have little fiscal space to offer support.

UDAY Scheme for Discoms

[op-ed snap] Eye on the monsoon

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Monsson

Mains level : Preparedness for monsoon is not upto the mark which will harm india's Interest.


CONTEXT

As India awaits the arrival of the annual summer monsoon, hopes are particularly high for normal rainfall that is so vital for agriculture, the health of forests, rivers and wetlands. The India Meteorological Department has forecast normal rainfall of 96% of the long period average of 89 cm rain, with an onset date in the first week of June in Kerala. It has also signalled a significant possibility of a deficit.

Monsoon’s Importance

The monsoon bounty is crucial for the 60% of gross cropped area in farming that is rain-fed, and represents, in the assessment of the National Commission on Farmers, 45% of agricultural output.

Given the erratic patterns of rainfall witnessed over the past few decades and their possible connection to atmospheric changes caused by a variety of pollutants, the distribution of monsoon 2019 will add to the insights.

The southwest monsoon is a determinant of India’s overall prosperity, and sustained efforts to make the best use of rainfall are absolutely important for farms, cities and industry.

Areas of Concern

Decline in groundwater

Considering that there has been a 52% decline in groundwater levels based on tests conducted last year over the previous decadal average, State governments should have pursued the setting up of new recharging wells and made improvements to existing ones on a war footing.

Delay in building infrastructure

They also have lagged in building structures to harvest surface water and helping farmers raise the efficiency of irrigation.

Ineffective Support

The approach to the farming sector, however, has been influenced more by the imperatives of an election year, and the Centre’s biggest intervention was to announce a cash handout to specified categories of small farmers.

Effects of Industrial Pollution

  • A normal summer monsoon over the subcontinent brings widespread prosperity, but does not guarantee a uniform spread.
  • This, as scientists point out, may be due to the effect of particulates released through various industrial and agricultural processes.
  • Some of these aerosols suppress the rainfall and disperse it across the land, causing long breaks in precipitation, while others absorb heat and lead to a convection phenomenon that increases rainfall in some places.

Work on Industrial Pollution

Such evidence points to the need for India to clean up its act on rising industrial emissions, and burning of fossil fuels and biomass in order to improve the stability of the monsoon.

Freshwater availability

An equally key area of concern is freshwater availability for households, which, NITI Aayog says, account for 4% of available supplies, besides 12% used by industry.

Conclusion

Urbanization trends and the severe water stress that residents experience underscore the need for mandatory rainwater harvesting policies and augmented efforts by States to preserve surface water by building new reservoirs. Yet, governments are adopting a commodity approach to the vital resource, displaying deplorable indifference to the pollution and loss of rivers, wetlands and lakes that hold precious waters. This is no way to treat a life-giving resource.

Monsoon Updates

[op-ed snap] Moral ambiguity on the Rohingya

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : India should take a firm and oral stand on rohingaya crisis.


CONTEXT

India’s abstention from voting on a UN Human Rights Council draft resolution, in March this year, on the “situation of human rights in Myanmar” needs closer examination. Co-sponsored by the European Union (EU) and Bangladesh, the resolution “expresses grave concern at continuing reports of serious human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar”, particularly in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States, and calls for a full inquiry into these by the Council’s own mechanism and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

  • In its follow-up explanatory statement, India’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Rajiv Kumar Chander, said that it would “only be counter-productive” to support “extensive recommendations regarding legislative and policy actions” and “threatening Myanmar with punitive action, including at the ICC, to which that state is not a signatory”.
  • ” India, for its part, continues to maintain ties with the Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw), supplying them with combat hardware and imparting UN peacekeeping training.
  • An edition of the India-Myanmar bilateral army exercise, IMBEX 2018-19, took place this January at Chandimandir.

Arms and business ties

  • According to the arms transfer database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India is one of Myanmar’s top arms suppliers, and weapons sales includes military aircraft, artillery, naval vessels and reconnaissance equipment, armoured vehicles, anti-submarine torpedoes and missiles.
  • One analysis by the Dutch advocacy group, Stop Wapenhandel (Stop Arms Trade), claims that India transferred combat equipment in violation of international embargoes.
  • India’s core logic here is to “modernise” the Tatmadaw with the intent of securing its 1,640-km plus border with Myanmar and forge a sustainable strategic partnership at China’s doorstep.
  • But, in this inflexible realpolitik approach, there is little space for end-user accountability and human rights. 

Through Dhaka’s lens

  •  India’s soft, backfoot approach is being increasingly seen by Bangladesh, which is hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees, to be tilted in Myanmar’s favour.
  • Bangladeshi journalist Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan argues that “Indian policy regarding the Rohingya crisis has always favoured Myanmar.”

  • Alternate ways
  • Instead of just pushing one-time economic aid into Bangladesh and Myanmar, India could have forged a regional ‘compact’, much like the Jordan Compact on Syria, to ensure sustained humanitarian assistance in addressing the short- and long-term needs of the displaced Rohingya population.
  • This would have ensured uniform donor interest and better monitoring of where aid is going to. I
  • Using the geo-economic leverage that it enjoys with Myanmar, India could compel Myanmar to bring the alleged perpetrators of war crimes to book or at least get a guarantee that such conduct would not be repeated in the future.
  • Conclusion
  • For now, India is happy to be in a stable, but morally tenuous, friends-with-benefit relationship with Myanmar. The victims continue to be the stateless Rohingya.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

[op-ed snap] The case for informal regional diplomacy’

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : Informal meetings may provide enhanced relationship with neighbors.


CONTEXT

Rather than pray for the success of SAARC, the new government in Delhi should double down on informal diplomacy that could help pave the way for more purposeful regional cooperation — both bilateral and multilateral.

Background

  • If Modi used the invitation in 2014 to signal his commitment to South Asian regionalism, he was also quick to see the limitations of SAARC (the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) at the Kathmandu summit in 2014.
  • The summit had failed to sign off on the connectivity agreements that were painfully negotiated by senior officials, because Pakistan chose to pull out at the last stage.
  • Apparently Rawalpindi was not ready for trade and economic cooperation with India.

Steps taken to enhance regional coperation

  • At Kathmandu, Modi recognised that South Asian regionalism can’t be allowed to become a hostage to Pakistan.
  • To be sure, Islamabad had the sovereign right to decide on the need, nature and pace of its integration with the rest of the subcontinent.
  • The only sensible course, then, is for the rest of the SAARC to move forward wherever they can and let Pakistan join the process whenever it feels comfortable.

Multilateral Mechanism

Since then Delhi has emphasised other multilateral mechanisms — including sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal and trans-regional cooperation in the east — the littoral of the Bay of Bengal including Burma and Thailand.

Reviving bilateral engagements –

Modi also revived the bilateral engagement with countries like Sri Lanka that were constrained in the UPA years — thanks to Tamil Nadu’s veto over the engagement with Colombo.

Regular Office Visits to neighbour countries

  • Regular official visits to the neighbouring capitals have become the norm at all levels.
  • It has become the convention for any new foreign secretary to travel first to all the neighbouring capitals.

Focus on informal meetings

  • The Subcontinent can do with more of this kind of engagement — leaders seeing each other on short notice for informal consultations or just watch a cricket match or join a social or spiritual occasion.
  • Informal diplomacy in South Asia will make it easier for India to sustain high-level engagement with the neighbourhood.
  • These include pre-set multilateral summits — from BRICS and SCO to the ASEAN, G-20 and the UN — as well as annual meetings with friendly nations through the year.
  • Meanwhile, some of these multilateral summits could throw up the possibilities of a meeting with the Pakistani leadership.
  • If meetings with Pakistan’s leadership become routine and informal, Delhi will be able to prevent each encounter seem like a gladiatorial contest that must address all issues and produce joint statements, every word of which is analysed to death.

While Pakistan is a special case, informal high-level diplomacy could also help liberate the region from the stuffy and unproductive formalism of the SAARC.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Platforms of our own

Mains Paper 2 : Effect Of Policies & Politics Of World On India'S Interests |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : nothing much

Mains level : India's interest needs to be protected from unwanted social media influence.


CONTEXT

Social media platforms allow political parties to reach millions of prospective voters and are therefore an integral part of elections.

Misuse of Social Media

  • However, some authoritarian regimes across the world have used social media to manufacture positive public opinion.
  • Worse, some established democracies have had to deal with propaganda, fake news and foreign interference in domestic elections.
  • These developments point to the capacity of social media platforms to seriously undermine democratic practices worldwide.

Steps after the Cambridge Analytica scandal

  • Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where the company illegally harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent and used that to influence their voting preferences, Facebook has been in the forefront in creating various checks and balances in cyberspace to create an environment for free and fair elections.
  • It has created specialised global centres with the sole aim of promoting election integrity.

Use of Artificial Intelligence –

  • As a platform that sees billions of posts each day, Facebook has identified Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AIML)-powered pattern recognition tools to be the most effective line of defence against “unnatural interference”.
  • Whenever accounts are found that are similar to ones flagged in the past, and that are inaccurate, abusive, or violating the platforms’ terms of service, they are systematically removed.
  • At present, AIML tools assist the platform block or remove over a million accounts a day.

Case study of India

According to a recent survey, one in two Indian voters has received some kind of fake news in the month leading to the elections. AIML tools also work to minimise the spread of such disinformation.

Inefficiencies in model with regard to India
  • Some of the actions taken by these platforms, however, have not been that well received, especially by those who say that these platforms should not be deciding what is proper and improper in the Indian online space.
  • For instance, Twitter’s top officials, including global CEO Jack Dorsey, were summoned to appear before the Parliamentary Panel on Information Technology for alleged bias against right-wing voices on the platform.
  • With almost all the popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, being foreign-owned, and with India having neither insights into their internal algorithms and functioning nor any viable homegrown equivalents, its population will always be susceptible to interference beyond its control.

Way Forward

India’s ability to create its own mass collaborative technology and independent institutions with technical expertise that can monitor and counter actions of the government, is paramount in ensuring that social media evolves into an enabler of transparency and democracy, rather than a cause of democratic recession.

Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Taking stock of Islamic State 2.0

Mains Paper 3 : External State & Non-State Actors: Challenges To Internal Security. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : isis

Mains level : Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka suggest challenges for indian security.


CONTEXT

On Easter Sunday this year, April 21, Sri Lanka witnessed a series of coordinated bomb blasts, killing over 250 people. It was the heaviest toll in Sri Lanka in terms of lives lost since the civil war ended in 2009, thus ending a decade of peace.

Attack by IS

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was to announce subsequently that the attacks in Sri Lanka were revenge for the fall of the Syrian town of Baghuz, the last IS-ruled village overrun by Syrian forces in March this year.

Reason for South Asia As a target

  •  South Asia today is a virtual cauldron of radical Islamist extremist activity. From Afghanistan through Pakistan to the Maldives to Bangladesh, radical Islamist extremism is an ever present reality.
  • Both India and Sri Lanka, however, prefer to believe that they are shielded from such tendencies, but this needs a relook.

 

Radicalisation of youth

  • In the case of Sri Lanka, it is by now evident that officials had turned a blind eye to the fact that areas such as Kattankudy and its environs in the northeast have become hotbeds of Wahabi-Salafi attitudes and practices.
  • Muslim youth here have been radicalised to such an extent that it should have set alarm bells ringing.
  • The advent of the IS occurred at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, at a time when a new breed of terrorists had emerged, inspired by the Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb, and the Palestinian, Abdullah Azzam.
  • Combining this with the practical theology of Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani made for a potent mixture.
  • In addition to this, the IS introduced the concept of a new Caliphate — especially al-Baghdadi’s vision of a Caliphate based on Islamic history.
  • This further ignited the imagination of Muslim youth across the globe and became a powerful magnet to attract volunteers to their cause.

Pivotal role of the Net

  •  It retains its ability to proselytise over the Internet, making a special virtue of ‘direct-to-home’ jihad.
  • In Sri Lanka, a close knit web of family relationships has ensured secrecy and prevented leakage of information, thereby opting for methods of old-time anarchists.

 Idea as the moving force

  • The real threat that the IS, however, poses is that it is able to convince the Muslim extremist fringe that their time has come.
  •  Radicalization, in any event, has less to do with numbers than with the intensity of beliefs. The struggle is not against presumed disparities or injustices meted out to Muslim minorities.
  • Rather, it reflects the quest for a new militant Islamist identity.

Lessons for India

  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) during its investigations has since come across links connecting IS units in Kerala and Tamil Nadu with the NTJ in Sri Lanka. T
  • IS 2.0 is likely to nurture two types: the less informed rabid supporters and a band of highly radical ideologues who can entice Muslim youth to their cause.
  • The path to radicalisation of both segments is through the Internet.
  • Time spent alone online listening to propaganda can produce fanaticism of the most extreme variety.
  • It could promote a binary world view of a conflict between ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’, allowing radical Islamists to set the agenda.
Foreign Policy Watch: Cross-Border Terrorism

[op-ed snap] The Salt Example

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Food fortification

Mains level : Food fortification may address widespread deficiencies like anaemia.


CONTEXT

India has been able to dramatically reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty from 306 million people living on less than $1.90 (on a PPP basis) a day in 2011 to 48 million today. However, it is puzzling as to why the country has been unable to show a similar dynamism in its record against malnutrition.

The situation regarding malnutrition in the country

  • Despite major government interventions — including providing highly subsidised foodgrains to the poorest 67 per cent of the population under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), a free Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDM) that targets around 100 million students in government schools and a supplementary nutrition programme through the ICDS network — the country is home to the largest number of malnourished children in the world.
  • In the decade between 2005-06 and 2015-16, stunting declined at the rate of 0.9 per cent per annum.

Anaemia is widespread

  • Though anaemia among children has declined, it affects every second child in the country.
  • There has been no perceptible decline in anaemia among 15 to 49-year old women; it affects around 60 per cent of them. This public health emergency needs to be addressed immediately.

Reasons for widespread anaemia

  • Poverty, gender disparity, poor sanitation, low health and nutrition service coverage and poor nutritional intake — particularly an iron-deficient diet — continue to impede our fight against anaemia.
  • The daily consumption of iron rich dark green leafy vegetables has reduced from 64 per cent to 48 per cent of the population in the last decade.
  • Many, in fact, argue that the NFSA’s focus on wheat and rice has forced millets — traditional source for iron and minerals — out of the market.
  • The government’s iron supplementation programme to overcome IDA has led to only 30 per cent of pregnant women consuming iron and folic acid tablets.
  • This compels us to think of simpler and effective strategies like fortification of food staples with essential micronutrients like iron and vitamin.

Food fortification as a solution

  • Food fortification is a largely-ignored, yet critical, strategy which has proved an effective, affordable, scalable and sustainable intervention in many countries.
  • India too has tested this idea when it successfully tackled the widespread problem of goitre by mandating iodised salt in 1962.
  • As there are numerous programmes to address malnutriton, this simple idea of fortifying meals has the potential to reach every segment of the population.
  • The Women and Child Development and Human Resource Development ministries have issued advisories to the states to mandatorily use fortified wheat flour and edible oil in ICDS and MDM. 

Fortification of Rice

  • Supply of fortified rice through a network of fair price shops is a cost-effective intervention to address anaemia across all sections of the population.
  • Evaluations in Odisha’s Gajapati district, which experimented with fortified rice in MDM, found that the incidence of anaemia has reduced by 20 per cent between 2012 and 2015, of which 6 per cent reduction can be directly attributable to fortification.
  • The Department of Food and Public Distribution, facilitated by the NITI Aayog, has recently launched a centrally-sponsored scheme on rice fortification in PDS.

Conclusion

Dependence on political will – A successful pan-India scale up of fortification will depend on many factors — the political will of state governments, flexibility to allow states to adapt the fortification model to their procurement and distribution systems and capacity building of different stakeholders.

 Strengthening role of FSSAI – The FSSAI’s role, its enforcement machinery and the quality control labs needs to be strengthened.

Generation of awareness among people -Lastly and most crucially, sustainability of fortification depends on the regular consumption of fortified food by the consumers and thus a comprehensive state specific strategy should be developed to generate awareness among the consumers.

Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

Explained: Exit Polls

Mains Paper 2 : Representation Of People's Act |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Exit Polls

Mains level : Ensuring free and fair elections


News

  • With the long and vitriolic-filled General Elections, spanning over seven phases, coming to a close, the embargo on the broadcast of exit polls was lifted.

Exit Polls in India

  • An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken soon after a voter walks out after casting his or her vote.
  • It is considered as an indicator to which party forms the government.
  • Unlike an opinion poll, which asks for whom the voter plans to vote, an exit poll asks for whom the voter actually voted.
  • Exit polls are conducted by a number of organisations.
  • This method is not new; it began back in 1957 during the second Lok Sabha elections when the Indian Institute of Public Opinion conducted a poll.

Regulating exit polls

  • Seeking an amendment to the RP Act to provide for a ban on both exit and opinion polls during a period specified by the EC in 2004 had approached the Law Ministry along with the endorsement of six national parties and 18 state parties.
  • The recommendation was accepted in part, and in February 2010, restrictions were imposed only on exit polls through the introduction of Section 126(A) in the Act.
  • The EC advises electronic and print media not to publish or publicise any article or programme related to the dissemination of results of exit polls during the prohibited period.

What does ECI advisory say about rules for predicting results?

  • The ECI is of the view that prediction of results of elections in any form or manner by way of predictions etc by astrologers, political analysts or by any persons during the prohibited period is violation of the spirit of Section 126A (of the RP Act).
  • It aims to prevent the electors of constituencies still going to polls from being influenced in their voting by such predictions about the prospects of the various political parties.
  • ECI, in exercise of the powers under sub-section (1) of Section 126A of the RP Act, 1951 has notifies the period during which conducting any exit poll is prohibited

Issue with exit polls

  • Both exit and opinion polls can be controversial if the agency conducting them is perceived to be biased.
  • As per critics, the projections of these surveys can be influenced by the choice, wording and timing of the questions, and by the nature of the sample drawn.
  • Political parties often allege that many opinion and exit polls are motivated and sponsored by their rivals.
  • They could have a distorting effect on the choices voters make in a protracted election, rather than simply reflecting public sentiment or views.
Electoral Reforms In India

RISAT-2B: An all-seeing radar imaging satellite

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RISAT Constellation

Mains level : Utility of the all weather imaging satellite



News

  • The PSLV-C46 is set to launch RISAT-2B from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

RISAT Constellation

  • RISAT-2B, short for “Radar Imaging Satellite-2B”, is the second in a series of satellites used to observe weather conditions on Earth using radar imagery.
  • RISAT-2 was the first satellite in the series, launched for the purpose of surveillance. RISAT-1 was launched later, to become India’s first all-weather radar imaging satellite.
  • RISAT-2B is to be followed by RISAT-2BR1, 2BR2, RISAT-1A, 1B, 2A and so on.
  • ISRO orbited its first two radar satellites in 2009 & 2012 and it plans to deploy four or five of them in 2019 alone.
  • A constellation of such space-based radars means a comprehensive vigil over the country.
  • Once operational, the satellite will be capable of monitoring weather day and night, in all weather conditions.

About PSLV-C46

  • The PSLV-C46 mission is ISRO’s 48 PSLV launch, and the 14th PSLV Core-Alone (CA) mission.
  • The PSLV was the first of ISRO’s rockets to be equipped with liquid rocket stages.
  • In the PSLV-CA version, the rocket doesn’t have the six strap-on boosters that larger rockets do, and only uses the four core stages of the PSLV to launch its payload.

Utility of this constellation

  • When it is cloudy or dark, ‘regular’ remote-sensing or optical imaging satellites — which work like a light-dependent camera — cannot perceive hidden or surreptitious objects on the ground.
  • Satellites that are equipped with an active sensor, the synthetic aperture radar (SAR), can sense or ‘observe’ Earth in a special way from space day and night, rain or cloud.
  • This all-weather seeing feature is what makes them special for security forces and disaster relief agencies.
  • In India we also use radar imaging for crop estimation because our main crop growing season of kharif is in May-September when it rains and gets cloudy.
  • We have used this data extensively for forestry, soil, land use, geology and during floods and cyclone.
  • Radar imaging satellites pick up structures, new bunkers very well, and sometimes help to count them, too.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Explained: Why an industrial policy is crucial

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Need for an comprehensive industrial policy in India



News

Background

  • The contribution of manufacturing to GDP in 2017 was only about 16%, a stagnation since the economic reforms began in 1991.
  • In India manufacturing has never been the leading sector in the economy other than during the Second and Third Plan periods.

Manufacturing sector: A prime moving force

  • Manufacturing is an engine of economic growth because it offers economies of scale, embodies technological progress and generates forward and backward linkages that create positive spillover effects in the economy.
  • No major country managed to reduce poverty or sustain growth without manufacturing driving economic growth.
  • This is because productivity levels in industry (and manufacturing) are much higher than in either agriculture or services.

Market Failures urges govt to intervene

  • The specific instances of market failure that require a government-driven industrial policy are:
  1. lack of adequate investments
  2. imperfect information with respect to firm-level investments in learning and training and
  3. lack of information and coordination between technologically interdependent investments
  • These are good reasons why an economy-wide planning mechanism is needed in India.
  • However, the India should steer clear of the “command and control” approach that harks back to pre-1991 days.

Lack of Policy measures in India

  • The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development or UNCTAD finds that over 100 countries have, within the last decade, articulated industrial policies.
  • However, India still has no manufacturing policy.
  • Focussing (as “Make in India” does) on increasing FDI and ease of doing business, important though they may be, does not constitute an industrial policy.

Urgent need for a comprehensive Policy

I. Promoting investments

  • There is the need to coordinate complementary investments when there are significant economies of scale and capital market imperfections.

II. Subsidization and providing stimulus

  • Industrial policies are needed to address learning externalities such as subsidies for industrial training, on which we have done poorly.
  • However, a lack of human capital has been a major constraint upon India historically being able to attract foreign investment (which Southeast Asian economies succeeded in attracting).

III. Govt. role as facilitator

  • The state can play the role of organizer of domestic firms into cartels in their negotiations with foreign firms or governments — a role particularly relevant in the 21st century.
  • It rose after the big business revolution of the 1990s with mega-mergers and acquisitions among transnational corporations.
  • In fact, one objective of China’s industrial policies since the 1990s has been to support the growth of such firms.

IV. Efficient Capacity Management

  • The role of industrial policy is not only to prevent coordination failures (i.e. ensure complementary investments) but also avoid competing investments in a capital-scarce environment.
  • Excess capacity leads to price wars, adversely affecting profits of firms — either leading to bankruptcy of firms or slowing down investment, both happening often in India (witness the aviation sector).
  • Price wars in the telecom sector in India which hampers investment in mobile/internet coverage of rural India where access to mobile phones and broadband Internet, needs rapid expansion.

V. Reservation of products

  • An industrial policy can ensure that the industrial capacity installed is as close to the minimum efficient scale as possible.
  • The missing middle among Indian enterprises is nothing short of a failure of industrial strategy.
  • It includes products exclusively for production in the small-scale and cottage industries (SSI) sector from India’s 1956 Industrial Policy Resolution onwards.
  • By the end of the 1980s, 836 product groups were in the “reserved” category produced only by SSIs (which encouraged informal enterprises).

VI. Preventing structural failures

  • When structural change is needed, industrial policy can facilitate that process.
  • In a fast-changing market, losing firms will block structural changes that are socially beneficial but make their own assets worthless.
  • East Asian governments prevented such firms from undermining structural change, with moves such as orderly capacity-scrapping between competing firms and retraining programmes to limit such resistance.

IT Sector: A self taught lesson for Policy Makers

  • If evidence is still needed that the state’s role will be critical to manufacturing growth in India, the state’s role in the success story of India’s IT industry must be put on record.
  • The government invested in creating high-speed Internet connectivity for IT software parks enabling integration of the Indian IT industry into the U.S. market.
  • The government allowed the IT industry to import duty-free both hardware and software. (In retrospect, this should never have continued after a few years since it undermined the growth of the electronics hardware manufacturing in India.)
  • The IT industry was able to function under the Shops and Establishment Act; hence not subject to the 45 laws relating to labour and the onerous regulatory burden these impose.
  • Finally, the IT sector has the benefit of low-cost, high-value human capital created by public investments earlier in technical education.
  • These offer insights to the potential for industrial policy when a new government takes over soon.

Way Forward

  • The East Asian miracle was very much founded upon export-oriented manufacturing, employ surplus labour released by agriculture, thus raising wages and reducing poverty rapidly.
  • The growing participation of East Asian countries in global value chains (GVCs); manufactured consumer goods to more technology- and skill-intensive manufactures for export, was a natural corollary to the industrial policy.
  • India has been practically left out of GVCs.
  • Increasing export of manufactures will need to be another rationale for an industrial policy, even though India has to focus more on “make for India”.
  • In this quest for increased exports, economies of scale (a proportionate saving in costs gained by an increased level of production) are critical.
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

[op-ed snap] External woes

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Trade deficit

Mains level : Falling exports should be a cause of worry for policy makers.


CONTEXT

The estimates for foreign trade showing a sharp slowdown in merchandise export growth in April, to 0.64% from a year earlier, ought to add to concerns about the economy.

Condition of exports

Contraction in exports –

  • If one were to strip away the 31% surge in shipments of petroleum products to overseas markets, India’s export of goods actually contracted by over 3% in dollar terms last month.
  • In contrast, overall merchandise exports had expanded 11% year-on-year in March, with the growth in shipments excluding petroleum products exceeding that pace by about 50 basis points.

Widespread contraction –

The slump in exports was fairly widespread, with 16 of the 30 major product groups listed by the Commerce Ministry reflecting contractions, compared with the 10 categories that had shrunk in March.

Decline in strong sectors  –

Worryingly, shipments of engineering goods declined by over 7% after having expanded by 16.3% in March, while the traditionally strong export sectors — gem and jewellery, leather and leather products, textiles and garments and drugs and pharmaceuticals — all weakened.

Impact of contraction in exports –

  • These are all key providers of jobs and any protracted pain across these industries will impact jobs, wages and consumption demand in the domestic market.
  • While the contraction in gem and jewellery exports widened to 13.4% in April, from 0.4% in March, the slump in the leather segment broadened to 15.3% from 6.4%.
  • And the pace of growth of garment exports decelerated to 4.4% from 15.1% in March.

Coupled with an increase in imports

  • Imports grew by 4.5% to $41.4 billion in April, accelerating from March’s 1.4% pace as purchases of crude oil and gold continued to increase.
  • While the 9.3% jump in the oil import bill, from March’s 5.6%, can partly be explained by the rise in international crude prices (Brent crude futures, for instance, advanced 6.4% in April), India’s insatiable appetite for gold, as reflected in the 54% surge in imports last month, must give policymakers cause for reflection.
  • Excluding oil and gold, however, imports shrank by more than 2% last month, signalling that import demand in the real productive sectors is largely becalmed.
  • As a result of merchandise imports outpacing exports, the trade deficit widened to a five-month high of $15.3 billion.
  • The widening trade shortfall will add pressure on India’s burgeoning current account deficit, which at a provisional $51.9 billion in the first nine months of fiscal 2018-19 had already surpassed the preceding financial year’s 12-month shortfall of $48.7 billion.

Conclusion

  • With stronger headwinds ahead in the form of an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China, and its knock-on impact on global growth, the outlook for export demand is far from reassuring.
  • Add the rising military tensions in West Asia and its potential to further push up oil prices, and the scope to contain the trade and current account deficits seems significantly challenging.
  • Clearly, this would be one more pressing concern for the new government to address.
Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

[op-ed snap]Charting a clear course in the Indo-Pacific

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Indo pacific approach overhaul is a welcome step in foreign policy relations.


CONTEXT

Though the term Indo-Pacific has been gaining traction in Indian policy circles for some time now, it achieved operational clarity after the Indian vision was presented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018. His speech underscored that for India the geography of the Indo-Pacific stretches from the eastern coast of Africa to Oceania (from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas) which also includes in its fold the Pacific Island countries.

Many mechanisms regarding Indo Pacific

  • India’s Act East policy remains the bedrock of the national Indo-Pacific vision and the centrality of ASEAN is embedded in the Indian narrative.
  • India has been an active participant in mechanisms like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), in ASEAN-led frameworks like the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, the ASEAN Regional Forum as well as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation and the Mekong-Ganga Economic Corridor.
  • India has also been convening the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, in which the navies of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) participate.
  • Through the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation, India is stepping up its interactions with the Pacific Island countries.

 

The approach towards Indo Pacific

  • Inclusiveness – Inclusiveness, openness, and ASEAN centrality and unity, therefore, lie at the heart of the Indian notion of Indo-Pacific.
  • Security – Security in the region must be maintained through dialogue, a common rules-based order, freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.
  • Connectivity – More connectivity initiatives impinging on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, consultation, good governance, transparency, viability and sustainability should be promoted.

The idea behind setting up Indo Pacific Wing

  • The setting up of the Indo-Pacific wing in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in April 2019 is a natural corollary to this vision.
  • Major powers defining their vision – Given how the term Indo-Pacific has been gaining currency and how major regional actors such as the U.S., Japan and Australia are articulating their regional visions — including this term in their official policy statements — it was becoming imperative for India to operationalise its Indo-Pacific policy.
  • Renaming by the USA – The renaming of the U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command as well as the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act in December 2018 showcase Washington’s more serious engagement with the Indo-Pacific.
  • Huge geographical spread – Given the huge geography that the Indian definition of Indo-Pacific covers, there was a need for a bureaucratic re-alignment to create a division that can imbibe in its fold the various territorial divisions in the MEA that look after the policies of the countries which are part of the Indo-Pacific discourse.
  • Focus on IOR – The integration of the IORA means that attention will continue to be focused on the IOR.

 

Challenges ahead

  • Integrating quadrilateral with Indo-Pacific – There are  challenges for India, especially how it will integrate the Quadrilateral initiative which got revived in 2017 with its larger Indo-Pacific approach.
  • Commerce and connectivity – Commerce and connectivity in particular will have to be prioritised if India is to take advantage of a new opening for its regional engagement.
  • The balance between the interests – .While India has been consistently emphasising “inclusiveness” in the Indo-Pacific framework, it will be challenging to maintain a balance between the interests of all stakeholders.
  • Difference in vision –There are differences between India’s vision and the U.S.’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific even as countries like China and Russia view the Indo-Pacific with suspicion.

Conclusion

As geopolitical tensions rise between China and the U.S., the MEA’s new division will have its task cut out if India’s long-term political and economic interests in the region are to be preserved. A bureaucratic change was indeed needed, but going forward the challenge would be to see how effectively this change manifests itself in managing India’s growing diplomatic footprint in the Indo-Pacific.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-ASEAN

[op-ed snap] Trade troubles

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Industrial slowdown and it's effects


CONTEXT

Labour intensive exports remain sluggish, non-oil non-gold imports contract, suggesting weak domestic demand. According to the latest trade data, at the aggregate level, exports grew by a mere 0.64 per cent in April. But, strip away the spurt in petroleum exports, and the remaining exports actually contracted by 3 per cent in April.

Background

  • India’s trade deficit surged to a five-month high of $15.3 billion in April with merchandise export growth slumping to 0.64 per cent — the slowest pace since December 2018.
  • These numbers suggest that the high export growth observed in March may indeed have been an aberration.
  • This subdued performance in April comes after recent data showed that industrial production had contracted by 0.1 per cent in March.
  • With both consumer durables as well as capital goods segments contracting sharply — the latter is a proxy for investment demand — it suggests that the underlying drivers of growth are sputtering.
  • According to the latest trade data, at the aggregate level, exports grew by a mere 0.64 per cent in April.
  • But, strip away the spurt in petroleum exports, and the remaining exports actually contracted by 3 per cent in April.
  • The lacklustre performance can be traced largely to the contraction in exports of engineering goods as well as subdued growth of major labour intensive segments.
  • For instance, gems and jewellery contracted by 13.4 per cent, leather products by 15.25 per cent as did man-made and cotton yarn. Growth of the ready-made garments segment also slumped to 4.4 per cent in April, down from 15 per cent in March.
  • This does not bode well for job creation. On the other hand, imports rose by 4.5 per cent in April, on the back of higher crude and gold shipments.
  • But what is worrisome is that imports, excluding oil and gold, which give a better sense of domestic demand, contracted by 2.2 per cent in April, after contracting by 2.67 per cent in the previous month.

Impact of slow down

  • The near-term prospects for exports appear to be muted. For one, the escalation of trade tensions between the US and China is likely to impact global growth and trade.
  • In fact, last month, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) lowered its projection for global trade growth.
  • It now expects merchandise trade volume growth to fall to 2.6 per cent in 2019, from 3 per cent in 2018.

Conclusion

  • Clearly, the next government has its task cut out. It will have to carefully navigate the intensifying trade war between the US and China while putting in place measures to boost competitiveness and revive exports.
  • Perhaps, easing the compliance burden of the goods and service tax (GST) would be a good starting point.
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

[op-ed snap] Slippery slope

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : India should not be a mute spectator to building crisis in gulf and take measures to protect it's interest.


CONTEXT

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was in New Delhi this week as part of a regional outreach that includes Russia, China, Turkmenistan and Iraq amid rising tensions in West Asia.

Background

The U.S. has followed withdrawal of its sanctions-waiver for Iranian oil with a series of actions that it claims are in response to the perceived threat from Iran.

Hostile measures

  • It has recalled all non-emergency diplomatic staff based in neighbouring Iraq; sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, missile defence hardware and B-52 bombers to the Gulf; imposed fresh sanctions on various Iranian entities; and slapped a terror designation for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
  • Iran has matched some of the rhetoric with threats that it would close off the Strait of Hormuz to trade and treat the U.S. carrier as a legitimate “target” if it came anywhere close to Iranian waters.
  • Making matters worse, it is clear that the U.S. aims to pin on the Iranian government and military forces blame for attacks on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers over the weekend.
  • U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s remark that “any attack on United States interests or those of [its] allies will be met with unrelenting force” gives the impression that the ground is being prepared by the U.S., aided by Saudi Arabia and Israel, for an escalation.

What should be India’s Response

  • Given the signs of a gathering storm, India must consider not only its own interests in terms of its ties with Iran and with the U.S. and its allies, but also its position as a regional power.
  • The External Affairs Ministry comment that the government would take a decision on Iranian oil imports after the elections appeared to be an attempt to buy time.
  • The truth is that Indian oil importers have already stopped placing orders for Iranian oil in compliance with the U.S. diktat on “zeroing out” imports.
  • India had been importing about 10% of its oil requirements from Iran, and the losses in terms of finding alternative suppliers in the face of rising oil prices are piling up.
  • News reports also indicate that despite a U.S. waiver on the Chabahar port, banks in India and Afghanistan that planned to finance trade through the port are now being restricted by U.S. sanctions.
  • Instead of being a mute spectator to the crisis that is building for India’s energy bill as well as for regional stability, New Delhi must take the challenge head-on.
  • One immediate priority is to work more closely with European countries in ensuring that Iran does not feel compelled to walk out of the nuclear deal, and to jointly build a sanctions-immune financial infrastructure to facilitate Iranian trade.
  • It is necessary that the countries affected in the region meet urgently, as well as unitedly express concerns over a possible U.S.-Iran clash.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Iran

Explained: Article 324 and the special role of Election Commission

Mains Paper 2 : Representation Of People's Act |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 324

Mains level : Powers and Function of ECI


News

Background

  • The Election Commission of India passed an unprecedented order ending the campaign in West Bengal at 10 pm the following day instead of 5 pm on May 17 as was notified earlier, and is the norm.
  • It also removed the state’s Home Secretary, and a senior police officer.
  • The decisions were taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, in response to street violence in Kolkata between cadres of two political parties.

ECI’s freedom, responsibility

  • Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. Parliament enacted The RP Act of 1950 and 1951 to define and enlarge the powers of the Commission.
  • Ambedkar introduced the Article 324 on June 15, 1949, saying the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central EC, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others.
  • There are just five Articles in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution.
  • The Constituent Assembly was concerned mainly with ensuring the independence of the Election Commission.

Art. 324 occupies the vacuum:

Mohinder Singh Gill vs The CEC, New Delhi and Others (1977)

  • The 1977 Supreme Court judgement held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words ‘superintendence, direction and control’ as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms”.
  • The Constitution has not defined these terms.
  • Article 324 is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility for national and State elections in the ECI and therefore, the necessary powers to discharge that function.
  • The framers of the Constitution, a/c to the court, had left scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission, in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution, in the infinite variety of situations.

Surprise situations

  • The court observed that “legislators are not prophets but pragmatists”, and that the “comprehensive provision in Art. 324 (is) to take care of surprise situations.
  • It underlined that “that power itself has to be exercised, not mindlessly nor mala fide, nor arbitrarily nor with partiality but in keeping with the guidelines of the rule of law and not stultifying the Presidential notification nor existing legislation.

ECI’s role in West Bengal

  • The RP Amendment Act, 1988 (Act 1 of 1989) introduced Section 28A in the RP Act of 1951, which said that all officers deployed for the conduct of an election shall be deemed to be on deputation to the EC.
  • This should be from the notification of the election to the declaration of the results, and such officers shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the EC.
  • The ECI took action against officers for failing in their duties — nothing more was required, except the ordering of a probe.
Electoral Reforms In India

Chang’e-4 Mission

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the mission

Mains level : Magma Ocean Theory and formation of Moon



News

Chang’e-4

  • In January, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 — named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology — became the first ever craft to touch down on the far side of the lunar surface.
  • The team landed its probe in the Von Karmen Crater in the Aitken Basin at the Moon’s south pole — home to one of the largest impact craters known in the solar system.
  • Scientists have said they could be a step closer to solving the riddle behind the Moon’s formation, unveiling the most detailed survey yet of the far side of Earth’s satellite.

Formation of Moon

  • The moon is believed to have gone through a phase during its formation when it was partially or entirely composed of molten rock.
  • As it cooled, denser minerals sank to the bottom of the magma-ocean, while lighter materials gathered near the surface to form its mantle.
  • They detected materials such as olivine and low-calcium pyroxene that are rare elsewhere on the surface.
  • These materials were ejected from the Moon’s upper mantle when it was struck by a meteor.

Lunar Magma Ocean Theory

  • The lunar magma ocean (LMO) is a term used in planetary science to describe the thermal state of Earth’s Moon in the thousands to millions of years following its formation.
  • The most widely accepted model for the formation of the Moon invokes a collision between proto-Earth and another proto-planet.
  • The Moon accreted from the resulting debris disk surrounding the Earth, which likely consisted of molten and vaporized silicate material.
  • The accretion of the Moon from this debris disk leads to a body in a largely or completely molten state.
  • This “magmasphere” is referred to as the LMO.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

[op-ed snap] Green is cool

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ICAP

Mains level : Analysis of ICAP


CONTEXT

India — as the fastest growing and rapidly urbanising economy — is projected to have the strongest growth in cooling demand worldwide. While India’s soaring demand in this sector is in line with the country’s developmental needs, it does portend significant environmental, social and economic concerns.

India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)

  • The government’s launch of the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) on March 8 is a bold response to addressing India’s future cooling needs while neutralising its impacts.
  • ICAP most visibly is about enhancing access to cooling amenities, optimising demand and efficient cooling practices and technologies.

 

Space cooling sector – The space cooling sector, which represents a dominant share of India’s current and future cooling needs, the underlying thrust is to enable thermal comfort and well-being for all citizens by providing affordable and reliable cooling options, maintaining reliable electricity grids, and enhancing climate resilience of buildings and homes.

Focus on Vulnerable Section – The thrust is on ensuring that the vulnerable populations, particularly children and the elderly, are not exposed to undue heat stresses.

Energy efficient approach – To maximise the cooling load reduction and possible benefits for this sector, ICAP proposes an approach that first reduces the cooling energy demand through climate appropriate and energy efficient building design, then serves the demand through energy efficient appliances and finally, controls and optimises the demand through demand-side and user adaptation strategies, such as adaptive thermal comfort.

Climate appropriate designs for affordable housing – The plan lays special emphasis on enabling thermal comfort for the economically-weaker sections through climate-appropriate designs of affordable housing, and low-cost interventions to achieve better thermal insulation (such as cool roofs).

Benefits of ICAP

  1. Enhancing Productivity – The benefits of the proposed actions extend to enhancing nationwide productivity, reducing heat-islands in urban areas, mitigating peak-load impacts and reducing the stress on the power systems — much of this would also free up capital for other developmental priorities.

2. Integrated Cold chain Infrastructure –

  • Within the cold chain sector, ICAP proposes development of an integrated cold chain infrastructure with the appropriate market linkages, supported by adequate training and up-skilling of farmers and professionals.
  • The co-benefits include economic well-being of farmers and reducing food losses thus strengthening food security and alleviating hunger-related issues.

3. Training and certification –

  • Driving skill-building of the services sector through training and certification is an important target identified by the plan.
  • It also presents an opportunity for providing increased employment, better livelihoods, and safer working practices for the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) sector.

4. Building R&D ecosystem –

  • ICAP’s emphasis on an innovative R&D ecosystem aims to drive the nation towards better utilisation of public-funded R&D efforts that solve pressing issues related to the environment — and quality of life.
  • The plan also positions India’s cooling challenge as an opportunity for the nation to demonstrate leadership in areas related to innovation. It also supports the Make in India campaign through indigenous production of cooling equipment and refrigerants.

5. Impact on SDGs –

  • The benefits of ICAP could impact several SDGs — good health and well-being, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, reduced inequalities, affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.
  • The onus is now on the various stakeholders to work collaboratively, with the right policy and market levers, to lead the country towards a cooling transformation that exemplifies sustainable and responsible cooling for all.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] IBC hits and misses

Mains Paper 3 : issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IBC

Mains level : Gains and losses of IBC


CONTEXT

Even as the time taken for resolution under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) continues to exceed the outer limit prescribed under the law, the process is yielding better outcomes in a shorter time frame as compared to the erstwhile regime.

Background

  • In FY19, financial institutions recovered close to Rs 70,000 crore through resolution under the IBC, estimates rating agency Crisil.
  • This works out to a recovery rate of 43 per cent.
  • In comparison, recoveries under the preceding regime through various channels — debt recovery tribunals, securitisation and reconstruction of financial assets, and enforcement of the securities interest act (SARFAESI) and Lok Adalats — stood at Rs 35,000 crore in FY18.

Cause of concerns

  • The time taken for successful resolution continues to exceed that envisaged in the law.
  • Under the law, the insolvency resolution process is to be completed in 180 days, which can be extended by another 90 days to a maximum of 270 days. But, of the 1,143 cases that are currently outstanding under the IBC, 362 cases or 32 per cent are pending for more than 270 days.
  • In a few of the big ticket cases, the resolution process has exceeded 400 days.

Reasons For delay

  • Part of the delay in resolution can be attributed to the absence of buyers, differences between members of the committee of creditors, as well as legal challenges mounted by existing promoters not willing to let go of their companies.
  • Then, there are issues of institutional capacity which need to be addressed.

Conclusion

  • However, despite these delays, Crisil estimates that it takes around 324 days for cases to be resolved under the IBC — in comparison, as per the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019, it took 4.3 years under the earlier regime.
  • In the months after the IBC kicked in, operational creditors had taken the lead in initiating the corporate insolvency resolution process (CIRPs) against errant debtors.
  • But thereafter, financial institutions stepped up.
  • In fact, in the quarter ended March 2019, the number of CIRPs initiated by financial creditors exceeded those initiated by operational creditors. But it is difficult to say whether this trend will continue after the Supreme Court ruling on the RBI’s February 12 circular.
  • The quashing of the circular has opened the door for banks to tackle the issue of bad loans outside the IBC process, a route they might prefer.
Banking Sector Reforms