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[op-ed snap] Making CSR work: On Companies Act amendments

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

CONTEXT

Amendments to the Companies Act have made non-compliance with CSR norms a jailable offence for key officers of the company, apart from hefty fines up to ₹25 lakh on the company and ₹5 lakh on the officer in default.

Evolution of CSR

  1. It was first encouraged as a voluntary contribution by business
  2. 6 years ago it evolved into a co-option of the corporate sector to promote inclusiveness in society 
  3. Now it has become an imposition

Issues with amendments

  1. The committee headed by the Corporate Affairs Secretary has proposed that non-compliance be decriminalised and made a civil offence. CSR is a means to partner corporates for social development and such penal provisions are not in harmony with the spirit of CSR.
  2. CSR should not be treated as another tax on businesses.
  3. The government should not micromanage and tie-down businesses with rules and regulations that impose a heavy compliance burden.

Problems with CSR

  1. Filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs show that in 2017-18, only a little over half of those liable to spend on CSR have filed reports.
  2. The average CSR spend by private companies was just ₹95 lakh compared to ₹9.40 crore for public sector units.

Way ahead

  1. Compliance will improve as corporates imbibe CSR culture fully.
  2. The committee’s suggestion to offer a tax break for expenses on CSR may incentivise companies to spend.
  3. It has also recommended that unspent CSR funds be transferred to an escrow account within 30 days of the end of the financial year.

Conclusion

CSR is not the main business of a company they should rightly be focusing their energies on the business rather than on social spending.

Corporate Social Responsibility: Issues & Development

[op-ed snap] Popular anxiety

Mains Paper 1 : Population & Associated Issues |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Sex ratio as a major population issue


CONTEXT

Prime Minister called “population explosion” a challenge in his Independence Day speech. 

Facts

  1. India’s headcount is over 1.3 billion. It is headed even higher.
  2. The number might stabilize in a few years ahead. From data between 2013 to 2016, the country’s total fertility rate has fallen to an estimated 2.2. This figure is only marginally higher than 2.1, the replacement rate of the existing population.

Challenges

  1. Failure to arrest and reverse a trend in population: the gender gap. India has approximately 930 females per 1,000 males. 
  2. The ratio is even worse if we look at new births. The country’s sex ratio at birth declined from 900 females per 1,000 males in 2013-15 to 896 in 2015-17.
  3. Male preference among parents is not unique to India. Of the 201 countries listed on the United Nations Human Sex Ratio chart for 2018, India is at No. 191. There exist worse performers. 

Conclusion

We are heading for a gender crisis if a balance is not restored.

Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.

[op-ed snap] A jan andolan for water

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Water conservation - Jal Jeevan Missiojn


CONTEXT

This Independence Day,  the Prime Minister announced the Jal Jeevan Mission, which plans to supply water to all households by 2024. 

Importance of the mission

  1. For many years, the central and state governments have been making efforts to increase access to safe and adequate drinking water.
  2. Household water supply issues – Though the basic quantity of drinking water in rural India has been provided through hand pumps etc.,  household water supply remains a challenge. A low percentage of rural Indian households have access to this service.
  3. Institutional unity – Institutions for water at both the Centre and state governments have been fragmented, with several ministries in Delhi and departments in states dealing with different aspects of water management. Jal Shakti Mantralaya to integrate the management of water resources is a landmark step. 
  4. Source conservation – Inadequate attention to sustain the source of the water. Instead of simple and local measures like creating rainwater harvesting structures, the emphasis has been more on maximizing the pumping of water and distributing it through pipes. Many of the systems have either shut down or function suboptimally as the groundwater source has dried up.
  5. Decentralization –
    1. Provision of drinking water was viewed primarily as an engineering solution, with schemes planned and executed by the public health and engineering departments. 
    2. Programs like the Swajal project in UP and WASMO program in Gujarat demonstrated that water can be most efficiently managed at the lowest appropriate level. 
    3. Single village ground water-based schemes would be managed by the community itself through the setting up of a village water and sanitation committee. Local innovations such as solar-based schemes will be encouraged.
  6. Household water – household wastewater amounts to about 75% of the amount of water supplied.
    1. Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, huge quantities of household wastewater will be generated across the country.
    2. It is planned to include a mandatory provision under the Jal Jeevan Mission for the effective channeling and treatment of household wastewater through appropriate and low-cost drainage and treatment systems. 

Extensive information, education, and communication will be needed to create a jan andolan for water management.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] Giving shape to an elusive strategic concept

Mains Paper 3 : Various Security Forces, Agencies & Their Mandates |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Chief of Defence staff - analysis


CONTEXT

Prime Minister announced appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This could have a far-reaching impact on the management of defence in India.

Why CDS

    1. Long-awaited move – The issue of efficient management of higher defence organisation came into focus after the Kargil war in 1999 when K. Subrahmanyam task force highlighted the systemic issues affecting our national security structures; such as poor coordination and technological inadequacies.
    2. Group of Ministers (GoM) in the early 2000s reviewed national security management. Though many of their recommendations were implemented, Defence management recommendations were not implemented.
    3. Decision making process – Armed forces are not formally involved in decision-making on defence planning and strategy. Service Headquarters are not within the Ministry of Defence; they are treated more like attached offices. 
    4. New age military conflicts –The concept of military conflict extends beyond land, air and sea, into the space, cyber, electronic and information. Effective defence preparedness requires a ‘jointness’ of these forces. It also requires a prioritisation of the weapons requirement and optimisation of their resource allocations.
    5. GOM Recommendations – 
      1. Integrating the armed forces headquarters into the Ministry of Defence (MoD)
      2. Appointment of a CDS
      3. CDS was to administer tri-service institutions such as the Andaman and Nicobar Command
    6. Strategic advice – CDS would provide coordinated military advice to the Defence Minister. He would develop the national defence strategy from a national security strategy
    7. Established institution – Many democracies have the institution of a CDS or its equivalent, with varying degrees of operational control over their armed forces.
    8. Accountability – It arises from the greater participation of the military in defence decision-making alongside the civilian bureaucracy
    9. Defence acquisition –  The CDS can contribute to rational defence acquisition decisions by preventing redundancy of capacities among the services and making best use of available financial resources.

 

 

Challenges posed by CDS

  1. Authority of service chiefs – there is an apprehension that a CDS would undermine the authority of the three service chiefs over their forces. The establishment of theatre commands under the CDS in many countries reinforced this fear. 
  2. An all-powerful CDS would distort the civil-military balance in our democracy.

Role of CDS

  1. Developing multi-domain military strategies
  2. Strengthening tri-service synergies 
  3. Enabling perspective planning

Way ahead

  1. India should pursue the objective of indigenisation. India is still among the top arms importers. 
  2. There must be procedures to ensure that every acquisition is structured in a way as to strengthen our indigenous technological capacities.
  3. Eventually, the three Service headquarters would need to be suitably integrated into the Ministry of Defence.
Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

[op-ed snap] Trade rhetoric: On U.S.’s WTO pullout threat

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 : WTO : US. Problem of developing countries


CONTEXT

U.S. President threatened to pull the U.S. out of the WTO if it fails to treat the U.S. fairly. He blamed it for allowing too many countries to claim the status of a “developing country”.

Background

  1. In a memo to the U.S. Trade Representative, it was pointed out that nearly two-thirds of the 164 WTO members classified themselves as developing countries and many rich economies claiming to be “growing” rather than “grown” economies.
  2. India and China were targeted in particular for “taking advantage” of the U.S. by classifying themselves as “developing countries” at the WTO. 
  3. The status of a developing country allows countries to seek partial exemptions from the WTO’s rules for free and fair trade between countries. 
  4. It allows countries like China and India to impose higher tariffs on imports from other countries and also offer more subsidies to local producers in order to protect their domestic interests.
  5. Developed countries find this to be unfair on their producers who are put at a relative disadvantage.
  6. Countries like China have argued that their developing country status is justified given their low per capita income.

Positive

  1. The “developing country” status that gives substantial benefits to countries that want to protect their domestic interests has skewed global trade over the years in favor of certain countries.

Problem

  1. The US is using this pretext to justify further trade barriers against China and other countries. 
  2. This is also used to justify retaliatory tariffs against these countries to boost the “America First” approach.
WTO and India

[op-ed snap] Over to the teacher

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Primary education - quality : A case study


CONTEXT

The quality of education in India has been a persistent concern.

Data

  1. ASER report has been that a large number of children in the country cannot read fluently or do basic arithmetic even after attending secondary school.
  2. Other studies have raised questions about teaching methods in Indian schools.

Case study: Odisha

  1. Odisha government tried to address this problem by doubling the teaching time of three subjects — English, Mathematics, and Science — in all government schools in the state.
  2. These subjects get 90 minutes of teaching time every day while other subjects will continue to get 45 minutes.

Benefits

  1. First-generation learners – The ASER surveys have shown that a large percentage of children in the country’s primary schools are first-generation learners.
  2. Illiterate background of children – School environment and the role of the teacher is crucial in providing support to children from non-literate homes and communities.
  3. Diverts focus from completing the syllabus – If pedagogy is aimed at completing the syllabus, there is scarcely any scope for addressing the needs of students who are falling behind.
  4. This shortcoming can be overcome if students spend more time with English, Mathematics and Science teachers and get time to clear their fundamentals.

Problem

  1. Issue of mother tongue – For a child, acquiring foundational skills in a language that is not her mother tongue is a complex matter.
  2. Overburdened – Doubling the teaching time could tax the attention span of students, and may end up doing more harm than good.
  3. Science and Mathematics education has been dogged by rote learning.

Way ahead

  1. Teachers could utilize the extra teaching time to stimulate students to discover the laws of nature and Mathematics.
  2. Teachers will have to be provided the autonomy to venture beyond bookish explanations.
Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

[op-ed snap] Whether we will survive ought to be our foremost concern

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : The extent of water and air crisis in India


CONTEXT

The lack of safe water and clean air will either make or break India.

Water

  1. Statistics
    1. A report by NITI Aayog warned that India is facing its worst water crisis in history.
    2. Nearly 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress, 75% of households do not have drinking water on the premises, 84% of households do not have piped water access, and 70% of our water is contaminated.
    3. Nearly 200,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
    4. 21 cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020. 
    5. India is currently ranked 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index.

Air pollution

Statistics

  1. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment released last year, indicated that severe air pollution crisis in India caused lifespans to shrink by 2.6 years on average
  2. Air pollution is now the third-highest cause of death among all health risks ranking just above smoking in India. 
  3. As many as 14 of the 20 most polluted cities of the world are in India.
  4. The World Health Organization calls toxic air the “new tobacco”

The need of the hour is a nationwide strategy on conservation, checks on development, salination projects across our long coastlines, and urgent steps to check pollution.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] In China’s court

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

CONTEXT

Protests in Hong Kong have evolved over nearly three months.

Background of the protests

  1. The movement evolved from a movement against a proposed law that would allow people accused of certain crimes to be extradited to the Chinese mainland — to a wider expression of public anger at the Chinese state’s curbs on democracy and the city’s special status within the People’s Republic.
  2. China has been labeling the pro-democracy protestors as anarchists, radicals or terrorists.
  3. These protests have been compared to the 1989 demonstrations in mainland China, which culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre. 
  4. The movement now threatens to bring economic activity in the global financial hub to a standstill.
  5. Despite China’s accession to the original demand of scrapping of the extradition law, the protests continue.

China – Hong Kong relationship

  1.  In 1997, it was decided that China would be “one country, two systems”, and Hong Kong would continue to enjoy its autonomy.
  2. That promise has been eroded by refusing to allow direct elections for the chief executive’s post.

Way ahead

  1. There is a need for the Chinese state to adapt to its promise it made to Hong Kong.

A country with superpower ambitions, negotiating massive international investments through the Belt and Road Initiative, cannot be seen incapable of delivering on the promise of federalism and autonomy.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Writing out a clean Bill on health

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Analysis of NMC bill


CONTEXT

The last few days witnessed so many concerns being raised over a few clauses of the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill. 

Concerns

There are five primary concerns:

  1. National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test /National Exit Test
  2. Empowering of community health providers for limited practice
  3. Regulating fees for only 50% seats in private colleges
  4. Reducing the number of elected representatives in the Commission
  5. Overriding powers of the Centre.

Examinations

  1. For the past few years, a separate NEET is being conducted for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. In addition there are different examinations for AIIMS and JIPMER.
  2. This Act consolidates multiple exams at the undergraduate level with a single NEET and avoids multiple counselling processes.
  3. NEXT is the final year MBBS examination across India, an entrance test to the postgraduate level, and a licentiate exam before doctors can practise.
  4. It aims to reduce disparities in the skill sets of doctors graduating from different institutions. 
  5. Thus it implemented a ‘One-Nation-One-Exam’ in medical education.

Limited licence

  1. Though 70% of India’s population resides in rural areas, the ratio of doctors in urban and rural areas is 3.8:1. 27,000 doctors serve about 650,000 villages of the country.
  2. A recent study by the WHO shows that nearly 80% of allopathic doctors in rural areas are without medical qualification.
  3. NMC Act attempts to address this gap by effectively utilising modern medicine professionals, other than doctors in enabling primary and preventive health care. Evidence from China, Thailand and the United Kingdom shows such integration results in better health outcomes. Chhattisgarh and Assam have also experimented with community health workers. 

Fee structure

  1. Private medical colleges are capitation fee-driven and resort to a discretionary management quota and often have charges of corruption levelled against them.
  2. The Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 has no provision for fee regulation. 
  3. Until now, ‘not-for-profit’ organisations were permitted to set up medical colleges, involving enormous investments and a negotiation of cumbersome procedures.
  4. NMC Act removes the discretionary quota by using a transparent fee structure. It empowers the NMC to frame guidelines for determination of not only fees but all other charges in 50% of seats in private colleges to support poor and meritorious students.
  5. The Act also provides for rating of colleges. Reducing entry barriers for setting up medical colleges, along with their rating, is expected to benefit students.

Representation in the NMC

  1. The current electoral process of appointing regulators is saddled with compromises and attracts professionals who may not be best suited for the task at hand.
  2. Act provides for a transparent search and selection process with a mix of elected and nominated representatives, both in the search committee and the commission itself.
  3. The government added members from State medical councils and universities.
  4. Government should be able to give directions so that NMC regulations align with its policy.

Other features

  1. The Act establishes the Diplomate of National Board’s equivalence to NMC-recognised degrees.
  2. It also promotes medical pluralism.
  3. There is a paradigm shift in the regulatory philosophy from an input-based, entry barrier for education providers without corresponding benefits, to becoming outcome-focused. 
  4. Both the number of doctors and their skill sets are expected to improve. 
  5. Autonomy to boards and segregation of their functions will avoid a conflict of interest and reduce rent-seeking opportunities. 
  6. ‘Quacks’ are liable to face imprisonment or be fined or both.

Medical education needs continuous reforms in order to usher in improvements in health care. NMC Act is a serious attempt to meet the primary need of more medical professionals in the country.

Medical Education Governance in India

[op-ed snap] Biodiversity in the time of deluge

Mains Paper 3 : Disaster Management |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Floods - causes - impact


CONTEXT

Floods impact the poorest strata of society the most, causing a loss of lives, livelihood options, and assets. There is a need for assessment of floods from a ‘sustainable development’ perspective.

Causes for floods

  1. The root cause of such floods is the high precipitation levels.
  2. Anthropogenic factors like unscientific development and over-exploitation of nature aggravate the damages.
  3. The global climate has been changing in an unpredictable manner. As per an IPCC report, the Global Green House Gases emissions grew by 70% between 1970 and 2004. Global warming has critical effects on the hydrological cycle.
  4. In Kerala, a structural transformation and changing patterns of land use are affecting its environment. A loss in a wetland area will naturally impact the ability to handle floods.

Impact of floods

  1. The changing precipitation alters the hydrological systems, resulting in floods and droughts in different regions.
  2.  Floods wash away topsoil and substantial biodiversity of the area, resulting in a reduced river-water flow, death of earthworms and spread of viral and bacterial diseases among crops.

Way ahead

  1. Adequate precautions through dam management and timely public alerts.
  2. In construction, it is important to take appropriate decisions on the type and size of the structure, location, materials, and permissible damage it will cause to nature.
  3. We need to account for the damage done to natural ecosystems while estimating losses suffered due to natural disasters.
Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

[op-ed snap] Rooting AI in ethics

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 : Nothing much

Mains level : Ethics of AI


Most commercially available AI systems are optimized using the teleological perspectives and not the deontological perspective. 

Ethical issues – a case study

An AI system introduced in 2015 in the U.S. failed to recognize the faces of African Americans with the same accuracy as those of Caucasian Americans.

  1. From a teleological perspective, this flawed AI system gets a go-ahead because Caucasian Americans constitute 72.4% of the country’s population
  2. From a deontological perspective, it can be rejected as its intention was not to identify people from all races. 
  3. Digital platform companies, whose markets span many countries should aim to identify faces of all races with equal accuracy.
  4. AI facial recognition systems are used for law enforcement. Someone can be labeled a threat to public safety just because of limited data based on one’s skin color was used to train the AI system.
  5. The bias in the data used to train the algorithm stems from flawed historical and cultural perspectives and they contaminate the data.

NITI Aayog has a ₹7,500 crore plan to build national capability and infrastructure. The transformative capability of AI must be rooted in an egalitarian ethical basis. 

[op-ed snap] Go easy on the public float rule

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Budget decision on public shareholding and its impact


The government’s budget decision to raise the minimum public shareholding in listed companies to 35% from 25% has worried the markets.

Impact

  1. The number of companies that would be affected by this proposal is quite large. As many as 1,100 listed companies currently have a promoter stake of more than 65% – reduction to the prescribed limit could entail as much as a trillion rupees worth of share sales.
  2. This may lead the promoters to rush through the sales at low prices since share prices are mostly in a slump. 
  3. A slowdown in the economy and a pullout by foreign investors are also pressuring markets.

Way ahead

  1. Defer the implementation of the proposal to a day when the economy is in better shape
  2. Companies should be allowed a few years to comply so that fire sales are avoided. This way, promoters would get the best value for their shares. It will ensure markets face the least disruption.
Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

[op-ed snap] Rupee matters

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Offshore trading

Mains level : Impact of offshore trading on rupee


CONTEXT

Over the past few years, there has been a concern over the sharp rise in offshore rupee trading volumes. 

Facts

  1. Data from the Bank of International Settlements pegs daily offshore rupee trading at around $16 billion in 2016, almost equal to onshore trading. 
  2. Recent data from the Bank of England pegs offshore rupee trades at $23 billion in 2018.

Positive

  1. This indicates greater investor interest in the rupee

Challenges

  1. Which forces determine the rupee’s value?
  2. What is the ability of the central bank to ensure “currency stability”?
  3. Offshore markets allow participants to trade in non-convertible currency. These markets have evolved for currencies where restrictions are imposed in domestic markets on foreign exchange convertibility.
  4. The constraints on foreign participation in domestic currency markets stem from cumbersome documentation and KYC requirements, restrictions on products, inconvenient trading hours. These restrictions push investors into the trade offshore markets to hedge their currency risks.
  5. These markets have begun to play a critical role in “price discovery”, more so during “periods of uncertainty” like the taper tantrum in 2013 and 2018 emerging market crises — when the offshore market was driving the onshore exchange rate. This has reduced the efficacy of foreign currency intervention by the central bank.

Recommendations 

  1. Incentivize market participants to shift to onshore markets, like extending onshore market hours, examining issues of taxation.
  2. Allowing market participants to take exposure up to $100 million, without any need to establish the existence of an underlying risk 
  3. Incentivize greater participation in rupee-denominated bonds
  4. As the economy grows, expand onshore currency markets in a calibrated manner
  5. The ability to hedge currency risks will increase the rupee’s attractiveness for trade invoicing and portfolio diversification

This can lead to the gradual internationalization of the currency.

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

[op-ed snap] A point to ponder over in the POCSO Bill

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 : Analysis of POCSO Amendment


The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by the Parliament. 

Specific provisions

  1. It defines what ‘child pornography’ is; ‘using a child for pornographic purposes’ and for ‘possessing or storing pornography involving a child’ is punishable.
  2. It has also widened the ambit of ‘Aggravated sexual assault’
  3. It introduced the death penalty for the rape of minors
  4. The Bill is gender neutral and provides for the death penalty for “aggravated penetrative sexual assault of a child” and not just a girl child.

Problems

  1. The introduction of the death penalty may backfire in cases of child sexual abuse and even have a catastrophic effect. Often, perpetrators of abuse are family members and having such penalties may discourage the registration of the crime itself.
  2. It may threaten the life of the minor as the maximum punishment for murder is also the death sentence.
  3. Justice J.S. Verma Committee was against the imposition of the death penalty in rape cases. The 262nd Report of the Law Commission of India also provides for the abolition of the death penalty except in terror cases.
  4. The death penalty diverts attention from the core issues of infrastructural apathy, procedural lapses and trial delays.
  5. It is the certainty of punishment rather than its severity which has deterrence in real sense.
  6. Even a year-and-a-half after the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which introduced the death penalty for rape of a minor girl, such incidents have not been under check.
  7. Robin Conley in his book, Confronting the Death Penalty, has observed that the death penalty may seem just and appropriate in abstract but once analysed, it is less appealing practically.
  8. Deterrence has to be supplemented by exhaustive measures including an overhaul of the criminal justice administration.
  9. As per Supreme court data, 24,212 FIRs were filed across India this year. According to NCRB data of 2016, the conviction rate in POCSO cases is 29.6% while pendency is as high as 89%. The prescribed time period of two months for trial in such cases is hardly complied with.

Supreme court has recently directed the Central Government to set up special courts in each district having more than 100 pending cases under the Act.

Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

[op-ed snap] Rethinking water governance strategies

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Water crisis and solutions


CONTEXT

India’s severe ‘water crisis’ is in the news recently. India’s cities are running out of water. Chennai witnessed the worst drinking water woes.

Facts

  1. Niti Aayog’s report ‘Composite Water Management Index: A tool for water management’ stated that 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting nearly 100 million people.
  2. The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has been reporting on the increasing number of over-exploited blocks across India, labeled as the ‘dark’ category blocks.  The recent annual book of CGWB has reported 1,034 units, out of the 6,584 units it monitors, as over-exploited.
  3. CGWB’s 2013 estimates say that the groundwater development in India is just about 62% of the utilizable groundwater reserves.
  4. A recent report by the Central Water Commission and ISRO asserted that India is not yet in “water scarcity condition”, but in a “water-stressed condition”, with reducing per capita water availability.

Way ahead

  1. Ensure adequate access to quality water, more so in urban areas where inequities over space and time are acute.
  2. With rapid urbanization, demand cannot be met by groundwater reserves alone. Groundwater meets just 10% of Delhi’s drinking water needs. The rest is met by surface water sources transported from outside Delhi.
  3. Water resource departments in States are following conventional approaches to supply augmentation. They should reorient themselves and deploy demand management, conservation, and regulation strategies.
  4. Centre and states should work towards an institutional change by building federal governance of water resources.
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] India’s economic mobility and its impact on inequality

Mains Paper 3 : Inclusive Growth & Issues |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Economic inequality; Inclusive Growth issues


CONTEXT

There has been a phenomenal rise in economic inequality in India. It is important to measure the extent of economic mobility in India, which reflects the number of people moving up and down the economic ladder over time. 

Facts

  1. A 2018 Oxfam study reports a significant increase in the consumption Gini index in both rural and urban areas from 1993-94 to 2011-12.
  2. According to the Global Wealth Report (GWR) 2017 by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, between 2002 and 2012, the share of the bottom 50% of the population in total wealth declined from 8.1% to only 4.2%. In the same period, the share of the top 1% of the total wealth increased from 15.7% to 25.7%.
  3. A recent survey pointed out that the mobility rate for the population is remarkably low. In 7 years, at least 7 in 10 poor households remain poor or remain in an insecure non-poor state.

Economic mobility

In a mobile economy, the households move more freely throughout the income/consumption distribution.

Importance of mobility

  1. Long-term welfare effects of rising inequality depend crucially on the level of economic mobility.
  2. Economic mobility or the lack of it can accentuate the adverse effects of inequality.
  3. An economy with much economic mobility will result in a more equal distribution of incomes and consumption than an economy with low mobility.

Dimensions of mobility

  1. Muslims are more vulnerable to falling below the poverty line over the seven-year period compared to Hindus or other religious groups.
  2. Compared to upper-caste groups and OBCs, SCs and STs are less likely to escape poverty and more likely to move into poverty.
  3. Between upper castes and OBCs, the latter is more likely to move into poverty and less likely to become secure non-poor.
  4. Rural households are more likely to remain in poverty compared to urban households.
  5. Inequality in India can be characterized as chronic since households belonging to the lower rungs of the economic ladder are likely to find themselves caught in a poverty trap.

Way ahead

  1. Poverty reduction efforts should focus on ways to improve the permanent economic status of households through the acquisition of assets and capabilities, rather than dealing with temporary volatility.
  2. There is also doubt on the efficacy of existing affirmative action and social programs to improve the economic status of marginalized groups in the country.
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD,etc

[op-ed snap] Climate on the farm

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Climate change due to agriculture

Mains level : Climate change


A report released on Thursday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that better management of the world’s farms and forests is necessary to tackle climate change.

Background

  1. Land use has always been part of conversations on climate change and activities like afforestation have held an important place in the fight against global warming.
  2. Discourse on combating global warming has given more thrust to curbing vehicular and industrial emissions. 

What the report says

  1. The IPCC report warns that clean energy, clean transport and reducing emissions alone will not cut global emissions enough to avoid warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius.
  2. It points out that the global food system is responsible for 21 to 37% of the world’s GHG emissions.
  1. About a quarter of the Earth’s ice-free land area is subjected to “human-induced degradation”. 
  2. Rapid agricultural expansion has led to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands and other ecosystems.
  3. Soil erosion from agricultural fields is 10 to 100 times higher than the soil formation rate.
  4. When land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. 
  5. Agriculture and allied activities like cattle rearing are major sources of methane and nitrous oxide and are more dangerous GHGs than carbon dioxide.

Way ahead

  1. It raised a key scientific input for future climate negotiations, such as the CoP of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the UNFCCC CoP25.
  2. It could pressure developing countries like India to ramp up their global warming mitigation targets.

India should pay heed to the IPCC report’s recommendations on curbing land degradation and soil erosion by improving knowledge systems.

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

[op-ed snap] Incisive interventions that blunt the RTI’s edge

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Challenges posed by amendments to RTI


CONTEXT

The RTI Act, 2005 proved transformative to India’s democracy; it revolutionized the citizen’s ability to engage with the state, arming people with a mechanism to ferret out some of the truth from the government’s otherwise secretive operations.

Amendments to the act

  1. Amendments have been passed without scrutiny by a parliamentary committee.
  2. It changes the term in office of the information commissioners (ICs) and the manner of determination of their salaries.
  3. In place of the existing five-year term, it grants to the Union government the power to notify their terms through executive regulations.
  4. It deletes the RTI Act’s mandate that the salary paid to the CIC and the ICs should be equivalent to that of Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  5. Now, the salary, allowances, and terms and conditions of service of the CIC and the ICs will be determined by executive guidelines.

Challenges it poses

  1. Supreme Court has affirmed RTI’s position as intrinsic to the right to freedom of expression (for example, in PUCL v. Union of India, 2004)
  2. For democracy to be valuable, citizens must possess a right to freely express themselves and have a right to know what the state is up to.
  3. When a plea for information goes unheeded, CIC and the ICs play an especially vital role. 
  4. These amendments subvert the independence of the information commission.
  5. The delegation of the power to fix the tenure and the salaries of the CIC and the ICs to the political executive places the information commission’s autonomy in a state of peril. 

Efficacy of RTI

  1. Through a response to an RTI request, it was discovered that between 2006 and 2010 more than ₹700 crore had been diverted from Delhi’s special component plan for the development of Scheduled Caste communities to projects related to the Commonwealth Games.
  2. An exposé into the horrifying processes of the “Foreigners Tribunal” in Assam was made by securing information through the RTI Act.
RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] Our notions of motherhood

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 : Surrogacy


The Lok Sabha passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2019. to regulate the practice of surrogacy in India and allow only “ethical altruistic surrogacy”.

Challenges

  1. Heavy reliance on criminal law for managing social issues, criminalisation of choice and prejudiced ideas of what constitutes a family.
  2. Disallows single, divorced or widowed persons, unmarried couples and homosexual couples from pursuing surrogacy to have children.
  3. It stipulates that only a man and woman married for at least five years, where either or both are proven infertile, can avail of surrogacy.

Why the provisions are discriminatory

  1. India’s jurisprudence recognises the reproductive autonomy of single persons, the rights of persons in live-in relationships and fundamental rights of transgenders.
  2. In Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India, Supreme Court decriminalised consensual same-sex between consenting adults and held that the law cannot discriminate against same-sex partnership.
  3. Single persons have the right to adopt children in India.
  4. Guidelines issued by Indian Council of Medical Research in 2002 and the draft Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bills 2010 and 2014 had permitted commercial surrogacy
  5. Criminalisation of commercial surrogacy is a refusal by the state to actually consider the exercise of agency that leads a woman to become a surrogate mother. 
  6. A ban on commercial surrogacy stigmatises this choice and reinforces the notion of the vulnerable “poor” woman who does not understand the consequences of her decisions and needs the protection of a paternalistic State.
  7. In our patriarchal society, it can be expected that young mothers will be coerced into becoming surrogates for their relatives. The Bill moves the site of exploitation into the private and opaque sphere of the home and family.

Altruistic surrogacy

  1. The shift to altruistic-only surrogacy was made in the context of reports about cases of surrogate babies being abandoned and exploited
  2. Problems of surrogate mothers being kept in “surrogacy brothels” and rich foreigners using the bodies of poor Indian women to have children.
  3. PIL in Jayashree Wad vs Union of India sought to end commercial surrogacy in India. Based on court judgement, the government declared that it did not support commercial surrogacy and would allow only infertile Indian couples to avail of altruistic surrogacy.
  4. There is a danger of exploitation and abuse in commercial surrogacy.

Way ahead

  1. Exploitation takes place because of the unequal bargaining power between the surrogate mother and the surrogacy clinics, agents and intending parents. This can be addressed by a strong regulatory mechanism with transparency and mandating fair work and pay for the surrogate mothers.
  2. Viewing commercial surrogacy as inherently exploitative and banning it expands the potential for exploitation as it would force the business underground.
  3. The Standing Committee had recommended a model of compensated surrogacy which would cover psychological counselling of the surrogate mother and/or her children, lost wages for the duration of pregnancy, child care support, dietary supplements and medication, maternity clothing and post-delivery care.

Surrogacy is an important avenue for persons to have a child through a willing surrogate mother who can also benefit monetarily from the process.

Surrogacy in India

[op-ed snap] The Yuan’s devaluation has made investors nervous

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : What is devaluation

Mains level : Impact of Yuan devaluation


CONTEXT

Chinese yuan broke the seven-to-one parity against the dollar for the first time since 2008. China deliberately devalued the Chinese currency after the latest tariff threats issued by US.

Why China did this

  1. Economic reasons
  1. China’s weakening manufacturing competitiveness is likely to strengthen with yuan-priced goods and services getting cheaper across supply chains in East Asia, parts of Africa, etc.
  2. It is likely to widen China’s trade surplus with the US in the immediate short run.
  3. It will also help China expand trade margins within its own region, especially with Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, etc.
  1. Political Reasons
  1. The US’ own strategic engagement in Asia has weakened under Trump, who questioned the “value of US alliances with Japan and South Korea
  2. Japanese imposed trade restrictions on South Korea. China and Russia staged their first joint aerial patrols in the region, causing South Koreans to react militarily.
  3. China-US friction has offered significant economic and political leverage to smaller emerging nations like Vietnam and Indonesia within their respective regional spaces

Problems

  1. Risk not only for those trading in the US and Chinese currencies or their stocks, but also for capital flows between emerging markets
  2. China, around 2015-16, tried something similar by letting the yuan depreciate; it led to a stock market crash in China, and billions of its dollar reserves disappeared in just a few days.
  3. That devaluation saw led to a massive capital flight from China, further weakening its external position.
  4. The debt denominated in foreign currencies has increased for global companies and developing nations across the world, and maybe vulnerable to a currency shock if the “currency war” continues.
  5. Most foreign investors switched to the safety of gold or other currencies like yen.
  6. China’s weakening of its currency to hurt US economic interests for political gains will only make other Asian countries more vulnerable to a political crisis that could quickly escalate to a financial crisis
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China