October 2018
« Sep    

[op-ed snap] Making India open defecation free


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, World Toilet Summit

Mains level: Singapore model of cleanliness and how India can adapt it to become open defecation free


Sanitation scenario in the world

  1. About 2.3 billion people in the world do not have access to clean, safe and reliable toilets
  2. They have to walk for miles every day to reach a safe spot where they can relieve themselves in the open
  3. Inadequate sanitation is estimated to cause 280,000 deaths worldwide, annually

Scenario in India

  1. In India, about 732 million people do not have access to proper toilets
  2. As much as 90% of the river water is contaminated by faeces
  3. People drink water from the same rivers, bathe and wash their clothes and utensils there, and even cook food with the contaminated water
  4. Pathogens and worms from the faeces spread life-threatening diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, schistosomiasis and trachoma

Impact on women

  1. Rapes occur when women and young girls are on their way to fields to defecate at night
  2. Each day, they have to suffer humiliation while squatting near gutters or bushes
  3. Most girls drop out of schools at an early age because of the lack of toilets

Swacch Bharat Abhiyan 

  1. India’s sanitation crisis has started to improve drastically ever since the launch of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’
  2. The campaign vowed to combat the sanitation crisis within five years by setting a target of building 110 million toilets nationwide—the largest toilet-building programme in the history of mankind
  3. More than 83 million household toilets have already been built in India
  4. India can replicate Singapore’s success story for achieving benefits out of SBA

Singapore model

  1. The campaign is similar to the one launched in Singapore post-independence when open defecation was a common sight in the 1950s-60s
  2. Even sophisticated urban areas had primitive toilet systems where human waste was collected manually in buckets and disposed directly into nearby waterways
  3. Singapore did not have the time or resources to build an expensive curative health-care system
  4. It, therefore, invested in toilet hygiene and clean water as a preventive health strategy, which was much cheaper and far more effective
  5. By focussing on providing clean water and sanitation, Singapore created a healthy and productive workforce, ready for international business and commerce by the 2000s

Challenges in India

  1. The major challenges of sanitation in India arise from puritan religious beliefs
  2. Many people in India view toilets as impure and refrain from installing them within their household premises
  3. Most defecate in the open as it is something they have grown accustomed to since their childhood
  4. No matter how many toilets the government builds, the country will never be able to become open defecation free until people start using them

Suggested solutions

  1. In order to make India 100% open defecation free, it is essential to launch a comprehensive behavioural change strategy similar to Singapore that focuses on changing the mindset of people and eradicating the open defecation habit
  2. Toilets need to be repositioned as a status symbol that is desired by all
  3. School textbooks should include chapters on sanitation
  4. Both children and adults should be shown films and TV programmes on the subject to help them understand the importance of defecating in toilets
  5. Toilets need to be projected as a trend that people can follow, rather than forcing them as a prescription
  6. India needs to move beyond that and take steps towards efficient faecal sludge management for a safer environment which does not pose any threat to the health of its people
  7. Post construction of toilets, the government should establish a monitoring system that makes sure that the latrines are emptied regularly when they fill up and the waste is decomposed safely, and not into nearby rivers or oceans
  8. In rural areas, focus needs to be laid upon panchayati raj institutions, which can be used as a platform to promote sustainable sanitation practices and creation of public-supported frameworks of organic disposal and utilisation of human waste
  9. Platforms like World Toilet Summit, organized on World Toilet Day in Mumbai, will highlight the importance of faecal sludge management and behavioural change which will help in attracting investments in the sewerage networks that ensure safe transportation of faecal sludge to the treatment units

Way forward

  1. It is only through a holistic sanitation model that we can break the open-defecation-disease-expenditure-poverty cycle and make India a progressive and productive nation
Swachh Bharat Mission

[op-ed snap] India’s abysmal human capital development


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nobel prizes, Global Human Capital Index, Global Innovation Index

Mains level: Human capital development in India


Nobel prize for Economics 2018

  1. The announcement for the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics to William Nordhaus and Paul Romer calls for a moment of celebration for the field of development economics
  2. Romer’s endogenous growth theory, unlike previous growth models, assumes ‘technology’ as an endogenous or internal factor adding value to the growth capacity of a given nation through greater investments, made by profit-maximizing agents in the economy
  3. The distinguishing feature of the technology as an input is that it is neither a conventional good or a public good; it is a non-rival, partially excludable good

What does ‘non-rivalry’ lead to?

  1. The “non-rival” feature allows “technology” to act as a unique value-addition factor in growth diagnosis
  2. It is in the interest of profit-maximizing agents (firms, households, and government) to constantly invest in technology and seek “non-excludable” gains from tech-based advancements over time
  3. For example, making investments in geo-spatial technologies like GIS and Google Maps will distribute gains to everyone across sectors in a non-excludable manner while drastically increasing production capacities

Linking human capital development to technology

  1. There is a greater need for linking human capital development capacities (via complementary investments in education, health and skilling of workers across social groups) in proportion with the rate of technological investments required for ensuring consistently high levels of developmental growth
  2. The World Bank recently released its report on the Global Human Capital Index rankings, where India currently ranks 115th out of 157 nations (China being 46th, Indonesia 87th, Malaysia 55th)
  3. The research will help map investments in expanding technological growth and its adoption by the social fabric of the society through proportional investments in areas of human capital development

India’s scenario

  1. According to the index scores from the report, a child born in India is likely to be only 44% productive when (s)he grows up, if (s)he receives education and adequate healthcare
  2. India, in relation to other developing economies, does poorly in its ability to expand overall productivity with a rise in GDP per capita
  3. There is also a disconnect between our rate of technological growth and our inability to distribute the gains from it by adequately focusing on skilling (via knowledge, education) and health, critical for greater resilience and sustained productivity
  4. The scenario for technological growth in India over the last three decades reflects a mixed effect on its growth scenario

Tech advancements in India & less tricle down

  1. Information and communication and information technology (ICT), manufacturing industry, transportation, defence, and space technologies are some of the important sectors which have attempted to incorporate modern technologies in enhancing sector-wise growth capacities
  2. Most of such benefits (and investments) in the tech-based advancements are accrued by a few elitist sections of the society, occupationally involved in these sectors
  3. At a corporate level, too, only selected firms with visible monopolistic advantages (because of high capital bases) seem to have benefitted more from global advancements in certain kinds of technologies (say in mechanization of food-processing, automation of automobile manufacturing etc.)
  4. This has led to a widening of the asymmetric distribution of tech-accrued benefits which is seen in the distributional inequities of wages and employment patterns
  5. This has further raised concerns for the negligible trickle-down effect of knowledge bases from technology developments

Global Innovation Index (GII)

  1. The GII reflects the technological state of growth for around 180 economies, computing the progress made in technological advancements at a national level, ranging from intellectual property filing rates to mobile application creation, education spending, and scientific and technical publications
  2. India currently ranks 57th (out of 180) in GII’s latest ranking released in 2018
  3. It is vital to acknowledge that most technology-based innovations in any stage of development require two things to be ensured in continuum by a nation’s economic policy environment: growth of innovators and finance
  4. Unless the state and other regulatory agencies are able to nurture an environment for ensuring the right balance of incentive structures for both, innovators and financiers, the interests of innovators will perpetually outbalance the needs of the society, creating poor productive capacities for the economy to grow

Way forward

  1. Real-time data and increased frequency of credible measurement of investments made in education, health and areas of technological adoption require proper monitoring and evaluation
  2. This calls for a more robust state capacity and bureaucracy to implement state-sponsored programmes and to assist the private sector to further crowd in more social investments for sustained (inclusive) growth
Human Development Report by UNDP

[op-ed snap] A security architecture without the mortar


Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Security challenges & their management in border areas

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Strategic Policy Group, Defence Planning Committee

Mains level: Shortcomings in India’s security architecture and need of a national security vision


New security architecture provisions

  1. In April this year, the Union government set up a Defence Planning Committee (DPC) to assist in the creation of national security strategy, international defence engagement strategy, roadmap
  2. Earlier this month, it also decided to revive the Strategic Policy Group (SPG) within the overall National Security Council (NSC) system
  3. The DPC aims to
  • build a defence manufacturing ecosystem
  • strategy to boost defence exports
  • prioritize capability development plans

Security scenario in India

  1. India’s national security environment has steadily deteriorated since 2014
  2. Both the overall violence in Jammu and Kashmir and ceasefire violations on the Line of Control reached a 14-year high in 2017, a trend that refuses to subside in 2018
  3. There are far more attacks on security forces and security installations in J&K, and militant recruitments and violence against civilians in the State than at any time in the past decade-and-a-half
  4. The pressure from China is on the rise
  5. The surgical strikes hardly made any significant gains, and the Chinese forces (by all accounts including a report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs) are back in the Doklam plateau with more force
  6. New Delhi’s neighbourhood policy continues to be in the doldrums and there is a clear absence of vision on how to balance, engage and work with the many great powers in the regional and the broader international scene

Lacunae in India’s defence structure

    1. India spends close to $50 billion annually on defence and yet there are serious concerns about the level of our defence preparedness
    2. India might be ill-equipped to fight the wars of the modern age
    3. There is a little conversation between the armed forces and the political class, and even lesser conversation among the various arms of the forces
    4. One of the most serious lacunas in our defence management is the absence of jointness in the Indian armed forces
    5. Our doctrines, command structures, force deployments and defence acquisition continue as though each arm is going to fight a future war on its own

China & Pakistan’s policy vis a vis India

  1. China has progressed a great deal in military jointmanship, and Pakistan is doing a lot better than India
  2. In India, talk of appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has all but died down
  3. Even the key post of military adviser in the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) remains vacant
  4. The NSC, which replicates the membership of the Cabinet Committee on Security, almost never meets under the new regime, and the National Security Advisory Board, initially set up by the Vajpayee government, to seek ‘outside expertise’ on strategic matters, is today a space for retired officials
  5. As a result, there is little fresh thinking within the government or perspective planning on the country’s national security or defence

Outcomes expected from SPG & DPC

  1. All that the SPG and DPC would achieve is to further bureaucratise the national security decision making and centralise all national security powers under the PMO
  2. Top-heavy systems hardly work well unless supported by a well-oiled institutional mechanism

Need of national vision on security

  1. Many of India’s national security inadequacies stem from the absence of a national security/defence vision
  2. Ideally, the country should have an overall national security document from which the various agencies and the arms of the armed forces draw their mandate and create their own respective and joint doctrines which would then translate into operational doctrines for tactical engagement
  3. In the absence of this, as is the case in India today, national strategy is broadly a function of ad hocism and personal preferences
Internal Security Architecture Shortcomings – Key Forces, NIA, IB, CCTNS, etc.

[op-ed snap] Hamstringing the RTI Act


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RTI Act, CIC (Appointment, removal, functions)

Mains level: Government’s proposed amendments to dilute the RTI act and associated harms


Dilution of RTI Act

  1. The Right to Information (RTI) Act, operationalised in October 2005, was seen as a powerful tool for citizen empowerment
  2. It showed an early promise by exposing wrongdoings at high places and bringing to limelight various scams
  3. The act now faces multiple challenges

Lacunae in the act

  1. The Act did not give adequate authority to the Information Commissions to enforce their decisions
  2. Besides awarding compensation to an applicant for any loss suffered, the commissions can direct public authorities to take the steps necessary to comply with the Act but are helpless if such directions are ignored
  3. If an officer fails to fulfil his duty, the commission can either impose a maximum penalty of ₹25,000 or recommend disciplinary action against him
  4. This deterrent works only when the piece of information lies at the lower levels; it is ineffective in many cases where the information relates to higher levels of government
  5. Section 4 of the RTI Act requires Suo motu disclosure of a lot of information by each public authority. However, such disclosures have remained less than satisfactory

Proposed amendments to the Act

  1. The government proposes to do away with the equivalence of the Central Information Commissioners with the Election Commissioners on the ground that the two have different mandates
  2. The government also proposes to replace the existing fixed five-year tenure of the Information Commissioners with a tenure as may be prescribed by it
  3. The Act struck a balance between privacy and transparency by barring the disclosure of personal information if it has no relationship to any public activity or would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy
  4. The Justice Srikrishna Committee has proposed an amendment that would broaden the definition of ‘harm’, restricting disclosure of personal information even where it may be clearly linked to some public activity

Impact of proposed amendments

  1. The underlying assumption that transparency is less important for a democracy than the holding of free and fair elections is preposterous
  2. The proposal to alter tenure would make the tenure a largesse to be bestowed by the government. This would be detrimental to the independence and authority of the Information Commissions

Lack of staff due to delay in appointments

  1. The Central and State Information Commissions have been functioning with less than their prescribed maximum strength of eleven because governments have dragged their feet on appointing commissioners
  2. This leads to delay in disposal of cases, which is compounded by the backlog in the High Courts, where a number of decisions of the commission are challenged

Misuse of the act

  1. The clogging of the RTI system is also because a number of applicants, usually disgruntled employees of public institutions, ask frivolous queries
  2. Their applications have unfortunately continued to exist alongside those of numerous RTI activists who have done commendable work, often risking their life and limb

Way forward

  1. The RTI Act continues to render yeoman service in providing information to citizens.
  2. Though its aim is not to create a grievance redressal mechanism, the notices from Information Commissions often spur the public authorities to redress grievances
  3. If the issues listed above are not addressed, this sunshine law will lose its promise, particularly in terms of ensuring transparency at higher levels of governance
RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

[op-ed snap] From food security to nutrition security


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Public Distribution System – objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks & food security

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Biofortification, HarvestPlus programme

Mains level: Need for nutritional security in India


World food day

  1. October 16 is observed as the World Food Day to mark the creation of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1945
  2. The world body envisions a “zero hunger world” by 2030
  3. It’s important to understand the role of science and technology in ushering the Green Revolution, which ensured food security in India
  4. Today, similar innovations in biotechnology hold the promise to provide nutrition security

Impact of Green Revolution

  1. While the country’s population has grown by more than four times, from 330 million in 1947 to 1.35 billion in 2018, India’s wheat production has increased by over 15 times in roughly the same period — from about 6.5 MMT in 1950-51 to 99.7 MMT in 2017-18
  2. India contributes about 13 per cent of the world wheat production, next only to China whose share is about 17 per cent
  3. Rice production has shot up by about 5.5 times — from 20.6 MMT in 1950-51 to 112.9 MMT in 2017-18
  4. India has a 23 per cent share in world rice production, next only to China whose share is about 29 per cent
  5. India is also the largest exporter of rice in the world

Challenge of nutritional security

  1. Notwithstanding its foodgrain surpluses, the country faces a complex challenge of nutritional security
  2. FAO’s recent publication, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018 estimates that about 15 per cent of the Indian population is undernourished
  3. More than 38 per cent of Indian children aged below five years are stunted and 21 per cent suffer from wasting

Factors behind malnutirition

  1. Poor diet
  2. Unsafe drinking water
  3. Poor hygiene and sanitation
  4. Low levels of immunisation and education, especially that of women

Solutions for reducing malnutrition

  1. Latest innovations in biotechnology that fortify major staples with micronutrients like vitamin A, zinc and iron can be game changers
  2. Globally, the HarvestPlus programme of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is doing a lot of work in this direction
  3. In India, the group has released the iron-rich pearl millet
  4. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has independently released zinc and iron-rich wheat, rice, and pearl millet in 2016-17
  5. This could possibly lead to the next breakthrough in staples, making them more nutritious

Way forward

  1. This seems to be the beginning of a new journey, from food security to nutritional security
  2. Innovations in biofortified food can alleviate malnutrition only when they are scaled up with supporting policies
  3. This would require increasing expenditure on agri-R&D and incentivising farmers by linking their produce to lucrative markets
Food Safety Standards – FSSAI, food fortification, etc.

[op-ed snap] Not just liquidity: on NBFCs crisis


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: NPA crisis & its expanse to various sectors of economy


NBFC crisis unfolding

  1. The default of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) on several of its debt obligations over the last couple of months has raised serious questions about how regulators missed the growing debt pile of a systemically important financial institution
  2. Apart from the obvious failure of regulators to do their jobs, the IL&FS saga has also exposed the underlying weaknesses in the non-banking financial company (NBFC) sector as a whole which has depended heavily on low-cost, short-term debt financing to sustain its shaky business model
  3. Then there is the further, and more serious, risk of NBFCs being unable to roll over their short-term debt in case of a severe credit crunch in the aftermath of the IL&FS saga

Rise of NBFCs

  1. The rise of NBFCs was fuelled primarily by the demise of traditional banks which have been unable to lend as they were bogged down by non-performing loans

Government’s response

  1. The response of policymakers to the ongoing crisis, which seems warranted if its purpose is to prevent a wider systemic crisis, is fraught with other risks
  2. The Reserve Bank of India, the National Housing Bank and the State Bank of India last week decided to increase the supply of liquidity in the market to keep interest rates under control
  3. The RBI has also urged NBFCs to make use of equity rather than debt to finance their operations
  4. This is apart from the government’s decision to replace IL&FS’s management and commitment to providing the company with sufficient liquidity

What could this lead to?

  1. While offering easy money may be a welcome measure in the midst of the ongoing liquidity crisis, the prolonged supply of low-cost funds to the NBFC sector also creates the risk of building an unsustainable bubble in various sectors of the economy
  2. Defaults associated with any such bubbles will eventually only affect the loan books of lenders
  3. State bailouts could also fuel the problem of moral hazard as other financial institutions may expect a similar lifeline in the future

Way forward

  1. Policymakers should thus try to focus on taking steps to address structural problems that contributed to the crisis
  2. This includes steps necessary to widen the borrower base of NBFCs which have been banned from accepting deposits
  3. This would allow NBFCs to tap into more reliable sources of funding and avoid similar liquidity crises in the future
NPA Crisis

[op-ed snap] Helping the invisible hands of agriculture


Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Role of women & women’s organization

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Feminization of Agriculture in India


Feminization of Agriculture

  1. Women play a pivotal role in agricultural operations such as from sowing to planting, drainage, irrigation, fertilizer, plant protection, harvesting, weeding, and storage.
  2. With the feminization picking up pace, the challenges women farmers face can no longer be ignored
  3. The Agri Ministry has proposed deliberations to discuss the challenges that women farmers face in crop cultivation, animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries.
  4. The aim is to work towards an action plan using better access to credit, skill development and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Data and reality

  1. According to Oxfam India, women are responsible for about 60-80% of food and 90% of dairy production, respectively.
  2. The work by women farmers, in crop cultivation, livestock management or at home, often goes unnoticed.
  3. Attempts by the government to impart them training in poultry, apiculture and rural handicrafts is trivial given their large numbers.

What Agriculture Census has to say?

  1. The Census (2010-11) shows that out of an estimated 118.7 million cultivators, 30.3% were females.
  2. Similarly, out of an estimated 144.3 million agricultural labourers, 42.6% were females.
  3. In terms of ownership of operational holdings, the latest Agriculture Census (2015-16) is startling.
  4. Out of a total 146 million operational holdings, the percentage share of female operational holders is 13.87% (20.25 million), a nearly one percentage increase over five years.
  5. While the feminization is taking place at a fast pace, the government has yet to gear up to address the challenges that women farmers and labourers face.

Issues hovering women farmers:


(I) Issue of land ownership

  1. The biggest challenge is the powerlessness of women in terms of claiming ownership of the land they have been cultivating.
  2. In Census 2015, almost 86% of women farmers are devoid of this property right in land perhaps on account of the patriarchal set up in our society.
  3. Notably, a lack of ownership of land does not allow women farmers to approach banks for institutional loans as banks usually consider land as collateral.

(II) Lack of Access to Credit

  1. Research worldwide shows that women with access to secure land, formal credit and access to market have greater propensity.
  2. They performed better by making investments in improving harvest, increasing productivity, and improving household food security and nutrition.
  3. Better access to credit, technology, and provision of entrepreneurship abilities will further boost women’s confidence and help them gain recognition as farmers.

(III) Under-represented and Un-organized

  1. As of now, women farmers have hardly any representation in society and are nowhere discernible in farmers’ organisations or in occasional protests.
  2. They are the invisible workers without which the agricultural economy is hard to grow.

(IV) Land Holdings are on Decline

  1. Land holdings have doubled over the years with the result that the average size of farms has shrunk.
  2. Therefore, a majority of farmers fall under the small and marginal category, having less than 2 ha of land — a category that, undisputedly, includes women farmers.
  3. A declining size of land holdings may act as a deterrent due to lower net returns earned and technology adoption.

(V) The Unshared Double Responsibility

  1. Female cultivators and labourers generally perform labour-intensive tasks (hoeing, grass cutting, weeding, picking, cotton stick collection, looking after livestock).
  2. In addition to working on the farm, they have household and familial responsibilities.
  3. Despite more work (paid and unpaid) for longer hours when compared to male farmers, women farmers can neither make any claim on output nor ask for a higher wage rate.
  4. An increased work burden with lower compensation is a key factor responsible for their marginalization.

(VI) Lesser access to Resources

  1. Most farm machinery is difficult for women to operate.
  2. When compared to men, women generally have less access to resources and modern inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) to make farming more productive.
  3. The FAO says that equalizing access to productive resources for female and male farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5% to 4%.

How can women farmers be better facilitated?


(A) Easy Credit Facility:

Provision of credit without collateral under the micro-finance initiative of the NABARD should be encouraged.

(B)Better Education and Training:

Krishi Vigyan Kendras in every district can be assigned an additional task to educate and train women farmers about innovative technology along with extension services.

(C) Farm Mechanization should be Gender Friendly:

  • It is important to have gender-friendly tools and machinery for various farm operations.
  • Manufacturers should be incentivized to come up with better and women friendly machineries.
  • Farm machinery banks and custom hiring centres promoted by many State governments can be roped in to provide subsidized rental services to women farmers.

(C) Promoting Collective Farming

  • The possibility of collective farming can be encouraged to make women self-reliant.
  • Training and skills imparted to women as has been done by some self-help groups and cooperative-based dairy activities (Saras in Rajasthan and Amul in Gujarat).
  • These can be explored further through farmer producer organisations.

(D) Facilitating with open Policies:

  • Govt flagship schemes such as the National Food Security Mission, Sub-mission on Seed and Planting Material and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana should include women-centric strategies and dedicated expenditure.
  • In order to sustain women’s interest in farming and also their uplift, there must be a vision backed by an appropriate policy and doable action plans.

Way Forward

  1. As more women are getting into farming, the foremost task for their sustenance is to assign property rights in land.
  2. Once women farmers are listed as primary earners and owners of land assets, their acceptance will ensue.
  3. Their activities will expand to acquiring loans, deciding the crops to be grown using appropriate technology and machines, and disposing of produce to village traders or in wholesale markets.
  4. They will get socio-economic cognizance of their work thus elevating their place as real and visible farmers.
Women empowerment issues: Jobs,Reservation and education

[op-ed snap] Turning dirty coal into clean energy


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Prospects of methanol and how India can leverage this promising fuel


Using India’s coal reserves to satisfy energy demand

  1. India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to have grown at 6.7% in 2017-18, which could rise to 8% in the future depending on the effectiveness of economic reforms
  2. As GDP growth is positively correlated to energy requirement, we can expect strong energy demand in the coming years
  3. Given that India is rich in coal reserves, there could be a way in which we can create clean energy security through coal to meet our growing demand

Energy challenge

  1. The energy consumption is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.87%
  2. The worrying part is that energy consumption growth is weighted towards fossil fuel (coal + crude oil) consumption, which is an environmental challenge
  3. The challenge is greater because of our excessive dependence on the import of crude oil (81% of total crude oil consumption), and because Indian coal comprises mostly of inferior non-coking coal (67% of total coal deposits) which causes more air pollution
  4. India’s energy security needs are at odds with her Conference of the Parties 21—Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (COP21-INDC) targets

Moving towards Methanol Economy

  1. We can achieve clean energy security by adopting technological advancements in converting coal to methanol, a liquid fuel
  2. Methanol, which can be derived from coal, can be blended in petrol
  3. Dimethyl ether (DME), which can be further derived from methanol can be blended in diesel, as well as in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking
  4. Collectively, this coal conversion to methanol and its derivatives is referred to as “methanol economy” and suggests a future economy in which methanol and DME could potentially replace fossil fuels
  5. Niti Aayog has laid out its vision to blend 15% methanol in petrol (M15) and 20% DME in diesel (DM20)

Impact on India

  1. Using Indian coal to produce methanol can generate a huge positive impact on the Indian economy and environment
  2. With the reduction of import dependence of crude oil and utilization of our own resources, we will enhance our self-reliance in the energy sector
  3. Coal to methanol will also help reduce the air pollution that our cities battle with
  4. According to the World Health Organization’s Global Urban Ambient Air Database, nine out of the 20 most polluted cities are in India for PM2.5

How can methanol blend help?

  1. Implementing M15 and DM20 blends can enable the existing fleet of automobiles to reduce emissions with minimal retrofit modifications, thereby making a much bigger impact than any prospective technologies
  2. India’s current focus on upgrading to Bharat Stage-VI fuels will require significant technology improvement in automobiles, without which there will hardly be any impact on air quality
  3. Another initiative—shifting to electric vehicles (EVs)—will take significant time as it is not a mainstream technology either globally or in India

The problem of storing electricity

  1. Traditionally, coal has been burnt in thermal power plants to generate electricity
  2. As electricity cannot be stored economically, it must be sold instantaneously at the price prevailing in the electricity market, leading to losses for distribution companies (discoms)
  3. The conventional burning of coal in thermal power plants releases particulate matter, whereas particulate matter emission is almost eliminated in case of converting coal to liquid fuels
  4. Liquid fuels (methanol and DME) can be stored economically over a long time and command a higher value in the commodities market

Way forward

  1. With the rising focus on renewable energy, the average plant load factor across states and private thermal power plants has gone below 60% and resulted in poor offtake of coal, thereby jeopardizing the future of coal sector
  2. Coal-to-methanol fuels could potentially turn around the dwindling fortunes of the coal industry and save it from obsolescence
Coal and Mining Sector

[op-ed snap] Reading between the rankings


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Conference on Academic Leadership on Education for Resurgence

Mains level: India’s universities position in global rankings and problems being faced by higher education sector


University rankings 

  1. Two recent developments draw our attention to the state of India’s universities
  2. The first is the release of the annual ranking of the world’s universities by the Times Higher Education (THE)
  3. The other is an announcement by the Prime Minister, which has an even closer bearing on the future of higher education

New institutes make place in rankings

  1. The ranking of India’s universities has some elements that were predictable and others that came as a surprise
  2. The universities placed at the top all have breadth in the range of disciplines offered and have been recognised as centres of knowledge production for decades, if not for centuries
  3. While the Indian Institute of Science topped, as usual, the list of Indian institutions that made it to the global top one thousand, three very new ones improved their ranking considerably
  4. These are IIT Indore, which finished ahead of most of its ‘founding five’ sisters, the JSS University, Mysuru and the Amrita University, Coimbatore

Conference on higher education

  1. The ‘Conference on Academic Leadership on Education for Resurgence’, was jointly organised by University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education and the Indian Council for Social Science Research in Delhi
  2. Delivering the inaugural address, the Prime Minister announced that the government would make available ₹1 lakh crore for infrastructure in higher education by 2022
  3. PM  emphasised the importance of the Indian Institutes of Management Bill of 2017 granting autonomy to the IIMs which also ensures that Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) will no longer dictate their curricula
  4. Somewhat earlier the government had announced a list of ‘institutions of eminence’, the idea underlying which was that they are now free to set their own rules and regulations

Cocerns for India

There are two aspects that need acknowledgement from a survey of the state of higher education in India

  • First, the rankings, though imperfect, suggest that Indian universities are lagging in their research output
  • The migration overseas even at the undergraduate level, suggests that not even the dissemination of knowledge here is considered good enough by Indians

Is money or non availability of resources a problem?

  1. The estimated flow of income overseas due to fees paid to foreign universities is around $2 billion
  2. University teachers are paid well enough
  3. The availability of material is no longer a problem, with highly affordable Indian editions of the best international textbooks

Actual problems

  1. The crucial factor is the absence of the norms internal to the Indian university that enable desirable outcomes with respect to teaching and research
  2. Among these norms would be an expectation of excellence from both teachers and students and the assurance of autonomy to the former
  3. Beneath the mushroom cloud of UGC regulations, governing everything from hours to assessment, there are no norms making for the attainment of excellence or the empowerment of faculty so that they deliver to their highest potential
  4. The autonomy of a teacher is both a value in itself and designed to contribute to the larger goal of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge
  5. In India this value receives little recognition and its crystallisation is thwarted, irrespective of the ideological persuasion of the regime governing the university

Way forward

  1. No amount of hand-wringing over India’s place in the world university rankings or pumping resources into infrastructure building can help if the culture is not conducive to creativity
  2. Feeding a repressive culture bodes ill for the future of our universities and, therefore, India’s place in the world of knowledge
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[op-ed snap] A discredited playbook


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy & their effects on industrial growth

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Declining exports from India & how the government policy is proving to be adverse


Decision to implement tariffs

  1. The government of India recently raised tariffs on 19 different items in order to curb imports with the goal of narrowing the widening current account deficit
  2. The backdrop for the tariff hikes is the ongoing widening of the current account deficit as well as the recent depreciation of the rupee
  3. The move is supposed to help with both of these
  4. The import bill for the targeted goods was about $13 billion in the last fiscal year

Will imposition of tariffs help?

  1. Since India has little to no market power over these goods in international markets, the impact of the tariffs on the current account will depend on their effect on the volume of imports of these goods
  2. The fall in demand for these goods in response to the rise in tariffs depends on the price elasticity of demand for these imports
  3. A study by World Bank economists provides some useful insights
  4. The study estimates the import elasticity of demand for India to be -1.3 at the 3-digit level of product aggregation
  5. This implies that a 10 percentage point increase in import tariffs will induce a 13 percentage point decrease in imports
  6. The corresponding elasticity at a more disaggregated six-digit level of product aggregation is -3.2
  7. The goods that have been targeted by the higher tariffs are mostly at the four-digit level of aggregation. Hence, the relevant elasticity is somewhere between these two estimates

Assessing the impact of the tariffs

  1. The import-weighted average tariff rate on the goods that have been targeted has risen from 9.6 per cent to 14.3 per cent, an increase of 4.7 percentage points
  2. Based on the range of elasticities in the World Bank study, one may use a conservative elasticity estimate of 2 to assess the impact of the tariffs which are mostly on goods at the four-digit level
  3. This implies a 9.4 percentage point reduction in imports of these goods or a fall in imports of these goods by $1.2 billion
  4. This is a shade below 0.05 per cent of Indian GDP. Hence, if the current account deficit was expected to be around 2.8 per cent of GDP, the tariff measures will reduce that deficit to 2.75 per cent of GDP
  5. The government stands to collect the higher tariffs on the goods that continue to be imported
  6. At the earlier rates, the government was collecting about $1.26 billion from imports of these targeted goods. After the tariff increase, estimates imply a tariff collection of $1.7 billion
  7. This is an estimated revenue gain of $440 million (around Rs 3,000 crore), or less than 0.02 per cent of GDP. Thus, the tariffs might reduce the fiscal deficit from a projected 3.3 per cent to 3.28 per cent
  8. In summary, the announced tariffs are likely to have no measurable effect on the stated target of reducing the current account deficit. Neither will they make any dent on our fiscal accounts

The intention of the government

  1. The measures signal some intent on the part of the government that it is serious about managing the current account deficit
  2. The move is another one of a slew of recent measures on the trade that signal the protectionist instincts of the government
  3. This can only have negative effects on investor sentiments as it brings back memories of the pre-1991 period when protection was the norm

Measures needed

  1. Dealing with this issue requires addressing fundamental issues plaguing our export sector
  2. A good place to start would be to review one of the deepest theorems of trade: Tariffs on imports have the same effect as taxes on exports
  3. Ignorance of this basic symmetry is probably the explanation for why policymakers would impose import tariffs while simultaneously looking for ways to boost exports

Way forward

  1. Move to impose barriers on imports to manage the current account deficit is a throwback to the licence raj
  2. We need to focus on the systemic issues pulling down productivity in export sectors
Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

[op-ed snap] The health transition


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Non-Communicable Diseases

Mains level: Lifestyle changes leading to more NCDs and how its rise can be stalled


UN award for India & rising NCDs

  1. In the last week of September, India’s health ministry received the prestigious UN Inter-Agency Task Force Award for “outstanding contribution to the achievement of NCD (Non-Communicable Diseases) related SDG targets”
  2. NCDs are the leading cause of mortality, globally and in India, and are dominated by cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases

Targets for reduction

  1. A Lancet paper by the monitoring group, NCD Countdown 2030 has contended that India will fall short of the NCD targets pertaining to SDGs
  2. The target set for all countries is to achieve the one-third reduction in NCD related mortality between the ages of 30 and 70 by 2030, relative to 2015
  3. The Lancet study reports that high-income countries and several upper middle-income countries are on course to achieve this target
  4. Lower middle income countries, like India, will need to accelerate the rate of decline to reach the target

Method of measuring NCD mortality

The Lancet paper examines global trends in NCD mortality, using three rates:

Mortality between 30-70 years, mortality under 70 years and mortality under 80 years.

  1. The first is the indicator linked to the SDGs.
  2. The second also measures NCD mortality below 30 years of age, which represents a considerable burden in regions like sub-Saharan Africa.
  3. The third regards most NCD deaths before 80 as preventable and premature

Scale needs to be changed

  1. The arbitrary selection of the 30-70 year age range limits consideration of, and action against, NCD deaths in the younger and older age groups outside that age band
  2. As the epidemics mature, the 70-80 age group will pose challenges in many parts of the world
  3. Therefore, the current response should not be a short-term staccato response but one which anticipates and mitigates preventable NCD mortality across the entire 0-80 age range even after 2030

UHC target

  1. Age limits should not become a barrier to the provision of NCD care under a Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programme — another major SDG target
  2. Countries keen on achieving the specified 30-70 age related mortality target may tend to focus their resources on preferential care for that group, especially in the provision of life saving clinical services, neglecting other age groups
  3. This militates against equity and undermines the principle of universality
  4. Reduction of under-80 mortality would be a better measure to judge the overall health impact of UHC

Tracking India’s progress

  1. Reduction in 0-70 mortality would be a reasonable indicator for tracking India’s progress on NCDs while progress in under-80 mortality would be a good indicator for assessing progress on UHC

Measures that need to be taken

  1. Actions to curb tobacco and alcohol consumption will help reduce future risk of NCD in the under-30 age group
  2. Actions related to reduction of blood pressure, control of diabetes and provision of competent primary care supplemented by cost-effective specialist clinical care for treatable NCDs will benefit all age groups, with the highest benefits in the 30-80 age group
  3. Energetic implementation of public health policies and NCD-inclusive health services under UHC are what the country needs

Way forward

  1. It is essential that the government, civil society, academia and media recognise the nuances of health transition which shape the sweep of NCD epidemics as they evolve
  2. This will help create a healthier society which will yield inter-generational benefits well beyond 2030
Communicable and Non-communicable diseases – HIV, Malaria, Cancer, Mental Health, etc.

[op-ed snap] #UsToo — on India’s #MeToo moment


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Social empowerment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: MeToo movement

Mains level: Less reporting of sexual harassment cases and need of better mechanisms to deal with such cases


MeToo movement in India

  1. In what has been called India’s MeToo moment, the social media is thick with women coming forth with stories of sexual harassment
  2. Women have been speaking of their experiences and the trauma, mostly on Twitter and Facebook
  3. The testimonies so far have mostly concerned the film world and the mainstream media, and cover both the workplace and private spaces
  4. They range from stories of assault to propositioning, suggestiveness to stalking
  5. In the vast majority of cases, the naming is a result of the failure to receive a just response from the system, a signal that it is no longer possible for such behaviour to be breezily dismissed or excused because boys, after all, will be boys

Movement so far

  1. The MeToo hashtag gained currency a year ago in the U.S. when women came out one after another to corroborate allegations of sexual assault with each further account making clear that there was a systemic pattern of abuse and silence
  2. Now that women are speaking up — picking up the stories where others have left them, making public suppressed memories, breaking free from the helplessness or a false sense of humiliation that kept them quiet for so long — there can be no looking away

Misreading the signs

  1. A paper in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that very often, men confuse interest from a woman they are pursuing with consent to sexual activity
  2. More alarming was the conclusion that if those men had a sexual history with someone, they were even bolder
  3. The woman’s verbal refusal was not enough to change their belief that she had given consent to intimacy

Cases go unreported

  1. Workplace sexual harassment and abuse are offences that often don’t leave a trail of evidence
  2. A recent analysis showed that 99% of harassment cases go unreported, most often due to fear of retaliation or societal taboo
  3. Victim shaming is rampant—her skirt was too short, she should have known better not to stay out so late’—is always the well-meaning societies’ answer
  4. Gaslighting, which means to manipulate someone into doubting their own sanity, is a common tactic used by lawyers to make the complainant doubt their own accounts

Impact on economy

  1. The foundation of a market economy is free and fair competition
  2. When half of a country’s population can arbitrarily face conditions that make it difficult for them to compete on equal footing, that foundation is weakened
  3. Employers lose out on potential employees
  4. Women who do enter the labour force but are subjected to sexual harassment see a rise in stress levels and a drop in productivity and may even be forced to drop out
  5. This makes an already economically vulnerable segment of the population more so
  6. The company suffers a reputational loss that can have financial costs

Socioeconomic impact

  1. Sexual harassment affects targets in ways that were similar to exposure to excessive health hazards
  2. This has a public health cost
  3. It intersects with caste and class as well
  4. Dalit women doing daily wage work are prime targets
  5. This is deeply damaging to socioeconomic mobility and the reduction of inequality

What needs to be done now?

  1. It is important to identify the exact transgression in the various cases that are being outed and to ensure that action is taken with due process
  2. No one can be deemed guilty only because he had been named and any punishment must be proportionate to the misdemeanour

Way forward

  1. There has been a systemic disregard for making workplaces and common spaces free of harassment
  2. The fear of making a complaint needs to be overcome in all workspaces, not only the media and the film industry
  3. All of society needs to internalise a new normal that protects a woman’s autonomy and her freedom from discrimination at the workplace

With further inputs from- Opinion | #MeToo and the line of consent

Opinion | The costs of sexual harassment in the workplace

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

[op-ed snap] Farewell to South Asia


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SAARC, BBIN, BIMSTEC

Mains level: The end of SAARC era and the need of embracing new diplomatic frontiers by India in regional groupings


Decreasing South Asian influence

  1. Two recent developments on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly suggest that “South Asia” as a political construct, at least the one built from the top down, may have had its moment
  2. According to reports, three of the eight South Asian foreign ministers left the room after making their speeches at the annual gathering in New York
  3. They were from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India
  4. This shows the deepening crisis of credibility of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
  5. The second was an event that did not take place. A meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan.
  6. Within 24 hours after announcing talks, India chose to pull out

Pakistan is a common problem

  1. India, of course, is not the only one having problems with Pakistan
  2. Its other South Asian neighbour, Afghanistan, like India, had entertained hopes for a fresh beginning in the ties with Pakistan
  3. Kabul’s hopes that new PM can quickly deliver on peace have been tempered
  4. Pakistan’s relations with Bangladesh have been in a deep chill for such a long time that no one expects a reversal of fortunes any time soon

Moving ahead of SAARC

  1. The SAARC project has now lost all steam
  2. All countries are finding alternatives
  3. After the Kathmandu Summit, PM Modi declared that he will not hold regional cooperation hostage to Pakistan’s veto
  4. India moved to focus on the so-called BBIN forum that brings together four countries of South Asia — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal — for sub-regional cooperation in the eastern Subcontinent
  5. The government has also sought to reactivate the BIMSTEC forum that brings the BBIN countries as well as Sri Lanka with Myanmar and Thailand

SAARC partners not sharing the same thoughts

  1. Not everyone in these subregional and trans-regional groupings has the same dream
  2. Even as Kathmandu sleeps in the BBIN and BIMSTEC beds, sections of Nepal’s ruling elite want to “escape” South Asia into the vast folds of the Chinese embrace
  3. Sri Lanka has begun to describe itself as an Indian Ocean country
  4. The Maldives, too, has so much to gain by leveraging its Indian Ocean location rather than pin its hopes on the dystopian SAARC

Influence of China increasing

  1. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is connecting different parts of South Asia to the adjoining provinces of China
  2. Pakistan is being connected with Xinjiang, Nepal and Bhutan with Tibet, and Bangladesh with Yunnan
  3. Beijing also seeks to integrate the Maldives and Sri Lanka into its maritime strategy
  4. China’s rise has begun to irrevocably alter the economic geography of the Subcontinent

America’s balancing act

  1. Washington is changing its geopolitical playbook for our neighbourhood
  2. Even as it looks for a way out of Afghanistan, it has embarked on an explicit strategy of balancing China in the region
  3. Its new imagination privileges India and merges the rest of the Subcontinent into the vast Indo-Pacific

Way forward

  1. “Political South Asia” was an invention of the 1980s. It has not survived the test of time
  2. As India’s footprint goes way beyond the Subcontinent, Bangladesh becomes the throbbing heart of the Bay of Bengal and an economic bridge to East Asia and Sri Lanka emerges as an Indian Ocean hub, Delhi needs to reimagine its economic and political geography
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] More teeth for NHRC


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Statutory, regulatory & various quasi-judicial bodies.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: National Human Rights Commission (NHRC),  Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act 1993,  Paris Principles on Human Rights

Mains level: Proposed amendments to the PHR Act and how it would improve the functioning of NHRC


25th anniversary of NHRC

  1. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
  2. The Commission, which draws its mandate from the Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act 1993, has been mired in controversies since its formation
  3. The government seeks to introduce amendments to the Act in Parliament’s Winter Session

Proposed amendments

  1. The proposed amendment will strengthen human rights institutions for the effective discharge of their mandates, role and responsibilities
  2. The salient features of the proposed amendments bill include making the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights as deemed member of the National Human Rights Commission, adding a woman member in the composition of the commission, enlarging the scope of eligibility and scope of selection of chairperson, NHRC as well as State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs)
  3. It also proposes to incorporate a mechanism to look after the cases of human rights violation in Union Territories, to amend the term of office of chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRCs to make them in consonance with the terms of chairperson and members of other commissions.
  4. The amendment to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 will make NHRC and state human rights commissions more compliant with the Paris Principle concerning its autonomy, independence, pluralism and wide-ranging functions in order to effectively protect and promote human rights

Grading of NHRC

  1. In 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Paris Principles on Human Rights
  2. This led to the constitution of national human rights institutions in almost every country
  3. Every five years, India’s human rights agency, the NHRC, has to undergo accreditation by an agency affiliated to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR)
  4. The Commission’s compliance with the Paris Principles is ascertained in this process, which is similar to NAAC accreditation of Indian colleges — better the grade, higher the benefits
  5. In 2016, the accreditation agency deferred grading the NHRC because of the Commission’s poor track-record — especially, political interference in its working
  6. But the agency was satisfied with the government’s commitment to introduce necessary changes to the Commission and granted the NHRC A-status in 2017
  7. The PHR (Amendment) Bill, 2018 is an outcome of this commitment

Problems with NHRC

  1. The selection committee tasked with appointing the chairperson and the members to the Commission is dominated by the ruling party
  2. It consists of the prime minister, home minister, Leaders of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Deputy-Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
  3. NHRC’s selection process is very obscure
  4. Very often, the government does not publicise vacancies in the Commission & the criteria to assess candidates is also not specified
  5. As a result, appointments to the NHRC have been fraught with disputes

Changes required

  1. The much-needed diversification that the Amendment Bill seeks to introduce could be realised through the inclusion of civil society members and academicians with a proven track record in the improvement of human rights
  2. The NHRC could certainly benefit from the grassroots level experience, widespread community outreach and the expertise of these organisations or individuals

Need of officers

  1. Police officials investigating for the NHRC are sent on deputation by their forces
  2. Their allegiance lies with their home cadre to which they return after their tenure at the Commission is over
  3. This conflict of interest restricts the scope of their work, as they often are charged with investigating abuse of power by law enforcement personnel
  4. These officials are not answerable to anyone, there is no parliamentary oversight on their functioning, they do not owe financial accountability to the Comptroller and Auditor General, and have often been accused of human rights violations themselves
  5. The NHRC urgently requires officers of its own to carry out independent investigations, and the government should provide it resources for the same

Way forward

  1. The Amendment Bill intends to strengthen human rights institutions in this country. But it falls short of this objective by some distance
  2. A year after the Supreme Court called the NHRC a “toothless tiger”, the onus is on the government to bestow the Commission with more teeth
NHRC Reforms

[op-ed snap] Deadly roads in India


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan Committee for road safety

Mains level: Rising instances of road accidents in India and the factors responsible for them


Report on road accidents

  1. The Road Accidents in India report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for 2017 comes as a disappointment
  2. It expresses concern at the large number of people who die every year and the thousands who are crippled in accidents
  3. The remedies it highlights are weak, incremental and unlikely to bring about a transformation
  4. By reiterating poorly performing policies and programmes, it has failed to signal the quantum shift necessary to reduce death and disability on the roads

Not following SC mandate

  1. The lack of progress in reducing traffic injuries is glaring, given that the Supreme Court is seized of the issue
  2. SC has been issuing periodic directions in a public interest petition with the assistance of the Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan Committee constituted by the Centre
  3. The Centre has watered down the national bus body standards code in spite of a commitment given to the Supreme Court, by requiring only self-certification by the builders
  4. Relaxing this long-delayed safety feature endangers thousands of passengers

Institutions for road safety not adequate

  1. Valuable time has been lost in creating institutions for road safety with a legal mandate, starting with an effective national agency
  2. The Road Safety Councils at the all-India and State levels have simply not been able to change the dismal record, and the police forces lack the training and motivation for professional enforcement
  3. The urgent need is to fix accountability in government
  4. Little has been done to fulfil what the Road Transport Ministry promises: that the Centre and the States will work to improve safety as a joint responsibility, although enforcement of rules is a State issue

Way forward

  1. It is welcome that greater attention is being paid to the design and safety standards of vehicles, but such professionalism should extend to public infrastructure
  2. This includes the design of roads, their quality and maintenance, and the safety of public transport, among others
Road and Highway Safety – National Road Safety Policy, Good Samaritans, etc.

[op-ed snap] The Rohingya Reversal


Mains Paper 2: Governance | mechanisms, laws, institutions & Bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: UNHCR

Mains level: Rohingya migrant issue and India’s measures to deal with it


Deportation of Rohingya refugees

  1. At the annual session of the executive committee of the UNHCR held in Geneva, India stated, “We are a responsible state with a functional democracy and rule of law”
  2. On the same day, seven Rohingya men were being taken to the Indo-Myanmar border for a scheduled deportation
  3. Ironically, they had no access to legal counsel, courts or the UNHCR, which is mandated by the government to conduct refugee status determination of Myanmar nationals
  4. The men had entered Assam in 2012 without documentation and were prosecuted for illegal entry under the Foreigners Act

NHRC v. State of Arunachal

  1. In NHRC v. State of Arunachal, the Court extended protection under Article 14 and 21 to refugees
  2. Further, various high courts have upheld the customary international law principle of non-refoulement in deportation cases and have referred the detainees to UNHCR
  3. In view of these principles, the deportation of Rohingya refugees is in contravention of India’s obligations both under the Constitution and international law

Why deportation is illegal?

  1. With regard to the argument that the men were “illegal immigrants”, it should be noted that, given the circumstances that cause them to flee, refugees often cross borders without prior planning or valid documentation
  2. If anything, this should reinforce their status as “refugees”
  3. In the present case, given the overwhelming evidence to show that the Rohingya deported to Myanmar are at risk of being tortured, indefinitely detained and even killed, the deportation potentially violates Article 21, and India’s international obligations

Plight of Rohingyas

  1. Refugees frequently, though not always, are citizens of the state they are fleeing from
  2. The root of the plight of the Rohingya is the denial of citizenship
  3. In Myanmar, they are being issued the controversial National Verification Card which does not recognise their religion or ethnicity — and definitely does not confer citizenship

Way forward

  1. In the absence of a domestic law for refugee protection, it has been up to the judiciary to extend minimum constitutional protection to refugees
  2. By allowing this deportation, the SC has set a new precedent that is contrary to India’s core constitutional tenets
  3. By this verdict, the judiciary has stepped back from its own principles
Rohingya Conflict

[op-ed snap] India and Russia: Salvaging a strategic partnership


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Shadow of US sanctions on India-Russia ties and how to balance both sides


Indo Russia relations

  1. The shadow of America loomed over the India-Russia summit recently held in New Delhi
  2. The question that dominated the meet was whether or not the deal for the Russian air defence missile system, the S-400, would go through
  3. The contract for the S-400 was signed at the Delhi summit

Why worries about the deal?

  1. The U.S. has been publicly warning for months that this purchase could attract provisions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which authorises the U.S. government to impose sanctions on entities for “significant” defence transactions with Russia
  2. The sanctioned entity would be cut off from all business in the U.S. and with U.S. companies

Recent slack in ties

  1. Indian and Russian perspectives today differ on key issues in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Afghanistan and China — and on India’s strategic linkages with the U.S., including on the Indo-Pacific
  2. The Joint Statement issued at the summit has the usual laundry list of priority areas of cooperation, including infrastructure, engineering, natural resources, space and technology
  3. It expresses the commitment to raise trade and investment to a level more commensurate with the potential

Opportunities for cooperation

  1. Russia is natural resources-rich and India is resource-hungry
  2. The U.S. and European sanctions on Russia between 2014 and 2016 are sector- and currency-specific
  3. With proper structuring of business deals, trade and investment exchanges with Russia are possible, and without losing business with Europe and America

No benefits for the US

  1. The threat to India-Russia defence cooperation extends well beyond the suspense over the S-400 deal
  2. Every potential India-Russia defence deal could be subjected to a determination on the applicability of sanctions
  3. Actually imposing sanctions would hurt U.S. defence sales to India, defeating one of the principal objectives of the legislation
  4. The effort by the US would likely be to achieve desired results with the threat of sanctions

Way forward

  1. The India-U.S. strategic partnership is based on a strong mutuality of interests, but it was not intended to have the exclusivity of an alliance
  2. India should not have to choose between one strategic partnership and another
  3. The India-Russia dialogue should not get inextricably entangled in the India-U.S. dialogue
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

[op-ed snap] Another warning on warming


Mains Paper 1: Geography | changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies & ice-caps) & in flora & fauna & the effects of such changes

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: IPCC, Paris conference, NDCs

Mains level: Key recommendations of IPCC report on climate change


IPCC report on global warming

  1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released a special report on global warming of 1.5°C over pre-industrial temperatures
  2. Produced speedily, it provides details on how the global response to climate change needs to be strengthened within the broader context of sustainable development and continuing efforts to eradicate poverty
  3. The impacts of 1.5°C of warming and the possible development pathways by which the world could get there are its main focus

Rising temperatures

  1. If nations do not mount a strenuous response against climate change, average global temperatures, which have already crossed 1°C, are likely to cross the 1.5°C mark around 2040
  2. It was in 2015, at the Paris climate conference, that the global community made a pact to pursue efforts to limit warming to within 1.5°C — half a degree below the previous target of 2°C
  3. For most people, the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C may seem trivial when daily temperatures fluctuate much more widely but the reference here is to global average temperatures

Effects of 0.5-degree increase in temperature

  1. Half a degree of warming makes a world of difference to many species whose chance of survival is significantly reduced at the higher temperature
  2. At 1.5°C warming, ocean acidification will be reduced (compared to 2°C warming), with better prospects for marine ecosystems
  3. There will likely be less intense and frequent hurricanes, not as intense droughts and heat waves with smaller effects on crops, and the reduced likelihood of an ice-free Arctic in summers
  4. Studies conservatively estimate sea levels to rise on average by about 50 cm by 2100 in a 2°C warmer world, 10 cm more than for 1.5°C warming
  5. The risks to food security, health, fresh water, human security, livelihoods and economic growth are already on the rise and will be worse in a 2°C world
  6. The number of people exposed to the complex and compounded risks from warming will also increase and the poorest — mostly in Asia and Africa — will suffer the worst impacts
  7. Adaptation, or the changes required to withstand the temperature rise, will also be lower at the lower temperature limit

Strategies to limit temperature rise

  • Limited overshoot
  1. To limit warming to around 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, global net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around mid-century
  2. In comparison, to limit warming to just below 2°C, the reductions needed are about 20% by 2030 and reach net zero around 2075
  • Permit temperatures to exceed 1.5°C temporarily before coming back down
  1. Emissions need to peak early within the next decade or so, and then drop
  2. To stay below 1.5°C, the transitions required by energy systems and human societies, in land use, transport, and infrastructure, would have to be rapid and on an unprecedented scale with deep emission reductions

Role of NDCs

  1. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are commitments that each country made prior to the Paris conference
  2. Even if all the NDCs are implemented, the world is expected to warm by over 3°C
  3. Contributions from the U.S. and other rich countries to the Green Climate Fund and other funding mechanisms for the purpose of mitigation and adaptation are vital to reach the goals of the NDCs

Way forward

  1. Disputes over the implementation of the Paris Agreement at numerous meetings depict the deep divides among rich countries, emerging economies and least developed countries
  2. This special report poses options for the global community of nations
  3. Each will have to decide whether to play politics on a global scale for one’s own interests or to collaborate to protect the world and its ecosystems as a whole
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Recalling an older power play


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Iran’s expansive policies in the middle east and its impact on the geopolitics of the area


The problem with Iran

  1. If Iran were a normal state operating on the basis of national interest, it should be possible to resolve differences through give and take
  2. But if a revolutionary Iran exports ideology and destabilises its neighbours, others have no option but to push back, balance or contain
  3. For most Arab regimes revolution in Iran brought by Ayatollah Khomeini during 1978-79 posed an existential threat to their legitimacy and survival
  4. Like Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China, Khomeini’s Iran framed its international objectives in expansive terms
  5. It declared the intent to overthrow the extant regional order in the Middle East
  6. It claimed to “out-Arab” the Arabs in confronting imperialism, Zionism and backing the Palestinian cause

Turn of events in the Middle East

  1. Iran’s radical Islamism threatened the conservative Islamic regimes of the Arabian Peninsula
  2. The Iranian revolution was seen as overturning the status quo and the Arabs wasted no time in pushing back
  3. They turned to Saddam Hussein, the strongman of Iraq and Iran’s neighbour in the Gulf
  4. Saddam, hired as the “Arab Gendarme” against the “Islamist hordes” of Iran, did engage in a prolonged war with Tehran through the 1980s that bled both the nations into a draw
  5. But Saddam tried to recoup his losses by turning a predator
  6. After he annexed Kuwait in 1990, the Gulf regimes looked to the US for redress
  7. The US mounted a massive military operation to liberate Kuwait and put it back on the map in early 1991
  8. It had some serious unintended consequences

What US intervention led to?

  1. Osama bin Ladin, who worked with the Americans and the Saudis in promoting jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, turned against them
  2. Bin Ladin set up the al Qaeda to confront both America and the Arabian rulers friendly to it
  3. A decade later, al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington, on 9/11, which in turn brought Americans into Afghanistan
  4. Rather than consolidating Afghanistan, Washington invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein
  5. In the new Iraq, liberated from Saddam’s secular autocracy, Tehran gained huge influence, especially among the now empowered Shia majority
  6. Arabia, long ruled by Sunni regimes, now confronted the first Shia-dominated Arab state — Iraq
  7. The need to counter Iran’s “Shi’ite geopolitics” became a pressing preoccupation for the Arabs since the middle of the last decade

Changes in last decade

  1. The Iran problem became even more challenging for Arabia, as the Arab Spring of 2011-12 unleashed new threats to the region’s stability
  2. They were frightened by the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the important support it won from Turkey and Qatar
  3. On top of all this, came the rise of the extreme Sunni force, the Islamic State
  4. The Obama administration concluded an agreement with Iran on limiting its nuclear programme
  5. While Washington proclaimed it as a “non-proliferation” agreement, for Arabs it was about ending Iran’s international isolation, boosting Iran’s economy by lifting sanctions, and tilting the balance ever more in favour of Iran

Focus shifting from the US

  1. Having seen America turn wild, the Gulf Arabs can no longer afford to put all their eggs in the American basket
  2. While they hold on to the US, they are inviting other powers like France and Britain back into the Gulf
  3. They are also boosting national military capabilities
  4. The Gulf Arabs deeply dislike what they see as the “pro-Iranian” policies of Russia and China in the Middle East

Way forward for India

  1. India simply confounds the Arabs
  2. They are surprised by Delhi’s strange duality in the Gulf
  3. There is apolitical mercantilism when it comes to the Arabs and delusions of grand strategy in dealing with Iran
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Power politics at play


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Proposed amendments in electricity act and their implications


Changes in electricity act

  1. The Central government has proposed a set of changes to the Electricity Act 2003
  2. The amendments seek to enable a market transformation in electricity
  3. The idea is that while a single public utility will run the wires through which electricity flows, multiple supply licensees (both public and private) will be allowed to compete for consumers
  4. The intent is that the discipline of competing for customers will lead to improved supply and lower bills

Proposed amendments

  1. The amendment (along with changes in the National Tariff Policy) aims to get the price right — a long-standing aspiration — by capping cross-subsidies at 20% immediately and eliminating them within three years
  2. The cross-subsidy surcharge on open access customers — the fee that holds back customers from leaving the grid — would be eliminated within two years
  3. Subsidies will not be allowed across consumer categories like industry and agriculture, but will be allowed across consumption categories — big consumers can subsidise small ones
  4. The amendments include many other provisions, notably around making the Act more up to date with regard to renewable energy, which is a worthy objective

Effects of the proposals

  1. The discipline of competing for customers will lead to improved supply and lower bills
  2. India could have an electricity distribution sector with pockets of competition for wealthy consumers in a sea of monopoly inhabited by the poorest
  3. Private suppliers could cherry-pick profitable locations and consumers; the state-owned incumbent supplier will be left with the obligation to serve low-paying consumers
  4. This shift could be highly disruptive if the profit-making side is allowed to flee, without devising a transition pathway for the loss-making side of electricity

Onus on states

  1. While an earlier 2014 reform effort proposed mandatory and time-bound implementation of these reforms and therefore was resisted by States, the current amendment allows them discretion on the timing of implementation
  2. The combination of time discretion and the improved presence of the ruling coalition in State governments may facilitate passage this time around

Increased power to centre

  1. The Centre may have access to enhanced tax revenues from electricity because it stands to gain from additional tax revenue from profitable new wires companies and private suppliers
  2. The Centre could become a new fulcrum of redistribution from wealthy areas in wealthy States, to needy customers that are concentrated in a few States
  3. It provides greater control to the Centre and limits the States’ and regional political parties’ capability to make electoral use of electricity pricing
  4. The amendment proposes a re-formulation of the selection committee for State regulators, from a majority of State representatives to a majority of Central representatives
  5. The Centre will also gain more oversight on capacity addition, through the requirement of a detailed project report submission to the Central Electricity Authority

Challenge of low demand

  1. Many generating companies have been in the news recently due to decreasing demand for their power and consequently their stranded assets
  2. The amendments potentially provide comfort to them at the expense of distribution companies
  3. They mandate that suppliers sign power purchase agreements (PPAs) to meet the annual average demand, ostensibly to ensure 24×7 power for all, which will be subject to review and compliance measures
  4. The gain to generators could come at the cost of customers, who, through the PPAs signed by supply companies, have to ultimately bear the risk of uncertain load growth, prices and migration

Way forward

  1. India’s electricity sector remains beset with problems
  2. Disruptive change in Indian electricity may be needed, even inevitable
  3. But the amendments risk placing the cost of disruption on the backs of the poorest and shifts the potential for ameliorative measures to the hands of the Centre, rather than the States
Policy Wise: India’s Power Sector