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Financial Inclusion in India and Its Challenges

[op-ed snap] Small and inclusive

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Small Finance Banks

Mains level : Financial Inclusion


Context

INDIA’S central bank has been criticized for being conservative in lifting entry barriers for new players in the banking sector.

On tap licensing

  • It has been three years after the RBI approved licenses to 10 small finance banks.
  • It has now issued the final guidelines for licensing such banks throughout the year or on tap.

Guidelines

  • The bar has been raised for new entrants in terms of higher capital requirements — Rs 200 crore from Rs 100 crore earlier.
  • Stiffer prudential norms on a continuing basis.
  • Mandatory requirement to list after three years when the net worth tops Rs 500 crore.

Benefits

  • The new approach to granting differentiated licenses to small finance banks and payment banks is welcome.
  • In the current context, established full-service large banks are scaling back their franchises to reduce expenditure.
  • There is also the impact of the planned mergers of some of the state-owned banks.

Small banks

  • Small finance banks have the potential to provide an alternative to some of the existing institutions.
  • Their mandated focus on small and medium businesses, the informal sector, small and marginal farmers will increase financial inclusion.
  • It also serves a variety of unserved clients in the hinterland and tier three and four cities and towns.

Performance of SFBs

  • The RBI’s review of the performance of small finance banks shows that they have achieved their priority sector targets and attained the mandate for furthering financial inclusion.
  • These banks account for less than 0.5% of total deposits and less than 1% of total advances.
  • Many of them have been growing their loan books at a good clip. 

Limitations

  • Their challenge is in building a franchise.
  • There are also the challenges of ensuring relatively low-cost operations by diversifying their loan portfolios and lowering the old legacy loan stock and wholesale deposits. All these can get costly. 
  • They need to put in place robust technology platforms and modern risk management systems.

Way ahead

  • Experience has shown that a competitive banking system can help foster a more inclusive financial sector. 
  • Small finance banks could occupy the space being gradually vacated by some of the bigger banks.
  • They can complement them in segments such as micro and small businesses and the informal sector.
  • Their success will depend on asset quality, the level, and standards of governance and regulatory oversight.

Back2Basics

Small Finance Banks

  • The small finance bank shall primarily undertake basic banking activities of acceptance of deposits and lending to unserved and underserved sections including small business units, small and marginal farmers, micro and small industries and unorganized sector entities.
  • There will not be any restriction in the area of operations of small finance banks.
Panchayati Raj Institutions: Issues and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Trampling on grassroots: On T.N. local body polls

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Periodic elections to local bodies


Context

Three years the due date in 2016, rural local bodies in Tamil Nadu will witness elections in the last week of this month. Urban local bodies are also likely to have elected representatives next year. 

Travesty of law

  • It is a travesty of the law that these elections have been delayed. 
  • Cities, towns and villages have been under the rule of unelected officials for too long. 
  • Under a Supreme Court order, polls for all local bodies will have to be held.
  • The exception is only to those districts that have been divided recently to create new ones. 

Issues

  • Administrative lapses and political litigation over ward delimitation in various local bodies as per latest population figures in the 2011 Census resulted in the unprecedented delay. 
  • Originally announced on time in 2016, the notification was cancelled by the Madras High Court, citing irregularities in it. 
  • Since then, the issue of delimitation, the announcement of new districts and occasional litigation have contributed to the delay in elections.

Urban Local Bodies

  • There have been frequent changes in the mode of electing mayors of city corporations and chairpersons of municipalities. 
  • Originally, direct elections were held, but it was changed to an indirect mode in 2006. 
  • In 2016, the Jayalalithaa regime opted for indirect elections, that is, only ward councillors would be elected by the people and these representatives would elect mayors and municipal chairpersons. 
  • The current government reversed the decision and chose the direct election model. 
  • Recently, it once again changed its mind and restored the system of indirect election, citing “better accountability and collective responsibility”. 
  • It claimed that there was scope for conflict between a directly elected head and the councillors, and it would be eliminated if councillors themselves elected the mayor or chairperson. 

Other challenges

  • The attitude of the two main parties towards the importance of local bodies has been quite lukewarm. 
  • The posts of the heads of various local bodies are politicised. This hampers devolution of funds and letting the various tiers work independently. 
  • District panchayats frequently undermined as most parties consider them as a redundant third tier among Panchayati raj institutions. 
  • Including local self-government bodies as partners in development is still a far cry.
Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.

[op-ed snap] Retributive justice: On Hyderabad vet rape and murder

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Women Safety - pursuing justice


Context

Justice in any civilized society is not just about retribution, but also about deterrence, and in less serious crimes, rehabilitation of the offenders. 

Disha incident

  • The heinous rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad shook the collective conscience of India.
  • It resulted in an outcry for justice for the victims and outrage over the persisting lack of safety for women in public spaces. 
  • Such societal pressure for justice weighs upon legal institutions, as the police are required to find the culprits with alacrity and the judiciary to complete the legal process without undue delay. 
  • But these institutions must uphold the rule of law and procedure even in such circumstances. 

The killing of the police

  • The police claim that two of the accused snatched their weapons and fired at them when the four had been taken to the crime scene to reconstruct the sequence of events. 
  • The National Human Rights Commission has deputed a fact-finding team to Hyderabad to probe the incident.
  • The guidelines set by the Supreme Court to deal with such events must be strictly observed to get to the bottom of this episode.

Public response

  • The jubilation on social media platforms and on the streets over the killings by the police stems from the public anger and anguish over the burgeoning crimes against women. 
  • There is a perception that the legal institutions are ill-equipped to deal with such crimes and to bring the perpetrators to justice. 

Way ahead

  • Much more needs to be done in terms of registration and charge-sheeting of sexual crimes by police and addressing the pendency in a court of such cases.
  • There has been greater awareness and improvement in both the policing and judicial process following the horrific bus gang-rape in 2012 in New Delhi. 
  • The Telangana government had issued orders for setting up a fast-track court to try the four accused and this should have brought closure to the case in a time-bound manner. 
  • Existing laws on sexual crimes and punishment need better application.
  • A recourse to brutal retribution as suggested unwisely by many is no solution. 
  • The political sanction of “encounter killings” to deliver swift retribution would only be a disincentive for the police to follow due process and may even deter them from pursuing the course of justice. 
  • Bending the law in such cases would only undermine people’s faith in the criminal justice system.
Internal Security Architecture Shortcomings – Key Forces, NIA, IB, CCTNS, etc.

[op-ed snap] Seeking truth and reconciliation in Chhattisgarh

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Human Rights violations by security forces


Context

The Indian government claims that it is winning the war against Maoist guerillas in India’s forested regions. 

Government actions

  • It has dismissed accusations of human rights violations as propaganda by Maoists or their supporters.
  • It has jailed human rights activists and lawyers working in these areas. 
  • A recent report by a government-appointed inquiry commission shows that these accusations are credible and need to be addressed.

Anti-Maoist action

  • Seven-and-a-half years ago, 17 unarmed villagers, including six minors, were killed by security forces at Sarkeguda village in Chhattisgarh.
  • The commission established that the CRPF and police version of events was false.
  • It said that 15 of the villagers were killed at close quarters while fleeing in a ‘totally disproportionate and unwarranted use of force.” 
  • One man was killed in his home the next morning, while one succumbed to his injuries in hospital. 
  • The judge relied only on circumstantial evidence. The CRPF/police version was dismissed because the lawyers for the villagers picked holes in their claims.

Villagers’ testimony

  • The defence charge on delay is completely unwarranted because the villagers spoke to the press. 
  • They did not file an FIR with the police. It shows their complete and justified lack of faith in the system. 
  • The police was involved in the firing and the government’s own affidavits in the Supreme Court in the ongoing Salwa Judum case have established that the police have never acted on complaints from villagers.
  • The only point where the judge differs from the villagers is in arguing that the meeting that the villagers were attending was not an innocuous one to prepare for a seed-sowing festival because it was held at night and some people with ‘criminal antecedents’ were present. 
  • In an area where anyone can be arbitrarily accused and jailed, people with criminal antecedents are a dime a dozen. 
  • For the security forces, everybody is “hostile”. 

Holes in the judgement

  • Even after exposing the violations by security forces, the judge rewarded the perpetrators. 
  • He did not recommend any prosecutions, or compensation; only better training, better gadgets and better intelligence for the forces.
  • There are issues such as the 2012 Sarkeguda massacre and the Tadmetla arson, murder and rape a year earlier, as well as the accompanying attack on Swami Agnivesh and Art of Living representatives.

Human rights violations

  • High-level committees were appointed to look into releasing adivasi prisoners as well as examine the cases of journalists.
  • There has been no progress on addressing the widespread human rights violations, deaths, rapes and arson caused by Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt, despite severe indictments by the National Human Rights Commission in 2008 as well as by the Supreme Court in 2011. 
  • In an internal closure report on Tadmetla, the CBI pointed to the larger systemic issues of deliberate obfuscation by the security forces to ensure impunity. 
  • These include not keeping records of personnel on particular operations or details of ammunition used, deliberately fudging evidence etc.,
  • There have been several more cases of fake encounters, the most recent being of two villagers in the Munga jungle on November 5.

Supreme Court

  • The Supreme Court’s 2011 ban on the use of surrendered Naxalites in frontline counterinsurgency has also been ignored by governments.
  • The Court has let this contempt pass without hearing for the last seven years. 
  • A ‘final hearing’ of the Salwa Judum case began in 2018, but one year on, there have been no dates for hearing.
  • The Sarkeguda inquiry raised the callous killing of 17 innocent villagers.

Way ahead

  • Announce a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would catalogue and compensate for all deaths, and prosecute those responsible. 
  • Action against security personnel in Sarkeguda must be the start, but must not be allowed to become the end.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Climate warnings: On unmet emission goals

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Need to act on climate change


Context

Two reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on the impact of higher global temperatures on land, oceans and the cryosphere, lend urgency to the task before countries meeting for the UN conference. 

UN conference

  • The member-nations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have been trying to finalize measures under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to commodify carbon emissions cuts and to make it financially attractive to reduce emissions.
  • The IPCC scientists’ research helps the international community decide on actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • They are worried that even under the most optimistic scenarios, human health, livelihoods, biodiversity and food systems face a serious threat from climate change. 

Climate change

  • In the case of oceans and frozen areas on land, accelerated rates of loss of ice, particularly in Greenland, the Arctic and the Antarctic, will produce a destructive rise in sea levels.
  • Increases in tropical cyclone winds, rainfall, and extreme waves, combined with relative sea-level rise, will exacerbate catastrophic sea-level events.
  • All this will also hurt the health of fish stocks. 
  • For countries with a long coastline, local sea level anomalies that occurred once in a century may become annual events, due to the projected global mean sea level rise over the 21st century. 
  • This is alarming for the 680 million residents of low-lying coastal areas, whose population may go up to one billion by 2050, and for those living in small islands.

Way ahead

  • The new IPCC assessment underscores the need for unprecedented and urgent action in all countries with significant greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The industrialized nations need to provide liberal, transparent funding to developing countries under the Paris Agreement. 
  • The principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities, recognize that rich countries reduced the carbon space available to the poor. 
  • The developed world will be focusing in Madrid on creating a global system of accounting for emissions reductions, introducing credible carbon markets, and making some of the gains from these markets available to developing nations to invest in green energy. 
  • Scientists have a high degree of certainty on losses that will arise from climate change. There must be steady progress in addressing the damage. 
  • Even with the highest resolve, the existing Nationally Determined Contributions filed under the Paris Agreement fall short and need augmenting. 
  • There is a gap between planned emissions cuts, and what needs to be done by 2030 to contain global temperature rise at 1.5°C.
Seeds, Pesticides and Mechanization – HYV, Indian Seed Congress, etc.

[oped of the day] A potential seedbed for private profits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TRIPS; UOPV; PPVFR

Mains level : Seed Bill


Context

The Seeds Bill 2019 is under Parliament’s consideration. 

Seeds – Governance in India

  • In 1994, India signed the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). 
  • In 2002, India also joined the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention. 
  • Both TRIPS and UPOV led to the introduction of some form of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) over plant varieties. 
  • Member countries introduced restrictions on the free use and exchange of seeds by farmers unless the “breeders” were remunerated.

Balancing conflicting aims

  • TRIPS and UPOV ran counter to other international conventions. 
  • In 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) provided for “prior informed consent” of farmers before the use of genetic resources and “fair and equitable sharing of benefits” arising out of their use. 
  • In 2001, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) recognized farmers’ rights as the rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds.
  • National governments had the responsibility to protect such farmers’ rights.

India’s position

  • India was a signatory to TRIPS and UPOV as well as CBD and ITPGRFA. Any Indian legislation had to be in line with all. 
  • The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPVFR) Act of 2001 sought to achieve this delicate balance. 
  • The PPVFR Act retained the main spirit of TRIPS viz., IPRs as an incentive for technological innovation. 
  • It also had strong provisions to protect farmers’ rights. 
  • It recognized three roles for the farmer: cultivator, breeder, and conserver. 
    • As cultivators, farmers were entitled to plant-back rights. 
    • As breeders, farmers were held equivalent to plant breeders. 
    • As conservers, farmers were entitled to rewards from a National Gene Fund.

Seeds Bill

  • A new Seeds Bill is necessary to enhance seed replacement rates in Indian agriculture, specify standards for the registration of seed varieties and enforce registration from seed producers to seed retailers. 
  • Any such legislation is expected to be in alignment with the spirit of the PPVFR Act.
  • A shift from farm-saved seeds to certified seeds would raise seed replacement rates.  
  • Certified seeds have higher and more stable yields than farm-saved seeds. Such a shift should be achieved not through policing, but through an enabling atmosphere. 
  • Private seed companies prefer policing because their low-volume, high-value business model is dependent on forcing farmers to buy their seeds every season. 
  • An enabling atmosphere is generated by the strong presence of public institutions in seed research and production. 

Seed policy in India

  • From the late-1980s, Indian policy has consciously encouraged the growth of private seed companies, including companies with majority foreign equity. 
  • Today, more than 50% of India’s seed production is undertaken in the private sector. 
  • These firms have been demanding favorable changes in seed laws and deregulation of seed prices, free import, and export of germplasm, freedom to self-certify seeds and restrictions on the use by farmers of saved seeds from previous seasons. 
  • Through various versions between 2004 and 2019, private sector interests have guided the formulation of the Seeds Bill. 
  • Even desirable objectives such as raising the seed replacement rates have been mixed up to encourage and protect the business interests of private companies. 

Problematic provisions

  • Many of Bill’s provisions deviate from the spirit of the PPVFR Act and are against farmers’ interests and in favor of private seed companies.
  • The Seeds Bill insists on compulsory registration of seeds. However, the PPVFR Act was based on voluntary registration. As a result, many seeds may be registered under the Seeds Bill but may not under the PPVFR Act. 
  • Assume a seed variety developed by a breeder, but derived from a traditional variety. The breeder will get exclusive marketing rights. No gain will accrue to farmers as benefit-sharing is dealt with in the PPVFR Act.
  • As per the PPVFR Act, all applications for registrations should contain the complete passport data of the parental lines from which the seed variety was derived, including contributions made by farmers. This allows for easier identification of beneficiaries and simpler benefit-sharing processes. 
  • Seeds Bil demands no such information while registering a new variety. Thus, an important method of recording the contributions of farmers is overlooked and private companies are left free to claim a derived variety as their own.
  • The PPVFR Act is based on an IPR like breeders’ rights. It does not allow the re-registration of seeds after the validity period.
  • The Seeds Bill is not based on an IPR like breeder’s rights. Private seed companies can re-register their seeds an infinite number of times after the validity period. Due to this “ever-greening” provision, many seed varieties may never enter the open domain for free use.
  • A vague provision for the regulation of seed prices appears in the latest draft of the Seeds Bill. It appears neither sufficient nor credible. Strict control on seed prices has been an important demand raised by farmers’ organizations. 
  • They have also demanded an official body to regulate seed prices and royalties. In its absence, seed companies may be able to fix seed prices as they deem fit.
  • According to the PPVFR Act, if a registered variety fails in its promise of performance, farmers can claim compensation before a PPVFR Authority. In the Seeds Bill, disputes on compensation have to be decided as per the Consumer Protection Act 1986. Consumer courts are not the ideal and friendly institutions that farmers can approach.
  • According to the Seeds Bill, farmers become eligible for compensation if a plant variety fails to give expected results under “given conditions”. Seed companies would always claim that “given conditions” were not ensured, which will be difficult to be disputed with evidence in a consumer court.

The way ahead

  • Farmer-friendly pieces of seed legislation are difficult to frame and execute. 
  • Moreso as the clout of the private sector grows and technological advances shift seed research towards hybrids rather than varieties. In hybrids, the reuse of seeds is technically constrained.
  • The private sector has a natural incentive to focus on hybrids.
  •  In such a world of hybrids, even progressive seed laws become a weak defense.
  • Strong public agricultural research systems ensure that the choices between hybrids, varieties and farm-saved seeds remain open, and are not based on private profit concerns. 
  • Even if hybrids are the appropriate technological choice, seed prices can be kept affordable. 
  • For the seed sector and its laws to be truly farmer-friendly, the public sector has to recapture its lost space.

Back2Basics

TRIPS  – It sets down minimum standards for the regulation by national governments of many forms of intellectual property.

UOPV – The objective of the Convention is the protection of new varieties of plants by an intellectual property right.

PPVFR – enacted to provide for the establishment of an effective system for the protection of plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders, and to encourage the development and cultivation of new varieties of plants.

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Lessons from Ambedkar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Dalit assertion and thier political empowerment


Context

  • R. Ambedkar is remembered on his 63rd death anniversary on December 6, principally as the chief draftsman of the Indian Constitution.
  • But above all Ambedkar was a valiant fighter for the cause of the Dalits.
  • His strategies to achieve the goal of empowering Dalits shifted with changing contexts but the goal always remained the same: attaining equality with caste Hindus in all spheres of life.

Ambedkar’s work for Dalit Empowerment

Separate electorate

  • It was in pursuit of this goal that in the early 1930s he advocated a separate electorate for the Dalits.
  • This demand was accepted by British PM MacDonald in his Communal Award of 1932, which granted Dalits 18% of the total seats in the Central legislature and 71 seats in the Provincial legislatures to be elected exclusively by Dalits.
  • However, Ambedkar’s success was short-lived because of Mahatma Gandhi’s fast unto death against a separate electorate for Dalits, which he saw as a British ploy to divide Hindu society.

Idea that never came to being

  • Ambedkar gave up his demand in return for an increased number of seats reserved for Dalits but elected by the general Hindu population.
  • However, Ambedkar regretted his decision because he soon realized that given the disparity in the number of eligible voters between caste Hindus and Dalits was huge.
  • With disparity in their socio-economic status, very few of the elected Dalits would be able to genuinely represent Dalit interests.

Defying untouchability

  • Both Gandhi and Ambedkar abhorred untouchability, but the terms they used to describe the “untouchables” demonstrated the wide gulf in their approaches to the issue.
  • Gandhi called them “Harijan” (God’s children) in order to persuade caste Hindus to stop discriminating against them.
  • For Ambedkar, this was a appeasing term and he used the nomenclature Dalit both to describe the reality of oppression and to galvanize his people to challenge and change the status quo.

Ally with the Muslim League

  • In the second half of the 1930s Ambedkar considered the Muslim League a potential ally.
  • He concluded that if Muslims and Dalits acted jointly, they could balance the political clout of caste Hindus.
  • However, he was disillusioned after the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution of March 1940 demanding a separate Muslim majority state.
  • He felt this undercut Dalit interests in two ways. First, if the Muslim League succeeded in gaining Pakistan, it would drastically reduce the Muslims’ heft in Indian politics and allow caste Hindus a free hand in running the country.
  • Second, even if the bid for Pakistan failed, the Muslim League’s demand for parity in representation with the Hindus effectively marginalized all other groups, especially the Dalits.

Hindu code bill

  • After Independence Ambedkar made his peace with the Congress leadership believing that he could enhance Dalits’ rights from within the power structure.
  • He became Law Minister and Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee.
  • He resigned from the Cabinet in 1951 when his draft of the Hindu Code Bill was stalled in Parliament because conservative Hindu members opposed it.

Declining cause of Dalits

  • There are three major problems that continue to bedevil Dalit activism.
  • First, intra-Dalit differences based on sub-castes allows forces opposed to Dalit empowerment to divide Dalits and deny them the clout that they can wield in the Indian polity.
  • Second, interpersonal rivalry among Dalit politicians leads to the same result.
  • Third, the inability of the Dalit leadership to stick with their non-Dalit allies, especially in times of political adversity, makes them appear as unreliable political partners.

Conclusion

  • Although he died a frustrated man, Ambedkar’s devotion to the cause of Dalit empowerment has continued to galvanise Dalits until today.
  • This Dalit awakening is represented in student activism on university campuses as well as through the emergence of Dalit-based parties.
  • The most important lesson to learn from Ambedkar’s repeated exhortations is that unless they remain united, the Dalits will be denied their due share of political power.
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

[oped of the day] The many structural flaws in India’s higher education system

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Institutions of Eminence

Mains level : Higher Education quality in India


Context

The furore surrounding fee hikes at the Jawaharlal Nehru University has spurred deeper questions about the quality of university education. 

Higher Education

    • India’s higher education system is structurally flawed and underfunded.
    • This crisis will affect innovation and human capital, the two pillars of labour productivity and GDP growth.
    • It will hurt India’s largest demographic of its potential.

Fault Lines

    • A surge in women’s enrolment does not necessarily imply better outcomes. 
    • ‘India Skills Report’ suggests that only 47% of Indian graduates are employable.
    • India has startlingly low faculty figures.

Faculty shortage

    • Faculty vacancies at government institutions are at 50% on average. 
    • A Deloitte gathering of 63 Deans of top-tier institutions revealed that 80% listed lack of quality faculty as their biggest concern. 
    • The problem lies in increased demand and stagnant supply. 
    • The number of institutions has surged in India since the 2000s, while the number of students doing PhD has remained constant. 
    • There are over a 1,00,000 India-born PhDs in universities around the world. They are kept away by paltry salaries and poor funding. 
    • China attracted Chinese-origin PhDs back home with dollar salaries and monetary incentives for published research. 
    • Tsinghua University is designed on the Western model of teaching and research and is even ahead of MIT in terms of published papers.

The problem of Indian universities

    • Indian universities separate research and teaching activities, depriving students of exposure to cutting-edge ideas. 
    • Monetary incentives for academia are practically non-existent.
    • Indian R&D expenditure at 0.62% of GDP is one of the lowest in emerging economies. 
    • Indian universities rank low in both research and teaching. 
    • The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, at rank 155, was our highest in the Scimago Institutions Rankings (SIR) for research. 6 Chinese institutes figured in the top 50.

Macroeconomic impact

    • These flaws could affect macroeconomic indicators such as labour productivity, determined by innovation and human capital. 
    • The workers of tomorrow need to transition to the formal, non-agricultural sector, with higher education credentials.
    • An increase in research could lead to more innovation in the economy. It might drive up labour productivity. 
    • The Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) proposed ambitious reforms. It aims to double education spending to 6% of GDP and close the research-teaching divide in higher education. 
    • It is coupled with an ‘Institutions of Eminence’ programme started in 2018 that gave increased funding to some research universities. 

Challenges

    • The dramatic increases may not be politically feasible.
    • The implementation of such reforms may go the path of previous NEPs — watered down and eventually shelved.

Way ahead

    • The government needs to ensure that higher education’s role in innovation and human capital is not ignored. 
    • The reforms must be pushed through and must lead to legislation that will fund research-based universities. 
    • Only this can bring a culture of discovery and accountability to India’s higher education institutions.

Back2Basics

Institutions of Eminence

Institution of Eminence Scheme

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Another quota question: On creamy layer for SCs

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Reservation - creamy layer for SC/ ST


Context

There is a need for an authoritative pronouncement on the question of whether the concept of ‘creamy layer’ ought to be applied to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. 

Supreme Court – M Nagaraj

    • The Union government has called upon the Supreme Court to form a seven-judge Bench to reconsider the formulation.
    • In the judgment, the court said that the “creamy layer” should be applied to the SC and ST communities. 
    • The judgment upheld Constitutional amendments meant to preserve reservation in promotions as well as consequential seniority.
    • It contained an exposition of the equality principle. Through that, it hedged reservations against a set of constitutional requirements. Without it, the structure of equal opportunity would collapse. 
    • These were ‘quantifiable data’ to show the backwardness of a community, the inadequacy of its representation in service, and the lack of adverse impact on “the overall efficiency of administration”

Impact of judgment

    • This questioned the continuance of quota policies of various State governments due to non-compliance with these parameters. 
    • In Jarnail Singh (2018), another Constitution Bench reaffirmed the applicability of creamy layer norms to SC/STs. 
    • It ruled that Nagaraj was wrong to require a demonstration of backwardness for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, as it was directly contrary to the nine-judge Bench judgment in Indra Sawhney (1992).
    • Indira Sawhney laid down that there is no need for a test of backwardness for SC/STs, as “they indubitably fall within the expression ‘backward class of citizens’.”
    • Jarnail Singh accepted the presumption of the backwardness of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. 
    • But it favored applying the ‘means test’ to exclude from the purview of SC/ST reservation those who had achieved some level of economic advancement. 
    • It specifically rejects an opinion by the then Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan in Ashoka Thakur (2008) that the ‘creamy layer’ concept is a principle of identification and not one of equality.

The current debate

    • The Centre has accepted that the ‘creamy layer’ norm is needed to ensure that only those genuinely backward get reservation benefits.
    • It is upset that this principle has been extended to Dalits, who are the most backward among the backward sections. 
    • The question is whether the exclusion of the advanced sections among SC/ST candidates can be disallowed only for promotions. 
    • Most of them may not fall under the ‘creamy layer’ category at the entry-level, but after some years of service and promotions, they may reach an income level at which they fall under the ‘creamy layer’. 
    • This may defeat the constitutional amendments that the court had upheld to protect reservation in promotions as well as consequential seniority. 

Conclusion

Another landmark verdict in the history of affirmative action jurisprudence may be needed to settle these questions.

Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] Close encounters: On faking anti-Naxal fight

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Human Rights violations by security forces


Context

The Justice V.K. Agarwal judicial inquiry commission said that no evidence existed to support the claim that 17 people who died in the “encounter” in 2012, in three villages in Bijapur and Sukma districts were “Naxalites”. The security forces in Chhattisgarh have to live down this assertion.

Story

    • In the official narration, two teams led by a DIG marched into the forests to outflank subversives in a meeting. It was met by gunfire. 
    • 17 Naxalites lay dead, and six uniformed personnel hurt. 
    • The commission found no evidence of a gunfight.
    • It held that firing had been one-sided beginning to end.

What it means

    • The findings catalog that truth can be subverted and buried by the very officers who are supposed to enforce the law. 
    • The commission puts it down to a disproportionate reaction from the anti-Naxal formation.

Botched up story

    • The findings make it clear that the entire operation was botched from the start by poor intelligence, inadequate training, lack of communication, and hasty reaction.
    • Postmortem reports showed injuries on 10 of those killed were on their backs.
    • This is not consistent with claims that firing had been in self-defense.
    • The nature and location of the injuries suggest that they were fired upon while fleeing. 
    • There were bullet shots on some of the heads from close quarters. 
    • There were injuries on the upper torsos caused by the butt of guns or rifles which show signs of physical assault. 
    • The cataloging and managing of the evidence of armaments such as guns and detonators suffered from imprecise documentation. 
    • There are signs of manipulation in the timing of injury and post-mortem reports in at least one case. 
    • The commission concluded that injuries sustained by the uniformed personnel were more likely caused through friendly fire. 

Recommendations

    • Training is to be imparted “to improve the mental fabric of security forces”.
    • It aims “to make them more balanced so that they act with equanimity and do not succumb to panic reaction even in a critical situation”. 
    • Ways must be found to initiate action against the officers involved in this unfortunate operation.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Headwinds after a hard-line approach

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : China's internal conditions


Context

The challenges for the Communist Party of China and Chinese President Xi Jinping are mounting by the day. 

Over Hong Kong

  • In a rebuke to the handling of the Hong Kong crisis, pro-democracy forces made massive gains in local elections.
  • 17 of the 18 district councils are now controlled by pro-democracy councilors. 
  • The election saw an unprecedented voter turnout of more than 71%.

Managing Hong Kong

  • Protests began early in 2019 over the introduction of a bill authorizing extraditions to mainland China.
  • It is not clear if the voices of the Hong Kong street protests would be heard in Beijing

Problems for China

  • Mr. Xi held the Hong Kong portfolio on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee before he became China’s de facto emperor. 
  • He has centralized power to an unprecedented level. There is no one else to share any blame for the policies enunciated by Mr. Xi. 
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has reiterated that “no matter what happens, Hong Kong is a part of China”.

Uighur issue

  • A massive trove of classified Chinese government documents was leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
  • It showcases a much more granular narrative of how China is carrying out the mass detention of Muslim Uighurs and other minorities in its northwest Xinjiang province. 
  • These documents belie repeated Chinese claims that it is sending the estimated million or more people to vocational training schools with the goal of combating terrorism. 
  • Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide had been instrumental in facilitating the mass detention. 

Costs of the backlash

  • There are no good options for him in Hong Kong. If he continues his hard-line approach, he will make the ground situation worse in Hong Kong.
  • Making concessions also is not a very viable option for him as it is not readily evident how far the demands might go. 
  • Though the extradition bill has been withdrawn, the demands of protesters in Hong Kong have grown to include genuine universal suffrage and an inquiry into allegations of police brutality. 

Effect on party dynamics

  • The delicate balance that the Communist Party has managed to evolve in the politics of China can be frayed if ordinary Chinese lose trust.
  • There is also a chance of rivalries within the Communist Party flaring up as Mr. Xi’s policies take a hit. 
  • He has made a lot of enemies in his drive to emerge as the supreme leader and he has been ruthless with his opponents.
  • The Chinese economy is not doing well. There is growing internal criticism of Mr. Xi’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative and the costs China is having to bear for a grandiose project. 
  • China’s aggressive influence operations in other countries are also generating strong backlash. 
  • The Australian media has reported on an alleged Chinese plot to plant a spy in the Australian Parliament which has been termed as “deeply disturbing”.
  • Reports that a Chinese spy has applied for asylum in Australia after providing information about Chinese operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia has damaged an already battered Chinese global image.

Conclusion

Beijing might want to divert attention from its own internal failures by lashing out at the world.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] One state push for Israel and Palestine?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Two state solution

Mains level : Two state solution and the future of Israeli peace


Context

The U.S. State Department’s recognition of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank is another indication that the two-state solution is dead. 

Israel – Palestine

    • There are 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. They will soon be one-third of the overall population. 
    • When the Zionist settlers in the 1930s became one-third of the population, Palestine was doomed.
    • Then, the Zionist leadership began to contemplate the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
    • The West Bank is under a similar danger. Vast areas have already been ethnically cleansed. The rest can turn inhabitable, as it did in the Gaza Strip. 

Imaginary homeland

    • The “Green Line” — the 1949 armistice line that separates Israel from the West Bank — is a figment of the imagination of those who support the two-state solution. 
    • It was replaced by a greater Israel, ruled by the Israeli nationality law passed in 2018. 
    • It states that only the Jews have the right of self-determination all over historical Palestine.
    • It sanctions the continued colonization of the country and upholds its apartheid system.

Requires new approach

    • This requires a different approach by anyone caring for the future of the Palestinians and respects their basic rights. 
    • The existing regime allows half of the population living between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean to have all the privileges.
    • It is robbing the other half of its living space, lands, rights, dignity, and life. 

Decolonization

    • It cannot be solved by a “peace process” but only by decolonization.
    • It should reformulate the relationship between the third generation of Jewish settlers and the indigenous population of Palestine on the basis of equality.
    • Decolonization is associated with processes that took place in the first half of the last century.
    • The process of decolonization, apart from Algeria and South Africa, has not affected settler-colonial projects which ended in the creation of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

Ongoing ‘catastrophe’

    • In some cases, the settler community acted upon “the logic of the elimination of the native”. 
    • This led to the genocide of native Americans and aboriginals. 
    • Even there the struggle continues for recognition, restitution, and equality. 
    • In Palestine, it was translated into an incremental process of ethnic cleansing. Palestinians call it “the ongoing Nakba”.
    • The Zionist movement succeeded in expelling half the Palestinian population in 1948.
    • Since 1967, it led to the departure of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from all over historical Palestine.
    • Today, the Israeli government continues to dispossess land and take away resources from Palestinians. This is creating conditions that become unsustainable for many Palestinians.

Early resistance

    • In the 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians resisted this policy of colonization and dispossession with an armed struggle. 
    • In many ways, the Hamas in Gaza still seems to believe that this can be an effective tool in the struggle. 
    • Quite a few Palestinians seem to prefer a different kind of popular resistance given the imbalance of power.

Changing resistance

    • The “march of return” — the weekly peaceful demonstrations by thousands of Palestinians on the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel is an example of a different kind of popular resistance.
    • It demands not only the end of the siege on Gaza and its two million people but also the right of return of refugees to their homes.
    • 80% of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are refugees who live near their lands, villages, and towns from which they were expelled in 1948.

International diplomacy

    • Popular resistance on the way to liberation would not have been needed if international diplomacy examined the origins of the conflict in Palestine. 
    • But the international community fully supports Israel and remain silent in the face of continued dispossession of Palestinians. 
    • It adopted the two-state solution as its mantra for what should be done and was supported by the Palestinian leadership. It hoped to salvage at least part of Palestine (22%). 

Failure of a two-state solution

    • Israel has established that any sovereign Palestinian state is impossible. 
    • We have an American administration that fully endorses Israel’s wish to de-politicize the Palestinian question.
    • It allows Israel to fully extend its sovereignty all over historical Palestine and also rejects the right of any Palestinian refugee to return.
    • We wasted 50 years trying to push towards this solution.
    • The end result of this effort was more Jewish settlements in the West Bank and total separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
    • Now we see an American recognition of the Judaisation of the West Bank.

Way forward

    • The situation in Palestine is not a conflict but a struggle against settler colonialism. Not unlike the struggle against Apartheid South Africa. 
    • Call upon the international community to divest from, boycott and sanction Israel in order to stop the “ongoing catastrophe”. 
    • BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, the campaign will continue until the people of the West Bank would be liberated from a military rule, the people of Gaza from the siege, the refugees return from their exile, and the Palestinians in Israel would be recognized as equal citizens.
    • An alternative Palestinian call for the establishment of one democratic state all over historical Palestine is being heard.
    • Rectify past evils by compensating and restituting lost land and property, enable the repatriation of refugees, and offer democracy for all who live in historic Palestine. 
    • Pressure from the outside, a continued popular struggle from the inside and a clear Palestinian vision for the future can turn this vision into reality.
Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] Setting the clock back on intersex human rights

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Transgender Bill


Context

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, continues to trigger protests across the country. Still, Rajya Sabha has passed the same version of the draft law that was passed by the Lok Sabha.

The journey of intersex human rights

    • Arunkumar v. The Inspector-General of Registration – Given by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, it judgment marks the beginning of a journey of intersex human rights in India. 
    • It took up the issue of the validity of consent given on behalf of intersex infants for undergoing sex-selective surgeries. 
    • It held that the consent of the parent cannot be considered as the consent of the child. Hence, such surgeries should be prohibited. 
    • It recognizes the consent rights of intersex children and the right to bodily integrity. 
    • The judgment declared a prohibition on sex-selective surgeries on intersex children in Tamil Nadu. 
    • Tamil Nadu banned sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants and children.

Transgender Bill

    • It also deals with issues related to human rights protection of intersex persons.
    • The title of the Bill itself is exclusionary. It does not accommodate all persons whose legal protection it seeks to recognize. 
    • Transgenders have a different gender identity than what was assigned to them at birth. Intersex indicates the diversity of gender-based on biological characteristics at birth. 
    • There are also multiple variations in intersex itself. The Bill is not in alignment with the evolving international human rights framework. 
    • Parliament has to change the title of the Bill to Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019. It conflates the condition of intersex persons with transgender persons. 
    • Mostly. the legal and welfare needs of intersex persons are different from those of transgender persons.
    • Some persons born or living with intersex traits can live with a non-binary identity or may choose to live as gender-fluid persons. The Bill fails to account for these possibilities. 
    • It does not provide for the definition of terms such as gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.
    • The Bill doesn’t say much about discrimination against intersex persons. Intersex conditions are termed in derogatory terms even by medical professionals. 
    • It should have included a provision directing medical professionals to ensure that intersex traits are not characterized as “disorders of sex development”
    • Intersex traits should not be considered as genetic defects/ disorders, and terms like ‘gender dysphoria’ should be used to characterize them.

Unnecessary medical procedures

    • As per the court’s jurisprudence, medical procedures are not a necessity for self-identification. 
    • The Union Health Ministry has still admitted that medical procedure including sex reassignment surgeries are being performed on intersex children. 
    • Court slammed the Ministry for its poor understanding of consent rights and imposed a ban on the practice of sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants/children. The Bill fails to protect intersex persons from unnecessary medical intervention.

Conclusion

    • The discourse around gender and sexuality has evolved a great deal in the last decade. 
    • The current legislative discourse on this issue suffers from a lack of foundational understanding. 
    • Intersex persons are particularly vulnerable and experience barriers in access to education, employment, marriage, etc. 
    • The Bill turns back the clock on decades of positive change brought about by intersex activists.
Indian Ocean Power Competition

[oped of the day] A new mould for Mauritius

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AU, IORA, IOC, Vanilla Islands

Mains level : Mauritius - India bilateral for Indian Ocean


Context

India prepares to host the prime minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth. He returned to power in the recent general elections. India needs to change the lens through which it sees the small island republic in the western Indian Ocean.

Historical sight

    • Diaspora – For too long, Delhi has viewed Mauritius through the prism of diaspora. This was natural since communities of Indian origin constitute a significant majority on the island.
    • Strategic angle – recently, Delhi has begun to see the strategic significance of Mauritius due to the great power contestation in the Indian Ocean.
    • SAGAR – during the visit of PM to Mauritius in 2015 SAGAR (security and growth for all) policy was unveiled. It was India’s first significant policy statement on the Indian Ocean.

Challenges in dealing Mauritius

    • Not an extension – the bigger challenge for Delhi in dealing with Mauritius is the urgent need to discard deep-rooted perception that Mauritius is an extension of India. 
    • Respecting identity – Mauritius is a sovereign entity with a unique national culture and an international identity of its own. 
    • Unique location – the island enjoys a special place in the Indian Ocean as a thriving economic hub and an attractive strategic location. 

Understanding Mauritius

    • Early European explorers sailed around the African continent and ventured eastwards to India.
    • They began to call Mauritius, the “Star, and Key of the Indian Ocean”
    • The Portuguese and the Dutch were the first to gain a foothold in Mauritius.
    • The French gained effective control over the island in the early 18th century.
    • The French developed sugar plantations introduced shipbuilding and developed a naval base.
    • A French soldier and colonial official, Félix Renouard de Sainte-Croix, described the island as “a central geographical point between every other place in the world’.
    • The British gained control during the Napoleonic wars and turned it into a garrison island to help secure the sea lines of communication between Europe and India. 
    • Diego Garcia, once part of Mauritius, today hosts one of America’s largest foreign military bases in the world.
    • The island is called a “central geographic point”. It is equally true for commerce and connectivity in the Indian Ocean.
    • It is a member of the African Union, Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Commission.

What India can do

    • Strategic partnership – could look beyond sugar plantations to financial services and technological innovation.
    • Investments – new investments pour into Africa and get serviced in Mauritius. Mauritius can be the fulcrum for India’s own African economic outreach.
    • Vanilla islands of the southwestern Indian Ocean were dealt on a bilateral basis. India could think of them as a collective and make Mauritius the pivot of Delhi’s island policy.
    • Indian commercial activities in the southwestern Indian ocean – can use Mauritius as a pivot. Eg., as a banking gateway, the hub for flights to and from Indian cities and tourism.
    • Technology – India could also contribute to the evolution of Mauritius as a regional center for technological innovation. Mauritius demanded higher education facilities from India like the IIT.
    • Climate Change – climate change, sustainable development, and the blue economy are existential challenges for Mauritius and the neighboring island states. It will be the right partner in promoting Indian initiatives.
    • Security – for an integrated view of security cooperation in the southwestern Indian Ocean, Mauritius is the node.

Conclusion

All this and more is possible if Delhi takes a fresh and more strategic look at Mauritius.


Back2Basics

Vanilla Islands – Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion and Seychelles

African Union is a continental union consisting of 55 member states located on the continent of Africa.

Indian Ocean Rim Association is an international organization consisting of 22 coastal states bordering the Indian Ocean.

Indian Ocean Commission it is composed of five African Indian Ocean nations: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion, and Seychelles.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] Taking stock of the anti-AIDS fight

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNAIDS

Mains level : AIDS - tackling it


Context

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), adopted by the member countries of the United Nations in 2015, set a target of ending the epidemics of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by 2030 (SDG 3.3). 

HIV/ AIDS

  • The indicator to track progress in achieving the target for HIV-AIDS is “the number of new HIV infections per 1,000 uninfected population, by sex, age and key populations”. 
  • “Key populations” refers to men who have sex with men; people who use injected drugs; people in prisons and other closed settings; sex workers and their clients, and transgender persons.

Bridging gaps

  • To complement the prevention target set by the SDGs, an ambitious treatment target was adopted through UNAIDS.
  • “90-90-90” target – it stated that by 2020, 90% of those living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90% of all people on such therapy will have viral suppression.
  • The gaps in detection, initiation of drug therapy and effective viral control were to be bridged to reduce infectivity, severe morbidity and deaths from undetected and inadequately treated persons already infected with HIV.
  • Prevention of new infections was targeted by SDG 3.3.

Progress

  • Much success has been achieved in the past 20 years in the global battle against AIDS.
  • There has been a slowdown in progress of late. 
  • There has to be a fresh surge of high-level political commitment, financial support, health system thrust, public education, civil society engagement and advocacy by affected groups.

High and low points

  • World achieved a reduction in new HIV infections by 37% between 2000 and 2018. 
  • HIV-related deaths fell by 45%, with 13.6 million lives saved due to Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).
  • Effective drugs developed to combat a disease earlier viewed as an inescapable agent of death. They also became widely available due to generic versions generously made available by Indian generic manufacturers.
  • Ignorance and stigma were vigorously combated by coalitions of HIV-affected persons. They were supported by enlightened sections of civil society and the media. 
  • According to a recent report by UNAIDS, of the 38 million persons now living with HIV, 24 million are receiving ART, as compared to only 7 million nine years ago.

Concerns remaining

  • At the end of 2018, while 79% of all persons identified as being infected by HIV were aware of the fact, 62% were on treatment and only 53% had achieved viral suppression. 
  • Due to gaps in service provision, 770,000 HIV-affected persons died in 2018 and 1.7 million persons were newly affected. 
  • There are worryingly high rates of new infection in several parts of the world, especially among young persons. 
  • Only 19 countries are on track to reach the 2030 target. 
  • Central Asia and Eastern Europe have had a setback, with more than 95% of the new infections in those regions occurring among the ‘key populations’. 
  • Risk of acquiring HIV infection is 22 times higher in homosexual men and intravenous drug users, 21 times higher in sex workers and 12 times more in transgender persons.

Complacency, new factors

  • The expanded health agenda in the SDGs stretched the resources of national health systems.
  • Global funding streams started identifying other priorities. 
  • Improved survival rates reduced the fear of what was seen earlier as dreaded death and pushed the disease out of the headlines. 
  • The information dissemination blitz did not continue to pass on the risk-related knowledge and strong messaging on prevention-oriented behaviours to a new generation of young persons. 
  • The vulnerability of adolescent girls to sexual exploitation by older men and domineering male behaviours inflicting HIV infection on unprotected women have been seen as factors contributing to new infections in Africa.

Necessity

  • Even the improved survival rates in persons with HIV bring forth other health problems that demand attention. 
  • Risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high among survivors as they age, with anti-retroviral drugs increase the risk of atherosclerosis. 
  • Other infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis can co-exist and cannot be addressed by a siloed programme. 
  • Mental health disorders are a challenge in persons who are on lifelong therapy for a serious disease that requires constant monitoring and often carries a stigma.

Need for a vigil in India

  • HIV-related deaths declined by 71% between 2005 and 2017. 
  • HIV infection now affects 22 out of 10,000 Indians, compared to 38 out of 10,000 in 2001-03. 
  • India has an estimated 2.14 million persons living with HIV and records 87,000 estimated new infections and 69,000 AIDS-related deaths annually. 
  • Nine states have rated higher than the national prevalence figure. Mizoram leads with 204 out of 10,000 persons affected. 
  • The total number of persons affected in India is estimated to be 21.40 lakh, with females accounting for 8.79 lakh. Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Uttarakhand showed an increase in numbers of annual new infections. 
  • The strength of India’s well established National AIDS Control Programme and a combination of prevention and case management strategies must be preserved.

Drug treatment

  • Drug treatment of HIV is now well-founded with an array of established and new anti-viral drugs. 
  • The success of drug treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and male circumcision is well-documented. 
  • Development of a vaccine has been highly challenging but a couple of candidates are in early-stage trials. 

Way ahead

  • Mere technical innovations will not win the battle against HIV-AIDS. 
  • Success in our efforts to reach the 2030 target calls for resurrecting the combination of political will, professional skill and wide-ranging pan-society partnerships. 
  • The theme of the World AIDS Day this year – “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Community by Community, is a timely reminder for community-wide coalitions.
  • Highly vulnerable sections of the community must be targeted for protection in the next phase of the global response.

Back2Basics

UNAIDS – the lead UN agency that coordinates the battle against HIV.

Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] Terror in London: on London Bridge knife attack

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Tackling terrorism comprehensively


Context

The knife attack near London Bridge that killed two and injured three others is another reminder of the threat lone-wolf assaults pose to public security. 

Attack

    • The attacker was born in the U.K. to immigrants from Pakistan-held Kashmir. He was a convicted terrorist. 
    • He was released in December 2018 with conditions after serving half his jail term. 
    • He was attending a prisoner rehabilitation program. Wearing a fake explosive vest, he first threatened to blow up the building and then went on a killing spree. 
    • This is the latest in a series of terror attacks the U.K has seen in recent years. 
    • In 2017, terrorists had rammed a van into pedestrians on the Bridge and stabbed people in nearby bars and restaurants. 
    • In the same year, a van ran into pedestrians outside a London mosque and a suicide bomber killed 22 concert-goers in Manchester. 
    • Islamic State has claimed responsibility for this attack.

Issues underlying the attack

    • Radicalization is the primary problem.
    • It also points to security, intelligence, and systemic failures. 
    • The British intelligence is often credited for foiling dozens of terrorist attacks since the 2005 London train bombings that killed 56.
    • But less sophisticated, less coordinated, often lone-wolf attacks are on the rise. 
    • The attacker who was convicted in 2012 for being part of an al-Qaeda-linked plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange was sentenced under the imprisonment for public protection (IPP) program. It allowed the authorities to keep him, or convicts considered a threat to the public, in prison indefinitely. 
    • Under the automatic early release scheme, he was freed in 2018 with an electronic tag and supposed to be monitored. But the police still could not prevent the knife attack.

Way ahead

    • This demands to make policing more efficient and reviewing the early release scheme. 
    • What is needed is a good counter-terror plan to tackle both extremisms among youth and prevent lone-wolf attacks that often go undetected. 
    • State agencies need to work with civil society groups as well as community leaders and have deradicalization programs.
Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] The dubious legal case for an NRIC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : NRC for the country


Context

The government is proposing an NRC for the country. The Union Home Minister said that the Preparation of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) is governed under several laws.

Legal provisions

    • Citizenship Act – It is said to be governed by the provisions of Section 14A of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003.
    • Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 provides for compulsory registration of every citizen of India and the maintenance of NRIC. 
    • Citizenship Rules – The procedure to prepare and maintain NRIC is specified in The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

Problems with the argument

    • It suggests that a nationwide NRIC is mandated by law. 
    • “May” – Section 14A in the Citizenship Act of 1955 provides in sub-section (1) that “The Central Government may compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue a national identity card to him”. 
    • Discretion vs mandate – The word “may” implies a discretion contingent on other factors. It is at odds with the “compulsory” nature envisaged.
    • From the past – this section was introduced in 2004 in the last days of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

Rules that authorize an NRIC

    • The 2003 Rules are cited by the Home Minister. Three Rules are of particular interest, Rules 11, 6 and 4 seem to grant some sort of authority for a nationwide NRIC.
    • Rule 11 – “Registrar General of Citizen Registration shall cause to maintain the National Register of Indian Citizen in electronic or some other form .. continuous updating .. from various registers under Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 and the Citizenship Act 1955.” 
    • Registrar General’s responsibility is only to do a periodic revision of the National Register. There is no duty upon the citizens to apply for their citizenship afresh.
    • Rule 4 – it places the responsibility to carry out a census-like exercise on the Central government and not on citizens. It deals with “Preparation of the National Register of Indian Citizens”. 
    • It says that the Central Government shall carry out a “house-to-house enumeration for collection for particulars related to each family and Individual including the citizenship status”. 
    • This is a passive process compared to the grueling exercise that was forced upon citizens in Assam. 
    • Assam exercise of making “residents” register vis-à-vis a specific cut-off date was an explicit exception, inserted by amendment through Rule 4A in 2009.
    • Rule 6 – every individual must get himself/herself registered with the Local Registrar of Citizen Registrations during the period of initialization. This rule is circumscribed by the other clauses in the Act.
    • Contradiction in rules:
      • Rule 11 says that updating the NRIC entails updating the information available with ‘Registrar of Births and Deaths’. 
      • Rule 4 says that a census-like exercise shall be carried out and, if the Central government wants to exclude a citizen, it will give him/her a hearing. 
      • Rule 6 says that a citizen shall have to get himself/herself registered once a start period is specified. 
      • These Rules are in direct contradiction with one another, and smack of non-application of mind and arbitrariness.

Not mandatory

    • The rules, as currently drafted, do envisage other less destructive scenarios to register “citizens” which are redundant in the wake of the Aadhaar Act and not mandatory. 
    • Under the Act, the Centre continues to enjoy rule-making powers and could issue rules which could make it mandatory in the Assam format.
    • Under the Foreigners Act of 1946, the burden of proving whether an individual is a citizen or not lies upon the individual applicant and not on the state (Section 9). 

Projects & constitutionality

    • Identity enrolment was made mandatory under the Aadhaar project and this was struck down as excessive. 
    • The NRIC scheme would be directly in violation of the K.S. Puttaswamy judgment. 
    • Not acquiring an Aadhaar number does not subject a citizen to the serious penal consequences envisaged in the case of an NRIC.
    • The NRIC exercise promises to inflict a long period of insecurity on over a billion people. 
    • The individuals most likely to suffer are those at the very margins of poverty, who risk being rendered stateless and being incarcerated in detention camps which are truly a blot on our democracy. 
    • Such a register (NRC) has existed since 1951 only in Assam, as a special case.
Economic Indicators-GDP, FD, etc

[oped of the day] Why India is staring at a middle-income trap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Middle Income Trap - role of institutions to tackle


Context

For India, there are few things more important than our challenge of becoming a rich country.

GDP

    • From experience, we know that the only way out of mass poverty is to obtain modest rates of growth of per capita GDP sustained for many decades. 
    • If per capita GDP grows at 4% per year, there is a doubling every 18 years. Per capita GDP would then go up by 8 times in 50 years.
    • That graduates us beyond middle income.

Idea of development

    • The early idea about economic development viewed an underdeveloped country as a child. 
    • Growth was inevitable. It was only a matter of putting in a few actions to enable that process. 
    • This leads to the risk of thinking that progress is inevitable.
    • Now we know that there is no inevitability about the rise of a country to be a prosperous democracy. 
    • There are only four countries that were poor in 1945 that are now prosperous democracies: South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, and Israel. 
    • In all those countries, growth came as a result of improvements in state capability.

State capability

    • A prominent measure of state capability is available for the 1996–2012 period. 
    • By this, the state capability in India declined in this period. 
    • Our institutional capacity got worse in a period of strong GDP growth. 
    • It is wrong to equate GDP growth with improvement in the foundations for GDP growth.

Higher GDP growth – reduced state capacity

    • When bigger rupee values are at stake, private persons gain by undermining state institutions.
    • We saw this in India in the period after 2005 when the country was starting to reap remarkable success by private sector firms. 
    • The prospective gains from subverting state institutions were suddenly larger and we got bigger investments into attacks on institutions. 
    • State apparatus that used to work when million-rupee bribes were offered broke down when the offers went to billions of rupees.

Reasons

    • Perhaps India’s growth of 1979–2011 was not adequately grounded in the required institutional capacity to be a prosperous liberal democracy.
    • This has something to do with the difficulties that have been seen after 2011.
    • The growth model of 1991–2011 has not carried forward into the following years. 
    • Private “under implementation” investment projects rose from ₹10 trillion in 2006 to ₹50 trillion in 2011. 
    • After that, there has been a decline in nominal terms to ₹40 trillion in mid-2019. 
    • The share of non-workers in the working-age population stands at 60.43% in April–June 2019.

Middle-income trap

    • In many other countries, the phenomenon of a “middle-income trap” has been observed. 
    • At the early stages of development, the simple mobilization of labour and capital is enough to escape from abject poverty. 
    • But once the minimal market economy is in place, a different level of institutional quality is required. 
    • The maturation of firms and the government creates the need for complex contracts, contract enforcement, economic regulation, and institutions that channel the conflicts between social groups.
    • When a middle-income country wants to rise to a mature market economy, and institutional capacity is weak growth stalls. 

Reasons for underperformance

    • A lot of government intervention and the license-permit-inspector raj remains in place. 
    • The economic freedom promised in 1991 has not evolved into a mature market economy. 
    • Private persons are beset with government intervention. 
    • The instincts of central planning are alive and well among policymakers. 
    • There is a great deal of arbitrary power in the hands of the government. 
    • Extensive interference in the economy by the government still exists.
    • There is a policy risk associated with future interventions. The fear of how arbitrary power will be used has led to a loss of confidence in the private sector.

State capacity deficit

    • When India was a small economy, the GDP was small, and the gains from violating rules were also relatively small. 
    • The tenfold growth in the size of the economy created new opportunities to obtain wealth. 
    • The gains from violating rules went up sharply. Large resources were brought to bear upon subverting state institutions.
    • The foundations of state institutions in terms of the rule of law, and checks and balances were always weak. 
    • The combination of an amplified effort by private persons to subvert institutions, coupled with low state capacity, has resulted in a decline of institutional quality.

Addressing the problems

    • Economic thinkers of the previous decades tended to focus on economics more narrowly, on issues such as the green revolution or heavy industry or trade liberalization.
    • We need to more explicitly locate ourselves in the intersection of politics and the economy. 
    • The founding energy of liberal democracy is the pursuit of freedom, of people being masters of their own fate. 
    • We need to shift away from notions of a developmental state with big initiatives from the government, towards a philosophy of respect for the self-organizing system. 
    • We need to rely far more on private negotiations, private contracts, and civil society solutions, rather than turning to the government to solve problems.
    • APMCs (agricultural produce market committees) were not intended to create entrenched power in the hands of traders. Land ceiling Acts were not intended to create shortages of real estate and high prices for real estate. Bank nationalization was not intended to hamper growth, stability, and inclusion.
    • Single-window systems do not solve the problem of state coercion, and the threat of raids and punishments.
    • In the absence of deeper reform, it is hard to build single-window systems that overcome a maze of restrictions. 

Deeper reforms

    • The reform required in the early 1990s was not a single-window system governing IPO approvals, it was the abolition of the office of the Controller of Capital Issues. The reform required in trade liberalization was not a single-window system for import approvals, it was the removal of trade barriers. 
    • Some of the work of regulation can be pushed down to private firms. To tackle the problem of regulating taxis, one possibility lies in setting up bureaucratic machinery that engages with each taxi driver. Another pathway lies in contracting out this regulation to private taxi companies. 
    • Aggregation business models, such as Airbnb, have an incentive to utilize customer feedback and supervisory staff to improve the quality of their customer experience. 
    • Modern technology makes it possible to remove the market failure. 
    • In allocating spectrum, the state creates bureaucratic machinery which auctions spectrum and polices for violations. There is an alternative methodology where intelligent devices establish a self-organizing system through which the spectrum is shared. The need for government control of spectrum allocation is removed. 
    • Nobel Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom reminds us of the remarkable outcomes through some traditional community arrangements. The possibilities for purely decentralized solutions to allocate common goods without requiring a bureaucratic apparatus are high.
    • A complex modern economy only works when it is a self-organizing system. It has to have the creative efforts of a large number of individuals.

Conclusion

It is always possible to obtain GDP growth without solving these deeper problems. We should shift focus from the numbers for GDP growth to focusing on the state of health of state institutions. Sustained improvement in institutional quality is hard, but it is the only way to obtain sustained GDP growth.

Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] Glimmer of hope: On fresh SIT report on 1984 riots

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Communal riots in India


Context

A report by a court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) will tell if there is any improvement in bringing justice for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. As many as 3,325 people from the Sikh community, including 2,733 in Delhi alone, were killed in the pogrom.

Progress on the issue

  • Successful prosecutions have been few and far between.
  • Each time a new probe is ordered or a fresh report submitted, it is seen as major progress. 
  • The SIT was formed by the Supreme Court a year ago to examine the record in 186 cases.
  • Another SIT had scrutinised 293 cases and closed 199 of them. A two-member team of retired apex court judges scrutinised these 199 cases, along with 42 other matters that had been closed earlier. 
  • The supervisory committee was informed that 186 cases merited further investigation.
  • A fresh three-member team was asked to examine these 186 cases. Last week, the team submitted its report.
  • The development offers a glimmer of hope to the victims of 1984.

Challenges

  • It is not easy to secure convictions in instances of communal riots and sectarian violence.
  • This is difficult for those that involve thousands of offenders gripped by mob frenzy.
  • There was little effort in the early days to bring to book the high political functionaries of the Congress who were suspected to have instigated the riots. 
  • The country has seen other large-scale riots and pogroms after 1984 but has not been able to ensure substantive justice.
  • Delhi High Court’s suggestion in Sajjan Kumar case, to have separate legislation to deal with mass murders that amount to genocide or crimes against humanity should be considered.

Back2Basics

Communalism

Communalism

Disinvestment in India

[op-ed snap] Making Air India’s disinvestment work

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Disinvestment in India

Mains level : Air India disinvestement


Context

Air India has witnessed a calamitous fall in the last four decades. 

Fall of Air India

    • It operated in a near-monopoly environment, but the pace of descent intensified when it faced competition. 
    • In the late 1990s, the airline’s service standards declined, and it was referred to as the Disinvestment Commission of India. 
    • It recommended dilution of government ownership to 40%. The effort did not succeed. 
    • After 2004, the descent was quick due to a series of reckless decisions, like the acquisition of aircraft in numbers far more than what it could afford or gainfully deploy; and the merger with Indian Airlines.
    • The airline was also weak due to doling out of seats by the administration to foreign airlines.

Lack of strategic direction

    • Air India’s precarious financial situation was first made public in June 2009 by the then-Chairman Arvind Jadhav. 
    • The government, instead of tackling the core problem, decided to focus on a financial package. 
    • The bailout package of over ₹30,000 crores, infused over an eight-year span ending 2021, has not helped Air India evolve into a robust carrier.
    • The airline’s survival depends on several factors: the induction of professional management with effective leadership, a sound financial package that does not come with political interference in its day-to-day operations, and unions allowing changes in work conditions and pays packages. 
    • In 2017, Niti Aayog recommended disinvestment. The government decided to not only retain 24% equity, it also wanted the acquirer to absorb a major chunk of the non-aircraft related debt. 
    • A proposal for sale has to suit the acquirer as much as the seller was thus overlooked. The offer found no takers.

Present situation

    • The government has put Air India for disinvestment. 
    • It is driven by the Centre’s anxiety to get rid of the airline. Thus, it can spare itself of the responsibility of further infusion of funds.

Way ahead

    • The government ought to ensure that it exits totally, giving freedom to the potential acquirer to transform it into a successful player. 
    • The cost of further infusion of funds if the exercise fails mustn’t be overlooked. 
    • As the product still commands a sizeable market share and has an extensive global network that no other Indian carrier can match, the government needs marketing skills.
    • All major stakeholders should be convinced that disinvestment is the best way forward. 
    • Only 1 in 9 passengers are currently patronising Air India. It will be only one in 12 in the next three years as capacity augmentation is undertaken by private airlines.
    • This competition cannot simply be matched by funds-starved Air India.
    • The government has to make a plan to address the medical-related concerns of serving and retired employees.

Conclusion

The disinvestment exercise this time should be thought of wisely and pursued with determination.  Only with it is linked to the prospect of transforming Air India into a robust carrier.


Back2Basics

Disinvestment

Disinvestment Policy in India.