December 2018
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[op-ed snap] Why expanding India’s direct tax net is relevant


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Direct taxes- types and trends

Mains level: India’s rising middle class and its impact on tax collections


Widening tax base

  1. Most citizens pay direct taxes in successful democracies, but not so in India—partly because of high levels of poverty but also because of rampant tax evasion
  2. Finance minister predicted earlier this month that India can have around 120 million taxpayers as more Indians become part of the formal economy
  3. The number of people filing income tax returns in the current assessment year is already at around 60 million, or 50% higher than the previous year
  4. The finance minister is thus predicting a doubling of the number of income taxpayers in the coming years

Will the number actually double?

  1. India has around 250 million families, more than half of whom will anyway be outside the tax net either because they are farmers or they are too poor to pay taxes
  2. That leaves around 125 million families that can potentially pay income tax
  3. FM is implicitly suggesting that most Indians who should be paying taxes will be doing so soon, even if you adjust for the fact that many families will have more than one taxpayer
  4. However, it is important to remember that a tax filing is not the same as a tax payment, and many Indians who file returns do not actually report any tax liabilities

Why the fiscal deepening of the Indian state is important now?

  1. Neither faster economic growth nor foreign aid will suffice to end extreme poverty by 2030
  2. To end extreme poverty sustainably and as quickly as possible, the states governing the world’s poor need to be strengthened such that they are both accountable to the needs of the poor and have the capacity to meet those needs
  3. Most of the poorest people in the world live in countries such as India that are classified as middle-income countries based on average incomes
  4. These countries are unlikely to get enough foreign aid but they do not have the deep fiscal resources to help their poor either directly through redistribution or indirectly through the provision of public goods that will raise their ability to earn extra income
  5. Countries such as India are thus trapped between the very poor countries that get a lot of foreign aid and the wealthy ones with very strong tax collections

Important consequences of getting more people into the direct tax net

  1. First, the overall boost to tax collections means that the Indian state will be in a better position to perform its key duties without running into repeated fiscal crises
  2. Second, higher direct taxes could provide space for significant cuts in indirect taxes such as the goods and services tax, which in effect means a shift from a regressive to a progressive tax system
  3. Third, a widening tax pool because of formalization means the current perverse system in which efficient firms are taxed at a high rate because inefficient firms manage to slip outside the tax system will end

Way forward

  1. The Indian state has historically battled immense fiscal constraints
  2. The recent trends in direct taxes offer hope but are too preliminary to jump to any conclusion
Tax Reforms

[op-ed snap] Review and revise


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Transgender rights bill 2018, Private members bill

Mains level: Need of protecting and uplifting transgender community


Transgender rights bill 2018

  1. A Supreme Court judgment in 2014 laid out, for the first time, a bill of rights for the country’s much-exploited transgender community
  2. Four years on, despite misgivings of the community, the Lok Sabha has rushed through a bill that imperils many of the gains of the Nalsa judgment

Flaws in the bill

  1. The trans/queer movement is known for its radical insistence that gender is not a one-time fixed membership, but a flowing, subjective and personal experience
  2. In this reimagination, an individual’s freedom to define herself as male or female or neither is entirely hers — with no quarter given to social or parental vetoes
  3. This freedom is enshrined at the heart of the Nalsa judgment — and completely missing from the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016
  4. Instead, the bill envisions a district screening committee which will be invested the power to certify people as trans or not
  5. A person who wishes to transition from one gender identity to another will be certified as male/female only after a gender reassignment surgery — in effect, turning an issue of personal identity into a medical procedure, and making vast swathes of marginalised persons dependent on the whims of an often hostile bureaucracy
  6. There is a provision that they should either live with their natal “family” — defined as blood or adoptive relations — or sent to rehabilitation centres, without factoring in the extent to which discrimination begins at home
  7. It also ignores the fact that hijra communities have for long sheltered young trans-people from the violence and coercion of family
  8. The bill is also silent on the issue of reserving jobs or educational opportunities for trans-people, or ways to punish the prevalent social and economic discrimination that impoverishes them

Taking a cue from the model law

  1. It is not as if the government had no model to follow while drawing up this bill
  2. A private member’s bill, moved by DMK’s Thiruchi Siva, in 2015 was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2015
  3. Its progressive provisions on reservation, education and employment, its understanding of gender self-determination, are a measure of what the newly amended bill could have become

Way forward

  1. It is hoped that as the bill moves to the Rajya Sabha, these fundamental errors are removed to allow it to become a piece of legislation that is an ally for the transgender community, rather than one more element in their exploitation
Minority Issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] What’s in climate change Rulebook


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Rulebook for implementing Paris Agreement

Mains level:  Outcomes of COP-24


The quest for a global Rulebook

  1. During the weekend, the global fight against climate change reached another milestone when negotiators from 196 countries finalised a rulebook for the 2015 Paris Agreement.
  2. The finalization paves the way for implementation of the Paris Agreement, which is supposed to replace the existing Kyoto Protocol in 2020.
  3. The creation of the rulebook has been hailed as an important step that has breathed life into the Paris Agreement.
  4. At the same time, several countries and nongovernmental organisations have said the deal reached in Katowice, though welcome, was not enough.

The Rulebook

  1. The rulebook contains various other processes and guidelines needed for implementing the other provisions of the Paris Agreement.
  2. In short, it holds the operational details of the Paris Agreement.

What is in the Rulebook?

  1. Broadly, the Paris Agreement, which seeks to keep the global average temperatures “well below” 2°C from pre-industrial times, specifies what steps countries need to take in the fight against climate change.
  2. The rulebook prescribes how to do those things, and how each of them would be measured and verified.
  3. For example, the Paris Agreement says every country must have a climate action plan, and that this should be periodically updated and submitted to the UN climate body.
  4. The rulebook now specifies what actions can be included in the action plan, how and when to submit them.
  5. Further, the Paris Agreement asks every member nation to submit information about their greenhouse gas emissions every two years.
  6. The rulebook specifies which gases to measure, what methodologies and standards to apply while measuring them, and the kinds of information to be included in their submissions.

Climate Finance: A crucial element of Rulebook

  1. Again, under the Paris Agreement, developed countries are supposed to provide “climate finance” to developing countries to help them deal with climate change, and submit an account of this.
  2. The rulebook says what kinds of financial flows — loans, concessions, grants — can be classified as climate finance, how they should be accounted for, and the kind of information about them needed to be submitted.

Was Katowice only about the rulebook?

  1. It was primarily about the rulebook.
  2. But a few other discussions had also become important.
  3. The current level of climate actions was insufficient to hold the global average temperature within 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Lack of Ambition & Spat over IPCC report

  1. The special report of the IPCC on the feasibility of attaining a 1.5°C target, which had come out weeks ahead of the Katowice meeting, had added urgency to the discussions.
  2. It was expected that the countries would give some indication of their willingness to do more that what they were currently committed to, and would agree to start a process towards that.
  3. But that did not happen.
  4. Instead, an ugly battle was fought over how to acknowledge the IPCC report, which had been requested by this same conference three years ago, in the final outcome.

Has the rulebook addressed all issues it was meant to look at?

  1. One important element could not be agreed upon and had to be deferred for until next year.
  2. This relates to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which talks about setting up a market mechanism for trading of carbon emissions.
  3. An emission trading system already exists under the Kyoto Protocol, though it has become ineffective over the last few years and is meant to end with the end of Kyoto Protocol in 2020.
  4. A carbon market allows countries, or industries, to earn carbon credits for the emission reductions they make in excess of what is required of them.
  5. These carbon credits can be traded to the highest bidder in exchange of money. The buyers of carbon credits can show the emission reductions as their own and use them to meet their own reduction targets.

Unused Carbon Credits

  1. In the last few years, as several countries walked out of the Kyoto Protocol, and no country was feeling compelled to meet its 2020 emission reduction targets, there has been virtually no demand for carbon credits.
  2. As a result, developing countries like China, India and Brazil have accumulated huge amounts of unused carbon credits.
  3. Together, China and Brazil are estimated to account for about 70% of global unused carbon credits.
  4. When the rulebook was being discussed in Katowice, these countries argued that their unused carbon credits should be considered valid in the new market mechanism that was being created, something that the developed countries opposed strongly.

Negligence by Developed Countries

  1. The developed countries questioned the authenticity of the unused carbon credits, pointing to weak verification mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol that allowed dubious projects to claim carbon credits.
  2. The developed countries also argued that some of the proposals being put forward by Brazil for the carbon markets would lead to double-counting of emission reductions.

Procrastination: The ultimate Option

  1. With no side willing to concede ground, there was no option but to defer the discussion over carbon markets to next year, while allowing for the rest of the rulebook to be finalised.
  2. The fact that no side was ready for a compromise, and preferred to reengage at some other time, is an indication of the importance that countries are attaching to the new emission trading system, and their high stakes in that market.
  3. The reemergence of the carbon market could be the next big thing to watch out for in the climate space.

Hits & Misses: Takeaways from COP24

Article 4: Pledges
Article 4 of the 2015 Paris Agreement mandates nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by countries.

Article 6: Carbon markets
Article 6 covers voluntary carbon markets.

Article 9: Climate finance
Developed countries are supposed to provide climate finance to developing countries to help deal with climate change, and submit an account of this.

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

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Time for Techplomacy


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Telecommunication Union

Mains level: The trend of techplomacy and changes required in India’s foreign policy


Technology usage in diplomacy

  1. As a far more sweeping technological revolution envelops the world today, governments are finding new ways to adapt
  2. Whether it is in using social media to influence public opinion at home and abroad, conducting espionage on other states, securing one’s critical infrastructure against foreign interference, setting terms for cross-border data flows, governing the internet, countering terrorism, or preventing the militarization of Artificial Intelligence, all major governments are reorganising their diplomatic mechanisms
  3. To enhance the effectiveness of its voice in the new domain, France appointed a full time “digital ambassador” in 2017
  4. Denmark has set up offices of “TechPlomacy” in Silicon Valley, Copenhagen and Beijing
  5. A major part of their mandate is to deal with technology giants like Google, Facebook and Alibaba and Huawei
  6. India too needs to review and reorganise its technology diplomacy

History of technology usage in foreign policy

  1. The slow pace of long-distance communication until the 19th century meant that ambassadors acted on their own
  2. Because they had no way to get frequent instructions from the sovereign, they were conferred with the title “ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary” and given the full authority to negotiate with the sovereigns to whom they were accredited
  3. The communications revolution ended the age of the aristocrat diplomat and turned the envoy and his staff into professional bureaucracies run from the governments at home
  4. Beyond the process of diplomacy, the envoys had to deal with the substantive impact of new communications technologies on international affairs
  5. In finding ways to facilitate wireless communication across territorial borders, major nations negotiated the establishment of the International Telegraph Union in 1865 that would later become the International Telecommunication Union
  6. The ITU is one of the oldest international organisations

Changing roles 

  1. As the impact of science and technology on the world expanded, diplomats had to go beyond their traditional focus on negotiating peace pacts and territorial settlements
  2. Over the last century, the diplomatic mandate on science and technology has ranged from chemical weapons to climate change and naval arms limitation to nuclear proliferation

India’s journey in technological adoption

  1. Due to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s deep commitment to the creation of national technical capabilities through international cooperation, technology diplomacy became an important priority for independent India’s foreign policy
  2. But Delhi’s so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 resulted in an expanding regime of technology sanctions against India
  3. As Delhi reconnected to the world and embarked on a high growth path in the 1990s, options opened up for ending the international technology blockade against India
  4. In two decades of productive diplomacy, built around the historic civil nuclear initiative with the US, Delhi has largely completed India’s integration with the international non-proliferation regime
  5. From being a major target of technology sanctions, it is now part of the community that sets the rules for international transfers of sensitive technologies

Way forward

  1. The nuclear problem that Delhi had to address through the second half of the 20th century might pale into insignificance with the kind of challenges that the new technological revolution presents
  2. The nuclear revolution affected only a small fraction of India’s economy and security
  3. The current technological transformations, especially in the digital and genetic domains, will have far-reaching consequences for India’s economy, society, politics and international relations
  4. The challenges and opportunities presented by the unfolding technological revolution are too important to be left to individual departments and ministries
  5. What India needs is a “whole-of-government” approach to technology diplomacy led by the Prime Minister’s Office
Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

[op-ed snap] Making every citizen an auditor


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Importance of social audits


Social audits in India

  1. Social audits show how people’s participation in the planning, execution and monitoring of public programmes leads to better outcomes
  2. They have strengthened the role of the gram sabha
  3. Social audits were first mandated by law in 2005 under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)
  4. Subsequently, Parliament, the Supreme Court and many Central ministries mandated them in other areas as well
  5. Following a sustained push from the Rural Development Ministry, the CAG and civil society organisations, social audit units (SAUs) have been established in 26 States (Rajasthan, Haryana and Goa are yet to establish them)

Shortcomings in implementation

  1. The governing bodies of most SAUs are not independent
  2. Some SAUs have to obtain sanction from the implementation agency before spending funds
  3. More than half the States have not followed the open process specified in the standards for the appointment of the SAU’s director
  4. Some States have conducted very few audits and a few have not conducted any
  5. Several do not have adequate staff to cover all the panchayats even once a year
  6. The action taken by the State governments in response to the social audit findings has been extremely poor

What needs to be done?

  1. In 2017, the Supreme Court mandated social audits under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to be conducted using the machinery that facilitates the social audits of MGNREGA
  2. Social audits of the NFSA have failed to take off due to lack of funds
  3. Like the Rural Development Ministry, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution should give funds to the SAUs and ask them to facilitate the social audits of the NFSA
  4. Social audit units should have an independent governing body and adequate staff
  5. Rules must be framed so that implementation agencies are mandated to play a supportive role in the social audit process and take prompt action on the findings
  6. Also, a real-time management information system should track the calendar, the social audit findings and the action taken, and reports on these should be made publicly available
  7. The CAG as an institution could partner with local citizens and state audit societies to train them, build capacities and issue advisories on framing of guidelines, developing criteria, methodology and reporting for audit

Way forward

  1. Social audit processes need mentoring and support as they expand into newer programmes
  2. Social audits in India need to become an integral and robust part of the formal audit process

[op-ed snap] Right prescription: the ban on retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies & interventions for development in various sectors & issues arising out of their design & implementation

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Oxytocin

Mains level: Flaws in the framing of health policies in India and the need of making the system better


HC lifts the ban on the sale of oxytocin

  1. In a crucial development that exposes the flaws in health policy-making in the country, the Delhi High Court quashed a government ban on the retail sale and private manufacture of oxytocin
  2. Notified by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in April, the ban referred to a 2016 Himachal Pradesh High Court judgment, which discussed oxytocin’s misuse in dairy cattle, fruits and vegetables

Importance of Oxytocin

  1. Oxytocin is a life-saving drug used to stem post-partum bleeding among new mothers
  2. Because of this, it had been listed by both the World Health Organization and the Health Ministry as an essential medicine
  3. Around 45,000 women die from post-partum complications in India each year, and in 38% of the cases the reason is haemorrhaging
  4. Without the easy availability of inexpensive oxytocin, efforts to stem the maternal mortality epidemic could have suffered a costly setback

HC observations

  1. The court found that the government had failed to weigh the danger the ban posed to thousands of young mothers
  2. What is more, it had failed to show that the drug was widely misused for veterinary purposes, the purported reason behind the order
  3. The most damning observation in the judgment is that the Centre focussed on the health of milch animals, without considering the well-being of women
  4. This was despite the fact that all statutory bodies, including the Drugs Technical Advisory Board, had advised against a ban

Way forward

  1. It is time for a post-mortem of how health policy is made, because that is the only way to safeguard the right to health of Indian citizens
Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

[op-ed snap] No time left to waste on waste


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Urbanization , their problems & remedies

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Bioremediation

Mains level: Issues related to waste management and how to tackle this problem seeing urbanization trend in India


Waste management problem in Delhi

  1. Delhi’s garbage woes have been hurtling towards some sort of an endgame ever since a portion of the landfill at Ghazipur, on the city’s eastern edge, collapsed onto an adjoining road and buried two people in September 2017
  2. A temporary ban on dumping at the site was immediately announced, but the Ghazipur garbage mountain is already nearly as tall as the Qutub Minar, as the Supreme Court caustically observed recently
  3. With the quest for another dumpsite going nowhere (as nobody wants a mound of garbage next to their neighbourhood), there is no clarity yet on what to do with the thousands of tonnes of solid waste Delhi generates every day

Garbage problem set to rise

  1. The impasse in Delhi is a reflection of India’s troubling relationship with waste
  2. India’s cities already generate over 150,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, with Mumbai being the world’s fifth most wasteful city
  3. The waste heaps that dot the edges of India’s cities are set to double in size by 2025
  4. Only one-third of the waste undergoes even rudimentary treatment, according to the urban ministry and hardly any of it is segregated, which would make processing easier
  5. As India’s economic growth accelerates, the garbage problem would only get bigger, unless immediate solutions are found to delink growth from garbage generation
  6. According to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, cities are already beginning to run out of land on which to dump their waste and have begun throwing it in the backyards of smaller towns, suburbs and villages
  7. Thus, garbage may soon become a flashpoint that sets off recurrent conflict across the urban landscape

How India plans to deal with the waste?

  1. The only big national idea on offer has been to incinerate or burn the garbage. That is what the NITI Aayog had proposed in its medium-term three-year vision for the country, which was released in August 2017
  2. By burning the waste, a small amount of energy could also be produced, at least in theory
  3. Currently, about 3% of urban India’s daily garbage output gets fed into waste-to-energy incinerators
  4. A minuscule amount of energy is generated, but there has been very little debate on whether incinerators work in the Indian context

Problems with incineration

  1. Unlike the Western world, a large chunk of India’s waste is still organic kitchen waste—almost 40% of the total volume
  2. Since segregation of waste is yet to become a reality, incineration is a highly inefficient solution
  3. In the Indian context, there is also very little certainty on whether the harmful gases, which are a byproduct of incineration, are adequately contained and treated

Using bioremediation

  1. Apart from incineration, the other big idea that several cities have tried is bioremediation, which effectively involves the use of living micro-organisms to degrade the contaminants in a landfill into less toxic forms
  2. While the technology is somewhat effective in dealing with existing landfills, in an ideal future, the waste processing chain should abolish the need for a landfill to begin with
  3. Various Indian cities have set on aim to build a “zero landfill” city
  4. Segregation and composting are a big part of the mix of solutions that are being implemented
  5. Their experience in inducing collective action among ordinary citizens to segregate waste may hold important lessons for India’s large cities

Way forward

  1. Global examples show that the national mood changes under the influence of an adequate trigger, which makes a radical change in collective behaviour possible
  2. When PM Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, the hope was that it would serve as India’s trigger. Four years down the line, nothing much has changed
  3. Indians should start demanding clean and healthy cities as a basic right and governments must step up and deliver that basic human need
Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

[op-ed snap] The spectre of deportation


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: National Register of Citizens (NRC)

Mains level: How NRC process can impact India-Bangladesh ties


NRC date extended

  1. The last date for filing claims and objections for Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been extended by the Supreme Court to December 31, from December 15
  2. This exercise of compiling the NRC in the first place has sparked a debate around its political, economic and humanitarian consequences, and its implications for India’s relationship with its neighbours, particularly Bangladesh

Are illegal immigrants only in India?

  1. There are legal as well as illegal Indian immigrants in Bangladesh too
  2. According to the latest available Bangladesh government estimates of 2009, more than 500,000 Indians were working in Bangladesh

Importance of Bangladeshi remittances

  1. Bangladesh was reported to be among the highest source of remittances to India, behind the United Arab Emirates, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the U.K.
  2. Many Indian citizens are securing coveted employment opportunities in Bangladesh through multinational companies, non-governmental organisations, and trading activities
  3. To put things into perspective, most of them are employed in advantageous jobs in Bangladesh while Bangladeshis in India are largely employed in low-paying jobs

Bangladesh’s silent reluctance

  1. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured the Bangladesh government that those excluded from the NRC will not be deported, Dhaka has so far been silent on the issue, terming it as an ‘internal matter of India’
  2. This is seen as a signal that Bangladesh, already stretched in terms of resources and manpower to host Rohingya refugees, would not be acceding to a request of taking back Bengali-speaking Muslims in case deportation is initiated

Neighbourhood first policy in shambles- China Effect

  1. PM Modi came to power with proclamation of a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Midway in the final year of his term, the reality speaks quite differently
  2. Nepal, once a time-tested ally, has tilted towards China since the 2015 Nepal blockade barring the entry of fuel, medicine and other vital supplies and holding the state to a literal siege
  3. Nepal now has been given access to four Chinese ports at Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang in addition to its dry (land) ports at Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse, as well as roads to these facilities, ending India’s monopoly to its trading routes
  4. The India-Bhutan relationship has also been strained ever since India temporarily withdrew subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene in 2013, constraining bilateral ties
  5. The Doklam stand-off in the summer of 2017 reinforced Bhutan’s scepticism towards Chinese expansionist plans across the region
  6. Simultaneously, Thimphu has been underlining the landlocked kingdom’s aspiration to affirm its sovereignty
  7. It has, for instance, stepped out of India’s diplomatic influence, as evidenced by its withdrawal from the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicles agreement
  8. The India-China power play has also cast its shadow over Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the last few years

Bangladesh’s importance

  1. Against this backdrop of China making inroads into South Asia and India’s backyard, Bangladesh has so far been the most trusted ally of India
  2. On the security front, it has cooperated in India’s crackdown on insurgents
  3. Annual bilateral trade is set to cross the $9 billion mark, making it India’s biggest trading partner in South Asia
  4. In addition, Bangladesh has facilitated connectivity with the Northeast by allowing the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports
  5. However, the Teesta water-sharing issue remains unaddressed, non-tariff barriers on Bangladeshi exports persist and border killings are yet to become a thing of the past

Way forward

  1. The NRC issue threatens to disturb the equilibrium in India-Bangladesh ties
  2. Plans for deportation of those not on the NRC list are not only politically imprudent but also risk inciting unrest across the region
  3. Previous similar exercises have not been effective and only resulted in alienating individuals from their natural rights
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

[op-ed snap] Breastfeeding Is Not Home Chore: A Wake-Up Call That Mindsets Need to Change


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The ordeal faced by new mothers in feeding their children in public and need of change in public perception


The taboo related to breastfeeding

  1. It was only last year when an Australian senator was said to have ‘made history’ when she breastfed her baby girl while addressing a Parliament session
  2. Recently, a Malayalam actress was shamed by huge number of people on social media for allowing a magazine to use a picture of her breastfeeding an infant child on its cover
  3. The larger issue of new mothers having to breastfeed their newborns in awkward spaces like changing rooms or toilets still persists
  4. The ordeal faced by many lactating mothers who are made to feel embarrassed when they breastfeed their infants in public is a clear indicator that the lack of dedicated spaces is an issue, but not the only one
  5. A much graver and larger issue is the existing perception about an absolutely natural life process

Raising a child a social process

  1. According to an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
  2. This essentially means that it takes the efforts of an entire community of different people in order to create the right environment for a child to grow to her/his full potential
  3. The larger society needs to play a positive and conducive role in building an enabling environment for children
  4. This does not shift the responsibility of the child from the parents, but just highlights the role the society has to play – a shift in the attitude towards making public spaces child-friendly, is definitely one of them

Importance of breastfeeding

  1. For infants, breastfeeding is not only their way to deal with hunger but is also a process that helps calm them down when they are irritated or disturbed for any reason
  2. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until babies are six months old, as children are most likely to achieve optimal growth and development at this age
  3. Depriving a child of her/his mother’s breast milk is not only likely to affect her/his nourishment but also make the child prone to longer-term health problems

Guidelines for child feeding

  1. The Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) Guidelines 2016 prepared by the Indian Academy of Pediatrics say this about nursing in public (NIP): “Mothers should feel comfortable to nurse in public
  2. All efforts should be taken to remove hurdles impeding breastfeeding in public places, special areas/rooms shall be identified/ constructed or established in places like Bus stands, Railway stations, Airports etc.”
  3. In reality, however, these guidelines are often overlooked in public spaces and new mothers have to face not only rebuke and judgmental glances from people around but also major discomfort in terms of absent infrastructure

Way forward

  1. The need of the hour is to sensitise people and change mindsets, of making people understand that a baby’s hunger, nourishment or discomfort is not dependent on the availability of space or how it makes other people feel
  2. This message not only needs to be made loud and clear, but also widespread
Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

[op-ed snap] Farming in a warming world


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Climate change threat to Indian agriculture and moving towards climate resilient agri practices


Climate aberrations

  1. The pervasiveness of climatic aberrations and the associated socio-economic vulnerability are now widely recognised and experienced across the globe
  2. The Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on “Global Warming at 1.5°C” distinctly propagates the need to strengthen and enhance existing coping capacity and to remain committed to the objectives of the Paris Agreement
  3. The report establishes that the world has become 1°C warmer because of human activities, causing a greater frequency of extremes and obstruction to the normal functioning of ecosystems
  4. India, with its diverse agro-climatic settings, is one of the most vulnerable countries

Impact on India’s agriculture & climate

  1. India’s s agriculture ecosystem, distinguished by high monsoon dependence, and with 85% small and marginal landholdings, is highly sensitive to weather abnormalities
  2. There has been less than normal rainfall during the last four years, with 2014 and 2015 declared as drought years
  3. Even the recent monsoon season (June-September) ended with a rainfall deficit of 9%, which was just short of drought conditions
  4. Research is also confirming an escalation in heat waves, in turn affecting crops, aquatic systems and livestock
  5. The Economic Survey 2017-18 has estimated farm income losses between 15% and 18% on average, which could rise to 20%-25% for unirrigated areas without any policy interventions

Moving towards climate resilient agriculture

There is a need to foster the process of climate adaptation in agriculture, which involves reshaping responses across both the micro- and macro-level decision-making culture

  • Micro-level interventions
  1. At the micro-level, traditional wisdom, religious epics and various age-old notions about weather variations still guide farmers’ responses, which could be less effective
  2. Corroborating these with climate assessments and effective extension and promoting climate resilient technologies will enhance their pragmatism
  3. Climate exposure can be reduced through agronomic management practices such as inter and multiple cropping and crop-rotation; shift to non-farm activities; insurance covers; up-scaling techniques such as solar pumps, drip irrigation and sprinklers
  4. There is an urgent need to educate farmers, reorient Krishi Vigyan Kendras and other grass-root organisations with specific and more funds about climate change and risk-coping measures
  • Macro-level interventions
  1. At the macro-level, climate adaptations are to be mainstreamed in the current developmental framework (which is still at a nascent stage, as acknowledged in the Economic Survey 2017-18)
  2. Though programmes of the government document the likely consequences of climate change, they lack systematic adaptation planning and resource conservation practices
  3. Mainstreaming adaptation into the policy apparatus has the potential to improve the resilience of several development outcomes
  4. The approach demands coherence across multiple policy scales as required for developing possible synergy between micro-macro levels and addressing several cross-cutting issues

Major interventions

  1. Expansion of extension facilities, improving irrigation efficiency, promotion of satellite-enabled agriculture risk management, creating micro-level agro-advisories, providing customised real-time data, and capacity building of stakeholders are some initiatives towards building greater resilience in agriculture
  2. Interventions such as the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Soil Heath Card, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Agriculture Market, or e-NAM, and other rural development programmes are positive interventions that can address the vulnerability of farmers and rural households
  3. There are also exclusive climate and adaptation schemes being operationalised, such as the National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), the National Adaptation Fund, and the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC)
  4. It is desirable to have a cultural change wherein some of the components under these schemes can be converged with major rural developmental programmes, which will further enhance their effectiveness at the grass-root level

Way forward

  1. A convergence of climate actions with ongoing efforts and several Central schemes with similar mandates is a must
  2. Greater expertise and consultations are required for a systematic prioritisation of actions and fiscal prudence for building climate resilient agriculture
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Changing the Indian state from bully to ally


Mains Paper 3: Economy | Changes in industrial policy & their effects on industrial growth

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The burden of compliances on MSMEs and the need for its reduction


MSMEs overburdened with compliances

  1. Policy imagination and rhetoric often romanticize MSMEs over large employers because it believes that MSMEs are a source of massive job creation, are the salvation of less-skilled job seekers, and embody solid middle-class values
  2. But India’s 63 million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) can’t hear what policymakers say because of what they do—unleashing a universe of 60,000-plus possible compliances and 3,300-plus possible filings for enterprises
  3. No MSME can possibly keep track of this regulatory cholesterol that is made even more toxic by 5,000-plus changes annually

Using expressivism

  1. much of India’s regulatory cholesterol for employers is not driven by economic justifications—consumer protection, market failures, information asymmetry and externalities—but reflects what economist Cass Sunstein calls expressivism
  2. In this concept, values rather than facts are used to make policy

Three challenges for technocratic policymakers

  • Distribution (hard to identify who bears costs and obtains benefits)
  • Welfare (nobody has a welfare metre and proxies are useful but can produce serious errors)
  • Knowledge (nobody knows enough, and guesswork and unintended consequences are inevitable)

MSMEs need to be protected from this regulation burden

  1. The progress made in Ease of Doing Business (EODB) rankings is real, but it’s time for another exercise that takes a ground-up look at our current regulatory frameworks
  2. India’s next wave of EODB should have three vectors
  • Rationalization (cutting down the number of laws)

Rationalization could start with clustering our 44 labour laws into a single labour code and should include reviewing levels and increasing competition (There can be a competition for mandatory employer payroll deduction monopolies like provident fund and Employee’s State Insurance that offer expensive products and treat customers badly)

  • Simplification (cutting down the number of compliances and filings)

Simplification would include replacing our 25-plus different numbers issued by various government arms to every employer with a unique enterprise number (an Aadhaar for enterprises)

  • Digitization (architecting for true paperless, presence-less and cashless)

We must move away from the current approach to digitization as a website, where you log in with a password and upload files and shift to open architecture-based API frameworks, where multiple players compete in providing services to employers (GST Network is a good template)

Way forward

  1. Changing regulations every three hours makes life miserable for MSMEs and breeds informality (a sense of humour about the rule of law)
  2. The next avatar of our EODB programme must aim to decisively shift the Indian state from being an MSME bully to an MSME ally
  3. The upside could be about 50 million more formal jobs
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

[op-ed snap] The fear of executive courts


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Overaching judicial activism and its conseqences


Opinionated judiciary

  1. Justice S.R. Sen of the Meghalaya High Court recently observed in a judgment that “anybody opposing Indian laws and the Constitution cannot be considered citizens of the country”
  2. He thought it fit to further note that in 1947 India “should have been declared a Hindu country”, and that “our beloved Prime Minister” ought to legislate to grant automatic citizenship to (non-Muslim) religious minorities “who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan”
  3. Justice Sen’s ill-advised and ill-judged diatribe is only the latest in a series of instances where judges have inserted themselves into fraught political controversies, and have deployed the prestige of judicial office to lend weight to one side of the controversy

What does judicial independence entail?

  1. We normally think about judicial independence as independence from the government
  2. Our Constitution is designed to ensure that judges can do their work “independent” of government influence: fixed salaries, security of tenure, and an appointments process that — through the Supreme Court’s judgments — is insulated from executive control
  3. Independence, however, means something more. It also requires that judges perform their constitutional role independent of personal biases, political and moral beliefs, and partisan ideologies
  4. Of course, adjudication is a political task, and there is no doubt that a judge’s political vision will inform her work but that does not authorise the judge to turn into a politician
  5. At all times, she is bound to maintain primary fidelity to the law and the Constitution: to the text of legal instruments, to the canons of legal interpretation, and to the body of judicial precedent that holds the field
  6. Judicial independence, therefore, depends on judges recognising that law, while being influenced by politics, is not reducible to it

The need of accountability

  1. Law and adjudication must remain autonomous from partisan politics in important ways
  2. And the more we strengthen judicial independence in its first sense — independence from the government — the more attention we must pay to independence in this second sense
  3. This is because control brings with it accountability
  4. Politicians, for example, remain “accountable” to the people in at least some sense, because they depend upon them in order to continue in office after five years
  5. Judges who are insulated from any external control are accountable only to themselves, and their own sense of the limits of their constitutional role
  6. Accountability only to oneself, however, is a very weak form of constraint. The temptation to overstep is always immense, more so when such immense power has been placed in one’s own hands

How this crisis deepened?

  1. In the 1980s, there was a rapid expansion of judicial power. This expansion was motivated by a sense that the judiciary had long been a conservative institution, taking the side of landed interests against “the people”. This needed to change
  2. In order to accomplish this, the Supreme Court began to dispense with procedural checks upon its power
  3. Some of these steps were important and necessary, such as allowing “public interest” cases to be filed on behalf of those who were unable to access the courts
  4. Others, however, were double-edged swords, such as diluting the evidentiary standards required to prove disputed facts, and vastly expanding the courts’ discretion to shape and fashion remedies
  5. By the 1990s and the 2000s, under the misleading label of “judicial activism”, the court was beginning to engage in a host of administrative activities, from managing welfare schemes to “beautifying cities” to overseeing anti-corruption initiatives
  6. The constitutional court had become a Supreme ‘Administrative’ Court
  7. A combination of viewing the judiciary as an infallible solution to all social problems, and viewing procedure — that would otherwise constrain judicial power — as an irritant that stands in the way of a truer, purer justice has created the perfect storm that we see today

Towards ‘Executive’ courts

  1. Judgments like the national anthem order, the Tirukkural order (that every student in Tamil Nadu must study the Tirukkural), the NRC process and Justice Sen’s recent foray raise an altogether more frightening prospect: that of an “executive court”
  2. An executive court is a court whose moral and political compass finds itself in alignment with the government of the day, and one that has no compunctions in navigating only according to that compass
  3. Instead of checking and limiting government power, an executive court finds itself marching in lockstep with the government, and being used to set the seal of its prestige upon more controversial parts of the government’s agenda

Way forward

  1. We urgently need the return of a thriving legal culture, one that uncompromisingly calls out political posturing
  2. Only a principled consistency in requiring that judges must always give reasons for their judgment can halt the transformation of the constitutional court into an executive court
Judiciary Institutional Issues

[op-ed snap] J&K Resettlement Law


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: J&K resettlement act, article 35A etc.

Mains level: Governance challenges in J&K


  • A challenge to an Act popularly known as the “Jammu & Kashmir resettlement law” has been listed for hearing by a Supreme Court Bench headed by CJI.

What is the Law ?

  1. The J&K Grant of Permit for Resettlement in the State Act, 1982, was passed to “provide for regulation of procedure for grant of permit for resettlement in or permanent return to the State of the permanent residents”
  2. It envisages grant of permit for resettlement of Pakistani nationals who had migrated to Pakistan from Jammu and Kashmir between 1947 and 1954 after India’s partition.
  3. Mass killing of Muslims in Jammu in 1947 and its ramifications are the main reason why the law was introduced.

The controversy

  1. The Bill was introduced in 1980 and became law on October 6, 1982.
  2. But then President Giani Zail Singh had already sent a presidential reference to the Supreme Court seeking its opinion regarding the law’s constitutional validity.

Constitutionality check

  1. Section 6 of the J&K Constitution has a provision for those who were stuck in areas that became Pakistan in 1947.
  2. They can return under a resettlement law enacted by the state legislature.
  3. There is a provision that those who migrated to Pakistan can return under a law of the legislature.

The challenge

  1. The Supreme Court in 2011 refused to intervene on the presidential reference, saying it has already become law
  2. Through this law, we would be inviting trained Pakistani terrorists.
  3. Apart from this, those people on return will reclaim property including agricultural land allotted to refugees from PoK.
  4. This will have severe implications on law and order.

Where parties stand

  1. Within J&K’s major political parties, there is an apprehension that the Governor’s administration would “dilute” the stance of elected state governments that have defended the law in court.
  2. They look at a precedent in the case relating to the challenge to Article 35A of the Constitution, which empowers the J&K legislature to define “permanent residents”.

Top Court’s Observance

  1. The Supreme Court wondered how “descendants” of those who had moved to Pakistan between 1947 and 1954 could be allowed to resettle.
  2. CJI said “How can it be extended to wives and other persons? It can only be such persons who had migrated. The Constitution does not contemplate return of those descendants.”
  3. If descendants of those who had migrated are allowed to return, “Several lakhs of those born in Pakistan will be able to come to India and this will affect the security of the country”.
  4. Citizenship is a subject in the Union list and hence outside the legislative competence of the state legislature.
J&K – The issues around the state

[op-ed snap] To keep India safe, BSF must get leaders from its own ranks – not the IPS


Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Various Security forces & agencies & their mandate

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System

Mains level: Need of reforms in the functioning of BSF


Challenges being faced by BSF

  1. The Border Security Force, the world’s largest border guarding force, finds itself at the crossroads on its 54th Raising Day
  2. When it was established on December 1, 1965, policy makers conceived a force capable of guarding the country’s borders during peacetime and assisting the Army during hostilities
  3. After 53 years, the Border Security Force is facing myriad challenges, ranging from the reassessment of operational philosophy and a personnel management dilemma to an acute disconnect of the leadership with ground realities

Hostile border conditions

  1. The situation on the borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh differs vastly from the one that prevailed in 1965
  2. Pakistan is a hostile neighbour and Bangladesh – East Pakistan as it was then – is a friendly country
  3. A proxy war by Pakistan has kept the western borders alive, necessitating militaristic border guarding structures and border management practices
  4. Troops face life-threatening situations daily on account of militant threat and high stakes drug smuggling. “Shoot to kill” and “Ek goli Ek Dushman” (one bullet, one enemy) are the prevalent philosophy on these borders, particularly at night
  5. A 150-yard area across the fence remains generally unpatrolled, especially at night
  6. This needs to change, with an assertion of sovereignty through physical domination

A different set of problems at Bangladesh border

  1. As for the Bangladesh border, high population density and lack of development and employment opportunities make it prone to crime
  2. The Border Security Force faces the policy dilemma of avoiding the use of force in conformity with the national objective of maintaining good relations with Bangladesh and ensuring the safety and security of soldiers while also preventing crime
  3. Troops operate with their hands tied as a ban has been imposed on the use of firearms
  4. This has emboldened criminals, as seen in the growing attacks on troops
  5. The soldiers are also expected to stop cattle that have travelled unintercepted through the breadth of North India from crossing over into Bangladesh

Need for in-house leadership

  1. An important factor for the efficient functioning of the force relates to leadership
  2. It is high time the reins of the force are handed over to cadre officers who are connected with ground realities and well-versed in the ethos of the force
  3. The Indian Police Service leadership is completely out of depth in comprehending the complexities of managing a specialised unit like the Border Security Force
  4. Trained in policing and law and order, they have no comprehension of the dynamics of border management
  5. Being transient, they do not connect with the psyche of troops and are unable to comprehend their requirements
  6. They are content with simply marking their time

Poor personnel management

  1. Since 1965, the strength of the force has grown from a mere 25,000 to about 2.5 lakh
  2. But this ten-fold growth has not been uniform, causing severe personnel management dilemma
  3. Such sporadic expansion has caused acute stagnation
  4. It now takes anywhere between 20 years and 24 years for a jawan to earn his first promotion
  5. A chunk of the blame for this state of affairs lies with faulty policy decisions such as the abolition of ranks like naik and lance naik and the introduction of ineffectual ranks like assistant sub-inspector
  6. Stagnation among cadre officers is even more acute. Most officers retire much before their rich experience can be garnered at policy-making levels

The civil-military dilemma

  1. Border Security Force personnel face double jeopardy in terms of pay and allowances
  2. Treated as civilian employees, their salaries, allowances and post-retirement benefits are regulated by civil rules
  3. However, unlike civil employees, they lose out on three years of service and pension benefits as they retire at the age of 57
  4. They frequently encounter life-threatening situations but are not entitled to pension, unlike their counterparts in the defence forces
  5. Large numbers of Border Security Force units are deployed on the Line of Control performing the same duties as Army personnel, yet they earn almost 25% less than their counterparts in the Army even while deployed at the same post
  6. Additionally, when a soldier of the Border Security Force dies in the line of duty, his family receives none of the benefits available to the families of Army jawans in similar situations
  7. This is because there is no provision for a Border Security Force soldier to be declared a martyr

What does this lead to?

  1. Adverse service conditions and the inability to meet urgent family obligations cause a great deal of stress, reflected in the high rate of attrition – 12,096 personnel have either resigned or proceeded on voluntary retirement from 2015 to 2018 while 121 have committed suicide in the same period

Reforms required

  1. Technology must be introduced extensively to ease the burden on troops, who put in long hours, sometimes stretching to 16 hours a day
  2. This technology must be user-friendly, suit terrain conditions, and not be vendor-driven
  3. The trial of the “Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System” in Jammu and Assam should be extended to ascertain the suitability of such costly technology
  4. Only a smart border man will be capable of adopting “Smart Border Management” practices and, therefore, they should be encouraged to come up with innovative ideas besides adopting dynamic training policies
  5. In view of increased interaction with civilians both at the borders and in counter-insurgency areas, soft skills attain importance besides the conventional training
  6. The organisation needs to take a fresh look at arming policy. Heavier weapons systems should be authorised only when needed
  7. In the near future, borders are expected to transform from “barriers” to “bridges” between nations
  8. A smart border man, therefore, has to be aware of the developing scenario and understand the functioning of the various agencies that are involved in the working of “Integrated Check Posts” and “Land Customs Stations” to facilitate hassle-free movement of personnel and goods across borders

Way forward

  1. With inculcating a sense of security being an important task, the Border Security Force should have a larger role in the government’s “Border Area Development Programme”
  2. The force is the sole face of the government in remote areas, and the government should take advantage of its reach to plan development programmes and infrastructure in border areas

[op-ed snap] Will contract farming law relieve agrarian distress?


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Land reforms in India

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Contract farming & regulations related to it

Mains level: Agricultural Produce and Livestock Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2018 and problems associated with it


New law for contract farming

  1. The Union government, with its ambitious and untenable plan of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, has embarked on reforms in the farming sector, one of which is the formulation of a law on contract farming
  2. The NITI Aayog recently circulated a draft model contract farming law titled Agricultural Produce and Livestock Contract Farming (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2018, which proposes a comprehensive legal regime to enable contract farming
  3. If devised and implemented in the right way, this law could indeed alleviate some of the stresses that India’s farmers face
  4. Studies have shown that contract farmers earn considerably more than non-contract farmers

Present status of contract farming

  1. At present, contract farming is regulated under the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (Development and Regulation) (APMC) Act of 2003
  2. This is the law that legalises contract farming
  3. It mandates that private companies (sponsors) must register themselves as well as the farming contract agreements with the market committees created under the Act
  4. Significantly, the Act provides that the sponsor cannot, at any time, lay claim to the land title of the farmer, thereby giving farmers some protection
  5. However, these provisions are woefully inadequate
  6. The Act does not provide for an effective monitoring mechanism, capacity building programmes or a robust dispute settlement system

Problems in the proposed law

  1. The draft says, “Contract farming is a pre-production seasonal arrangement between farmers and sponsors which transfers post-harvest market unpredictability from farmers to sponsors.”
  2. In theory, contract farming seeks to combine agriculture with corporate efficiency while ensuring the provision of inputs such as seeds and technology to the farmers
  3. Sponsoring entities typically rely on economies of scale to achieve profit maximisation and therefore often exclude small-scale farmers
  4. This would be untenable in the Indian context as this would exclude a majority of Indian farmers, who are small farmers, owning less than 2 hectares (ha) of land, and marginal farmers who, on an average, own 1.1 ha of land
  5. India also has no concrete law on land pooling that would be necessary to make this law a success
  6. Contract farming is also known to lead to an increase in monoculture farming and a loss of crop diversity, making crops more vulnerable to destructive pests and crop diseases as only a single crop is sown to achieve efficiencies of scale
  7. There is a great probability that the disparate bargaining power between farmers and sponsors could also lead to exploitative contracts for farmers
  8. Although the Model Contract Farming Act provides for the setting up of “Registering and Agreement Recording Committees” where the contracts are to be registered, it does not make provisions to ensure that these committees must be staffed with legally-trained persons who must vet the contracts to ensure that no dubious or unfair clauses have been included

Changes required in the law

  1. The new law must find a way to address the additional risks that contract farmers have to confront and find a way to ensure protection to farms through better fertilisers, pesticides and incentivisation
  2. Therefore, it is imperative that the government promotes risk sharing between the contracting parties and farmers and provide easy access to non-exploitative crop insurance schemes
  3. It is necessary that state governments do not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, and rather promote crops that are uniquely suited to the state’s own unique soil, weather and technological conditions

Way forward

  1. The improved yields, greater technology transfer and market access that could potentially accrue from contract farming are advantages that will significantly benefit the Indian farmers
  2. Many studies by the Food and Agriculture Organization also show that contract farming can indeed benefit both parties by increasing efficiency, productivity and farmers’ income, while at the same time, giving private sponsors a greater say in farming methods, type and quality of produce
  3. While contract farming, if implemented wisely, does have the potential to alleviate the suffering of India’s farmers, it is imperative that the government takes a cautious, research-backed approach rather than imposing another hasty, ill-thought-out decision that will cause more harm than good
Land Reforms

[op-ed snap] Energy efficiency and climate change


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Need of moving towards energy efficiency


Climate change concerns

  1. The impact of climate change is being felt by everybody and everywhere
  2. Extreme weather conditions, air pollution, crop failure, biodiversity losses, and much more are affecting both human health and natural wealth
  3. More than 70% of India’s population is exposed to outdoor air pollution, which has contributed to one in eight deaths and has reduced the average life expectancy of Indians by nearly two years
  4. The cost of not addressing global warming today would far exceed the expense of addressing it in the future

Role of energy sector & focus on the reduction of fossil fuel usage

  1. Energy production and consumption remains the largest contributor of global carbon emissions and greenhouse gas
  2. Although global investments in renewable energy has increased rapidly in recent years, its share in the global stock of energy is still very small
  3. Carbon pricing has attracted more attention in recent years, as it goes to the source of the problem and puts a price on carbon pollution as a means of bringing down emissions
  4. It shifts energy investments towards cleaner options by making fossil fuels more expensive relative to low-carbon fuels, and renewable energy
  5. Besides carbon-pricing reforms, a package of additional interventions is needed to internalize externalities that are much more significant in developing countries compared to advanced countries and play an import role in increasing energy efficiency

Need for energy efficiency

  1. It is estimated that nearly 70% of the global carbon emissions could be reduced by increasing energy efficiency
  2. Many quick wins on energy efficiency that have been overlooked in the past can be given a bigger seat at the table, including energy efficiency in the kitchen, residential buildings, industries, transport, utilities, and energy labelling
  3. Increasing energy efficiency is also a prerequisite for most developing countries for preparing them to move towards more expensive energy system needed to deal with carbon capture and storage, and other technology solutions

India’s performance in energy efficiency

  1. India’s energy intensity has declined during the last decade
  2. China’s energy intensity is roughly 1.5 times that of India
  3. Cities and urban settings increase energy efficiency and reduce the cost of electricity use per output level because of denser customer bases and more efficient plant sizes for local energy producers
  4. However, large industrial enterprises in India are moving away from cities and opening plants in rural areas to remain competitive
  5. Rising spatial disparities in energy efficiency within India is a worrying trend
  6. Developed states in India have improved energy efficiency. But electricity usage per unit of output is twice the level in lagging states compared to leading states
  7. There remains a huge potential for energy efficiency gains in most industries, ranging from 46-88% in the textile industry to 43-94% in paper and pulp industry, to 51-92% in the iron and steel industry

Measures required

  1. Energy efficiency gain policy will need to go beyond industries and enter our kitchen, buildings and transport
  2. Energy policy will also need to focus much more on rural regions that are the future drivers of growth
  3. Up to half of the global annual emissions could be reduced through more efficient use of energy in kitchens, residential buildings and transport

Way forward

  1. Improved energy efficiency is a win-win for everybody
  2. Energy-efficiency planning is prevalent globally, but the quality of targets and specifications could be improved
  3. There is a big market potential for scaling up energy efficiency through green mortgage, green bonds, tax incentives, credit lines with banks for energy efficiency activities, and public-private partnerships in energy sector investments
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Why High-Profile Foreign Investors and Multinational Companies Sue India


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Bilateral investment treaties

Mains level: India’s new model BIT and inherent flaws in it


Legal cases arising out of BITs

  1. Ever since foreign investors started bringing cases against India under different bilateral investment treaties (BITs), the focus on the so-far neglected area of international investment law has increased
  2. BIT disputes against India, involving billions of dollars, revolve around measures triggered “by public health emergencies, economic crises or other matters directly involving public welfare — which would, therefore, be permissible under the Constitution, but which a corporation believes have negatively impacted its financial interests”

How do BITs work?

  1. Signing a BIT, like entering into any treaty, is in itself a sovereign function
  2. By signing, states voluntarily accept certain restrictions on the exercise of their sovereign public power
  3. If a state adopts a public measure which is not in accordance with these accepted restrictions, the multinational corporations, subject to jurisdictional requirements, are very much within their right to challenge such measures as breaches of the BIT
  4. Whether such measures are permissible under the state’s constitution or not is immaterial as regards that state’s international law obligations are concerned

Are MNCs wrong in bringing these claims?

  1. Contrary to popular perception, none of these claims have been brought because India exercised her sovereign public power to attain an important public welfare objective that allegedly hurt the financial interests of a foreign investor
  2. If the judiciary cannot get its act together; if the executive, Central and state, behaves in a manner that disregards due process, or goes back on the assurances and promises that lured foreign investors to invest; if the legislature amends laws retrospectively ignoring the decision of the apex court of the country, then what is a foreign investor expected to do?
  3. To bemoan these claims suggests not accepting to be governed by rule of law (but by the rule of whims and fancies) and telling foreign investors to accept whatever treatment is dished out to them in the name of third world sovereignty

India’s new model BIT

  1. The new model BIT is a major departure from earlier models (1993 and 2003) as it provides protection to foreign investors in limited circumstances
  2. Under the new Model, controversial clauses such as most favoured nation have been completely dropped while the scope of national treatment and fair and equitable treatment clauses has been considerably narrowed down
  3. Although investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism – which allows investors to initiate international arbitration against states and thereby bypass domestic courts entirely – has been retained but access to ISDS mechanism has been made conditional on the exhaustion of local remedies
  4. In simple words, foreign investors will have to first approach the relevant domestic courts for the resolution of an investment dispute before commencing an arbitration case
  5. Besides, the new model provides an exhaustive list of economic, environmental and social measures, which shall be exempted under the treaty
  6. This includes taxation matters, intellectual property rights and measures to protect macroeconomic stability

Redrawing BIT

The redrawing of BITs should be based on two factors

  • First, there has to be a recognition that BITs are an integral element of the legal infrastructure necessary for the functioning of the global economy based on rules, not power politics
  1. Looked this way, BITs are an important component of international rule of law holding states accountable internationally for the exercise of their public power vis-à-vis foreign investors
  • Second, the functioning of the international investment relations between countries, under a rule of law framework, has to be informed by the normativity of ‘embedded liberalism’
  1. ‘Embedded liberalism’, different from the laissez faire liberalism of the 19th century, focuses on shaping an economic order that represents a compromise between free markets and States intervening in favour of their regulatory goals

Flaws in model BIT

  1. It significantly dilutes international scrutiny of India’s exercise of public power
  2. It undermines international rule of law and is divorced from the conception of ‘embedded liberalism’
  3. It takes India back to the pre-economic liberalisation era by giving a new template of the old-fashioned economic nationalism prioritising Indian government’s interests over foreign investors

Way forward

  1. The BIT cases against India should have triggered an introspection of the overall governance and decision-making processes
  2. Instead, India has used these cases to play the victim
  3. This victimhood narrative has ignored the fact that these cases deserved to be brought due to India’s poor governance and abuse of public power

Original article: Why High-Profile Foreign Investors and Multinational Companies Sue India

With inputs from the article: Remodeling India’s Investment Treaty Regime

FDI in Indian economy

[op-ed snap] Manufacturing drugs on demand


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | developments & their applications & effects in everyday life

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: 3D printing, Drug API

Mains level: Scope of small drug manufacturing facility via 3D printing


Changes in manufacturing processes

  1. Unlike in the days before the Industrial Revolution when shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and other artisans made every last bit of their products by hand, very few production facilities today are capable of producing the entire finished product from scratch
  2. The process of modern manufacturing at industrial scale involves the establishment of multiple production facilities designed to individually produce vast quantities of components that are themselves designed to be combined, in even larger assembly lines, into the final finished product
  3. While this approach has given us the ability to manufacture products at a scale that was completely inconceivable before the invention of these industrial machines, it has left us at the mercy of the vast intercontinental supply chains that feed into these production facilities so that minor variations in quality and unpredictable disruptions in production anywhere in the chain of suppliers can have a devastating effect up the line

How these changes impact pharma industry

  1. This is of particular concern in the context of the pharmaceutical industry where non-continuous, “batch” processes are the heart and soul of the drug manufacturing process
  2. Most manufacturers produce the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) using molecular fragments obtained from different sources
  3. The API is then mixed with excipients in a separate facility and the final drug product is formulated at yet another plant
  4. Due to this complex multi-stage process, it can take up to 12 months to produce the final finished product and manufacturing units throughout the supply chain are required to maintain large inventories of intermediates at all steps along the way
  5. This sort of a manufacturing process is particularly susceptible to variations in quality and supply—a fact that could literally mean the difference between life and death in the event of an epidemic when the production of life-saving drugs needs to be accelerated rapidly

The scope of 3D printing in the pharma sector

  1. 3D printing and desktop manufacturing will revolutionise industrial production, making it possible to produce small-batch custom designs at affordable prices
  2. Recently the excitement has begun to build up around the possibility of a similar approach to the manufacture of pharmaceuticals
  3. It is likely that machines like this will be able to synthesize many drugs—eventually, in time, all the drugs on the World Health Organization’s essential list

Advantages of a desktop manufacturing system

  1. It allows medical staff in small patient populations to only produce those pharmaceuticals that are necessary to meet patient needs
  2. For drugs with a short shelf life, the ability to manufacture the active ingredient on demand removes the requirement to include complex formulations that are included to improve their long-term stability
  3. In a country like India, where healthcare benefits need to reach the far corners of this vast country, machines that can manufacture essential drugs on demand in rural medical facilities will be invaluable

Impediments in applying this technology

  1. Producing drugs this way runs contrary to everything our existing regulatory framework says we should do
  2. Our laws, like those of countries around the world, are designed to monitor large centralized pharmaceutical facilities through tests and periodic inspections
  3. Our regulators simply do not have the tools to deal with distributed manufacturing of small-dose pharmaceuticals

Way forward

  1. Given the apparent benefits of this new technology, the government would do well to figure out how to redesign regulations to facilitate its adoption
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[op-ed snap] The shackled Indian farmer


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Issues related to direct & indirect farm subsidies & minimum support prices

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Problems in Indian agricultural setup and solutions for these problems


Woes of farmers rising

  1. Farming in India, mostly done on a small scale, without much technology, or insurance, is one of the most difficult jobs
  2. Farmers deal with tens, if not hundreds, of variables and uncertainty, and still manage
  3. The problem is that farmers are not allowed to use all their resources and engage with global markets

Ways in which Indian farmers are shackled

  • Market limitations
  1. The government has over the years, under the guise of protecting farmers, severely limited the market for their produce
  2. This is institutionalized through the agriculture produce market committee (APMC)
  3. It is obvious that a larger market for any farmer means that more consumers can compete for the produce enabling better prices
  4. However, the APMC prevents this, by dividing the market geographically into different regions and insisting that a farmer can only sell to the mandi in his region
  5. Further, traders in a mandi need a licence
  6. This prevents consumers, wholesale and retail food companies from buying directly from the farmer
  7. Mandi licences are naturally given only to those with political patronage, often used as a side business for politicians
  8. The farmer receives depressed prices, while the final consumer pays a high price for the same produce
  • Minimum support price (MSP)
  1. MSP has been impoverishing farmers and consumers for decades
  2. The government promises high prices, to “help” farmers, but is not able to deliver on those promises by actually buying all the produce
  3. Farmers produce more expecting a high MSP and are forced to dump their produce when MSPs are not delivered
  4. Indian farmers lament when they have a bumper crop as prices and MSP fall
  5. One reason for this is also that India has either heavily regulated or banned futures trading in agriculture
  6. Futures trading helps smooth cycles in the market
  7. However, Indian farmers are not allowed to participate in this kind of market and so they cannot use the bumper crop in a given year to prevent the downside from bad crops in other years
  • The absence of land market
  1. Farmers have been denied a market for land, their biggest asset
  2. In several cases, farmers are not allowed to sell their land to non-farmers, and they cannot themselves easily change the use of their land
  3. This has limited and depressed the market for agricultural land, and the price agricultural land can fetch
  4. Farmers, thus, are unable to exit farming
  • Land titling
  1. Land titling records are such a mess and farmers face additional uncertainty
  2. Goons may possess land illegally in areas where there are no good records
  3. Worse, without good land records, the ability to raise credit using land as collateral is limited
  4. The government has also, with good intention, regulated local moneylenders by limiting the interest rates, further reducing access to credit
  5. This means farmers essentially only have state-owned banks and cooperatives to turn to for credit and are at the mercy of government policies to avail farm loans
  • Controlled inputs
  1. The inputs used by farmers are severely controlled
  2. Farmers are prevented from buying most of their inputs in market settings, because of statutes such as the Essential Commodities Act
  3. The government, having killed the private market for any of these inputs, forces the farmers to now beg for and rely on subsidies
  4. The government, in turn, promises free electricity and water, which are unreliable because of the massive shortages caused without a price system
  5. Farmers would rather pay for the reliable supply of water and electricity than a free subsidy, but in most input areas, private players cannot enter and sell to farmers
  • No experiments in new technologies
  1. Farmers are not allowed to experiment with new technologies used across the world
  2. Whether this is technology in fertilizer, machinery, or pesticides, the Indian government does not allow it
  3. So, farmers must wait for a state-ordained “green revolution”, where new technology is introduced once a century
  4. On the other hand, farmers could be creating their own mini-revolutions every season if they could experiment with global technologies
  5. The most problematic is the partial ban on genetically modified (GM) seeds
  6. A lot of the new GM seeds are more resistant to pests and bacteria, and reduce the need for other inputs such as pesticides, water and fertilizer, with potential for huge gains for farmers
  7. Any experimentation is done illegally and a black market has emerged for GM seeds, harming both farmers and produce

Way forward

  1. Farmers don’t need the help the government has provided over seven decades
  2. The government’s “help” is the cause of the distress
  3. Farmers actually need the government to get out of their way
Agricultural Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: The tech wars are here


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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Rising tensions between US and China and its impact on India


Tech war between China & US

  1. The arrest of a top executive of a Chinese company in Vancouver marks the sharpening contest between Washington and Beijing for leadership in such new areas as artificial intelligence, robotics and synthetic biology
  2. The immediate focus is on fifth-generation wireless technologies that promise to transform digital connectivity in the next few years
  3. The US, which has maintained a massive technological lead against other major powers through much of the 20th century, is now concerned that China is catching up
  4. Losing the technological leadership to Beijing, Washington knows, will begin to undermine America’s global primacy in the 21st century

Not the first instance

  1. This is not the first time that the US is targeting Chinese tech companies
  2. Earlier this year, the Trump administration banned the export of American components to the Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, on charges similar to those being considered against Huawei
  3. As ZTE began to implode, Trump agreed to lift the sanctions after the company agreed to pay a huge fine and punish those responsible for defrauding US financial institutions
  4. The case of Huawei could turn out to be a bigger challenge for both countries
  5. Unlike the ZTE case, the Huawei case is being treated as a criminal offence and could lead to severe punishment for Meng
  6. Huawei is a much larger corporation than ZTE and showcases China’s technological advance and global commercial reach

Impact on India

  1. India will not be unaffected by the technology war between America and China
  2. As Washington goes after Huawei, the crown jewel of China’s technology companies, Delhi’s own exposure to the company will come under scrutiny
  3. Even more important, the new dynamic between the US and China will severely test India’s great power relations
  4. Just as India’s traditional defence relationship with Russia is coming under stress amidst the new conflict between Washington and Moscow, Delhi’s ties with Huawei will come under the American scanner, sooner rather than later
  5. India’s strategy of playing all sides among the great powers seemed sensible when Russia and China had a relatively benign relationship with America
  6. That approach, however, is becoming difficult to sustain amidst Washington’s rapidly deteriorating relations with Moscow and Beijing

Trade relations under stress

  1. Washington, too, will have to consider the impact of this move on its technology giants, all of whom are joined at the hip with China
  2. Any effort to decouple this massive interdependence will certainly hurt Beijing
  3. But it will also inflict much pain on the American companies

Warning bells for India

  1. Over the last few weeks, the Western intelligence agencies have come out in the open to voice security concerns in relation to Huawei and the dangers of letting it build 5G networks in the world
  2. The concerns of these agencies regarding China’s 5G equipment include the opaque nature of Huawei’s links with the People’s Liberation Army, the danger of enhanced Chinese espionage, and the potential boost to China’s offensive cyber capabilities
  3. These arguments are not very different from those that India’s security agencies had articulated nearly two decades ago when Huawei was trying to break into the Indian telecom market
  4. But commercial interests and foreign policy considerations of strengthening economic engagement with China helped tip the argument in Huawei’s favour
  5. Since then, Huawei has acquired a dominant position in the smartphone sales domain and the supply of network equipment

Way forward

  1. Amidst the new global pushback against Huawei and India’s own plans to introduce 5G mobile technology, Delhi might have to revisit the old arguments and take a fresh look at its relationship with the Chinese tech giant
Foreign Policy Watch: India-China