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[op-ed snap] Over to the teacher

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Primary education - quality : A case study


CONTEXT

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

Data

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

Case study: Odisha

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

Benefits

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

Problem

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

Way ahead

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

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

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

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


CONTEXT

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

Water

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

Air pollution

Statistics

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

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

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] In China’s court

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

CONTEXT

Protests in Hong Kong have evolved over nearly three months.

Background of the protests

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

China – Hong Kong relationship

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

Way ahead

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

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

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

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

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Analysis of NMC bill


CONTEXT

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

Concerns

There are five primary concerns:

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

Examinations

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

Limited licence

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

Fee structure

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

Representation in the NMC

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

Other features

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

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

Medical Education Governance in India

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

Mains Paper 3 : Disaster Management |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Floods - causes - impact


CONTEXT

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

Causes for floods

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

Impact of floods

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

Way ahead

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

[op-ed snap] Rooting AI in ethics

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Ethics of AI


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

Ethical issues – a case study

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

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

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

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

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Budget decision on public shareholding and its impact


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

Impact

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

Way ahead

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

[op-ed snap] Rupee matters

Mains Paper 3 : Indian Economy |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Offshore trading

Mains level : Impact of offshore trading on rupee


CONTEXT

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

Facts

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

Positive

  1. This indicates greater investor interest in the rupee

Challenges

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

Recommendations 

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

This can lead to the gradual internationalization of the currency.

Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

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

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Analysis of POCSO Amendment


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

Specific provisions

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

Problems

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

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

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

[op-ed snap] Rethinking water governance strategies

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Water crisis and solutions


CONTEXT

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

Facts

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

Way ahead

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

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

Mains Paper 3 : Inclusive Growth & Issues |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Economic inequality; Inclusive Growth issues


CONTEXT

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

Facts

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

Economic mobility

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

Importance of mobility

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

Dimensions of mobility

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

Way ahead

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

[op-ed snap] Climate on the farm

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Climate change due to agriculture

Mains level : Climate change


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

Background

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

What the report says

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

Way ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Challenges posed by amendments to RTI


CONTEXT

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

Amendments to the act

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

Challenges it poses

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

Efficacy of RTI

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

[op-ed snap] Our notions of motherhood

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Surrogacy


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

Challenges

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

Why the provisions are discriminatory

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

Altruistic surrogacy

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

Way ahead

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

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

Surrogacy in India

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

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : What is devaluation

Mains level : Impact of Yuan devaluation


CONTEXT

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

Why China did this

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

Problems

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

[op-ed snap] Taken for a ride: on India’s gender-blind transport system

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Need for gender sensitive public transport


CONTEXT

A 2010 report by New-Delhi based NGO Jagori revealed that 51% of women in the capital faced harassment inside public transport, and another 42% while waiting for public transport.

Ola’s survey ahead of International Women’s Day 2019, highlighted how only 9% of the surveyed women commuters in the country felt safe in public transport, but still used it due to the lack of other options. 

HOW TO MAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT SAFE FOR ALL

  • Rope in traffic police at large bus depots, MRTC railway stations
  • Provide functional and responsive helplines
  • Ensure elevators and escalators are functional
  • Better footpaths and clean subways
  • Create safe and usable cycling tracks
  • Set up the gender advisory committee
  • Most importantly, educate and sensitize men

Problems

  1. As per a 2017 report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, women may turn down better employment opportunities further away from home in favor of lower-paid local jobs when the public transport system is unreliable or unaffordable
  2. This holds true especially for those belonging to lower-income groups, thus impacting their access to better jobs, education and basic necessities
  3. The report also states that over 84% of trips by women are by the public, intermediate public and non-motorised modes of transport
  4. Efforts to improve our crumbling public transport systems — used by a majority of the population — haven’t been addressed.

Motor Vehicles Bill 2019

  1. The bill provides some relief to passengers as far as app-based taxi-hailing services go
  2. It gives power to the Centre to regulate these services and set ground rules on safety and surge pricing, and get them to invest in customer care teams 
  3. It points out issues of road safety, heftier fines for errant drivers, vehicle recall norms
  4. There’s no mention of better roads or infrastructure development

Unless we have gender-responsive plans for urban transport in place, our cities will be far from inclusive.

Roads, Highways and Logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc.

[op-ed snap] Allocations are key

Mains Paper 3 : Government Budgeting |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : What are the priority areas in economy now


The budget must focus on the priority areas for the budget allocations. It is expected to provide funds and an assurance that the allocations would be rule-based.

  1. Rural distress needs to be allocated to funds.
    1. Drinking water
    2. Improving the efficiency of existing irrigation systems
    3. Rural finance — including temporary waiver of loan repayments — 
  2. Job creation
    1. It will depend on the revival of industrial production, continuing growth of exports and an agricultural revival. 
    2. Most policies have a lag of around four to six months.
    3. In the short run, the money will be needed for the MGNREGA. 
    4. The budget should concretely raise public investment to revive private investment to reverse the declining growth rate in every quarter.
  3. Fiscal Deficit
    1. The fiscal deficit is a real issue and leads to pressures on the bank rate and exchange rates. 
    2. The need is to raise resources by taxation and not cutting consumption by the government and non-government sectors. 
  4. Banking sector
    1. The cleanup of the banking and NBFC sectors should be immediate and it needs funds.
    2. Though these are outside the budget, they determine the fiscal deficit.
  5. Raise government investment at the central, state and parastatal level.
  6. The economy is suffering from a decline in investment ratios. This is reflected in the declining growth rate, which is below the potential of 8%. 
  7. The last round of the NSS data shows that girl child dropped out of school more than earlier. If she goes to college, marries late, the first child comes later the real demographic dividend starts.

Case study and way ahead

  1. Gujarat’s experience shows that a high manufacturing physical output growth rate reduces the workforce dependent on agriculture.
  2. The allocation for Self Help Groups with a trust fund is a clear solution.
Government Budgets

[op-ed snap] Fiscal wheels must also roll in order to make monetary policy effective

Mains Paper 3 : Issues relating growth and development, employment |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Monetary policy transmission


CONTEXT

Through four successive reductions in this calendar year, RBI has reduced the repo rate by 110 basis points to 5.4%.

Status of the rate cut

  1. The economy has been slow to respond to these incremental monetary stimuli. 
  2. Quarterly growth data show a continuing slowdown, mainly driven by sluggish demand, due to both external and domestic factors.
  3. There is substantial excess capacity in the manufacturing sector.
  4. With unutilized capacity, temporary and casual employees are being laid off and wage hikes are being postponed, reducing levels of aggregate disposable income, which is further reducing demand, particularly for consumer durables.
  5. Unless capacity utilization improves, investment demand from the private sector is not likely to improve. 

Repo rate reductions only provide enabling conditions to reduce the cost of borrowing. To be effective, adequate transmission needs to take place.

Limitations of Monetary Policy

  1. Demand for investment and consumer durables has to increase, which is a function of income, much more than the cost of borrowing. For this, momentum has to be generated at the fiscal side.
  2. Due to revenue constraints and legislative limits on borrowing, suitable countercyclical fiscal measures have not yet been taken.
  3. Public sector investment has been showing signs of stagnation for some time. The central government’s capital expenditure to GDP has stagnated at 1.6% for 2018-19 and 2019-20 as budgeted.
  4. Without a demand push from the public sector, monetary policy alone would not be effective.

What the government should do

  1. The countercyclical policy is primarily the responsibility of the central government. 
  2. A one-year departure from the budgeted fiscal deficit of 3.3% of GDP for 2019-20 can be justified at the current juncture.
  3. It should be ensured that the entire additional borrowing above the budgeted level is spent on capital expenditure.
  4. It is established fact that increases in government capital expenditures have much larger multiplier effects, as compared to increases in government revenue expenditures.
  5. State governments and the central and state public enterprises should come on board and undertake additional investment spending on infrastructure.
  6. This will push investment from the private sector, uplifting the infrastructure and construction sectors, and later spreading out to other sectors.
  7. This will trigger a virtuous cycle focused on the employment-intensive infrastructure and construction sectors -> private disposable incomes would increase -> reversing the ongoing demand slow down.
  8. As the magnitude of private borrowing grows, the transmission would improve.

Together, the joint impact of the fiscal and monetary stimuli is expected to uplift the country’s growth from its present low level to levels comfortably above 7% and, eventually, closer to 8.5-9%. Sustaining growth at these levels is required if India were to become a $5-trillion economy by the end of FY25.

Monetary Policy Committee Notifications

[op-ed snap] Why we need to look beyond the ‘electric’ smokescreen

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : E-vehicles : an analysis


CONTEXT

The obsession with electric mobility makes it look as if it is the only solution for India’s transportation problems.

What the government must do instead

  1. Bringing down the fuel import bill
  2. Bringing down air pollution

Do not push EVs

  1. We still cannot ensure a 24×7 electricity supply to hospitals. All our villages still do not have a reliable electricity supply.
  2. Close to 80% of the electricity generated is from coal and gas. Yet another 50,000MW of coal-fired power plants are being set up under the National Electricity Plan.
  3. More than 20% of all the electricity generated goes into “transmission and distribution losses”.
  4. Due to inadequate and irregular last-mile supply, close to 15 million tonnes of diesel is used by local generators to produce 80 billion KWh of electricity. 
  5. Close to $2 billion worth of battery storage capacity is imported every year.
  6. Most independent power plants operate at 12-15% below their declared capacity as they over-invoice plant costs. 
  7. There will be immense pressure on the power grid that is not yet fully reliable.

Other solutions available

  1. Air pollution – Construction dust, road dust, thermal power generation, diesel generators, traditional cooking fuels, stubble burning and open waste burning also contribute. Need action against each of these sources.
  2. Dependence on fossil fuels can be cut down not just by banning diesel, but by other more sane and immediate measures. Upgrade to the latest diesel-engine technology in public transport, reduce traffic congestion, ensure adequate power supply and get into diesel-blends.
  3. Ban all Bharat Stage 3 (BS3) vehicles and below. At once, close to 40% of all the 300 million vehicles on the roads will be gone. There’s no “vehicle scrappage policy”.
  4. Public transport
    1. Assure top-notch public transport in India’s top 24 cities. A multi-modal grid of trains, buses, taxis, three-wheelers and two-wheelers could achieve this.
    2. Incentivize the manufacture and purchase of public transport vehicles through lower GST and cheaper loans.
    3. Encourage greater use of public transport among citizens through redemption and loyalty programs. 
    4. Get all organizations with more than 100 employees to use bus fleets.
  5. Decongest the 60 top smart cities. They constitute almost 90% of our vehicular population and thus vehicular pollution. We need to focus on smoother traffic flow, better parking management and pedestrian movement. Close to 12% of vehicular fuel is wasted on idling and traffic snarls. 
  6. Expand the traffic police strength by four-five times in over-jammed cities.
  7. Create and mandate dedicated parking spots for shared mobility services.
  8. Create vast grids of pedestrian skywalks. Operate multi-level parking lots.

Each of these measures would show an immediate impact on vehicle-caused pollution and the use of fossil fuels.

Electric and Hybrid Cars – FAME, National Electric Mobility Mission, etc.

[op-ed snap] A second opinion on doctor accreditation

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : NMC Bill - analysis; Challenges with MCI


CONTEXT

National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, 2019 passed by the Rajya Sabha evoked widespread protests from doctors. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) called an all-India strike against a few contentious aspects of the bill.

Contentious provision

  1. Section 32 of the NMC Bill would grant “limited” licenses to almost 3,50,000 “community health providers” to practice allopathic medicine, provided they meet a set of qualifying criteria.
  2. Practitioners of ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy could undertake a “bridge course” and legally start offering primary healthcare.

Reasons behind the provision

  1. India is woefully short of trained doctors, especially in the countryside.
  2. The shortage has slowed the state’s program to scale up healthcare facilities and medical education infrastructure.
  3. India still has less than one doctor for every 1,000 people, the WHO’s minimum ratio for healthcare adequacy.
  4. For the efficacy of schemes such as Ayushman Bharat covering 500 million citizens with health insurance—a vast leap needs to be taken on that count.
  5. These factors favor a pragmatic approach; a licensing system by which paramedics and others with an elementary grounding in healthcare could make up a part of the shortfall.
  6. Public services are unreliable and many find themselves priced out of the private market, thus, making medical consultancy unaffordable.

Problem 

  1. According to the IMA, letting patients be treated by people without MBBS degrees would amount to quackery gaining legitimacy in a country full of fraudulent cures and dodgy practices.

Way ahead

  1. Independent panel of well-regarded doctors could keep a close watch on the eligibility process for licenses.
  2. This could involve a common test after practical training has already been imparted.
Medical Education Governance in India