7th October, 2019
TOPIC- India and its bilateral relations
- India and Bangladesh share a great relationship, but areas of concern remain. Discuss.
India and Bangladesh have come closer over a decade-long engagement, with an improvement in the strategic sphere, and alignment on regional and global issues, connectivity and trade. However, despite the rosey picture on India’s eastern border, there are some unaddressed issues and areas of concern between India and Bangladesh.
Areas of concern between India and Bangladesh
- India’s distance from the “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya community in Myanmar, a cause that Bangladesh has not only been vocal about but has also extended assistance to the ostracised community, has not gone down well with Dhaka. India also abstained from voting on a UN resolution — sponsored by Bangladesh and the EU — that would take Naypyitaw to task for human rights violations.
- Growing concerns in Bangladesh over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam are another source of tensions. Dhaka’s concerns about the possible deportation of people who were excluded from the National Register of Citizens in Assam could be a major irritant between two nations in the coming future.
- Sharing the waters of the Teesta river, is perhaps the most contentious issue between two friendly neighbours. The Teesta agreement, for which a framework agreement was inked in 2011, but which has not moved forward since, chiefly because of tensions between the Central and West Bengal governments. The long-pending upgrading of the Ganga-Padma barrage project, the draft framework of interim sharing agreements for six rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar are also pending.
Bangladesh is all set to graduate out of the Least Developing Countries. India’s continued partnership with Bangladesh benefits both countries. New Delhi must keep up the partnership that allows for economic growth and improved developmental parameters for both countries. The strong mutually beneficial partnership between India and Bangladesh must deliver on its promise. It is welcome that the government has assured Bangladesh that the National Register of Citizens will not affect Bangladesh. It is important to address specific issues like Teesta and to respond to Dhaka’s call for help on the Rohingya issue.
Reference: Economic Times
TOPIC- Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
- Discuss how distributed ledger technology can revolutionise record keeping.
Bureaucracy made it painful to access records, and even today it is. However, distributed ledger technology (DLT)—a digital system for recording the transaction of assets in which transactions and their details are recorded in multiple places at the same time—offers the opportunity to tackle problems of record keeping. Underlying DLT is blockchain—the technology that underlies bitcoin as well.
How can distributed ledger technology revolutionise recored keeping?
- A distributed ledger can be described as a ledger of many transactions or contracts maintained in decentralised form across locations and people.
- All the information on it is securely stored using cryptography and can be accessed using keys and cryptographic signatures. Any changes or additions made to the ledger are reflected and copied to all participants.
- Once the information is stored, it becomes an immutable database, which the rules of the network govern, making the records resistant to malicious changes by a single party.
- DLT application is incremental and can reduce bureaucracy on a broad scale. As barriers of implementation subside and the technology matures, DLT’s significance through shared ledgers of trust will accelerate current processes and become more efficient.
- It is the key to architecture vast amounts of secured records and address issues of transparency, accessibility and security in a pragmatic way.
- In China, DLT is a national priority—it is looking to harness the power of public-private in healthcare data, supply chain and other applications. In fact, two-thirds of all DLT-related patents are Chinese. In the UK, government agency HM Land Registry is exploring how distributed ledgers and smart contracts could revolutionise land registration and property buy-sell processing.
Over the last couple of decades, computers have provided the process of record keeping and ledger maintenance great convenience and speed. Just like the humble Sumerian tablet, DLT can potentially transform and commoditise how society agrees, trusts and transacts.
Reference: Financial Express
8th October, 2019
TOPIC- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
- Multilateralism is dead; the best way a country can protect its own interests is by being part of a regional trade bloc. In this context, discuss the significance of India joining RCEP.
The negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are poised towards conclusion, but, India continues to grapple with the dilemma of wanting to stay in the group while protecting the interests of its vulnerable sectors and is yet to reach an understanding with other members, including China, on market opening commitments. Some experts have pointed out that multilateralism is dead and the best way a country can protect its own interests is by being part of a regional trade bloc.
Concerns associated with India joining RCEP
- There is the fact that India hasn’t benefited from past FTAs, either in terms of trade balance or becoming a better destination for manufacturing.
- There is the threat to several sectors in India from imports — tariffs on around a fourth of products will have to be removed immediately, and on eight out of every 10 categories eventually. And it won’t be completely addressed by the so-called trigger mechanism that is being suggested as a solution for this.
- There is China, with its manufacturing prowess, and on the wrong side of the trade equation with India. And finally, there is a real question mark over the actual competitiveness of the majority of Indian industry at this point in time.
- Sure, the tax cuts recently announced for industry will help on this front, but there are other aspects of competitiveness — hard and soft infrastructure, talent, technology.
Benefits of India joining RCEP
- RCEP is a proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between ten ASEAN member states and their six FTA partners namely India, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
- It can boost India’s inward and outward foreign direct investment, particularly export-oriented FDI.
- It would also facilitate India’s MSMEs to effectively integrate into the regional value and supply chains.
- It presents a decisive platform for India which could enhance strategic and economic status in the Asia-Pacific region and can complement its Act East Policy.
- It can augment India’s existing free trade agreements with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
- It can address challenges emanating from implementation concerns vis-à-vis overlapping agreements of ASEAN.
- The RCEP would help India streamline the rules and regulations of doing trade, which will reduce trade costs.
- India enjoys a comparative advantage in the services sector such as information and communication technology, healthcare, and education services etc. Thus, RCEP will create opportunities for Indian companies to access new markets.
India’s entry into RCEP will strengthen its strategic weight but it may act as a double-edged sword for India. There is really no option but to sign RCEP. But India would do well to zealously protect its own interests. It must negotiate more efficient ways to deal with a rush of imports and protect domestic producers, even as it makes Indian industry more competitive.
Reference: Hindustan Times
- The threat of sedition leads to unauthorised self-censorship and has a chilling effect on free speech. Discuss.
Recently, an FIR was lodged against nearly 50 celebrities who had written an open letter to Prime Minister raising concern over the growing incidents of mob lynching. This has sparked an understandable outrage among sections of the population. Some experts have opined that the threat of sedition leads to unauthorised self-censorship and has a chilling effect on free speech.
Effect of sedition law on free speech
- Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights of a democracy. In India, this right has been enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. However, the law of sedition under Section 124A has created big conflict with the right to freedom of speech and expression in the Constitutional jurisprudence of India.
- Sedition, as the Indian Penal Code defines, is an attempt to bring hatred or contempt, or disaffection against the Government established by law in India.
- Section 124A is a relic of colonial legacy and unsuited in a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
- Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition. Right to question, criticize and change rulers is very fundamental to the idea of democracy.
- The British, who introduced sedition to oppress Indians, have themselves abolished the law in their country. There is no reason, why should not India abolish this section.
- The terms used under Section 124A like ‘disaffection’ are vague and subject to different interpretation to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.
India is the largest democracy of the world and the right to free speech and expression is an essential ingredient of democracy. The expression or thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the government of the day should not be considered as sedition. The Law Commission has rightly said, “an expression of frustration over the state of affairs cannot be treated as sedition”. If the country is not open to positive criticism, there would be no difference between the pre- and post-Independence eras.
Reference: The Hindu
9th October, 2019
TOPIC- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
- Regulations and penalties are not sufficient to eliminate the use of single-use plastics. We need a transformation in the market and the municipal services. Discuss.
Even after enacting four major legislations in the last 20 years, India has not been able to eliminate even one single-use plastic product. The history of plastic waste management in India is replete with hastiness; it has brought in regulations, but never prepared the market or the local government for the transition. The result has been that we have not been successful in eliminating even one single-use plastic product (not even the single-use polythene bag of less than 20 microns thickness) in 20 years of trying.
Roadmap to eliminate single use plastic
- Imposing a ban on SUPs is only a part and not the whole solution. However, better waste management systems with focus on segregation incentive models can help achieve long-term impacts.
- If cities segregate waste into three fractions — wet, dry, and domestic hazardous waste — and if municipalities create infrastructure in terms of material recovery facilities or sorting stations, dry waste can be sorted into different fractions. This then has value and a market and will not end up as litter. We need to source segregate.
- Also, establishing and monitoring domestic recycling units in every state and Union territory, incentivising the recyclers in the unorganised sectors, training low-skilled recyclers, setting up effective grievance redressal mechanisms, life cycle and cost analysis of plastic alternatives should be formulated and explored by the legislative bodies.
- Devising feasible alternatives for single-use plastic items and targeting consumers and retailers for better marketing is needed. However, their availability and affordability remain a challenge. Solutions: providing robust infrastructures, strengthening market, innovation and entrepreneurship, subsidy or incentives to consumers at domestic level.
If there is one thing to learn from the experience of the past 20 years, it is that regulations, and penalties are not sufficient to eliminate the use of single-use plastics. We need a transformation in the market and the municipal services to achieve this.
Reference: Financial Express
TOPIC- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
- What is Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)?
Approved by the Supreme Court in 2016, the plan was formulated after several meetings that the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) held with state government representatives and experts. The result was a plan that institutionalised measures to be taken when air quality deteriorates.
What is GRAP?
- GRAP works only as an emergency measure. As such, the plan does not include action by various state governments to be taken throughout the year to tackle industrial, vehicular and combustion emissions.
- When the air quality shifts from poor to very poor, the measures listed under both sections have to be followed since the plan is incremental in nature.
- If air quality reaches the severe+ stage, GRAP talks about shutting down schools and implementing the odd-even road-space rationing scheme.
- GRAP has been successful in doing two things that had not been done before — creating a step-by-step plan for the entire Delhi-NCR region and getting on board several agencies: all pollution control boards, industrial area authorities, municipal corporations, regional officials of the India Meteorological Department, and others.
- The plan requires action and coordination among 13 different agencies in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan (NCR areas). At the head of the table is the EPCA, mandated by the Supreme Court.
Reference: Indian Express
10th October, 2019
TOPIC- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources
- In a country as diverse in India, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improve foundational literacy. India can achieve this goal if some key gaps in our education system are addressed. Discuss.
Foundational learning is the ability to read with meaning and do basic math calculations by class 3. These are basic literacy and numeracy skills that are a necessary foundation for a child’s further schooling. Developing foundational skills is a complex issue as there are a large number of factors that impact a child’s ability to learn: Gender, race, place of birth, or the social and economic condition of their family. There are several reports show that close to 50% children in India lack in basic literacy and numeracy skills, despite spending five years in school.
Gaps that need to be addressed
In a country as diverse in India, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improve foundational literacy. India can achieve this goal if some key gaps in our education system are addressed:
- Clearly define foundational literacy and numeracy by identifying the building blocks to foundational learning and articulating the associated competencies in simple, measurable terms. For example, for literacy, India could consider introducing a target of “x number of correct words read per minute”, and combining it with other metrics like alphabet awareness and simple word recognition.
- Strengthening classroom practices and surrounding environment: Teachers must be trained in the specialized skill of teaching to read, and a print rich environment with lots of posters and reading material.
- Redesigning the teacher education for foundational literacy and numeracy: Teacher education and development, both pre-service and in-service, should have a renewed emphasis on the teaching of foundational literacy and numeracy.
- Improved accountability through monitoring.
- Multi-year planning and flexible funding for states: To enable states to take a holistic long-term approach to improving foundational learning outcomes, states would be required to create and share multi-year plans (at least three years), versus annual plans. The mission would offer flexible funding to states based on the plans they submit.
Investing in foundational learning has long-term advantages. Other than its impact on the future of those who go to government schools, it can also increase workforce participation and open up opportunities for social and economic advancement. Research has also linked foundational learning to increased employability and higher GDP too.
Reference: Hindustan Times
11th October, 2019
TOPIC- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
- India requires multiple interventions to prevent mental health disorders among adolescents. Comment.
Recent data suggest that mental health disorders are on the rise among 13-17-year-olds, with one out of five children in schools suffering from depression. According to the National Mental Health Survey of 2016, the prevalence of mental disorders was 7.3% among 13-17-year-olds. In this context, some experts have argued that India requires multiple interventions to prevent mental health disorders among adolescents.
What needs to be done?
- A new approach is required for disseminating mental health awareness backed by progressive government policies, based on evidence-based approaches.
- A 2010 Lancet study highlighted interventions conducted with 10,000 adolescents across 10 European countries, with a key success around ‘Youth Behaviour and Mental Health’ segment.
- This resulted in adolescents with mental health challenges receiving psychological support via 45-minute sessions, which ensured a reduction in suicidal ideas and behaviour.
- Projects with a similar approach, such as SPIRIT (Suicide Prevention and Implementation Research Initiative) in India, aim to reduce suicides among targeted adolescents and implement research-based suicide interventions.
- They also aim to empower regional policymakers to integrate evidence generated from implemented research on suicide prevention in policymaking.
- India requires multiple similar interventions for change.
Half of all mental health disorders in adulthood starts by 14 years of age, with many cases being undetected. Those who suffer from depression and anxiety in adulthood may often begin experiencing this from childhood and it may peak during adolescence and their early 20s. India requires multiple interventions to prevent mental health disorders among adolescents.
Reference: The Hindu
- Discuss the threats posed by social media platforms in the present world. Why is it difficult to deal with the same? Suggest suitable measures.
The importance of social media is well known to all of us. It has proved helpful in many ways. However we cannot ignore the negative aspects of social media in our society. The threats posed by social media are turning out to be so serious and we need to think of ways to deal with it.
Threats posed by social media platforms
- The circulation of fake news is one big threat that the social media is coming up with these days. This has led to mob lynching at several places.
- Online snooping and misuse of data available online is another major threat.
- Cases of online harassment and trolling have also increased over the years.
- New forms of crimes like online child grooming, revenge porn etc have come up.
- Hacking and online fraud are yet another serious issues.
- Spread of terrorism, regionalism and communalism.
- Using social media can make a person more vulnerable to predators and cyber bullying.
- The privacy of individuals is often threatened.
- Incidents involving the security failure of a third-party contractor, fraud by employees, cyber espionage, and network intrusion appear to be the most damaging for large enterprises and is a serious threat to the economy.
- Hate spreading is another major issue.
Why is it difficult to deal with them?
- The amount of data and traffic are so huge that it becomes difficult to regulate the social media platforms.
- There is a dearth of digital literacy among the masses.
- There is difficulty in prosecution and tracking of crime due to jurisdiction problems and anonymity offered by the internet
- The regulation of social media would impose restrictions on business and various government schemes which make use of social media platforms would also be affected.
- The number of internet users is very large and it keeps on increasing.
- There is also difficulty of jurisdiction (data is shared across borders).
How to deal with it?
- Expansion of digital literacy is one of the most effective ways to deal with it.
- The government and social media platforms should work in close collaboration to deal with the issue.
- Rules of data protection and privacy should be made strict.
- Cyber security cell and IT organizations must be strengthened.
- Government must make full use of Artificial Intelligence in dealing with the problem.
- People should be made aware of things like fake news and hate messages.
- Punishment and penalty for violators and those involved in spreading fake news and hate messages.
- There should be international consensus with respect to easier Extradition and prosecution of Cyber criminals.
Internet and social media have helped us in many ways and they will continue to do so provided we use these social media platforms in a more responsible manner. Technological advancements are meant to take the society forward and we should never use these in such a way that we are pulled back.
12th October, 2019
TOPIC- India and its neighbourhood relations
- What are the irritants in the Indo-China relations? Also identify the constituents in the multidimensional India-China partnership that can take ties to the next level.
The first informal summit between India and China last year in Wuhan led to fresh stability in relations between the two countries. It gave a fresh momentum and strategic communication between the two countries, and also increased. However, there are structural problems in ties — the boundary dispute, the Pakistan factor, and historical mistrust.
Irritants in the Indo-China relations
- China’s strong support for Pakistan after India’s decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and reorganise the state into two union territories put considerable strain on bilateral relations. China opposed the creation of a new union territory of Ladakh despite India’s contention that the changes had no implications for the country’s external borders.
- China’s support for Pakistan’s efforts to raise Kashmir at the UN Security Council and China’s reiteration that there should be no unilateral actions to change the status quo in Kashmir, prompting India to say that other countries shouldn’t change the status quo through the “illegal” China-Pakistan Economic Corridor clearly affected ties between two countries.
- Boundary dispute and historical mistrust are another irritants in the relationship between two countries.
- The avenues of economic cooperation between the two countries are still wide open. China is keen to make investments in India, especially in building infrastructure and fifth generation technology architecture. India, on the other side, wants greater market access in China, and action by Beijing to address the trade imbalance. They could perhaps come up with a plan to take economic ties to the next level, addressing mutual concerns.
- India and China are pillars of an emerging world order. Both countries see the unilateral world order in decline, and are champions of multilateralism. Security and stability in Asia, which is billed to be the 21th century’s continent, is in the common interests of both countries, and they are already cooperating on global issues like tackling climate change.
India should turn the focus to its rise and building capacities, not on conflicts and rivalries. If it’s driven by such a broader but a realist vision, India could expand the avenues of deep tactical engagement with a powerful China. As the saying goes, a nation can pick its friends, but not its neighbours.
Reference: The Hindu
TOPIC- Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate
- Discuss the organizational structure, vision and role of Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as chemical weapons watchdog.
The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is an Inter-Governmental Organisation established in 1997 to work in direction of Elimination of Chemical Weapons.
- All states party to ‘Chemical Weapon Convention’ are automatically a Member of OPCW. There are currently 193 member nations.
- The Conference of State Parties is the Principal Body. It is normally convened once a Year with all Members having equal Voting Rights.
- The Executive Council is the Executive Organ of Organisation, where members are appointed for a terrm of 2 Years.
- To implement the Provisions of Chemical Weapon Convention and achieve the vision of a world free from use of Chemical Weapons resulting in a Peaceful World.
- The Global Co-operation among nations to use Chemistry for peaceful and development Purposes which are beneficial for mankind.
- Oversees chemical weapons destruction- OPCW oversaw destruction of CW stocks in Iraq, Libya, and recently in Syria.
- Conduct investigation- OPCW inspectors conduct on site chemical weapon attack investigations. Recently in Nerve agent attack on Russian ex-spy in Britain and Syria.
- Cooperation with international organisations- Though OPCW is not an agency of UN, it cooperates with UN in policy and practical matters. OPCW inspectors use UN Laissez-Passer for immunity.
- To promote International Cooperation and National Implementation of Provisions of Chemical Weapon Convention.
- Elimination of Chemical Weapon Stockpiles and Chemical Weapons manufacturing units.
OPCW is a vital organisation keeping in mind the current geo-political conditions at global level. The need of the hour is global powers to understand that it is essential to maintain peace and harmony at global levels for overall development. India’s concern regarding new powers of OPCW highlights the excessive powers to organisation that can be misused. The need of hour is to form a Balanced and necessary Powers for Organisation.