21st October, 2019
Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
- India should maximise its soft power in South, East and Southeast Asia even as it resets ties with China. Discuss.
There has been a remarkable turnaround in ties since the Doklam military standoff last year, with consensus seemingly replacing confrontation and competition in defining the Sino-India relationship. From the informal summit at Wuhan to the meeting at the sidelines of the Summit in the coastal city Qingdao where the two countries agreed to undertake a capacity-building project in war-torn Afghanistan, all this reflects a big reset in the Indo-China ties. It has also emerged that India will discuss its Indo-Pacific policy with China during the upcoming second IndiaChina Maritime Affairs Dialogue to be held in Beijing. However, China’s strong economic interventions in South, East and Southeast Asia and increasingly sharper forays in the Indian Ocean region are sources of worry for India as well.
China’s increasing influence in South, East and Southeast Asia
- The reality is that the tug of power between India and China continues to impact sea lanes and chokepoints, with these two Asian giants pursuing interests in the littoral states spread across the Indo-Pacific.
- While India pursues influence through heightened diplomatic, bilateral and military engagement, China has started to garner influence through hard investments in cash-strapped littoral nations suffering from massive infrastructural deficits.
- China’s heavy investments in ASEAN nations have brought these nations closer into its orbit of influence. ASEAN’s trade with China far surpasses that with India, and Chinese foreign direct investment in ASEAN is nine times higher than India’s.
- India also has so far failed to provide any concrete plans for its immediate neighbourhood in South Asia, with countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka demonstrating interest in partnering with China.
- On the other hand, China’s multibillion dollar investments in Sri Lankan ports and cities have inched the country much closer to China.
- Under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has over the years promised billions to littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region to build a series of ports, something resource-constrained India will find difficult to match.
What should India do?
- Although India enjoys cordial relationship with all ASEAN nations, it is unlikely that diplomatic hobnobbing alone will help garner the grouping’s support for its Indo-Pacific strategy against China’s raw cash power and growing military presence.
- The overt-assertiveness of China has driven many countries in East and Southeast Asia to seek friendship with India, and today Indonesia and Singapore are looking to bolster relations with India.
- ASEAN has a cultural affinity with India with its shared religious diversity, ancient ties and a sizeable Indian diaspora in countries like Singapore and Malaysia.
- After the U.S., India enjoys global soft power through its art, literature, music, dance and cinema.
- India is perceived by many in East Asia as a friendly democracy, making the country a safe ally to have in the long run.
- Japan has significantly increased its engagement with India and the two countries enjoy robust military ties.
- India and Australia have initiated the ‘2+2’ dialogue signalling Canberra’s interest in deepening a maritime security partnership with India.
- India should maximise its soft power in South, East and Southeast Asia and optimise its military power to effectively counter China’s cash and hard power.
India is clearly seeking its rightful place in the league of nations by outlining its geopolitical role, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. What remains to be seen is how, with limited resources, India’s ambitions will play out against a resourceful and assertive China.
TOPIC- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
- Opting out of RCEP may push India on the margins of Asia. Comment.
Recently, India has just announced that the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) will extend into 2019 as agreement on several key issues remains unresolved. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been under negotiation since 2013.
What is RCEP?
- Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six Asia-Pacific states with which ASEAN has existing free trade agreements (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).
- RCEP is viewed as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement which includes several Asian and American nations but excludes China and India.
- Issues involved with India joining RCEP
- Both Indian industry and government have serious reservations on India joining the RCEP since this would, in effect, bring India into a free trade relationship with China. This is likely to worsen the already large trade deficit India has with China (more than US$60 billion at present). India also wants a slower and graduated elimination of tariffs in order to safeguard the interests of Indian domestic industry and to encourage the Make in India project.
Cons of India opting out of RCEP
- Regional economic integration is an indispensable component of the Act East policy. India cannot sustain an expanding political and security role in the Indo-Pacific with a shrinking economic role.
- RCEP is the only game in town for India as we are excluded from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), whose 22 members are actively considering a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.
- By opting out of RCEP, we are heading back towards the old policy of import substitution, which was a recipe for retarded growth before the economic reforms and liberalisation of 1991-2.
- It would be tragic if we give up on the challenge of improving the competitiveness of the Indian economy and instead slip back into a sub-optimal swadeshi mode. Our exports will become even less competitive staying out of RCEP since members will enjoy preferential access.
- The Indian economy is not as competitive. A World Bank study revealed that the average cost per container for our exports is US$945 which is more than double the rate in China. It takes 17 days on an average to deliver exports from India. For China it is five days. Thus, steps must be taken to improve our exports logistics.
- Our participation in the regional supply chains which bind the RCEP economies must be improved.
- Steps must be taken to improve the value chain in our IT services where countries like the Philippines are already serious competitors in the low end segment.
It is vital for India to ensure that the RCEP is truly comprehensive and does not just focus on market access for goods. India will need second-generation reforms of its domestic economic policies, including those that reform its factor markets, to make its trade more competitive. These reforms will help India better access other markets, and will mitigate some of the repercussions for the Indian economy of the other two mega regionals.
22nd October, 2019
TOPIC- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
- India has tried to regulate plastic pollution for at least two decades now. And yet nearly every stakeholder seems ill-prepared. Is regulation the problem, or is it industry and consumers who have simply failed to respond?
India intends to move away entirely from single-use plastics by 2022. India has many regulations on plastics. The big one, of course, is the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016, with specific obligations for every stakeholder in the plastic supply-chain, including the extended producer responsibility (EPR) for producers, importers, brand owners. The Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM Rules), 2016, also have provisions for plastic waste, including EPR. Then there are state regulations banning single-use plastics (SUP). Yet the fact is India hasn’t had much success with plastic waste regulation despite ambitious policy moves.
What is the problem?
- The problem is with regulations, and with consumer awareness and industry’s status-quo approach. Consumer apathy is at the core of the problem. We all talk about plastic pollution, but end up using polythene bags. We crib about dumpsites, but litter ourselves, and waste segregation is still to take off meaningfully.
- The industry has not been very responsible either. Despite knowing the problem, it has kept waiting for the government to bring regulations. No company in India has shown leadership in dealing with plastic pollution.
- We enact regulations, but don’t plan for implementation. For example, we don’t give enough time to the market or local governments to adapt to new rules.
- Also, our approach to rule-making is command-and-control or ruling with a stick, to be precise.
- The experience of the past 20 years should have made it clear that regulations and penalties are not sufficient to eliminate the use of SUP.
We need a transformation in the market and the municipal services to achieve this. This will require both stick and carrots.
Reference: Financial Express
TOPIC- Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
- Given the current realities, where the poor need money and there is a need to push up demand, the government must put in more money for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Discuss.
As the government is engulfed in an accelerating economic crisis, some experts have argued that government must take steps to revive MGREGA. An improved MGNREGA they feel can serve as the vehicle for delivering a rural stimulus.
Need of an improved MGREGA
- By design, the MGNREGA is a demand-driven scheme (work is provided to anyone who seeks a job), and therefore avoids targeting problems that confront income support schemes.
- More important, the programme is designed to incentivise participation of agricultural labour, not just farmers. MGNREGA, thus, has the potential of boosting incomes across all sectors of the rural economy. Finally, contrary to the widely held perception that MGNREGA has merely resulted in “digging holes”, the scheme has played an important role in improving productivity on agricultural land.
- A majority of work done through MGNREGA is on developing farm land (for instance, constructing irrigation facilities, livestock sheds) owned by small land owners.
- Improved land productivity can in principle raise farmer incomes and stimulate demand for agricultural labour, thus planting the seeds for a longer term revival.
Since 2012-13, MGNREGA budget allocations have consistently fallen short of demand for work, resulting in spending excesses of over ~5000 crores. Consequently, wage payments have been delayed and the overall MGNREGA wage rate has stagnated at levels significantly lower than state minimum wages. Addressing these barriers is critical.
Reference: Hindustan Times
23rd October, 2019
TOPIC- India and its bilateral relations
- With the growing closeness between Nepal and China in the Indo-Centric locale, India must endeavour to strengthen mutual trust and understanding with the Himalayan neighbour. Comment.
Relationship between Nepal and India has deteriorated in the recent years as Nepal has been moving closer to China. China has been constantly spreading its sphere of influence on the Himalayan Kingdom by expanding greater economic linkages and extending substantial military assistance to Nepal. Against this backdrop, India must endeavour to strengthen mutual trust and understanding with the Himalayan neighbour.
Status-Quo of Indo-Nepal relations
- After starting on a high note in 2014, helped substantially by Modi’s two visits to Kathmandu that year, ties deteriorated sharply in 2015 when Nepal put out its draft constitution that seemed to give extensive political privileges to the ruling hill tribes than to the Madhesis, Tharus and Janjatis seen as the main communities in the plains.
- India’s unofficial blockade of 2015 in opposition to certain terms of Nepal’s constitution had further triggered a wave of anti-India sentiment in the Himalayan Kingdom.
Growing proximity between China and Nepal
- In 2011-2012, India-Nepal trade was USD 3 billion and the total volume of trade between Nepal and China amounted to USD 1.2 billion. To enhance these ties, China has offered zero-tariff treatment to 60 per cent products of Nepal.
- When there was blockade of fuel & necessary supplies on India-Nepal border due to protest by Madhesi, Beijing gave 1.3 million litres of petrol to Nepal as a grant, with the promise of following up after a commercial arrangement was signed between companies on the two sides.
- In 2014, China overtook India as the biggest source of Nepal’s foreign investment. Nepalis see Chinese aid as positive because of its focus on infrastructure development, an area in which Chinese seem to have done a good job.
- China’s open diplomatic policy in Nepal remains to exploit the resources of Nepal and take advantage of Indian market. Hence, it has completed 22-km road in central Nepal connecting its southern plains with Kyirong, county of Tibet, making the shortest motorable overland route between China and India.
- Beijing has announced Nepal as an “official destination” for its nationals. The town of Pokhara became a hot attraction after Chinese online guidebooks described it as one of the top ten places “to see before you die”. Signboards in Mandarin are now a common sight in Pokhara. More than a dozen hotels in the town have Chinese owners.
Why must India reach out to Nepal?
- Chinese growing presence in Nepal is a reality check for India.
- Nepal acts as buffer between two powers -India & China. So considering good relations & strong Nepal in turn helps India to keep distance from China.
- If Nepal chooses to support China, India can face security issue.
What can India do?
- India must acknowledge that as in all other developing economies, Nepal’s aspirational young population is also looking beyond the open Indian border for opportunities, and its desire to turn his “land-locked” country into a “land-linked” country with a merchant navy must be considered positively.
- People-to-people inter-dependence must lead the relationship along with civil society and business-commercial level interactions.
- India needs to finish the infrastructure projects on time for instance Pancheswar project has been pending for over 20 years now.
- Effective delivery on the pending projects, the remaining ICPs, the five railway connections, postal road network in the Terai and the petroleum pipeline so that connectivity is enhanced and the idea of ‘inclusive development and prosperity’ assumes reality.
- India needs to formulate a comprehensive and long-term Nepal policy.
Topic- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora
- US-China trade war offers many advantages to countries like India but it also poses certain serious threats to Indian economy. Examine.
In the recent trade war between China and US, US has imposed higher tariffs on several Chinese products and China has reciprocated the same by imposing higher tariffs on some US products. Escalation of this trade war would have huge implications not only for China and US but also for other economies including India.
Positive Impacts of trade war on Indian Economy-
- It will Provide India with a platform to engage with Countries, US and China, and increase Presence in the region.
- US-China trade war could accelerate the transition. US companies that rely heavily on imports from China would be forced to redesign their supply chains around tariffs.
- Multinationals and their suppliers would look for alternative facilities outside China. This is bad news for China but might benefit India.
- India can offer an Investment-Led Trade with China ,on one hand, and Strategic Engagement With US in terms of Defence, Technology and Space.
- It would increase India’s Trade with Countries and would increase Employment and Foreign Currency.
- The trade in Agriculture Products such as Soyabean would increase India’s Sales Markets abroad and help in removing Agrarian Crisis from our economy.
- Negative Impacts of Trade War on Indian Economy
- Higher tariffs on various products would increase prices that would increase the cost of raw materials at higher rate than expected.
- The Move would provide strong base to US’s doubts regarding Validity of India’s Export Promotion Schemes under Agreement on Subsidies and Counter-Vailing Measures (ASCM).
- Higher interest rates do make the option of investors borrowing cheap money in the US and investing in Indian equities significantly less attractive.
- The higher tariffs and rising Interest Rate would have major implications on India’s Banking System that is crippled by Bad Loans and Recent Scams.
- India cannot grow on a sustained basis until it exports and free trade is in existence. With the trade war free trade might affect global economy and in turn India’s as well.
Promoting Peace and Prosperity among nations is an essential element for growing world economy. The need of hour is for both nations to devise ways to boost trade which does not affect individual economy and contributes to economic growth of industries.
24th October, 2019
TOPIC- Important Geophysical phenomena
- What is el-nino? In a continuously warming planet, how will climate change affect the creation of strong El Niño events?
The El Niño is a widely discussed phenomenon, particularly in India where it can impact the southwest monsoon. In fact, El Niño events cause serious shifts in weather patterns across the globe.
What is el-nino?
El Niño is a climate phenomenon that takes place over the equatorial Pacific. It is one phase of an alternating cycle known as El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). When there is a warming of the sea surface temperature in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean, it is known as El Niño. When the opposite cooling phase takes place, it is known as La Niña.
ENSO can cause extreme weather events in many regions of the world, and therefore has very important implications for seasonal climate predictions, including the monsoon in India. While El Niño causes warmer temperatures over the equatorial Pacific, these are known to suppress monsoon rainfall. When La Niña happens, it has been found to be helpful in bringing good rainfall.
How will climate change affect strong El Nino creation?
Simulations with global climate models suggest that if the observed background changes continue under future anthropogenic forcing, more frequent extreme El Niño events will induce profound socioeconomic consequences.
Reference: Indian Express
TOPIC- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein
- The Centre should not confuse uniformity for unity and must grant States the powers to levy direct taxes. Discuss.
India is a union of States. Citizens of every State elect their government independently. The primary responsibility of such an elected government is efficient governance and accountability to its voters. An elected government is typically granted the powers to be able to raise revenues through taxation of its citizens and incur appropriate expenditure for their benefit. In this context, some experts have argued that Centre must grant States the powers to levy direct taxes.
Need to grant States the powers to levy direct taxes
- Elected State governments and leaders cannot be made dummies without any fiscal powers for long. This fiscal federalism tension between the Centre and States can erupt into something more dangerous and spread wide.
- Since the birth of the republic, State governments have not had the powers to levy income taxes on citizens, except for agriculture taxes which are very small.
- In large federal democracies such as the United States, State governments and even local governments have the right to levy income taxes. In an India that is now increasingly diverging, it is imperative that democratically elected State governments are given powers to raise revenues and incur expenditure in accordance with each State’s needs and priorities.
- It is foolhardy to think that a council in Delhi can determine all revenues and the expenditure of each State.
The time is now appropriate to amend the Constitution to grant States the powers to levy income taxes as they deem fit. A celebration of plurality may foster greater unity in a nation such as ours.
Reference: The Hindu
25th October, 2019
TOPIC- Role of women
- What are the roadblocks that are responsible for low representation of women in politics in India?
In a country where half the population is women, their representatives in the context of problems related to them are not sufficient. India has a low participation of women in policy making at national level.
Reasons for low representation of women in politics
- While parties do speak about women’s issues sporadically, there is little engagement with the question of their participation in the political system. Were it not for women from political dynasties, the number of women would be even less.
- One reason social scientists ascribe to women staying away from contesting elections is the slander and abuse they face during campaigns and their lack of clout and money power.
- The other reason cited is lack of safety.
- Prevailing cultural attitudes regarding roles of women in society.
- Lack of confidence and finance.
- Many political parties feel that women lack the winnability factor.
- Women do not vote in homogenous blocs, and, therefore, they are seen as not powerful enough to influence outcomes.
Without party labels or independent resources to finance their campaign, there are few incentives or means for women who aspire to run for office. Thus, concentrated efforts by political parties for removing these roadblocks could go a long way in improving the gender balance of our legislatures.
Reference: Hindustan Times
TOPIC- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment
- How far do you agree with the idea that the rail industry needs to be liberalised by allowing the entry of private operators to provide services?
Indian Railways is looking at the prospect of private operators running passenger services on the government-owned network. The Bibek Debroy committee had felt that the rail industry needs to be liberalised by allowing the entry of private operators to provide services.
Pros of the move
Improved Infrastructure – It will lead to better infrastructure which in turn would lead to improved amenities for travelers.
Balancing Quality of Service with High Fares – The move would foster competition and hence lead to overall betterment in the quality of services.
Lesser Accidents – Because private ownership is synonymous with better maintenance, supporters of privatisation feel that it will reduce the number of accidents, thus resulting in safe travel and higher monetary savings in the long run.
Cons of the move
- Coverage Limited to Lucrative Sectors – An advantage of Indian Railways being government- owned is that it provides nation-wide connectivity irrespective of profit. This would not be possible with privatisation since routes which are less popular will be eliminated, thus having a negative impact on connectivity. It will also render some parts of the country virtually inaccessible and omit them from the process of development.
- Fares – Given that a private enterprise runs on profit, it is but natural to assume that the easiest way of accruing profits in Indian Railways would be to hike fares, thus rendering the service out of reach for lower income groups. This will defeat the entire purpose of the system which is meant to serve the entire population of the country irrespective of the level of income.
- Accountability – Private companies are unpredictable in their dealings and do not share their governance secrets with the world at large. In such a scenario it would be difficult to pin the accountability on a particular entity, should there be a discrepancy.
Ensuring competition within a public utility needs complex regulation that has to offer a level playing field to all players sharing common infrastructure.
Reference: Indian Express
26th October, 2019
TOPIC- Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth
- Discuss the recommendations of UK Sinha Committee on MSMEs.
The RBI-appointed U.K. Sinha-led committee, set up to study the problems faced by MSMEs, submitted its recommendations recently.
Key recommendations of the committee
- Form a ₹5,000 crore stressed asset fund for MSMEs which will assist units in a cluster becoming sick due to changes in external factors such as plastic ban, which had resulted in large number of such entities becoming non-performing.
- RBI should increase the limit for non-collateralised loans to ₹20 lakh.
- It also suggested revision in loan limit sanctioned under MUDRA by the Finance Ministry to ₹20 lakh from ₹10 lakh.
- Banks that wish to specialise in MSME lending, their sub-targets for farm loans under the priority sector lender could be waived off, and instead can be given a target for loans to the SME sector. The targets could be of 50% of the net bank credit for universal banks and 80% for small finance banks.
- In order to provide loan portability in a seamless manner to MSMEs, RBI should come out with measures on portability of MSME loans with a lock-in-period of one year.
Reference: Financial Express
TOPIC- Linkages between development and spread of extremism
- Give a brief history of Naxal movement in India. Also highlight the factors responsible for the growth of Naxalism in India.
Naxalism is considered to be one of the biggest internal security threats India faces. Naxal violence is related to the intensity of the feeling of people of their deprivation and their commitment to take revenge against those who are believed to be responsible for such denial. Currently, the main supporters of the movement are marginalised groups of India including Dalits and Adivasi’s, who believe they have been neglected by the government. The presence of Naxals in the country reveals the loopholes in the law and order of the country which has failed to curb the menace.
Brief history of the Naxal movement
- The movement began in the village of Naxalbari in north Bengal, in 1967 in the form of an armed peasant struggle, based on the slogan: ”Land to the tiller”. Initially it started with armed peasant struggle against landholders, attack on landlords, zamindars. Later turn out to be mass struggle , mobilized under a political ideology.
- In the year 1974, the movement spread to 1974, and continued through the period of ”Emergency”, in the form of armed peasant struggle.
- In the year 1982, Indian People’s Front (IPF) came into existence. With its formation, the movement’s focus now shifted from armed resistance to mass struggles, mobilization of masses, and articulation of political views.
- In the 1990’s, the movement under the leadership of IPF came out formally in public for the first time.
- However, its activities were wound up by 1994, and after that, CPI (ML) took charge of the political affairs of the movement, and it has been in charge since then.
Factors responsible for the growth of Naxalism in India
- Nature and apathy of the political system towards tribals remained one of the most important factors that led to such uprisings.
- Inability of political authority in India to provide avenues for structural uplift to the deprived sections of society in the affected states.
- Corruption is at the root of several factors which cause popular dissatisfaction.
- Lack of political participation by the tribal community.
- Poverty and economic inequality and underdevelopment in the naxal affected regions. According to the World Inequality Report, 22 per cent of India’s national income is cornered by the top one per cent. Inequalities have sharpened over the years. Such disparities always have seeds of discontent.
- Entry of mining companies in Tribal lands and forests, posing threat to the livelihood of the tribals.
- Indigenous tribal population deprived of their lands, uprooted from their traditional source of livelihood.
- The benefits of the resource exploitation are not passed on the tribals.
Environmental degradation in the form of destruction of land and water resources due to mining and industrial activates
Lack of basic facilities
- Lack of basic facilities like education, freedom, sanitation and food.
- The socially backward tribals form the major support base for Naxalites because of inequality, illiteracy and lack of opportunities.
The government of India’s National Policy and Action Plan, with its emphasis on security and development,
is definitely making an impact. Apart from the construction of roads, mobile towers, setting up of banks, post offices, Kendriya Vidyalayas, etc, the most significant achievement has been in poverty reduction. A recent study published in a Brookings blog says that by 2022, less than 3 per cent of Indians will be poor and that extreme poverty could be eliminated altogether by 2030.
Some experts claim that the challenge of Naxalism is on its last legs. The government today again holds the upper hand against the Maoists. It would, however, be naïve to think that we are about to see the end of Naxalism/Maoism in the country. Perhaps the present situation offers an ideal opportunity to solve the problem and save the future generations from the anger and frustrations of a disgruntled and disaffected group of people. The government will, of course, have to be careful that the Maoists do not use the peace period to gain time and regroup their forces.