Relevance: GS Paper I
Theme of the Article
Faced with a worsening water crisis, the state needs to exercise prudence in water management.
The rains have arrived, albeit late, in many parts of India to provide a much-needed respite from the heatwaves that killed hundreds and the accompanying water scarcity that had accentuated the vulnerability and crisis situation.
Water stress: explanation
- In cities like Chennai and Ranchi, water stress led to violent clashes, distress, and desperation, as the lakes and reservoirs dried up and people had to fight and fend for water for their everyday needs.
- However, water scarcity is the truth not only for these cities, but also for large parts of the country which have been reeling under a drought-like situation.
- The delay in monsoon or poor rainfall is not the only reason.
- The effect of drought has been felt more intensely also because it is becoming difficult to scrape for the smallest amounts of water after digging even deeper.
- India is a country that is guzzling its groundwater at a rate unmatched by any other. Groundwater here fails to be treated as a public good.
- Even eastern India, which is otherwise considered as “water-affluent,” is staring at a future with “groundwater drought.”
- Many of the parched villages have become deserted in Marathwada in Maharashtra, Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and even the mountain regions of Uttarakhand.
- Cities in India thrive on the water brought from far away locations at a high cost and with loss involved in transmission.
- Chennai alone has lost over 350 lakes. The expansion of cities fails to take into account access to water, and to mandate provisions to harvest rainwater, and reuse, recycle and treat waste water.
- The quality of water that is discharged by the cities and the industries remains of no concern to them. Due to such an approach, close to 70% of the country’s water supply is contaminated, leading to an estimated two lakh deaths in a year.
- Most of the farming close to cities is being done using the untreated wastewater, which contains heavy metals and toxic chemicals, further compromising public health.
Water stress: inequalities
- Water stress also re-emphasises inequalities of gender, caste, and region.
- While women have been burdened with the responsibility of arranging for water, in situations of crisis, it also leads to practices such as men marrying for the second or third time for the sole purpose of getting “water wives” to fetch water through the day.
- Such villages are incidentally close to rivers and dams, but the supply being directed towards Mumbai, women plough on to get water covering long distances, even as they are the last in their households to get to use it.
- With its availability shrinking further and the market playing an important role in defining the costs and beneficiaries, the more privileged find ways to control the access to water.
- There is an inherent inequality in distribution and a failure to share water judiciously. It is evident in megacities like Delhi and Mumbai where access depends on income and social status.
- In crisis situations, like in Chennai, while apartment buildings could afford to pay for three or four tankers per day, low income households could not.
- Among rural households, only 18% are said to have access to piped water.
- Small farmers are worse off and are forced to take their lives or migrate in drought conditions.
- The real estate boom has promoted the tanker lobby and increased water extraction, along with usurping of the floodplains and the green cover.
- The interlinking of rivers, pushed for despite evidence of poor functioning of existing hydro projects, will only spell disaster and more conflicts.
- In view of the looming water crisis, and associated food and health insecurity, it is vital to exercise prudence to manage water efficiently.
- It will, however, mean a move towards water-prudent crops and lifestyles, augmented storage and regulation of the usage of water and policies that take into account the inequalities in access, and real time data of its consumption.
- Instead of mere engineering and technocratic fixes, somewhere an acceptance is also needed that waterbodies in their healthy and natural state have the ability to replenish themselves along with a capacity to contain the intensity of climate crises.
Relevance: GS Paper III
Theme of the Article
Without concrete measures for augmenting opportunities, “behavioural change” is a demagogy.
Why has this issue cropped up?
The Economic Survey 2018–19 is trying to apply a “humane” face to the public policies of a government. The government claims of nudging such positive changes through its flagship campaigns like the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and/or the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP).
‘Nudge’ for behavioural change
- The very idea that the commoners are not some “rational” entities called “economic men,” but “human beings” of flesh, blood and folly, and that they need encouragement/interventions or “nudges” (not enforcements/mandates) for making choices for positive socio-economic changes in the country, is nothing new.
- In fact, for over a decade now various governments around the world are trying to integrate such insights from behavioural studies into policymaking.
- The underlying objective is to increase citizens’ participation in various state-led programmes/schemes and policies by nudging positive behavioural changes among them.
Analysing ‘behavioural change’
- Changes, if any, are largely restricted to a superficial change of perception brought through inauguration events/cake-cutting ceremonies/certificate distribution events/competitions/bike rallies, rather than any measures for initiating real changes at the ground level.
- If that is the case, then what is the difference between a nudge that stimulates public behaviour towards socio-economic change and that which manipulates public behaviour for political expediency?
- For example, a girl student receiving a bicycle under the BBBP scheme will be disenfranchised from its benefits due to various sociocultural embargos that are conventionally imposed on the movement of females.Whereas the bicycle might benefit the male members in her family and in turn influence their political (party) choices.
- In a country like India where an individual’s behavioural pattern is deeply entrenched in sociocultural norms, financial assistances/handouts/money transfers (as in the case of the Kanyashree Prakalpa scheme in West Bengal) are least likely to bring about any fundamental changes in behaviour.
- On the contrary, such incentives might further corrupt public conduct with beneficiaries demonstrating a prima facie change in perception for receiving the aids, while their intrinsic behaviour remains intact.
Human being vs economic man
In settings that are characterised by limited resources, scope and capability, it is difficult to discriminate a “human being” from a so-called “economic man.” This is because in such circumstances the folly of optimising self-interest at the cost of collective welfare is potentially astute for self-sustenance.
Without any systematic assessment of such ground realities and/or any blueprint of initiatives for expanding the economic opportunities, entitlements and capabilities, coming from the ruling government, the claims of paradigmatic change in the policy framework with shift of focus from the “homo economicus” (or economic man) to “homo sapiens” (or human beings) emerges as mere demagoguery.
Relevance: GS Paper III
Theme of the Article
Abeyance of the Essential Commodities Act is easier said than done.
Why has this issue cropped up?
The fifth governing council meeting of the NITI Aayog, held on 15 June 2019, had called upon the state governments to undertake structural transformations of the Indian agricultural sector through the reforms of the marketing regulations, such as the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), 1955 and the Model Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act (APMC Act). In the context of the agrarian distress across the country, reforming these acts is expected to provide a breather, especially to the deteriorating farm incomes.
- The idea for reforming the ECA, particularly at a time when surplus management has emerged as a pressing problem for the farm sector, deserves mention.
- With the ECA being a deterrent for market integration—a necessary condition for Pareto optimality of spatial competitive equilibrium—its relaxation would imply that excess demand (supply) and hence price signals from one market will be transmitted to other markets.
- In other words, farmers will get the right price for their produce, while increase in availability will give (price) relief to consumers.
A contagious issue
- Amending the ECA is a contagious issue, especially for such crops that have a well-entrenched political practice of fixing an administered price.
- Once the government commits an assured price to the growers, an essential corollary is that it must ensure the offtake of whatever is produced.
- In the case of crops such as sugar cane, there is a political clout within the sugar milling industry that would resist any relaxation of control over the movement and marketing of the cane.
- While a government would underwrite buffer stock at public cost (by levying a cess on the mills, which is effectively paid by consumers), it may not prevent such mala fides when its political fortunes are riding on the sugar industry.
- With such examples at hand, “cooperative federalism” for agricultural reforms seems more notional than practical.
- How can one forget the experience of implementing the Model APMC Act, which has been impeded by the tardy and varied state-level adoption of both the magnitude and content of the amendments?
- Likewise, whether and/or to what extent a state government would concur to the central government’s recommendations for amending the ECA is a matter of its political expediency.
The private sector angle
- The official explanation of the purpose of modifying the act, especially the restriction on stocking limits is that it is expected to encourage the much-needed investments (more specifically corporate investments) in agricultural marketing.
- Such an explanation is based on some classic tenets of “market romanticism.”
- First, that the private sector will act as an innovator/game changer for agricultural transformation and therefore needs to be integrated in the rural development strategy, and
- Second,, that the efficiency outcomes of the market, and particularly the role of the private sector in improving marketing efficiency are axiomatic.
- While these partially fit into promise of “minimum government, maximum governance,” but without a road map for governance it is not clear how such integration would pan out for the farmers in general and the smallholders in particular.
- In fact, one cannot dismiss the fact that stockholding, bargaining advantage, risk-taking ability, and information control are among the key determinants of power behaviour in the market.
The re-elected government’s political will for “inclusive” agricultural reforms will stand the test of time only if it can create an “enabling environment” for making these reforms work in the coming days.
Amended Motor Vehicles Bill reintroduced
Mains: GS 2
- Amendments to the Motor Vehicle (MV) Act has been re-introduced in the Lok Sabha.
- This bill had lapsed since it had not been passed by the Rajya Sabha.
- The proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act seeks to provide a compensation of ₹5 lakh for death and ₹2.5 lakh for grievous injury in a motor vehicle accident case.
- The Bill seeks to increase penalties for violations, facilitate grant of online learning licence, simplified provisions for insurance to provide expeditious help to accident victims and their families, and protection of good samaritans.
- The Bill also proposes to raise the time limit for renewal of driving licence from one month to one year before and after the expiry date.
- The provisions in the legislation are not binding on States and it is up to them to implement it.
Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 reintroduced
Mains: GS 2
- Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 has been reintroduced in the Lok Sabha.
- This bill had lapsed since it had not been passed by the Rajya Sabha
- It seeks to prohibit commercial surrogacy in the country.
- The Bill seeks to “allow ethical altruistic surrogacy to the intending infertile Indian married couple between the age of 23-50 years and 26-55 years for female and male, respectively.”
- The Bill states that a woman should be allowed to act as a surrogate only once, should be a close relative of the intending couple and “should be an ever-married woman having a child of her own and between the age of 25-35 years.
NIA Bill, UAPA Bill, DNA Bill
Mains: GS 3
- The NIA (Amendment) Bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha while the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill has been introduced in the House.
- The NIA Bill seeks to give greater powers to the National Investigation Agency by expanding its jurisdiction to offences committed outside the country.
- The latest amendments will enable the NIA to additionally investigate offences related to human trafficking, counterfeit currency, manufacture or sale of prohibited arms, cyberterrorism, and offences under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.
- The UAPA Bill is aimed at strengthening India’s security framework. It seeks “to introduce fourth schedule to add or remove the name of individual terrorists”.
- The DNA Bill seeks to regulate the use of DNA technology for establishing the identity of persons in respect of matters listed in a Schedule. These include criminal matters and civil matters such as parentage disputes, emigration or immigration, and transplantation of human organs.
- From 1993 till 2003, 70% of legislation went to standing committees. But in the last two years, the frequency has reduced. Only 26% were referred to standing committees.
Blue Flag challenge
Mains: GS 3
- The Union Environment Ministry has selected 12 beaches in India to vie for a ‘Blue Flag’ certification, an international recognition conferred on beaches that meet certain criteria of cleanliness and environmental propriety.
- These beaches are at Shivrajpur (Gujarat), Bhogave (Maharashtra), Ghoghla (Diu), Miramar (Goa), Kasarkod and Padubidri (Karnataka), Kappad (Kerala), Eden (Puducherry), Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu), Rushikonda (Andhra Pradesh), Golden (Odisha), and Radhanagar (Andaman & Nicobar Islands).
- The Blue Flag programme for beaches and marinas is run by the international, non-governmental, non-profit organisation FEE (the Foundation for Environmental Education).
- It started in France in 1985 and has been implemented in Europe since 1987, and in areas outside Europe since 2001, when South Africa joined.
- Japan and South Korea are the only countries in South and south-eastern Asia to have Blue Flag beaches.
- Spain tops the list with 566 such beaches; Greece and France follow with 515 and 395, respectively.
- There are nearly 33 criteria that must be met to qualify for a Blue Flag certification, such as the water meeting certain standards such as waste disposal facilities, disabled-friendly facilities, first aid equipment and no access to pets in the main areas of the beach.
- Some criteria are voluntary and some compulsory.
Global Economic Prospects report
Prelims: Economy/ International
- India’s trade deficit narrowed by nearly 8% to $15.28 billion during the last month, as against $16.6 billion in June 2018.
- The World Bank, in its Global Economic Prospects (June 2019), has projected weakening of global trade in 2019.
- Global trade is projected to grow at 2.6% this year.
Environment and ecology
- Three life forms Orchids can be broadly categorised into three life forms:
- epiphytic (plants growing on another plants including those growing on rock boulders and often termed lithophyte),
- terrestrial (plants growing on land and climbers) and
- mycoheterotrophic (plants which derive nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that are attached to the roots of a vascular plant).
- About 60% of all orchids found in the country, which is 757 species, are epiphytic, 447 are terrestrial and 43 are mycoheterotrophic.
- The epiphytic orchids are abundant up to 1800 m above the sea level and their occurrence decreases with the increase in altitude.
- Terrestrial orchids, which grow directly on soil, are found in large numbers in temperate and alpine region.
- Mycoheterotrophic orchids, mostly associated with ectomycorrhizal fungi, are found in temperate regions, or are found growing with parasites in tropical regions.
- Himalayas, North-East parts of the country and Western Ghats are the hot-spots of the orchids.
- The highest number of orchid species is recorded from Arunachal Pradesh with 612 species, followed by Sikkim 560 species and West Bengal; Darjeeling Himalayas have also high species concentration, with 479 species.
- While north-east India rank at the top in species concentration, the Western Ghats have high endemism of orchids.
- There are 388 species of orchids, which are endemic to India of which about one-third (128) endemic species are found in Western Ghats.
- Among the 10 bio geographic zones of India, the Himalayan zone is the richest in terms of orchid species followed by Northeast, Western Ghats, Deccan plateau and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
- Orchids have complex floral structure that facilitates biotic cross-pollination and makes them evolutionarily superior to the other plant groups.
- Entire orchid family is listed under appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and hence any trade of wild orchid is banned globally.
- Indian lunar mission- Chandrayaan-2-is to take its first step towards touching the moon.
- It will consist of a leggy lander -Vikram- and a six-wheeled rover-Pragyan.
- The mission will hunt for minerals and water ice deposits that Chandrayaan-1 confirmed.
- Chandrayaan-2’s journey will last about 52 days.
- When it lands on the moon, Chandrayaan-2 will make India the fourth country to safely land on lunar terrain.
- No space agency has landed on the south pole of the moon to date, making the landing spot also historic.
- With the country left without a Law Commission since September 2018, the Law Ministry has initiated the process of setting up the body.
- The commission gives advice to the government on complex legal issues.
- The three-year term of the 21st Law Commission ended on August 31 last year.
- The Cabinet approves reconstitution of the law panel for a period of three years.
- It is usually headed by a former Supreme Court judge or a former Chief Justice of a High Court.
Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS)
Environment and ecology
- Restricting the speeds of vessels and blowing sirens and horns is how the Ministry of Shipping plans to safeguard the population of the Ganges River Dolphin.
- The above plan is to be executed in the country’s one dolphin reserve through which National Waterway-1 connecting Haldia to Varanasi passes.
- The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS), from Sultanganj to Kahalganj on the Ganga in Bihar is the only dolphin sanctuary in the country
- Vessel speed would be restricted to 2.7 knots in Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) area to reduce the noise generation from propeller.
- lf any aquatic mammal/dolphin is spotted, then the measures will be taken to push it away through sirens/signals.
Relevance: GS Paper II (Polity )
Theme of the Article
Are elections a mere instrument to elect the government or a meaningful democratic exercise?
“One Nation, One Election’’ has been an issue of great priority for the present govt. While there appears to be an acceptance of the idea, certain opposition parties have opposed it on the ground that it may adversely affect constitutional democracy and federalism. Many suspect that such a move may lead to the consolidation of authoritarian tendencies of the ruling party. Hence, it requires due deliberation and careful consideration.
Is the idea of holding simultaneous new?
- The idea of holding simultaneous elections is not new, as it was mooted by the Election Commission in 1982 as well as the Law Commission in 1999.
- However, the recent impetus has come from a discussion paper by NITI Aayog members as well as a report by the Law Commission.
- Furthermore, this idea has been pushed forcefully by the Prime Minister in his speeches and monologues, thereby giving it political weightage.
Rationale behind simultaneous elections
- Primarily, the rationale for this idea rests on the arguments for efficiency and expenditure.
- The simultaneous conduct of elections is said to help reduce the overall expenditure on holding elections in a staggered and sequential manner, as has been the general precedent since 1969.
- Moreover, it would also remove the impediment in taking policy decisions due to the adherence to the model code of conduct at different points in time.
- Such arguments are essentially managerial/instrumental in nature and show scant regard for constitutional principles and democratic values.
Simultaneous elections and federalism
- The implementation of this idea would demand the curtailment of the ongoing tenure of several state legislatures, which would effectively mean undermining the democratic mandate.
- Even if this process is to be ensured without invoking Article 356 and were to be carried out consensually, it would stand to harm the federal principle.
- Although the non-simultaneity was an outcome of the overreach of the then central government in the first place, over time, with the changes in correlation of political forces, it has aided the strengthening of federalism.
- It is so because specificities of state-level issues and the regional forces addressing them prominently find better scope and space with the singular focus being on the elections in particular states.
- Simultaneity threatens to drown these specificities and further strengthen the unitary bias, particularly in the context of the concentration of immense resources and the control of the narrative with one party.
- Various assembly elections that happen to be held separately from general elections to the Lok Sabha can exercise democratic pulls and pressures on the union government.
- Besides, elections held at different times can possibly force the union government to correct its anti-people policies, and pay heed to the demands of the masses.
- Along with popular extra-parliamentary agitations and movements, elections in various states also provide a scope for the expression of this activity of the masses which is essential for the health of democracy.
Simultaneous elections and accountability
- The proposals put forward to sustain the simultaneity stand in brazen contravention to the principle of accountability of the executive to the people through the legislature. It is so becuase the sustenance of simultaneous elections demands a provision for fixed tenure.
- With the absence of such a provision, the pattern of simultaneity may be broken if a successful no-confidence motion against a government, at the union or state level were to necessitate mid-term elections.
- Such eventuality is sought to be addressed through proposals, such as a so-called constructive no-confidence motion (which can be moved only by proving the possibility of an alternative arrangement), President’s rule, or immediate election for a curtailed period (that is a remainder of the term). None of these ideas find any place in the Constitution.
- Ideas such as the constructive vote of no-confidence dilute the accountability to legislature and raise the question as to whether, in a democracy, stability can be given precedence over accountability.
- Such dilution would also entail further entrenchment of the ongoing process of the Presidentialisation of the polity by stealth. This process also gets a boost as the simultaneous elections would unduly favour the big national parties—better endowed with resources and reach—and make the political contest increasingly bipartisan and centred on personalities of leaders.
- Such a conception looks at elections as a mere procedure or method to elect the government to govern the people-nation. It imagines that people are passive voters who have to vote every five years and then withdraw from public activity, entrusting it to the executive.
Elections are an exercise whereby the principle of popular sovereignty is put into practice. One can debate how far such popular activity is possible in money- and media-dominated elections, but the underlying logic of simultaneous elections seeks to foreclose such a possibility itself.
Relevance: GS Paper II (Government )
In the political sphere it is interesting to come across words like “insult.” It is interesting in the sense that it is used in relation to a public institution and the reference to individuals occupying these institutions is in the background.
Context of the Article
This was evident in the public use of this kind of language by the Prime Minister who suggestively used this word in order to establish a relationship between the morally painful feeling of insult and the “innocent” Government of Jharkhand.
Point of inquiry
Can public institutions be insulted and, if yes, what are the grounds on which the claim to have insulted the public institution be taken to be morally valid?
Analysis of the inquiry
- Public institutions do not inherently possess an element of moral sensitivity that can produce the feeling of insult. This is because they are mere physical structures.
- Similarly, it will be absurd to say that institutional procedures suffer from human insult although they could be abused by human beings.
- Thus, these institutions due to their public nature acquire an abstract character as they do not belong to one single person. These two dimensions necessarily disallow any association of the feeling of insult to an institution.
- If this is the case where one cannot stick insult to a public institution then how does one understand claims such as “the government has been insulted”?
- The claim to insult has a purchase only on the condition that a public institution undergoes the process of personification at the cost of robbing the state of its democratic essence and republican character.
- Or, they are put in a concrete relationship with a single person or a group of persons holding institutional power.
- It is a person whose negative feeling of insult or affirmative sense of respect gets transposed onto the institution. It is in this sense that the language of insult gets stuck to these institutions.
- Institutions are an embodiment of these public persons who make moral claims.
- But making a claim that “institutions are being insulted” is only an inadequate or an incomplete claim. It becomes complete and valid when it is based on sound reasons.
- An insult is an unfair moral allegation that is attributed to a government that has a relatively better record in good governance.
- This unfair allegation seeks to show no respect for the good work that a government is doing.
- Insult in this sense is disrespect expressed towards the government that has the evidence of doing good work for the people.
- Thus, a claim to have been insulted is not an arbitrary claim. It has to be backed by sound reasons, drawing its force from the broader principle of justice.
- A state exists through conditions such as penalising tax evaders or punishing those who were responsible for mob lynching.
- Prompt action on the part of the government agencies to prevent violence in cases of such lynching would enhance the public esteem of the institutions.
- Stepping back is an active process of self-assessment or self-examination that the ruling party is supposed to take up on a regular basis. This would provide an opportunity for the government to improve upon its performance and offer better governance.
- Naturally, this would eliminate the grounds that the opposition tends to use for subjecting the ruling government to criticism.
Stepping back and reflecting on one’s performance helps eliminate the need to convert fair and legitimate criticism into a matter of insult.