Editorials, GS-2, Uncategorized

Civil Service Reforms: Few ‘Innovations’ By NITI Aayog, If One Can Call Them So

As civil service reforms go, the Niti Aayog’s Three Year Action Agenda: 2017-18 to 2019-2020, released recently, contains little that is new or innovative. The idea that policy making is a specialized activity and needs lateral entrant of specialists on fixed-term contracts to bring in competition into established career bureaucracy has been talked about for years and is a tautology today. The same goes for making the goals and progress available publicly to incentivize delivery and measure performance objectively, with high performance rewarded and poor performance reprimanded. Likewise, E-governance is no new beer, as is outsourcing of services; they’re old wine in new bottles.

The only innovation, if one can call it so, seems the plea for longer tenure of Secretaries. It creates two important inefficiencies. One, with a time horizon shorter than two years, the officer is hesitant to take any major initiatives. Two, and more importantly, to the extent that any misstep may become the cause for charges of favouritism or corruption post retirement, the officer hesitates to take decisions on any major project. This causes an inordinate amount of delay in decision-making. The inefficiencies are two-fold: (a) hesitation to take any major initiative; and (b) fear of misstep to take decisions on any major project.

It’s bemusing how these two inefficiencies can be overcome with longer tenures. For one, empirically, officers with tenures of more than 2 and going up to 3/4 years haven’t fared any better than the ones with shorter tenures. Lack of foresight and initiative aside, to be fair, they have been moved around to more than 2-3 departments/ministries, thereby not granting them the time needed to settle down and make salutary contributions. But it’s not fair to blame the system entirely for there are departments/ministries that are low/high in the mandarin’s perception/weight indices and with the long window available to them, there is the human urge for upward pecking mobility. Lobbying, jostling, networking (see the work-hours wasted here!), nepotism, and favouring the powers-that-be through subtle sleight of hand are rife. One has with growing frustration seen how people with no little knowledge/experience, but with the right “connect” and “networking”, go up and up the proverbial totem pole only because the new post figures high in the perception-cum-weighty index and is a better springboard for post-retirement sinecures. This is the nub.

Like statistics, the Niti Aayog’s eggheads conceal more than what they reveal; its platitudinous recipe is less relevant than what it shrouds: post-retirement sinecures. The heart of the problem is that no bureaucrat (apart from one-odd outliers) ever wants to retire. In a feudal mindset, retirement sucks: identity-loss after a lifetime of humongous ego-trips and condescension, vanishing into the woodwork is the hardest ask; retirement is sudden cold-blooded cremation. Hence exists the the intense urge to stay on somehow. It is also the reason why senior officers close to R-Days take calculated and “desperate” gambles to “oblige” political masters at the cost of their much vaunted “professional ethics”. In effect, the two “inefficiencies” stay. One wishes the Niti Aayog had provided answer to this endemic nettlesome syndrome that defeats every sanguine public motivation.

One wonders how practical and efficacious Niti Aayog’s suggestion for specialization and induction of lateral recruits for a fixed tenure is. No questions are asked on the need for specialists and domain experts in public policy, but the issue is: Given the bureaucratic construct, will this behemoth of bureaucracy easily admit and acknowledge the role and contribution of the newbie, especially when their own unimaginative low-performance and lassitude hitherto unquestioned will (inevitably) be shown in poor light in comparison. Though a fixed tenure might help shielding the laterals from being junked midway, will frustration not creep into their day-to-day efficiency, thereby nullifying the cross-pollination and cross-fertilization of their ideas? Will they be accorded their due for the contribution made to improve public policy and the same acted upon without bureaucratic machinations and legerdemain? Or will the ear of political masters earned by mandarins negate any such noble impulses making it a zero-sum game?Public policy issues are roiled – apart from the much-maligned and putative red-tape-worm – in time-worn vested interest, personal advancement, colonial baggage and mindset. Holistically, the answer is in tightening governance’s value system. Financial malfeasance is bad, but worse is intellectual dishonesty, subtly crafted under the guise of amnesic mnemonics, poor data analysis and obfuscating interstitial interpretation kept under wraps in grimy official records. Financial misgivings no matter how convoluted they are, still palpate; intellectual dishonesty covertly hemorrhages.

For a feudal society with a bespoke traditional mindset of grand reparative gestures to espouse and promote the biradiri cause and where the state is seen as omnipotent and where few realize power is but abuse of power, it is imperative to have an arm’s-length system.

But is that enough? Maybe not. There could be a need to actualize implication of Robert Klitgaard’s formula on dishonesty: Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability (C=M+D-A). Even that too may not be enough. Proactive disclosure provided under Section 4 of the RTI Act 2005 will need to be sculpted into the e-governance platform. In this our Indian Gilded Age, the atmosphere is agog with ideas and impulses despite the consistent stonewalling of the established order. Citizen rants against diminishing public value are getting louder by the day.

True, in today’s battle of dialectics opacity wins, but then for how long? Over time and amid battling dialectics, society’s voice will inexorably tilt in transparency’s favour. The USA too went through the Gilded Age and the trauma of the robber barons. They came out of it triumphant through laws crafted in the teeth of opposition. For us the battle may be long and hard too but it’s time we had better see the future. I wish the Niti Aayog had the vision to sense a Eureka moment here and suggested measures to move in that direction.

Editorials, GS-1, Uncategorized

Is globalism dead?

Whether you love Donald Trump or you hate him, you cannot deny that he has a knack for capturing the zeitgeist. At his acceptance speech at the recently concluded Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the newly anointed presidential candidate declared in no uncertain terms: “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.” Trump, presumably, was speaking not only for himself and his campaign, but presumptively for the American populace, whom he hopes to lead into a brave new world come January 2017.

Is globalism dead, buried at the hands of a resurgent provincialism, parochialism, and even xenophobia in some of the major advanced economies? The rise of Trump and former Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, as well as the recent decision by British voters to exit the European Union, seem to suggest the alarming possibility. In the US case, even though Sanders has exited the race, in the end gracefully, his shadow hangs over the successful Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, who has opportunistically lurched to the left to try to capture Sanders supporters—exactly as Trump courted them in his acceptance speech.

The defensive crouch and inward turn into which the US, the UK and other advanced economies appear to be descending has, of course, many parents. It would be presumptuous of economists to discount the role played by the sense which seems to pervade a section of the old stock populations in places such as the US and the UK, that the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture is beleaguered by a new and threatening (to them) polyglot multiculturalism, and one can certainly read the rise of Trump and the success of the Brexiteers in this light. (Canada is the one major Anglo-Saxon nation which, at least thus far, seems to have bucked this trend, with an assertive embrace of its plural identity by a large swathe of the political and intellectual elite.)

Yet, a defence of traditional culture and an aggressive assertion of national interest, as opposed to the global good, whether or not it is merely masking garden variety racism and xenophobia, is not the whole story. Many, although not all, of Trump’s and Sanders’ most ardent supporters, and the most fervent Brexiteers, comprise white, blue-collar workers, mostly men, who have seen their wages and employment opportunities stagnate, or worsen, in the past quarter-century or more: exactly the period we associate with the rise of globalization. These individuals are not wrong to believe that increasing integration into the global economy, through reduced trade barriers, outsourcing and the rest, bear some responsibility for their current plight. The putative new protectionists thus have a receptive audience.

It is right and proper to point out that the proposed remedies—measures which, in effect, involve turning inward and retreating from the global economy—would do more harm than good, which is the standard, and correct, received wisdom from economics. But this amounts to locking the barn door after the proverbial protectionist horse has bolted.

A signal failure of globally minded politicians and policymakers in the advanced economies in the current era has been to make an intellectually honest and politically robust case for globalization in general, and the freeing of trade in particular. Trade liberalization, under the aegis of the World Trade Organization, has been an elite-driven exercise, in which decisions taken in smoke-filled backrooms in Geneva by bureaucrats and trade lawyers are presented as a fait accompli to (what was seen to be) a docile populace back home, with no serious attempt to explain the benefits and the costs.

Rather than trying to explain that the freeing of trade creates both winners and losers, but that the losers can be compensated while the winners continue to gain—in other words, that freer trade is Pareto improving, in the jargon of economics—politicians would simply duck the issue, or use lazy and misleading locutions such as “free and fair” trade, without explaining exactly why plain old free trade was somehow unfair on its own.

Regrettably, it is not just politicians, but right-leaning economists, with some important exceptions, who have failed to articulate an intellectually coherent, while at the same time politically acceptable, case for the freeing of the economy, including for free trade. The notable exceptions, of course, include first and foremost my own great teacher, economist Jagdish Bhagwati, but, alas, his has been one of relatively few prominent voices articulating the case and fighting the good fight.

This kept the field wide open for left-leaning economists such as the Nobel winner Joseph Stiglitz. His pronouncements on the ills of globalization are music to the ears of political parties, non-governmental organizations and other assorted left-wing foes of globalization and the freeing of trade.

Forging common cause with right-wing xenophobic and nativist elements, the centrist core of support for globalism has been squeezed from both wings of the ideological spectrum. It is no coincidence that supposed polar opposites Trump and Sanders have almost identical views on the imagined ills of the global trade regime, something I pointed out in these pages and which has now become a commonplace observation.

If globalism is threatened, its supposed advocates, thus, bear at least part of the burden.

Editorials, GS-3

India’s e-waste problem

The Union environment ministry in March 2016 had notified the E-Waste Management Rules 2016 replacing the 2011 version. With this, the Indian government has taken a key step to combat this most lethal form of pollution. The earlier rules issued five years ago were quite inadequate.

Why worry about e-waste?

Organic and easily recyclable metal, glass and plastic waste need not permanently remain in landfills. But hard-to-recover substances from e-waste like mercury make their home in landfills and keep leaching into ground water.

  • In recent years, its e-waste has grown faster than earlier anticipated. The Greenpeace study found e-waste growing at 15% annually and projected it to go up to 800,000 tonnes by 2012. But it stood at 1.7 million tonnes in 2014, the fifth highest in the world, according to a UN study.
  • In India, e waste accounts for 4% of global e-waste and 2.5% of global GDP (2014 figures) – so it has a higher share of e-waste than its share of gross domestic product (GDP). For China, the two ratios are about the same. The US, on the other hand, accounts for a lower share of global e-waste than its share of GDP.
  • According to a 2011 Rajya Sabha secretariat study, e-waste accounts for 70% of Indian landfills. If penetration of electronics and electrical products in India by 2030 have to grow even to today’s average world capita which leads to e waste of 6 kg per capita, the absolute e waste generation for India will grow five times the current level to 9 million tonnes in 2030.

 

About new rules:

The new rules have included things like discarded CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) light bulbs which contain mercury.

  • The new rules have brought producers of electronic goods under “extended producer responsibility”, making them liable for collection and exchange of e-waste with targets.
  • Producers’ obligation to take care of e-waste will go up from 30% in the first year to 70% in the seventh year.
  • To make procedures easier to follow, the new rules require players in the e-waste life cycle to register with just the Central Pollution Control Board and not have to go through individual state pollution control boards.
  • A big responsibility also has been placed on the shoulders of state governments. It is their job to adequately train and protect the health of workers engaged in recycling.

 

Why it is difficult to manage e waste in India?

  • The producers/manufacturers do not have adequate information on their website regarding e waste management.
  • Customer care representatives do not have inkling about any take back or recycling programme and even if they have set up collection centres, they are simply not enough for a geographically vast country like India.
  • India being a vast country, setting up collection mechanism is a big challenge. If any of the brands try individually to reach out to all corners of the country, it will economically not be sustainable or feasible.
  • Improper enforcement of the existing laws is another hurdle.

 

Environmental and Health Impact:

Developing countries with rapidly growing economies handle ewaste from developed countries, and from their own internal consumers. Though India’s ministry of environment and forest has made import of ewaste illegal, a fair amount of ewaste is still illegally imported into India. Currently, majority of ewaste handled in India is through informal sector using rudimentary practices.

  • The informal sector’s recycling practices magnify health risks. For example, primary and secondary exposure to toxic metals, such as lead, results mainly from open-air burning used to retrieve valuable components such as gold. Combustion from burning e-waste creates fine particulate matter, which is linked to pulmonary and cardiovascular disease.
  • Also, these chemicals are not biodegradable. As per a WHO study, children are especially vulnerable to the health risks that may result from ewaste exposure and, therefore, need specific protection. As they are still growing, children’s intake of air, water and food in proportion to their weight is significantly increased compared with adults, and with that, the risk of hazardous chemical absorption.
  • In India, “about 4-5 lakh children in the age group of 10-15 are observed to be engaged in various ewaste activities, without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops.

 

What Should India Do?

On the positive side ewaste contains many valuable materials like rare metals, which are well worth recovering, provided one uses green technologies. Just as green power entered electricity generation as a business, ewaste disposal can be a business: this has been demonstrated by companies like Attero. The threat of generating ewaste should not diminish our national ambitions in digitising the country and e-enabling the citizens.

Along with digitalisation plans, our nation needs a matching ewaste plan to contain the e-mess, an advance type of planning rather than a post-facto approach. The first big step is to recognise that the ewaste monster is being created right now.

Besides, manufacturing processes in India have to adopt better technology so as to generate less waste.

 

Norway model:

India has a lot to learn from Norway in this matter.

  • Norway has e-waste take back system in place for more than a decade now, whereas, India notified these rules very recently.
  • When the e-waste rules were introduced in Norway, the country faced similar questions. The authorities were finding it extremely difficult to enforce and follow up so many entities producing and importing electronics in the country. The deliberations conceptualised the idea of EPR which culminated in e-waste regulation.
  • Like the rules in India, management of e-waste in Norway is also a producer responsibility and producers are defined as Norwegian manufacturers and importers of EEE. The producers/importers of e-waste in Norway are obliged to be members of a take-back company and have to pay a fee for their membership to the take-back companies. This is how it provides the funding for collection and treatment of the waste.
  • The take back companies in Norway need to get an approval from the Norwegian Environment Agency. The approval process includes a verification of nearly about 50 criterions besides third party having to certify them. The process includes providing a plan detailing how they will collect e-waste and treat it in an environmentally sound way.
  • They also need to ensure that they will collect all e-waste from their market share which is determined by how much of electronics is put into the market by their members.
  • The take back companies report back to Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) register, which is managed by the government, and also finance WEEE register. In contrast, India does not have any data on the electronics being manufactured and imported in the country. There is no national registry taking account of the producers operating in the country and the amount of EEE introduced by them in the market.
  • Huge amount of recycling and recovery of e-waste in Norway has only been possible due to the presence of efficient take back system and the collective interest of the producers to comply with the legislations. In a stark contrast, the formal collection mechanisms in India are able to capture only five per cent of the end of life EEE and a huge chunk lands in the informal sector putting a question mark on the recycling and recovery of e-waste.

 

What should the government do?

In order to tackle the issue of e-waste handling and management in an effective and meaningful manner, the government may consider the desirability of bringing a separate legislation on e-waste instead of handling it under the Environment Protection Act.

Such legislation may call for establishing a central authority or a central public sector undertaking having experts from IT field and other technical domains possessing knowledge of e-waste disposal, management and recycling techniques and its own e-waste collection centre/ recycling plants with state-of-art technologies, in all major cities of the country.

The law should make it mandatory that the e-waste generated from various government departments all over the country as well as by entities and individuals, big or small industrial houses, educational institutions shall be deposited at the designated collection centres.

 

Conclusion:

A strong political will is required to come out with strict regulations to manage e waste in India. Increased public awareness is the need of hour. It is now to be seen how the stakeholders who turned a blind eye to the rules so far, proceed ahead.

Editorials, Uncategorized

The great nuclear disarmament divide

Over the past six years, a concerted effort by committed States, international organizations and civil society to reframe the international discourse on nuclear weapons around humanitarian considerations has gathered significant support. Momentum is now building towards the negotiation of a treaty to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons due to their unacceptable humanitarian consequences. A global prohibition on nuclear weapons could be concluded and have significant normative and practical impacts with or without the initial participation of the nuclear-armed States.

  • During the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament, held at the UN in Geneva this year, a majority of States expressed support for negotiating a prohibition treaty. A resolution to start negotiations is expected to be sought at the General Assembly in October.

 

Significance of Humanitarian approach:

The humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons has aimed to change the terms of global debate, moving from notions of strategic stability focused on the perceived interests of the nuclear-armed States and their nuclear-dependent allies, towards a focus on the impact of the weapons themselves on people and places. Concentrating on these impacts raises fundamental questions about nuclear weapons’ acceptability, with the evidence clearly highlighting these weapons’ incompatibility with humanitarian considerations.

  • Such a reframing has implications for nuclear-armed States and their allies that depend on others’ nuclear weapons in their security doctrines. It shifts the burden of proof onto them to demonstrate the legitimacy of their position in the face of the unacceptable humanitarian effects of any use of nuclear weapons. It avoids engaging with deterrence-based arguments on their own terms, whilst seeking to challenge their deep acceptance.
  • The humanitarian approach to disarmament considers weapons from the perspective of harm caused, using a broader framing than legal argumentation alone. It aims to introduce doubt about accepted practices and whether these can then withstand the scrutiny of States and military commanders who consider themselves responsible actors.
  • The humanitarian initiative challenges the special status that the nuclear-armed States parties to the NPT have assumed for themselves as legitimate possessors, by seeking to delegitimize any possession of nuclear weapons.
  • Though the humanitarian initiative has arguably not yet had a great impact on domestic political discourse in nuclear-armed States, it is already creating tensions for the policies of some of their nuclear-dependent allies.

Nuclear Umbrellas

What happened during the recent talks?

Following two sessions of discussions during 2016, the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) adopted a report, with a recommendation that the General Assembly should convene a conference in 2017, “open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” The report will be sent to the UN General Assembly, where a resolution to start negotiations is expected to be proposed to take this forward.

  • The final draft produced by the UN working group had been carefully revised in order to achieve consensus and be adopted without a vote. But at the last minute Australia hardened its position and called for a vote. Ultimately 68 states voted to adopt the report, 21 states joined Australia in voting against adoption and 13 states abstained.
  • However, a recommendation with a specific start-by date is a reflection of heightened international public opinion seeking the signing of a treaty banning the use of nuclear weapons, focusing on their inhumane nature.

 

Why Australia hardened its position?

Australia has attempted to derail a ban on nuclear weapons at a UN meeting on disarmament, by single-handedly forcing a vote on a report that had been expected to pass unanimously.

  • Australia took the floor on behalf of 14 umbrella states to declare that the text was not acceptable. When the chair went ahead to try to adopt it, Australia intervened in its national capacity to block consensus and call for a vote.
  • The principal goal for Australia and around 28 other countries in nuclear alliances (also known as ‘umbrella states’) was to ensure that the group did not recommend the negotiation of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.
  • Australia believes that a simple Ban Treaty would not facilitate the reduction in nuclear weapon. It might even harden the resolve of those possessing nuclear weapons not to reduce their arsenals.
  • According to Australia, a complete ban would actually “divert attention from the sustained, practical steps needed for effective disarmament”.

Nuclear Umbrella:

Nuclear umbrella is generally understood to cover a form of military cooperation by which one or more nuclear-armed states provide supposed nuclear protection for one or more non-nuclear-armed states. A crucial point to understand about nuclear umbrellas is that they are not necessarily codified by authoritative documents. Rather, nuclear umbrellas are rooted in military and diplomatic practices.

  • A ‘nuclear umbrella state’ is a state without nuclear weapons under the supposed protection of the nuclear weapons of another state.
  • A nuclear umbrella is not simply a by-product of a military alliance involving nuclear- and non-nuclear states. In order to exist, a nuclear umbrella must both be contended and not explicitly refuted. Someone must declare that a relationship of extended nuclear deterrence is in operation, and then the other party (or parties) must accept that statement to be correct—either tacitly or explicitly.
  • Egypt, for example, a military ally of the United States, forcefully rejected the United States’ alleged offer of extending its nuclear umbrella over Egypt in 2009. Several other states, including Argentina, Syria, and the Philippines are allied to nuclear-armed states without being considered umbrella states for that reason. Nuclear umbrellas must be mutually accepted.

 

Controversies surrounding this practice:

The practice of extending nuclear umbrellas has caused considerable controversy, as it arguably undermines efforts at nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. By subscribing to supposed nuclear protection, umbrella states signal that nuclear weapons are useful tools to enhance national security.

  • Another controversy has been over certain states’ simultaneous adherence to a nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty and a nuclear umbrella. On the definition above, four countries are in this situation per 2015: While Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are simultaneously members of Collective Security Treaty Organization- CSTO and parties to the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, Australia is simultaneously under the US’ nuclear umbrella and a party to the South Pacific Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.
  • Even more controversial is the practice of ‘nuclear sharing’, whereby one or more non-nuclear-armed states are engaged in the nuclear planning of one or more nuclear-armed states. This is standard practice in NATO, where all member states bar France are members of the Nuclear Planning Group.
  • The United States has also long engaged in a practice of stationing nuclear weapons in allied countries. Nuclear warheads are still hosted by five NATO member states: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. American weapons were previously also stationed in the NATO members Canada, Greece, and the United Kingdom, and in (non-NATO members) the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan.
  • The practice of stationing nuclear weapons in other countries has been sharply criticised by a number of states. They point out that Article I of the NPT commits the five recognised nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) not to transfer nuclear weapons or technology to non-nuclear-weapon states. The corollary Article II commits non-nuclear weapon states not to receive nuclear weapons.

 

Why a complete ban on nuclear weapons is necessary?

Nuclear and Radiation Accidents: This is the biggest disadvantage for Nuclear Weapons as it can accidentally lead to massive radiation disaster.

Low level of Radioactivity from Normal Operations: The nuclear weapons industry produces a large volume of low-level radioactive waste in the form of contaminated items like clothing, hand tools, water purifier resins, and (upon decommissioning) the materials of which the reactor itself is built.

Terrorism: There is danger that nuclear weapons in politically unstable countries like Pakistan may fall into the hands of rogue terrorist elements. These organizations have little fear of reprisals and can use these nuclear bombs in a cavalier manner against major cities for frivolous reasons.

Disability and Cancers amongst affected Population for Decades: Nuclear Weapons were only used by USA against Japan when 2 low level nuclear bombs were dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The Bombs not only killed thousands but also caused disability and radiation diseases amongst survivors and helpers. These effects were still being felt even now almost 65 years after the bombs were destroyed in 1945.

Environment Disaster: These Nuclear Weapons not only kill humans but also destroy the environment and the wildlife for hundreds of years. The residual radiation kills all plants and animals making it a dead zone for hundreds of years. The Chernobyl site where a nuclear power plant disaster took place is still unusable today.

Diverts Resources from Productive Uses: Nuclear Weapons are very costly for small countries with limited resources like Pakistan and North Korea. While the majority of the population remains mired in desperate poverty, developing nuclear weapons diverts precious resources to nuclear weapons programs. Nuclear Delivery Mechanisms like Fighters, Missiles and Submarines also cost billions of dollars.

Nuclear Weapons Testing causes Pollution and Degradation: Before Nuclear Weapons Testing was banned, they used to cause huge pollution of land and water by major powers. Thousands of Nuclear Tests by the Big Powers resulted in radiation pollution of the sea and land.

 

Way forward:

The OEWG process reflects a great disarmament divide not only among the nuclear haves and have-nots, but also among the umbrella states. On the one hand, there are umbrella states that are addicted to their nuclear protection, even though it is not apparent that such security is omnipotent. On the other hand, there are umbrella states that clearly feel trapped by the protection provided, but are unsure how get out of this situation. This debate will now play out on the floor of the UNGA.

  • The recommendation for ban will now be submitted to the fall session of the U.N. General Assembly. A majority of 107 U.N. member states are said to be in support of starting negotiations, indicating that there is a sufficient chance that the resolution will be passed.
  • A treaty comprehensively banning nuclear weapons, with or without the initial participation of the nuclear-armed states, would change the global legal and political landscape with respect to nuclear weapons, making clear that the international community as a whole finds these weapons unacceptable.
  • Such a ban treaty would build on the existing legal regime and fill current gaps in the framework with respect to prohibition, providing legal clarity and increasing stigma against nuclear weapons. It would have a significant normative and practical impact through making a series of prohibitions, from possession to cooperation and financing, and including positive obligations such as victim assistance.

 

Conclusion:

The commencement of negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, which now has considerable support from a diverse range of states and regions, would generate significant attention that could begin to affect domestic political calculations in the nuclear-armed States, whether they join the treaty initially or not. In the longer term, these States would increasingly lose control of the narrative around nuclear weapons after the declaration of their illegality, with unpredictable political and practical consequences. Pushback against the humanitarian initiative from the nuclear-armed states and their allies has increasingly included anxiety about a ban.

Editorials, Uncategorized

Is India Ready For A Universal Basic Income Scheme?

Even after three decades of sustained economic growth and a proliferation of welfare schemes, roughly one in three Indians still live below the poverty line, according to the last report on poverty estimates submitted by the Rangarajan committee in 2014. While those estimates have been questioned, the fact remains that there is little dispute over the fact that too many Indians remain trapped in poverty.

  • There are hundreds of poverty alleviation programmes in India, from housing to food, from maternity benefits and child-welfare to old-age support. However, these schemes are beset with problems that limit their effectiveness.

 

Some of the problems faced by these schemes include:

  • Problem of eligibility: There are always inclusion and exclusion errors. Often, those who should not be getting a benefit, get it (inclusion errors), while those who should be getting it, don’t get it (exclusion errors).
  • Leakage problem: Problem of leakage, wastage, and corruption in the delivery process also affect many welfare schemes.
  • Implementation problem: There is no uniformity in implementation across states. This eats up considerable manpower and resources.
  • Subsidies problem: Some of these schemes involve subsidies that benefit the non-poor relatively more, since they consume more of the relevant good or the service. Power subsidy is the best example for this.

 

The persistence of poverty and significant leakages in welfare schemes that aim to alleviate it has prompted many academics and policymakers to explore more efficient alternatives to India’s creaky and leaky welfare architecture. One of the suggestions has been to move towards a “universal basic income”.

 

Universal Basic Income:

The idea is already gaining currency in the developed world, as fears of automation and consequent job losses have spurred thinkers in the West to devise ways wherein all individuals would be guaranteed some income.

 

What is Basic Income?

A basic income is an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement. It is a form of minimum income guarantee that differs from those that now exist in various European countries in three important ways:

  1. It is being paid to individuals rather than households;
  2. It is paid irrespective of any income from other sources;
  3. It is paid without requiring the performance of any work or the willingness to accept a job if offered.

 

Background:

Although it has gained popularity in recent years, the idea itself is several centuries old. One of the earliest proponents of some form of basic income was Spanish philosopher Johannes Ludovicus Vives, who proposed that the government should ensure the minimum level of subsistence for all, but only to those who showed willingness to work. Thus, Vives’s idea of a basic income was not unconditional.

  • Subsequently, many other philosophers explored variants of the idea of basic income, not necessarily always drawing inspiration from or building upon previous work.
  • Thomas Paine, one of the US’s founding fathers, argued that every person was entitled to an equal basic endowment because “the earth, in its natural, uncultivated state was the common property of the human race”.
  • However, this concept of equal endowment was, in his view, somewhat violated by the system of landed property. Therefore, property owners ought to contribute to a fund that could be redistributed to everybody, including the rich and the poor, Paine wrote.
  • Years later, British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, in his 1918 book Roads to Freedom. Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism, argued that “a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries” should be unconditionally provided to all.

 

The universal basic income, as it is understood today, has three distinguishing characteristics:

  • First, it is universal and not targeted. In the Indian context, this makes sense because of the less-than-satisfactory experience with targeting welfare services. Apart from the standard arguments against targeting—that it often excludes a lot of the deserving households from receiving subsidies, people often fall in and out of poverty and therefore it becomes difficult to ascertain who are rightfully entitled to receive such benefits. Thus, a “universal” programme would not only be more appropriate, it will also reduce the burden of the bureaucracy in so far as it is engaged in identifying the deserving beneficiaries of any targeted programme.
  • The second feature of any proposed universal basic income scheme is cash transfer in lieu of in-kind transfer. There are standard arguments in favour of cash transfers over in-kind transfers (food stamps or grains provided through the Public Distribution System) as they are supposed to be much less market-distorting than in-kind transfers.
  • The third distinguishing feature is that it is unconditional. Cash transfers are not tied to exhibiting certain behaviour, and the people are free to spend the cash as they want. An example of conditional in-kind transfer in India would be the mid-day meal scheme, where the meal—an in-kind transfer—is conditional upon attending school.

 

Thus, the universal basic income seeks to provide unconditional cash to every individual, or household, and the individuals would be free to use the cash as per their discretion and spend according to their own preferences. Thus, the movement for a universal basic income has attracted support from both the left and right ends of the political spectrum.

 

What are the main arguments against a universal basic income?

  • It would reduce the motivation for work and might encourage people to live off assured cash transfers.
  • It is simply unaffordable. As it is estimated paying a basic income equivalent to the poverty line, to each and every adult in India, would entail a cost of 11% of GDP, which is way above the 4.2% of GDP that the government currently spends on explicit subsidies. (Explicit subsidies mean the subsidy cost under the Public Distribution System, fertilizers, railways, electricity, sugar, LPG, kerosene and water).
  • It is also argued that unconditional cash transfers might raise wages due to the decline in the supply of casual labourers.
  • There is also question of whether a shift towards it should be a substitute for all existing subsidies or whether it should complement the existing ones.

 

In discussing the merits and demerits of the UBI or any other development policy, it is important to avoid some standard pitfalls.

  • First, all policies have some pros and cons, and so just picking a problem with or highlighting a nice feature of a particular policy is not good enough. That traps us in an elusive search for “win-win” policies. The focus should be on relative costs and benefits of different policies.
  • Second, one size does not fit all. We should be open to the possibility that different policies could work well in different contexts. Cash transfers only make sense if you have ready access to markets, which is not true if you live in remote rural areas in which we have to rely on in-kind transfers.
  • Third, there is no magic pill that will cure all problems. Different policies are needed to address different problems. So yes, a UBI or a cash transfer as envisaged by JAM or the MGNREGA will provide some relief to the poor, but will not provide a long-term solution to the problem of poverty. For that one needs investment in health, education, and skill-formation to enable the poor to take advantage of growth opportunities, and investing in infrastructure and regulatory conditions to facilitate private investment for employment generation.

 

Way ahead:

While some of the challenges of implementing a basic income can be met with the better use of technology and an expansion in banking services, the challenge of affordability remains. How far existing welfare schemes can be trimmed without hurting the poor, and how much public resources can be saved to implement the scheme remains an open question.

  • The required budgetary resources could be raised by trimming the implicit and explicit subsidies to the rich (often in the form of tax breaks or subsidies given to goods largely consumed by the relatively well-off), or by raising additional taxes by improving property tax collections (currently extremely low).

 

Conclusion:

Few regard UBI as a simple and potentially comprehensive antidote to poverty. It is also viewed as a means to demolish complex welfare bureaucracies while recognizing the need for some social transfer obligations in a way that doesn’t weaken incentives significantly

Editorials, GS-3, Science & Tech

Voluntary Vehicle Fleet Modernization Programme (V-VMP)

The road transport and highways minister, in May 2016, released the first draft of the proposed Voluntary Vehicle Fleet Modernization Programme (V-VMP).

  • The programme proposes to offer tax benefits and discounts to people who junk old vehicles and replace them with new ones. Its primary intention is to reduce emissions and the priority is to get old fuel-guzzling and polluting trucks off the roads.

What has happened now?

Finance ministry has raised objections over few provisions in the scheme. These include provisions related to:

  • Number of vehicles to be scrapped.
  • Excise duty exemption.
  • Infrastructure creation.
  • Investments

Why Finance Ministry is opposing?

The scheme takes 28 million vehicles off the road and according to the Finance Ministry it is difficult to provide exemptions or rebates to such a huge number of vehicle owners. Besides, it would also lead to a financial burden on the government.

What’s the issue now?

Road transport and highway minister Nitin Gadkari is all set to make another attempt to convince finance minister Arun Jaitley to approve the Voluntary Vehicle Fleet Modernization Programme (V-VMP) in its current form.

What is V-VMP?

It is a policy proposed by the Road Ministry aimed at pushing 28 million decade-old polluting vehicles off the road. The policy aims at incentivising people to retire their old vehicles that were bought before March 2005 or are below BS IV standards.

  • As per the proposed policy, vehicles bought prior to March 31, 2005 or those below BS IV emission standards would be eligible for incentives if those were scrapped and replaced by new ones.
  • A fair value for the scrap, excise duty at 50% of the normal rate on the new vehicle and special discounts from automobile manufacturers are on cards for those who participate.
  • The incentives are expected to reduce the cost of a new vehicle for a buyer on an average 8-12%.
  • The policy recommends complete excise exemption for state transport buses to encourage public transport to shift to newer and higher capacity buses which will also help decongest roads.

Why it is needed?

Analysis of segment and age of vehicles causing air pollution has shown that MHCVs (Medium & Heavy Commercial Vehicles) constitute just 2.5% of the total fleet but contribute to 60% of pollution.

Besides, the older vehicles, typically more than 10 years of age and pre-BS I compliant, constitute 15% of the total fleet but pollute 10-12 times more than a new vehicle because of drastic change in pollution norms.
1a-1

 

Incentives proposed:

Under V-VMP, the road ministry has proposed that vehicle owners scrapping their old vehicles will get monetary incentives to buy a new vehicle in three forms to aid adoption of this programme:

  1. Scrap value from old vehicle.
  2. Automobile manufacturers’ special discount.
  3. Partial excise duty exemption.

Other details:

  • The scheme will focus initially on incentivising buyers of new commercial vehicle and keep passenger vehicles out of its ambit. It also won’t cover two-wheelers in the first phase.
  • Given that commercial vehicles change hands two to three times during their lifecycle, the government is also working out ways to issue tradeable certificates which would incentivise the last owner to scrap the truck and subsidise the purchase of the primary buyer. This will create a win-win situation for all stakeholders and make the overall dynamics of commercial vehicle trade more vibrant.
  • Under the plan, those opting for V-VMP will have to deposit documents relating to the vehicle at the recycling centre. After verification, the owner will get a VVMP certificate and the price for the scrap. He has to provide the certificate to the dealer while buying the new vehicle to avail of the discount.
    2a-1

 

Why it is a good scheme?

  • The scheme has the potential to reduce the vehicular emission by 25-30% and saving oil consumption by 3.2 billion liters per year. The reducing in oil consumption by new vehicles will help save nearly Rs 7,000 crore in oil import.
  • Implementation of the scheme for trucks and buses would result in 17% reduction in CO emissions, 18% reduction in HC+NOx emissions and 24% reduction in PM emissions.
  • Also, the policy would boost sales of automobile manufacturers leading to higher production capacity utilisation and the automobile manufacturers would support the government in this initiative “financially by giving special discounts to customers buying vehicles under this scheme”.
  • Besides reducing emissions, it generates steel scrap worth Rs. 11, 500 annually, reducing steel import burden.
    4a-1

 

3a-1

Way ahead:

Road Ministry will clarify before the Finance Ministry that in the first phase, the target would be just medium and heavy vehicles which are just 1.2 million as compared to finance ministry’s estimate of 28 million.

As far as revenue loss on excise duty is concerned, Road Ministry will try to convince Finance Ministry, stating that with the old vehicles running on road, the revenue loss would be more. If the new vehicles are purchased, at least there would be some additional revenue for the government.

Similar experiments in other countries:

A scheme known as Cash for clunkers has been implemented across the globe in countries like the UK, US, Germany, France and Spain, for limited periods during the global recession of 2009, in a bid to drive sales in the domestic auto industry. The government buys up some of the oldest, most polluting vehicles and scraps them.

  • In the US, cash for clunkers was introduced during the recession and was an attempt to stoke growth within the economy. the scheme was tailor made in such a way that it also incentivised the US consumer to shift away from gas guzzlers.
  • Under the UK car scrappage scheme, a £2,000 incentive was paid to motorists who scrap cars registered before 31 August 1999 to buy a new car. The government contributed £1,000 and the remaining amount came from the dealers and manufacturers.
  • China substituted an estimated 2.7 million high polluters from the national car fleet by offering rebates of $450 to $900 from June 2009 to May 2010 while Indonesia launched a scrappage scheme in 2009 paying owners of vehicles at least 10 years old MR5,000 ($1,354) was shared equally by the government and auto makers.
Editorials, Essay, Uncategorized

Refugees, the children of modernity

Something changed when three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach on September 2, 2015. Until then, life had gone on as usual in the European Union (EU), even as more than 2,500 refugees perished crossing the Mediterranean on flimsy dinghies.

But the iconic photograph of Kurdi’s face, half-buried in the sand, was a hammer blow that cracked Europe’s frozen conscience. It could no longer pretend that the thousands landing on its beaches were ‘only migrants’. So long as the discourse was about ‘migrants’ — that is, people who were only seeking a better life in Europe and not fleeing war back home — Europe was under no obligation to give them even temporary sanctuary.

G. Sampath

But the desperate, avoidable death of a child was too powerful an image of truth, and the convenient fiction crumbled. Overnight, the world was forced to acknowledge three things: that these people were to be treated as refugees even if they were actually migrants; that it is inhuman to turn them away; and that they were the entire world’s responsibility.

Anti-refugee sentiments in Europe

Two months later, the wave of solidarity evoked by Kurdi’s death has ebbed. Xenophobic violence is on the rise across Germany and Europe. A pro-refugee German politician, Henriette Reker, was wounded in a knife attack in Cologne. A refugee shelter was burned down in an east German town, Meissen. Germany’s anti-immigrant group, PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) has been drawing thousands of supporters to its rallies.

Beyond Germany, Hungary’s right-wing government is building a wall to keep out refugees. Serbia and Croatia are having an ugly spat. France and the United Kingdom, both of whom are supposed to take in 650,000 refugees each, are unwilling to do so. While the EU received 626,000 refugees in all of 2014, Germany alone is bracing for an influx of 800,000 this year.

Media reports suggest that Chancellor Angela Merkel is already in talks with Turkey, which currently hosts nearly two million refugees, to work out an agreement that has a provision for ‘taking back’ of refugees — which would be illegal as per the UN Convention on Refugees.

There are three big lessons to be learnt from Europe’s refugee problem: one, an effective solution is no longer possible at the national-level. The bulldozing by Germany that has so far worked on the economic front may not work here.

Two, the world needs to rethink the way it looks at refugees and migrants, if for no other reason than that their numbers are only set to grow. Not just Europe but every country in the world will soon have to — if it’s not already doing so — reckon with large influxes of refugees/migrants. Forced migration due to war and persecution is one thing. But the very structure of the global economy — premised on free movement of capital and goods but not of people — is a contradiction geared to produce economic refugees.

One sign of things to come is the rising global inequality. Today, the richest one per cent owns 50 per cent of the world’s wealth. As this inequality sharpens, ever greater numbers of those who’ve lost the economic lottery will migrate in search of livelihoods. This phenomenon is encouraged within national borders — we call it urban migration — and is considered essential for economic growth. But it is strictly regulated between national borders.

At present, economic migration is the privilege of those who can afford it. But this is set to change, and this is the final lesson of Europe’s refugee muddle: the new refugee is the economic migrant who cannot afford the legal route — and his claims for refuge and a decent life are as valid as those fleeing war and persecution. In a world of structural economic violence, the distinction between refugee and migrant is breaking down.

Human beings have been nomads for much longer than they have been agriculturists, labourers, or passport-holders. To be able to move freely from place to place was not a right — it was a part of nature, like sunlight or river water. It was fundamental for survival. It is even embedded in our biological constitution — the mechanism we call ‘fight or flight’.

National identity and exoduses

Significantly, Nature did not equip us with a ‘stay and die’ instinct. That had to come from culture. It came with the invention, first, of private property, and subsequently, of the nation-state, which was essentially a club of landlords coming together to protect their property interests.

This club manufactured for itself a symbolic cache, a veneer of cultural homogeneity, – better known as ‘national identity’. This was necessary to get a buy-in from the landless masses, who would become cannon fodder for wars with other such landlord clubs. It is not just a quirk of sub-continental history that the birth of two nation-states was accompanied by the bloody irruption of 14 million refugees, in what became the largest mass migration in human history.

Thus, the original refugee is the person displaced from his land — his refuge and source of his sustenance. The enclosure of the commons in England unleashed a mega flow of refugees. Luckily there were continents waiting to absorb them — Australia and North America — not to mention colonies in other continents.

What this also means is that if there are no nation-states, there can be no refugees. There may be slaves, as in ancient Greece, and orphans, but not refugees.

Today’s refugee, therefore, is a child of modernity, a gift of human progress. The first ever global document on the treatment of refugees, the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, was basically meant to protect the Europeans who became refugees due to World War-II. Today it is the operative framework for treatment of refugees anywhere in the world.

Three basic protections

The Convention offers the refugee three basic protections — non-discrimination, non-penalisation, and non-refoulement. Of these, the most critical is the principle of non-refoulement, which mandates that no one can ‘return’ or expel a refugee against his will back “to a territory where he or she fears threats to life of freedom”.

The Convention also states that a refugee is entitled to basic rights such as access to the courts, primary education, work, and travel documents. These are excellent principles. Over 140 nations are signatories to it. But the sad reality is that these statutes are observed mostly in the breach.

According to figures put out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 13 million refugees in the world. And these are just the ‘refugee’ refugees. The UNHCR also documents other categories of people who are, existentially speaking, no different from refugees but are classified differently.

These include, for instance, internally displaced persons (IDPs) — people forcibly displaced by, say, the violence of ‘development’ (by a dam, a mine, a nuclear plant); by communal violence; or even a Salwa Judum. The UNHCR estimates that as of end-2014, “a record-breaking 38 million people were forcibly displaced within their own country by violence.” Then there are the stateless: people with no nationality. There were 10 million of these at last count. These are people who cannot open a bank account or go to college or board a flight because they have no identity papers.

Finally there is the asylum-seeker: a person who, as per UNHCR’s definition, “says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.” There are about 1.2 million of these as well. And none of these include the 5 million Palestinian refugees — a whole population victimised because somebody wanted a new nation and snatched away their land.

Add up the numbers and we get about 67 million — more than five times the official number of 13 million — who are living like refugees. These numbers include only those registered by some official agency or the other. There are thousands more who have not been counted, not to mention those displaced periodically by an earthquake or a flood. Already, the spectre of global warming has led to furious debates about ‘climate refugees’.

The bottom line is that, for one reason or another, due to human persecution or nature’s fury or the way our wonderful global economy’s been rigged, an ever greater number of people are fleeing their place of habitual residence and will continue to do so. As Europe is discovering — though for now it enjoys the luxury of being in denial — the present system of national borders and passport control cannot control this migrant tide for long.

Editorials, GS-3

Time for a National Water Commission’

The committee on restructuring the Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board in its final report has recommended a new National Water Commission (NWC) be established as the nation’s apex facilitation organisation dealing with water policy, data and governance.

Other recommendations made by the committee:

  • Urgent overhaul of the current water management systems.
  • Change in both surface and groundwater management policies to face new national challenges.
  • Restructuring of Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board.

Why reforms are necessary in this regard?
water1

  • India faces unprecedented challenges of water management in the 21st century. As the water crisis deepens by the day, the old 20th century solutions appear to be distinctly running out of steam. These solutions were devised in an era when India had yet to create its irrigation potential.
  • While big dams played a big role in creating a huge irrigation potential, today the challenge is to effectively utilise this potential, as the water that lies stored in our dams is not reaching the farmers for whom it is meant.
  • At the same time, groundwater, which truly powered the Green Revolution, faces a crisis of sustainability. Water levels and water quality have both fallen creating a new kind of crisis, where the solution to a problem has become part of the problem itself. The new challenge is to manage our aquifers sustainably.
  • Recent instances of droughts and farmers’ suicides underscored the gravity of the situation. Climate change poses fresh challenges as more extreme rates of precipitation and evapo-transpiration exacerbate impacts of floods and droughts.

What’s the main concern now?

Water tables are getting depleted in most parts of India. If the current pattern of water usage continues, about half of the demand for water will be unmet by 2030. Besides, contamination by fluoride, arsenic, mercury, and even uranium is another major challenge.
water2
To tackle these challenges, Mihir Shah Committee set up by the Ministry of Water Resources has recommended setting up a National Water Commission.How to tackle these challenges?

Proposed NWC:

The commission report recommended that NWC be headed by a chief national water commissioner and should have full time commissioners representing hydrology, hydrogeology, hydrometeorology, river ecology, ecological economics, agronomy (with focus on soil and water) and participatory resource planning and management.

  • It will be an autonomous body & will to have a countrywide base and mandate, and greater human-power.
  • It will subsume Central Water Commission & the Central Ground Water Board.
  • The commission aims at reducing inter-state water disputes, bring greater efficiency, better planning and increased emphasis on conservation of water.
  • It also ensures that all water resources in the country are managed in a holistic manner and not separately as surface water, groundwater or river water.

About Central Water Commission:

It is a premier Technical Organization of India in the field of Water Resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India.

  • The Commission is entrusted with the general responsibilities of initiating, coordinating and furthering in consultation of the State Governments concerned, schemes for control, conservation and utilization of water resources throughout the country, for purpose of Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation, Drinking Water Supply and Water Power Development.
  • Central Water Commission CWC is headed by a Chairman, with the status of Ex-Officio Secretary to the Government of India.
    water3

Why restructuring of CWC is necessary?

  • To optimally develop water resources in India so that all river basins and resources can be managed keeping in mind the increasing unpredictability of the monsoon and other climate factors.
  • Decreasing per capita availability of water and the huge projected demand of this natural resources by 2050 are also triggers for such a move.
  • The mandate of CWC belongs to an old era when dam construction and tube well drilling was the prime need of the hour. The CWC now lacks expertise in water utilisation, environmental and socio-economic issues and in efficient irrigation management to deal with present-day challenges of droughts, floods, climate change and food and water security.
  • Also, at present, the CWC, which develops surface water projects, and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), which monitors ground water use and contamination, carry out functions independent of each other. For integrated water management, development, planning, water-use efficiency and for budgeting the adoption of a river basin approach, restructuring is necessary.

Conclusion:

It is time to take a multidisciplinary view of water and this requires professionals from disciplines other than just engineering and hydrogeology. Participatory approach to water management that has been successfully tried all over the world, as also in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, needs to be adopted. Groundwater and surface water must also be viewed in an integrated, holistic manner.

Editorials, Essay, GS-2, Uncategorized

Draft National Education Policy

Objective

The National Education Policy 2016 envisages creation of a credible education system capable of ensuring

  •       Inclusive quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all
  •       Producing students/graduates equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitude and values that are required to lead a productive life
  •       Participate in the country’s development process
  •       Respond to the ever changing requirements of a globalizing, knowledge based society
  •       Develop responsible citizens who respect the Indian tradition of acceptance of diversity of India’s heritage, culture and history as well as promote social cohesion and religious amity
  •       The vision recognizes the central role of education in India’s economic, social, political and cultural development

Key Challenges in India’s education system

I.  Access and Participation

  1.    Research highlights the importance of early childhood education. Participation in pre-school education remains low in the country
  2.    Expanding access to early childhood education and provide equal opportunity to all children to prepare them for formal education is a priority task
  3.    While nationally the % of out of school children aged 6-13 years has declined since 2000, still the absolute number remains high
  4.    Currently there is a situation of relatively lower enrolment rates in upper primary and secondary education. Ensuring mobility of students from elementary to primary to secondary to tertiary education is a key challenge. Currently Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education is 23.6%. The target is to increase it to 25.2% in 2017-18 and to 30% in 2020-21
  5.    Relatively slower progress in reducing the number of illiterates is also a huge challenge. India currently has the highest number of non literates in the world

II.   Quality Issues

1) Poor quality of education leading to unsatisfactory learning outcomes is a huge challenge. At the pre school level the following challenges are there

  •   Inappropriate curriculum
  •  Lack of trained educators
  •  Ineffective pedagogy

Resultantly students coming out of pre schools do not have school readiness in terms of cognitive and language domains

2)  Biggest challenge remains the unsatisfactory level of student learning. ASER reports, PISA reports all point towards the same. Finding of National Achievement Surveys covering Grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 suggest that learning levels of a significant proportion of students do not measure up to expected learning levels which has a cascading effect on the next stage

3) Factors affecting unsatisfactory quality of school education are

  •   Large proportion of schools not compliant with prescribed norms and standards
  •    Students and teachers absenteeism
  •  Gaps in teacher motivation and training which affects teacher quality and performance
  •  Slow progress with regards to usage of ICT
  •  Sub optimal personnel management
  • Inadequate attention to monitoring and supervision of performance

Perceived failure of government schools has triggered entry of a large number of private schools, many of whom also fall prey to the same vices

4) Quality at higher education level – Issues are

  •   Very few universities and colleges accredited by NAAC are in A grade
  •  Mushrooming of private players of indifferent quality
  •   Shortage of well qualified faculty
  • Vacancy in faculty positions
  •  Poor infrastructure in both private as well as public institutions
  • Slow renewal of curriculum to align it more closely with skills demanded in a diversified economy
  • Inadequate funding for research and development

III   Equity

  1.    Whereas substantial improvement is seen in enhancing enrolment rate in pre-school, still, children from disadvantaged population still lack access to pre school education
  2.    Percentage of Out of school children (OOSC) has declined since 2000, but the absolute number is still high. Moreover, OOSC still very high among SC, ST and Muslims
  3.    Children from certain sections like children with disabilities, children in remote location, children belonging to nomadic families, migrant children and other vulnerable disadvantaged group are yet to take full benefit of educational opportunities
  4.    National Learning Achievement Surveys highlight the following
  • Urban students do better than rural
  •  Students of private schools do better than those in government schools
  •   General and OBC students do better than SC and ST students

5. Relatively higher gender gap in youth (8.2 % points) and adult (19.5 percentage points) literacy rates


 

IV  Skills and employability

  1.    India is a young nation with 54% of population below 25 years of age. Thus skilling is necessary to take care of livelihood needs
  2.    However institutional arrangements to support technical and vocational educational programme quite inadequate

V  Curriculum and Assessment

  1.    Growing disconnect between existing school and higher education curricula
  2.    Curriculum thrust needed for promoting acquisition of relevant skills by students is missing
  3.    Assessment criteria in schools focus primarily on rote learning and ability of students to reproduce content knowledge

VI   ICT potential not fully tapped by educational institutes in the country

VII   Teacher development and management

  1.    Not equipping teachers with competencies required to cope up with new profile and roles expected of teachers
  2.    Mismatch between institutional capacity and required teacher supply resulting in shortage of teachers. Problem more acute in Eastern part of the country
  3.    Research, innovation and experimentation in teacher education is very limited

VIII   Governance and Management

  1.    It has assumed complexity especially at tertiary level due to
  •  Advent of multiplicity of providers
  •  Multiplicity of programmes
  •  Multiplicity in modes of financing

IX   Research and Development – Following are the reasons for India’s poor performance in R&D

  1.    Limited initiative for upgrading skills of existing faculty
  2.    Lack of synergies between training and research to promote excellence in both
  3.    Lack of engagement with institutes around the globe to improve quality of research
  4.    Lack of creation and facilitation of alliances for research purpose
  5.    Lack of linkage between research institutions and industry to accelerate process of knowledge development

X   Budgetary Constraints

  1.    Target of 6% of GDP envisaged in National Education Policy 1986 yet to be met

Reforms Suggested

1) Pre-school Education:

  1. Pre-school education for children in the age group of 4 to 5 years will be implemented.
  2. To strengthen the pre-school education in Anganwadis, steps will be taken in consultation with states to frame curricula and develop learning materials.
  3. State Governments will prepare cadres of pre-primary teachers.
  4. All primary schools will cover pre-primary education.
  5. Appropriate regulatory and monitoring rules and mechanisms will be designed for private pre-schools.

2) Curriculum Renewal and Examination Reforms

  1. Curricular reforms will be carried out to meet the emerging aspirations and align to national goals of social cohesion, religious amity and national integration.
  2. NCERT will undergo a re-orientation to address issues of deteriorating quality of school education and periodic renewal of curricula and pedagogy to move from rote learning to facilitate understanding and encourage a spirit of enquiry.
  3. Procedural reforms will be undertaken, such as, doing away with migration certificate, school leaving certificate, etc. in order to encourage mobility of students from one institution to another.

3) Learning outcomes in School Education

  1. Norms for learning outcomes will be developed and applied uniformly to both private and government schools.
  2. Within the parameters prescribed by the RTE Act, States will have the flexibility to design and plan for the infrastructure keeping in view the local conditions.
  3. The present provisions of no-detention policy will be amended, as it has seriously affected the academic performance of students. The no detention policy will be limited up to class V and the system of detention will be restored at the upper primary stage.
  4. Effective steps will be taken to improve teaching standards in schools

4) School Education

  1. Each State will undertake a detailed exercise of school mapping to identify schools with low enrolment and inadequate infrastructure.
  2. Minimum standards for provision of facilities and student outcomes across all levels in school education will be laid down.
  3. Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs) and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs) will be expanded and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) will be expanded and upgraded

5) Protection of Rights of the Child & Adolescent Education

  1. Framework and guidelines for ensuring school safety and security of children will be developed.
  2. Every Principal and teacher will be made aware of the provisions of the relevant Acts, Rules, Regulations, etc.
  3. The Adolescent Education Programme and National Population Education Programme will be integrated into the curriculum of schools in a phased manner.
  4. Adolescent Education will be included in pre- and in-service training programmes of secondary school teachers.
  5. Self-learning online programmes on child rights will be developed for the benefit of students, teachers and parents.
  6. Schools will engage trained counsellors to confidentially advise parents and teachers on adolescence problems faced by growing boys and girls.

6) Inclusive Education and Student Support

  1. Curriculum will cover the issues of social justice and harmony and legal measures in order to avoid social discrimination.
  2. With the objective of encouraging merit and promoting equity, a National Fellowship Fund, primarily designed to support the tuition fees, learning materials and living expenses for about 10 lakh students will be created.
  3. A zero tolerance approach on gender discrimination and violence will be adopted.
  4. There will be dedicated funds for R&D to strengthen disability studies in higher education.

7) Literacy and Lifelong Learning

  1. Existing initiatives will be strengthened and curricula revamped with multi-pronged strategies involving Self Help Groups, NGOs, Government etc.
  2. The Government will set up an apex body of experts to look into remodelling and strengthening of adult literacy programmes and develop scientific criteria for assessing the learning outcomes of adults in literacy, skill development, prior learning and equivalency for certification which may also facilitate entry into the formal education system.
  3. Adult literacy programme will incorporate skill development and digital, financial and legal literacy.

8) Skills in Education and Employability

  1. Skill development programmes in school and higher education system will be reoriented
  2. A detailed plan for the creation of skill schools for improving employment opportunities for secondary school students in special focus districts will be prepared.
  3. Joint certificates by the Sector Skill Council and the School/College authorities to help students take up wage-employment or start their own enterprise.

9) Use of ICT in Education

  1. A concerted effort will be made to make ICT an integral part of education across all levels and domains of learning.
  2. Online maintenance of all records of a child from the time of admission till the time of leaving the school will be made mandatory.
  3. IT reporting systems will be a powerful tool to better school management and performance.

10) Teacher Development and Management

  1. A transparent and merit based norms and guidelines for recruitment of teachers will be formulated in consultation with the state governments.
  2. All vacancies in teacher education institutions and all positions of head teachers and principals will be filled up.
  3. At the National level, a Teacher Education University will be set up covering various aspects of teacher education and faculty development.
  4. A separate cadre for teacher educators will be established in every state.

11) Language and Culture in Education

  1. All states and UTs, if they so desire, may provide education in schools, upto Class V, in mother tongue, local or regional language as the medium of instruction.
  2. Indian culture, local and traditional knowledge will be given adequate space in the school education.
  3. Keeping in view special importance of Sanskrit to the growth and development of Indian languages and its unique contribution to the cultural unity of the country, facilities for teaching Sanskrit at the school and university stages will be offered on a more liberal scale.

12) Self -Development through Comprehensive Education

  1. Extra-curricular activities like games, yoga, NSS, Bal Sansad will be emphasized upon
  2. Funds will be earmarked by the government/ school management for all co-scholastic activities in schools.

13) School Assessment and Governance

  1. The framework of school standards with various parameters and indicators to measure school quality, professional competence of teachers, school leadership and the school management, as well as, self-appraisal and performance assessment will be used throughout the country
  2. A mechanism will be put in place for accreditation of school boards.
  3. Principals/head teachers will be held accountable for the academic performance of the schools and its improvement.

14) Regulation In Higher Education

  1. An independent mechanism for administering the National Higher Education Fellowship Programme will be put in place.
  2. A Central Educational Statistics Agency (CESA) will be established as the central data collection, compilation and consolidation agency with high quality statistical expertise and management information system which will be used for predictive analysis, manpower planning and future course corrections.

15) Quality Assurance In Higher Education

  1. An expert committee will be constituted to study the systems of accreditation in place internationally. It will draw from the experiences of some of the best practices followed by countries having well performing systems and will suggest restructuring of NAAC and NAB as well as redefining methodologies, parameters and criteria. .
  2. Evaluation/ Accreditation details of each institution will be available to the general public through a dedicated website, to enable students and other stakeholders to make informed choices.

16) Open and Distance Learning & MOOCs

  1. The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), in collaboration with Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, will redefine itself to address the large potential demand for vocational education. The issues of management, monitoring and oversight of NIOS will be addressed appropriately.
  2. A quality assurance mechanism for accreditation of all universities/institutions offering ODL / MOOCs will be put in place to ensure quality, promote, innovation and reshape and modernize the ODL / MOOCs courses and programmes.

17) Internationalization of Education

  1. Selected foreign universities, from the top 200 in the world, will be encouraged to establish their presence in India through collaboration with Indian universities.
  2. In order to increase acceptability of Indian students abroad and to attract international students, Indian HEIs will be encouraged to work towards internationalization of curricula aligned with international levels so as to make it globally compatible with best ranked institutions of the world.
  3. Internationalization will be included as one of the components for allocating additional financial resources to government-funded HEIs.

18) Faculty Development in Higher Education

  1. A task force of experts will be set up to study the recruitment, promotion and retention procedures, followed by internationally renowned universities and institutions and suggest measures to promote intellectual and academic excellence in HEIs.
  2. A national campaign will be launched to attract young talent into the teaching profession. In order to attract young talent into teaching profession, a career growth of research students, such as M.Phil & Ph.D scholars, will be created.
  3. A mechanism of assessment of academic performance of faculty including peer review will be put in place so as to ensure academic accountability of public-funded institutions.

19) Research, Innovation and New Knowledge

  1. A clear reorientation of research agenda of National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) will be undertaken to reflect actual issues on the ground.
  2. Steps will be taken to promote generation of new knowledge and their applications and introduction of these new domains into the curricula of higher education to consolidate and strengthen India’s position as a soft power.
  3. In order to promote innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, 100 more incubation centres will be established in HEIs over a period of next 5 years.
  4. International collaborations and networks will be promoted for developing human resources required to sustain new knowledge with special focus on inter-disciplinary research and studies.

20) Financing Education

  1. The government will take steps for reaching the long pending goal of raising the investment in education sector to at least 6% of GDP as a priority.
  2. Instead of setting up new institutions, which require huge investments, priority of the Government will be to expand the capacity of existing institutions.
  3. In order to encourage excellence and efficiency, performance-linked funding of higher education institutions will be implemented.
Editorials, GS-3, Uncategorized

Power cuts in a time of surplus

India has, for the first time in history, declared that it will not have a power deficit this year. The country will have a surplus of 3.1% during peak hours and 1.1% during non-peak hours during 2016-17, latest data from the Central Electricity Authority shows.

  • This is the first time that the country has declared a year of no shortage though many regions have had power surplus for shorter periods. In 2015-16, the peak hour deficit stood at -3.2% while non-peak hour deficit was at -2.1%. The deficit was as high as 13% about a decade ago.

Regional variations:

  • Data shows that states in southern India will have surplus power to the tune of 3.3% after being power starved for almost a decade.
  • Western India will have surplus electricity at 6.9%.
  • Eastern region will have the maximum shortage of 10.3% and northeastern region at 8.3%.
  • The northern states will have a deficit of 1.8% during the year.

Reasons behind surplus power:

  • Highest ever conventional power capacity of 46,453 MW has been added during the last two years.
  • About 11,000 MW of gas plants have been revived and coal shortages to power plants are removed.
  • The government has launched revival scheme for distribution companies and many states have joined it.

What’s the issue now?

India now generates more power than it needs and has surplus power. And yet, the practical experience of Indians is that scheduled and unscheduled power cuts are the norm in cities, and the situation in most rural areas is worse. India lags far behind other countries in per capita consumption of power.

What’s causing this?

  • While capacity addition has peaked, industrial and commercial offtake remains low. Growth in industrial and commercial consumption—the highest-paying segment under the telescopic tariff structure followed—was only around 4.57%. Only the domestic consumer segment, which puts additional cost burden on the distribution utilities given lower tariffs, saw decent demand growth of 8.9%.
  • Cost of supply has increased, as have aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses. Domestic consumers do not have the capacity to absorb all the incremental power produced, or pay higher cost. Distribution companies, or discoms, typically incur higher cost on supplies to this segment and earn lower revenues.
  • The state of the state-owned power distribution companies, or discoms, which are responsible for buying electricity from the generation companies and selling them to consumers, is also responsible for this. The discoms suffer massive transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. Almost 25% of the power is lost, and never gets billed for — double the global average of about 12%.
  • Worse, the remaining 75% is sold at prices that are much lower than the discoms’ procurement costs. In every state, the tariff is set by a group of largely political appointees, who avoid increasing rates because of the associated political costs. Political unwillingness is at the heart of the T&D losses as well.

What’s the solution?

To help these discoms, government announced a new scheme — UDAY, or Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna- in November 2015. Under UDAY, participating state governments would take over 75% of discom debt over two years — 50% in 2015-16 and 25% in 2016-17. The idea is to make the state governments formally responsible for the losses of state-owned discoms.

This is expected to have two effects. One, it will relieve debt-ridden discoms, who can push power distribution in right earnest instead of being a roadblock to economic growth. Two, the more overt acceptance of debts on their books will push states to align tariffs to costs, and make it possible for discoms to run on a sustainable basis.
uday-scheme

Challenges before UDAY:

  • Electricity is not a central subject, and states cannot be made to participate in the programme. Also, the Centre is not providing any monetary assistance. The Centre’s carrot, in this case, is actually its stick. As such, willing states will be provided subsidised funding from the central government’s power schemes, as well as priority in the supply of coal.
  • State governments are expected to convert the discom debt into bonds. However, apart from the banks that had lent the money in the first place, finding buyers for such bonds might prove difficult — especially since these would not enjoy SLR status.
  • Besides, there is nothing in the scheme to fix the perverse political incentive that leads to T&D losses and debts in the first place.

Way ahead:

The present surplus may not be adequate when industrial demand starts to pick up, or even to meet exigencies such as unscheduled generator shutdown or extreme weather event. Also, a truer, holistic gauge would be 24×7 reliable power supply to all at an affordable price.

  • To achieve that objective, states will have to show strong resolve to reduce AT&C losses, invest in infrastructure development, ensure efficient commercial operation of discoms, make timely tariff revisions, and reduce the cross-subsidization that’s impacting the competitiveness of the industry and services sectors.
  • The time is also right, perhaps, to provide direct, targeted subsidies to electricity consumers who can’t pay much—if at all. The learnings from the LPG direct subsidy transfer project would be very handy here.