Insights Daily Current Affairs, 20 July 2017

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Insights Daily Current Affairs, 20 July 2017


 

Paper 2 Topic: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.

 

BharatNet deadline pushed to March 2019

 

The Union Cabinet has approved the second phase of the BharatNet project that forms the backbone for the government’s Digital India initiative. The deadline for the delay-marred project has been pushed to March 2019.

BharatNet-Project

 

Background:

The Centre is still working on completing the first phase of the BharatNet project for which the deadline was March 2017. It had been able to lay optical fibre in nearly one-lakh GPs, however, only about 22,000 GPs have been provided Internet connectivity due to equipment procurement issues. The second phase aims at covering the remaining 1.50 lakh GPS.

 

About BharatNet project:

Bharat Net sought to connect all of India’s households, particularly in rural areas, through broadband by 2017, forming the backbone of the government’s ambitious Digital India programme. It proposes broadband connectivity to households under village panchayats and even to government institutions at district level. The project is being funded through the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF).

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.

 

Cabinet nod for IWAI bond issue

 

The Union Cabinet has given its nod to Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) for raising ₹660 crore in bonds for extra budgetary resources in 2017-18.

  • The proceeds from the bonds will be utilised by IWAI for development and maintenance of National Waterways (NWs) under National Waterways Act, 2016.
  • Funds received through issue of bonds will be used exclusively for capital expenditure to improve infrastructure funding.

iwai

About IWAI:

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the statutory authority in charge of the waterways in India. Its headquarters is located in Noida, UP. It does the function of building the necessary infrastructure in these waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also administration.

 

Background:

The National Waterways Act, 2016 merges 5 existing Acts which have declared the 5 National Waterways and proposes 106 additional National Waterways. The Act came into force in April 2016.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

Bill on mob violence

 

Asaduddin Owaisi, MP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief, has sent notice for a private members Bill in the Lok Sabha to combat mob violence.

mob violence

Highlights of the bill:

  • The Bill criminalises mob violence as well as acts of omission by public servants.
  • Special courts: The Bill proposes special courts for trying cases of mob violence, with judges appointed by a collegium of five senior-most High Court judges. These courts will receive complaints of mob violence, set up special investigation teams and appoint public prosecutors. The SIT and public prosecutor will also be under Supreme Court supervision.
  • Punishment: Punishment up to life imprisonment, special compensation and witness protection are built into the Bill.
  • Public servants under purview: It proposes to award penalties to public servants when such cases are not properly investigated, either due to malafide intentions or wilful neglect. It proposes to award a minimum 10 years’ imprisonment to public servants for “acts of omission”.
  • Definition: Mob violence include any act in which two or more persons injure, harm, oppress or threaten a person on the basis of his identity or prevent his enjoyment of a Constitutional right.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

 

Plastic realities

 

The use of plastics has used substantially since 1960s. Though, various regulations are in place to curb the overuse of plastics, hardly anything has changed on the ground.

 

plastic

Threats posed by the overuse of plastics:

  • Environmental threats: These bags pollute the environment, especially soil and water, as they take about 200 years to decompose naturally.
  • Food chain: The use of plastic has become so ubiquitous that even birds, animals and fish have unwittingly made it part of their diet. Disposed plastic degrades slowly, its chemicals getting leached into surroundings. Further, it breaks down into smaller components over time, entering our food chain and landing up on our plates.
  • Microbeads: Microbeads have emerged as a new form of threats. First patented in 1972 for use in cleansers, microbeads began to replace natural material like ground almonds, oatmeal and sea salt in the area of cosmetics. Many cosmetics and toiletry products — ranging from facewashes to toothpastes — use it today. Their abrasive nature lends itself to use in industries such as petroleum, textiles, printing and automobile. BIS has classified them as unsafe for consumer products.

 

What needs to be done?

People’s participation: This multifaceted problem cannot be dealt with by the government alone. While the government should take measures to strengthen the recycling economy and recycle the most plastic bags in use, people have to learn to sort the garbage they produce every day so that waste management facilities and businesses can easily separate the recyclable waste to turn them into resources again.

The problem of plastic bags is not only related to social governance, but also to our idea about modern society. As such, the government must take multiple measures to make the ban on plastic bags truly effective, and reverse the current polluting trend, which will not only help protect the environment but also restore the credibility of the legal system.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

 

BITs and pieces of trade with Israel

 

In their first 25 years of diplomatic relations, India and Israel have established and achieved a lot and there are enthusiastic and passionate discussions on both sides on how much more they can do. Indian prime minister’s first visit is considered ‘groundbreaking’ event in the diplomatic world. This is because it was the first visit of an Indian PM after the establishment of full diplomatic ties in 1992, and also because an Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon, had already visited India back in 2003.

flags-india-israel

Why is Israel important for India?

Growing trade and investment relations are a strong reason to study India-Israel relations on their own merit.

  • Trade: Bilateral merchandise trade increased from $200 million in 1992 to around $4 billion in 2016, an increase of 2,000% in 25 years.
  • FDI: Cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows from Israel, from April 2000 to March 2017, stood at $122 million. While these are low, constituting only 0.04% of total FDI inflows to India, there is enormous potential for Israeli investment in fields such as renewable energy and water management.
  • Defence production, which is at the heart of the ‘Make in India’ campaign, is another area with significant potential for Israeli investment, a move that will help India save billions of dollars it currently spends on importing weapons from Israel.
  • Arms: Israel is the third largest supplier of arms to India after Russia and the U.S. Investment in defence production will also give a fillip to domestic manufacturing, reduce dependence on bureaucratic state-owned ordnance factories and bring in new technology.

 

Is an India-Israel BIT possible?

In 1996, India and Israel signed a BIT. However, this was reportedly terminated by India when it unilaterally discontinued 58 BITs recently. For a new BIT to be negotiated, both sides will have to start afresh.

 

Challenges ahead:

There are challenges given the many fundamental differences Israel and India have on BITs, as outlined in their Model BITs of 2003 and 2016, respectively.

  • Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision that allows foreign investors to bring claims against a host state for alleged treaty breaches at international arbitral forums. The Israeli model gives an investor the choice to submit any investment dispute with a state to international arbitration if not resolved within six months through negotiations. The Indian model imposes many procedural and jurisdictional restrictions on an investor’s right to bring an ISDS claim. These include a foreign investor having to litigate in domestic courts for five years before pursuing a claim under international law. These requirements make it very difficult for a foreign investor to make efficient use of the ISDS provision.
  • Definition of FDI: Israel’s model provides a broad asset-based definition of foreign investment that covers both FDI and portfolio investment. The Indian model of 2016 defines investment narrowly as an enterprise (with its assets) that has to possess certain characteristics of investment including the investment having ‘significance for the development’ — words not defined in the BIT — of the host country.
  • MFN provision: The Israeli model contains a broad most favoured nation (MFN) provision — a cornerstone of non-discrimination in international economic relations — which is missing in the Indian model. The absence of MFN, from Israel’s perspective, would mean that its businesses would have no remedy under international law if India were to discriminate against it, say, by offering greater incentives to another defence manufacturer over an Israeli one.
  • Taxation: The Indian model excludes taxation altogether from the purview of the BIT. Thus, the foreign investor cannot bring an ISDS claim even if taxes imposed are confiscatory, discriminatory or unfair. However, in the Israeli model, taxation-related measures are recognised as an exception only to MFN and national treatment provisions. Foreign investors can still challenge taxation-related measures for violating other BIT provisions such as the fair and equitable treatment or expropriation.

 

Way ahead:

In sum, the Indian position on BITs is very pro-state, offering limited rights and protection to foreign investors. The Israeli position is the opposite. An India-Israel BIT looks difficult till both sides move away from their stated positions. Both sides should work towards having a BIT that reconciles investment protection with a state’s right to regulate.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 3 Topic: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.

 

Think beyond loan waivers

 

Recently a few States like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Karnataka have responded to farm distress by rolling out farm loan waiver schemes as a measure of immediate relief to those farmers who qualify certain criteria. The demand for such measures is spreading to other States too.

  • The ultimate goal of farm loan waiver is to lessen the debt burden of distressed and vulnerable farmers and help them qualify for fresh loans. The success of the loan waiver lies on the extent to which the benefits reach the needy farmers.

 

loan waiver

Drawbacks of loan waivers:

  • Firstly, it covers only a tiny fraction of farmers. The loan waiver as a concept excludes most of the farm households in dire need of relief and includes some who do not deserve such relief on economic grounds.
  • Second, it provides only a partial relief to the indebted farmers as about half of the institutional borrowing of a cultivator is for non-farm purposes.
  • Third, in many cases, one household has multiple loans either from different sources or in the name of different family members, which entitles it to multiple loan waiving.
  • Fourth, loan waiving excludes agricultural labourers who are even weaker than cultivators in bearing the consequences of economic distress.
  • Fifth, it severely erodes the credit culture, with dire long-run consequences to the banking business.
  • Sixth, the scheme is prone to serious exclusion and inclusion errors, as evidenced by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) findings in the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008.
  • Lastly, schemes have serious implications for other developmental expenditure, having a much larger multiplier effect on the economy.

 

What needs to be done?

  • Proper identification: For providing immediate relief to the needy farmers, a more inclusive alternative approach is to identify the vulnerable farmers based on certain criteria and give an equal amount as financial relief to the vulnerable and distressed families.
  • Enhance non- farm income: The sustainable solution to indebtedness and agrarian distress is to raise income from agricultural activities and enhance access to non-farm sources of income. The low scale of farms necessitates that some cultivators move from agriculture to non-farm jobs.
  • Improved technology, expansion of irrigation coverage, and crop diversification towards high-value crops are appropriate measures for raising productivity and farmers’ income. All these require more public funding and support.
  • Another major source of increase in farmers’ income is remunerative prices for farm produce. This requires removal of old regulations and restrictions on agriculture to enable creation of a liberalised environment for investment, trading and marketing.
  • Agrarian distress and farmers’ income will be addressed much better if States undertake and sincerely implement long-pending reforms in the agriculture sector with urgency.

 

Way ahead:

It appears that loan waiving can provide a short-term relief to a limited section of farmers; it has a meagre chance of bringing farmers out of the vicious cycle of indebtedness. There is no concrete evidence on reduction in agrarian distress following the first spell of all-India farm loan waiver in 2008. In the longer run, strengthening the repayment capacity of the farmers by improving and stabilising their income is the only way to keep them out of distress.

 

Sources: the hindu.


 

Paper 2 Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

Ministry, NITI Aayog moot privatisation of select services in district hospitals

 

As a part of a radical ‘privatisation project’, the Health Ministry and the NITI Aayog have developed a framework to let private hospitals run select services within district hospitals, on a 30-year lease. The framework was prepared in consultation with the World Bank.

 

What you need to know about the proposed framework?

  • As per the framework, the government will be allowing “a single private partner or a single consortium of private partners” to bid for space in district level hospitals, “especially in tier 2 & 3 cities.”
  • Under this Public Private Partnership (PPP), care for only three non-communicable diseases — cardiac disease, pulmonary disease, and cancer care — will be provided.
  • As per the draft model contract, private hospitals will bid for 30-year leases over portions of district hospital buildings to set up 50- or 100-bed hospitals in smaller towns across the country. The State governments could lease up to five or six district hospitals within the State.
  • Further, the State governments will give Viability Gap Funding (VGF), or one-time seed money, to private players to set up infrastructure within district hospitals. The private parties and State health departments will share ambulance services, blood banks, and mortuary services.

 

Concerns:

  • A major concern about the policy is that under ‘principles’ of the financial structure, the document states that “there will be no reserved beds or no quota of beds for free services” in these facilities.
  • The policy document has also come under sharp criticism for the Ministry’s failure to consult with key stakeholders from civil society and academia.
  • Another particularly disturbing suggestion is that only Below Poverty Line (BPL) patients and those in insurance schemes will be able to access free care. This would effectively exclude hundreds of millions of the Indian population from vital hospital services.

 

Sources: the hindu.