SECURE SYNOPSIS: 16 May 2017
NOTE: Please remember that following ‘answers’ are NOT ‘model answers’. They are NOT synopsis too if we go by definition of the term. What we are providing is content that both meets demand of the question and at the same time gives you extra points in the form of background information.
General Studies – 1;
Topic: changes in critical geographical features (including waterbodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
Forests and climate are intrinsically linked: forest loss and degradation is both a cause and an effect of our changing climate. This relationship was explicitly recognized in the recently held UN Climate Change Conference, COP 21 in Paris in 2015.
Interrelationship between forests and Climate Change-
- Forests influence climate change largely by affecting the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When forests grow, carbon is removed from the atmosphere and absorbed in wood, leaves and soil. Because forests can absorb and store carbon over an extended period of time, they are considered “carbon sinks”. This carbon remains stored in the forest ecosystem, but can be released into the atmosphere when forests are burned.
- In the context of climate change, the most important thing about mature forests is not that they reduce the amount of CO2 in the air but that they are huge reservoirs of stored carbon.
- If trees are planted where previously there weren’t any, they will on soak up CO2 as they grow, reducing the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It is thought that trees, plants and other land-based “carbon sinks” currently soak up more than a quarter of all the CO2 that humans add to the air each year – though that figure could change as the planet warms.
- The relationship between trees and local and global temperature is more complicated than the simple question of the greenhouse gases they absorb and emit. Forests have a major impact on local weather systems and can also affect the amount of sunlight absorbed by the planet: a new area of trees in a snowy region may create more warming than cooling overall by darkening the land surface and reducing the amount of sunlight reflected back to space.
- The agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors account for about a quarter of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and are the largest sources after cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships combined. By reducing forest loss, we can reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.
- As deforestation and forest degradation have such a significant impact on climate change, reducing forest loss can have multiple benefits for ecosystems and people. These include cutting greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon, providing other ecosystems services, and maintaining intact, functioning forests that have the best chance of withstanding climate change.
- Forests have four major roles in climate change: they currently contribute about one-sixth of global carbon emissions when cleared, overused or degraded; they react sensitively to a changing climate; when managed sustainably, they produce wood-fuels as a benign alternative to fossil fuels; and finally, they have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century into their biomass, soils and products and store them – in principle in perpetuity.
Forests, Climate Change and Paris agreement-
Between 30 November and 11 December 2015, world leaders gathered in Paris for one of the biggest climate conferences of all times. COP21 marked a defining moment for the global community to come together and collectively show their resolve towards “changing climate change”. The deal reached delivered much of what stakeholders were asking for – the explicit mention of forests in the agreement sent an indisputable signal that actions to halt deforestation and forest degradation will have to be a part of high level domestic political agendas, and no longer a marginal topic.
As more scientific information about global warming accumulates, climate change is emerging as perhaps the greatest environmental challenge of the twenty-first century. What is more, a virtual Pandora’s box of major global threats, such as hunger, poverty, population growth, armed conflict, displacement, air pollution, soil degradation, desertification and deforestation are intricately intertwined with and all contribute to climate change, necessitating a comprehensive approach to a solution. Rising to this challenge will entail unprecedented cooperation among the world’s nations and strong support from international organizations concerned.
General Studies – 2
Topic: Important aspects of governance,
The present Indian government is elected with the slogan of ‘Minimum government, Maximum governance’. A citizen friendly and accountable administration is the focus of such type of government.
Minimum Government and Maximum Governance-
- Minimum government, when understood as the kind practised by Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. or Ronald Reagan in the U.S., meant a complete retreat of the state from spheres of economic activity. But in the Indian context it has some different meaning. It means government will have to do things very differently ie less activity in some spheres, much more activity in others.
- In Indian context, state should retreat from spheres where it plays an obviously counterproductive role, like in making it difficult to do business through over-regulation or by overspending and busting the fiscal deficit, particularly on careless populism, with the end results being a crowding out of the productive private sector — which could use the same resources more efficiently and the easing of inflationary pressures on the economy.
- On the other hand, it’s important to remember that minimum government is suffixed by maximum governance. At India’s level of per capita income, the state cannot retreat altogether. However, it has to be more efficient in carrying out its activities, whether it is the essential task of providing security/law and order or the provision of public goods like sanitation, primary education and primary health care or in the building of critical infrastructure like roads, ports and railways, all areas where private sector participation is bound to be limited.
Has the principle of Maximum governance implemented in India during last 3 years?
- The present government is encouraging participation of private players through initiatives like Public-Private Partnership (PPP) particularly in infrastructural projects, Labor reforms, making provisions for ease of doing business (single window clearance), increased FDI in different sectors etc.
- On the public sector, there is an attempt to weed out the underperforming enterprises which cannot survive without government dole while strengthening and giving autonomy to those which can thrive.
- Union government has rationalized the Centrally Sponsored Schemes, abolished Planning Commission which adopted ‘top-down’ and ‘One Size Fits All’ approach, increased the devolution of to the states to 42% of the total revenue collection of the union government etc to increase the proactive roles of the state in nation building. For the first time, States have a say in Union policy — subcommittees of CMs have studied Skill India, Swachh Bharat, centrally sponsored schemes and digital payments.
- The current government has emphasized the use of technology to reduce bureaucratic and administrative corruption. For eg use of Jandhan-Aadhar-Mobile (JAM) trinity, Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), incentives for digital transactions etc.
- Constitutionally, several critical policy subjects are in the domain of States (either in the State list or concurrent list) including land and labour policies, education and health. On land and labour, which are in the concurrent list, the Union government is encouraging States to legislate liberal laws. Some States have begun working on these.
- The NITI Aayog is facilitating the work on land through providing model land-leasing laws. There is now a ranking of States on the Ease of Doing Business. There will soon be indices for health, education and water outcomes. Union government’s role is limited to conceptualizing the indices and monitoring their integrity and, of course, sharing best practices and model laws. The rest is in the domain of States.
Although there are several initiatives in the direction of ‘Minimum government, Maximum governance’, there are certain skepticisms about this as some of the policies of the government do not exhibit this principle. Nation is waiting for Police and Administrative reforms, to bridge trust deficit between citizens and government, to improve administrative accessibility etc. Government seems to have over-regulated the CBFC, have made laws on the dietary habits of the people etc. India still lacks fiscal federalism particularly for the third tier of the government (Panchayats), which are grossly under-funded.
Although there are several limitations, a beginning has certainly been made towards the achieving Maximum governance through Minimum government. The over-regulated economy cannot be expected to change overnight and it may take years to make these changes.
Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
3) What are the objectives of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY)? Evaluate its performance and comment if allocating more fund to this scheme would help overcome some of its shortcomings. (200 Words)
With a dramatic increase in population through the early years of this millennium, and a lack of corresponding growth in employment opportunities and wealth, it became evident that social security and healthcare for all was a pressing demand.
In order to address this concern, the government of India had enacted the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act in 2008. The act made it incumbent on the government of India to provide for the welfare of workers in the unorganized sectors. In an effort to compensate these workers for their out-of-pocket (OOP) health expenses, the government launched the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) in 2008. The RSBY is a health insurance scheme for families living below the poverty line.
Objectives of the Rashtriya Swastha Bima Yojana-
- To provide financial protection against catastrophic health costs by reducing OOP;
- To improve access to quality healthcare for below poverty line households of pocket expenditure for hospitalization and other vulnerable groups in the unorganized sector.
Scheme Rollout and Target Beneficiaries
The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) is a health insurance scheme that aims at providing health insurance coverage to the poor families of India. It provides cashless insurance coverage for hospitalization in both private and public hospitals. The cost of the insurance premium is borne by both the central (75 percent) and state (25 percent) governments. Initially, the scheme was launched by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, but was transferred to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on 1 April, 2015.
The RSBY was rolled out in 25 states of the country on 1 April, 2008. By February 2014, a total of 36 million families have been covered under the scheme.
The initial intention of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY) was to provide healthcare and financial relief only for those the Below Poverty Line (BPL). It later evolved, however, to cover other workers and their families not initially envisaged within the purview of the scheme –
These include –
- MNREGA workers who have been employed for over 15 days in the previous financial year
- Domestic helpers and workers
- Sanitation workers
- Miners and mine workers
- Rickshaw pullers and auto and taxi drivers
- Street vendors and railway porters
Details of the RSBY-
According to the RSBY as launched in 2008 –
- Every BPL family holding a valid ration card may enrol to avail the insurance benefits as extended by the scheme;
- INR 30 will be charged as a one-time registration fee;
- Upto 5 members of the family including one head of household, spouse and three dependent persons (children or parents) may be covered under the insurance scheme;
- Each family is entitled to claim (cashless) inpatient medical care up to INR 30,000 per annum;
- The hospitalization may be done in any of the empanelled hospitals;
- Pre-existing ailments will be covered from Day 1 of the enrolment;
- Each family may also claim transport expenses of INR 100 per hospitalisation subject to a maximum of INR 1000 per family per annum.
- The number of families that are enrolled in RSBY has gone up from 4 million on 31st March 2009 to 34.16 million on 28th February 2013. Beginning with 12,500 hospitalization cases in the financial year 2008-09, it has increased to 1.75 million such cases in 2011-12.
- There are about 171 million persons living-in-households-with-a-RSBY-Smart Card and 119 million of them are enrolled in the scheme.
- Enrolment of Females in the scheme has increased by 20% from Round 1 to Round 4. Also, for the enrolled females, the average female hospitalization ratio (total female hospitalization cases/total females enrolled) has increased from 4.53% to 6.6% during the same period.
- World Bank has observed that “The experience with the design and implementation of theRashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) in particular, is one of the most promising efforts in India to bridge this gap by providing health insurance to millions of poor households. The program is now internationally recognized for its innovative approach to harnessing information technology to reach the poor.”
However the recent assessment conducted by the Council for Social Development and published in its latest report, “India: Social Development Report 2014” observed many drawbacks of the scheme.
- Study found that despite high enrolment in RSBY, catastrophic health expenditures (when medical expenses push a family into poverty), hospitalization expenditure have steadily increased, for both in-patients and outpatients, over the last two decades. Government-financed health insurance schemes like RSBY are providing insignificant protection against catastrophic health expenditure.
- The relatively poor households which are covered under RSBY, reported an increase in out-of-pocket expenditure for hospital care.
- Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, hospitalization expenses have increased at a much higher rate (9.2%) compared to outpatient expenses (4.5%) or medicines (4.85%). The poorer income sections in RSBY have indeed experienced a rise in catastrophic headcount, a conclusive proof that RSBY and other state run insurance programs have failed to provide financial risk protection,” the report noted.
- Further the scheme is fraught with exclusion error and inclusion error. The study concluded that RSBY was being used mostly by those who already had better access (to healthcare services) and the most marginalized sections were being excluded further.
- In many cases doctors and hospitals are found perform unnecessary surgical operations to claim the money of insurance.
- Major design flaw in RSBY and other such state health insurance programs is their narrow focus on secondary and tertiary care hospitalization.
Would allocation of more funds sort out the problems?
Shortage of funds has been evergreen problem with the most of the social sector schemes and RSBY is no exception to it. The increase in funds would indeed increase the reach of the scheme and may also help in including other treatments under the schemes which are currently excluded from it. The money could also be invested towards achieving better monitoring, bringing awareness among people and adopting sound grievance redressal mechanism. However some of the issues go beyond funding like corrupt practices of the doctors, reluctance of the people to avail the benefits of the scheme, minimizing inclusion and exclusion error etc. Thus along with increase in funding other dimensions of the scheme should also be strengthened.
Despite falling short of covering the entire BPL population of the country, the excellent work done by the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna cannot be denied. According to recent news reports, the total number of hospitalisation recorded under the RSBY scheme amounted to about 11.8 million (as on 31 March, 2016).
The scheme and its outreach, the benefits imparted to millions of poor people in the country has attracted praises and accolades from international organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, and the International Labour Organisation. Germany has shown a keen interest in studying the smart card model with an intention to adopt it for its own social security schemes.
Topic: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
4) How will India be affected in future by China’s the Belt and Road Initiative (B&R)?Do you think it’s non-participation in this initiative shows that India is nervous? Critically comment. (200 Words)
Recently China concluded its first Belt and Road Forum. While 130 countries participated, of which at least 68 are now part of the $900-billion infrastructure corridor project, India boycotted the event, making its concerns public hours before the forum commenced in Beijing. India’s reservations, according to External Affairs Ministry are threefold.
- One, the B&RI’s flagship project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes projects in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, ignoring India’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
- Two, the B&RI infrastructure project structure smacks of Chinese neo-colonialism, and could cause an “unsustainable debt burden for communities” with an adverse impact on the environment in the partner countries.
- And three, there is a lack of transparency in China’s agenda, indicating that New Delhi believes the B&RI is not just an economic project but one that China is promoting for political control.
How India would be affected?
- India could miss out an opportunity to build and utilize massive infrastructural projects in areas like Roads, Railways, ports etc. For sustaining high economic growth, India needs huge investment in such infrastructural projects. India on its own is finding it difficult to finance them.
- ‘Belt and Road’ initiative or ‘One Belt, One Road’ is inter-continental connectivity project. The slowing world economy could be rejuvenated through such projects. India cannot afford to lose out on such trans-regional project on account of hegemonic issues with the China.
- Indian budding industries need markets beyond India to grow, expand and to compete with the best industries of the world. Refusing to join OBOR could place Indian Industries at the disadvantageous position vis-à-vis other nation’s industries.
- The increasing wider and broader support to the China’s OBOR could invite geo-strategic isolation to India in near future. This could reduce India’s influence over the countries in the neighborhood and extended neighborhood.
- India is mulling over a plan to create its own connectivity projects like Project Mausam, BBIN etc. China’s OBOR could act as stimulus and intensify India’s efforts to build infrastructure projects in Asia-Pacific region.
- China’s aggressive approach has brought like-minded countries like India, Japan etc together to counter the Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific and Eurasian region.
- India is too big country to overlook and to invite international isolation. The hype and fear factor created by Chinese media has little merit and substance in it. However India should learn from its past mistakes and should hasten the process of project building in other countries like Myanmar, Iran etc.
- By avoiding China’s OBOR, India could prevent itself from getting entangled into Chinese debt trap and thereby allowing it to dictate its terms.
Is India nervous in non-participation in OBOR?
Rather than being nervous, India is more skeptical of joining OBOR. As mentioned earlier, CPEC violates the territorial integrity of India and despite India’s vocal protest, China has been reluctant to address India’s concerns.
Further China has fallen short of bringing transparency and status of equality among member nations of OBOR. The project is Chinese revelation and is being executed unilaterally which makes India skeptical of joining it.
The geopolitical intentions of the China seem to have been hidden behind the economic outlook of the project. This could hamper the India’s position in Eurasian region.
Both India and China are emerging economies and need to co-operate each other in order to achieve high level of socio-economic development. If China adopts the attitude of mutual cooperation and allays India’s concerns regarding territorial sovereignty and transparency, OBOR could prove to be game changer for both the countries.
General Studies – 3
Topic:; Environmental pollution; Mobilization of resources
5) Do you think adopting a multilaterally coordinated imposition of a carbon tax as a potent mitigation policy against climate change effects – both from environment and market perspective? Critically examine. (200 Words)
A carbon tax aims to internalise the externality of climate change by setting a price on the carbon content of energy consumed or greenhouse gas emitted in the production or consumption of goods.
Multilaterally coordinated imposition of carbon tax as a potent mitigation policy-
Harmonised carbon taxes hold advantages over quantitative limits imposed through government control and regulation.
- First, a carbon tax regime avoids the problems related to choosing a baseline. In a price approach, the natural baseline is a zero carbon tax.
- Second, a carbon tax policy will be better able to adapt to the element of uncertainty which pervades the science of climate change. Quantity limits on emissions are related to the stocks of greenhouse gas emissions, while the price limits are related to the flow of emissions.
- From this uncertainty arises another complication of price volatility which is the third reason why a carbon tax policy is likely to cause less volatility in the prices of carbon emissions.
- Fourth, quantity limiting policies are often accompanied by administrative arbitrariness and corruption through rent-seeking. This sends off negative signals to investors. In a price-based carbon tax, the investor has an assured long-term regulation to adapt to and can weigh in the costs involved.
- Fifth, the most contentious issue in any international negotiation on climate change mitigation either at the level of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been the issue of equity between high-income and low-income countries. The price-based approach in the form of carbon taxes makes it easier to implement such equity-based international adjustments than the quantity-based approach.
- Finally, the carbon tax will essentially be a Pigovian Tax which balances the marginal social costs and benefits of additional emissions, thereby internalising the costs of environmental damage. It can act as an incentive for consumers and producers to shift to more energy-efficient sources and products.
- Some countries and regions such as the U.S. and the European Union already have fairly successful carbon pricing regimes in place in the form of carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes. Some other countries have introduced general taxes on energy consumption instead of direct taxes on carbon content. This can be a good starting point for a shift in policy by countries while they deliberate on a harmonised carbon tax regime.
- The political consensus in favour of a direct carbon tax will be difficult to achieve in low- and middle-income countries that have developmental priorities and lack the capacity to administer such regimes. A general tax on energy consumption combined with a technology-centric policy that promotes entrepreneurs and investors who develop low-energy intensive products can be a good starting point from where they can gradually move towards a direct carbon tax.
- Another near-term approach can be a ‘cap-and-tax’ which combines the strengths of both quantity and price approaches. Cap-and-tax might also address the concerns of environmentalists that a price-based approach does not impose hard constraints on emissions.
Topic: Infrastructure – energy
Thermal power sector is being engulfed by different challenges like environmental hazards, difficulties in clearances, availability of cheap coal from abroad, competition from renewable energy resources etc. In such scenario, the sustainability of existing plants and feasibility of new thermal plants is being questioned.
Risks involved in the thermal power market-
- Thermal power plants are increasingly facing lower capacity utilization. More than one-third of India’s total thermal power capacity is currently stranded and the rest is running at 55% utilization. This spells trouble for the lenders to these thermal projects, mainly state-owned banks, since lower capacity utilization translates to falling recoveries.
- Longer construction periods for thermal plants (three-four years), compared to renewable sources of power (12-14 months), is another important aspect for risk evaluation. Delays in obtaining environmental clearances, affecting 89% of the projects, according to a recent Comptroller and Auditor General of India report, could additionally prolong the construction of thermal plants.
- The longer commissioning cycles, combined with higher likelihood of delays, makes investment in thermal power significantly riskier than that in renewables.
- The ministry of environment’s 2015 notification mandating stricter emission and water usage standards to minimize environmental impacts of running coal-based plants has also been troubling the sector. Leaving aside the zero comparison on emissions, a coal-based thermal power plant takes around 3.8 cubic metre/MW of water as compared to 0.1 cubic metre/MW for solar, and almost nil for wind. Going forward, water usage could lead to conflict between thermal power producers and local communities, especially in water-scarce regions of the country.
- Thermal power producers have been cantankerous about upgrading technology to meet these above standards due to high costs and complicated procedures. Stricter standards are also likely to increase the cost of power for ordinary consumers.
- Volatility in imported coal prices and the uncertainty around cost-efficiency of domestic coal production add more concern.
Is it prudent to invest in the Thermal Power Sector?
The growing risk profile for thermal power plants is likely to result in increasing cost of capital for thermal projects. At the same time, with the tariffs for both wind and solar power dropping to unprecedented levels, power sector investors may shift focus to renewables.
However it must be taken into account that coal based power plants constitute around 60% of share in India’s electricity generations. Thus India cannot afford to reduce its dependence on coal based thermal power plants and shift to renewable energies entirely at this stage. Hence India needs to invest in existing thermal power plants to improve their efficiency, to work on reducing pollution from these plants, to invest in exploring coal mines etc.
At the same time government should expand the basket of renewable energy whose share could be increased gradually in the total electricity generation.
Thus at the moment it would be imprudent if Indian government who has promised electricity to all by 2022, reduces the investment in thermal sector drastically.