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General Studies – 1
Reference: The Hindu
A new cold war has been on the unveil between USA and China since Trump administration in the form of Trade War and rhetoric. This has been touted as a major factor that will shape the upcoming world order. Middle powers like India and Japan can play a huge role in ensuring multipolarity and balanced world order rather than nations getting embroiled into the new super power rivalry. However, even the middle powers need to overcome many challenges in the current scenario.
Current geopolitics in the world and turbulent world order
- It is clear that the U.S. continues to view China as its principal adversary on the world stage and that it will use the Quad to challenge China in the Indo-Pacific, possibly as part of a “new Cold War”.
- This new Cold War was given concrete shape during the Trump presidency when the ravages of the pandemic made the President and his officials demonise China. Then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on like-minded nations to curb China’s growth, reduce its influence in international institutions, and “induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways”, a clarion call for regime change.
- The U.S.’s hostility for Russia goes back to the latter’s war with Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, followed by allegations of Russian cyber-interference in the U.S. presidential elections of 2016.
- Biden continues this hostility for Russia. U.S. animosity has encouraged China and Russia to solidify their relations.
- Besides significantly expanding their bilateral ties, the two countries have agreed to harmonise their visions under the Eurasian Economic Union sponsored by Russia and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- This idea has now been subsumed under the ‘Greater Eurasian Partnership’ to which both are committed.
- Both have condemned the Quad for “undermining global strategic stability”.
Thus, the new Cold War is now being reflected in a new geopolitical binary — the Indo-Pacific versus Eurasia.
Role of the middle powers in shaping new world order
- The final shape of this divide will be determined by four nations, namely Japan, Iran, Turkey and India, which, as “middle powers”, have the capacity to project power regionally, build alliances, and support (or disrupt) the strategies of international powers pursuing their interests in the region.
- On the face of it, their alignments are already in place: Japan and India are deeply entrenched in the Quad and have substantial security ties with the U.S.
- Iran, on the other hand, has for long been an outcaste in western eyes and has found strategic comfort with the Sino-Russian alliance.
- Turkey, a NATO member, has found its interests better-served by Russia and China rather than the U.S. and its European allies.
However, challenges remain as these countries are embroiled in a complex bilateral relation with each other.
Challenges by middle powers to balance the world order
- Japan: Japan has an ongoing territorial dispute with China relating to the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Japan depends too much on the U.S. for its security and too much on China for its prosperity.
- India: India’s ties with China have been caught in a vicious circle, as threats from China at the border and intrusions in its South Asian neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean became sharper, it moved closer to the U.S.
- Iran: The crippling sanctions on Iran and the frequent threats of regime change make it a natural ally of the Sino-Russian axis. However, its strategic culture eschews long-term security alignments.
- Turkey: The “neo-Ottomanism” of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, celebrating Turkey’s glory through military and doctrinal leadership across the former territories of the Ottoman empire, has been achieved through a steady distancing from its western partners and increasing geopolitical, military and economic alignment with Russia and China.
While Cold War advocates in home capitals and in the U.S. will continue to promote ever-tighter alliances, these nations (India, Japan, Turkey and Iran) could find salvation in “strategic autonomy” — defined by flexible partnerships, with freedom to shape alliances to suit specific interests at different times. These four middle powers will thus make multipolarity, rather than a new Cold War, the defining characteristic of the emerging global order.
2. There is an increasing perception that those at the helm of India’s independent institutions are too aligned with executive preferences. Discuss in the context of election commission and recent incidences therein. (250 words)
Reference: Hindustan Times
Conducting free and fair elections in a country that is perpetually and continually in poll mode, with political parties of all hues and pressures of varied degree, is not an enviable task by any standard. Though the ECI has largely succeeded in the job, high-stake elections invariably throw up situations where the ECI doesn’t just have to be fair, it also has to appear to be fair and neutral.
Some of the ECI’s decisions in the ongoing Assembly elections have sparked outrage among the Opposition parties, raising questions about the poll body’s independence.
Independent institutions and changing perceptions
- ECI’s decision such as the relaxation of the 48-hour ban on BJP Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma was termed as partial.
- Opposition parties blamed that ECI had “singularly failed” to discharge its obligations to preserve the purity of the electoral process.
- There was failure to prevent electoral violence and disturbances. Eg: Firing in Sitalkuchi after massive rioting like situation.
- Political party in power using state machinery to create disturbance and obstacles to free and fair elections were also noted by ECI.
- Despite ECI process in place, there was rampant use of money and muscle power in the Bengal elections. Eg: Attacks on leaders of rival parties, throwing stones on convoys and seizure of narcotics and money tells their rampant use in elections.
- The ECI usually takes a long time to respond to complaints and by the time it does so, the elections are long over.
Election commission and its mandate
- ECI must be fair and seen to be fair. This requires a consistent, rather than selective, application of principles.
- A firm crackdown on the increasing hate speech witnessed during campaigns and a clear approach to the use of religious symbols and rhetoric, from any side, for political mobilisation.
- A push for more transparency when it comes to electoral bonds and political financing.
- The ECI should set up a grievance redressal mechanism at the state level that deals promptly with complaints of rigging or foul play.
- The ECI should start sending Election Observers to polling state right away to oversee fair and transparent preparation of error-free electoral rolls and in order to ensure that the state administrative and police machinery works in accordance with the Constitution.
- Violations should be dealt with promptly and in an exemplary manner so that the message goes down the line that any aberrations on the part of officials will not be tolerated.
- The ECI should directly overlook the updation of electoral rolls so that biased state government employees cannot rig the rolls and indulge in foul play. For this to happen, the ECI should depute its own officers and those from other states to conduct random checks on the process of revising the rolls.
There is an increasing perception that those at the helm of India’s independent institutions are too aligned with executive preferences. With the ascension of a new Chief election Commissioner, ECI has an opportunity to build on its stellar record in India’s public life and ensure that elections which are a proud symbol of India’s constitutional and democratic traditions — are truly free and fair, by being independent and following the law in letter and spirit.
3. If India intends to announce an ambition for net-zero, then as a country that uses coal for more than 70% of its energy must ensure support for people and communities who are dependent on the coal sector. Comment. (250 words)
Reference: Indian Express
If India really intends to announce an ambition for net zero, then as a country which uses coal for more than 70 per cent of its energy, it will face daunting challenges. There are multiple pathways to achieve net-zero emissions, almost all of them require moving away from coal.
Globally, the conversation on net-zero emissions has almost always come after or gone hand-in-hand with a coal phaseout plan. Increasingly, this phaseout plan also carries elements of a “just transition”.
Need for Just Transition towards net-zero emissions
- In FY20, India consumed approximately 942 million tonnes (MT) of coal, 730 MT of which was produced domestically. Of this, approximately 666 MT was produced by CIL and SCCL, roughly employing about 2.24 lakh workers.
- This translates to about nine lakh people, based on a four-person household, who are dependent, at least partly, on coal mining.
- This does not include white-collar workers of CIL, discrepancies in mine-wise data, and the fact that not all mines are run for three shifts, underground mines are highly unproductive and older legacy mines have more workers than coal mines.
- Using different employment factors, one study has pegged direct coal jobs at 7,44,984, while another study pegs it at approximately 12,00,000.
- Further, these figures do not include contract employees working for mine development operators (MDOs), captive mines under private players, those employed in coal transportation activities — trucking, railways where coal accounts for about 40 per cent of total freight revenues — not to mention those employed in coal-consuming sectors like power, steel, sponge iron, etc.
- With all this, we have still only covered the formal direct and indirect jobs in the coal value chain.
- The challenge in transitioning coal workers in India is also in factors like education, skill levels, willingness to migrate, and caste.
- Without adequate information on these parameters, it becomes difficult to decide how and where to finance the transition.
- A transition away from coal must account for the loss to the state and district exchequer. Further, a number of welfare services in key coal-bearing districts are provided by the coal company operating there.
The key ingredients of what makes for a just transition are well established.
- Social dialogue in the workplace, along with respect for labour standards and human rights, economy-wide skills development and retraining, buttressed by social protection and safety nets.
- As many of the core high-carbon sectors are clustered in specific places, community renewal and regional development are crucial, along with macroeconomic strategy to connect the just transition with key climate policy levers (such as carbon pricing).
- In addition, a special focus needs to be placed on small and medium-sized enterprises, both along supply chains and in regional economies.
As the world heads towards COP26, the just transition will need to be part of every government’s COVID recovery plan as well as their nationally-determined contributions and long-term climate strategies. It needs to be part of every business plan and every finance strategy from banks and investors. If net-zero is the ‘what’, then the just transition is the ‘how’.
Reference: The Hindu
On April 7, the U.S.’s 7th Fleet Destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones, conducted a ‘Freedom of Navigation Operation’ 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands inside India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Not only was this exercise conducted without requesting India’s consent, but the U.S. 7th Fleet noted in its press release that India’s requirement of prior consent is “inconsistent with international law”.
Freedom of Navigation Operations
- It involves passages conducted by the US Navy through waters claimed by coastal nations as their exclusive territory.
- It reaffirms the US policy of exercising and asserting its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms around the world.
- This communicates that the US does not accept the excessive maritime claims of other nations, and thus prevents those claims from becoming accepted in international law.
- This is the first time the US Navy has issued a public statement giving details of the operation.
Key features in UNCLOS related to freedom of navigation
- Article 58 (1) provides that in the EEZ, all States, whether coastal or landlocked, enjoy, subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention, the freedoms referred to in Article 87 of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines as well as other internationally lawful uses of the sea.
- Article 87 provides for freedom of the high seas under which all states have the freedom of navigation. However, the freedom of navigation is subject to the conditions laid down under the UNCLOS and other rules of international law.
- In addition to it, Article 58 (3) stipulates another qualification: “In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State”
India-USA interpretation and way forward
- On a conjoint reading of Articles 58, 87 and 310, it can be argued that freedom of navigation cannot be read in an absolute and isolated manner.
- Given the nature of EEZ and the activities that a coastal state conducts in its EEZ, non-consensual military activities that hinder the lawful enjoyment of such rights need not be permissible.
- Also, a coastal state is naturally concerned about military exercises and manoeuvres posing a risk to its coastal communities, its installations or artificial islands, as well as the marine environment.
- Thus, any state which wishes to conduct such exercises must do so only in consultation with the coastal state since the coastal state is the best judge of its EEZ.
Both India and the U.S. should negotiate such concerns for the maintenance of international peace and security. Riding roughshod over international obligations premised either in an erroneous interpretation of the law or the scope of its application will not only threaten friendly relations but also undermine the progress made towards codification and development of international law in an area such as the law of the sea, which is particularly complex.
General Studies – 3
Reference: Live Mint
India’s second wave of the covid pandemic is advancing at a frightening pace. On the economic policy front, a sharp contraction has upended the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act. This calls for reformation and relook of the Act that will better suit the current requirements.
Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM)
- The original FRBM Act set a target for the Centre’s annual fiscal deficit ratio (FD) at 3% of gross domestic product (GDP).
- The states were subsequently persuaded to legislate their own FRBM Acts, limiting a state’s FD to 3% of its own GDP.
- This translated to a combined FD target of 5.8%.
Such an arbitrary setting of FD targets, unrelated to the actual requirements of debt sustainability and independent of the prevailing state of the economy, makes fiscal policy pro-cyclical and inherently destabilizing.
Reformation of FRBM needed
The government should start by defining a clear objective, based not on arbitrary targets but on sound first principles: It should aim to ensure debt sustainability. To this end, the government could adopt a strategy based on four principles.
- Remove multiple fiscal criteria: The current FRBM sets targets for the overall deficit, the revenue deficit and debt. Such multiple criteria impede the objective of ensuring sustainability since the targets can conflict with each other, This creates confusion about which one to follow and thereby obfuscating accountability.
- Target must not be fixed: Around the world, countries are realising that deficit targets of 3 per cent of GDP and debt targets of 60 per cent of GDP lack proper economic grounding. In India’s case, they take no account of the country’s own fiscal arithmetic or its strong political will to repay its debt. Any specific target, no matter how well-grounded, encouraging governments to transfer spending off-budget such as with the “oil bonds” in the mid-2000s and subsidies more recently.
- Focus on one measure for guiding fiscal policy: In this regard, Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felmanwe propose targeting the primary balance. This concept is new to India and will take time for the public to absorb and accept. But it is inherently simple and has the eminent virtue that it is closely linked to meeting the overall objective of ensuring debt sustainability.
- Have a long-term plan: The Centre should not set out yearly targets for the primary balance. Instead, it should announce a plan to improve the primary balance gradually, by say half a percentage point of GDP per year on average. Doing so will make it clear that it will accelerate consolidation when times are good, moderate it when times are less buoyant, and end it when a small surplus has been achieved. This strategy is simple and easy to communicate; it is gradual and hence feasible.
Economic disruption caused by the COVID has prompted calls for a relook at the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM). The introduction of the FRBM in 2003 reflected the belief that setting strict limits on fiscal deficits, both for the centre and the states, was the solution. But this framework didn’t work. It is time to learn from past experience and adapt. Adopting a simple new fiscal framework based on the primary balance could be the way forward.
Reference: Indian Express
Namami Gange Programme is an umbrella programme which integrates previous and currently ongoing initiatives by enhancing efficiency, extracting synergies and supplementing them with more comprehensive & better coordinated interventions. National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) endeavours to deploy best available knowledge and resources across the world for Ganga rejuvenation. NMCG was awarded the distinction of “Public Water Agency of the Year” by Global Water Intelligence at the Global Water Summit in London.
Salient features of Namami Gange programme:
- River front development.
- Conservation of Aquatic life and biodiversity
- Improvement of coverage of sewerage infrastructure in habitations on banks of Ganga.
- River Surface cleaning for collection of floating solid waste from the surface of the Ghats and River
- Industrial Effluent Monitoring
- Development of Ganga Gram
- Creating Public Awareness
Performance of Namami Gange
Namami Gange has a well-balanced spread of 221 projects, which include STP, ghat development, surface cleaning afforestation, sanitation, and public awareness, out of which 58 have been completed.
- There is a concerted focus on 10 towns that contribute to 64% of the total sewage discharged in Ganga.
- To address the cross-functional challenge faced by GAP, Namami Gange has synergized itself with government schemes by signing MoUs with 10 central ministries.
- More than 90 per cent villages across river Ganga have been declared open defecation free, and by October 2017, the rest of the villages would become ODF as well.
- Six public outreach programmes were organised in areas around Ganga basin:
- Swachhata Pakhwada
- Ganga Sankalp Divas
- Ganga Nirikshan Yatra
- Ganga Dusshera
- Ganga Vriksharopan Saptah
- Swachhta Hi Seva Pakhwada
- The programme has also successfully renovated over 180 ghats and built 112 new crematoriums.
- 4,464 villages situated on the bank of Ganga have been declared as open defecation free (ODF). Moreover, Namami Gange was instrumental in constructing more than 12.7 lakhs household toilets.
- Trash skimmers have been deployed in 11 cities to collect any surface waste.
- Pollution: Most of the Ganga is polluted and it is due to presence of five states on the river’s main stem i.e. Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.
- Industrial pollution from tanneries in Kanpur, distilleries, paper and sugar mills in the Kosi, Ramganga and Kali river catchments are major contributors.
- Violation of e-Flow Norms: According to the Central Water Commission (CWC), 4 of the 11 hydro power projects on the upper reaches of the river Ganga’s tributaries are violating Ganga ecological flow (e-flow) norms which is further interrupting the natural flow of the river.
- Illegal Construction: The problem of illegal and rampant construction near river beds has become a major hurdle in cleaning the river.
- Poor Governance: There is less utilisation of funds allotted under the programmes due to lack of monitoring and supervision.
Ganga is an integral part of the socio-eco-cultural-political fabric of India. However, the longest river has faced the brunt of increasing industrialization, which has not only affected the flow but also the quality of its water. Namami Gange Programme aims to restore the purity and flow of water in the Ganga River through abatement of pollutants and treatment of discharged water. Namami Gange has not only taken lessons from the failure of GAP, but, it has also ensured cross-state cooperation as well as public support to expedite the processes.
In irrigation, Water Use Efficiency (WUE) represents the ratio between effective water use and actual water withdrawal. It characterizes, in a specific process, how effective is the use of water. Efficiency is scale and process dependent. Productivity is a ratio between a unit of output and a unit of input. Here, the term water productivity is used exclusively to denote the amount or value of product over volume or value of water depleted or diverted. India is targeting for ‘More crop per drop’ and hence becomes important for Indian farmers amidst water crisis.
Measures to enhance water-use efficiency and water productivity in agriculture
- The key principles for improving water productivity at field, farm and basin level, which apply regardless of whether the crop is grown under rainfed or irrigated conditions, are:
- Increase the marketable yield of the crop for each unit of water transpired by it;
- Reduce all outflows (e.g., drainage, seepage and percolation), including evaporative outflows other than the crop stomatal transpiration; and
- Increase the effective use of rainfall, stored water, and water of marginal quality.
- Enhancing water productivity at plant level: Plant-level options rely mainly on germplasm improvements, g., improving seedling vigour, increasing rooting depth, increasing the harvest index (the marketable part of the plant as part of its total biomass), and enhancing photosynthetic efficiency.
- Raising water productivity at field level: Improved practices at field level relate to changes in crop, soil and water management. They include:
- selecting appropriate crops and cultivars; planting methods (e.g., on raised beds);
- minimum tillage;
- timely irrigation to synchronize water application with the most sensitive growing periods;
- nutrient management; drip irrigation; and
- improved drainage for water table control.
- Deficit irrigation: One of the field-level methods for increasing water productivity is deficit irrigation, where deliberately less water is applied than that required to meet the full crop water demand.
- The prescribed water deficit should result in a small yield reduction that is less than the concomitant reduction in transpiration.
- Therefore, it causes a gain in water productivity per unit of water transpired. In addition, it could lower production costs if one or more irrigations could be eliminated.
- For deficit irrigation to be successful, farmers need to know the deficit that can be allowed at each of the growth stages and the level of water stress that already exists in the rootzone
Measures taken by government in this regard
- Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) was launched to enable mirco-irrigation through its Per Drop More Crop (PDMC) component.
- Saving of irrigation water from 20 to 48 per cent.
- Energy saving from 10 to 17 per cent.
- Saving of labour cost from 30 to 40 per cent.
- Saving of fertilizers from 11 to 19 per cent.
- Increase in crop production from 20 to 38 per cent.
- Micro Irrigation Fund (MIF): Centre set up a Micro Irrigation Fund under NABARD with a corpus of 2000cr and 3000cr for 2019 and 2020 respectively.
- Assistance to states will be given at concessional rates.
- The target is to bring 10 million hectares under Micro-Irrigation.
- National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture: The on-farm water management component promotes efficient technologies and equipments and the main focus is on water use efficiency. Micro-irrigation is a part of this.
- A total amount of 82 crores had been allocated to on-farm water management under NMSA.
Farmers will adopt the technology if economic return is more. Hence economic considerations can be incorporated with more engineering approaches to keep water productivity more relevant in economic criteria.