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Daily Current affairs 11 January 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

Let the grassroots breathe Editorial 11th Jan’19 TheHindu

Minimum educational qualification for local body elections in Rajasthan introduced in 2015:

  • The previous Rajasthan government has introduced amendments in 2015 for local body elections.
  • As per those, candidates contesting the zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections should have passed Class 10 and those contesting sarpanch elections should have passed Class 8.
  • Toilets also required: Further, it disallowed those without functional toilets in their home to contest.

Haryana followed:

  • Following this, Haryana also introduced similar requirements for contesting local body elections.

Some activists say prescribing educational qualifications is problematic:

  • Some activists say prescribing educational qualifications for contesting elections is problematic in multiple ways.
  • They say it restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections (and restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice) and thereby challenges the basic premise of a republican democracy.
  • Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor.
  • In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations.
  • Not applicable to Parliament or Assemblies:
    • Such restrictions do not exist for those contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections.
    • In fact, in the present Lok Sabha, 13% of MPs are under-matriculates

Challenged in Courts:

  • The decisions by the Rajasthan and Haryana governments were criticised by some sections and challenged in the courts.

Court upheld the requirements for contesting elections:

  • In December 2015, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Rajbala v. State of Haryanaupheld the validity of the amendments to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act.
  • The court held that prescription of educational qualification was justifiable for better administration and did not violate the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.

Rationale for restrictions

  • It is important to look at the underlying rationale for introducing educational qualifications specifically for local government elections.
  • In Rajbala case, the court held that prescription of educational qualification is relevant for “better administration of the panchayats”.

 

Now reversed in Rajasthan:

  • One of the first decisions of the newly elected government in Rajasthan has been to scrap this minimum educational qualification criteria for candidates contesting local body elections.
  • This has once again revived the debate on the fairness of having such restrictions.

 

Are local governments for administration or representative democracy?

The amendments and judgement focus on administration:

  • In Rajbala case, the court held that prescription of educational qualification is relevant for “better administration of the panchayats”.

Activists say local governments shouldn't be measured in administration terms:

  • Activists say that State governments and courts place a premium on administration over representation in case of local governments.
  • They criticize that local governments are being seen as administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments.
  • They also note that it is not established that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats.
  • They say that the disqualification of candidates who don’t have toilets in their home is clearly an example where the implementation of a Central programme like the Swachh Bharat Mission gets precedence over the need for representative government.

Activists call for focus on the representative nature of local bodies than administration:

  • Activists say that the educational and other restrictions reveal that State governments and courts do not value local governments for their representative character.
  • They say this approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.
  • Delaying of elections also goes against representative nature:
    • They say undermining of local governments as representative institutions does not take place solely through the introduction of restrictions for contesting elections.
    • Often it takes the form of not holding elections to local governments.
      • Over the years, many State governments have sought to defang local governments by simply delaying elections on various grounds.
      • Elections to panchayats and municipalities in Tamil Nadu have not been held since 2011.
      • In Visakhapatnam, elections to its Municipal Corporation were last held in 2007.
      • These local governments now function as bureaucratic machines without an elected council to hold them accountable.
    • The continual delay in elections goes against the purpose of the 73rd and 74th Amendments which listed the “absence of regular elections” and “prolonged supersessions” as stated reasons behind their introduction.
    • These amendments also mandated the creation of a State Election Commission (SEC) in each State for the preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of elections to panchayats and municipalities.
    • However, in most States, tasks like delimitation of seats are still done by the State government instead of the SEC.
    • It is often under the guise of delimitation of seats that local government elections are delayed, especially when the party in power fears losses.

 

Conclusion - current system preventing the local governments from becoming truly representative institutions:

  • India prides itself as a robust democracy, at least in the procedural sense, with regular elections and smooth transfer of power.
  • However, the absence of elected councils in some local governments punches holes in this claim.
  • The lack of noise around the denial of local democracy reveals a collective bias regarding the place of local governments.
  • Delaying elections and adding restrictions to contest prevent local governments from becoming truly representative institutions.

 

Importance:

GS Paper II: Polity & Governance

 

Relevant question:

Does the growing practice of making the local bodies administrative agencies for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments and consequent requirements for qualifications undermine their significance of these bodies as representative institutions? Substantiate with arguments.

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Section : Editorial Analysis

 

The money for nothing idea

The topic

  • Sikkim is set to become the first state in India to roll out Universal Basic Income (UBI).

 

Background

  • India has made considerable progress in bringing down poverty from about 70% of the population at the time of independence to about 22% in 2011-12 (Tendulkar Committee estimates).
  • However, the effectiveness of the targeted schemes run by central and state governments have always been in question.
  • Studies and government audits reflect that there is data manipulation and leakages in the system, where the poor and deserving are crowded out of BPL card ownership and the rich are reaping undeserved benefits.
  • Targeting is seen as being both inefficient and inequitable, a licence for corruption that has spawned an entire industry of middlemen.
  • In this context, as an idea, UBI has been hailed by both left-leaning thinkers such as John Kenneth Galbraith as a means of fostering social justice and equal opportunity, as well as those on the right, including Milton Friedman, as a way of restoring individual choice and freedom and reigning in the influence of the state.
  • The 2017 Economic Surveyhad also flagged the UBI scheme as “a conceptually appealing idea” and a possible alternative to social welfare programmes targeted at bringing down poverty.
  • Now, the Sikkim intends to implement the UBI in its state.

 

About Universal Basic Income (UBI)

  • A basic income is a regular, periodic cash payment delivered unconditionally to all citizens on an individual basis, without requirement of work or willingness to work.
  • The five broad features of such schemes are:
    • Payments at periodic regular intervals (not one-off grants).
    • Payments in cash (not food vouchers or service coupons).
    • Payments to individuals.
    •  
    •  
  • UBI is an idea that is, like many rights, both unconditional and universal, one that requires that every person should have a right to a basic income to cover their needs, just by virtue of being citizens.
  • UBI envisages an uncompromised social safety net that seeks to assure a dignified life for everyone, a concept that is expected to gain traction in a global economy buffeted by uncertainties on account of globalisation, technological change, and automation.
  • Typically, UBI would require subsumption of other subsidies and allowances in order to free up resources so that a particular amount can be directed to people on a periodic basis.
  • The differences among the several models being tried out across geographies relate mainly to the scale of the project, quantum of income, source of funding, and cuts in other transfers.

 

Global precedents

  • Several governments have tried out UBI policies.
  • Finland recently concluded a two-year experiment on its effects on unemployed citizens, which commenced in January 2017.
  • Earlier, the government of Ontario, Canada, had announced a plan to test a kind of unconditional income guarantee.
  • Some cities in the Netherlands have launched municipal-level trials.
  • Barcelona in Spain has tested several potential changes to its anti-poverty programmes, including unconditional cash payments.
  • Among nongovernmental attempts, two US-based nonprofits have completed pilot studies and are preparing to launch privately-funded basic income experiments on a large scale.
  • The charity GiveDirectly is reportedly working on plans to initiate a 12-year randomised controlled trial (RCT) to test the effects of UBI in villages in rural Kenya.
  • In September 2018, nearly 600 people signed up for a UBI experiment launched by Swiss filmmaker Rebecca Panian in the northern Swiss town of Rheinau.

 

Highlights of the news

  • Sikkim’s ruling party, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) has decided to include UBI in its manifesto ahead of the 2019 Assembly elections later this year and aims to implement the scheme by 2022.
  • It says it has already started the process to introduce the unconditional direct cash transfers.
  • Sikkim has indicated that it will do away with most subsidies before launching its UBI scheme.
  • Indeed, subsuming other schemes is seen as an essential prerequisite, given the sheer number of schemes and programmes run by governments in India.
    • The Budget for FY18 showed there were about 950 central sector and centrally sponsored sub-schemes in the country, which accounted for about 5% of GDP by Budget allocation.
    • The top 11 schemes accounted for about 50% of the budgetary allocation the food subsidy or Public Distribution System (PDS) is the largest programme, followed by the urea subsidy and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
    • If the states were included, the number of schemes would be even larger.
  • The state will also restructure some social schemes and the “skewed” tax structure to find more resources.
  • With tourism being another source of revenue for the state, where the state gets around 2.5 million tourists a year, there could be some cess in future to generate additional resource to implement the scheme.

 

Significance of the move

  • In India, Sikkim appears to be the ideal testing ground for UBI because-
    • It is a surplus power generating state, which exports nearly 90% of the 2,200 MW that its hydel projects produce ensuring a steady revenue stream that other state typically lack.
    • It has a literacy rate of 98% and a BPL population way below the national average.
  • It is easier to implement in terms of getting money to the intended recipients, as it will minimize the involvement of middlemen in the process.
  • It will give people the power to spend on what they think is important for them.
  • The income will be regular in fashion and thus help alleviate poverty.
  • It will set a precedent for other states in India.

 

Criticism

  • None of the places where UBI has been tried have levels of income disparity that exist in India.
    • So, while the idea might work in Sikkim, it might not work in state like Bihar, where income disparity is huge.
  • It will be against progressive universalism
    • At its core, progressive universalismis a determination to ensure that people who are poor gain at least as much as those who are better off at every step of the way toward universal coverage, rather than having to wait and catch up as that goal is eventually approached.
    • In a draft report released last year, the World Bank suggested reading the policy of basic income “through the lens of ‘progressive universalism’”.
  • Does not prioritizes poor
    • The reason for maintaining conditional social assistance is to “prioritize those at the bottom of the [income] distribution”.
    • UBI is contrary to this.
  • Counter Productive
    • To implement (universal) basic income, it is important to dismantle centrally sponsored and central sector schemes such as Mid-Day Meal, PradhanMantri Gram SadakYojana, National Health Mission, PradhanMantriAwasYojana, SarvaShikshaAbhiyan, MGNREGS, and PDS.
    • Replacing these with cash transfers could be counterproductive.
  • Gender disparity will be induced as the decision maker and money controllers in families are usually the male candidates.
  • It could put stress on banking system.
  • It could reduce the labour supply in the market as the poor individual getting enough money for survival may not wish to work.

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Section : Economics

 

UPI 2.0 can turn into a mega Citizen- scale pay system

Why in news?

  • National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) is likely to launch the upgraded version of the UPI (Unified Payment Interface) 2.0 payment platform soon.
  • The second version of UPI is likely to include new features like doubling of the transaction limit to Rs 2 lakh and buyer-to-merchant payment facility that will promote merchant payments. The current UPI only allows for peer-to-peer payments,

What is UPI?

  • The Unified Payments Interface (UPI), the most advanced payment system in the world, was launched in 2016, designed on the principles of interoperability, consumer choice and forging partnerships between banks and fintechs, leveraging each other’s strengths.
  • Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is essentially a single platform that merges different banking services and features under one umbrella.
  • With a UPI-enabled bank account, a UPI ID can be created which can be used to send and transfer money.
  • With the use of UPI , a real-time bank-to-bank payments, and even transaction using Aadhaar number, mobile number or Virtual Payment Address (UPI ID) can be done easily.

Some key updates of the UPI 2.0:

  • Double transaction limit: The transaction limit is set to double from the earlier version to Rs 2 lakh
  • Overdraft account: UPI allows users to link only saving accounts, the upgrade would allow the users (i.e., the merchants) to link overdraft (OD) accounts to UPI, enabling them to continue withdrawing money even if the account doesn't have sufficient funds.
  • The merchants can block a certain amount in a customer’s account as security and debit it at a future date without additional authentication.
  • The facility will be useful for booking hotel rooms airline tickets, booking cab rides, ecommerce deliveries, buying stocks during IPOs and other transactions.
  • E-wallets may be allowed to be part of UPI 2.0. At present only bank accounts can be used for payments.
  • Standing instruction feature is also under consideration, however, the Reserve Bank of India has not approved the ‘standing instruction’ features
  • Invoicing facility: The new UPI will allow individuals or merchants to send an invoice along with a payment request in the Inbox.

Who are the major influencers for the digital revolution in India?

  • National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI): The regulator defining the landscape by innovation-led policies, fuelling new-age business models and maintaining security and risk management standards to highest levels.
  • The Government: The government is focused on moving towards a digital or less-cash economy.
  • Banks: Banks are also embracing technology to accelerate digital payments, proliferation of financial inclusion and superior customer services.
  • Innovators: Fin-tech innovators who are re-imagining solutions for our day-to-day problems and providing superior consumer experience for digital payments.

Milestones achieved in domestic payments in 2018:

  • India’s RuPay Card crossed 500 million and Bharat BillPay on-boarded over 100 billers in its ecosystem.
  • The Aadhaar payments services, too, surpassed 100 million unique customers every month.
  • After demonetisation, the UPI-based ‘Bharat Interface for Money’ (BHIM) app, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has acted as a catalyst to nudge many third-party providers to launch the UPI app.
  • Sticking to the design principle of “consumer choice”, there are now over 90 BHIM UPI apps provided by banks or third party providers to customers of 130 banks.
  • While it was a practice to look towards the latest trends in Silicon Valley in the US, with UPI, the West has turned to partner with India for innovation. Many global giants (Google, WhatsApp, Amazon, Samsung, Truecaller, Xiaomi, etc) and Indian unicorns (Paytm, PhonePe, Hike, etc) have joined the UPI bandwagon in collaboration with banks.
  • Unlike China that operates mobile payments mostly under two players in a closed loop manner, the RBI has been clear from the start to set UPI as an interoperable system. When it comes to mobile payments and financial inclusion using Aadhaar, India has an edge due to innovation.

Note: While there are multiple ways for making payments, the market is broadly divided into three parts:

  1. financial inclusion that covers the JAM trinity, i.e. Jan-Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile (additionally, it covers Direct Benefit Transfers, e-KYC, etc),
  2. mobile and internet payments powered by UPI, IMPS (Immediate Payment Service), net/mobile banking and interoperable QR codes, and
  3. card-based payments.

 

Way ahead:

  • In the coming years, it is expected to see a significant shift to a mobile-first strategy with consumers using functionality rich and user-friendly apps for P2P (peer-to-peer) or P2M (peer-to-merchant) payments.
  • The electronification of all kinds of C2G (citizen-to-government) payments is a big opportunity.
  • If the growth momentum continues, we hope that the use of UPI will take the shape of citizen-scale payments system.

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Section : Economics

Interstate trade kicks off at e- National Agriculture Market

The News

  • Recently, the Central government’s flagship programme electronic national agriculture market (e-NAM) has started inter-state trade on its platform, facilitating traders of one state to buy agricultural produce of a different state.

What is e-NAM?

  • National Agriculture Market (eNAM) is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities.
  • Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) is the lead agency for implementing eNAM under the aegis of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India.
  • Vision: To promote uniformity in agriculture marketing by streamlining of procedures across the integrated markets, removing information asymmetry between buyers and sellers and promoting real time price discovery based on actual demand and supply.
  • Mission: Integration of APMCs across the country through a common online market platform to facilitate pan-India trade in agriculture commodities, providing better price discovery through transparent auction process based on quality of produce along with timely online payment.
  • The e-NAM portal was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2016.

Advantages of e-NAM

  • It promises more options for sale for the farmers. It would increase his access to markets through warehouse based sales and thus obviate the need to transport his produce to the mandi.
  • For the local trader in the mandi / market, it offers the opportunity to access a larger national market for secondary trading.
  • Bulk buyers, processors, exporters etc. benefit from being able to participate directly in trading at the local mandi / market level through the NAM platform, thereby reducing their intermediation costs.
  • The integration of all the major mandis in the States into e-NAM will ensure common procedures for issue of licences, levy of fee and movement of produce.
  • It also facilitates the emergence of value chains in major agricultural commodities across the country and help to promote scientific storage and movement of agricultural goods.

 

About e-NAM transactions:

  • After the launch of inter-mandi trade within a state from August 2018, the focus shifted to inter-state trading and with the signing of agreement between Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh governments, actual transaction has happened.
  • Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have allowed trading through the e-NAM platform following which farmers of Uttar Pradesh have been able to sell their vegetables to traders outside the state.
  • Already eight states have allowed inter-mandi transaction on the e-NAM platform.
  • The latest to join was Rajasthan while a few more states are expected to allow inter-mandi trade by March 2019.
  • Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh are the other states where inter-mandi trade within the state has already commenced.
  • In December 2018, the Centre expanded the list of traded commodities on e-NAM to 114 from 90 earlier by including agriculture and horticulture produce like pineapple, papaya, pumpkin, jute and betel leaves.
  • It helps farmers get better market access, more buyers and realise higher prices for their produce.

Some key facts:

  • The country’s annual production of agriculture and horticulture crops estimated at about 590 million tonne.
  • However, the traded volume of agricultural produce on e-NAM was only 10.9 million tonne in 2017-18, though up from 5.5 million tonne in 2016-17.
  • The government has decided to integrate 415 mandis under the e-NAM platform by 2019-20 after covering 585 mandis in less than two years of its launch.
  • This year, the government targets to add 200 mandis and next year the remaining 215 mandis will be linked with the e-NAM.

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Section : Economics

 

Centre aims for 20% cut in air pollution by 2024

The News

  • The Union government has set a target of reducing particulate matter pollution in 102 cities by 20-30% from current levels by 2024 in its ambitious National Clean Air Programme.

Background

Need for NCAP

  • According to a report of India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, every 1 in 8 deaths in India occur due to air pollution.
  • In 2017 about 1.24 million deaths in India occurred due to air pollution.
  • 8% of the total disease burden in India and 11% of premature deaths are attributed to air pollution.
  • Out of 1.24 million, 0.67 million deaths occurred due to ambient particulate matter pollution and 0.48 million deaths due to household air pollution.
  • Further according to WHO, 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities were in India in 2018.
  • As a result the India has identified 102 cities as hotspots of pollution requiring city-specific plans to combat air pollution.
  • Similar efforts have yielded results in cities world over with Bejing achieving a 40% reduction in 5 years, Mexico city a 73% reduction over 25 years, and Santiago, Chile, a 61% decline over 22 years.

About NCAP

  • In December 2017, the Union government announced the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) that proposes multiple strategies to combat air pollution across the country.
  • The NCAP is envisaged as a scheme to provide the States and the Centre with a framework to combat air pollution in a time-bound manner.
  • It requires the states to frame their own Clean Air Programmes with pollution forming a key component in their development plans.
  • The primary goal of NCAP is to meet the prescribed annual average ambient air quality standards across the country within a stipulated timeframe.
  • The NCAP will be a 5-year action plan with a mid-term target to reduce air pollution by 20-30% by 2024 from 2019.
  • The government has set 2017 as the base year for measuring progress of the programme.

Objectives

  • To augment and evolve ambient air quality monitoring network across the country to build a reliable database.
  • Ensuring public participation in planning and implementation of air pollution policies.
  • To have a feasible management plan for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.

 

Components of NCAP

  • Tackle pollution from various sources including power plants, transport, industry, residential and agriculture sectors etc.
  • Increase number of manual air quality monitoring stations from 703 to 1,000.
  • Expand the network of the Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (CAAQMS)
  • Set up Air Information Centre for data analysis, interpretation and dissemination through GIS platforms. 
  • Institutional framework for NCAP for implementation and monitoring will include
  • An apex committee under Minister MOEF
  • A steering committee under MOEF secretary
  • National\state-level project implementation units including members from CPCB and SPCB.


City-Specific Action Plans for non-attainment cities

  • NCAP has a city-specific action plans consisting pollution abatement measures for 102 non-attainment cities.
  • A non-attainment city is the one which has air quality worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
  • Totally 102 cities have been identified 94 cities as non-attainment cities on the basis of 5-years data generated under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme.
  • All big metros are on the list including Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Varanasi, Bhopal Jaipur etc.
  • The plan for 102 non-attainment cities will have three timelines to gradually reduce air pollution.
  • Under the timelines, air pollution in these cities will be reduced by
  1. 35% in the next three years
  2. 50% in the next five years
  3. 70-80% in the next 10 years. 
  • States are entrusted with the responsibility to frame their own city-specific plan.
  • Centre would assist states in building capacities to reduce pollution level in tune with the prescribed timelines.
  • In August 2018, 73 out of 102 cities submitted a plan of remedial action under NACP.
  • Some specific measures include
  • making roads pothole-free to improve traffic flow and thereby reduce dust within 60 days.
  • ensuring strict action against unauthorised brick kilns” (within 30 days).

 

Some Concerns

  • The main concern is lack of mandatory targets due to which there is no adequate compliance.
  • There is inadequate enforcement by cities.
  • Further it is not clear on what basis the targets of reduction by 20-30% are set.

 

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Section : Environment & Ecology

 

Navy shows prowess to airdrop containers

Why in news?

  • In a major boost to its operational logistic capability in the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian Navy has conducted successful trials of the Sahayak air droppable containers in the Arabian Sea.

About Sahayak Containers

  • The Indian Navy successfully undertook trials of Sahayak Air Droppable Containers in the Arabian Sea.
  • A test payload of 50 kg on board Sahayak Air Droppable containers was air-dropped into the Arabian Sea.
  • The Sahayak containers are capable of airdropping spares for ships beyond 2,000 km from the coast.
  • Further the Sahayak containers are indigenously developed by the Naval Science and Technological Laboratory and the Aeronautical Development Establishment of DRDO.

Background

  • India has recently reoriented its strategy in Indian Ocean Region with a new Mission Based Deployments plan for deployment of warships in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Accordingly the operational requirement of Indian Navy has significantly gone up and requires a major capability upgrade.
  • This also requires enhancement of operational logistic capability.
  • Further in order to increase its blue-water navy capabilities India needs to upgrade its capacity.
  • In this direction India has signed several logistics pacts with friendly nations such as US, Singapore, France.
  • Similar pacts are expected to soon be signed with Russia and Japan.
  • Now the indigenous capability to produce air droppable containers will significantly enhance India’s its operational logistic capability in the IOR.

 

Significance

  • The Sahayak Containers would enhance its operational logistics capability.
  • The containers can successfully deliver supply spares and stores to ships which are deployed more than 2,000 km from the coast.
  • Thus the containers could drastically improve ships' deployment duration on missions.

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Section : Defence & Security

 

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