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GS: 2

International relations:

Towards a regional reset?(The Hindu Opinion)

 Context

Bold moves to normalize ties with China and Pakistan will enhance India’s standing

Flexibility with neighbors

Resetting ties with China

  • Peaceful resolution to Doklam standoff
  • Indian government also toned down the planned celebrations marking the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s arrival from Tibet
  • New Delhi and Beijing have now embarked on a flurry of high-level visits that are meant to lead up to a summit meeting between the two leaders

Issues on which both India and China can gain by working together

For India: Chinese push in India’s NSG bid

  • China could remove its block to India’s membership by adopting a more inclusive approach within the nuclear export control organisation
  • Even if withdrawal of China’s objections does not soften the objections of more hardline “non-proliferationists” or Non-Proliferation Treaty-proponents, the goodwill from such a move would propel India-China relations forward. 

For China: Addressing Indian concerns on BRI

  • Addressing India’s three concerns: on territorial integrity, transparency of projects and their sustainability
  • The solution to the first is contained in a proposal under consideration to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan
  • The shift from the CPEC to what could be called PACE or the Pakistan-Afghanistan-China Economic corridor would necessitate a shift away from projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir
  • Those projects may still be built and funded by China, but then would not constitute a part of the BRI route; as a result, India’s concerns on sovereignty could be dispensed with
  • India could take the lead in creating an international template for infrastructure and connectivity proposals, one that would seek to engage China and other donor countries in a structured approach towards debt financing
  • This would win India goodwill in the neighbourhood too, where every other country (apart from Bhutan) has signed on to the BRI, but has felt alienated by India’s rigid opposition to the initiative.

No interference in Maldives

  • Indian government decided not to exert hard power in bringing Maldives President Abdulla Yameen around after he declared a state of emergency in the country
  • Nor did it engage China in a confrontation when Mr. Yameen sought Beijing’s support in this regard
  • The government remained silent as Male went a step further and held discussions with Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, on joint patrolling of its Exclusive Economic Zone, an area of operation in the Indian Ocean considered to be India’s domain.

With Nepal

India welcomed the newly elected PM and didn’t raise any concerns over growing Nepalese proximity to China

Quiet progress with Pakistan

  • The resolution For the first time National Security Adviser (NSA) met his Pakistani counterpart, , as a part of “established channels of communications at various levels” between the two sides in the past few years, post-Pathankot
  • The resolution of the standoff over the treatment of diplomats in Delhi and Islamabad indicates that neither government has the appetite for escalation at this point.

SAARC re-engagement

  • The real tipping point in India’s regional reset will come if the government also decides to reconsider its opposition to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit this year, with Pakistan as the host.
  • All the member countries are pushing for a summit this year

Conclusion

This may require the government’s much touted “Doval Doctrine” to take a leaf out of the much derided “Gujral Doctrine” book, it may be in keeping with a larger desire for a regional reset, bringing Mr. Modi’s last year in this term of office more in line with his first

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Religion can’t bar a person from rendering own version of it: SC(TheHindu)

What has happened?

It is a violation of secularism for a religion to bar a person from writing a book about it or portraying it through a painting, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud orally observed on Monday.

Court observed

  • A religion cannot be adamant that its sole portrayal should be confined to just one “book.”
  • It cannot say that others are not free to sketch or render their version or ideas about the religion
  • Such a bar is just not enforceable
  • Any injunction [on the film] will be slightly stretching the constitutional principles 

Background

  • A plea by Sikhism’s highest religious bodies to stop the release of the National Award-winning and Censor Board-certified movie Nanak Shah Fakir for having a human characterise Guru Nanak
  • The film won the National Award for promoting national integrity.

Publish and perish?(The Hindu Opinion) 

Context

Making original research mandatory in medical institutions without building research infrastructure is unrealistic

What has happened?

In June 2017, the Medical Council of India (MCI) made publishing original research in indexed journals a prerequisite for appointments and promotions of teaching faculty in medical colleges. Recruitment, tenure and promotions are often linked to research publications in the developed world but making this mandatory in India is a bad idea

The Consequences

  • Research eats into the time that faculty have for clinical care, teaching and mentoring student
  • This deprives students and patients of the experience of senior faculty
  • It also contributes to stress and burnout in those left to deal with heavy teaching and clinical workload
  • The disproportionate emphasis on publications to define success in academic medicine influences the culture of medical education, and the aspirations of students graduating from such institutions.

The purpose of medical education

  • A  2010 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine envisioned the basic purpose of medical education as caring for the national population, chiefly in primary care and in underserved areas
  • As India continues “upgrading” district hospitals to medical colleges, and recognising for-profit private medical colleges, the NMC should reflect on whether this “academic” designation will detract from the social mission that medical education should serve.

What NMC should include?

  • Two cadres: Research and Clinical: The NMC should develop two streams of medical faculty: a clinical cadre and a research cadre
    • Clinical cadre
    • The clinical cadre of consultants should be appraised on their clinical, teaching, and communication skills
    • Audits conducted to improve services and continuing professional development credits 
  • Research Cadre
    • The research cadre should be appraised on the quality, integrity, scientific rigor and impact of their research; clinical collaborations; and teaching and guiding research
  • Reducing waste in bio-medical research:
  • In order to increase the value of research investments, the NMC should also adopt 17 invaluable research-based recommendations on reducing the “waste in biomedical research”, summarized in a series of papers published in The Lancet in 2014 

Conclusion

Some academic institutions in India do good research and this should be encouraged. Making original research mandatory now in other institutions, without investing in building research infrastructure and capacity, is ill-conceived, possibly unethical and certainly unrealistic.

GS: 3

Economy:

Slippery slick(The Hindu Opinion)

What has happened?

After a sharp fall at the beginning of the year, oil prices have risen dramatically in recent weeks. The price of Brent crude has risen by around $10 since it touched a short-term low of around $62 in early February, hitting its highest mark since late 2014.

Reason for high Oil prices

Tensions in West Asia after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syria helped push up prices 

No effect on prices in India

The retail selling prices of petrol and diesel across major Indian cities have in fact risen by less than a rupee since the beginning of April 

Imposing duties

It has imposed high duties on petroleum products ever since crude oil prices started moderating in 2014, but has been reluctant to scale down those duties in the face of rising prices, leading to record pump level prices

Conclusion

How the Centre responds to rising international crude oil prices was always going to be the litmus test of its commitment to fuel price deregulation. In the current situation, it appears that the government has only tied itself up in knots over the petroleum pricing policy, and with it, its reformist credentials.

Simply Put: Why India is on US currency monitoring list(Indian Express)

Context

For the first time, it meets two of three criteria: significant bilateral surplus with US; and persistent intervention in forex markets

What does the report say?

India met two of the three criteria for the first time in this report — having a significant bilateral surplus with the US and having engaged in persistent, one-sided intervention in foreign exchange markets

How do central banks intervene and why?

  • If the currency is overvalued, it can hurt a country’s competitiveness in exports while an undervalued currency will have an impact on inflation
  • For instance, when the currency is appreciating, a central bank intervenes in the market by buying foreign exchange — say, the USD or Euro or any other currency — which leads to an increase in the supply of the local currency and in turn lowers its value
  • To combat depreciation of the currency, the central bank sells foreign exchangeIt is also done to manage expectations in the forex market. India’s central bank — the RBI has intervened in the market to build the country’s reserves especially after 2013 when the rupee came under attack. Since then reserves have risen

On what basis is a country named a ‘currency manipulator’?

The three pre-conditions for being named currency manipulator are:

Trade surplus of over $20 billion with the US, a current account deficit surplus of 3% of the GDP, and persistent foreign exchange purchases of 2% plus of the GDP over 12 months. All three apply to India.

What about the rupee? Will this report of the US Treasury impact the currency?

Forex dealers don’t expect a sharp fall as the RBI then props up the rupee by selling dollars.

How have India’s foreign exchange reserves moved?

According to latest RBI data, released last Friday, India’s forex reserves rose by $503.6 million to touch a record high of $424.86 billion in the week ended April 6, 2018. Of this, foreign currency reserves were $399.776 billion. 

India needs 8.1 million jobs a year, says WB(The Hindu) 

What has happened?

India needs to create 8.1 million jobs a year to maintain its employment rate, according to a World Bank report which projected the country’s growth to accelerate to 7.3% in the current financial year. It also projected the growth rate to increase further to 7.5% in the following two years

India recovered from Demonetisation and GST

In its twice-a-year South Asia Economic Focus (SAEF) titled ‘Jobless Growth?’, the bank also said India had recovered from the withdrawal of large denomination bank notes in November 2016 and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), rolled out on July 1, 2017.

Expedite investments

The report projected India’s growth to further accelerate to 7.5% in 2019-20 and 2020-21 and said New Delhi should strive to accelerate investments and exports to take advantage of recovery in global growth.

Government policies and programmes: 

It’s time to replace the UGC Act(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Replacing the UGC Act, 1956

Reforms initiated

  • The HRD Ministry first saw the passage of the Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017, which will extend greater autonomy to the IIMs
  • It followed this up with reforms in the rules and regulations of the University Grants Commission (UGC), giving autonomy to India’s best-ranked universities and colleges
  • Subsequently, the Union Cabinet approved the continuation of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, which has been working quietly to improve the quality of higher educational institutions in the States through outcome-based grants.

HERC

The new Act should establish a higher education regulatory commission (HERC), which will subsume the functions of all the three existing regulatory agencies under the HRD Ministry 

Advisory Council

  • Recognizing the critical role of States in higher education, it should further establish an advisory council consisting of representatives of all States and the Central government.
  • It must have as members leading educationists from diverse fields
  • The council should advise the HERC on all matters, though the final decision-making power needs to be vested in the Commission and its different bodies.

Merging of category I and II universities

  • The UGC recently issued new rules and regulations under which it divided universities into three categories: I, II and III
  • Category I and II universities were awarded autonomy, with Category I universities receiving greater autonomy than Category II
  • Under the Act, we propose merging Category I and Category II universities under the recent rules into a single category.

Curriculum to be adopted

  • Under the proposed Act, Category I universities will be free to write their own curriculums
  • In addition, they will oversee the curriculums of the colleges affiliated to them
  • Autonomous colleges will write their own curriculums as well
  • Category II universities and the colleges affiliated to them will adopt the curriculums of one or more Category I universities
  • Colleges affiliated to these universities will adopt curriculums of colleges affiliated to Category I colleges or autonomous colleges.

Courses to be taken

  • There may be courses that exist in Category II universities or in colleges affiliated to them, or courses that these institutions wish to start which do not exist in any of the autonomous universities, colleges affiliated to them, or autonomous colleges
  • In such cases, the HERC will appoint a small committee of experts from the relevant field to approve or reject the proposed course in a time-bound manner.

Tasks of the Commission

This will leave the HERC with two major tasks: decisions on the disbursement of funds and accreditation

  • To fulfil the first function, the HERC should have a finance board
  • To discharge the second function, it should have an accreditation board

Accreditation board

  • The Commission in cooperation with the accreditation board will have the responsibility to draw up standards and a grading system for colleges and universities
  • Multiple accreditation agencies will be permitted, with the board serving as the approval authority for them
  • Universities and colleges may be asked to deposit an accreditation fee in a fund held by the accreditation board from which accreditation agencies can be paid
  • This will eliminate the need for financial dealings between the accreditation agency and the university or college being reviewed
  • Matching universities and colleges with the accreditation agency may be done through a random selection by a computer.

Finance board

  • The Commission in cooperation with the finance board will also develop guidelines for funding universities and colleges
  • Once these are framed, the board will have autonomy in implementing them.
  • The Commission must also formulate policies on tuition fees and teacher salaries
  • The Act should explicitly provide for independent efforts by institutions to raise funds and even incentivise such efforts by providing matching funds via the finance board. 

Grievance redressal

  • The HERC will have a secretariat to maintain a separate grievance and redress office
  • The office will receive complaints from students, the faculty and university authorities
  • While routine complaints can be dealt with at the level of this office, those with wider ramifications will be brought to the Commission. 

Entry of foreign institutions

The Act should lay down a clear path for the entry of foreign institutions. The top 200-300 institutions in the world, according to generally accepted rankings, may be allowed entry as Category I institutions

Integration of teaching and research

  • Finally, the Act must also chart a path to integrate teaching and research
  • The separation between teaching at universities and colleges and research at research councils has not served the cause of either higher education or research well
  • To be motivated to do research, students must have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and opportunities to interact regularly with scholars actively engaged at the frontiers of research
  • Conversely, scholars stand to benefit from interacting with young, inquisitive minds
  • It is critical for this interaction to be brought to the centre of university education.

Environment:

At home and in exile(The Hindu Opinion)         

Context

We need to adequately plan for internal migration due to climate change 

What has happened?

In “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration”, a recent report by the World Bank, it is estimated that in Latin America, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa over 143 million people would be forced to move within borders by 2050 as a result of slow onset climate events alone.

 Concerns over internal migration

Meaning: Movement within the same country due to variety of reasons like, in search of a job, due to marriage etc.

Issue: It might be a forced decision to move rather than a choice in the future considering climate change

Why people move

  • In “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration”, a recent report by the World Bank, it is estimated that in Latin America, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa over 143 million people would be forced to move within borders by 2050 as a result of slow onset climate events alone
  • In the worst-case scenario, about 40 million of these migrants would be in South Asia, which is the most populous of the regions studied, with a number of climate change effects anticipated.

Three possible scenarios are described:

  • High greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions along with unequal development paths, regarded as the pessimistic reference scenario
  • An inclusive development scenario with high GHG emissions but development paths that improve access to services for the poor and consider their priorities and unmet needs
  • A climate-friendly scenario involving lower GHG emissions but with unequal development. 

People would be forced to move away from Gangetic plains

With variability in the monsoons and warmer temperatures, crop failures will lead to migration from the Gangetic plains and from the rice-growing northeast of Bangladesh and the inundated coasts

Poor would be affected the worst

  • The poor would be the worst affected by these slow onset events and most of them would migrate out of rural areas to nearby urban settlements, which would be cities and the peri-urban surroundings.
  • Such “hotspots” of in and out migration would be stressed for natural resources, public services and livelihoods.

 

What can be done?

  • Reducing GHG emissions is of utmost urgency, although that seems to be taking place at a pace determined by geopolitical as well as local initiatives
  • Integrating internal migration with ongoing development planning is vital
  • Ecosystems, part of the natural resources in peri-urban areas, ought to be protected as “special ecological zones”, so that as urban settlements expand, they don’t eat into ecosystem services
  • Skill building, job training and other opportunities for education and jobs for locals and migrants would also have to become a focal point
  • Rights for those who are forced to migrate would be fundamental in these preparations, as studies and experience have shown that ignoring issues of social justice and equity in adaptation can lead to serious governance failure.
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