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bharat ias -  Despite history, geography

 Despite history, geography

Context   India and Bangladesh have wasted opportunities for shared advantages. The mistake need not be repeated.   Q: Why have we failed to build a model bilateral relationship?   Simply put, we have never given our heart and soul to it. Every time “breakthrough opportunities” come, we fail to seize them and allow our “business as usual” habit to destroy them by failing to think “outside the box”. Unused transit potential India has been insisting on it for decades; now that it has come about, progress is slow, piecemeal and held back by pathetically low levels of investment §  Instead of a comprehensive, multi-model, transit accord or treaty, what we have are fragmented deals, totally lacking global vision. On both sides, river transit is being handled by one ministry, railway by another and road by yet another, with the attending inter-ministerial mismatch and bureaucratic delays §  Bring all the transit opportunities under one master plan with one vision of improving trade, commerce and connectivity in regional, sub-regional and trans-Asian and Trans-continental aspects Water sharing §  Comprehensive water management accord: in this area also, a comprehensive water management accord is required, which will deal with all our common rivers and not one by one, as we have been doing so far   Rampal Power plant A new irritant is also the Rampal power plant whose location, near the Sundarbans, is a very serious concern for the environmentalists of Bangladesh, their fears shared by Indian counterparts. So far, such concerns have fallen on deaf ears Steps taken by both sides Bangladesh §  Elimination of terror camps: the biggest step forward for Bangladesh was responding to India’s security concern and removing all terrorist camps within its borders India §  Duty-free access: the duty-free access to Bangladeshi goods was the biggest positive move from Indian side §  Exporting electricity to Bangladesh  Indian Media’s indifference Indian media has never highlighted Bangladesh’s issues in the mainstream except for cases of communal violence and rise of terrorism. Example the Farrakka Barrage issue, which was the first major cause of the rise of grassroots-level anti-Indianism in the late eighties §  This barrage devastated the ecosystem of northwest Bangladesh, destroying thousands of acres of arable land, resulting in the rise of salinity in river and underground water. §  Teesta issue: The failure to even talk about Teesta, when a deal was ready to be signed in September, 2011, has greatly disappointed  Bangladesh. The rationale for Bangladesh’s position on this crucial water sharing issue has almost never found adequate space in the Indian media. Conclusion saying that there are many lost opportunities in the history of India-Bangladesh relationship. Let us not repeat them    ...

Publishes on : 12-Jan-2017 10:50 AM
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bharat ias - Reclaiming India’s leverage on Tibet

Reclaiming India’s leverage on Tibet

  Context India’s instinctive chariness and reserve on the issue persist, despite an increasingly muscular China upping the ante against it     Contention India has stayed mum on increasing Chinese repression in Tibet. But now, it is allowing itself to come under Chinese pressure on the Dalai Lama’s activities and movements within India. What has happened? The Dalai Lama attended a public event at RashtrapatiBhavan and met President Pranab Mukherjee. The government did the right thing by permitting the Dalai Lama to participate in the event, especially since it was organized for children’s welfare by Nobel laureates, a group that includes the Dalai Lama himself. §  China’s protest: China protested the Dalai Lama’s presence at RashtrapatiBhavan. It’s foreign ministry issued the following statement “Demanding that India respect China’s “core interests” to avoid “any disturbance” to bilateral ties, the Chinese foreign ministry stated, “China has urged India to clearly recognize the Dalai Lama’s anti-Chinese and separatist nature, to respect China’s core interests and concerns, to take effective measures to eliminate the negative influences of the incident, and to avoid disturbing China-India ties,” adding, “Recently in disregard of China’s solemn representation and strong opposition, the Indian side insisted on arranging for the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to the Indian presidential palace, where he took part in an event and met President Mukherjee”  What India should have done? India should have strongly reminded China so as to not meddle in its internal affairs What India actually did? The ministry of external affairs responded to explain the matter to Beijing, saying, “India has a consistent position. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, is a respected and revered spiritual leader. It was a non-political event organized by Nobel laureates dedicated to the welfare of children”  Progression of Chinese opposition objecting to official discussions between the Dalai Lama and a foreign head of state or government, China’s opposition has progressed to protesting his presence at any state-linked event or even his purely spiritual visit to another country, as to Mongolia recently. It has also sought to curtail his freedom within a free India.  The Mongolian example Take Mongolia, which has had close links with Tibet ever since the great Mongol king, Altan Khan, converted to Tibetan Buddhism. Indeed, the fourth Dalai Lama was born in Mongolia. But when Mongolia in November stood up to China by permitting the Dalai Lama to undertake a four-day religious tour involving no official meeting, Beijing responded as a typical bully by freezing ties and seeking to throttle its economy—dependent on commodity exports to China—by slapping punitive tariffs and shutting a key border crossing point. And it kept up the coercive pressure until Mongolia, battling a recession, agreed not to allow the Dalai Lama in again even for a religious tour.  Suggestions §  Ignore Chinese protests on Tibet: The way to deal with China on such an issue is to ignore its protests and keep doing more frequently what it finds objectionable so as to blunt its objections. This approach is necessary in order to send a clear message that China cannot arrogantly lay down terms for India to follow. India can use the Tibet card to its advantage here. Tibet is to India against China what Pakistan is to China against India. When China doesn’t hesitates in balancing India with Pakistan by initiatives like CPEC or supplying it with nuclear weapons and other tech, why should India do so? §  Fixing the asymmetrical trade: China has a rapidly growing trade surplus with India amounting to around $60 billion a year. India needs to fix this asymmetrical trade relationship with China  Conclusion without India asserting itself by reopening the Tibet issue, China will continue to breathe down its neck and seek to dictate terms. For example, when the Dalai Lama tours Arunachal Pradesh shortly, Beijing will again unleash its diplomatic fury by intimidating India.    ...

Publishes on : 11-Jan-2017 11:33 AM
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bharat ias - Pollution problem: rules tough but implementation weak

Pollution problem: rules tough but implementation weak

  Context Experts say the issue must be tackled in a comprehensive and concerted manner with tailor-made solutions for every source of pollution.   Issue: Rising air pollution two things are paramount if we want to understand this issue, §  Different sources of pollution: there are several different sources of pollution, each of which needs a separate solution §  Pollution doesn’t know borders: pollutants are carried for hundreds of kms which means that not all of Delhi’s pollution originates in the capital. And likewise, it also contributes to pollution in nearby regions   Problems in containing air pollution   Weak state capacity: Experts say that one of the critical constraints that plague pollution control in India is its weak State capacity, defined as the ability of the government to administer and its capacity to design and implement rules or policies. Environmental laws are pretty strong but it does not necessarily lead to enforcement and implementation. Institutions and mechanism of implementation are weak or have not matured. Example: road dust which as per a study from IIT Kanpur accounts for 38 per cent of Delhi’s pollution. In order to reduce the dust, municipal corporations will have to manage their construction activities a lot better and contractors will be required to spray water to eliminate dust, cordon off construction areas, complete projects in a time-bound manner, use drilling instead of digging among other things. §  Competent PWD required: Regulating all this would require a PWD that is a lot less corrupt and a lot more competent. In order to get there, the government would have to start by imposing regulations and raising penalties for non-compliance and disciplining engineers who did not enforce the rules. Responsibility of the government It should not be the duty of governments onlyto protect the environment, but classical economics predicts that only governments are in a position to do so. This is because citizens can’t coordinate their actions. Judicial interventions Judicial intervention through the National Green Tribunal seems to be the only way we are intervening to protect the environment but judiciary only acts when people approach to it. Environment vs Economics It is important to consider the political costs of cleaning the air. While economic activity leads to pollution, it pulls people out of poverty in the short term, Mr. Roy explains, adding that “democratic organisations prefer short term gains which have long term losses (associated with the gains).” This means we have a trade-off between economic growth and environment protection Federal problem Another characteristic of the air quality problem is its federal nature, which requires various State governments and the Centre to work together. Crop burning in Punjab & Haryana: This is best demonstrated by the crop-burning issue in Punjab and Haryana. The potential political costs of preventing farmers to burn crops, which requires strict enforcement of law and incentives for alternatives, won’t be borne out by the ruling party in Delhi, but controlling that is necessary to have clean air in the Capital.    ...

Publishes on : 11-Jan-2017 11:30 AM
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bharat ias - Transforming the digital payment infrastructure

Transforming the digital payment infrastructure

Context Implementing a new payment infrastructure will require careful planning, patience and flexibility In the aftermath of demonetization millions of Indians have switched to digital mode of payments and to encourage it government has announced a host of measures. In order to capitalise on the benefits of demonetization, government will have to acquire a systematic, evidence-driven approach. M-Pesa Kenya’s M-Pesa, a mobile money service which allows users with or without bank accounts to transfer and make payments through a basic mobile phone, is often heralded as the exemplary digital financial inclusion success story. Since its launch in 2007, M-Pesa has become an integral part of Kenya’s economy: §  M-Pesa transactions account for 20% of gross domestic product (GDP) and it is used frequently (by at least one individual in 96% of Kenyan households and by 75% of the unbanked population) §  Results from a recent, large-scale multi-round  panel survey suggests that access to mobile money (defined as proximity to M-Pesa agents) improved per capita consumption and lifted 194,000—or 2% of Kenyan households—out of poverty. These effects were more pronounced for women and driven by increased savings and greater occupational mobility—185,000 women made the shift from agriculture to business M-Pesa is an exception out of 271 different mobile money services 93 countries worldwide, very fewhave achieved similar levels of growth, particularly among the poor and unbanked. Factors that allowed M-Pesa to become a success in Kenya A unique set of circumstances allowed M-Pesa to become ubiquitous in Kenya. Crucial among them was, §  High mobile phone penetration (83% of the adult population had access to basic mobile phones) §  A widespread agent network (approximately one agent for every 1,000 Kenyans) §  An enabling regulatory environment Conditions vis-à-vis India §  Mobile penetration in India: 61% of Indians own a basic mobile phone and there is significant disparity in access and usage across geography and gender §  Smartphone ownership:In addition, only 17% of Indians own a smartphone—a major hurdle since, unlike in Kenya where M-Pesa’s USSD technology is independent of phones, most Indian payment wallets are only accessible on smartphones §  Business Correspondent (BC) Model:Finally, India’s business correspondent (BC) model—the equivalent to the agent network in Kenya—remains relatively underdeveloped. Recent research by the Helix Institute of Digital Finance revealed that in the BC model Indian agents earn a median income of $52 per month compared to agents in Kenya who earn $192 per month  For a digital payment system to thrive, all these issues need to be addressed. Benefit of digital payment systems besides overcoming financial inclusion barriers, digital payment systems can streamline the §  Public service delivery mechanisms like plugging leakages in MGNREGS §  Government to person payments like through Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile (JAM) wherein payments to the poor are being made directly to their accounts by verifying their identities through biometric identification. Evidence from Andhra Pradesh suggests that shifting to an electronic-payment infrastructure along these lines can improve programme delivery by reducing leakages Andhra example In 2006, the government of Andhra Pradesh launched a smart-card programme for MGNREGS and social security pensions where payments were delivered to bank accounts linked with biometric smart cards A randomized evaluation of the intervention by affiliates from the Abdul LatifJameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) revealed that biometrically authenticated transfers resulted in a faster, less corrupt payment process. Success in Niger Similarly, in an unconditional cash transfer programme in Niger, researchers affiliated to J-PAL found that mobile transfers were the most cost-effective delivery mechanism and led to improved household and child-diet diversity. Why such results? The study done above attributes these results to the §  Time-saving associated with cashing out mobile transfers §  Shifts in intra-household bargaining power for women Bihar example In Bihar, a J-PAL evaluation of a fund-flow reform which allowed panchayats to bypass the district and pull MGNREGS wage payments directly from the state account, found that this reduced programme expenditure without a detectable decline in programme performance Transition can be difficult despite obvious benefits, the transition to a new government-to-person digital payment infrastructure can be challenging §  Significant infrastructure required: In Niger, the positive impact of mobile transfers relied on significant investments in establishing the mobile payments infrastructure, including access to mobile phones and agents responsible for “cashing-out” transfers §  Logistical, technical and political difficulties: In Andhra Pradesh, despite high-level government support and investment, only half of all MGNREGS payments in the intervention districts were smart-card-enabled after two years—a reflection of the significant logistical, technical and political challenges in establishing new payment systems   change can be disruptive as it upset the status-quo. So, one way of implementation is through gradual steps, incentives and evaluation. Example: In Andhra Pradesh, the programme was rolled out while retaining the status quo system, with banks incentivized for every transaction made on the new system—this allowed programme evaluation, course correction and posed minimal risk of excluding deserving beneficiaries. Conclusion implementing any new payments infrastructure will require careful planning, patience and flexibility. The government of India should keep this in mind as it seeks to transform the nation’s economy.    ...

Publishes on : 10-Jan-2017 05:05 PM
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bharat ias - Running into the Chinese wall

Running into the Chinese wall

Context The MasoodAzhar case is a piece in the fragmenting jigsaw of global terror consensus Issue: Chinese veto of India’s proposal to ban Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief MasoodAzhar at the UN   §  In the past, Beijing blocked India’s proposals at the UN to designate HizbulMujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin and Abdul RehmanMakki and AzamCheema of the Lashkar-e-Taiba as terrorists, and blocked questions on how designated terrorists Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-RehmanLakhvi accessed funds in Pakistan despite UN sanctions JeM designated a terror group Despite all the evidence, it took two years and the 9/11 attacks for the JeM to be designated as a terror group by UNSC 1267 sanctions committee in 2001. It seems unbelievable that 15 years later, despite his complicity in everything from the Parliament attack to the Pathankot attack and everything in between, Azhar hasn’t yet been added to that list Larger issue it would be mistake if India sees China’s move purely from a bilateral perspective and ignores the larger trend it represents: of a fragmenting global consensus on terrorism  Changing Narrative A common enemy: After the 9/11 attacks, the global consensus to fight the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and all allied groups was formed by the UNSC resolution on terrorism (UNSCR 1373) in 2001. §  Already, in 1999, the UN had set up an al-Qaeda/Taliban sanctions committee (UNSCR 1267) to impose strictures on anyone dealing with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. While the implementation of these resolutions has been questionable, there was little doubt that all member states essentially believed that the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their allies formed a common global enemy.  The Change the above narrative has changed. §  In January 2010, at an international conference hosted by the U.K., the UN and the U.S. openly backed efforts to talk peace with the Taliban §  In 2011, the UNSC made it simply the al-Qaeda sanctions committee, separating the Taliban committee so as to facilitate talks by delisting Taliban leaders being engaged §  In December 2015, the UNSC made a further shift by renaming it “ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee” (UNSCR/2253). This renaming prompted Pakistan to ask recently, albeit mistakenly, how the banning of Azhar was even connected to the committee’s work Impact of US Russia ties Apart from the UN, shifting U.S.-Russia ties have also made a great impact on the global terror consensus. §  Initial solidarity: In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to speak to President George W. Bush, expressing full support for the U.S. fight against al-Qaeda, which would in turn help Russia with its Islamist threat as well. Not only that, Mr. Putin reversed Russian policy of decades, allowing the U.S. to set up bases across Central Asia and virtually take over Afghanistan’s security command §  The above relationship no longer exists& Russia is questioning US presence in its backyard again. It now sees U.S.’s bases in Afghanistan as akin to having Russian bases in Mexico. Increasing closeness with China & Pakistan The third factor impacting global consensus on terrorism is the §  Russia’s closeness with China and Pakistan:  A trilateral meeting of the three countries in December in Moscow called for a “flexible approach” to remove some Taliban figures from the UN sanctions list as part of efforts to “foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban movement” US’s efforts The U.S. has been pushing for the removal of other groups in Afghanistan from sanctions, like the Hizb-e-Islami’sGulbuddinHekmatyar (a former Central Intelligence Agency-funded fighter), a move that Russia blocked at the UN Picking teams Above mentioned facts clearly state one thing, §  Global leaders are picking sides §  Neither side has yet pushed for the banning of the new Taliban chief, HaibatullahAkhundzada, a reminder of how far away we have come on that global consensus. Also lying in the dust is India’s decades-old proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism Russian concern Russia’s growing closeness to Pakistan cannot be disconnected from India §  Russia did nothing at all: It is significant that among the P5, the U.S., U.K. and France co-sponsored India’s resolution against Azhar, China vetoed it, but Russia, India’s traditional backer, did nothing at all §  At the BRICS summit in October and the Heart of Asia conference in December, it was the Russia-China combine that kept India’s desire for tough statements on “cross-border terrorism” from Pakistan at bay, and it was the Russian envoy who told India not to use “multilateral forums for bilateral issues”  Conclusion theAzhar ban is only a piece of the much larger global jigsaw puzzle. India must build strong ties with all the nations involved.    ...

Publishes on : 10-Jan-2017 05:00 PM
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