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Mains Current Affairs UPSC CSE Nov Week 1

 

Current Affairs UPSC CSE

Mains Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Nov Week 1

GS II

RCEP Negotiations

Context: After seven years, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, started by leaders from the ASEAN countries and their free trade agreement (FTA) partners in November 2012, have concluded in Bangkok. The good thing is that India still has some unresolved issues, and this has resulted in it holding back its decision to join the RCEP. In fact, India has decided to maintain a consistent stand throughout the negotiations, and it is not reneging on any of the demands of its trading partners. It has decided to keep its self-interest at the forefront.

Background

  • With many mature economies struggling to regain ground lost because of the global financial crisis in 2008, emerging economies are in focus for growth opportunities.
  • The international trade focus has clearly shifted from the West towards developing economies in Asia and other regions.
  • The developing markets’ share of global trade has doubled from 16 per cent in 1991 to 32 per cent in 2011, an average increase of 0.8 percentage points a year. This was accelerated by the global recession.
  • Since 2008, the rise has been almost twice as fast, at 1.5 percentage points a year.
  • This significant increase in South-South trade is turning established trade patterns and practices on their head, and thus, the importance of India being a part of RCEP, but on its own terms, has never been so crucial.
  • Interestingly, India has been vigorously pushing for such South-South trade through policies like “Look East” unveiled in recent times.

Concerns of India that held it back

  • Coming back to the specifics of RCEP, when we look at the goods trade dynamic, India ran a merchandise trade deficit with 11 out of the 15 other members of RCEP in 2018-19, totaling $107.28 billion.
  • India’s overall merchandise trade deficit was $184.00 billion in 2018-19. In 2018-19, 34 per cent of India’s imports were from this region, while only 21 per cent of India’s exports went to this region.
  • China is the biggest trade partner amongst these countries and the major concerns that India had throughout the negotiations were with regard to China.
  • China is a trade behemoth whose growth is built on the way it captured the world’s manufacturing space.
  • There is a fear that the imports of cheaper electronic and engineering goods from China could increase further post the signing of RCEP which in turn could have a negative impact on the manufacturing sector.
  • Therefore, Indian negotiators have taken steps to ensure that domestic manufacturing is effectively protected from unfair competition.
  • For example, certain issues such as the move towards 2014 as the base year for tariff reduction, an automatic trigger mechanism to curb sudden surges in imports and the decision on which products it doesn’t want to offer the same tariff concessions to all countries, need to be sorted out.
  • India’s electronics and mobile industry, for instance, is moving towards self-sufficiency, and a move towards 2014 rates could mean a huge step backwards.
  • Another area of hard bargaining for India is our unfulfilled want for exemptions from the Ratchet obligations.
  • As per the Ratchet mechanism, if a country signs a trade agreement with another country where it relaxes tariffs and quotas on merchandise exports and imports, it cannot go back on them and bring in measures that are more restrictive.
  • India wants a clear exemption from the Ratchet obligations, so that in the future, to protect the interests of exporters and importers, it can bring restrictive measures, if required.

Other concerns

  • This apart, across the country, many farmers and milk cooperatives have raised their concern on RCEP. In India, several small and marginal farmers are dependent on milk for their daily expenses as income from crops is seasonal.
  • If India signs the RCEP, without exemptions for dairy and its products, it would allow the dairy industry of Australia and New Zealand to unfairly target its huge market.
  • It is notable that New Zealand exports 93.4 per cent of its milk powder, 94.5 per cent of its butter and 83.6 per cent of its cheese produce.
  • However, the government has given its assurance that it would protect the interests of homegrown milk cooperatives through adequate safeguards.
  • So far, India has proceeded with extreme caution as just entering into agreements and focusing on tariff reduction has not helped the country, as it has seen in the mixed experience of its FTAs.
  • The merchandise trade data shows that over the years, the merchandise trade deficit has widened with the ASEAN countries.

Way Forward

  • India’s main requirement is that of a balanced outlook which is a win-win for all. India is running a services trade surplus with the world.
  • Therefore, it is trying to push for a strong agreement on the services trade, including a deal on easier movement of skilled manpower.
  • Even the IMF has said that services trade could be a substantial engine of growth for India and other south Asian economies.
  • As per ILO data, around 58 per cent of India’s workforce is medium-skilled and 16 per cent is high skilled, and to protect their interest is of paramount importance.
  • All these factors need to be kept in mind before India enters the RCEP. India commands around 1.7 per cent share of the world’s total goods exports ranking 20th as per the WTO 2018 data.
  • For achieving a 5 per cent share in world exports (the government targets $1 trillion exports out of total global exports of $20 trillion), India must build its manufacturing capabilities, and the recent steps by the government are in that direction.
  • How India manoeuvres the geo-political space will determine how successful it is in becoming an export behemoth (in its quest towards a $5 trillion economy). To this end India’s current tough posturing is perfectly justified. 

Providing sexuality education

Context: In a recent judgment, the Madras High Court ruled that courts should not be influenced by misconceptions that children are likely to lie in cases of sexual abuse or that they are tutored by parents to make false statements in court. While these observations are welcome, the attitude of the defence lawyer in this case was seriously problematic. He made several objections to the testimony of the child witness, citing reasons such as the possibility of influence of pretrial conversations on the child, delay in disclosing the abuse, and the possibility of false reporting.

Attitude of Defence lawyers

  • The attitude of defence lawyers reflects a structural problem in the legal system, for it is biased and derogatory towards victims of child sexual abuse.
  • Defence questions are hostile, often sexually explicit, and structured to imply that lack of resistance means consent.
  • To discourage this controversial practice, one of the guidelines in Sakshi v. Union of India (2004) requires questions in cross-examination to be routed to the prosecutrix through the Presiding Officer, to prevent harassment and intimidation by the defence counsel.
  • However, this is not an established practice and happens only when cross-examination gets unacceptably offensive and objectionable.
  • Compounding the problem is the fact that child witnesses don’t understand the confusing questions of defence counsel.
  • This makes them vulnerable and they end up giving vague answers. Also, as children typically delay disclosure of abuse (one third of them wait at least a year), chances are that medical evidence may go undetected or get lost, thus hampering their chances of securing justice.
  • Delayed disclosure also makes it difficult for child witnesses to recall specific details of the abuse, which makes it easier for the defence to disprove allegations.
  • So, the moot question is, what policy should be adopted to address the concerns of delayed reporting of abuse and brutal cross-examination of child witnesses?
  • Drawing from the interim findings of #DignityProtect, a field action project of the Centre for Criminology and Public Policy, we propose that children be educated not only about the nature of sexual abuse and but also the procedures to invoke formal justice mechanisms.
  • For this, it is imperative to introduce sexuality education in the school curriculum, underpinned by concepts of criminology and criminal justice.

Learning the names of body parts

  • Children need to learn the names of body parts instead of using euphemisms.
  • In trial proceedings, defence lawyers ask specific and inappropriate questions, which require child witnesses to describe the details of abuse including the behaviour of the accused.
  • Not knowing how to narrate what exactly happened to them, children typically provide vague and sketchy responses (‘he hurt me there’ or ‘I didn’t feel right or comfortable when he touched me there’) instead of using standard terms that describe body parts.
  • Defence lawyers often capitalise on these responses and undermine the credibility of the witness while judges are less inclined to believe such incoherent accounts.
  • Indeed, there is a compelling need to increase the awareness of the legal system about child-sensitive communication.
  • But more essentially, children should be provided sexuality education so they can be equipped with the right vocabulary to talk about sexual abuse, without either trivialising it or obfuscating judicial actors.
  • Teaching the correct names of private parts will also reduce the shame and stigma associated with talking about them.
  • Skills learnt through sexuality education will prepare children to recognise potentially inappropriate behaviour, understand the different emotions that come with feeling ‘unsafe’, verbalise abuse to seek help from adults, and disclose abuse promptly.
  • They will also be able to understand grooming behaviours which are subtle, methodical and even escalating.

Conclusion

  • Sexuality education will thus significantly reduce the likelihood of delayed disclosure and subsequent healing of injury on the body, which often results in loss of vital forensic evidence.
  • The justice process appears frightening to child survivors because no one has educated them about the practices of the court. Besides, unawareness of how and who to report the abuse goes against their interest.
  • Sexuality education will thus allow children to gain knowledge about the most effective ways to respond to sexual abuse and the probative value of forensic evidence in improving justice outcomes.
  • It will prepare them adequately for courts while also helping them manage their expectations and psychological state throughout the legal process.

GS III

Battle against pollution through laws

Context: As Delhi’s Air Quality Index crosses 500, the national capital has officially entered the public health emergency category. Schools have been shut, children are complaining of breathing problems, but the state and Central governments are simply indulging in blame-games. When something as fundamental as the health of our children is at risk, we should devise a more robust, permanent solution to the problem of pollution. This forms the basis of the need for amending the 1981 Air Act and making it more compatible with contemporary India.

A national public health concern

  • Air pollution in India is not simply an environmental problem, but a major public health concern. It impacts all those breathing in the polluted air — children, the elderly, women and men alike.
  • As its concentration worsens in India and statistics grow more grim, so do our policymakers’ reactions.
  • The WHO in 2016 reported that pollution has led to the deaths of over 1 lakh children in India. Overall, several internationally acclaimed studies have affirmed that life expectancy in India has declined anywhere between two to three years.
  • Statistics show that India is in a worse situation compared to its global counterparts. According to Greenpeace, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India and Delhi has yet again bagged the position of the world’s most polluted capital.
  • These are grim figures, especially when compared to India’s neighbours: Five in China, two in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh.
  • In 2018, India was placed in the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index, ranking 177th out of 180 countries, along with Bangladesh, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal.
  • Because of the toxic air and the lax liability system, young children’s health and quality of life are being significantly affected. Currently, breathing in Delhi’s air is similar to smoking 22 cigarettes in a day.
  • One can only imagine the impact on the lungs of our children. And yet, there is a deafening silence at the helm of policymaking because it has not become an electoral priority for political leaders.
  • Besides a few underfunded programmes, the government shows no willingness to bring a bill or law compelling central and state governments to ensure that its citizens are breathing clean air.

Lessons from other countries

  • The Indian government needs to identify the tangible benefits that concrete legislation on air pollution has brought across the world. In the United States, the Clean Air Act has proven that public health and economic progress can go together.
  • For instance, the aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants in the USA dropped an average of 73 per cent from 1970 to 2017. Through one piece of legislation, the US has challenged multiple sources of pollution, airborne or motor vehicle-led.
  • Similarly, after declaring a war on pollution, Chinese cities reduced particulate concentration by 32 per cent in 2018. In a country with a human power and technical know-how like India, achieving a better feat is not impossible.
  • However, in India, we are ignoring the change that progressive legislation can bring. In recent times, the government has worked on a much hyped “mission-mode” — drafting policies and programmes to alleviate pollution.
  • But with little to no legal mandate or a budgetary allocation of as little as Rs 300 crore under programmes such as the National Clean Air Programme, no true enforcement of targets and goals is guaranteed.
  • In such dire circumstances with high stakes, higher targets need to be set, penalties need to be stricter, and the mandate needs to be stronger.

Air Act of 1981

  • It is therefore essential to retrace our steps back to the Air Act of 1981 that governs our pollution control system.
  • There is unanimous consensus amongst many court rulings, Parliament Committee reports, media investigations, and several environmentalists that under the 1981 Air Act, the Pollution Control Boards are presently unable to fulfil their mandate as watchdogs against polluting industries.
  • A new bill will plug many loopholes in the 1981 Act and would align the functions and priorities of the Pollution Boards towards reducing the adverse impact of pollution on human health in India.
  • India’s pollution liability regime has never prioritised the adverse impact of pollution on health. In its present form, India’s Air Act does not mention or prioritise the importance of reducing the health impact of rising pollution.
  • This is the first change that a new law on air pollution should bring, protecting health needs to become the central mission that the boards work towards.
  • For instance, at any point that the State Boards find evidence of excess air pollution, they should take all measures possible to actively disseminate this information to the masses.
  • When the air quality goes from normal to toxic and hazardous, the boards must be empowered to declare public health emergencies, with the power to temporarily shut down all polluting activities.
  • While these changes might introduce an additional burden on industries to proactively check their emissions, the additional burden is worth the lives that will be saved as a result.

Implementation and accountability

  • Accountability and deterrence are essential in making sure industries comply with emission standards.
  • While the boards cannot levy penalties, in the new law they should be empowered to encash environmental compensations from polluting industries to make up for the cost of mitigating the damage the violating industry has caused. This possibility of paying compensation would be a strong reinforcement for industries to adopt cleaner technologies and comply with standards.
  • Finally, in a federal set-up, the Centre and states must work in synergy to ensure that targets set for the country and states are fulfilled.
  • Therefore, the new law must push Central and state boards to convene joint sittings with a multi-sectoral participation from ministries such as housing, urban development, agriculture and road transport.
  • Air pollution is not, and has never been, a problem with a single solution. It is caused by emissions from vehicles, industries and agriculture, construction dust, and other factors related to household consumption and municipal planning.
  • Because multiple ministries and government departments are involved, without appropriate political leadership, public commitment will remain on paper only.
  • Therefore, the new law on air pollution must give an additional mandate to either a senior minister, such as the minister of environment, forest and climate or the prime minister’s office needs to be involved directly.
  • Greater public transparency is essential to the success of winning the war on air pollution. There is no better watchdog than active citizens, which is why the pollution targets must be made public every year for their perusal and to be evaluated at the end of the year.
  • To incentivise the industries to better themselves through environmental compensations, the industries and their respective state boards must be ranked in order of their efficiency and programme delivery.

Conclusion

  • Breathing clean air is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen. Human health must become a priority when it comes to legislating on air pollution.
  • As 2019 nears its end, and the season of smog begins, there is an urgent need for India to be a pollution free nation.
  • Pollution control boards must be empowered sufficiently to ensure that pollution does not take more lives or hinders the overall progress of India.

Kyoto Protocol

Context: The next climate conference to be held in Madrid in December has the challenge of deciding how markets can be deployed in the service of climate. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a product of the Kyoto Protocol, is one such market instrument that can help industry as well as climate. Alongwith China and Brazil, India is a leader in CDM since its inception in 2007. A number of small and medium projects in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy, set up in India in the last two decades, owe their origin to the financing support available from CDM. Unfortunately, its future hangs in balance.

The situation change over time

  • The situation may change in 2021 when market mechanisms mandated under the Paris Agreement come into operation. Most developed countries are strongly opposed to permitting the carryover of CDM projects and their credits into the Paris Pact’s mechanisms.
  • The credits lying unsold with the CDM projects could lose their economic worth. Besides, the CDM projects will have to go through the process of validation and registration again with the new mechanism. This will involve additional financial and administrative costs.
  • India has about 250 million Certified Emission Reduction (CER) units under CDM issued by the UNFCCC, the global administrator of Kyoto mechanisms.
  • The number of CDM projects registered in India is 1,376 (out of total 7,979 globally) and 89 per cent of these projects are still active.
  • The demand in EU, which has been the largest market for CDM credits, has declined sharply over the last decade because of regulatory barriers. The unrealised value of CDM credits could be in the range of almost $5 billion — estimated at a very conservative price of US $20 per unit.
  • India stands to lose substantially if the doors on the existing CDM projects and credits are closed in 2020.

What does one do to help CDM find a place in the post-2020 markets?

  • This requires one to understand the arguments against CDM. There are three main concerns.
    • One, it has failed to demonstrate environmental benefits in addition to the “business as usual” scenario, or provide technological benefits.
    • Two, its transition to new mechanisms will have adverse impacts on carbon prices and investor sentiments in future markets.
    • Three, double counting could compromise global ambition on reducing GHG emissions.
  • The argument on “lack of addition to the business as usual scenario” appears to be a contrived one. Credits for CDM projects are issued after their compliance with internationally approved criteria is ascertained.
  • CDM project proponents should be free to choose available cost-effective technologies as long as the objective of emission reductions is achieved.
  • Moreover, “additionality” in CDM projects should not be judged solely on the criterion of technology; they are also about investments and overcoming market barriers. All CDM projects have passed these tests.
  • The argument that a full-scale transition of CDM credits may flood the market and lead to deterioration in the carbon prices in future markets is also over-stretched. Validation and registration of projects under the new mechanism may take at least three years.
  • Assuming that all CDM units available globally till 2020 are traded immediately, they may be fully absorbed by 2024 — as demand for credits for meeting the Paris commitments increases.
  • In fact, more than 60 per cent of the credits may be used fully even before 2022 if we take into account the demand from airline operators to meet commitments under CORSIA — an emission reduction scheme for international civil aviation effective from 2021.
  • The question of impact of CDM on global environmental integrity is, however, an important one.
  • Environmental integrity is an objective of the market mechanisms under the Paris Agreement. Environmentalists believe that, in case of project/programme-based mechanisms, countries should make arrangements to prevent double counting of emission reduction units in their national accounts.
  • The proponents of sustainable development, however, argue that difference in levels of development of countries requires that the adjustment principle should not be applied uniformly to developed and developing countries.
  • The question, therefore, is: Should the pre-2020 CDM credits be discounted from the national emission reductions in case this principle is adopted for post 2020 credits?

Conclusion

  • Recent developments in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) warrant an urgent examination of the issue.
  • ICAO is actively considering a plan that seeks to limit the use of CDM credits to those issued after 2015.
  • This could deal a body blow to CDM in the future carbon market. It may still be possible for the countries having a stake in CDM to influence the ICAO process if they negotiate the conditions for the long-term use of credits originating in their host country.
  • It will be important for India to have a strategy that ensures that it does not get shut out of the CORSIA market even as ICAO enlarges the source of supplies from other countries.
  • A pragmatic assessment of likely gains and losses from competing approaches to CDM transition into new mechanisms is the need of the hour.
  • It is time that we rethink the relationship between the project/programme-based emission reduction units and the national pool of emission reductions so as to establish a firm basis for access to future carbon markets.
  • CDM has been a useful source of finance to industry and we may build a viable domestic carbon market in future on the foundations of industry interest as well as environmental protection.

 

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