Mains Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 4
Assam’s Two Child Policy
- Recently, the Assam government announced that people with more than two children will not be eligible for government jobs from January 2021. Assam will become the fourth state after Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to have a two-child norm in place for government jobs.
- At least five other states follow this norm for candidates seeking elections to local bodies such as panchayats, municipal corporations and zila parishads.
- There is now compelling evidence that measures such as debarring people from holding government office amount to penalising weaker sections of the population, including women, whose reproductive choices are often subject to a variety of constraints.
- It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Assam government has chosen to ignore the discriminatory nature of the two-child policy.
- Almost all surveys indicate that India’s population growth rate has slowed substantially in the last decade.
The National Family Health Survey Findings
- According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), at 2.2, India’s total fertility rate (TFR) is very close to the desired replacement level of 2.1.
- In fact, the NFHS-4 data confirms what population experts, gender rights activists and social scientists have maintained over the years:
- Women’s education has a direct bearing on fertility rates.
- The decadal survey shows that women who have never been to school are likely to bear more than three children while the fertility rate of those who have completed 12 years of schooling is 1.7.
- In spite of the fall in TFR, India’s population has continued to grow because nearly 50 per cent of the people are in the age group of 15-49.
- This means that the absolute population will continue to rise even though couples have less children.
- There is substantial literature to show that a further slowing down of the momentum will require raising the age of marriage, delaying the first pregnancy and ensuring spacing between births.
- In this context, the NFHS-4 figures on contraception point to a major shortfall: The unmet need for contraception is 13 per cent — over 30 million women of reproductive age are not able to access contraception.
- Dealing with the country’s demographic peculiarity will require investments in health, education, nutrition and employment avenues.
More on the Move
- It is reported that twins will be treated as one unit in the second child category.
- In 2017, a resolution on the Population and Women Empowerment Policy of Assam was passed in the state assembly.
- The policy lists two key norms for government employment linked to population growth: Only candidates with two children will be eligible for government jobs; government servants shall strictly follow norms of two children to serve as role models for society.
- The policy also covers the electoral process.
- It states that the government may legislate on legal provisions to bar those with more than two children from participating in panchayat and municipal body elections.
- It proposes that the state will take up with the Centre guidelines for MLAs to adhere to family planning norms, and that the two-child norm will be proposed as a yardstick for any contestant to the State Legislature.
- “…MLAs having more than two children may be disqualified from his/her membership and be debarred from contesting polls in future,” it states.
- Last year, Assam had passed the Assam Panchayat (Amendment) Act, 2018, according to which those contesting panchayat polls cannot have more than two children.
- Other states with similar norms for local body polls include Uttarakhand, Odisha, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
- The right to seek a government job or contest elections are citizens’ rights. State governments will do well to rethink throttling such rights to enforce population control.
RCEP trade negotiations
The story so far: Negotiations on the final agreement under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are becoming increasingly urgent as the deadline approaches. The RCEP countries are expected to finalise, in November 2019, the agreement and the countries that would be members. The final ministerial meeting prior to that concluded recently, but with no final agreement in place. The Leaders Summit, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking part, will to be held on November 4 in Bangkok, Thailand. But there are several sticking points that remain preventing a harmonious agreement from taking shape.
What is RCEP?
- Once finalised, the RCEP trade grouping will be one of the world’s biggest free trade pacts as it includes the 10 Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.
- These 16 nations account for a little less than half of the world’s population and about a third of the world’s GDP. Trade between the 16 countries also makes up a little more than a quarter of global trade.
- Talks on finalising RCEP began all the way back in 2012, but have not yet been concluded. The uncertainty in global trade is slowing down talks further.
Potential benefits and disadvantages
- Once the deal is concluded, it will likely bring stability to trade relations in an area where such ties have historically been unpredictable.
- The deal — in essence a free trade agreement between the signatories — would open up markets of each of the partner countries to the others.
- On the face of it, this is a favourable outcome for all involved, but there are some niggling issues, especially between India and China, that are throwing a spanner in the works.
- In addition, there is a fear that, at a time when the U.S. and China are embroiled in a trade war, a trade grouping with China at the helm would mean that the other countries, including India, would be forced to take its side against the U.S.
- This is a complicated issue since India and the Prime Minister have been going to great lengths to further bolster trade with the U.S.
- In fact, the two countries are currently in talks on a bilateral trade deal, which could be put at risk if India is seen to be overtly siding with China.
What are India’s issues with RCEP?
- The main problem Indian industry has with the RCEP trade deal is that it would give China near-unfettered access to India markets.
- Cheap imports from China have already been seen to be impacting India’s domestic industry, with the Indian government having taken a number of steps to curb such imports.
- These include imposing a safeguard duty on solar panel imports, and imposing anti-dumping measures on items such as steel.
- According to reports from the various RCEP negotiations that have taken place, India would, under the agreement, reduce duties on 80% of items imported from China.
- While this is a smaller percentage of items as compared to what India is prepared to do for other countries, the figure has nevertheless spooked Indian industry, especially the agriculture and dairy sectors.
- Under the agreement, India would have to cut duties on 86% of imports from Australia and New Zealand, and 90% for products from ASEAN, Japan and South Korea.
- India’s problems with RCEP are not restricted to China. There are several other aspects to the RCEP agreement which include investments and e-commerce that are of major concern as well.
- It has already been reported that India has agreed to the investment chapter of the RCEP agreement, which would mean that the government can no longer mandate that a company investing in India must also transfer technology and know-how to its Indian partners.
- The investment chapter also says that a signatory government cannot set a cap on the amount of royalties an Indian company can pay to its foreign parent or partner.
- These aspects have also raised concerns since technology sharing was a major way in which Indian companies were being able to compete globally.
- Further, there is also the fear that companies might be forced to transfer huge royalty sums to foreign partners, instead of paying dividends to Indian shareholders.
- The e-commerce chapter, which is still under negotiation, is quite tricky because it contains provisions that, if agreed to, would mean that India would not be able to pursue its data localisation plans.
- India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has held several rounds of meetings with industry representatives and has heard their concerns in detail. These concerns have certainly played a part in India’s uncertain stance when it comes to joining the grouping.
- However, time is running out. China has already said that the grouping should go ahead without the nay-sayers, with a clause allowing them to join later. This suggestion was echoed by Malaysia as well, but was ultimately rejected.
- It does not seem a good idea for India to be out of the agreement from its inception, only to join it later. This would mean it would have missed out on the chance to frame the discussions and the precedents from the beginning and would have to accept them later.
- India should make clear its stance and stick to it. If it is joining, it should say so and reassure other countries, which would possibly reduce friction during negotiations.
- If India is not going to join the group, experts say it should stick to the decision and not change its mind later.
Linkage of Aadhar to Social Media accounts
From January, the Supreme Court will hear cases seeking the linking of Aadhaar with social media profiles of individuals. It will be the first big legal battle on the right to privacy after the Supreme Court held in a landmark verdict in 2017 that privacy is a fundamental right. The two significant questions of law that the court will look into are: whether mandatory linking of Aadhaar to social media accounts violates an individual’s right to privacy, and the balance between intermediary liability and free speech.
- It was in connection with these cases that the government submitted an affidavit recently stating that the “Internet has emerged as a potent tool to cause unimaginable disruption to the democratic polity”, and informing the Supreme Court that it will take another three months to revise and notify “extant rules” for “effective regulation of intermediaries” such as social media platforms.
- Intermediaries, as defined by the Information Technology Act, 2000, include telecom service providers, network service providers, Internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online auction sites, online market places, and cyber cafes.
- Section 87 of the IT Act gives power to the central government to frame Rules; currently, Rules framed in 2011 regulate intermediaries.
- Facebook, WhatsApp and Google had appealed for the transfer of such cases to the Supreme Court from the Madras, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts, where at least four such cases were pending.
- The Madras High Court was hearing two writ petitions filed in 2018 by animal rights activist Anthony Clement Rubin and Janani Krishnamurthy for seeking to link Aadhaar of users to their social media accounts, and a direction against intermediaries to provide information to trace individuals.
- The prayer for linkage to Aadhar was later withdrawn.
- In October 2018, Sagar Suryavanshi, an advocate, moved the Bombay High Court seeking a ban on all paid political content online 48 hours before elections. Suryavanshi has withdrawn the case, and informed the High Court that he would join the proceedings before the Supreme Court as an intervener.
- In July 2019, advocate Amitabh Gupta move the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking mandatory KYC of all social media users using Aadhaar and other identity proof.
- Facebook argued that these cases involved answering questions related to fundamental rights — specifically the rights to privacy and free speech.
- If different High Courts heard the cases separately and gave conflicting verdicts, citizens’ fundamental rights could be affected, Facebook argued.
New guidelines on the way
- The central government informed the Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose that fresh guidelines for regulating intermediaries under the IT Act were in the pipeline.
- “There are various messages and content spread/shared on the social media, some of which are harmful. Some messages can incite violence. There may be messages which are against the sovereignty and integrity of the country. Social media has today become the source of large amount of pornography. Paedophiles use social media in a big way. Drugs, weapons and other contraband can be sold through the use of platforms run by the intermediaries,” the court said.
- In January, the Ministry for Information and Technology had published draft Rules on regulating intermediaries, seeking responses from the public.
Privacy and sovereignty
- The Madras High Court had sought an affidavit from V Kamakoti, a computer science professor with IIT Madras, who said he could provide the technology to enable the intermediary to decrypt the encrypted message when necessary.
- WhatsApp, on the other hand, has submitted that it is impossible for it to trace the creator of the “questionable content” since it has end-to-end encryption.
- While the court highlighted that “de-encryption, if available easily, could defeat the fundamental right of privacy and de-encryption of messages may be done under special circumstances but it must be ensured that the privacy of an individual is not invaded”, but at the same time “the sovereignty of the state and the dignity and reputation of an individual are required to be protected”.
A fix for growth gain from fiscal pain
- After having been in denial mode for months, the government with its substantive cut in corporate tax, publicly admitted, through belatedly, what was widely known and experienced about the sluggish economy.
- The audacious tax cut, that was effected last month, was apparently done in the hope that it would kick-start the sagging economy.
- By bringing down corporate tax to the global level, the government has undoubtedly sent a strong and positive message which has cheered the stock market and hit the media headlines globally.
- Though the immediate tax bonanza would boost the bottom lines of only Indian corporates, its message to foreign investors too was positive.
- Against the backdrop of China losing its sheen as a preferred global investment destination, the prospects of attracting sizeable foreign capital investment in the Indian economy are indeed brighter than ever before especially in the context of the trade war between China and the United States.
- Describing the corporate tax cut as historic, the Prime Minister said it would give a stimulus to the ‘Make in India’ campaign, attract private investment from across the globe, improve the competitiveness of India’s private sector, create more jobs, and result in a win-win situation for the 130 crore Indians.
- The country’s corporate honchos and the stock market loudly echoed the sentiments of the Prime Minister and cheered the government’s move.
- For an economy raring to become a $5-trillion one by 2025, sacrifice of tax revenue of a lakh-and-a-half crore rupees in favour of the corporate sector could be justified politically and economically, provided it realises the ambitious expectations spelt out by the Prime Minister.
- But as euphoria over the unprecedented step is evaporating, it is time to closely look at its possible impact both in the immediate and the long term in the context of the current sluggishness in the economy.
Action, reaction and reality
- By now it is widely accepted that the slump in demand for industrial and consumer goods that range from heavy equipment to automobiles to soaps and biscuits have starkly reflected the reality of a slowdown.
- The government woke up to this reality, though belatedly, and swallowing its earlier dubious explanations such as changing consumer preferences and the like for the downturn in demand, injected with alacrity a massive dose of adrenalin in the body corporate hoping that it would release the animal spirit in the economy.
- The capital market was enthused, the Sensex soared and corporates exuded confidence. Now the million dollar question is whether the revival of the animal spirit would spur an increase in capital investment either for expansion of existing operations or for the launch of green field projects.
- Regrettably, the prospects are bleak for the same reasons on account of which the economy slumped in the first instance — lack of demand that was evident in the market for quite some time.
- For obvious reasons, higher levels of surplus income with corporates will not necessarily translate into a higher level of investment and a consequent spurt in economic growth.
- A high level of demand for products and services is the sine qua non of higher levels of investment and consequent economic growth.
- Agriculture and allied sectors and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) — not corporates — are still the strongest drivers of our economy. Agriculture and allied sectors which not only contribute to our food security but to approximately over 50% employment have been on the decline in spite of several ad hoc policy pronouncements to revive them.
- At the same time, MSMEs suffering for a long time on account of institutional constraints including inadequate and timely availability of credit were crippled after demonetisation.
- The report of the expert committee on MSMEs that was set up by the Reserve Bank of India has made significant recommendations.
- These include constituting a government-sponsored “fund of funds” to support venture capital funds and a credit guarantee fund which would go a long way in enabling their growth.
- Employment generation has been dismally low and unemployment has reached an all time high despite the government’s feeble protestations to the contrary.
- These are issues that are fundamental to the economy, and without addressing them directly and systematically, expecting higher levels of growth is patently unrealistic.
- The latest reports of Moody’s, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank confirm this gloomy assessment.
- Reinvigorating the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, and making it demand-driven as originally envisaged could be a concrete and immediate step to generate greater purchasing power in the hands of the people to accelerate demand and consumption, especially in the rural areas.
- Higher levels of public spending for creating much-needed infrastructure in several sectors would not only generate employment but also create productive assets.
- For instance, spending on buildings, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and waterbodies would have multiple benefits to the economy. Well-calibrated policy interventions and targeted incentives to select industries specially with high export potential would push MSMEs to a higher growth trajectory.
- If speedily and efficiently implemented, these mundane measures could pull the sagging economy out of the quagmire, especially in the near term, and hopefully incentivise and facilitate the much anticipated spurt in corporate investment which apparently the government was aiming at while announcing the tax bonanza.
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