Gist of EPW: Dec 2015 - Jan 2016 (Volumes 50 & 51)

Hey everyone, we have launched a Gist of EPW feature that will present the most important EPW articles relevant for your preparation. Never miss out on an important discussion at the iconic EPW from now on! Brief summaries and important points from the articles will be provided here, but please note that depending on your interest and optionals, you should selectively read up some of the original articles too. This feature is aimed to give you an understanding of in-depth debates and to expand your perspectives on some of the key issues of national importance. The summary will be released fortnightly and will cover two EPW editions. Any suggestions on improving the format or content will be welcomed. If any of you would like to summarize articles in more detail, please do so and send them to us. The best essays will be published along with the respective Gist of EPW articles. .

A. EPW-Vol 51_Issue No-3_16 Jan 2016: Important Articles


1. Climate Change & India: Policy Vs Institutions – What is needed?

Topic: Governance, Environment

Category: Climate Change

Key points:

– The growing focus on climate policy in India is not matched by an equivalent level of attention to institutions. Effective institutions are also needed for the design, coordination and implementation of policy.

– Since the release of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008, its eight subsidiary missions have been approved and started implementation. But meaningful action??

– Robust institutional arrangements are necessary for both upstream functions like strategy formulation and knowledge creation, and downstream functions of coordination and implementation.

– The paper analyses the evolution of India’s climate institutions – and concludes that institutions (mostly ad hoc) have been lacking in expertise, effectiveness and capacity in India.

climate change insitutions

– India is vulnerable to climate change because projected variations in rainfall and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events like cyclones, droughts, floods can have huge adverse impacts on agricultural yields, livestock, and water resources with implications for food security, human health, rural livelihoods, biodiversity and infrastructure investments..

How big a Problem is India Globally??

– India is labelled a “major emitter” because its annual emissions are the fourth highest in the world, behind the United States (US), China and the European Union (WRI 2014).

HOWEVER: – It is a small contributor to the problem because its contribution to global cumulative emissions stands at a relatively low 3%, compared to 27% by the US and around 70% by Annex I countries as a whole (WRI 2014).

MOREOVER – India’s per capita emissions in 2011 were 2.0t CO2/person, less than a third of the world average of 6.3t CO2/person and around one-fourth of China’s per capita emissions (WRI 2014).


2. Health Care in India – Role of Pvt Sector

Topic: Governance, Health

Category: Health Care

Key points:

– The World Health Statistics Report (WHO 2015) reveals that in India — there were 24 health workers per 10,000 population (seven doctors and 17 nurses and midwives)— almost half of the global average of 43 workers per 10,000 population (14 doctors and 29 nursing and midwifery personnel) and less than the threshold of 25 health workers per 10,000 population as established by the WHO) in 2004.

– As per the WHO’s Global Atlas of the Health Workforce (WHO 2010b) data, India ranked 52 of the 57 countries facing human resources for health (HRH) crisis.

– Clearly we have a human resources crunch in the sector. WHY? And HOW? Especially when all our students queue up for the medical entrance exams every year and only a few come out of the process smiling?

– Recent estimates indicate that 6.17 lakh candidates took the All India Pre-Medical Test in 2014 to qualify for 2,503 “open” seats—seats available through merit and not reserved—in government medical colleges.

Key Argument:

– Article argues that spread of Private medical colleges with exorbitant fees has led to a this shortfall, especially in the case of doctors.

– The medical colleges that have come up in the private sector in India are largely concentrated in the better- off provinces and cater to the needs of the urban population.

– The inadequacy of the MCI coupled with the lack of political will to regulate medical education has resulted in a situation where the poor, villagers, women, and other under- privileged sections of society do not have access to doctors.


– In contrast to India, the issue of lack of physicians was addressed quite successfully in China, and it has performed well in many basic health indicators like life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, etc. In 2013, the life expectancy at birth was 75 for China compared to 66 for India (WHO 2015).

– In China, between 2007 and 2013, there were 15 doctors per 10,000 population compared to seven in India (WHO 2015). “With a vast foundation in the form of barefoot doctors (BD) in lakhs of villages,”…. “China gave a concrete shape to its health intentions down to the grass roots level—curative, preventive or promotive” (Ashtekar 1999).

– The village youth turned “doctor for the village” received a short training (few weeks to a few months) in regard to basics in medical sciences.


3. Paris Climate Summit – Not Good Enough?

Topic: Environment

Category: Climate Change

Key points:

– The Paris Agreement has set targets for limiting temperature rise due to global warming which will be virtually impossible (1.5°C) or very difficult (well below 2°C) to realise.

– The most dismaying feature of the Paris Agreement is that it has set a global target for climate action that is close to being virtually impossible to meet

– If the global average tem-perature rise above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100 is to be below 2°C, with a probability of 50%, then the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide from 2012 to 2100 cannot cross 1,300 billion tonnes. A 50–50 chance is hardly a comforting margin in terms of keeping temperatures below 2°C. A 66% probability of keeping temperature increase below 2°C, a safer margin certainly, will allow only a cumulative emission of 1,000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2100.

Video Aid:

– Part of the challenge of interpreting the Paris agreement is its unconventional nature. Instead of seeking to bind countries to substantive outcomes, such as numerical limits on greenhouse gases (GHGs), it sets in place procedural requirements, such as those for updating and submitting voluntary national “contribu- tions” towards a common global goal of limiting temperature increase. Hence, while the Paris agreement is legally binding, it is these procedures that countries are bound to, rather than any commitments to limit emissions.

– Much of the scepticism and confusion about the agreement is based on a disbelief that such an approach will work to limit GHGs globally. However, the quarter century history of climate negotiations has also shown that the process of countries persuading each other to accept formal limits to long-term emissions is a political bridge too far.

The Paris agreement therefore adopts a different tack. It seeks to build a supportive procedural framework around voluntary national contributions to induce each country to regularly edge upwards towards lower emissions.

– MECHANISMS – System Building?

There are several elements to this framework.

i. First, each country is required to update its contribution every five years.

ii. Second, according to a principle of “progression,” each contri- bution must be more ambitious than the preceding one.

iii. Third, transparency mechanisms, including a technical expert review of country contributions, will be put in place.

iv. Fourth, a global aggregate “stocktake” of collective emissions, benchmarked to a global temperature goal, will inform each subsequent round of contributions.

Collectively, these mechanisms are intended to build a virtuous cycle of collective action.

– Ultimately, the Paris agreement provides no surety that we will collectively be able to avoid the worst ravages of a 2°C warmer world, let alone a 1.5° one. But perhaps the appropriate benchmark is whether, within existing political constraints, it provides an option of doing so, however slender.

Do we have time to build institutions? Is a crisis the right time to do so??


4. Current Statistics

1. Wholesale Price Index: The year-on-year (y-o-y) inflation rate based on WPI stood at -1.99% in November 2015.

2. The index for manufactured products declined by -1.4% in November 2015 against inflation of 1.9% a year ago.

3. Consumer Price Index: The CPI inflation rate increased to 5.6%, y-o-y, in December 2015, from 5.4% in November 2015. The food price inflation rate rose by 6.4%, in December 2015, compared to 6.1%, a month ago.

4. Foreign Trade: The merchandise trade deficit narrowed by 39.8% to $9.8 billion (bn) in November 2015, y-o-y. The non-oil trade deficit was valued at $5.5 bn in November 2015 compared to $9.2 bn in a year ago.

5. Index of Industrial Production: The y-o-y growth in IIP contracted by (-)3.2% in November 2015 after rising to a high of 9.9%, a month ago, and 5.2%, a year ago


5. Useful points made in other articles (You need not pursue these in detail):

i. India should try to improve its rare-earths industry (Topic: S&T)

– Since it could be the core of the high-tech industry. China is trying to establish a dominant position in the global rare earths industry.

– Rare earth elements have many desirable properties that find use in a variety of high technology applications.

– In India, monazite is the principal source of rare earths. Indian needs to bridge Industry and R&D to become a major player.

ii. Colonial Assam (Topic: History): During colonial times idle land was called “waste land” and indigenous Assamese were called lazy — lay at the root of the colonial state’s encouraging peasant migrations from outside Assam into arable lands in the province

iii. Crimes of domestic violence are distinct from other crimes against women. They show a steady rise, despite the Domestic Violence Act coming into force in 2005. Domestic violence against women forms a large part of all crimes against women. A recent study estimates that domestic violence cases comprised over 43% of all crimes against women in 2011

iv. Benedict Anderson and “Imagined Communities” – A book to read and discuss later in your officer career 🙂

v. What of the Homeless? (Topic: Governance)

– According to the 2011 Census, India has 9.38 lakh homeless persons in urban areas and 8.34 lakh in rural areas. With 18.56% of the total number of homeless, Uttar Pradesh (UP) has the highest number and proportion, followed by Maharashtra (11.9%) and Rajasthan (10.2%). And, yet, the record of both UP and Maharashtra in providing shelter to the homeless has been abysmal. Maharashtra does not have a single functioning shelter for the urban homeless.

– The government has a plan to address this under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission’s (NULM) shelter for the urban home- less (SUH) scheme. The centre is supposed to bear 75% of the total cost of constructing shelters for the homeless.

– In April 2015, the Supreme Court whilst pointing out that only 208 houses had been built despite the centre releasing Rs 1,078 crore to all states for constructing nine lakh urban homes said “it is a big scam…where has the money gone?” This single fact displays the apathy that governments have towards the homeless.

vi. Pro-Worker labour laws only for Organized sector? (Topic: Labour Reforms)

– It is conventionally claimed that protected by “pro-worker” labour laws, organised sector workers receive a disproportionate share of the fruits of economic growth. And these “rigid” labour laws are believed to hinder output and employment.

labour laws list

– Paper argues that organised sector workers’ real wages have grown slower (0.82% per annum) than per capita income growth (3.6% pa) in India— despite high productivity growth— while their non-wage benefits have declined at 0.18% pa. So how were they being benefitted so much? Are They Really ‘Privileged’?

– The organised manufacturing sector in India—consisting of those facto- ries that employ 10 workers using power, or 20 without using power— employs about 3% of the workforce, while producing about 11% of the gross domestic output…

– The challenge then is to develop a system which ensures economic and social security of workers, including those employed in the informal sector, without compromising on the efficiency of the industry.

labor vs gdp


B. EPW-Vol 50_Issue No_ 52_26 Dec 2015


1. New PDS: Cost of Providing One Rupee of Support to the Poor?

Topic: Governance, Food Security

Category: NFSA

Key points:

– The enduring equity-efficiency debate on India’s food policy revolves around two key issues—leakage of cereal grains from the system, and reduction in benefits at the extensive margin to reduce the fiscal burden.

– Home to over 1.25 billion people,1 India produced over 290 million metric tonnes (mt) of cereal in 2014, making it the third-largest cereal producer in the world.

– This translates to a situation where India produces enough cereal to feed each Indian about 19 kg of cereals every month.

– Yet, the abundance in cereals is not reflected in India’s performance on important food-related human-capital indicators.

– In th Global Hunger Index (GHI), which combines undernourishment, child underweight, and child mortality –  India currently ranks, 120th among 128 countries on the GHI.

– Early in 2015, as a response to the criticisms made to the PDS and NFSA, the Government of India commissioned the HLC to assess the PDS. The report of the HLC, Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India recommends:

(i) Government of India should defer implementation of NFSA in states that have not done end-to-end computerisation; have not put the list of beneficiaries online for anyone to verify; and have not set up vigilance committees to check pilferage from PDS.

(ii) NFSA coverage should be brought down to around 40%.

(iii) Priority persons to be given 7 kg/person per month instead of 5 kg.

(iv) Central issue prices should be linked to Minimum Support Price (MSP) for BPL households (suggested 50% of MSP).

(v) Targeted beneficiaries under NFSA or targeted PDS to be given six months’ ration immediately after the procurement season ends.

(vi) Gradual introduction of cash transfers in PDS, starting with cities with a population of more than one million, extending it to grain surplus states, and then giving option to deficit states to opt for cash or physical grain distribution.

– Paper Concludes –  Under the status quo it costs Rs 1.5 to deliver a Re 1 implicit transfers through the PDS. If the NFSA or HLC can deliver on promises and ensure negligible levels of leakages, it would reduce that cost to Rs 1.2. If leakages persist at the current levels, that cost would increase to Rs 1.7. The question of efficiency of the PDS boils down to which set of incentives—NFSA or HLC— can plug leakages better?


2. Fourteenth Finance Commission & Local Bodies

Topic: Budget, Federalism

Category: Fiscal Federalism

Key points:

– The Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) brought cheer to both state and local governments—a 10% increase in devolutions from the divisible pool for the former, and for the latter, a more than threefold increase in grants allocated by the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC).

– Towards Cooperative Federalism: The FFC adopted an approach that contributes to building “trust” between three layers of government—union, state and local


3. Unjustified Haste: Was the juvenile justice law changed in response to manufactured pressure?

Topic: Governance, Media

Category: Role of media, Governance

Key points:

– By passing the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2014 – which goes against the advice of the parliamentary standing committee as well as the Justice J S Verma Committee – the Rajya Sabha demonstrated how public pressure and the fear of going against this so-called “public sentiment” is erasing the space for reasoned debate.

– JJC stipulates that anyone between the ages of 16 and 18 years, charged with a crime for which the sentence is seven years or more, can be tried under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) instead of the Juvenile Justice Act. By doing this, the law not only contradicts other laws pertaining to children that accept 18 years as the age defining a juvenile, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that India has signed, but it rejects the belief that reform and rehabilitation is the best course to follow while dealing with children and adolescents who fall foul of the law.

– Despite similar pres- sures at that time, the Verma Committee had urged that the age limit for juveniles remains at 18 years. This recommendation, backed by many others, is based not only on the well-established concept of reform and rehabilitation, but on inputs about the development of children into adults. The amendment has summarily rejected all of this.


– The reality is that juvenile crime has remained about the same as a proportion of overall crime, roughly 1%–1.5%. It is also well known that the majority of the crimes for which juve- niles are charged have to do with theft and burglary. The con- cern about one juvenile charged with a heinous crime walking free should not cloud our judgment on the overall picture of juvenile crime in the country or the kind of children who fall foul of the law.


– Furthermore, the fact that stranger rapes form a very small proportion of all rapes remained unaddressed as always and thus marital rape and other forms of sexual violence were again ignored.


4. Useful points made in other articles:

i. Deepening Regional Integration: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal Motor Vehicle Agreement (Topic: IR)

– In a major bid to facilitate transportation and trade, four South Asian countries, namely, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN), signed the Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) for the “Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic” on 15 June 2015. BBIN – MVA

– Could the landmark BBIN-MVA be capable of unlocking the huge trade potential of these countries and deepening regional integration in a region known to be the least integrated in the world?

– Three decades have passed since the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) came into being; however, progress on regional trade on the ground has been rather limited.2 Lack of connectivity between SAARC countries has been identified as one of the major barriers to trade and regional integration

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