Gist of EPW March Week 3, 2019

The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) is an important source of study material for IAS, especially for the current affairs segment. In this section, we give you the gist of the EPW magazine every week. The important topics covered in the weekly are analysed and explained in a simple language, all from a UPSC perspective.


1. Economic Impacts of Connectivity Corridors in North East India
2. Indus Waters Treaty
3. Transitioning to Sustainable Development Goals for Water
4. India and the Global Compact for Migration

1. Economic Impacts of Connectivity Corridors in North East India


  • Many studies have shown that the corridor-based development projects may generate economic activities and regional development, which, in turn, would influence economic growth through higher production and consumption.
  • Compared to rest of Indian subcontinent one of the main constraints to development in North East India is the lack of connectivity.

A corridor can be

  • National (for example, Leipzig–Frankfurt corridor, Tokyo–Osaka corridor),
  • Regional (for example, the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) or the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation corridors), or
  • International (for example, submarine telecommunication cables or energy pipelines) thereby connecting country or countries across the region.

On-going Projects

  • There are ongoing and proposed corridors connecting the NER with the neighbouring countries of India, namely the Trilateral Highway (TH), the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP), and the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC), which are expected to bring potential benefits to the region.
  • These corridors are significant for India and the NER in particular in view of the ambitious Act East Policy (AEP) that aims to strengthen connectivity between India and South East Asia.
  • The NER has the potential to grow faster than its current pace, by improving connectivity, logistics and trade facilitation, more particularly with Bangladesh, Myanmar and other South East and East Asian countries.
  • Development of (transport) corridors, which connect the NER with the other states of India and the neighbouring countries, can enhance both trade and connectivity.

East-West Corridor

  • The EWC, a national project, which is under the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) projects, starts at Silchar (Assam) and ends at Porbandar (Gujarat).
  • Aims to improve the connectivity of the NER with the rest of India through a 3,300 kilometre (km)-long four-lane divided highway between Silchar and Porbandar.
  • This corridor forms a key part of the Indian highway network, connecting many important manufacturing, commerce and cultural centres of the northern part of India.

Trilateral Highway

  • The TH is an international project that is designed to connect Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in the Tak province of Thailand via Myanmar.
  • Importantly, along with this corridor, there are two border crossings (India–Myanmar, and Myanmar–Thailand).
  • The challenge is to reach convergence in standards and procedures along the corridor. This project would help in establishing trilateral connectivity between India, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP)

  • Another international project, the KMTTP has been jointly identified by India and Myanmar for creating a multimodal transportation project that will carry cargo from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar as well as to the NER of India through Myanmar.
  • The KMTTP is aimed to provide an alternate route for transportation of goods to north-eastern India through Myanmar. The components of this project include
    • Construction of an integrated port and Inland Water Transport (IWT) terminal at Sittwe, including dredging
    • Development of navigational channel along river KMTTC from Sittwe to Paletwa
    • Construction of an IWT—Highway transhipment terminal at Paletwa
    • Construction of six IWT barges (each with a capacity of 300 tonnes) for transportation of cargo between Sittwe and Paletwa
    • Building a highway (109 km) from Paletwa to the India–Myanmar border (Zorinpui) in Mizoram.

Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC)

  • BCIM-EC is aimed at connecting China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar with India. The BCIM-EC encompasses Kolkata in India to Kunming in China’s Yunnan province, passing through Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Importance of Infrastructural development

  • Empirical studies reveal that infrastructure, such as corridor-based development, promotes economic growth and regional development through easing the demand for infrastructure, reducing time and cost of the transaction due to increase of transportation activities, encourages fragmentation of production in a region, creates employment opportunities, and also contributes to poverty reduction.
  • In the case of India’s infrastructure development, activities on upgrading and creating new roads and highways, railways, airports, inland waterways, and ports, etc, are expected to provide cost-effective and efficient logistic services to promote trade and development.
  • In addition, India’s focus on the North East Region (NER) by developing deeper connectivity would enhance the scope of intra- and cross-border trade and socio-economic benefits in that region.
  • Especially, the existing East–West Corridor (EWC) connecting North East India with Gujarat improves the connectivity of the NER with the rest of the country.
  • A corridor helps strengthen industrial (or services) agglomeration over time through the establishment of industrial zones (or special economic zones [SEZs]) and facilitates the cluster-type development of enterprises.
  • Several studies showed that corridors which cut across a geographical space generate economic agglomeration, subject to location, where transportation costs and time are critical to such agglomeration.
  • The low costs related to transportation activities create an effect of increasing productivity. For example, when the freight rate of an imported goods falls, the profit rate gained from trade increases, and more goods and services are produced.
  • Besides, infrastructure development linking with industrial location significantly reduces the border trade. Better infrastructure (for example, services links, logistics services) encourages fragmentation of production in a region, and enhances regional and global trade, expediting regional integration
  • Few recent studies have pointed out that improvement in trade would also lead to job creation and more income opportunities, which will further add on to the local production.
  • Therefore, regional and national economic corridors are complementary to each other, by facilitating a conducive environment for trade and investment activities, besides contributing to poverty reduction.
  • States that have better connectivity and access to the neighbouring markets through improved corridors may gain from intra- and inter-state economic activities as well as with neighbouring countries.
  • On the other hand, the states that have less proximity to the transport corridors might face more connectivity challenges and relatively little access to the international market

Issue Area

  • The NER has a number of challenges in terms of lack of connectivity, barriers in trade across the border, and lag in economic activities in comparison with the rest of India. The slow progress of the the NER’s economy is reflected in the low growth in income.
  • For instance, NER contributes only 3% to India’s gross domestic product (GDP), despite having huge unexplored natural resources, including several critical minerals, petroleum, natural gas, hydroelectricity, etc.
  • Therefore, the NER needs drastic improvement in terms of connectivity to the rest of India and facilitate border infrastructure to trade with the neighbouring countries.
  • The main constraint to development is high transportation cost, which has been negating the NER’s
  • In this context, the ongoing and proposed economic corridors through the NER can encourage economic activities.
  • Besides, it would enhance the agriculture and manufacturing activities, along with the existing limited industries mostly on some mineral-based industries and some micro-household unorganised sectors such as handloom and handicrafts, small food processing units, etc.


  • The NER is crucial to India’s growing economic and strategic partnership with South-east and East Asia. The NER is also central to India’s Look East–Act East Policy, and acts as a land bridge between India and South East Asia.
  • Owing to its strategic location, several national and international corridors may pass through the NER either as a place of origin or a place of destination.
  • The corridor-based development project may generate further economic activities and regional development, which in turn will influence economic growth through higher production and consumption.
  • This study indicates that the NER states are likely to gain more in terms of growth in freight from the existing EWC and, the proposed KMTTC, TH and BCIM-EC, respectively.
  • However, we need to interpret the results with caution. The operational models, which we have developed to trace the effects of changes in corridors on regional development, provide strong policy implications.

2. Indus Waters Treaty


Chairing a meeting to review the Indus Waters Treaty (iwt), following the terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri and now in Pulwama, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided on greater use of the rivers allotted to India.

What is Indus Water Treaty?

  • The Indus Waters Treaty was signed by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan on September 19, 1960.
  • The World Bank brokered the Indus valley treaty. The treaty describes how river Indus and its tributaries that flow through both the countries can be effectively utilized without disputes.
  • According to the treaty, the administration of Beas, Ravi and Sutlej are invested on Indian Government, while, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum are to be taken care by Pakistan.
  • As the river Indus flows from India, the country is allowed to use 20 per cent of its water for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes.
  • Though, the Indus originates from Tibet, China has been kept out of the Treaty. The provisions of The Indus Valley Treaty created a peaceful sharing of water among India and Pakistan for 56 years on sharing the water of Indus and its tributaries.
  • Under the IWT, signed in 1960, India has control over water flowing in the eastern rivers—Beas, Ravi and Sutlej—while Pakistan has control over the western rivers of Indus—Chenab and Jhelum.
  • Of the total 168 million acre-feet of the Indus basin, India’s share of water is 33 million acre-feet or just 20%. India uses nearly 95% of its share.
  • Pakistan sought a guaranteed source of water, independent of Indian control. It interpreted sovereignty on the principles of maintaining status quo, or “prior appropriation.”
  • In other words, since the people of Pakistan were already using this water, they have a claim on it and any curtailment by India would be an attack on its sovereignty.

Post terrorist attacks

  • As international opinion turns against state-sponsored terrorism from Pakistan, India has to be prepared for renewed pressure to re-engage in a dialogue on all issues, including Kashmir.
  • Broadening the agenda is the time-tested diplomatic approach to such negotiations and the inevitable give-and-take.
  • India’s graded response on allocation of Indus waters should be ratcheted up, beyond use and dispute resolution, as the treaty is not functional in the current setting.

Compromises from Indian side in the past

  • India’s first major concession was the agreement itself. Pakistan was allotted 80% of the Indus waters. Instead of any scientific rationale, sharing of water from the six rivers of the Indus river basin is based solely on the division of rivers.
  • The second concession India made was to allow free-of-cost water flows into Pakistan. The 1948 Inter-Dominion Accord provided for Pakistan making payments for water based on the legal principle of India “owning” this water.
  • The third concession was to relinquish 13 of the 16 pre-partition Punjab’s canal systems, though much of their river-heads were located in Kashmir, and to pay Pakistan $174 million for new works. The Indus Basin Development Fund Agreement specified the total cost of works in Pakistan to be $893.5 million.
  • This was led by the United States (US) and the United Kingdom provided most of it as grants. Cold-war politics played a central role in heavily tilting the treaty in Pakistan’s favour. Pakistan was aligned with the US while India tilted towards the Soviet Union.

Way Forward

  • The international context is now fundamentally different. With the United Nations Security Council supporting India’s position on cross-border terrorism, the time is ripe to push for reciprocity.
  • Climate variability is another new factor. Snowmelt and glacier melt comprise a significant portion of the water supply, and warming could increase variability of flows affecting seasonal requirements for agriculture as well as resulting in flooding.
  • The fundamental flaw in the treaty is that Pakistan has not kept with its side of the grand bargain. The expectation that solving the Indus waters issue was a first step on the way to a Kashmir settlement has not been achieved.
  • The treaty needs to be brought in line with other such bilateral treaties. It will not be easy as both countries have to agree, but a beginning should be made for shifting from “distribution” to “sharing” of the Indus waters.

3. Transitioning to Sustainable Development Goals for Water


Large infrastructure projects are threatening ecosystems and livelihoods by diverting water and depriving rural populations of access to water, as they are being promoted in the name of drinking water provisioning.

Implementation and monitoring efforts have barely made any progress on Sustainable Development Goals that involve recognising trade-offs and synergies.

Why moving from MDGs to SDGs?

  • The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in 2000 to improve the lives of the world’s poor. By 2015, most countries had made significant progress towards these goals, but it became clear that development and sustainability could be in conflict.
  • To pursue the MDGs in isolation would risk undermining the long-term goal of sustainable well-being.
  • Hence, the nations agreed on objectives for sustainable development.
    • Poverty eradication
    • Changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production.
    • Protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development
  • It is argued that, in India the transition in the mind-set from MDGs to SDGs has not occurred.
  • The MDGs were very appropriate in an era when a sizeable fraction of India’s population did not have access to water or sanitation. But, MDGs were being met at the expense of the environment or other sectors. This is the reason for transitioning from MDGs to SDGs.

Costs of Megaprojects

  • Large water infrastructure projects are being justified for the sake of provisioning for drinking water without paying adequate attention to the environmental and social costs, often leading to the destruction of fragile habitats, species extinction, and loss of lives and livelihoods.
  • In the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan v Union of India, the Supreme Court, in the verdict permitted the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam and the justification provided was need to meet the drinking water requirements of the people in the drought-stricken regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan under the right to life provision in the Constitution.
  • This is a consequence of the narrow interpretation of the right to water or treating it in isolation from other uses, users and ecosystems. This project displaced thousands of tribal and peasant families, also submerged many hectares of forestland and agricultural land.
  • Likewise, one rationale given for the Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project is the provision of safe drinking water by diverting water from “surplus” basins to “deficit” ones.
  • These debates mask the fact that drinking water needs comprise barely 1% of water use in a river basin. Yet, decentralised solutions with a lower ecological and social footprint are given a go-by.

Water Reallocation

  • Another area of concern is the reallocation of water occurring in the name of development.
  • Most of the water from dams have been diverted to cities and industries over a period of time.
  • One of the best example is reallocation of water from the Surya Irrigation Project in Maharashtra. The project had the agenda to serve water to the 92 tribal villages and also for irrigational purpose. Presently the water is getting reallocated for industrial and domestic purpose of Greater Mumbai.
  • Although some reallocation is inevitable given the extent of urbanisation and industrialisation, the troubling element is that these reallocations have occurred without much deliberation or compensation for lost livelihoods, thereby leading to conflicts.
  • Another bigger concern is that the tribal villages which was to be served by the project has no access to good quality drinking water. So the issue is not just between agriculture and urban water sharing but also drinking water between rural and urban population.

Slippages in Water Access

  • In recent years, several studies have shown that the on-site disposal of faecal matter, without sewers or lined pits, leads to chemical and biological contamination of groundwater.
  • This is particularly problematic because unsewered peri-urban areas are precisely the places that tend to be dependent on groundwater for drinking water supply.
  • India’s rural drinking water supply programme has become a “Sisyphean task.” Every year, the government claims that more habitations have been covered with drinking water supply.
  • Yet, progress is negated by “slippage” as fully covered habitations slip back to the not-covered or partially covered state.
  • The primary causes of slippage is that in dryland areas, falling groundwater levels may be causing existing functional sources (that is, working handpumps and borewells) to go dry, requiring reinvestment of large capital expenditure.
  • Groundwater depletion, in turn, is caused by over-abstraction for agricultural and industrial uses in many parts of India. It is precisely the shift to groundwater irrigated agriculture that has allowed many farmers to escape from poverty and the vagaries of the monsoon, and ensure food security.
  • In fact, unregulated groundwater extraction is emerging as a major threat to drinking water schemes.


  • In recent decades, it has become increasingly clear, that targets based on provisioning of water alone are likely to be unsustainable.
  • The SDGs recognise that expanding the provision of services comes at a cost; sustaining human well-being in the long run can only be achieved by recognising trade-offs and balancing between them.
  • Most civil society organisations and government departments that are involved in the discourse around the SDGs are also the same that were involved in the MDGs as a result, there has also been a tendency to think of SDG as a slight tweak on the MDGs focusing on ending open defecation and not on safe sanitation for all.
  • The focus of both implementation and monitoring efforts has, therefore, largely been confined to water and sanitation of SDGs; barely any progress is being made on the rest of the goals.
  • The problem is with SDG, which entails recognising trade-offs and synergies and necessitates a paradigm shift in thinking.
    • First, the MDGs were about “positive rights,” that is, people have a right to certain basic services that must be provided by the government. In contrast, the SDGs involve recognising negative rights, that is, people cannot be deprived of their enjoyment of natural resources and a clean environment.
    • Second, transitioning to SDG, requires taking a basin view of the problem, whereas the MDGs were focused on households. Basin-scale water management requires collaborative decision-making, shared vision planning, negotiation, etc. These are not part of the SDG toolbox yet and monitoring success is likely to be even harder.
    • Third, most of the organisations involved in SDG implementation are still from the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector, a carryover from the implementation of MDGs.

Meeting SDG targets, thus, requires recognising trade-offs and coordination across sectors and agencies. The SDG implementation efforts must bring in new actors, tools and indicators beyond those that have been involved with MDGs. As implementation efforts are just beginning, it is still possible to achieve a paradigm shift.

4. India and the Global Compact for Migration


  • The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a non-binding agreement for the better management of migration, was adopted by the United Nations member countries in December 2018.
  • India’s decision to sign the compact comes as a real surprise in the face of the country’s historical reluctance to sign international migration laws and treaties.
  • The analysis of the Indian government’s present management of migration in the light of the compacts’ objectives shows the need for a revamp in the state’s approach.

Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)

  • It is an intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, that describes itself as covering “all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner
  • As the Compact is not an international treaty, it will be non-binding under international law.
  • The Declaration recognized a need for more cooperation between nations to manage migration effectively
  • It is grounded in values of state sovereignty, responsibility-sharing, non-discrimination, and human rights, and recognizes that a cooperative approach is needed to optimize the overall benefits of migration, while addressing its risks and challenges for individuals and communities in countries of origin, transit and destination.
  • The global compact comprises 23 objectives for better managing migration at local, national, regional and global levels
    • The 23 objectives will be implemented through state-led action plans with the help of UN funding and expertise , which could be in the form of establishing research centres and migration agencies (or revival of existing agencies) at the national level, developing capacity-building mechanisms globally with the help of international agencies and formation of a new migration network.
    • Three major stakeholders who are responsible for effective implementation would be nation states, UN agencies, and civil society.
  • Out of the 193-member states, 164 countries have adopted the compact.

Some important objectives

  • The first objective “to ensure proper collection of data” is relevant in the Indian context. The country has seldom published data on people who migrate to other countries.3
    • Even though they have systematically collected data, it has not been shared or analysed with either the public, researchers, or even provincial governments. Understanding data is important for framing a well-managed migration policy.
    • The attempt to collect information about refugees also becomes important in this context.
  • Regarding objectives related to ensuring proper and safe recruitment practices and other vulnerabilities in host countries (6, 7 and 8), India made certain attempts in the recent past by including the electronic platform called eMigrate, which brings all stakeholders of recruitment on to a single platform.
    • This particular mechanism is supposed to ensure certain basic rights for migrants, including salary protection via proper employment contracts and proper living conditions in the host country under monitoring by the Indian missions abroad
  • The trafficking of undocumented migrants has been another constant problem for Indian policymakers over the years, especially the trafficking of domestic workers to West Asia. The adoption of the 10th Objective of the GCM may provide some solution to prevent trafficking as well.
  • Objective 13 reminds India of its responsibilities as a receiving country. Even though India has welcomed the immigrants and refugees historically, the recent treatment of Rohingya refugees drew criticism
  • A certain set of suggestions to improve the consular support for emigrants, provision of basic services, and skill upgradation have been included in Objectives 14, 15 and 18.
    • Indian embassies abroad already offer a set of services like open houses for transparent communication, the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) to meet the contingency expenditure, services of the labour attaché, shelter homes for migrants in distress, legal aid, and so on.
  • Objective 19 of the GCM talks about creating conditions for diaspora and migrants to fully contribute to the sustainable development of the country.

Countries which are not happy with the compact

  • The United States was the first one to withdraw from the negotiations in December 2018 after the stocktaking conference in Mexico, and further criticised the compact for breaching the sovereignty of states
  • The Belgium government collapsed over the decision to adopt the GCM with right-wing parties withdrawing their support for the minority government after their decision to sign the compact.
  • Major receiving countries in Europe and North America faced opposition internally on their decision to sign it as well.
  • Countries like Russia, Denmark, Slovenia, Croatia and Brazil can be considered as weak signatories since their decision to adopt the GCM was not representative of the majority voice in the respective states

However what countries failed to realize was, According to the UN, the non-binding nature and the guiding principles of the GCM are meant to ensure the sovereignty of nation states to determine migration policies and management within their national boundaries with multi-stakeholder participation. The process of framing this compact was made transparent by ensuring the participation of member states, civil society and UN agencies in the two-year-long negotiations

What led to development of this compact?

  • The need to build a compact on global migration emerged as a result of an increase in the number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
  • Other push factors included border crises in developing countries due to large-scale movements of refugees, and the increase of cross-border mobility, especially short-term labour migration between developing and developed countries.
  • Based on these events, the UN unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016.
    • The meeting agreed on two separate tracks for negotiations: one for migrants and the other for refugees. The crux of the declaration was the identification of best practices and solutions to ensure safe migration.

Other important organizational moves in the past

  • The history of UN interventions on migration began with the initiation of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1919
  • To match the demand for low- and semi-skilled workers, agencies like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Bank promoted business-friendly migration management approaches, while snubbing worker and migrant rights. The only exception was the rights-based approach promoted by the ILO
  • Then, the most important series of events in the recent history of international migration management began in 2007 with the constitution of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).
    • The GFMD was an informal, non-binding, voluntary, and government-led process that brought together all stakeholders under one umbrella to maximise the development benefits of migration and different migration flows.
    • Even though it has a huge role in pushing for a global agreement on international migration, the annual process has been criticised for its business-enhancing themes
  • Simultaneously, the growing influence of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) which promotes “migration for growth and development” over the ILO—which promotes right-based approach for labour migrants—has led to it being a major player in developing international migration governance and a key actor in the implementation of the GCM.

India’s migration policy is ambiguous and ill defined

  • Among the emigrant countries, India receives the highest amount of remittance per year.
  • The World Bank classifies India as one of the top emigrating countries in the world, and the Indian diaspora is identified as the largest in the world.
  • Simultaneously, India has witnessed immigration to the country over the years, especially from neighbouring countries.
  • Another stream is the internal migration within India.
  • But, the Indian state’s approach towards all three streams of migration is not explicit in nature and the management of migration is ill-developed as compared to other major sending and receiving countries

India’s adoption of the GCM was surprising due to three aspects.

  • First, the national government’s recent unwelcoming approach to refugees and illegal immigrants;
  • Second, the government not having signed any law related to migration and refugees in the past and the absence of government-initiated platform for discussing the GCM over the two years of negotiations; and
  • Finally, the lack of a migration policy in the country. The Indian government does not have a written, explicit, and comprehensive emigration policy yet as compared to other emigrant countries. Regarding immigration, the country still follows the Foreigners Act of 1946 to regulate the entry and stay of immigrants.

Even though India did not sign the Refugee Convention of 1951, the country treated a certain section of refugees with respect, including Tibetan and Afghan refugees. However, Sri Lankan refugees and other migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar are treated differently.

There are several important aspects of migration missed out by the GCM objectives that have direct bearing on India.

  • Even if India has one of the largest emigrant population, internal migration within the country is many times higher than international flows. But, the GCM does not address internal migration or internally displaced people in any of the 23 objectives.
  • Another aspect missed is the existence of provincial migration governance in the country. Unlike other major emigrant countries, India has a federal system and several provincial states are active in migration management. The document did not identify provincial governments as major stakeholders.

Way forward

  • Keeping all shortcomings aside, proper implementation and monitoring of the GCM objectives in the country can change the migration scenario drastically.
  • For that, the state should continue its recent positive approach towards migration.
  • Existing policy utterances by policy-makers should be converted into well-written policy documents.
  • In addition, the state must reconsider its decision about not signing bilateral/multilateral and regional agreements related to migration.
  • The existing discriminatory approach towards labour migrants compared to diaspora should be strongly engaged with. Only if the Indian state makes relevant, inclusive, and transparent policy changes in the near future, can an effective implementation of the GCM be possible.

For more EPW articles, read “Gist of EPW”.

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