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. India’s Water Policy Needs a Paradigm Shift
India is a country with abundant water resources, yet, it is confronted with severe water crisis.
India’s Water Endowment
- India is not a water-deficient country. In fact, it has abundant water resources.
- The annual precipitation (rain and snowfall) is close to 1,200 millimeter (mm).
- Much higher than the global average of around 1,000 mm.
- India’s geographical area is 2% but it gets 4% of the global freshwater every year.
- It is a plentiful resource that can meet all the water needs of India’s people.
Analysis of the water crisis in India
- According to a study conducted by NITI Aayog, the demand for portable water will surpass the supply by 2030.
- A World Bank report in 2018 claims that more than 600 million people have faced moderate to extreme water-stress in India.
- About two lakh Indians die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
- Twenty-one cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020.
- The Central Pollution Control Board says that even the Ganga river water is unfit not only for drinking but also for bathing!
- In short, India is facing a very severe water crisis, largely man-made and as a result of ineffective policies pursued by the successive governments.
Reasons for the water crisis
- The Composite Water Management Index developed by the NITI Aayog shows that 70% of the water resources are polluted due to the dumping of untreated wastewater and sewage in rivers.
- Climate change and its consequences are making the monsoons more unpredictable and volatile.
- It is well-known that monsoon is temporally and spatially skewed in distribution which causes recurrent droughts in some areas, and in other places, monsoons cause flash floods due to heavy downpour.
- Destruction of the riverine ecosystem, deforestation and neglect of the catchment areas, and encroachments of floodplains are all contributing and amplifying to the water crisis faced in many areas.
- For ages, people have been effectively practising rainwater harvesting, which ensured water security to everyone. Unfortunately, we have neglected and allowed to die that traditional wisdom in the name of economic growth and globalisation.
- Lack of on-time de-silting operations in large water bodies that can enhance water storage capacity during monsoon. It is surprising that the governments at state levels have not taken this up on priority as an annual practice
- Lack of efficient water management and distribution of water between urban consumers, the agriculture sector and industry.
Challenges in addressing the water crisis
- The prevalent techno-engineering pathway of harvesting water is by large surface storage and creating a grid or interlinking of rivers which will now have a massive component of the pipe network and it is not viable.
- Water literacy is a crucial prerequisite while taking decisions on water, irrigation, crops and overall development policies and programmes. Our policymakers, public representatives, bureaucrats and technocrats are, by and large, resource-illiterate.
- India’s irrigation system is one of the most inefficient one in the world.
- Though Jal Shakti ministry was created for addressing the issue, urban water supply and watershed development are not within the jurisdiction of this ministry. Also, there is no well-defined policy perspective to guide this new entity
- Jal Shakthi Abhiyan (JSA), is the initiative of the new ministry. It is the policy perspective of water resource development is conceptually flawed and operationally lousy. The approach is top-down, based on engineering hardware of pipes, and the water delivery is based on long-distance supply sources.
- The JSA is opposing to the local initiative of the rainwater harvesting and water conservation, as the Abhiyan proposes water supply through pipes from long distances.
Way forward to address the water crisis
- To encourage the age-old systems of rainwater harvesting environmentally safe water storage systems, it would be socially just and economically low-cost.
- Climate change is one of the main factors in making the monsoons more unpredictable and volatile. Therefore, steps should be taken to address climate change as well.
- Keeping in view the basic hydrological, hydro-geological, agroclimatic conditions, a scientific and societal approach to harness and harvest the abundant endowment of water into an actual utilisable resource is the need of the hour.This requires ingenious planning and meticulous management.
- There is a huge potential to harvest rainwater. A massive programme of rainwater harvesting on the scientific principles of ridge-to-valley in each micro-watershed, starting with the uppermost parts of every river valley, should be planned and carried out with speed and rigour.
- Although we have been talking about this for decades, it is not yet a part of the well-designed scientific and community-based participatory plan designed at the micro-watershed as a base unit and scaling it up to the national master plan with the necessary budgetary allocation.
- Logistically, it should be part of the works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) programmes, the guidelines of which mandate to undertake the soil and water conservation works on priority.
- This is the key to solve not only water, food, energy and employment problems but also ensure equitable and sustainable development of India.
- The Jal Shakti Ministry should get the watershed works under its administrative jurisdiction forthwith and make it the fulcrum of the Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA).
- The foremost task before the water policy planning in India is to increase water-use-efficiency.
- There is an urgency to move on to demand management. This will require supply augmentation by use of age-old traditional water harvesting measures and methods
- Going forward the Government should introduce water resource management policies and programmes to meet the changing times considering the growing population and its needs.
2. India’s Trade Outreach Needs to Pivot Towards Latin America
- Imports from Latin America have been steadily increasing, over the past years. However, this trade is concentrated in a few countries, and is spread across few products.
- India and Latin America’s economic relationship can grow in trade, foreign direct investment (FDI) and mutual cooperation.
History of Indo-Latin American Ties
- India’s ties with certain Latin American nations are longstanding and Mexico was the first Latin American country to recognise India after its independence in 1947.
- When Fidel Castro ousted the Batista regime in Cuba in 1959, India was one of the first countries to recognise the new government, set-up an embassy in Havana and establish diplomatic relations.
- However, relations between India and Latin America did not gather momentum throughout most of India’s post-independence history.
- India and Latin American nations were both colonies of European powers. After achieving independence, both adopted socialist policies, which did little to enhance relations.
- Many Latin America and the Carribbean (LAC) countries joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). India also supported LAC countries against United States (US) interventions in the United Nations (UN) and other multilateral gatherings, but this did not address the deficit in relationship.
Why Indo-Latin American Ties did not grow
- Relations between India and Latin America did not gather momentum owing mainly to the geographical distance between the two regions, and differing domestic and international priorities.
- Thousands of miles away, Latin America played a small role in New Delhi’s strategic and geopolitical considerations.
- There has also been a lack of the cultural, linguistic and diaspora connections between the two regions in the past.
Current Trade Relations with the LAC Region
- Following liberalisation of the Indian economy, Latin American governments and their private sectors saw opportunities in India’s growing market.
- Indian industries also discovered that some, middle-income countries of Latin America offered better markets than those of North America and Western Europe.
- Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Panama are currently India’s top ten trading partners in the LAC.
- There has been an upward swing in the relations between India and Mexico after Prime Minister’s visit to Mexico in June 2016, when both countries decided to upgrade bilateral relations to the level of “strategic partnership.”
- India is currently Mexico’s ninth most important global trading partner, after the US, India is Mexico’s largest supplier of automobiles.
- Brazil has historically been the cornerstone of India’s relations with Latin America, but recently there is a dip in bilateral trade.
- However, India has invested billions of dollars in Brazil’s hydrocarbon reserves and crude imports.
Significance of Indo-Latin American Ties
- India also exports a billion dollars’ worth of generic medicines to Latin America, which has helped these countries reduce the cost of healthcare.
- The entry of Indian generic pharmaceuticals in Latin America over the last two decades has also put pressure on local and multinational companies to reduce their prices.
- Latin American firms have invested about a billion dollars in India in areas such as soft drinks, multiplexes, theme parks, and auto parts.
- Latin American software firms have also established development and delivery centres in India, employing over a thousand Indian software engineers
- Latin America has also emerged as a key contributor to India’s energy security.
- India now imports 20% of its crude oil from Brazil, Columbia, Mexico and Venezuela
- In 2012, India overtook China as the largest Asian buyer of Venezuelan oil.
- India also constitutes one of the largest suppliers of IT services to Latin America
- Over 35,000 Latin Americans are employed in Indian IT companies operating in the region
- New Delhi is also actively promoting official policies intended to further expand Indian IT services in Latin America.
Countering Chinese Expansion in the Region
- Although India has steadily expanded its footprint in Latin American countries over the past several years, it is still dwarfed by China’s immense presence in the region.
- Many Latin Americans governments resent Chinese imports, which flood their markets at the cost of local businesses. They are also worried by their growing dependence on Chinese investments.
- By contrast, India’s modest trade and investments are welcomed with virtually no opposition. This gives New Delhi an unexpected, long-term competitive advantage over China.
Why India Should expand ties with Latin American countries
- Growth prospect: With a collective GDP of more than $6 trillion, and a combined population of more than 600 million, half of which is under the age of thirty, Latin America constitutes a dynamic, growing and resource-rich part of the world with huge economic prospects for India.
- Food Security: Latin America can also contribute towards food security. The region is five times the size of India and has only half the population. India is currently importing pulses and oilseeds from other countries at high costs.
- Cheaper imports: Latin America is also very rich in minerals such as copper, lithium, iron ore, gold and silver, and could give India an opportunity to increase investments for their extraction as well as for their import at cheaper rates.
- Bringing India and Latin America together will require effective institutional framework as well as businesses and people-to-people networks.
- India must also promote Latin American studies, invest in shipping industries, and conclude preferential trade agreements and free trade agreements at the earliest.
- Latin American languages must be encouraged in India to incentivise Indian professionals to take jobs in these countries, and to promote trading ties.
- The commerce ministry should revive its ‘Focus:LAC’ programme, which has previously helped encourage and support Indian exporters to explore business opportunities in the region.
- Considering the potential of the market in the Latin American region an integrated programme “Focus:LAC” was launched in November 1997 by the Commerce Ministry.
- The Programme has been reviewed from time to time and was extended up to March 2019.
Objectives of Focus LAC
- Sensitizing the organizations viz. Export Promotion Councils, Chambers of Commerce & Industry, EXIM Bank, ECGC, etc. involved in trade promotion efforts.
- Granting various incentives to Indian exporters and launching of export promotion measures
- Focussing on the Latin American region with added emphasis on major trading partners of the region.
- Focussing on the following major product groups for enhancing India’s exports to the Latin American region:
- Textiles including ready-made garments carpets and handicrafts
- Engineering products and computer software
- Chemical products including drugs/pharmaceuticals
- Latin America is being increasingly considered as an important investment destination due to its growing industrial and manufacturing strength.
- India offers immense opportunities for collaboration, trade and investment for partner countries from Latin America. Latin American nations have long been seeking more diplomatic representation from India.
- Despite recent improvements on many fronts, however, both India and the LAC countries face some formidable challenges.
- They still have some of the highest inequality indices in the world, as well as serious deficiencies in infrastructure, technology, innovation and competitiveness.
- India and the LAC region could approach these challenges as opportunities to forge new partnerships to promote growth and development through increased trade and investment.
For more EPW articles, read “Gist of EPW”