GS Paper 2: Government policies & interventions
Prelims Exam: Salient features of NAMASTE scheme, Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR) and Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020
Mains exam: Manual Scavenging in India
Why in News
The Government has formulated a National Action Plan for Mechanized Sanitation Ecosystem- NAMASTE scheme for cleaning of sewers and septic tank.
• The scheme is a joint venture of Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
• It aims:
o Zero fatalities in sanitation work in India
o No sanitation workers come in direct contact with human faecal matter
o All Sewer and Septic tank sanitation workers have access to alternative livelihoods
• The Ministry has shortlisted type of machineries and core equipments required for maintenance works, safety gear for Safai Mitras.
Why such move?
To address the menace of manual scavenging in India.
What is Manual Scavenging?
• Manual scavenging is the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewers or septic tanks.
• In 2013, the definition of manual scavengers was broadened to include people employed to clean septic tanks, ditches, or railway tracks.
Is it allowed in India?
• India banned the practice under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (PEMSR).
• The Act bans the use of any individual for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta till its disposal.
• The Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanizing practice,” and cites a need to “correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by the manual scavengers.”
Why is it still prevalent in India?
• Low awareness: Manual scavenging is mostly done by the marginalized section of the society and they are generally not aware about their rights.
• Enforcement issues: The lack of enforcement of the Act and exploitation of unskilled labourers are the reasons why the practice is still prevalent in India.
• High cost of automated machines: The Mumbai civic body charges anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 30,000 to clean septic tanks.
• Cheaper availability: The unskilled labourers, meanwhile, are much cheaper to hire and contractors illegally employ them at a daily wage of Rs 300-500.
• Caste dynamics: Caste hierarchy still exists and it reinforces the caste’s relation with occupation. Almost all the manual scavengers belong to lower castes.
Various policy initiatives
• Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020:
o It proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning, introduce ways for ‘on-site’ protection and provide compensation to manual scavengers in case of sewer deaths.
• Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (PEMSR) Act, 2013:
o The 2013 Act goes beyond prohibitions on dry latrines, and outlaws all manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
o As per the PEMSR Act, 2013 and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Safai Karamchari Andolan vs Union of India case, a compensation of Rs 10 lakh is awarded to the victim’s family.
• Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan:
o It started national wide march “Maila Mukti Yatra” for total eradication of manual scavenging.
o Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan is a National Campaign for Dignity and Eradication of Manual Scavenging in India.
o The campaign started in 2001.
o It is an initiative made by the women of Dalit communities.
o It has proven to be a very innovative and effective program to eliminate manual scavenging practice.
o The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has associated NGOs like Safai Karamchari Andolan, Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, Sulabh International, etc for the identification of manual scavengers and their rehabilitation.
• Prevention of Atrocities Act: In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers since majority of the manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste.
• Regular surveys and social audits must be conducted against the involvement of manual scavengers by public and local authorities.
• There must be proper identification and capacity building of manual scavengers for alternate sources of livelihood.
• Creating awareness about the legal protection of manual scavengers is necessary.
What is India’s law on abortion?
GS Paper 2: Government policies & interventions, Issues related to women
Prelims Exam: Salient features of MTP Act
Mains exam: Challenges with Women’s Rights
Why in News
A 25-year-old pregnant woman moved the Supreme Court seeking an abortion after the Delhi High Court declined her plea. The woman has also challenged Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, which allows only some categories of women to seek termination of pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks.
What is the case about?
• Last week, a 25-year-old woman sought the Delhi High Court’s permission for termination of a pregnancy of 23 weeks and 5 days.
• The woman, a permanent resident of Manipur who currently resides in Delhi, told the court that the pregnancy was a result of a consensual relationship, and that she wanted to terminate the pregnancy because her partner had refused to marry her.
• She also told the court that she feared stigmatisation as a single, unmarried woman.
What was the Delhi HC’s decision?
• A two-judge Bench of the Delhi High Court refused to allow the termination of the pregnancy.
• In oral observations, the judges coaxed the woman to carry her pregnancy to term, and to give up the newborn for adoption — even offering to personally pay for the process.
• The Bench said, “We will not permit you to kill the child; 23 weeks are over. The child will be in the womb for how many weeks for normal delivery? Hardly how many weeks are left? Give the child to somebody in adoption. Why are you killing the child?”
• On the challenge made to the law, the HC issued notice to the central government.
What is India’s law on abortion?
• Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, criminalises voluntarily “causing miscarriage” even when the miscarriage is with the pregnant woman’s consent, except when the miscarriage is caused to save the woman’s life.
o This means that the woman herself, or anyone else including a medical practitioner, could be prosecuted for an abortion.
• In 1971, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) was introduced to “liberalise” access to abortion since the restrictive criminal provision was leading to women using unsafe and dangerous methods for termination of pregnancy.
The MTP Act, 2003
• The MTP Act allowed termination of pregnancy by a medical practitioner in two stages:
o For termination of pregnancy up to 12 weeks from conception, the opinion of one doctor was required.
o For pregnancies between 12 and 20 weeks old, the opinion of two doctors was required — they would have to determine “if the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health” or there is a “substantial risk” that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously “handicapped” before agreeing to terminate the woman’s pregnancy.
2021 amendment to the Act
• In 2021, Parliament amended the law and allowed:
o For a termination under the opinion of one doctor for pregnancies up to 20 weeks.
o For pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks, the amended law requires the opinion of two doctors.
• For the second category, the Rules specified seven categories of women who would be eligible for seeking termination. Section 3B of Rules prescribed under the MTP Act reads: “The following categories of women shall be considered eligible for termination of pregnancy Section 3 of the Act, for a period of up to twenty-four weeks, namely:
o survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest;
o change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce);
o women with physical disabilities [major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
o mentally ill women including mental retardation;
o the foetal malformation that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped;
o women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the Government.”
The gap in MTP Act
While the law recognises change in circumstances of the relationship status between a pregnant woman and her spouse — in the case of divorce and widowhood — it does not envisage the situation for unmarried women. This is the gap in the law that the petitioner before the Supreme Court falls in.
What Rs 80 to a dollar means
GS Paper 3: Indian Economy
Prelims Exam: Rupee depreciation impacts on economy
Mains exam: Depreciation of Rupee: its impact and challenges
The Indian rupee breached the psychologically significant exchange rate level of 80 to a US dollar in early trade.
Free fall of Indian Rupee
• Since the war in Ukraine began, and crude oil prices started going up, the rupee has steadily lost value against the dollar.
• There are growing concerns about how a weaker rupee affects the broader economy.
• Certainly, it presents challenges to policymakers, especially since India is already grappling with high inflation and weak growth.
What is exchange rate?
• The rupee’s exchange rate vis-à-vis the dollar is essentially the number of rupees one needs to buy $1.
• This is an important metric to buy not just US goods but also other goods and services (say crude oil) trade in which happens in US dollars.
Benefits of Rupees fall
• Broadly speaking, when the rupee depreciates, importing goods and service becomes costlier.
• But if one is trying to export goods and services to other countries, especially to the US, India’s products become more competitive.
• Depreciation makes these products cheaper for foreign buyers.
Rupee’s exchange rate against the dollar and other currencies
• Another thing to note is that, at least as of now, the rupee is still more resilient (against the dollar) than it was in some of the previous crises such as the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the Taper Tantrum of 2013.
• Moreover, the US dollar is just one of the currencies Indians need to trade.
• If one looks at a whole basket of currencies, then data suggests the rupee has become stronger (or appreciated against that basket).
• In other words, while the US dollar has become stronger against all other major currencies including the rupee, the rupee, in turn, has become stronger than many other currencies such as the euro.
• After the 2007-2009 global financial crisis and recession, the US Federal Reserve started a bond-buying program (known as quantitative easing) to infuse liquidity.
• With these funds, the investors started investing in global bonds and stocks.
• In 2013, the US Federal Reserve decided to reduce (taper) its quantum of a bond-buying program which led to a sudden sell-off in global bonds and stocks.
• As a result, many emerging market economies, that received large capital inflows, suffered currency depreciation and outflows of capital.
• This was called globally a ‘taper tantrum‘.
Is it a cause of worry?
• It is important to remember that it is more of a story of the dollar strengthening than the rupee weakening.
• This suggests that as things stand, India is still not facing an external crisis.
• Long-term data shows that India is in a relatively comfortable position.
Why are the rupee-dollar exchange rate and forex reserves falling?
• To understand movements on these variables, one must understand India’s Balance of Payment (BoP)
• The BoP is essentially a ledger of all monetary transactions between Indians and foreigners. Here it is shown in US dollar terms.
• If a transaction leads to dollars coming into India, it is shown with a positive sign; if a transaction means dollars leaving India, it is shown with a minus sign.
How did BoP come to the picture?
• The BoP has two broad subheads (also called “accounts”) — current and capital — to slot different types of transactions.
• The current account is further divided into the trade account (for export and import of goods) and the invisibles account (for export and import of services).
• So, if an Indian buys an American car, dollars will flow out of BoP, and it will be accounted for in the trade account within the current account.
• If an American invests in Indian stock markets, dollars will come into the BoP table and it will be accounted for under FPI within the capital account.
India’s vulnerability on the external debt front
• In 2021-22, India had a trade deficit of $189.5 billion.
• That is, the country imported more goods (such as crude oil) than it exported, and the net effect was negative.
• At the end of the year, the BoP was at a surplus of $47.5 billion — that is, the net effect of all transactions on current and capital accounts was that $47.5 billion came into India.
What lies ahead?
• While India is fine as of now, trends suggest things are getting worse.
• For instance, forex reserves have fallen by over $50 billion between September 2021 and now.
• In these 10 months, the rupee’s exchange rate with the dollar has fallen 8.7%, from 73.6 to 80. For context, historically the rupee depreciates by about 3% to 3.5% in a year.
• What’s worse, many experts expect the rupee to weaken further in the coming 3-4 months and fall to as low as 82 to a dollar.
What will be the effect on the economy?
• Since a large proportion of India’s imports are dollar-denominated, these imports will get costlier. A good example is the crude oil import.
• Costlier imports, in turn, will widen the trade deficit as well as the current account deficit, which, in turn, will put pressure on the exchange rate.
• On the exports front, it’ll make exports cheaper.
• For one, in bilateral trade, the rupee has become stronger than many currencies.
Should policymakers prevent the fall?
• It is neither wise nor possible for the RBI to prevent the rupee from falling indefinitely.
• Defending the rupee will simply result in India exhausting its forex reserves over time because global investors have much bigger financial clout.
• Most analysts believe that the better strategy is to let the rupee depreciate and act as a natural shock absorber to the adverse terms of trade.
Then, What should policymakers do?
• The RBI (which is in charge of monetary policy) should focus on containing inflation, as it is legally mandated to do.
• The government (which is in charge of the fiscal policy) should contain its borrowings.
• Higher borrowings (fiscal deficit) by the government eat up domestic savings and force the rest of the economic agents to borrow from abroad.
• Policymakers (both in the government and the RBI) have to choose what their priority is: containing inflation or being hung up on exchange rate and forex levels.
• If they choose to contain inflation (that is, by raising interest rates) then it will require sacrificing economic growth. So be prepared for that.
Thus, We can conclude that the rupee’s exchange rate and forex reserves levels are two sides of the same coin.