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21st November – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. Digital Nation
  2. India’s no to RCEP could still be a no
  3. Analysis of the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan (Infrastructure)

DIGITAL NATION

Context:

PM Modi hails Digital India as way of life, says ‘Technology First’ is Centre’s governance model.

Relevance:

GS Paper 2:  E-Governance (applications, models, successes, limitations, potential)

Mains Questions

  1. E-Governance is not only about utilization of the power of new technology, but also much about critical importance of the ‘use value’ of information Explain. 15 marks
  2. The true measure of digital nations is the readiness of governments to use technology to create open, participatory public systems that citizens consider trustworthy. 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article

  • What is Digital India Mission?
  • Vision and Vision area of Digital India
  • Approach and methodology of Digital India
  • Pillars of Digital India
  • Challenges and limitations of Digital India
  • Way forward

What is Digital India Mission?

Digital India is a flagship programme of the Government of India with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

  • The Government of India approved the NeGP, comprising of 27 Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) and 8 components in 2006, developed by Department of information & Technology and Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances.
  • The 11th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008), titled “Promoting e-Governance – The Smart Way Forward” called for government to expand its e-governance capacity.
  • In 2015 the Union Cabinet gave its approval for the Approach and Key Components of eKranti -National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) 2.0.
  • This programme provided for the establishment of Common Service Centres for citizens to have an easy access to government services through various applications.

Vision and Vision area of Digital India

The vision of Digital India programme is to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The Digital India programme is centred on three key vision areas:

Digital Infrastructure as a Core Utility to Every Citizen

  • Availability of high speed internet as a core utility for delivery of services to citizens
  • Cradle to grave digital identity that is unique, lifelong, online and authenticable to every citizen
  • Mobile phone & bank account enabling citizen participation in digital & financial space
  • Easy access to a Common Service Centre
  • Shareable private space on a public cloud
  • Safe and secure cyber-space

Governance & Services on Demand

  • Seamlessly integrated services across departments or jurisdictions
  • Availability of services in real time from online & mobile platforms
  • All citizen entitlements to be portable and available on the cloud
  • Digitally transformed services for improving ease of doing business
  • Making financial transactions electronic & cashless
  • Leveraging Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) for decision support systems & development

Digital Empowerment of Citizens

  • Universal digital literacy
  • Universally accessible digital resources
  • Availability of digital resources / services in Indian languages
  • Collaborative digital platforms for participative governance
  • Citizens not required to physically submit Govt. documents / certificates

Approach and Methodology for Digital India programme are:

  • Ministries / Departments / States would fully leverage the Common and Support ICT Infrastructure established by GoI. DeitY would also evolve/ lay down standards and policy guidelines, provide technical and handholding support, undertake capacity building and R&D etc.
  • The existing/ ongoing e-governance initiatives would be suitably revamped to align them with the principles of Digital India. Scope enhancement, Process Reengineering, use of integrated & interoperable systems and deployment of emerging technologies like cloud & mobile would be undertaken to enhance the delivery of Government services to citizens.
  • States would be given flexibility to identify for inclusion additional state-specific projects, which are relevant for their socio-economic needs.
  • e-Governance would be promoted through a centralised initiative to the extent necessary, to ensure citizen-centric service orientation, interoperability of various e-Governance applications and optimal utilisation of ICT infrastructure/ resources, while adopting a decentralised implementation model.
  • Successes would be identified and their replication promoted proactively with the required productisation and customisation wherever needed.
  • Public Private Partnerships would be preferred wherever feasible to implement e-governance projects with adequate management and strategic control.
  • Adoption of Unique ID would be promoted to facilitate identification, authentication and delivery of benefits.
  • Restructuring of NIC would be undertaken to strengthen the IT support to all government departments at the Centre and the State levels.
  • The positions of Chief Information Officers (CIO) would be created in at least 10 key Ministries so that various e-governance projects could be designed, developed and implemented faster. CIO positions will be at Additional Secretary/Joint Secretary level with over-riding powers on IT in the respective Ministry.

How Digital India will be realized: Pillars of Digital India

Digital India is an umbrella programme that covers multiple Government Ministries and Departments. It weaves together a large number of ideas and thoughts into a single, comprehensive vision so that each of them can be implemented as part of a larger goal.

Broadband Connectivity

This covers three sub components, namely Broadband for All – Rural, Broadband for All – Urban and National Information Infrastructure (NII).

  • Broadband for All – Rural: 2,50,000 village Panchayats would be covered under the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) by December 2016. Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is the nodal Department for this project.
  • Broadband for All – Urban: Virtual Network Operators would be leveraged for service delivery and communication infrastructure in new urban developments and buildings would be mandated.
  • National Information Infrastructure (NII): NII would integrate the network and cloud infrastructure in the country to provide high speed connectivity and cloud platform to various government departments up to the panchayat level. These infrastructure components include networks such as State Wide Area Network (SWAN), National Knowledge Network (NKN), National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN), Government User Network (GUN) and the MeghRaj Cloud.

Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity

This initiative focuses on network penetration and filling the gaps in connectivity in the country. As part of the comprehensive development plan for North East, providing mobile coverage to uncovered villages has been initiated. Mobile coverage to remaining uncovered villages would be provided in a phased manner.

Public Internet Access Program

The two sub components of Public Internet Access Programme are Common Services Centres (CSCs) and Post Offices as multi-service centres.

  • Common Services Centres (CSCs): CSCs would be strengthened and its number would be increased to 250,000 i.e. one CSC in each Gram Panchayat. CSCs would be made viable and multi-functional end-points for delivery of government and business services. DeitY would be the nodal department to implement the scheme.

e-Governance: Reforming Government Through Technology

The guiding principles for reforming Government through technology are:

  • Form simplification and field reduction – Forms should be made simple and user friendly and only minimum and necessary information should be collected.
  • Online applications and tracking – Online applications and tracking of their status should be provided.
  • Online repositories – Use of online repositories e.g. for certificates, educational degrees, identity documents, etc. should be mandated so that citizens are not required to submit these documents in physical form.
  • Integration of services and platforms – Integration of services and platforms e.g. Aadhaar platform of Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), payment gateway, Mobile Seva platform, sharing of data through open Application Programming Interfaces (API) and middleware such as National and State Service Delivery Gateways (NSDG/SSDG) should be mandated to facilitate integrated and interoperable service delivery to citizens and businesses.

e-Kranti (Transforming e-Governance for Transforming Governance)

Considering the critical need for transforming e-Governance and promote mobile Governance and Good Governance in the country, the approach and key components of e-Kranti have been approved by the Union Cabinet with the vision of “Transforming e-Governance for Transforming Governance”.

The key principles of e-Kranti are as follows:

  • Transformation and not Translation – All project proposals in e-Kranti must involve substantial transformation in the quality, quantity and manner of delivery of services and significant enhancement in productivity and competitiveness.
  • Integrated Services and not Individual Services – A common middleware and integration of the back end processes and processing systems is required to facilitate integrated service delivery to citizens.
  • Government Process Reengineering (GPR) to be mandatory in every MMP – To mandate GPR as the essential first step in all new MMPs without which a project may not be sanctioned. The degree of GPR should be assessed and enhanced for the existing MMPs.
  • ICT Infrastructure on Demand – Government departments should be provided with ICT infrastructure, such as connectivity, cloud and mobile platform on demand. In this regard, National Information Infrastructure (NII), which is at an advanced stage of project formulation, would be fast-tracked by DeitY.
  • Cloud by Default – The flexibility, agility and cost effectiveness offered by cloud technologies would be fully leveraged while designing and hosting applications. Government Cloud shall be the default cloud for Government Departments.
  • Mobile First – All applications are designed/ redesigned to enable delivery of services through mobile.
  • Fast Tracking Approvals – To establish a fast-track approval mechanism for MMPs, once the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of a project is approved by the Competent Authority, Empowered Committees may be constituted with delegated powers to take all subsequent decisions.
  • Mandating Standards and Protocols – Use of e-Governance standards and protocols as notified by DeitY be mandated in all e-governance projects.
  • Language Localization – It is imperative that all information and services in e-Governance projects are available in Indian languages as well.
  • National GIS (Geo-Spatial Information System) – NGIS to be leveraged as a platform and as a service in e-Governance projects.
  • Security and Electronic Data Preservation – All online applications and e-services to adhere to prescribed security measures including cyber security. The National Cyber Security Policy 2013 notified by DeitY must be followed.

Information for All

Open Data platform facilitates proactive release of datasets in an open format by the ministries/departments for use, reuse and redistribution. Online hosting of information & documents would facilitate open and easy access to information for citizens.

Electronics Manufacturing

  • Target NET ZERO Imports is a striking demonstration of intent: This pillar focuses on promoting electronics manufacturing in the country with the target of NET ZERO Imports by 2020 as a striking demonstration of intent. This ambitious goal requires coordinated action on many fronts, such as: Taxation, incentives, Economies of scale, eliminating cost disadvantages.

IT for Jobs

  • This pillar focuses on providing training to the youth in the skills required for availing employment opportunities in the IT/ITES sector.

Early Harvest Program

  • Early Harvest Programme basically consists of those projects which are to be implemented within short timeline.

Challenges and Limitations of e-Governance initiatives

  • Funding: Funding is the foremost issue in e-Governance initiatives.
  • Management of Change: The delivery of Government services through the electronic media including EDI, Internet and other IT based technologies would necessitate procedural and legal changes in the decision and delivery making processes.
  • Privacy: Whenever a citizen gets into any transaction with a Government agency, he shells out lot of personal information, which can be misused. Thus, the citizen should be ensured that the information flow would pass through reliable channels and seamless network.
  • Authentication: Secured ways of transactions for the Government services are another issue of concern. The identity of citizens requesting services needs to be verified before they access or use the services.
  • Interoperability: Infect the interoperation of various state Governments, the various ministries within a state Government is a critical issue.
  • Delivery of services: Since the penetration of PCs and Internet is very low in the country, some framework needs to be worked out for delivery of the e-Services that would be accessible to the poorest of the poor.
  • Standardization: The standards need to be worked out not only for the technologies involved but also for issues like naming of websites to creating E-Mail addresses.
  • Technology Issues: The e-Governance initiative would have to address the Technology Issues/Objectives by identifying the appropriate hardware platforms and software application packages for cost-effective delivery of public services.
  • Use of local language: The access of information must be permitted in the language most comfortable to the public user, generally the local language. There do already exist technologies such as GIST and language software by which transliteration from English into other languages can be made.

Way forward

The true measure of digital nations is the readiness of governments to use technology to create open, participatory public systems that citizens consider trustworthy. What governance must achieve is a reliable system of digital welfare. If digital has to become a way of life, redefining the labyrinthine functioning of citizen-centric services would be a good place to start, with deadlines for government departments.


INDIA’S NO TO RCEP COULD STILL BE A NO

Context:

Last week, 15 East Asian countries agreed to take their economic integration several notches higher by forging the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the largest free trade agreement (FTA) ever.

Relevance:

GS Paper 2:  Bilateral, Regional, Global groupings & Agreements (involving and/or affecting India)

Mains Questions

  1. The Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, is primarily focused on strengthening domestic value chains, while RCEP, like any other FTA is solely focused on promoting regional value chains. Discuss. 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article

  • What is RCEP?
  • The Objectives of the RCEP?
  • A Comparison with TPP
  • Progress made and the problems
  • Way forward: Re-engaging India

What is RCEP?

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a proposed agreement between the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its free trade agreement (FTA) partners. The pact aims to cover trade in goods and services, intellectual property, etc.

  • In 2019, RCEP members accounted for about 30% of world output and population and 28% of world trade.
  • About 44% of their total trade was intra-RCEP, which is a major incentive for the members of this agreement to agree to the deal for this could contribute to the strengthening of the regional value chains.
What You Need To Know About The RCEP | TRP

 The Objectives of the RCEP?

Recognizing the ASEAN Framework for Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the objective of launching RCEP negotiations is to achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement among the ASEAN Member States and ASEAN’s FTA Partners. RCEP will cover trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation, intellectual property, competition, dispute settlement and other issues.

Negotiations for the RCEP will recognize ASEAN Centrality in the emerging regional economic architecture and the interests of ASEAN’s FTA Partners in supporting and contributing to economic integration, equitable economic development and strengthening economic cooperation among the participating countries. RCEP negotiations will be guided by the following principles:

  • The RCEP will be consistent with the WTO.
  • The RCEP will have broader and deeper engagement with significant improvements over the existing ASEAN+1 FTAs, while recognizing the individual and diverse circumstances of the participating countries.
  • The RCEP will include provisions to facilitate trade and investment and to enhance transparency in trade and investment relations between the participating countries, as well as to facilitate the participating countries’ engagement in global and regional supply chains.
  • Taking into consideration the different levels of development of the participating countries, the RCEP will include appropriate forms of flexibility including provision for special and differential treatment.
  • The ASEAN+1 FTAs and the bilateral/plurilateral FTAs between and among participating countries will continue to exist and no provision in the RCEP agreement will detract from the terms and conditions in these bilateral/plurilateral FTAs between and among the participating countries.
  • Any ASEAN FTA Partner that did not participate in the RCEP negotiations at the outset would be allowed to join the negotiations, subject to terms and conditions that would be agreed with all other participating countries.
  • The negotiations on trade in goods, trade in services, investment and other areas will be conducted in parallel to ensure a comprehensive and balanced outcome.
    • TRADE IN GOODS: The RCEP will aim at progressively eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers on substantially all trade in goods in order to establish a free trade area among the parties.
    • TRADE IN SERVICES: The RCEP will be comprehensive, of high quality and substantially eliminate restrictions and/or discriminatory measures with respect to trade in services between the RCEP participating countries.
    • INVESTMENT: The RCEP will aim at creating a liberal, facilitative, and competitive investment environment in the region. Negotiations for investment under the RCEP will cover the four pillars of promotion, protection, facilitation and liberalization.
    • ECONOMIC AND TECHNICAL COOPERATION: Economic and technical cooperation under the RCEP will aim at narrowing development gaps among the parties and maximizing mutual benefits from the implementation of the RCEP agreement. The economic and technical cooperation provisions in the RCEP will build upon existing economic cooperation arrangements between ASEAN and ASEAN’s FTA partners participating in the RCEP. Cooperation activities should include electronic commerce and other areas that would be mutually agreed upon by the RCEP participating countries.

Finally, RCEP negotiations on a framework for investment “to cover the four pillars of promotion, protection, facilitation and liberalization”. It was, therefore, quite clear that the RCEP participating countries (RPCs) had given themselves an ambitious agenda of trade and investment liberalisation.

RCEP vs TPP

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)-2 - Scraby

Progress made and the problems

In case of trade in goods, RCEP members have taken big strides towards lowering their tariffs:

  • China has agreed to cut its average tariffs from 9.4% in 2014 (adopted as the “base year” for tariff cuts”) to 1.2% for Australia and all ASEAN members, by the 10th year of implementation of RCEP.
  • China has also committed to reduce tariffs on almost 90% of its imports from Australia and ASEAN members to 5% or less.
  • Further, less than 4% of Chain’s products figure in the exclusion list, implying that their tariffs will not be reduced.
  • Vietnam’s tariff offers to China look similar: average tariffs would drop from 10% in 2014 to 2% by the 10th year, and nearly 90% of its imports from China will be tariff-free.
  • Moreover, Vietnam does not have an exclusion list. Among the major economies in the region, Malaysia has had the lowest levels of protection and this will be reduced as it implements its commitments under RCEP.
  • In case of electronic commerce, RCEP members have agreed not to “prevent cross-border transfer of information by electronic means where such activity is for the conduct of the business of a covered person”.

In contrast to their market access commitments under goods, commitments made by RCEP members for services trade liberalisation do look shallow in terms of the coverage of the sectors.

  • Movement of natural persons, an area in which India had had considerable interest, is considerably restricted. RCEP members have allowed relatively limited market access only to individuals in managerial positions or those having high levels of skills.
  • The areas of investment and electronic commerce, in both of which India had expressed its reservations on the template adopted during RCEP negotiations, the outcomes are varied.
  • The text on investment rules shows that it is a work-in-progress. The rules on dispute settlement procedures are yet to be written in, and, therefore, it will be interesting to see whether the controversial investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) mechanism is included.

Way Forward: Re-engaging India

  • RCEP Ministers adopted a Declaration on India’s Participation in the agreement through which the door has been left open to India to join RCEP Agreement as an original signatory.
  • India has been invited to participate in RCEP meetings as an observer and in economic cooperation activities undertaken by RCEP members.
  • RCEP members have agreed to commence negotiations with India once India submits a request in writing of its intention to accede to the agreement.

ANALYSIS OF THE AATMA NIRBHAR BHARAT ABHIYAAN (INFRASTRUCTURE)

Context:

Emphasising that the special economic package would focus on land, labour, liquidity and laws, PM Modi said it would benefit labourers, farmers, honest tax payers, MSMEs and cottage industry.

Relevance:

GS Paper 3: Infrastructure (energy, ports, roads, airports, railways); Investment models

Mains Questions

  1. Examine the developments of Airports in India through Joint Ventures under Public-Private Partnership(PPP) model. What are the challenges faced by the authorities in this regard. 15 marks

INFRASTRUCTURE UNDER THE AATMA NIRBHAR BHARAT ABHIYAAN

Energy sector: Coal and Mining

Promote private investments in the mineral sector, improve efficiency of mineral production:

The Ministry of Mines invited public comments on the reforms in the mining sector to implement the announcements under the Aatma Nirbhar Scheme.  For this purpose, the Ministry proposed certain amendments in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and rules under the Act.  Key proposals include:

  • Removal of end use restrictions in future auctions and increase in sale limit for captive mines,
  • Provision of a composite prospecting-cum-mining lease for partially explored mineral blocks,
  • Provision for reallocation of privately owned mines not made operational within three years,
  • Revision in definition of illegal mining,
  • Rationalisation of stamp duty levied by states, calculation to be based on the area of mine instead of the value of mineral.

Promote commercial mining in coal sector

New methodology for auction: The Cabinet approved a new methodology based on revenue sharing for auction of coal and lignite blocks for commercial sale.  Key features include:

  • Bidding for a percentage share of revenue payable to the government,
  • Upfront amount to be paid by the bidders will be 0.25% of the value of estimated geological reserves of the mine,
  • Monthly payment based on percentage of revenue share, quantity of coal and price to be made by successful bidder,
  • Provision for rebate in case of early production or sale for gasification and liquefaction,
  • Permission to exploit coal bed methane in the lease area.

The Coal Blocks Allocation (Amendment) Rules, 2020: The rules were notified by the Ministry of Coal. It stipulates that prices for auction and allotment can be specified as a price or percentage by the central government to allow revenue sharing.

Rate of Royalty: The Ministry of Coal specified the rate of royalty for coal mined for the purpose of sale through an amendment in the schedule of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. The rate of royalty for the coal produced from commercial mining will be 14% over the notional price (price after adjusting for representative price from National Coal Index) or the actual price (sale invoice value, excluding taxes and contributions).

Provide liquidity in the energy sector:

  • Loans to discoms:  The Ministry of Power noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown have adversely impacted finances of the power sector, especially state-owned distribution companies (discoms). To mitigate this financial stress, discoms will be provided with loans guaranteed by state governments for discharging their liabilities to power generation companies in two tranches of Rs 45,000 crore.
  • In August 2020, the Cabinet approved a one-time relaxation to rural electrification corporations and power finance corporation for extending working capital loans to discoms above the limit imposed by the Ujjwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana, i.e. 25% last year revenue.
  • Deferral of fixed and penal charges: A proposal to defer fixed charges levied by central government owned power generating companies was passed by the Cabinet in August 2020. The charges can be repaid in three interest free equal instalments.   

Amend the Electricity Act, 2003 to ensure a progressive reduction in cross-subsidies and gradually replace it with Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT):

  • The Electricity Act, 2003 empowers State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) to determine the retail tariff for electricity and make regulations on tariff-related matters.  This includes regulating the manner of reduction of cross-subsidy and determining such cross-subsidy.
  • The Act provides that state governments may subsidise retail consumption of electricity.  However, it does not explicitly specify the manner of accounting for such subsidy in the tariff determination process.  Typically, the tariffs charged to the consumers are lowered to the extent of the subsidy provided by the government to the state discoms.

Civil Aviation

Build 12 world-class airports with a total investment of around Rs 13,000 crore:

  • The Airport Authority of India (AAI) awarded bid for operation and maintenance on public private partnership basis in three airports (Ahmedabad, Lucknow, and Mangalore. The Cabinet further approved lease for the other airports part of the first round (Thiruvananthapuram, Jaipur, and Guwahati).
  • In 2019, the AAI Board had recommended leasing of six airports (Bhubaneswar, Varanasi, Indore, Amritsar, Raipur and Trichy) through PPP model.

To build international airports across the country:

  • The Ministry of Civil Aviation has granted ”in principle” approval for setting up of international airports in Mopa in Goa, Navi Mumbai and Shirdi in Maharashtra, Kushinagar and Noida in Uttar Pradesh, Dholera and Hirasar in Gujarat, Kannur in Kerala and Bhogapuram in Andhra Pradesh.

Defence and Space

Increase investment and promote ‘Make in India’ in the defence sector:

  • Increase in FDI limit: The government has announced that it will increase the FDI limit in defence manufacturing under automatic route from 49% to 74%.
  • Draft Acquisition Procedure:  The government released the draft Defence Acquisition Procedure, 2020 (DAP). The draft DAP revises the Defence Procurement Procedure, 2016 with the aim of increasing indigenous manufacturing and reducing timelines for procurement of defence equipment.  Its key features include:
    • Introduction of ‘leasing’ as a mode of acquisition, substituting initial capital outlays with periodical rental payments,
    • Addition of ‘Buy (Global-Manufacture in India)’ to categories of capital acquisition,
    • Provision for a list of weapons and platforms banned for import.
  • Embargo on import of 101 items:  To increase production in India, the Ministry of Defence placed an embargo on the import of 101 items (such as artillery guns, anti-submarine rocket launchers, high power radar and upgrade systems).
  • Export promotion policy:  The draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy, 2020 was with an aim to reduce dependence on imports and promote exports for self-reliance.  Its key features include:
    • Increase in turnover to Rs 1.75 lakh rupees from the current Rs 80,000 crore size of domestic defence industry,
    • Double procurement from domestic industries,
    • Proposal to establish new initiatives towards research and innovation,
    • Reform in defence public service units through disinvestment and corporatisation.

Corporatize the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to improve autonomy, accountability and efficiency:

  • The OFB currently functions as part of the Department of Defence Production, Ministry of Defence and includes 41 factories across 10 states The government has established dialogue with employees’ federations and unions. The Committee will also seek comments on future orders a budgetary support from the government.

Boost participation of private sector in space sector:

The Cabinet approved reforms to boost private sector participation in Space. These include:

  • Formation of an autonomous nodal agency under the Department of Space responsible for permitting and regulating private industry,
  • Redefinition of the role of New Space India Ltd., a PSU responsible for transfer of ISRO’s small satellite technology to industry, to a demand-driven model for space-based services,
  • Permission to private sector to use ISRO facilities ISRO. The reforms are expected to allow enhance research and development and expand private sector participation.

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