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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 29 January 2024

  1. Aadhaar ­based Pay a Bad Idea for MGNREGS 
  2. India-France Bilateral Ties


Context:

On January 1, the Rural Development Ministry mandated the use of Aadhaar-Based Payment Systems (ABPS) in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Despite multiple deadline extensions by the Union government, and numerous memorandums from workers urging the Ministry not to make ABPS compulsory, the decision was implemented.

Relevance:

GS-2

  • Poverty
  • Government Policies and Interventions
  • Issues Relating to Development

GS-3

  • Employment
  • Growth and Development

Mains Question:

The design of Aadhaar­-Based Payment Systems can be exclusionary resulting in violations of rights. Analyse in the context of the recently mandated use of Aadhaar-Based Payment Systems (ABPS) in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Mode of Payments Under MGNREGA:

The MGNREGS has two modes of wage payments: account-based and ABPS.

Account- based:

In the former, wage transfers rely on workers’ name, bank account number, and the IFSC code of the bank branch.

ABPS:

  • On the other hand, ABPS requires a few additional steps. Initially, a worker’s Aadhaar number must be linked to their job card by verifying the job card details with the Aadhaar database.
  • Successful authentication requires a match in all details, including spelling and gender, between the job cards and the Aadhaar database. Subsequently, the worker’s Aadhaar must be connected to their bank account.
  • Finally, the Aadhaar number of each worker must be accurately mapped through their bank branch using a software mapper from the National Payments Corporation of India, acting as a clearing house for ABPS.
  • The Aadhaar number serves as the financial address, and the transferred funds are deposited into the last Aadhaar-linked bank account.

Analysing the ABPS:

  • The government contends that the implementation of Aadhaar-Based Payment Systems (ABPS) would address issues like duplicate job cards, alleviate delays in wage payments, and decrease payment rejections.
  • However, beyond its utility in identifying duplicates, the other purported benefits seem to lack solid justification.
  • Any inaccuracies in the ABPS process result in adverse consequences for the worker, such as denial of work, non-receipt of wages, or payment into an undesired account.
  • As a consequence, workers are forced to expend significant amounts of money and endure several days of income loss.
  • Notably, the process of eliminating duplicates itself is prone to errors, with no publicly available audits on the deletion procedures followed by officials or a valid scientific evaluation of the gains from such actions.
  • Contrary to the government’s claims, recent research papers published in Economic and Political Weekly reveal instances where officials deleted job cards due to pressure from the Union government to achieve 100% Aadhaar seeding targets.
  • Given that different administrative units are responsible for creating various documents in rural areas, spelling discrepancies are common.
  • The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) itself has certified that only biometrics are accurately captured, while demographic details are subject to the discretion of local officials
  • Studies on ABPS also offer compelling proof of inflated savings assertions attributed to Aadhaar. In response to an inquiry in the Lok Sabha, the Rural Development Ministry disclosed a 247% surge in job card deletions during FY 2022–23 compared to previous years, resulting in the deletion of job cards for over 7 crore workers in the last two years alone.
  • According to the government’s own data as of January 11, 2024, out of a total of 25.6 crore registered workers, only 16.9 crore workers qualify for Aadhaar-Based Payment Systems (ABPS), while all workers are eligible for account-based payments.

Working Paper from the Public Research and Advocacy Group Libtech:

  • The paper claims that “there is no significant gain with ABPS vis-à-vis bank account payments, and it is just 3% more in case of ABPS… keeping the scale of Mahatma Gandhi NREGS, this 3% gain is also a very significant gain.”
  • The paper examines, based on a sample of 3.2 crore wage transactions, whether there is a statistically significant difference in the time required to transfer wages using account-based payments and Aadhaar-Based Payment Systems (ABPS).
  • If one were to consider all transactions using the two payment modes and observe that ABPS was faster than account-based payments by 3%, then the Rural Development Ministry’s claims of ‘gains’ might be considered a valid point. However, LibTech’s study is grounded in a sample of 3.2 crore transactions.
  • In statistical science, the principles governing sample datasets dictate that only if the difference is statistically significant can we assert that one payment system is more efficient than the other. Unfortunately, the observed difference was not statistically significant, providing evidence that ABPS is not quicker than account-based payments.
  • The government has asserted that rejection rates in Aadhaar-Based Payment Systems (ABPS) are lower compared to account-based payments. However, the paper finds no statistically significant difference in rejection rates between the two payment modes.
  • In summary, the paper contradicts the Ministry’s repeated claims of increased efficiency in wage payments through ABPS.

Conclusion:

The timely payment of workers is primarily dependent on the government allocating sufficient funds.  When adequate funds are allocated, the time taken to pay workers will not differ, whether using ABPS or account-based payments. The challenges in resolving issues with ABPS are considerably greater than those associated with account-based payments, leading us to advocate for the use of account-based payments.



Context:

Given the circumstances surrounding the invitation extended to French President Emmanuel Macron, his recent visit to India was always expected to focus more on symbolism and ceremony rather than substantive matters. Macron, the sixth French President to participate in Republic Day celebrations, filled the void left when U.S. President declined the invitation.

Relevance:

  • Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.

Mains Question:

The French President was recently invited to the Republic Day 2024 celebration in India. In this context, discuss the areas of cooperation and challenges that persist in the India-France bilateral ties. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Background of India-France Relations:

  • India and France have maintained traditionally close and amicable relations. Following India’s Independence, diplomatic ties were established, leading to significant collaborations and interactions between the two nations.
  • Notable instances include the inclusion of French aircraft and helicopters, such as Ouragan, Mystere, Alize, Alouette, and Jaguar, in the Indian air fleet since the 1960s.
  • In 1984, France stepped in to supply nuclear fuel to the Tarapur power plant when the U.S. withdrew support.
  • France has also been supportive of India’s space program, contributing to the establishment of the Sriharikota launch site and sharing rocket technologies.
  • Despite Cold War constraints hindering a fully developed relationship, the post-Cold War era marked the initiation of a Strategic Partnership between India and France in 1998. Key areas of cooperation include defense and security, space, and civil nuclear energy.

Geo-Political:

  • France supported India’s membership in the UNSC and reforms of the United Nations.
  • France played a vital role in India’s accession to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), and Australia Group (AG).
  • France has been a frequent chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations.

Geo-Strategic:

  • France supports India’s geostrategic concerns and has deployed Indian Air Force planes to Reunion Island in the Indo-Pacific.
  • France has granted equities in organizations like the Indian Ocean Commission to India and participates in the India-France-Australia Trilateral Dialogue for a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
  • France has supported India on matters related to Jammu and Kashmir and has stood against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, reinforcing India’s capabilities against China.

Defense and Security:

  • France is a key defense partner for India, ranking as the second-largest defense supplier.
  • Joint military exercises like Varuna (Naval), Garuda (Air Force), and Shakti (Army) are regularly conducted.
  • India and France undertake joint patrolling in the Indian Ocean Region, focusing on maritime domain awareness.

Economic Cooperation:

  • Bilateral trade between India and France reached USD 13.4 billion in 2022-23, with Indian exports surpassing USD 7 billion.
  • France is the 11th largest foreign investor in India, with a cumulative investment of USD 10.49 billion.
  • Over 1,000 French establishments operate in India, generating a total turnover of around USD 20 billion and employing approximately 300,000 individuals.

Energy and Climate:

  • French support played a crucial role in India obtaining an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008.
  • France actively supports India’s entry into the NSG.
  • Both countries played a pivotal role in establishing the International Solar Alliance.

Science and Technology:

  • France’s CNES and India’s ISRO strengthened their partnership with a Joint Vision for Space Cooperation in 2018.
  • Collaborations include joint Earth Observation Missions, such as TRISHNA, joint Mars missions, and initiatives for space debris removal.
  • Joint construction of the world’s largest nuclear park in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, is underway.

Diaspora:

  • Approximately 109,000 Indians, primarily from French enclaves like Puducherry, Karaikal, Yanam, Mahe, and Chandernagore, reside in France.
  • A significant Indian-origin population lives in French Overseas Territories, including Reunion Island, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint Martin.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to India on Republic Day, 2023:

  • In 2023, India and France had already finalized several agreements as part of their 25-year strategic partnership, a milestone marked by multiple meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Macron.
  • The two nations had unveiled an ambitious “Horizon 2047” relationship roadmap, along with plans for collaborative military hardware production, cutting-edge technology transfers, and new procurement deals for French aircraft, engines, and submarines.
  • Diplomats faced the challenge of preparing for the Republic Day visit with limited time, given the numerous agreements already in place.
  • Some even speculated whether India had missed an opportunity to extend invitations to other partners in the South Asian neighborhood or the Global South, instead of hosting a frequently invited France.
  • Consequently, it is logical that many of the agreements disclosed following the meeting between Modi and Macron in Jaipur, as well as their joint attendance at the Republic Day Parade, were essentially derived from the established roadmap.
  • These encompassed the “Defence Industrial” roadmap, aimed at elaborating on the collaborative design, development, and production of defense hardware in air, land, and sea domains, along with a space-defense partnership.
  • Additionally, memorandum of understanding (MoU) documents were signed on agriculture, digital health, and cooperation in science and technology.
  • Notably, the assembly-line manufacturing of civilian helicopters (Airbus-Tata) marked a groundbreaking development but constituted a private business-to-business (B2B) deal.
  • Both parties also released a joint statement addressing regional and international developments. India, facing challenges in finding common ground with other partners such as the U.S. and Russia on these issues, managed to align positions with France on condemning terror attacks in Israel, advocating for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and Ukraine, and expressing concerns about the Red Sea attacks.

Conclusion:

While progress in other areas of cooperation, including significant defense hardware deals under negotiation, nuclear cooperation for the Jaitapur power project, and small modular reactors, was not evident, it is apparent that each of these areas is a work in progress. This underscores the continuity in a partnership founded on mutual respect for strategic autonomy, as emphasized by Macron during the presidential banquet, highlighting their shared commitment to “tradition and innovation.”


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