The soft power of India

(The Hindu)


Has there been a sharp rise in construction of toilets?

(Live Mint)


Dealing with the residue

(The Indian Express)


The soft power of India

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue that we need to concentrate on reinforcing the real soft power of India.

(GS paper II)



  • India being a major or even global power, with the capability, even responsibility, has the ability to play an ‘important role’ on the world stage as a balancing power between major powers and as a ‘security provider’ to others. But we should temper this rhetoric, be more realistic and less ambitious.





  • Leaders of India have been convinced that India is bound to play an increasing and beneficent part in world affairs. For example- J.L. Nehru had developed a zeal for diplomacy that was not backed by the needed military and economic hard power. He was banking on our moral high ground because he and the nation were proud of the non-violent manner in which we had achieved our independence.




  • As early as 1948, he declared: “India had already become the fourth or fifth most influential country in the United Nations.” This was a strange claim; just a year earlier, we were forced to withdraw our candidature for the Security Council when Ukraine, which was contesting the same seat, secured more votes than us in seven successive ballots in a single day.



  • Our experience in the early years in Kashmir and China, the idealist strain has diminished and eventually disappeared altogether and the national interest alone guided our policy. This is not necessarily an undesirable thing. The only caveat is that we have to be realists and check the inexplicable urge to play a big role in international relations.


  • Often the leaders do not realise that playing a role carries with it responsibilities which we may not be able or keen to accept but which we might be dragged into. These responsibilities would be defined by others and would invariably involve us into tasks and areas which we may not wish to get involved in.


  • India is certainly a regional power, but recent events do not lend support to that view and the government was right in not paying heed to that rhetoric. India is without doubt the pre-eminent power in South Asia. However, given our firm commitment not to use force and to non-interference in internal affairs in other states, our neighbours do not feel threatened by us. 


  • India did make a huge effort in Sri Lanka to bring peace and stability to that country and we did so at the request of its lawful government. Small-scale interventions in the Maldives and the Seychelles in the 1980s were successful in stabilising legitimate governments. To that extent, India was able to play a positive role in the region.


  • In these examples, the motivating factor was not prestige; there were domestic factors at play. The resulting increase in our prestige was incidental. If intervention does not succeed, as in Sri Lanka, the ensuing loss of prestige more than offsets whatever prestige we might have gained in the other operations. Often, when a country gets involved in what might be assessed as a low cost foreign adventure, it remains bogged down even when the going gets tough precisely because it apprehends loss of face or prestige. It is easy to get in but difficult to get out.


  • Since India do have to think critically about allocating our scarce resources among alternative uses, and since we are a democratic polity with a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society with a large number of poor, we have to think more than twice about defence spending. Even when at some stage we acquire credible hard power, we must not allow ourselves to be seduced by the flattering and mostly insincere talk of others about India playing a global role.


Way ahead


  • The principal criterion in the conduct of foreign policy for India ought to be lifting the poor from poverty. Whatever brings concrete benefits to our people should be encouraged. A mere wish to be praised as a global or even regional power should not be allowed to guide the policy. 


  • Our single minded focus should be on economic development. Without the necessary economic strength, we cannot strengthen our military. We do need a strong military but for that we need undisturbed double digit economic growth for a generation.


  • The ‘strategic community’ should concentrate on reinforcing this real soft power of India which is what the rest of the world appreciates and not lose time and resources in peripheral ventures that bring no lasting benefit.


Question Without the necessary economic strength, we cannot strengthen our military. Explain in the Indian context.


Has there been a sharp rise in construction of toilets?

(Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of recent survey results for sanitation in India.

(GS paper II)



  • According to the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) conducted between November 2017 and March 2018- 75% of rural households in the country have access to toilets, a 29% point jump over what the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16 have been reported. India has built more toilets over the past two years than it did in the previous five years, if the latest official sanitation survey is to be believed.


Assessment of the survey



  • Both NFHS and NARSS are government-backed surveys conducted in league with multilateral donor organizations such as United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) and World Bank, respectively. NARSS interviewed 92,000 households across the country while the NFHS surveyed a much larger sample of 601,509 households.



  • A comparison of disaggregated NFHS and census 2011 data shows that between 2011 and 2015-16, the share of households with exclusive access to toilets rose 9 percentage points to 37%. But a comparison of NFHS and NARSS data shows that between 2015-16 and 2017-18, the share of such households rose a whopping 27 percentage points to 64%.


  • The annual pace of toilet addition went up from 2 percentage points in 2011-2016 to 30 percentage points in 2016-18 in Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh, the pace of toilet addition accelerated to 24 percentage points per annum from 1.4 percentage points per annum earlier, according to data from NFHS and NARSS.


  • Although the methodologies of NFHS and NARSS are similar, the former survey is about health while the latter focuses exclusively on sanitation and that may explain part of the jump, according to an official involved with the survey, who did not wish to be identified.


  • NFHS did not reflect the improvements seen under the Swachh Bharat Mission as much of the progress happened in the second half of 2016,” said the official. “States such as Chhattisgarh have been declared open-defecation free since then. The results of this survey can however be confirmed only by surveys which need to be conducted every six months.”


  • According to a senior programme manager at Arghyam, a Bengaluru-based foundation that works on groundwater and sanitation. The 93% figure might be an overestimate as many toilets built under the Swachh Bharat Mission (and under earlier programmes) are in poor shape.


  • Amidst all the promising news, the NARSS does point to one worrying aspect in India’s sanitation programme: the rise in the share of toilets without water in some states. However, only after the results of the 2021 census are declared will we know for sure whether this is an accurate reflection of reality.

Question Latest survey results show sharp improvements in access to toilets for rural households in India, but the survey on sanitation raises more questions than it answers. Analyse.


Dealing with the residue

(The Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of stubble burning issue in India.

(GS paper III)



  • Stubble burning is the deliberate setting fire of the straw stubble that remains after wheat and other grains have been harvested. Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana in northwest India has been cited as a major cause of air pollution in Delhi. The particles from the stubble burning combine with industrial pollution, vehicle exhaust and dust to cover the region every year as winter approaches and wind speeds drop.


  • Given that crop residue burning has an environmental footprint and poses health hazards, one need to be cautious while evaluating the Centre’s policy to mitigate the crisis. But there is also an urgent need for such an evaluation.





  • The Centre has allocated Rs 1,050 crore to the states where crop residue burning poses a pollution hazard. The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare have also announced a scheme to promote mechanisation of agriculture that envisages proper management of crop residue.



  • Currently, the most cost-effective and beneficial way to manage the residue is to use a Happy Seeder – a zero-till sowing machine. About 2,000 Happy Seeders are being used in India today. The proposed machine manufacturer supply driven-scheme aims to increase their numbers to 26,000 in two years. This is a herculean task: Not only do we lack skilled personnel but we will also require tractors with higher horsepower to drive the zero-till machines.


  • Only then can a Happy-Seeder sow wheat efficiently in the following November. Even the last watering of the paddy crop has to be timed according to the date of paddy harvest, which must coincide with the date of wheat sowing.


  • However, first, farmers have to be convinced that their yields will not suffer should they choose to use a Happy Seeder. They have to see, for themselves, a standing wheat crop sown with a Happy Seeder. States have not initiated this crucial first step -at least not in desirable numbers. Wheat harvesting has begun. So, we may have missed the opportunity this year.



  • There is risk that should the farmers use the zero-tiller and their yields decrease, they will not only revert to burning residue but will stick to the practice for another generation. The big question is: Come November, will the scheme end the practice of crop burning?



  • The operational guidelines, still under circulation for comments, all but guarantee the scheme’s failure and provide scope for bureaucrats in Delhi to blame the state governments for bad implementation. But at this stage, the states are not even prepared to utilise the funds efficiently.


  • The scheme is simply a copy-paste job from another scheme, The Sub-Mechanisation of Agri-Machinery Scheme, which provides for 8 per cent allocation for tribal population, but it’s illogical to set aside funds for tribals in states that have no tribal population.


  • Funding is spread over two years with the condition that funds will lapse if they are not utilised in the year for which they were allocated. But to ensure that the funds are properly utilised, the scheme will have to run for three years. Twenty per cent of the funds could be allocated in the first year and 40 per cent each in the next two years. Social scientists will have to play a greater role in initiating behavioural change and 15% flexibility in fund utilisation will ensure better progress.


  • The top two decision-making committees dealing with the scheme don’t have any representative from the states. It would be prudent to include a representative from Punjab because two-thirds of the total paddy burning in the country occurs in the state.


  • The window of operations between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing is only three weeks. So, expediting matters will necessitate that the committee dealing with a state be headed by a representative from it. A practising local zero-till farmer should be included in all district-level committees.


  • The hard fact also is that farmers have been burning residue because the National Agriculture Research System has, since its inception, advised them to clear fields (including the removal of organic matter) before sowing. Very few people in this system have ground-level experience of working on the new zero-till machines. The capacity of the KVKs to reach out to lakhs of farmers is very limited. These central government-funded institutions must work under the guidance of state-appointed nodal agencies not vice-versa.


Way forward


  • A far better alternative would be to invest Rs 5,000 per month for six months on a peer farmer-led person-to-person outreach programme. This programme that will use the services of trained village-level workers should run for two years.


  • Continuous use of Happy-Seeder reduces urea or nitrogen requirement by two-thirds of a bag per acre per year. The saving accrued to the Centre’s spending on urea subsidy will be Rs 500 per acre annually. To motivate change, additional incentives based on physical verification of no residue burning can be provided for five years at no extra cost to the exchequer.


Question India’s policy makers, not only need to address public outrage over air pollution but also to persuade them to understand that inducing behavioural change requires more than subsidising the machinery. Explain along with problem of crop burning issue in India.