A game-changer for higher education

(The Hindu)

 

Forest rights and wrongs

(The Indian Express)

 

It is not lack of jobs but lack of governance

(Live Mint)

A game-changer for higher education

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue renewed focus on RUSA scheme for education sector.

(GS paper II)

Overview

 

  • The Union Cabinet has recently decided to not only continue with the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA)- ‘a Centrally sponsored scheme launched in 2013 to provide strategic funding to eligible State higher educational institutions’,  but also give it due importance augurs well for the system of higher education in India. That the government is backing the scheme speaks volumes about the robustness and relevance of the scheme.

 

Assessment of Indian ground realities

 

 

  • India is estimated to have over 800 universities with over 40,000 colleges are affiliated to them. About 94% of students of higher education study in 369 State universities. But the Central government’s slant toward premier institutions has continued ever since the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12), where in spite of a nine-fold increase in Budget Allocation State institutions have been left to fend for themselves with funding mainly directed towards starting more Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management and Central universities.

 

 

 

  • Today about 150 Centrally-funded institutions where less than 6% of students study in them corners almost the entire funding by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). Also the University Grant Commission’s system of direct releases to State institutions which bypasses State governments leads to their sense of alienation. Though they are the face of higher education in India, State institutions have been getting short shrift.

 

 

Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA)

 

  • To address those critical concerns, the MHRD launched RUSA; the scheme is largely based on the conditional release of funds linked to reforms in the key areas of governance, learning-teaching outcomes, reaching out to the unreached and infrastructure support.

 

  • Unlike other schemes which are foisted on State governments in a one-size-fits all manner, under RUSA, States and institutions have to give an undertaking expressing their willingness to the idea of reform and agreeing to meet the States’ share of the cost.

 

  • RUSA is a process-driven scheme. Its design and conceptualisation were finalised through extensive consultations with all key stakeholders, especially State governments. Preparatory grants were released to States to have the required systems, processes, and the technical support in place. Despite being voluntary, all States except a Union Territory (Lakshadweep) are a part of RUSA.

 

  • All the State Higher Education Perspective Plans for five/10 years have been prepared after extensive stakeholder consultations. RUSA began with a modest allocation of ₹500 crore, but over time has seen its resource allocation being increased.

 

  • For the current year, ₹1,300 crore has been provided. Since funding is conditional to performance, it is critical to have a robust monitoring and evaluation system in place. In this regard, geo-tagging, introduction of a public financial management system, a fund tracker and reform tracker system and regular video conferences have proved effective tools, since 2015.

 

  • Governance reform is central to the scheme. State Higher Education Councils (SHECs) which have eminent academics, industrialists and other experts have been created, playing a major role, from an academic and professional point of view, in the formulation of medium- and long-term State perspective plans. In order to avoid arbitrariness, a State, for example, has to also give its commitment to creating a search-cum-select committee in the selection of vice-chancellors.

 

  • Mitigating the bane of the affiliation system is also a major objective. This is achieved through a reduction in the number of colleges affiliated per university by creating cluster universities and promoting autonomous colleges.

 

  • To improve learning-teaching outcomes, there is an effort towards improving pedagogy by capacity-building of faculty, selecting teachers in a transparent manner, adopting accreditation as a mandatory quality-assurance framework, implementing a semester system, and involving academics of repute and distinction in decision-making processes.

 

Way ahead

 

  • RUSA can prove be a real game changer for higher education in the country. It has not only reprioritised the country’s needs, from funding just a few premier institutions to reaching out to institutions at the bottom of the pyramid, but has also changed the way regulators need to function. However its litmus test will be in how impartially the scheme is administered by the MHRD and the degree to which State governments allow the SHEC to function.

 

Question-Explain how the renewed focus on Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) can be game-changer for higher education?

Forest rights and wrongs

(The Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Wrong implementation of Forest Rights Act.

(GS paper III)

Overview

 

  • Delhi-based think-tank TERI had cautioned in 2014, that the wrong recognition of rights under the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) would leave forest-dependent people vulnerable to adverse impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

 

  • Indeed, the wrong recognition of individual forest rights (IFR) under the FRA has made a large chunk of the country’s tribal population participants in a climate change disaster. Forests conserve and provide water for humans, cattle, agriculture and industry. The loss of forest cover to encroachment is also a lost opportunity for carbon sequestration.

 

Assessment

 

  • TERI’s report provided satellite images of land patches where forest cover existed before 2005 but was flattened later, the report covered claims made up to 2011 on 14,668 hectares (ha). The analysis was based on a scrutiny of 66,300 FRA rights on 10,7897 ha spread across 19 Maharashtra districts.

 

 

  • The report is in the public domain now. It shows that till 2012, Maharashtra has emitted 5, 70881.6 tonnes of GHG due to deforestation as a result of recognition of rights under the FRA. An opportunity for carbon sequestration has been lost in 14,668.96 ha of forests.

 

 

  • Most such claims have been rejected by committees that comprise villagers and revenue, tribal department officers not the Forests Department (FD). The department has no say in the implementation of the FRA; the nodal ministry is the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA).

 

  • A large number of encroachments happened and claims have been rejected by the various committees constituted under the FRA. Such rejection has happened despite several advisories issued by the MoTA from 2006 onwards asking for effective and lenient (pro-tribal) implementation of the FRA. However, three-tier scrutiny committees at the state-level Gram Sabha (GSLC), sub-divisional level (SDLC) and district level committee (DLC) continue to reconsider the rejected cases despite the lack of any credible evidence from the claimant to fulfill the pre-2005 criterion.

 

  • According to a Gujarat government document, the Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Application and Geo-Informatics in Gandhinagar came out with data based on high resolution time series satellite imagery in 2012, revealed that 80 per cent of IFR claims in the state were bogus.

 

  • Strangely, while stressing on the use of technological evidence such as geographical information system and satellite imagery, MoTA, in a letter dated July 27, 2015, to the chief secretaries of all states, said that such evidence should not be used to replace other evidence. Even authentic time series satellite imagery of forestlands in the possession of the FD was rejected.

 

  • The Forest Survey of India’s (FSI) State of the Forest Report has documented that 67,900 ha of forest cover has been lost in 188 tribal districts between 2009 and 2011, mainly due to encroachments. As per the MoTA website, till November 30, 2017, 17,60,869 IFR claims were granted covering 41,22,590 acres of forestland equivalent to several times the area of the Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra. If this rate of forest destruction continues, we can safely say that there will be no forests left in India after 20 years.

 

 

  • Thousands of farmers are committing suicide every year because they cannot make ends meet on agricultural land that is irrigated and despite the fact that they have access to fertilisers and markets. How does the government expect tribals and other forest dwellers to survive on forestlands that are non-fertile, un-irrigated and subject to animal depredation and the vagaries of the monsoons?

 

 

Way forward

 

  • The FRA was intended only for tribal communities, but the rights provided in the act were later extended to all forest “dwellers”. There are about four non-tribals for every tribal. This means that IFRs have trumped CFRs. Once individual claims are settled, it becomes difficult to settle community rights since these overlap lands that have already been allotted to individual encroachers. The report had recommended that mitigation activities be implemented to combat the GHG emission due to the recognition of FRA, 2006; however there has been no progress in this respect.

 

Question Wrong implementation of Forest Rights Act has led to encroachment of forestland — it’s a lost opportunity for climate change mitigation. Analyse.

It is not lack of jobs but lack of governance

(Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of lack of governance.

(GS paper II)

Overview

 

  • Humans use reasons to validate their judgements, not to arrive at judgements. India’s problem is not whether jobs on payrolls have expanded or not. Whether formal or informal, Indian jobs do not lead to a decent living income for workers. Consequently, households are unable to save and create capital assets as much as they used to. That is the real problem.

 

Assessment

 

  • First revised estimates of national income, consumption, savings and capital formation for 2016-17, in January 2018, have brought home this challenge starkly. This release gives the breakdown of gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) by sectors. The compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of the GFCF of the private corporate sector (financial and non-financial) between 2011-12 and 2016-17 is 13.8%. In the same period, the CAGR of nominal GDP was 11.8%.

 

  • It compares quite well with the “investment and growth boom” years between 2004-05 and 2010-11. The growth figures for GFCF of the private corporate sector and nominal GDP are 16.6% and 15.7%, respectively, between 2004 and 2011. So, the overall down in GFCF in the economy is due to the household sector.

 

  • According to a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) paper (Affordable Housing In India, RBI Monthly Bulletin, January 2018), monthly payments on a home mortgage in 20 of 49 cities in the country will absorb more than 30% of the gross income even for households in the middle-income group (annual income of Rs12-18 lakh).

 

  • The need to find market solutions for a public services failure has squeezed household savings and capital formation; this has meant an alarming decline in the household savings rate, from a peak of 25.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009-10 to 16.3% in 2016-17. The overall national savings rate is down to 30% because of this. With this savings rate, it is impossible for the economy to sustain growth rates of above 7% at best. Occasionally, one can get to 8% but that would involve blowing out the current account deficit, with adverse consequences. 

 

  • The income-tax department has imposed huge economic costs on the country and likely imposed political costs on the ruling party. Of course, there is the Indian judicial system that renders investments unproductive by shuttering production in entire sectors, leaving investments idle for long periods.

 

Way forward

 

  • Governance improvement at the level of the local administration will improve savings and capital formation even as it makes a big difference to people’s quality of living. Need to empower local governments with finances, talent, and with the freedom to hire experts permanently or on a project basis. It is about holding themselves accountable to the public for transparent improvements in their daily lives.

 

Question Attention to local governance issues is both sensible economics and smart politics, Analyse how better public service delivery is the key to lifting India out of “subsistence economy” status?