1.Economic Survey (The Hindu, PIB, Live Mint)

2.Three milestones in education (The Hindu)

3.A path to executive power (The Hindu)

 

1.Economic Survey (The Hindu, PIB, Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the recently released Economic Survey 2017-18. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The finance minister has tabled the Economic Survey in Parliament. The Economic Survey paints as bright a picture for India’s short and medium term growth, while pointing out some pitfalls.

Key highlights

  • It projects that GDP growth could accelerate to 7-7.5% in 2018-19, from 6.75% in the current fiscal, reinstating India as the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
  • The Economic Survey has predicted gross value added for FY18 at 6.1 percent as against 6.6 percent for the previous financial year.
  • Agriculture, education, and employment will be areas of focus in the medium term, according to the Economic Survey.
  • Economic Survey says that consumption demand is likely to be aided by low real estate. The biggest source of upside potential is the exports sector, the Economic Survey states. The Economic Survey says economy management is likely to be challenging in FY19.
  • Devoting an entire chapter to ‘Climate, Climate Change and Agriculture’, it gave stressed on the dangers climate change poses to the outlook for farm growth. With the potential to reduce annual agricultural incomes by as much as 20-25% for unirrigated areas the Survey calls for a range of mitigation measures including extensive provision of efficient irrigation technologies and a wholesale review of the cereal-centric approach to policy.
  • Citing job creation and education as key priorities, the Survey sets out a plan for rapid economic expansion by recommending that policymakers keep their sights trained on strengthening “the only two truly sustainable engines private investment and exports.”

Factors

  • According to Chief Economic Adviser the key factors contributing to the positive prognosis are the reform measures- the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and the steps taken to address the twin balance sheet problem in the banking sector. The latter includes the push to use the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code for debt resolution and the initiative to recapitalise public sector banks. Adding to these domestic enablers are the fair winds of a global recovery that have already lent a lift to overseas demand for India’s goods and services. Also the fair winds of a global recovery that has already lent a lift to overseas demand for India’s goods and services.

Risks

  • Some macroeconomic threats, including a key risk in the form of persistently high oil prices, would require exemplary economic stewardship. Among the concerns the CEA has flagged is one relating to what the Survey calls “a classic emerging market ‘sudden stall’ induced by sharp corrections to elevated stock prices.”
  • With Indian stock indices continuing to soar to new highs on an almost daily basis, the Survey warns against “sanguineness about its sustainability”. A correction in the stock market, besides triggering capital outflows, could force policymakers to raise interest rates, choking off the nascent recovery.

Way ahead

  • The survey recommends a “modest consolidation” that would signal a return to the path of calibrated deficit reductions, it is signalling that the government may have to retain the elbow room to stabilise the GST, complete the recapitalisation exercise and, most crucially, support agriculture.

Question– “The Economic Survey underscores the need to maintain fiscal credibility.” Comment.

 

2.Three milestones in education (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of findings of the ASER report 2017 and the National Achievement Survey (NAS). (GS paper III)

Overview

  • With the release of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), there is a hue and cry about the status of children’s learning in India. This year’s situation has been different. Now India is in a position to think and act differently.

About the ASER report

  • ASER stands for Annual Status of Education Report, is an annual survey that aims to provide reliable estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels for each district and state in India. ASER has been conducted every year since 2005 in all rural districts of India. It is the largest citizen-led survey in India. It is also the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India today.
  • Every year since 2005, ASER has reported on children’s schooling status and their ability to do basic reading and arithmetic tasks. Year after year, ASER has highlighted the fact that although almost all children are enrolled in school, many are not acquiring foundational skills like reading and basic arithmetic that can help them progress in school and in life.

About NAS report

  • The National Achievement Survey (NAS) is the largest ever national assessment survey in the country and is amongst the largest in the world, was conducted throughout the country today. Union HRD Minister said that the NAS is a transparent and credible exercise done under third party verification. It was conducted for the Classes 3, 5 and 8 in government and government aided schools.

ASER 2017

  • The Annual Status of Education Report 2017 ‘Beyond Basics’ provides data on some important dimensions of the preparedness of youth, age 14-18, in rural India, with respect to their ability to lead productive lives as adults.
  • ASER 2017 focuses on an older age group, youth who are 14 to 18 years old. “The survey looks ‘Beyond Basics’, exploring a wider set of domains beyond foundational reading and arithmetic in an attempt to throw light on the status and abilities of youth in this age group.”
  • Whereas previous ASER reports have reached almost all rural districts in the country to generate estimates that are considered representative at district, State, and national levels, ASER 2017 was conducted in 28 districts spread across 24 States and generated only district level estimates.
  • One of the strong messages from the findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2017 is that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act should cover the entire spectrum of 18 years, and not confine itself to those aged 6 to 14.

Assessment

  • This year is historic because the children who are today in Class VIII are the first cohort to benefit from the Right to Education Act, which came into effect in April 2010. With almost all these children not only enrolling in school but completing at least eight years in the education system, we are in an excellent position to think seriously about what eight years of schooling should entail and what it should enable children to do.
  • Also there are now two new sources of data available on children’s learning. Last week, ASER 2017 and the district report cards from the National Achievement Survey (NAS) were released. The recently released ASER data is different from the usual survey as it concentrates on the 14-18 age groups, which is different from the usual target population.
  • Also, unlike the usual ASER surveys which are carried out in all rural districts of the country, this year the exercise was done only in one or two districts per State. The ASER 2017 “beyond basics” assessment framework is in line with the National Council of Educational Research and Training’s (NCERT) learning outcomes approach where developing connections between mathematical thinking and daily life is stressed.
  • The NAS reports lay out performance of children by different broad competencies rather than by reference to the syllabus or simply in terms of a score. For example, for Class VIII, the report card gives the proportion of students who can “read textual/non-textual materials with comprehension and identify the details, characters, main idea and sequence of ideas and events while reading” or “solve problems involving large numbers by applying appropriate operations”.
  • Both the reports point to the importance of considering stage-wise learning outcomes, a move which will contribute towards a much-needed rethinking of class-wise curricular expectations. Every year ASER releases data in the same school year in which the assessment is conducted. The government has done this with NAS data this year is a laudable move.

Differences

  • Both uses different methodologies, ASER is a household survey and NAS is a school-based effort. ASER conducts its assessment one-on-one, while NAS is a pen-paper test. ASER is aimed at a representative sample of all children (whether in school and attending or out of school) whereas NAS is a representative sample of children who are enrolled in government or aided schools. Typically, ASER focuses mainly on foundational skills like reading and arithmetic, while NAS looks at a wider variety of skills.

Way ahead

  • India is in a good position to think of effective new ways of moving beyond universal schooling towards learning for all. The annual nature of the planning process in education may have been useful for when inputs had to be provided. But when the focus is moving from “providing schooling” towards “ensuring learning”, a multi-year period is needed for implementation.
  • Although there is a provision for innovation funds in the annual work plan guidelines, these are usually not effectively spent. In the upcoming Budget, an amount could be set aside specifically for a learning improvement fund.

Question – There is need for timely and effective decentralised action to improve the quality of children’s learning outcomes. Explain in the context of recently released ASER and NAS survey.

 

3.A path to executive power (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of office of profit, why it must be understood as part of the legislature’s institutional separation. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • Recently the President of India accepted the recommendation of the Election Commission to disqualify the 20 MLAs of the ruling party in the national capital, for holding offices of profit. As they were parliamentary secretaries to ministers in the Delhi government.

Office of profit debate

  • With this there are multiple questions raises, for example-Did the EC act in a fair manner and was its decision to disqualify the MLAs legally sound? The appointment of parliamentary secretaries also raises broader concerns about the nature of executive power in a parliamentary system.
  • The concept of office of profit originates from Britain where, during the conflicts between the Crown and the Parliament in the 16th century, the House of Commons disqualified members from holding executive appointments under the Monarch.
  • The underlying principle behind this is the doctrine of separation of powers. The office of profit rule seeks to ensure that legislators act independently and are not lured by offers from the executive.
  • India’s Constitution makers adopted this idea under Articles 102(1)(a) and 191(1)(a) which state that a lawmaker will be disqualified if he or she occupies “any office of profit” under the Central or State governments, other than those offices exempted by law. While the term “office of profit” is not defined in the Constitution, the Supreme Court, in multiple decisions, has laid out its contours.
  • The trend of appointing MLAs as parliamentary secretaries is done across the political spectrum. Many of these have been legally challenged and struck down by the judiciary. Recently, the Supreme Court struck down the Assam Parliamentary Secretaries (Appointment, Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2004, calling it unconstitutional. Hence, the issue has a chequered legal past.
  • One of the major constraints in cabinet formation is Article 164 (1-A) of the Constitution which limits the number of Ministers in State cabinets including the Chief Minister to 15% of the total number of MLAs of the State; for Delhi it is 10% of the total seats. It is to get round this constitutional cap that State governments create such posts.
  • In India’s parliamentary system, contesting elections to the legislature is primarily seen as a path to exercise executive power. It is often ignored that holding the government to account is not only the Opposition’s role but also that of the entire legislature. Rewarding MLAs with executive posts can restrict them from performing their primary role.

Way ahead

  • Unless legislatures are truly strengthened and the disproportionate power of the executive in the legislature curtailed, the demand for creating such posts will continue to persist. It is time for the Supreme Court to examine and streamline the confusing elements related to the ‘office of profit’ and tests evolved thereto.

Question – The ‘office of profit’ controversy keeps coming back every now and then. Explain whether need to expand the definition to include ‘power and influence’ for which such offices are really created, or need to remove the provision as such as it has failed to achieve the desired goal of legislative independence.