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Editorial Notes

Editorial Notes 30th September 2016

Higher Education Financing Agency; GM Mustard; Advertising Standards Council of India; Marrakesh Treaty
By By IT's Editorial Notes Team
September 30, 2016

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • Saving the public university
  • Seeds of discontent
  • The task before ASCI

Bilateral & International Relations

  • Making books accessible to all

 

Polity & Governance

GS (M) Paper-2: “Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources, issues relating to poverty and hunger.”

Saving the public university

Introduction:

The Central government recently announced the setting up of the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), conceived as a special purpose vehicle to accrue and disburse funds to certain institutions of higher education in the country.

What will be the features of the HEFA?

The HEFA would be jointly promoted by the identified Promoter and the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) with an authorised capital of Rs. 2,000 crore. The Government equity would be Rs. 1,000 crore.

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  • The HEFA would be formed as a SPV within a PSU Bank/ Government-owned-NBFC (Promoter). It would leverage the equity to raise up to Rs. 20,000 crore for funding projects for infrastructure and development of world class Labs in IITs/IIMs/NITs and such other institutions.
  • The HEFA would also mobilise CSR funds from PSUs/Corporates, which would in turn be released for promoting research and innovation in these institutions on grant basis.
  • The HEFA would finance the civil and lab infrastructure projects through a 10-year loan.
  • The principal portion of the loan will be repaid through the ‘internal accruals’ (earned through the fee receipts, research earnings etc.) of the institutions. The Government would service the interest portion through the regular Plan assistance.
  • All the Centrally Funded Higher Educational Institutions would be eligible for joining as members of the HEFA.
  • For joining as members, the Institution should agree to escrow a specific amount from their internal accruals to HEFA for a period of 10 years. This secured future flows would be securitised by the HEFA for mobilising the funds from the market.
  • Each member institution would be eligible for a credit limit as decided by HEFA based on the amount agreed to be escrowed from the internal accruals.

 Is our education being too technocratic?

  • Developments at the WTO-General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) conference last year, the New Education Policy and the recent mooting of the HEFA indicate a preference for privatising the public university — through corporate social responsibility interventions, long-term loans and structural adjustments in areas of technical education and certain kinds of scientific research
  • The already marginalised liberal arts face a double whammy in the form of the recent approval of the third phase of the Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme, by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
  • Public universities are spaces that serve a larger mandate of inclusiveness and social justice. They often are the only option available to those who have to travel a significant distance, literally and otherwise, in reaching the higher echelons of education.
  • For instance, our research on issues such as everyday experiences of corruption, child soldiers in conflict areas, media freedoms in times of impunity, ideas around human sciences, clearly traverse beyond university confines and assume significance for the larger public.
  • This is in contrast to a technocratic approach that perceives education as a “trade commodity” or “service deliverable”.

Conclusion:

  • The inherent understanding that bringing in foreign universities in itself would drastically alter and improve standards of education in India is misplaced.
  • We would do well to draw lessons from current articulations and cynicism amongst the youth on costs of higher education and student debt in the U.S.
  • Building larger Global South solidarities and advancing them at multilateral fora are ways to engage with education reform. A better approach to sharing the global spotlight, then, is to pay heed to the urgent need to showcase research from Indian public universities on a global level — especially from the liberal arts — instead of shying away from it.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

GS (M) Paper-2: “Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources, issues relating to poverty and hunger.”
GS (M) Paper-3: “Agriculture related issues”

Seeds of discontent

Introduction:

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has released a report “Assessment of Food and Environmental Safety” for genetically modified (GM) mustard” on its website, which resulted in a debate around GMOs.

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This review report was put together by an expert sub-committee of the ministry’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)- seeking to commercially release a GM mustard.

Arguments in favour of GM mustard:

  • GM mustard represents the culmination of over a decade of painstaking work by a team of Delhi University scientists under noted biotechnologist, Deepak Pental.
  • Mustard, a self-pollinating crop, is difficult to hybridise, that is, cross-pollinate. Pental’s team has genetically modified an Indian mustard, Varuna, and an East European mustard line in order to cross-pollinate them.
  • It is claimed to be a hybrid variety rather than a GM.
  • The resultant hybrid DMH-11 yields about 30% more than a reference mustard variety – will help in reducing India’s huge import bill for oil.

Concerns:

  • GM mustard is resistant to the herbicide Glufosinate, and thus a herbicide-tolerant (HT) crop. A farmer growing DMH-11 can potentially get rid of weeds with a blanket spray of Glufosinate which will kill all the plants except the mustard crop.
  • The technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court in ongoing public interest litigation (PIL) concerning GM crops had found HT crops “completely unsuitable in the Indian context” in its final, majority report. Reasons:
    1. Herbicides adversely impact the vast constituency of manual labourers.
    2. Generate selective pressure for the emergence of herbicide-resistant or “super” weeds.
    3. Disturbs the soil ecosystem.
  • Concerns that the yield advantage of GM mustard has been over-estimated by comparing it with dated mustard reference varieties.

Suggestions:

  • Withholding the full bio-safety dossier is not a good step, and should be open for public scrutiny.
  • Though GM-Mustard can solve issues of lower production, its introduction should be done only after thorough studies of its impact on Agricultural labourers, Biodiversity and Health effects.

Way ahead:

  • The public consultation is likely to be the penultimate step before the government takes a final decision on what might become India’s first GM food crop — Bt cotton seeds, though also crushed for edible oil, were not explicitly approved as food.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

GS (M) Paper-2: “Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.”

The task before ASCI

Introduction:

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is 30 years old. Over the decades, ASCI has done a commendable job in inviting consumers to bring to ASCI’s attention advertisements that they find offensive or misleading.

About the ASCI:

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  • It is a self-regulatory voluntary organization of the advertising industry in India.
  • It is a non-Government body, founded in 1985
  • The three main constituents of advertising industry viz. advertisers, advertising agencies and media came together to form this independent NGO.
  • ASCI’s team consists of the Board of Governors, the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) and its Secretariat.

Aim of the ASCI:

  • The aim of ASCI is to maintain and enhance the public’s confidence in advertising. Their mandate is that all advertising material must be truthful, legal and honest, decent and not objectify women, safe for consumers – especially children and last but not the least, fair to their competitors.

About Consumers Complaints Council:

  • Consumers Complaints Council (CCC), which looks at the advertisements, complained against.
  • The CCC’s decision on complaint against any ad is final.
  • A majority of its members are drawn from civil society; only a minority have a marketing/advertising background.

Functioning of ASCI:

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  • It is conscious that CCC’s recommendation to modify or withdraw an advertisement sometimes could disrupt the business of advertisers and it has no judicial powers and therefore it encourages advertisers to voluntarily take action in the interest of the consumer.
  • Fortunately, a bulk of the advertisers comply with ASCI’s view on the “offending” advertisements and either withdraw or modify them.
  • ASCI’s advertising code has been adopted in the rules of Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act, 1995, and therefore violating the ASCI code is an offence.
  • ASCI is under obligation to inform the information and broadcasting ministry in case of non-compliance with a CCC decision.

Reforms suggested for ASCI:

  • Composition and role of CCC must be communicated to all constituents. That it is independent and that the Board has no role in determining the outcome of CCC recommendations will bring some comfort to advertisers.
  • ASCI must also remind that its Code is based on what consumers expect from advertisers.
  • Apart from seeking written responses/justification from the advertiser, there is a view that CCC should give advertisers more opportunities to express their views (on an advertisement against which ASCI has received a complaint) before placing them ex parte and deciding on it.
[Ref: BS]

 

Bilateral & International Relations

GS (M) Paper-2: “Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests”

Making books accessible to all

Introduction:

India has become the first nation to join the Marrakesh Treaty, often termed as “Books for Blind”.

What is Marrakesh Treaty?

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  • It is a treaty on copyright adopted in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 28 June 2013.
  • The treaty allows for copyright exceptions to facilitate the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for visually impaired persons.
  • The treaty sets a norm for countries ratifying the treaty to have a domestic copyright exception covering these activities, and allowing for the import and export of such materials.
  • Should not be confused with Marrakesh Agreement of WTO (The WTO officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement).
  • So far, 22 countries have joined the Marrakesh Treaty, but many more are needed.
  • Each new nation that joins brings along not only a population in need, but a wealth of printed matter that can more easily be made accessible in other countries.

India and Marrakesh Treaty:

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  • The ‘Accessible India Campaign’ has provided a nationwide flagship campaign for universal access for people with disabilities. And India has begun implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty through a multi-stakeholder approach, which includes collaboration among key players such as government ministries, local champions like the DAISY Forum of India, and the private sector.
  • This led to the launch in August of India’s largest collection of online accessible books called “Sugamya Pustakalaya”, which counts 2,00,000 volumes.

About Accessible Books Consortium:

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  • The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations organisation based in Geneva, administers the Marrakesh Treaty and leads an alliance of private and public partners known as the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), which was established in June 2014 to support the goals of the treaty.
  • The ABC has established a centralised electronic multilingual catalogue of accessible books produced by libraries for the blind around the world. Through the ABC Book Service, which is free, organisations serving the print-disabled can supplement their collections of accessible books from their counterparts in other countries.

How ABC can help India?

  • Preventing Duplication of efforts.
  • It is hoped that Sugamya Pustakalaya will soon become a member of the ABC Book Service, thereby joining an international library-to-library service managed by WIPO in Geneva.
  • ABC is continuing to establish projects in India, including by training publishers, libraries and NGOs in the production of accessible books, as well as providing funding to produce educational materials in accessible formats.
  • In addition to implementing projects in India, ABC has also established training and technical assistance projects in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and it is estimated that 88,500 students with visual impairments in these four countries will benefit from ABC projects in the upcoming year.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

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