Preparing for GS II

Newspapers and various government reports are the most important sources for this paper.

Before I list out the various sources for various topics mentioned in the syllabus, I would like to talk a little bit about how to read the huge bulky reports. Government reports like 2nd ARC, Punchhi and Fourteenth Finance Commission reports are extremely important for the exam. Reading suggestions alone would not suffice because without the context these suggestions will not make any sense. So to appreciate the importance of the suggestions one must understand the context (like the problems in the existing system) and for that the whole report should be studied. But reading each and every line in these reports is not practically possible. So I usually look at the Contents and Headings to identify the topics, which would fit into the exam syllabus and then prepare on these topics.  That way, I was able to finish off these reports rather quickly.

Following is the list of sources that I had studied from.

  • Newspapers – The Hindu and Indian Express
  • Magazines – Frontline (only relevant articles)
  • Indian Polity by Lakshmikanth – to get the basics right
  • Punchhi Commission report – for Centre-State (federalism) issues
  • 2nd ARC Reports:
    • Local Governance – for Local Bodies
    • Social Capital – for NGOs, SHGs, Civil Societies etc.
    • Selected readings from Personnel Administration and E-Governance.
  • Fourteenth Finance Commission – This is extremely important as it came only this year.
  • Representation of People’s Act – relevant provisions that appeared in Newspapers like the Supreme Court judgments.
  • Comparison of Indian Constitution with others – I have prepared this only for few countries from internet like UK, USA and Japan in great depth. I also covered the ‘borrowed’ features of Indian Constitution from Lakshmikanth itself.
  • International Relations:
    • Newspapers, especially C. Raja Mohan’s column in Indian Express
    • Frontline (extremely good for International Relations)
    • idsa.in website (selected articles)
    • Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) website
    • Wikipedia for the mandate and objectives of various bodies and organisations
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Preparing for GS Paper III – Economy

Many people have been asking me about how to prepare for Economics. So, here it goes.

For the GS Paper III, you don’t need to be an economist to answer the questions that are being asked. You need to be a generalist.

The ONLY book I’ve read for Economy part in GS Paper III is the Macroeconomics – NCERT. It helped me in getting the basics right. After that I DID NOT refer to any other book at all. I feel that Economy is all about understanding the meanings of various terms correctly. Once you understand what a term really means, the logic that goes around that term isn’t very difficult to understand. So for this purpose I’ve maintained a table of 2 columns, in my notes, consisting of various terms in one column and their definitions + relevant contemporary examples in the other column.

To get the list of different terms I did 2 things, but before I mention that I based my preparation on one basic assumption. That is, UPSC will not ask for an Economics concept which has not been in news/Union Budget/Economic Survey. I believed that it is rational for me to think that there is no reason why UPSC would ask a question on a topic which doesn’t fit into this criteria. Being an ardent follower of newspapers, I believed that I wouldn’t miss any important topic or issue that comes up in the newspapers. So with this as my base, I did the following 2 things:

  1. Whenever I see any new Economics related term in newspapers that I don’t know, I would first go and study the definition and try to understand the concept in the context of the newspaper article. This made it easy for me to remember the concept. For example, I read about “Sovereign Debt Crisis” in the context of Greek crisis. It serves me 2 purposes – understanding the concept well and also remembering that concept well because I have the context of some contemporary issue around that concept.
  2. Went through Economic Survey and Union Budget, not to get a hold of the numbers scattered in there, but to identify different terms (like ‘tax expenditure’) and then know their meanings (by looking it up in the internet). This year’s economic survey is quite good – especially the First Volume. Several concepts were well explained there and I strongly recommend the aspirants to go through it, from the mains point of view.

Apart from this, I’ve also read the Fourteenth Finance Commission Report and I’ve written an analysis on it earlier, which can be found here. In summary, the sources that I had followed:

  • Macroeconomics – NCERT
  • Newspapers
  • Economic Survey and Budget for identification of different terms

NO OTHER SOURCE WHATSOEVER!! 🙂

Studying newspapers, magazines and making notes

I started reading studying newspapers from 1st November 2013 and I didn’t miss even a single day till 13th December, 2014 (Mains started from 14th December, 2014). I restarted the newspapers again from 1st Jan, 2015. I feel that one year of newspapers reading studying before mains would suffice (this is purely my personal opinion).

The reason why I’d like to call it studying newspapers is because unlike reading, this involves a lot of thinking and analysing the issues. Try and see, in what way it fits into the static portion covered from standard textbooks. For example, last year there was a controversy that was sparked off when a former Chief Justice of India was appointed as a Governor. First I’d identify what the qualifications are for a Governor and then the restrictions on post-retirement positions for judges, along with respective articles in the Constitution. Then accordingly, I’d make notes of this whole issue including its pros and cons. In the end, I’d also try to form my own opinion on the issue.

The “news” is something that I’d ignore in the newspapers. For example, isolated developments like petty crimes and all news about politics are some of the things that I would not care to look into. I would study an article only if it fits in to the exam syllabus. I would also study the newspapers from Geography and History points of view. Friday Magazine and Sunday Review cover important articles from History point of view, so its better not to neglect them.

I would start my day with newspapers. I used to study 2 newspapers till mains – theHindu (hard copy) and the Indianexpress (digital). After mains I started studying Livemint (through feedly) and thehansindia.com (for State news) and restricted to the opinions section of Indianexpress, in addition to the Hindu. It used to cost me about 3 hours to complete the newspapers including the notes making.

I used to keep the weekends for reading magazines – frontline, downtoearth and idsa (selected articles) using feedly, a chrome app.

I used to make notes online on Google Docs which makes it easy to maintain and access. I would make notes on topics/issues basis and I’d write all the developments regarding a topic/issue at one place. This would help me in tracking all the developments at one place and also be able to cover multiple dimensions of a topic.

Importance of Test Series

I would go to the extent of saying that the test series is indispensable, given the fact that General Studies (GS) weightage has grown and securing good marks in GS is extremely important. I have enrolled myself for Sri Chaitanya Narayana test series in Hyderabad and took the question papers and model answers for “the-most-famous-test-series-of-Delhi” from one of my friends. I used to take the exams for the latter test series at my home and used to self evaluate them looking at the model answers. I would strongly recommend both the test series to all the aspirants and it helped me in both managing time as well as improving writing speed in the writing marathon of the mains.

I believe that studying would constitute just 50% of the preparation and writing tests would comprise the remaining 50%. Test series teaches many important lessons and allows you to identify and rectify your weaknesses so that you do not expose them in the final exam.

It is also important to try and attempt all the questions in the exam and it is quite possible to do so. In all my GS papers (I, II, III and IV), I have attempted full 1000 marks without leaving out even a single question. People say that it is impossible to answer 25 questions in 3 hours time, but I would say with correct practice it surely is possible (not to forget that I also drew maps in geography answers). I think the only reason why you should not attempt a question in the exam is only because you have absolutely no clue of what the answer is and you can’t even make an intelligent guess of what that is. I feel no other reason is acceptable.

Opinion – Is 21st Century the dusk of Bretton Woods Institutions?

A number of regional banking institutions like the New Development Bank (NDB), BRICS Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have emerged, all of which India has been a part of. There has been a growing perception that the emergence of these institutions is a consequence of the failure of the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI) and thus, these institutions would eventually undermine and possibly even replace the BWIs of World Bank and IMF.

There is no iota of doubt that the BWIs, driven by the western vested interests, have largely failed to accommodate the aspirations of the developing and less developed economies of the world. For example, these institutions have failed to implement reforms like the IMF quota reforms, which will increase the voice of emerging nations in the functioning of the BWIs. Despite making several appeals by the G20 nations these reforms are yet to see the light. Also, there is a growing belief that the assistance provided by the BWIs comes with several strings attached so as to play the assisted economies to the tunes of the western interests. For example, a bailout package of IMF comes with severe austerity measures which will benefit the free market forces. Since the developed economies are more competitive, they will be benefited by these free market forces. It is also interesting to note that the Ukraine crisis had began over the question of Ukraine signing an agreement with EU that would provide a bailout package by IMF.

Under these circumstances, the emerging nations of the world have come up with several regional financial institutions like the ones mentioned earlier. But it would be unwise to arrive at a conclusion that the disguised agenda behind them is to undermine and ultimately replace the BWIs. BWIs have a membership of over 180 nations. Compare this to the NDB (and CRA) whose membership is just 5 (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa); AIIB whose membership is a little over 20, and can at best grow close to 30. The scope of these regional institutions is also very narrow. For example, NDB and AIIB only provide funding for infrastructure projects, while BWIs would in addition provide funding for development activities, bailout packages for nations facing balance of payments (BoP) crises etc. Also the capital of these regional institutions (Ex: AIIB – capital of $100 billion) is too weak to undermine the BWIs.

The emergence of these regional institutions must be considered in the light of the changing global dynamics. In this era of “Asian Century” these new institutions aim to meet the specific developmental needs of the Asian and emerging economies. They would diversify the sources of funding which will reduce the burden on the BWIs. Also, the emerging nations can now use these new institutions as new platforms to build consensus between them and act together to push for the long pending reforms of BWIs. Thus, their role is complementary and not contradictory to that of BWIs.

The 21st Century thus does not mark the dusk of BWIs, but mark the dawn of reformed BWIs.

Geography – Dry Ports

The Union government had proposed the idea of establishing 12 dry ports in the country, including one in the youngest state of Telangana, in order to boost the freight movement that would promote India’s manufacturing sector, which is in consonance with India’s “Make in India” ambitions.

What are dry ports?

Dry Ports are inland ports which are directly connected to sea ports either by road or rail and have the capacity to send the consignments to various inland locations. The dry ports have various facilities like storage, supply chain management and logistics.

Some of the existing dry ports in India are at Delhi and Kanpur.

Advantages of Dry ports:

  • Reduce the burden on traditional sea ports.
  • Will provide greater employment opportunities outside the sea port regions.
  • Boost the manufacturing capabilities as the freight movement becomes more easy and fluid.
  • Freight management becomes easy as these inland ports may be used by industries as dispatching centers and help the industries in expanding their markets. This in turn will improve the competitiveness of Indian manufactured goods.
  • Will also boost India’s exports and exporting capabilities.

Opinion – Is Direct Benefit Transfer the way to go?

The Economic Survey projects the JAM trinity as the tool to “wipe every tear from every eye”. This JAM trinity corresponds to Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar Number and Mobile linking to facilitate the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). DBT is being touted as the panacea to the social security woes of the people of this country. However, there is another side of the story  which also needs to be told.

DBT offers the benefits of minimising leakages and corruption, greater coverage and better targeting – all of which will improve the efficiency of the public spending on subsidies. This will help in promoting the fiscal discipline of the government, which it has not been able to follow for various reasons (like the never ending postponement of fiscal deficit targets of FRBM Act). This will also advance financial inclusion to some extent and will cause minimum distortion to the market forces. For example, if DBT replaces the Public Distribution System (PDS) then trade distortion in food grains market will be reduced. Thus DBT is certainly desirable.

But, its implementation has several challenges like poor financial inclusion and unfavorable social attitudes. While the problem of financial inclusion may now be easily addressed with the progress made through Pradham Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and Aadhaar scheme, the problem of social attitudes still loom large. For example, pregnant women and children are some of the important beneficiaries of the PDS through programmes like Janani Suraksha Yojana and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) respectively. Thanks to these efforts that the nutritional requirements of women and children are being met to a large extent, if not fully. Now if we move away from PDS and towards DBT in a society which still doesn’t consider the nutrition of women (especially pregnant) and children (especially girls) as important, then it may prove counter productive with respect to the progress achieved so far. The transferred funds may no longer be used for intended purposes.

This makes it imperative that though the DBT is all the more desirable, it must be allowed in a gradual manner and must be accompanied by social awareness campaigns that would make these DBT transferred funds to be used for their intended purposes. It must be first allowed in those sectors where such social challenges do not exist – like in the case of LPG cylinders, and must be accompanied by social awareness campaigns in areas where the social challenges do exist.