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Current Affairs Analysis
(for UPSC IAS Civil Services Examination)
JUNE 2020 – (Week 1)
Answer questions in 150-250 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
- GS II: BILATERAL-INDIA-CHINA
Q: ‘The current boundary dispute between India and China is a result of ambiguous agreements and uncertain Line of Actual Control.’ Discuss.
- At the heart of India’s and China’s continued inability to make meaningful progress on the boundary issue are four agreements — signed in September 1993, November 1996, April 2005 and October 2013 — between the two countries.
- According to the 1993 agreement (on the maintenance of peace and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border areas), “pending an ultimate solution”, “the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the LAC between the two sides… No activities of either side shall overstep the LAC.” Further, both the 1993 and the 1996 agreement (on confidence-building measures in the military field along the LAC) say they “will reduce or limit their respective military forces within mutually agreed geographical zones along the LAC.” This was to apply to major categories of armaments and cover various other aspects as well, including air intrusions “within ten kilometres along the LAC”. The specification of this phantom LAC as the starting point and the central focus has made several key stipulations and articles of the four agreements effectively inoperable for more than a quarter of a century. In fact, many of the articles have no bearing on the ground reality. Article XII of the 1996 agreement, for instance, says, “This agreement is subject to ratification and shall enter into force on the date of exchange of instruments of ratification.” It is not clear if and when that happened.
- Astonishingly, nowhere in the 1993 agreement is there the provision to recognise the existing lines of deployment of the respective armies, as they were in 1993. The agreement does not reflect any attempt to have each side recognise the other’s line of deployment of troops at the time it was signed. That would have been the logical starting point. The ambiguity over the LAC has brought a prolonged sense of unease and uncertainty and thus exponentially contributed to the military build-up in those areas. The absence of a definition of this line allows ever new and surreptitious advances on the ground.
- Had the wordsmiths of the 1993 agreement begun the exercise with the phrase “pending an ultimate solution, each side shall strictly respect and observe the line of existing control/deployment” instead of the “LAC”, it would have been more possible to keep the peace. In such a case there would have been two existing lines of control on the map — one for the physical deployment of the Chinese troops and the other for the physical deployment of the Indian troops. This would have rendered the areas between the two lines no man’s land, and would have ensured that the two armies were frozen in their positions.
- In effect, in the eastern sector, where the Chinese have not accepted the loosely defined McMahon line which follows the principle of watershed, and the western sector, which is witnessing another episodic stand-off, the LAC is two hypothetical lines. The first is what Indian troops consider the extent to which they can dominate through patrols, which is well beyond the point where they are actually deployed and present. The second is what the Chinese think they effectively control, which is well south of the line they were positioned at in 1993.
- Now consider para 4 in Article II of the 2013 agreement (on border defence cooperation). It enjoins the parties to “work with the other side in combating natural disasters or infectious diseases (emphasis mine) that may affect or spread to the other side”.
- The Foreign Secretary of India and The head of the Chinese delegation, met in New Delhi in 2003. It had been agreed that both sides would exchange maps to an agreed scale on each side’s perceptions of the location of the LAC in the western sector. The idea was to superimpose the maps to see where the perceptions converged and, crucially, where they diverged. Due to the contentious nature of the sector, it would provide a starting point, not the end point, to discuss how to reconcile divergences presumed to be significant, given Chinese military behaviour on the ground there. In hindsight, it is obvious that China didn’t think the map was in Chinese interests, because if he had, the Chinese would have with them, officially, New Delhi’s claim with regard to the LAC in the western sector where they wanted the most territory. That meant that their hands would have been tied because New Delhi could subsequently say that the Chinese were intruding into India’s LAC. By disregarding the map, China is not bound in any way by New Delhi’s perception of the LAC, and therefore does not have to limit liberty of action. This was evident then and is especially evident now. Because the nature of the terrain, deployment, and infrastructure and connectivity asymmetries in the border areas continue to be so starkly in China’s favour that it is clear that the Chinese are in no hurry to settle the boundary question. They see that the cost to India in keeping this question open suits them more than settling the issue.
- GS II: BILATERAL-INDIA-AFRICA
Q: ‘India has gone to great lengths to help African nations during Covid-19 pandemic.’ Discuss.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has been a great leveller across the world. But its effects stand to be devastating particularly in Africa, where economic and public health conditions are extremely vulnerable. Although African countries moved quickly to curb the initial spread, they are still woefully ill-equipped to cope with a public health emergency of such magnitude due to shortages of masks, ventilators, and even basic necessities such as soap and water. Such conditions have meant that Africa’s cycle of chronic external aid dependence continues. Africa needs medical protective equipment and gear to support its front line public health workers.
- For India, the pandemic presents an opportunity to demonstrate its willingness and capacity to shoulder more responsibility. The fact that even with limited resources, India can fight the virus at home while reaching out to developing countries in need is testament to India’s status as a responsible and reliable global stakeholder. Nowhere has India’s developmental outreach been more evident than in Africa with the continent occupying a central place in Indian government’s foreign and economic policy in the last six years. Africa has been the focus of India’s development assistance and also diplomatic outreach, as evident in plans to open 18 new embassies. These efforts have been supplemented by an improved record of Indian project implementation in Africa.
- India’s role as ‘the pharmacy of the world’, as the supplier of low-cost, generic medicines is widely acknowledged. Pharmaceutical products along with refined petroleum products account for 40% of India’s total exports to African markets. India is sending consignments of essential medicines, including hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol, to 25 African countries in addition to doctors and paramedics at a total cost of around ₹600 million ($7.9 million) on a commercial and grant basis. The initial beneficiaries were the African Indian Ocean island nations of Mauritius, the Seychelles, Comoros, and Madagascar under India’s ‘Mission Sagar’. While transportation and logistics remain a concern, most of the consignments have already reached various African states.
- A timely initiative has been the e-ITEC COVID-19 management strategies training webinars exclusively aimed at training health-care professionals from Africa and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations and sharing of best practices by Indian health experts. Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, and Namibia have been beneficiaries. Across Africa, there is a keen interest to understand the developments and best practices in India because the two share similar socioeconomic and developmental challenges. There is also growing interest in research and development in drugs and vaccines. A few African countries such as Mauritius are pushing for health-care partnerships in traditional medicines and Ayurveda for boosting immunity. The Indian community, especially in East African countries, has also been playing a crucial role in helping spread awareness. Prominent Indian businessmen and companies in Nigeria and Kenya have donated money to the respective national emergency response funds. Country-specific chapters of gurdwaras and temples have fed thousands of families by setting up community kitchens, helplines for seniors and distributing disinfectants and sanitisers.
- India’s approach towards Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic is one that focuses on building local capacities and an equal partnership with Africans and not merely with African elites concerned
- GS III: INDIAN ECONOMY
Q: ‘The recently announced ₹20 lakh crore fiscal stimulus package in India will help multiple sectors of the Indian economy.’ Discuss
- We need to assess and evaluate the recently announced ₹20 lakh crore fiscal stimulus package on a larger national and international platform. With this package, the government is trying to balance the stimulus demands from different sectors and also trying to contain the fiscal burden on the exchequer. Measures announced until now have been a mix of liquidity measures, funding support and reform announcements. The signal is clear, the intent emphatic: provide immediate support for the most distressed sections like micro, small and medium enterprises, and migrant workers, on the one hand, while using the crisis to push long-term reforms on the other. These include freeing up the agriculture supply chain, reducing the hegemony of agricultural produce market committees by encouraging direct online transactions between farmers and buyers, and opening up sectors like coal to the private sector.
- The pandemic period has been defined as a ‘force majeure’. Real estate developers do not have to pay penalties for delays in project deliveries for the period during which the construction activity has been halted because of the pandemic. The extension of registration and completion dates for projects under the Real Estate Regulatory Authority and the extension of credit-linked subsidy schemes for Middle Income Group housing can push real estate developers towards more projects under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Add to this the Reserve Bank of India’s recent rate cuts, including the latest repo rate cut to 4%, and other key measures like long-term repo operation 2.0, open market operations have boosted liquidity in the banking system in excess of ₹5 lakh crore. This is in addition to the six-month moratorium on loan repayments, covering all banks and shadow lenders starting March 1, 2020. By far the most sweeping steps by the central bank in the time of crisis, these remedies will boost liquidity and ease stress in the banking sector, which was affected by an ongoing crisis in non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) even before the contagion spread. Measures for NBFCs such as providing a ₹30,000 crore liquidity facility, a ₹45,000 crore partial credit guarantee and a ₹50,000 crore refinancing facility for NABARD, SIDBI and NHB will also help in ameliorating some stress on the NBFCs.
- The injection of ₹90,000 crore liquidity for DISCOMs, reforms in tariff policy, privatisation of distribution in Union Territories, etc. will help stem the haemorrhaging of some players in this sector. Policy measures announced for the defence sector, which are meant to push indigenous production and participation of the private sector in India’s space programmes, have been encouraging so far. How this will be implemented needs to be seen, however, especially since some key defence procurement programmes have been delayed for many years. A level-playing field between defence public sector units and private companies is also necessary to develop the defence sector in India.
- Most significantly, this crisis has brought to surface the need for investment in healthcare infrastructure. India currently spends around 1-2% of GDP on health which is lower than even peer countries like Brazil. The allocation of ₹15,000 crore and viability gap funding for social infrastructure projects are small steps in addressing this gap. L&T, for instance, is well placed to construct ready-to-use hospitals in the shortest span of time.
- This stimulus is as much a reformative package as a fiscal one. However, a majority of the stimulus measures announced are meant for the rural sector and distressed segments with a focus on supply side measures in providing credit facilities. It is time we gear up to grab the opportunities this pandemic has laid open.
- GS II: GOVERNANCE
Q: How has Covid-19 and lockdown affected crime rates?
- COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. There is hardly any aspect of our life that has been left untouched by the pandemic. In a society struck by a deadly virus, strict maintenance of public order is most essential. Only then can those affected by the disease be looked after and given the best medical care. Law enforcement is therefore next only to healthcare in its criticality. The police have taken enormous risks during the lockdown to ensure strict observance of guidelines, including physical distancing, which in India is among the most difficult rules to enforce. Policepersons need to be commended for their hard work and restraint, instead of being chastised as a force for the overzealousness and indiscretion of a few of them.
- What greatly helped the police was the fact that roads were deserted and there was nearly zero traffic on major highways. This ensured a sharp reduction in traffic accidents and fatalities caused by such accidents. Antisocial elements could be kept at bay. With anti-social elements confined to their homes, trespass and burglary also became more difficult crimes to commit. A survey across nations has indicated a measurable drop in overall crime. Major cities that generally report a high number of crimes found a drop in crime levels during the lockdown period. Only the New York Police Department reported an uptick in murders and burglaries during the pandemic. London reported an appreciable decline in non-violent crime, especially stabbings. The National Police Chiefs Council in the U.K. reported a drop in burglary, vehicle crime, serious assault and personal robbery in the four weeks up until April 12 2020. In India, the Delhi Police reported a 70% fall in heinous crimes (murders and rapes) between April 1 and 15 compared to the same period last year. In Chennai, the total number of crimes dropped by 79% in the March 25-April 15 period over the February 25-March 15 period. Even giving due allowance to wilful non-registration of cases by the police and the general reluctance of the public to report crimes, particularly during difficult times such as a pandemic, the police force can be proud that it managed to keep the peace during these times.
- However, this period saw a worrying surge in domestic violence cases. The Tamil Nadu Police, for instance, reportedly received 2,963 calls on domestic violence in April 2020 alone. There are two major factors for this rise. Most men are at home, either without work on in fear of losing their jobs. Data show that domestic violence increases when there is greater unemployment. The fear and insecurity of these men cause tension at home and unfortunately, women become the victims of this tension. The second reason is the non-availability of liquor during the lockdown period, which caused frustration among those men who are habituated to drinking daily. There was a similar increase in sexual and gender-based violence in West Africa during the 2013-16 Ebola outbreak. As health workers are busy combating the pandemic, there is little help for domestic violence victims during times such as this. This shows that epidemics leave women and girls more vulnerable to violence.
- A few members of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a network of prominent law-enforcement, governance and development practitioners based in Geneva, believe that the pandemic is both a threat to, and an opportunity for, organised crime, especially illicit drug trade. Travel restrictions across borders, especially in Africa, have made international trade in drugs extremely difficult. Gangs have therefore been at work to innovate and adapt to the changing nature of the illicit market. The Global Initiative believes that organised gangs will infiltrate health services and make profits through the sale of prescription drugs that are not otherwise easily available to the public.
- Another new trend is the rise in cybercrime. New portals have been launched to get people to donate money for the cause of combating COVID-19. Experts say that many fraudulent sites are designed so well that a large number of people are easily taken for a ride. Besides this, there is large-scale manufacture of ineffective masks and hand sanitizers.
- The pandemic and the lockdown have ensured that many crimes have gone down. However, many other crimes have gone up or will assume new forms in the near future. As we enter unlock mode, it is incumbent on law-enforcement officials to think of ways of dealing with new challenges in maintaining law and order.
- GS III: AGRICULTURE
Q: Recently the Centre has prescribed that the free power supply scheme should be replaced with the direct benefits transfer (DBT). Do you support this move? Clearly state your stand with reasons.
- Recently, the Centre has prescribed that the free power supply scheme should be replaced with the direct benefits transfer (DBT) as a condition to allow States to increase their borrowing limit. It is not the first time that the Union government has recommended DBT with regard to electricity. But what is new is setting the time frame for implementing it. By December 2020, the DBT should be introduced at least in one district of a State and from the next financial year, a full roll-out should be made.
- In the last 15 years, Maharashtra has been the only State that scrapped the scheme within a year of introducing it. Karnataka, which has been implementing it since 2008, may become the first southern State to have DBT in power supply. The power subsidy bills in the four southern States and Punjab are at least ₹33,000 crore, an amount the State governments will struggle to meet due to resource crunch in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The financial stress apart, the universal application of the scheme has had deleterious consequences. Primarily, the scheme has led to widespread wastage of water and electricity. It is inherently against incentivising even a conscientious farmer to conserve the two precious resources. It may be pertinent to point out that India is the largest user of groundwater at 251 billion cubic meters, exceeding the combined withdrawal by China and the U.S., as pointed out by Bharat Ramaswami of the Indian Statistical Institute last year. Second, be it parts of the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu or Sangrur district of Punjab, the story about the groundwater table is the same — a worrying rate of depletion. There is one more attendant problem. To sustain their activity, farmers need to go for submersible or high-capacity pumpsets.
- Third, the extension of the scheme to different States over the years has only encouraged installation of more pumpsets. Karnataka is a classic example, The number of irrigation pumpsets, which was around 17 lakh 12 years ago, is now around 30 lakh. Fourth, there is misuse of the scheme for which not just a section of farmers but also field officials have to be blamed. And, fifth, in the absence of meters for these connections or segregation of feeders or metering of distribution transformers, accurate measurement of consumption becomes tricky. Those in charge of power distribution companies find it convenient to reduce their aggregate technical and commercial losses by clubbing a portion of the losses with energy consumption by the farm sector.
- Proponents of the free power scheme have a couple of valid points in their support. Apart from ensuring food security, free power provides livelihood opportunities to landless workers. When farmers dependent on supplies through canals get water almost free of cost, it is but fair that those not covered by canal irrigation should be given free electricity. Though there is substance in the argument, it is not difficult to arrive at a fair pricing mechanism. Small and marginal farmers and those who are outside the canal supply deserve free power, albeit with restrictions, but there is no justification for continuing with the scheme perpetually to other farmers. However, those enjoying free power need to be told about the need for judicious use of groundwater and how to conserve it.
- Making use of the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre is trying to make lasting changes in areas where such measures are long overdue. At least in the area of power sector, its attempt can yield meaningful results only if there is a change in the mindset of agriculturists and political parties towards the concept of free power.
- GS III: DEFENCE
Q: ‘Cooperation amongst the three services and proper policy making will help make India ready for any future aggression.’ Comment.
- In the Indian defence set-up, there are three pillars: one, the policymaking apparatus comprising the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and Ministry of Defence (MoD); two, the defence research and development (R&D) establishment and domestic manufacturing industry; and three, the three services. With technology progressing exponentially, a single service prosecution of war is no longer tenable, because the advent of smart munitions, computer processing, networking capabilities and the skyrocketing cost of equipment brought in the concept of parallel warfare. Synergised application of tools of national power has become an imperative. Thus, it is essential for militaries to be joint to apply violence in an economical way — economical in terms of time, casualties, costs incurred, and political gains achieved. The setting up of the DMA and the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to achieve synergy are the most fundamental changes; as further modifications and tweaking take place in the way the services prepare to go to war, it is imperative that the transformation be thought through with clinical analysis.
- India’s security managers have to factor in the increasingly belligerent posture of the country’s two adversaries. Terrorist activities have not reduced in Jammu and Kashmir, ongoing incidents along the northern border with China do not foretell a peaceful future, and the China-Pakistan nexus can only be expected to get stronger and portentous. Such a security environment demands that capability accretion of the three services proceed unhindered. To elaborate, the Indian Air Force at a minimum requires 300 fighters to bolster its squadron strength; the Army needs guns of all types; and the Navy wants ships, helicopters, etc. The requirements are worth billions of dollars but with COVID-19-induced cuts in defence spending, and their diversion to the social sector, getting all of them is a joint mirage. Enter the well-meaning government diktat for buying indigenous only, but for that, in-house R&D and manufacturing entities have to play ball.
- The forthcoming reform of creating theatre commands is the most talked about result of jointness in which lie the DMA and a restructured MoD. In the arena of defence policymaking, which is where the DMA and MoD lie, the element of time has a value of its own: any ramming through, just to meet a publicly declared timeline, could result in creating a not-so-optimal war-fighting organisation to our detriment.
- It’s a no-brainer that this disruption requires level-headed non-parochial handling. The political, civil and military leadership must have their feet firmly on ground.
- GS II: INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Q: ‘Funding is the major issue faced by the Research and Development sector in the pharmaceutical industry.’ Discuss
- Medicines are among humanity’s greatest achievements. The global market for pharmaceuticals is currently worth ₹110 lakh crore annually, 1.7% of the gross world product. Roughly, 55% of this global pharmaceutical spending, ₹60 lakh crore, is for brand-name products, which are typically under patent.
- Commercial pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) efforts are encouraged and rewarded through the earnings that innovators derive from sales of their branded products. These earnings largely depend on the 20-year product patents they are entitled to obtain in World Trade Organization member states. Such patents give them a temporary monopoly, enabling them to sell their new products without competition at a price far above manufacture and distribution costs, while still maintaining a substantial sales volume. In the United States, thousand-fold (100000%) markups over production costs are not atypical. In India, the profit-maximising monopoly price of a new medicine is much lower, but similarly unaffordable for most citizens. To be sure, before such huge markups can yield any profits, commercial pharmaceutical innovators must first cover their large R&D costs, currently ₹14 lakh crore a year, including the cost of clinical trials needed to demonstrate safety and efficacy, the cost of capital tied up during the long development process, and the cost of any research efforts that fail somewhere along the way.
- While we should evidently continue funding pharmaceutical R&D, it is worth asking whether our current way of doing so is optimal. There are three main concerns. First, innovators motivated by the prospect of large markups tend to neglect diseases suffered mainly by poor people, who cannot afford expensive medicines. The 20 World Health Organization-listed neglected tropical diseases together afflict over one billion people but attract only 0.35% of the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D. Merely 0.12% of this R&D spending is devoted to tuberculosis and malaria, which kill 1.7 lakh people each year.
- Second, thanks to a large number of affluent or well-insured patients, the profit-maximising price of a new medicine tends to be quite high. Consequently, most people cannot afford advanced medicines that are still under patent. This is especially vexing because manufacturing costs are generally quite low.
- Third, rewards for developing and then providing pharmaceutical products are poorly correlated with therapeutic value. Firms earn billions by developing duplicative drugs that add little to our pharmaceutical toolbox — and billions more by cleverly marketing their drugs for patients who will not benefit.
- Participation of commercial pharmaceutical firms is crucial for tackling global pandemics. They are best suited to develop and scale up provision of new vaccines and medications fast. At present such firms do, however, face discouraging business risks from governments which may as some have done use compulsory licences to divest them of their monopoly rewards
- To address these problems a fund must be created as an alternative track on which pharmaceutical innovators may choose to be rewarded. Any new medicine registered with the Fund would have to be sold at or below the cost of manufacture and distribution, but would earn ten annual reward payments based on the health gains achieved with it.
- The Fund would get pharmaceutical firms interested in certain R&D projects that are unprofitable under the current regime — especially ones expected to produce large health gains among mostly poor people. Such projects would predominantly address communicable diseases. With the Fund in place, there would be much deeper and broader knowledge about such diseases, a richer arsenal of effective interventions and greater capacities for developing additional, more targeted responses quickly. The Fund would make an important difference also by rewarding for health outcomes rather than sales.
JUNE 2020 (Week 2)
Answer questions in 150-250 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
- GS II: SOCIAL-HEALTH
Q: What steps can be taken for a greater involvement of the private sector in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to disappear in the immediate future. Managing the epidemic and ensuring a full complement of health care will require extraordinary resources and investment. This unprecedented crisis has highlighted the critical need to mobilise available resources in public sector, and the private sector in particular. There is a need to formulate a stable policy-based strategy to get the private sector on board. The pandemic has provided India an opportunity to restructure the strategies of engaging the private sector in realising public health goals. The recent economic package announced for the health sector, of around ₹2.1 lakh crore, envisions strengthening the health infrastructure in the immediate future. This is an opportunity to bring in structural changes in the health sector to rejuvenate partnerships with the private sector. Here, we propose certain policy options to leverage private sector resources for testing, hospitalisation, procurement of biomedical equipment and supplies, and a central intelligence system.
- An accredited private laboratory can be contracted to be co-located in a public health facility preferably in tier-II/tier-III public hospitals. States that already have private laboratories under a public–private partnership (PPP) contract can be asked to add COVID-19 tests. The government may procure test kits and the private sector could charge a service fee from the government.
- Suspect cases can be issued vouchers for testing at any empanelled private laboratories. E-vouchers generated by tele-health call centres can subsequently be reimbursed by the government.
- A mobile sample collection and testing facility can be operated by a private entity in high density clusters; it can also be used as a fever clinic. This arrangement can be under the hub-spoke principle. The cost of tests, key performance indicators and payment system should be worked out in the purchase contract.
- Hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases cannot be restricted to hospitals in major cities alone. Improving the infrastructure and capacity in tier II and tier III cities in collaboration with the private sector is critical. A private contractor could be hired to refurbish an existing ward in a public hospital into an intensive care unit (ICU) ward with additional beds and equipment and handover the refurbished ward to the public authority. Under this turnkey project, an ICU ward could be made available within a short time.
- In a scenario where the district hospital does not have staff to operate an ICU ward, a private hospital partner could be contracted to provide staff and operate the ICU ward. Alternatively, a private hospital partner can refurbish, operate and later transfer the ICU ward. Though the model takes more time, the operator can convert the facility into any other speciality ward in the future. The Centre can provide viability gap funding to the State to support the development of such a facility.
- The government can refer patients to empanelled private COVID-19 hospitals, at a fixed package rate. This kind of strategic purchasing or insurance reimbursement (say under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana) requires clear policy directions, a robust referral system, agreement on tariffs, and a quick reimbursement mechanism. The current government tariffs do not seem to evoke interest from the private sector.
- The upsurge in the demand for test kits, ventilators, and other biomedical supplies cannot be met by current manufacturers or supply chain sources. Repurposing through alternate sources indigenously is the need of the hour. A plethora of innovations and prototypes need government laboratories to test in quick time, approve and grant a licence for production which includes patenting. Besides facilitating quick credit access for manufacturing, the government may also give buy back guarantees and facilitate the supply chain channels.
- An IT system with artificial intelligence capability should be the backbone of supporting all public and private sector efforts in combating COVID-19. The intelligence system should seamlessly help in case identification, contact tracing, managing a tele-health centre, generating e-vouchers, authorising tests, managing referrals for isolation and hospitalisation in the private sector, payment, follow-up, etc. IT behemoths in India should be roped in to configure an integrated system to detect any unusual pattern in terms of an increase in numbers.
- The resources dedicated to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to create a good health infrastructure and strengthen health systems eventually. However, these initiatives require quick policy formulation followed by guidelines for contracting/purchasing, payments, defining standards, supply chain, strengthening procurement, etc. A group of inter-disciplinary experts to guide in institutionalising the private partnership arrangements would go a long way.
- GS II: GOVERNANCE
Q: What steps can be taken for a greater involvement of the Local government bodies in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The novel coronavirus pandemic has brought home the critical role of local governments and decentralised responses. In terms of information, monitoring and immediate action, local governments are at an advantage, and eminently, to meet any disaster such as COVID-19. The recognition that local governments should be fiscally empowered immediately is a valid signal for the future of local governance. COVID-19 has raised home four major challenges: economic, health, welfare/livelihood and resource mobilisation. These challenges have to be addressed by all tiers of government in the federal polity, jointly and severally. Own revenue is the critical lever of local government empowerment. Of course the several lacunae that continue to bedevil local governance have to be simultaneously addressed.
- Property tax collection with appropriate exemptions should be a compulsory levy and preferably must cover land. The Economic Survey 2017-18 points out that urban local governments, or ULGs, generate about 44% of their revenue from own sources as against only 5% by rural local governments, or RLGs. Per capita own revenue collected by ULGs is about 3% of urban per capita income while the corresponding figure is only 0.1% for RLGs. There is a yawning gap between tax potential and actual collection, resulting in colossal underperformance. When they are not taxed, people remain indifferent. LGs, States and people seem to labour under a fiscal illusion. In States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, local tax collection at the panchayat level is next to nil. Property tax forms the major source of local revenue throughout the world. All States should take steps to enhance and rationalise property tax regime. Land monetisation and betterment levy may be tried in the context of COVID-19 in India. To be sure, land values have to be unbundled for socially relevant purposes.
- Municipalities and even suburban panchayats can issue a corona containment bond for a period of say 10 years, on a coupon rate below market rate but significantly above the reverse repo rate to attract banks. We are appealing to the patriotic sentiments of non-resident Indians and rich citizens. Needless to say, credit rating is not to be the weighing consideration. That the Resurgent India Bond of 1998 could mobilise over $4 billion in a few days encourages us to try this option.
- The suspension of MPLADS by the Union government for two years is a welcome measure. The annual budget was around ₹4,000 crore. The Union government has appropriated the entire allocation along with the huge non-lapseable arrears. MPLADs, which was avowedly earmarked for local area development, must be assigned to local governments, preferably to panchayats on the basis of well-defined criteria. A special COVID-19 containment grant to the LGs by the FFC to be distributed on the basis of SFC-laid criteria is the need of the hour.
- The ratio of basic to tied grant is fixed at 50:50 by the commission. In the context of the crisis under way, all grants must be untied for freely evolving proper COVID-19 containment strategies locally. Further the 13th Finance Commission’s recommendation to tie local grants to the union divisible pool of taxes to ensure a buoyant and predictable source of revenue to LGs (accepted by the then Union government) must be restored by the commission.
- Flood, drought, and earthquakes are taken care of by the Disaster Management Act 2005 which does not recognise epidemics, although several parts of India experienced several bouts of various flus in the past. The new pandemic is a public health challenge of an unprecedented nature along with livelihood and welfare challenges.
- COVID-19 has woken us up to the reality that local governments must be equipped and empowered. Relevant action is the critical need.
- GS III: INDIAN ECONOMY
Q: Discuss the significance of the “vocal for local” push in India.
- Indian government has recently pushed for “vocal for local”. The way in which we, as citizens and professionals, interpret the local will have far-reaching effects on the country’s landscape and prosperity. We could transform ourselves into a greener and more humane society, with access to affordable health care, functioning public schools, choices over where we work and live, and support for those who cannot work. Cities could breathe again and families could move to opportunity rather than be forced out of their homes by drought and desperation.
- COVID-19 has brought many countries to an unexpected fork in their development trajectories. It has made visible new facts, figures and the feelings of citizens towards these facts and figures. The pandemic, with its fears and lockdowns, has shown us, in painful and graphic detail, the massive numbers who would have liked to be in their ancestral homes in such circumstances. These images, of those who reached and those who did not, should guide our conception of the local.
- Village demographics have changed dramatically. Pockets of virtually empty villages in the Himalayan foothills have become re-populated and many of the poorest parts of the country have experienced the largest inflows. After the trauma of the last two months, re-united families would like to stay together. They will search for local livelihoods and they desperately need immediate and substantial social transfers. Strengthening these communities would show a real commitment to the right kind of local. This requires making our safety nets wide, accessible and fair. It involves building schools, clinics and hospitals within easy reach, and opening windows of credit to those with ideas without first asking them to label themselves as farmers or micro-entrepreneurs. If we imagine villages as consisting only of farmers and labourers, hit periodically by cyclones and drought, our support to them will not move beyond Kisan credit cards and employment guarantees. Those returning home are from many walks of life and have travelled far and wide. Development policy should help them use their skills and new perspectives to reimagine their communities while they earn a living.
- The wrong kind of local would be to promote goods that are made in India through tariffs, quotas and new government procurement rules. We have attained global competitiveness over the last two decades in many new fields such as software development, pharmaceuticals and engineering products. All of these have flourished through international collaboration and feedback from foreign consumers.
- Many of our sustainable energy initiatives have also depended on government action elsewhere. For example, solar energy was subsidised in Germany and in California when it was far more expensive than fossil energy, China mass produced solar panels and costs of production came down enough for other countries, including ours, to start adopting them. The pandemic should have made us aware, like never before, of our interdependencies, of the limits of our knowledge and the need for global engagement.
- Sustainable and resilient communities cannot be built on a fiscal and regulatory structure that is highly centralised. The Centre would have to devolve to the States and the States to locally elected representatives. If we adequately fund, support and trust local governments and remain open to absorbing both the knowledge and products that others produce better than us, we can create a society where all, not just a few, matter. We have the capacity to refocus on the right local, if only we could agree on the vision.
- GS II: INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION
Q: Do you agree that the G7 in its present form is not able to cope with contemporary geopolitical issues? Give reasons to support your answer. Should the G7 be expanded?
- United States of America recently declared that, the G7 “is a very outdated group of countries” and no longer properly represented “what’s going on in the world”. The G7 emerged as a restricted club of the rich democracies in the early 1970s. The quadrupling of oil prices just after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, when members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an embargo against Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States, shocked their economies. On the initiative of U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the G7 became the G8, with the Russian Federation joining the club in1998. This ended with Russia’s expulsion following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. When constituted, the G7 countries accounted for close to two-thirds of global GDP. According to the 2017 report of the accountancy firm, PwC, “The World in 2050”, they now account for less than a third of global GDP on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, and less than half on market exchange rates (MER) basis.
- The seven largest emerging economies (E7, or “Emerging 7”), comprising Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Turkey, account for over a third of global GDP on purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, and over a quarter on MER basis. India’s economy is already the third largest in the world in PPP terms, even if way behind that of the U.S. and China.
CURRENT ISSUES WITH G7
- The success or otherwise of multilateral institutions are judged by the standard of whether or not they have successfully addressed the core global or regional challenges of the time. The G7 failed to head off the economic downturn of 2007-08, which led to the rise of the G20. In the short span of its existence, the G20 has provided a degree of confidence, by promoting open markets, and stimulus, preventing a collapse of the global financial system. The G7 has not covered itself with glory with respect to contemporary issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the challenge of the Daesh, and the crisis of state collapse in West Asia.
- It had announced its members would phase out all fossil fuels and subsidies, but has not so far announced any plan of action to do so. The G7 countries account for 59% of historic global CO2 emissions (“from 1850 to 2010”), and their coal fired plants emit “twice more CO2 than those of the entire African continent”.
- Three of the G7 countries, France, Germany, and the U.K., were among the top 10 countries contributing volunteers to the Daesh, which had between 22,000-30,000 foreign fighters just two years ago. West Asia is in a greater state of turmoil than at any point of time since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, leading to a migrants crisis that persuaded many countries in Europe to renege on their western liberal values, making the Mediterranean Sea a death trap for people fleeing against fear of persecution and threat to their lives.
THE NEED FOR EXPANSION
- The world is in a state of disorder. The global economy has stalled and COVID-19 will inevitably create widespread distress. Nations need dexterity and resilience to cope with the current flux, as also a revival of multilateralism, for they have been seeking national solutions for problems that are unresolvable internally. Existing international institutions have proven themselves unequal to these tasks. A new mechanism might help in attenuating them.
- It would be ideal to include in it the seven future leading economies, plus Germany, Japan, the U.K., France, Mexico, Turkey, South Korea, and Australia. A new international mechanism will have value only if it focuses on key global issues. India would be vitally interested in three: international trade, climate change, and the COVID-19 crisis. A related aspect is how to push for observing international law and preventing the retreat from liberal values on which public goods are predicated. Global public health and the revival of growth and trade in a sustainable way (that also reduces the inequalities among and within nations) would pose a huge challenge.
- Second order priorities for India would be cross-cutting issues such as counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation. An immediate concern is to ensure effective implementation of the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention and the prevention of any possible cheating by its state parties by the possible creation of new microorganisms or viruses by using recombinant technologies. India’s Prime Minister was guest invited to Biarritz, France to the G7 summit last year, along with other heads of government (Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, and South Africa).
- On regional issues, establishing a modus vivendi with Iran would be important to ensure that it does not acquire nuclear weapons and is able to contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan, the Gulf and West Asia. The end state in Afghanistan would also be of interest to India, as also the reduction of tensions in the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.
- GS III: INDIAN ECONOMY
Q: Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, many people are forced to provide and receive services remotely. It has also increased the ‘work from home culture’. What are the advantages and challenges faced by this model.
- The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdowns have made work from home an imperative for several industries. Having said that, some job profiles lend themselves to working from outside the office more than others do. For some time in the future, as we go through the cycle of lockdowns and containment, we will go in and out of work from home.
- While much of the focus seems to be on work from home, it’s actually work from anywhere. We will get to a mode where people could potentially work from anywhere based on the job that they do at a given point in time. But, this is not new; this has been in vogue in the IT industry for many years.
- Speaking of the automobile industry until recently cars were sold only through distributors with physical stores. When MG Motor launched the Hector brand in India, they attempted to sell cars largely online. Hyundai is attempting this. With uneven distribution of skills across the world, this phenomenon has been gaining momentum for the last few years. COVID-19 will accelerate and catalyse it further.
- Unlike the prior waves of technology, which were largely monolithic, digital technologies today are democratising the way people use them. They create a platform for greater diversity and inclusion, with greater mobile and bandwidth penetration, more smart boards coming into classrooms and in rural areas.
- A lot of the services are difficult to deliver from remote. Teaching, to a certain extent, can be done remotely. But it’s just not of the same quality as teaching inside the classroom. A lot of other services are not actually conducive to being delivered remotely. I don’t think that the traditional workplace is going to completely die out. It might undergo certain kinds of transformation.
- Post-COVID, work from home aggravate the divides already present today — like gender, migrant vs. native, etc. If a family has only one computer, who is going to get priority to use that computer? It’s highly probable that the man would get priority. Work from home will certainly worsen the gender divide; it will also worsen the older-versus-younger divide because youth unemployment is an issue and if that one computer in the household is going to be going to be monopolised by the father, then others are not going to be able to use it.
- The notion of Internet connectivity is heavily differentiated by where you live, rural-urban location, which State of India you belong to, the neighbourhood, etc.. The other part of the story is the combination with all kinds of household and domestic needs. And here, unless there’s a major change in social norms in the coming two years, women who are more responsible for delivering domestic work are going to be that much more hard pressed to combine it withr̥ workplace responsibilities.
- As regards migrants, if there was enough work available in localities where they resided, not everybody would need to migrate. So, I think that there is the much larger issue of availability of jobs and the matching of the supply with the demand for workers. Certain States are more able to provide better quality jobs than other States. And if workers are not going to be able to migrate, it affects the overall distribution.
- Other than social divides, there are other dimensions to this problem also. There is something to be said for actual human-to-human contact. Home is not always a very happy place for everybody. Homes can also be centres of abuse. That’s the elephant in the room that we never talk about, because we always focus on safety outside the home. For many women and children, the home is the most unsafe place. And by forcing people to be inside the home, we are really forcing them to be inside with their abuser. The pandemic has actually brought about this phenomenon which the UN Women has called a shadow pandemic. Human beings are social creatures. A lot of the work we do in the university is just, you know, sitting in the coffee house bouncing ideas, talking to each other, learning from each other. In education, a lot of the learning happens outside the classroom. Online teaching closes that channel completely.
- Some good steps have been taken, including last-mile connectivity taken to the villages through BharatNet. The implementation of some of these backbones could be very patchy across different States. At least in rural south India, they’ve made some meaningful investments in technology.
- In education, we can have a common lab in every district or town just as we have a common library; wherein students can perhaps go home on short vacation.
- Progressive employers should lead the way and ensure they are employment-friendly. In India, about 92 million people are going to enter the workforce between 2020 and 2030. In the next 10 years, we need to ensure that the employment climate in the country is good for this to happen. And if we don’t create that framework, that could have far-reaching consequences.
- GS II: SOCIAL-EDUCATION
Q: Discuss the drawbacks of e-learning platforms for higher education.
- Recently, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University Grants Commission had issued a circular to universities encouraging them to adopt massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered on its SWAYAM platform for credit transfers in the coming semesters. This sounds like a benevolent act during the national lockdown. However, it poses great danger since it is also being seen as an instrument to achieve the country’s target Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education (envisioned to be 30% by 2021; it was 25.8% in 2017–18).
- Here is yet another instance of a conspicuous dilution of meaning and subsequent flattening of the learning curve. Instead of expanding the network of higher educational institutions across the country and increasing seats, the government plans to make online degree programmes available for students to enrol and graduate from and add to GER. ‘Education’ is now being peddled as a combination of content and consumption, and this diluted meaning is being put to the service of achieving increased GER.
- MOOC-based e-learning platforms tend to reinforce a top-down teacher-to-student directionality of learning whereby the teacher ‘creates’ and the student ‘consumes’. This misses the point that teaching and learning are skills that are always in the making. The teacher is after all “an intellectual midwife” who facilitates in the birth of students’ ideas and insights through engaging in critical dialogue. In a conducive classroom environment, this role is often switched and the student plays intellectual midwife to the teacher’s ideas. Moving to a MOOC-based degree system would rob young teachers and students of these essential lessons in teaching and learning from each other.
- In education, the classroom acts as a space where skills such as dialogue, debate, disagreement, and friendship are learnt and practised. It is intriguing to see that the policymakers behind the SWAYAM platform have left out courses in engineering, medicine, dental, pharmacy, nursing, architecture, agriculture, and physiotherapy on the grounds that they involve laboratory and practical work. Although this move makes sense, it seems to suggest that the pure sciences, the arts, the social sciences, and humanities curricula are largely lecture- and theory-based, and, therefore, readily adaptable to the online platform. Nothing can be farther from such a misconception.
- Implicit in every curriculum is the tacit assumption that the classroom is a laboratory for hands-on testing of ideas, opinions, interpretations, and counterarguments. A diverse and inclusive classroom is the best litmus test for any theory or insight. Multidisciplinarity happens more through serendipity — when learners across disciplines bump into each other and engage in conversations. Classroom and campus spaces offer the potential for solidarity in the face of discrimination, social anxiety, and stage fear, paving the way for a proliferation of voluntary associations that lie outside the realm of family, economy, and state. In the absence of this physical space, teaching and learning would give way to mere content and its consumption.
- Without a shared space to discuss and contest ideas, learning dilutes to just gathering more information. This could also dilute norms of evaluation, whereby a “good lecture” might mean merely a lecture which “streams seamlessly, without buffering”. This is not an argument from tradition. One could think of greater value-sensitive and socially just architectures and technologies that further foster classroom engagement and make it accessible for students of various disabilities and challenges, thereby adding more value to the existing meaning of education. But public education modelled on social distancing is a functional reduction and dilution of the meaning of education. It could add value only as an addendum to the classroom.
- Such platforms must be seen only as stop-gap variants that help us get by under lockdown situations and complement classroom lectures.
The Daily Current Affairs News Analysis section for UPSC Current Affairs Preparation is an initiative by A A Shah’s IAS Institute to prepare IAS aspirants in making easy and effective current affairs notes available online FREE for all.
Current Affairs is an integral part of study for IAS UPSC- Civil Services Examinations, not only for Prelims but for Mains as well. UPSC syllabus for General Studies Paper I of Preliminary (Prelims) Examination starts with Current Events of national and international importance.
The important keyword here is “National and international importance”. Thus candidates are required to understand which news is important and relevant for UPSC CSE point of view.
It may further be noted that UPSC doesn’t ask any factual questions, as such candidates are not required to learn or remember factual data.
The issues or news covered is categorized into four general studies papers (GS Paper I, GS Paper II, GS Paper III and GS Paper IV) as per the UPSC Mains syllabus.
Our Daily Current Affairs Analysis is prepared by Mrs. Bilquees Khatri based on The Hindu newspaper and articles and covers every day significant events or issues in the news that is important from UPSC Exam perspective.
IMPORTANCE OF CURRENT AFFAIRS IN UPSC IAS EXAM
For UPSC current affairs, the most important thing is to segregate the topics in news as per the IAS Syllabus for Prelims and Mains. For UPSC current affairs related to IAS Prelims, it is still somewhat easier as there is just one GS paper. However, arranging UPSC current affairs notes for IAS Mains is rather challenging because of the comprehensive syllabus and descriptive-essay type questions.
For this reason we have segregated the daily news topic-wise according to GS mains subject papers.
In this section find links to
- Daily News Headlines from The Hindu newspaper (Videos)
- Daily News Analysis with proper heading and topics in downloadable PDF format
- Daily ‘The Hindu’ editorials in downloadable PDF format
- Daily Question Bank – Subjective questions with suggested links and answers.
- Monthly compilation of Topic-wise News in downloadable PDF format. This is monthly Current Affairs Notes available free online, which can be downloaded and saved. It is UPSC study material free for all.
IMPORTANT CURRENT AFFAIRS TOPICS FOR UPSC IAS
Among others, news related to following topics are important and relevant:
- Economic issues
- Social issues
- International / Bilateral / Multilateral Relations
- Legislature / Bill / Act
- Centre – State Relations
- Inter–state Relations
- Government schemes
- Science & Technology
- Internal security
- Art & culture
UPSC Prelims 2019 Keywords. Culture & History
IAS Current Affairs Important Headlines by Mrs Bilquees Khatri
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