Type: oped-snap


China’s Silk Route & OBOR diplomacy India Beyond its Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Way to get back on board

Context:

  1. In February 2014, when the Chinese government first brought up with India its plans for the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative, four months after President Xi Jinping had unveiled the idea in Kazakhstan, it seemed an unworkable, ambitious pipe dream
  2. China would need all the friends and partners it could get to make its plans for a 60-nation network encompassing 4.4 billion people
  3. In the Chinese scheme, India could be a major partner, and maps of the time show the B&R travel east to west right through India

Swerving off the road:

  1. A few months later Russia was enlisted through the $400-billion “Power of Siberia” pipeline
  2. Xi’s friendship at a time when the West had decided to isolate and cripple Moscow over Crimea’s annexation brought President Vladimir Putin firmly into the fold
  3. With India, China’s plan was a grander one: the newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, would visit Xi’an, the original starting point of the old Silk Route, in May 2015, and both leaders would announce their cooperation in the B&R project (then called OBOR or One Belt, One Road), along with plans for the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that was set up in October 2014
  4. The script soured with either Mr. Modi’s announcement of a joint vision with U.S. President Obama for Asia-Pacific (read South China Sea), or Mr. Xi’s announcement of the $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)\
  5. Therefore, May 2015 plan never materialised, although Mr. Modi did visit Xi’an

Hasn’t given up on India’s participation:

  1. China says it still hasn’t given up on Indian participation, and the National People’s Congress spokesperson this week repeated the hope that India will attend Mr. Xi’s mega B&R conference on May 14-15 this year
  2. Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are among the invitees expected
  3. However, the government has made it clear it is prepared to sit out the event over the principle of sovereignty
  4. When asked, a senior official said, “It is impossible for us to go and sit even as observers in the conference at this point — with the Belt and Road map on display showing parts of India in Pakistan”
  5. While the outcome is unfortunate, India’s stand over the line going through PoK is understandable

A reset in ties required:

  1. There is every indication that after ‘annus horribilis’ of 2016 for India-China ties, overshadowed by China’s opposition to India’s entry into in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its vetoing of a proposal at the United Nations to declare Masood Azhar a terrorist, New Delhi is looking for a reset
  2. During Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s recent visit to Beijing, he was looking forward to a stable, forward-looking relationship to deal with global uncertainties triggered by the Donald Trump administration in the U.S.

The U.S. angle:

  1. Much has been written about the impact of the new U.S. President’s actions on India
  2. The most obvious ones are cutbacks on immigrant visas, restrictions on outsourcing, and ‘SelectUSA’ which will make a dent in the ‘Make in India’ programme, both for manufactured goods and defence purchases
  3. Those actions are held responsible for creating an atmosphere of xenophobia in the U.S. where Indians could be targeted as much as people from countries on the travel ban, and the government has already had to exert considerable diplomatic leverage to exact words of assurances from the U.S. government on behalf of NRIs and PIOs
  4. If the U.S. decides not to build on its pivot to Asia, in addition to pulling out of free trade negotiations like Trans-Pacific Partnership, or doesn’t bolster its naval strength in the Indo-Pacific, those spaces will be occupied by China
  5. In the same vein, if the U.S. continues to cut troops in Afghanistan, lowers its interest in the reconciliation process, or pulls away from the larger discussions on Afghanistan’s future, then Russia has proved willing to move into those roles
  6. If this is to be the reality of Asia, then India will have to rethink its own rebalance of the past few years towards the U.S.

Neighbourhood on board:

  1. A rethink may also be required on India’s own neighbourhood policy
  2. In September last year, the government exerted considerable heft with each of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to cancel a summit in Pakistan after the Uri attacks
  3. The move was a part of India’s plan to “isolate” Pakistan until it takes action on terror
  4. The truth is that the plan worked for the SAARC summit, but not beyond that, in part because of Pakistan’s involvement with China and the B&R initiative, which has already been signed on to by Afghanistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (Nepal is expected to join soon)
  5. Even Afghanistan and Bangladesh, which suffer the most from terrorism emanating from Pakistan, will inevitably be drawn into the B&R group of countries more and more for connectivity and trade, more so in the absence of SAARC
  6. Significantly, it is the Afghanistan leadership that has come out most strongly on the need for India to find its way into the B&R
  7. Both President Ashraf Ghani and former President Hamid Karzai, on visits to India in the past few months, have stressed the importance of connecting India to Central Asia via Afghanistan, joining a “strategic arc” of countries from Iran to Russia and China
  8. These countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan, are connecting to each other via B&R through Iran’s North-South corridor, CPEC and other routes already in place, while India’s plans for Chabahar port are still to get off the ground
  9. “Economically, Afghanistan has become a part of Central Asia,” Mr. Ghani has said
  10. Clearly, Afghanistan’s desire to reduce its dependence on Pakistan trade will eventually cut it off from all of South Asia

Contours of a compromise:

  1. If China so wishes, it could still make amends by using the Afghan desire to remain connected by putting the CPEC on an alternate route: to Afghanistan and not PoK, connecting it to the Silk Route envisaged
  2. This would not only build a bigger arc for the B&R route, it would sidestep India’s concerns over sovereignty, and leave the door open for it to join the project on its eastern frontiers via BCIM or to even just be an observer
  3. The issue of specific projects in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan would remain, but they could be dealt with in the manner the Chinese funding of the Karakoram highway or USAID and Asian Development Bank contributions to the Diamer-Bhasha dam were

Back2Basics:

  1. The founder of the old Silk Route, Zhang Qian, was not a Chinese emperor or ruler, but a diplomat-warrior
  2. He set out to look for strategic allies for Emperor Wu on a journey that began in 138 BC from the Han capital of Chang’an (now Xi’an)
  3. When he returned he told the emperor he had also learned during his stay in Bactria (Afghanistan and Central Asia) that a more important route for China lay within Shendu (India), through which China could trade over the mountains of Sichuan province

Note4Students:

Two thousand years later, it may need both diplomacy and a push from Afghanistan and Central Asia to once again align the lines between India and China, if New Delhi and Beijing wish to ensure that the success they shared via the old Silk Route is given another chance. An important op-ed for Mains.

Themes, Indexes & Reports Around the World Global Groupings

[op-ed snap] The many shades of happiness

Context:

  1. In a recent UN report, Norway was declared as the “world’s happiest country”
  2. The top of the list included Denmark, Finland and Iceland
  3. The U.S. came 14th and the U.K. was in 19th position
  4. Given the everyday stress and the alienation from social life that defines life in the U.S. and U.K., all one can say is that this World Happiness Report cannot really be about happiness
  5. India was ranked 122nd in this list

Happy days are here again!

  1. The contemporary way to forget worries is through shopping
  2. Happiness is only another commercial product
  3. Happiness as a product makes it possible for it to be designed, packaged and delivered when and where needed
  4. Our society is full of products, most of which are designed primarily to make us ‘happy’. Not a surprise that shopping is the easiest route to happiness today
  5. Happiness as accumulation and consumption of goods, as a kind of product that can be sold, is endemic to modern definitions of happiness
  6. From Happy Days we have moved to Happy Hours, a more desperate sales pitch to make people consume more alcohol
  7. This inculcation towards consumption as somehow related to happiness begins early in our life, in that celebration called the Birthday

Birthday celebrations- a consumerism:

  1. For children today, increasingly across all sections of the society, happiness on this day is nothing more than cutting a cake, singing the birthday song and wearing new clothes
  2. Birthdays have succeeded in reducing our idea of happiness into a set of rituals of consumerism
  3. It is interesting to contrast this with more traditional modes of celebrating birthdays which were primarily about thanksgiving and prayers for the future rather than an excuse for a ‘birthday party’

The ritual of happiness:

  1. Now, we have converted religious and cultural festivals into Happy Days. Every event has to be a happy event: Happy Diwali, Happy Christmas, Happy Independence Day and so on
  2. There is tremendous pressure to show that we are happy, whether we are really happy or not
  3. And since we manage to be quite unhappy most of the time, it is easier to follow a ritual of happiness rather than strive for happiness
  4. In this proliferation of Happy Days, it is only the business people who seem to have attained happiness!

Age-old definition of happiness:

  1. The relation between shopping and happiness is a cynical continuation of the age-old relationship between happiness and freedom
  2. We are often told that freedom is happiness and our unhappiness arises from various constraints placed on our personal and social life
  3. But, most often, when we have ‘pure’ freedom, we suffer
  4. Sometimes we do not know what to do, how to act. Many times an existential angst begins to pervade the free individual
  5. One of the freedoms much talked about is the one to have multiple sexual partners
  6. Are people who are not monogamous in their relationship more happy? Those who escape commitment in a relationship — are they more free and happy? In other words, do we desire freedom in order to be happy?
  7. If so, then freedom has been an abysmal failure, since when we are free to do what we want, we end up being dissatisfied
  8. Living in highly restricted contexts is also a sure recipe for unhappiness; so what are we to do? Like everything else about human life, there is a middle path and the real task is only to find this path

The reality of happiness:

  1. There is truth in the observation that some poor people are happier than some richer folks, and that children are happier than adults
  2. It is true that we discover sudden moments of happiness when listening to music or watching a beautiful sight
  3. This experience of happiness when you listen to music or see the mountains is not akin to a psychological state of joy or the pleasure of the senses
  4. When a parent sees her child, the happiness she gets is not in the sensual pleasure of seeing that child but in something more
  5. Happiness is more than pleasure or joy since the poor do not find any pleasure in being poor but in spite of it they find moments of happiness
  6. The happiness associated with love is a good example. Love may not always be joyful and pleasurable, it may not even be pleasant all the time but the moment of happiness that defines that love is indeed real and rare
  7. Living in constant comfort does not lead to happiness, it can only lead to boredom

What then is the nature of happiness?

  1. It is one which arises from the removal of ego and from being aware that there is no real difference between an individual and the world
  2. It is the state where knowledge, artificial distinctions and utilitarian values do not figure
  3. Happiness is the state where it is not possible to distinguish between the person who is experiencing and the object of experience
  4. This is also the state of surrender — to another individual, to nature or to the divine

Note4Students:

Surely this is not the happiness which the UN report refers to nor is it even part of the world view of the culture of the countries high up in the list. To find something close to this notion of happiness, they would have to walk the streets of societies in which people still happily smile through the rubble of their everyday world. This op-ed can be helpful in Essay writing.

Human Development Report by UNDP Global Groupings

[op-ed snap] Superpower dreams: On how India must response to a low HDI rank

Context:

  1. India’s rank of 131 among 188 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index for 2015
  2. Its ‘medium’ performance pose the uncomfortable question: would not the score have been significantly better if the higher economic growth trajectory of two and a half decades of liberalisation had been accompanied by a parallel investment in people?

Investment in people:

  1. Rise in incomes that came with a more open economy has not translated into a higher quality of life for many Indians
  2. There is rise in overall life expectancy at birth by more than 10 years from the 1990 level, to reach 68.3 years
  3. Progress has also been made in raising awareness about issues affecting women’s empowerment, such as public safety, acid attacks, discrimination in inheritance rights and lack of equal employment opportunity
  4. Policy reforms have been instituted in some of these areas as a result

The loopholes:

  1. The HDI data show, significant inequalities persist, particularly between States and regions, which act as major barriers to improvement
  2. The percentage of women in the workforce is the lowest in India among the BRICS countries, and the national record on the population that lives in severe multidimensional poverty is also the worst in the bloc
  3. These are clear pointers to the lost decades for India, when universalisation of education and health care could have pulled deprived sections out of the poverty trap

The road ahead:

  1. A central focus on social indicators is necessary for India to break free from its position as an underachiever
  2. The fiscal space now available has been strengthened by steady economic growth, and more should be done to eliminate subsidies for the richest quintile — estimated by the UNDP to be $16 billion in 2014 in six consumption areas including gold and aviation fuel
  3. The rise in revenues from all sources should go towards making public education of high standards accessible to all and delivering on the promised higher budgetary outlay for health care
  4. Bolstered by a conscious effort to help traditionally backward regions, such policies will help eliminate the losses produced by inequalities that lower national human development indices
  5. One crucial metric that gets insufficient attention in the measurement of development is the state of democracy, reflected among other things in access to justice
  6. It is relevant to point out that India has not ratified UN conventions on torture, rights of migrant workers and their families, and protection against enforced disappearance
  7. This is a serious lacuna for a country that otherwise has a commitment to democracy and the rule of law

Note4Students:

With the growing realisation that development is a multidimensional achievement, the gains of economic reforms must help build capabilities and improve the health of all sections. Sustaining and improving the quality of life will depend on policies crafted to handle major emerging challenges such as urbanisation, the housing deficit, access to power, water, education and health care. The op-ed is important for Mains.

Environmental Conservation and Mitigation strategy Conservation & Mitigation

[op-ed snap] What goes around must come around

Context:

  1. Wastewater is often an afterthought — flushed and forgotten — whether from household or commercial use
  2. We may not know where wastewater ends up and we’re not too troubled by the mystery, just so long as it’s gone
  3. The 2017 United Nations’ Water Development Programme’s World Water Development Report (WWDR)Wastewater: The Untapped Resource makes clear that we can no longer afford this disconnect

Readings of the Report:

  1. The report, to be officially released on World Water Day, that is, on 22nd March, notes that more than 80% of the world’s wastewater — over 95% in some least developed countries — is released into the environment untreated
  2. In Thailand, 77% of wastewater was untreated in 2012; it was 81% in Vietnam the same year and 82% in Pakistan in 2011

Relevant to Asia-Pacific:

  1. Untreated wastewater poses a threat to both human health and our aquatic ecosystems, and is a challenge that is particularly acute in Asia-Pacific
  2. This region is in the midst of a profound urban shift that is straining its already limited infrastructure and capacity to effectively treat wastewater
  3. As of 2009, an estimated 30% of urban dwellers in the region lived in slums, low-income areas, where wastewater is often discharged into the nearest surface drain or informal drainage channel
  4. Meanwhile, city-based hospitals and small- and medium-sized enterprises dump a slew of medical waste and toxic chemicals into wastewater systems

Socioeconomic factors:

  1. Socioeconomic factors typically determine access to efficient wastewater management services that can more effectively deal with such pollution loads
  2. Wealthier neighbourhoods are usually better served than slum areas, which are more likely to face the risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio due to consuming faeces-contaminated water
  3. However, even in countries with improved sanitation coverage, only 26% of urban and 34% of rural sanitation and wastewater services prevent human contact with excreta along the entire sanitation chain
  4. Along with the human cost, there are enormous economic stakes involved in the effective management of wastewater
  5. The WWDR estimates that for every $1 spent on sanitation, society benefits by an estimated $5.5, and notes that “neglecting the opportunities arising from improved wastewater management is nothing less than unthinkable in the context of a circular economy”

Untapped resource:

  1. A circular economy is one in which economic development and environmental sustainability are interdependent, with a strong emphasis on minimising pollution, while maximising reuse and recycling
  2. From this perspective, wastewater is an untapped resource of unparalleled potential
  3. When safely treated, wastewater can be a source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials that is both affordable and sustainable
  4. The extraction of wastewater by-products such as salt, nitrogen and phosphorous has proven lucrative in Asia-Pacific
  5. In Southeast Asia, revenues from fertilizer have paid for the operational costs of the systems to extract them several times over

Water scarcity:

  1. While wastewater management receives little social or political attention, water scarcity does
  2. Last year, for example, the World Economic Forum warned that the water crisis would be the greatest global risk faced by people and economies over the next 10 years
  3. The problem is particularly severe in Asia-Pacific — two-thirds of the world’s population live in areas that experience water scarcity for at least one month per year and about 50% of these people live in China and India
  4. The lack of attention and resources devoted to effective wastewater management ignores one of the most potentially effective means of addressing the global water crisis

The Singapore example:

  1. Singapore is using reclaimed water, branded “NEWater”, to serve up to 30% of its needs
  2. While largely used for industrial purposes, the water is potable and demonstrates what can be accomplished through innovative policy approaches
  3. The largely industrial use of NEWater also points to wastewater’s potential benefits for food production and industrial development
  4. More effective and efficient management of wastewater requires greater support of municipalities and local governments, which often lack the human and financial resources they need to enforce environmental rules and improve infrastructure and services
  5. In terms of the former, businesses dumping toxins into local water systems often find it more cost-effective to pay fines rather than to modify their processes

Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development where 663 million people around the world still lack improved sources of drinking water put into perspective the urgency of our mission
  2. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 specifically focusses on water and sanitation, with Target 3 addressing water quality, but the availability of water is a cross-cutting issue upon which every aspect of development hinges

Note4Students:

Put simply, water is life, and without a sustained commitment to improving and benefiting from effective wastewater management, that precious resource, and the billions of lives it nourishes, are in peril. An important read for both Mains and Prelims.

Electoral Reforms In India Indian Polity

[op-ed snap] Why EVMs are win-win

Free and Fair elections:

  1. Free and fair elections to choose political representatives are a cornerstone of a democracy, and a fundamental human right of people
  2. Voting procedures play a significant role in the conduct of free and fair elections in a democracy
  3. These convert voters’ preferences into a political mandate, which forms the basis for policy making
  4. In practice, however, illegal efforts to shape electoral outcomes are not uncommon
  5. Electoral fraud not only undermines public trust in democratic institutions, it also adversely affects the provision of public goods
  6. With electoral fraud, there are no checks on politicians to stop them from spending disproportionately on private goods, at the expense of public goods, to buy the loyalty of a small fraction of people, with whose support they commit fraud

Electoral frauds:

  1. In India, the largest democracy with more than 800 million registered voters, and a complex multi-party system, electoral fraud has been a leading cause for concern
  2. For example, in several constituencies under the paper ballot system, polling booths would be captured and ballot boxes would be stuffed
  3. To address fraud and simplify the electoral procedure, the Election Commission of India (ECI) introduced electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the late 1990s

EVMs:

  1. An important feature of EVMs was that these could register only five votes per minute
  2. This had significant adverse implications for electoral fraud as polling booths had to be captured for a longer period to rig elections, thereby increasing the cost of electoral fraud
  3. Besides enhancing the fairness of the electoral process, the ECI also envisaged that EVMs would improve the efficiency of tallying electoral results, thereby reducing human error
  4. EVMs were introduced on an experimental basis in 1998 in a few constituencies in state assembly elections
  5. Given their preliminary success, they were then rolled out in a phased manner for subsequent assembly elections
  6. Post-2001, EVMs replaced paper ballots for all state elections

Intra- and inter-state variations:

  1. Using state assembly election results between 1976 to 2007 and post-poll survey data, we found strong evidence that the introduction of EVMs led to a significant decline in electoral fraud
  2. In many constituencies under the paper ballot system, polling booths were captured and ballot boxes stuffed with fake ballots, resulting in an unusually high voter turnout
  3. Using state assembly election data, we saw that the introduction of EVMs led to a 3.5% decline in voter turnout — the decline was substantially larger in states prone to electoral fraud, where politicians faced serious criminal charges
  4. These results could also be explained by voters’ negative preference toward voting machines, or the formation of long lines in polling booths due to the upper limit on the maximum votes per minute
  5. The ability of vulnerable citizens (illiterates, females, scheduled castes and tribes) to cast their vote improved significantly after the introduction of EVMs
  6. Furthermore, voters were less likely to report that they did not cast their vote due to fear of violence, vote-capture or that they were prevented from voting
  7. Additionally, EVMs led to a virtual elimination of rejected or error-ridden votes

Electoral goals:

  1. Electoral goals often determine the distribution of discretionary grants and public goods in a democracy
  2. Research shows that swing states in India, where the governing parties are aligned with the central government, receive larger shares of federal grants
  3. The supply of electricity, critical for industry, agriculture and household consumption, had been historically driven by politics
  4. Public utility companies, often called State Electricity Boards, control the distribution of electricity
  5. These are susceptible to political capture as the managers are accountable to elected officials
  6. Fair elections provide the electorate a means to improve the responsiveness of elected officials by making them more accountable

Law and Order:

  1. Maintaining law and order is a fundamental responsibility of the state
  2. In a democracy, where political representatives are elected by the people, it is expected that they will ensure the security of citizens
  3. However, in a rigged electoral system, politicians fail to provide security to ordinary people because they depend on criminal elements in the electoral process
  4. Politicians therefore end up supporting and protecting criminals instead of being able to prevent them from committing crimes
  5. The data suggests a very strong link between the introduction of EVMs and decline in crime, especially related to murder and rape
  6. This effect is stronger in states where a large proportion of legislators have criminal records

Note4Students:

These results suggest that elections became more competitive and less likely to be manipulated by parties in power, which, in turn, had an impact on promoting development by increased provision of public goods. Read the topic for Mains, especially after the recent allegations on EVMs.

Highway and logistics infrastructure – Bharatmala, LEEP, SetuBharatam, etc. Infrastructure

[op-ed snap] Why India needs a new logistics network

Context:

  1. One of the central promises of the new goods and services tax (GST) that is set to be rolled out in July is that it will allow companies to restructure their supply chains once the domestic market is truly integrated
  2. It is hard to see how the production structure can be improved radically unless India builds a new logistics network to allow inputs, components and finished goods to move across the country seamlessly
  3. The success of the flagship Make in India programme is also critically dependent on a modern logistics network

The programme:

  1. In his last budget speech, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said that an effective multi-modal logistics and transport sector will make our economy more competitive
  2. A specific programme for development of multi-modal logistics parks, together with multi-modal transport facilities, will be drawn up and implemented
  3. This programme aims to shift from India’s current point-to-point logistics model to a hub-and-spoke model
  4. This will entail setting up 35 multi-modal logistics parks at a cost of Rs50,000 crore, developing 50 economic corridors and inviting investment from the states and private sector
  5. Crucially, this will all be done with an integrated approach that will utilize railways, highways, inland waterways and airports to create a transportation grid that covers the country

Necessity of the plan:

  1. It is an ambitious plan and a necessary one for multiple reasons
  2. For one, efficient transportation and logistics are important for boosting India’s competitiveness
  3. They reduce transport time and costs, of course—but they also reduce cost of production by minimizing the need for large inventories
  4. This means less capital required for warehouses, insurance and the like
  5. Second, while the conventional view of demand in the logistics sector states that it is derived demand, growth in transport and logistics enterprises can create markets for other goods
  6. Third, efficient logistics networks can reduce divergence in regional growth
  7. Fourth, as the last Economic Survey points out, inter-state trade flows in India stand at a healthy 54% of GDP
  8. Reducing friction via improved logistics could boost this
  9. And lastly, while the demand for transport grew at around 10% annually in the 1990s, it has accelerated since

The main hurdle:

  1. The main hurdle so far has been that India’s logistics and transport sector has developed in silos
  2. This has resulted in overly complex regulation and administrative procedures as well as missing modal links and an inefficient modal mix
  3. As of 2008, the mix was 50% of total freight flow via roads, 36% by rail, 7.5% by pipelines, 6% by coastal shipping, 0.2% by inland waterways and 0.01% by airways
  4. Transport by rail and inland waterways is far more cost- and time-efficient than transport by roads, for instance, and should account for high proportions of the freight flow

Benefits of the policy:

  1. Gadkari’s integrated policy is thus essential, pulling together the Narendra Modi government’s planned road and rail dedicated freight corridors and suggesting a solution to the long-running lack of last-mile connectivity for India’s ports
  2. It also offers more scope for boosting the use of technology than development in silos would
  3. Containerization, for instance—shipping freight across modes in standard containers—would enable live tracking via chipped containers
  4. This in turn would enable greater security and predictability, as well as providing the granular data that is important for business projections and policymaking alike

Integrated multi-modal policy:

  1. An integrated multi-modal policy is not a new idea
  2. In 2014, the national transport development policy committee had written in its report to the erstwhile Planning Commission that India should have “a single unified ministry with a clear mandate to deliver a multi-modal transport system that contributes to the country’s larger development goals”
  3. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is now looking to deliver on the multi-modal aspect of that recommendation

Note4Students:

Growth in logistics is very important for the growth of the economy. Read this for Mains and keep track of development in this news.

Policy Wise: India’s Health Sector Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Framing the right prescription for health expenditure

Context:

  1. India spends close to 5% of its GDP on health
  2. This appears low when compared to 18% of the U.S., data show that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries spend 8-11%, middle-income countries close to 6%, and India’s peers, the lower-middle-income countries 4.5%
  3. By these measures, India’s health-care spending, while still somewhat low, is not unusually so
  4. However, on an index measuring country performance on the health-related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators, India ranks poorly at 143 out of 188 countries

PPP measure:

  1. If we look in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), a measure that more accurately corresponds with our actual standard of living, India is the third largest economy in the world, at almost PPP $8 trillion
  2. Given the large size of our population, our 5% allocation to health translates to a mere $267 per individual, a number far lower than the OECD average of $4,698

Pooling of expenditure:

  1. India has among the lowest pooled expenditure for health care; between 2004-2014, approximately 4-7% of households fell below the poverty line as a result of high out-of-pocket expense
  2. Pre-payment and pooling of resources are critical to ensure financial protection against catastrophic health shocks
  3. The extent of pooling is determined by the government’s tax allocation to health and insurance coverage in the country
  4. India’s low tax to GDP ratio and allocations of around 5% of general government expenditure to health impact the total quantum of funds available
  5. Countries such as Thailand which have a comparable tax to GDP ratio have prioritised health within their budgets and allocate 13% of it to health care
  6. To increase pooled funds for health care, India needs to both provide a significantly higher level of allocation to health care in its annual Budgets, as in Thailand
  7. As well as extend schemes such as the Employees’ State Insurance Scheme (ESIS) — currently a mandatory insurance scheme only for low-wage earners in the formal sector in India — to all employees
  8. Gradually the informal sector, both in upper and lower income, can be included by making it mandatory for all residents to buy into national or state health insurance schemes as has been successfully done in Kyrgyzstan, China, and South Korea

Government control:

  1. Successful health systems, the world over, including entirely free market developed economies such as Germany, Switzerland, South Korea, and Japan, do not necessarily have the government as a provider
  2. Nevertheless, they all have a high degree of direct government control on the services that are offered- the pricing of health services, referral pathways, and treatment protocols that are followed
  3. Governments such as those of Japan and Switzerland exercise direct price controls on services like how much physicians and hospitals may charge
  4. Similar to the control in some mandated drug pricing, setting a price control on what hospitals and physicians may charge for their services, are critical elements that India may consider
  5. The other area could be instituting licensing processes for hospitals, similar to the Certificate of Need process in the U.S., which can help a regionally-equitable distribution of hospitals by incentivising the setting up of facilities in poorly served areas

The road ahead:

  1. Significant, strategic shifts in the level of control that the government exerts on both the financing and provision of health are urgently required
  2. India can build on learning from core design principles from global experiences, including prioritising resources for health within government budgets, pooling existing resources, and greater government control over the health sector
  3. It can also allow for a customised approach based on its context. Such a path will allow India to deliver on quality health care and equitable health outcomes to all of its people

Note4Students:

Read this op-ed for answer in Mains. You might be asked a question on heathcare, since this topic is very much in news these days.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations India & Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Power And Politeness

Context:

  1. Often there are incidents of misbehaviour by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) towards ordinary people, mostly Nepalese
  2. Allegations of atrocities and misbehaviour by the SSB are routinely narrated by “victims” — ordinary passers-by — from both sides
  3. The issue has figured in meetings of officials from both countries often, but has never been fully addressed

Recent episode:

  1. Lasst week an ordinary citizen, Govinda Gautam, 32, was allegedly shot and killed by an SSB personnel in Kanchanpur district
  2. The Indian embassy in Kathmandu initially denied the incident, but retracted its statement after the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, expressed his regret in a telephonic conversation with the Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal
  3. Conflicts between the Nepali and Indian side over construction activities, and SSB interventions, are reported routinely

India-Nepal relationship:

  1. Nepal and India share an open border of around 1,750 km
  2. Demographic similarities, marriages between the people of the two nations and the free movement of persons are, however, not without their problems
  3. According to Nepal’s prominent surveyor, Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, border disputes have remained unresolved for decades in at least 71 places, and worn-out border pillars are taking longer than planned to be replaced
  4. Border disputes between neighbouring countries are not unusual
  5. Both during the Kanchanpur incident and other episodes of border disputes, a large section of the Nepali media and opinion makers seem to suggest that both sides should follow, “what China did in similar circumstances”

How did China manage the issue?

  1. In June 1960, after a Nepali was killed by Chinese security personnel in Mustang along the border with Tibet, China promptly apologised and also apparently paid compensation to the victim’s family
  2. “We have had border problems with China. But the Chinese Premier Chou En Lai said we must sort out the border issue in our lifetime. We should not let it pass on to the next generation because doing so would create an emotive problem,” recalls former Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista

A volatile phase of India-Nepal relations:

  1. Nepal-India relations are passing through a volatile phase that has been compounded with the political chaos in Nepal
  2. The Kanchanpur incident took place at a time when the differences over the contents of the Nepali Constitution are likely to snowball into yet another phase of unrest with the United Democratic Madhesi Front
  3. This could have grave implications for Nepal’s Maoist-Nepali Congress coalition government as well as the local bodies election
  4. In September 2015, Nepal suffered a nearly five-month-long blockade when India chose to endorse the demands of the Madhesis
  5. This caused enormous hardship and shortages in the country and anti-India sentiments rose to unprecedented levels

Enters China:

  1. The government, led by K. P. Oli, also the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, identified itself with that sentiment, and drifted towards China, signing trade, transit and other treaties with long-term implications
  2. The replacement of the Oli government by the Maoist-Nepali Congress coalition may delay the execution of these treaties, but backing out from them looks very unlikely
  3. China has been making increasing inroads into Nepal and of late, it has emerged as the biggest foreign direct investors in the country
  4. It’s increasing say in Nepal’s politics has come at the cost of the clout India once used to enjoy in Kathmandu
  5. Oli joined the recent chorus over the Kanchanpur incident in criticising India and asking it to tender an apology, like the one tendered by the Chinese premier in 1960
  6. Oli rushed to Kanchanpur and handed over a sum of Rs 5,00,000 to the father of Gautam, who has since been declared a “martyr” by the Nepal government

Note4Students:

Nepal and India relations have been through many ups and downs, but the Kanchanpur incident shows that sentiments and building trust at the border level, and favourable government machinery are absolutely crucial in establishing and maintaining good relations between the two sides. The op-ed is an important read for understanding the changing dynamics of Indo-Nepal relations.

Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament India Beyond its Neighbours

[op-ed snap] A looming nuclear expansion

Context:

  1. As US President Donald Trump recalibrates American strategy towards Europe and Asia, the idea that countries like Japan and Germany may have to develop nuclear weapons of their own no longer sounds outrageous
  2. During his campaign for the presidency last year, Trump had demanded that the US can’t forever bear the burden of defending its Eurasian partners and that they must do more for regional security
  3. Trump also argued that if some of the American allies chose to build nuclear weapons as part of that effort, the US might be better off

North Korean atomic crisis:

  1. Now, as the North Korean atomic crisis gathers momentum, the Trump administration is suggesting that the option of letting the East Asian allies acquire nuclear options is on the table
  2. As the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, undertook his first visit to Asia and conferred with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and China in the last few days, North Korea was at the top of his agenda
  3. Tillerson declared America’s “strategic patience” with Pyongyang has come to an end
  4. He said past American efforts to roll back North Korean nuclear and missile programmes have failed and that Washington is considering new approaches, including the use of preemptive force
  5. North Korea thumbed its nose by testing a high performance rocket engine that could allow it to develop intercontinental missiles
  6. North Korea’s nuclear defiance and American frustration are complicating the already tense geopolitical dynamic involving the United States, China, South Korea and Japan

Critical of China:

  1. On the eve of Tillerson’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump pointed to North Korea’s “bad behaviour” and Beijing’s reluctance to help resolve the issue
  2. Tillerson too criticised China for punishing South Korea for trying to defend itself against North Korea’s missiles
  3. Beijing had imposed economic measures against South Korea after it chose to deploy the US anti-missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence Missile (THAAD), on its soil
  4. “We instead urge China to address the threat that makes THAAD necessary,” Tillerson said
  5. China, of course, argues that US missile defence systems degrade Beijing’s own nuclear deterrent

North Korea effecting Japan:

  1. North Korea’s nuclear programme also affects Japan, which is growing nervous at Pyongyang’s rapidly expanding nuclear and missile capabilities
  2. When asked about the nuclearisation of Japan and South Korea in response to North Korea’s strategic programmes, Tillerson did not rule out that possibility

Denuclearising North Korea:

  1. S.’s objective is a denuclearised Korean peninsula and the realisation of that goal “negates any thought or need for Japan (and South Korea) to have nuclear weapons”
  2. If the world can’t persuade or force North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal, US plans to look at alternative possibilities
  3. Trump’s top diplomat has reportedly conveyed this tough message to the Chinese leadership — if Beijing can’t stop North Korea, Washington will not hold back Tokyo and Seoul from going nuclear
  4. Beijing, however, insists that the responsibility for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula can’t be pinned on China alone
  5. Few are willing to bet that Beijing and Washington can either separately or together push North Korea to cave in

A world of nuclear powers:

  1. North Korean crisis pushes Asia to consider different nuclear futures
  2. Europe too has begun to debate new nuclear possibilities amidst Russian muscle-flexing and Trump’s talk of retrenchment
  3. President Trump has not given up on the argument that Europeans must pay more for regional defence

German ideas:

  1. Some Germans have talked about an independent nuclear deterrent
  2. Others have discussed the prospect for a common European deterrent built around the French nuclear arsenal

Critical of the new nuclear forces:

  1. Mainstream Western opinion argues that new national or collective nuclear forces in Europe and Asia are dangerous
  2. Sceptics point to the multiple difficulties in constructing such arsenals
  3. On the supply side, Trump is questioning the costs and benefits of America’s extraordinary post-war Eurasian security commitments
  4. On the demand side, the Chinese and Russian assertiveness is undermining the credibility of US alliances in Eurasia
  5. Finally, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, an utterly unpredictable actor in a critical location, is testing the limits of the old nuclear order

Note4Students:

Keep track of this news on increasing the nuclear arsenals in the world that could be disastrous for the world at large.

Ministry of Commerce and Industries: Schemes, Policies & Missions Industries

[op-ed snap] The need for a business cycle dating committee

Context:

  1. The idea of a business cycle dating committee (BCDC) for India has not received sufficient attention
  2. Most of the research in business cycles is done keeping in mind advanced industrial economies
  3. The scarcity of research for studies of business cycles in India along with data limitations might be some of the reasons why policymakers in India are not too concerned about this issue

What are business cycles?

  1. Business cycles are the short-run fluctuations in aggregate economic activity around its long-run growth path
  2. It is the “ups and downs” in economic activity, defined in terms of periods of expansion or recession
  3. The US’ National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) defines a recession as a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real gross domestic product (GDP), real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales

What does a BCDC do?

  1. A BCDC maintains a chronology comprising alternating dates of peaks and troughs in economic activity
  2. It analyses and compares the behaviour of key macroeconomic variables such as consumption, investment, unemployment, money supply, inflation, stock prices, etc., which may have different dynamics before, during and after the recession
  3. It identifies turning points which act as a reference point for the construction of coincident, leading and lagging indicators of the economy
  4. Timely identification of economic contraction and its severity allows policymakers to intervene, and thereby reduce its amplitude and duration
  5. In addition, firms can re-evaluate projections of sales and profits, and the consumers their purchasing and investment plans, based on information on transitions to new business cycle phases

International experiences of business cycle dating committees:

  1. The NBER’s BCDC maintains a chronology of the US business cycle
  2. NBER is a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization conducting economic research and regarded as authoritative by both academic researchers and the public at large
  3. The committee was created in 1978 and has been chaired by Robert Hall from Stanford University since its inception
  4. The committee waits long enough so that the existence of a peak or trough is not in doubt and does not follow a fixed time rule
  5. For the euro area, it is the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) which does this job
  6. Like the NBER, CEPR is also an independent, non-profit organization
  7. CEPR dates the business cycle for the euro area as a whole and not for any individual country
  8. Although the countries in the euro area have adopted a common monetary policy since 1999, countries have heterogeneous institutions and policies
  9. An emerging market economy such as Brazil has a BCDC known as O Comitê de Datação de Ciclos Econômicos (Codace), created by the Brazilian Institute of Economics

Why does India need a BCDC?

  1. By maintaining a chronology of business cycles, India will be able to better monitor the economy
  2. A BCDC can also maintain an index of coincident, leading and lagging indicators for the Indian economy
  3. Currently, India relies mostly on individual studies for the dating of business cycles
  4. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) set up a working group of economic indicators in 2002 and a technical advisory group (TAG) on the development of leading indicators for the Indian economy in 2006, both under the chairmanship of B. Barman
  5. The working group proposed a standing committee for business cycle analysis
  6. Its job was the same as a BCDC, i.e., maintaining historical dating of business cycles
  7. TAG suggested a methodological framework for the construction of coincident, leading and lagging indicators along with a composite index for the Indian economy

Who should be in charge of a BCDC?

  1. Whether a BCDC should be part of the government, the RBI or an independent research organization with high credibility is debatable
  2. Notably, the members of all the aforementioned BCDCs are independent scholars. As a result, the decision regarding the dating of business cycles is not political
  3. This is important in a country like India where GDP numbers are contentious and political parties try to score points on these numbers
  4. Also, the BCDCs are created by independent non-profit organizations
  5. This responsibility does not lie with the government or with the central bank

Note4Students:

Creating a BCDC will go a long way in maintaining transparency, strengthening the information base for the Indian economy and helping gauge better the changing nature of the Indian economy. This will also help India to be more in synchronization with the other developed and emerging market economies. An important op-ed for Mains.

Liquor Policy of States: A New Era of Prohibition Governance

[op-ed snap] None For The Road

Context:

  1. Supreme Court’s ban on liquor shops on national and state highways
  2. Road accidents cause annual deaths to nearly 1,50,000 and are among the top 10 causes for death and disease in India, according to Global Burden of Disease, 2015
  3. Drunk driving is the most common cause for automobile accidents. The SC order will save thousands of lives and save insurance costs

Questioning selective ban:

  1. Why ban only liquor shops and exempt bars that serve wine, whisky, brandy, etc. which contain 15 to 50% alcohol?
  2. Any alcohol, when drunk in sufficient quantity, blurs judgement and dulls reflexes
  3. Hence, all opportunities for drinking must be removed from the highways

Trying to neutralize the SC order:

  1. The liquor lobby is trying to neutralise the SC order
  2. In several places, moves are afoot to transfer the management of highways to municipal corporations to bypass the apex court ban which applies only to national and state highways
  3. This must be plugged. If alcohol is harmful on the roads, is it safe elsewhere? Is alcohol an innocent drink?

Reports:

  1. WHO attributes 200 types of diseases to alcohol with an estimated annual 3.3 million deaths globally, and a loss of a total of 140 million life-years
  2. Alcohol kills more people than HIV
  3. But why fuss about people occasionally indulging in a peg or two?
  4. According to the WHO Statistical Report 2015, the annual per adult consumption of absolute alcohol in India is four litres — about 400-500 drinks per year
  5. As only 20% of adults in India drink, their per head annual consumption is 2,500 to 3,000 drinks
  6. Think about the impact on those who consume alcohol, and those around them

Freedom of choice:

  1. What about the individual’s freedom of choice to drink? Yes, but what makes this free choice? The brain
  2. Alcohol influences the brain and compromises its ability to make a reasoned choice
  3. After the first drink, it is alcohol which is dictating choice, not the brain
  4. In the case of alcohol, the idea of free choice is a myth
  5. Alcohol takes away our ability and, thereby our freedom, to make a choice
  6. Abstaining from alcohol protects our freedom of choice
  7. There is third party damage. Those around the abusers — wives, children, neighbours, those walking or driving on the streets, employers, colleagues, even recipients of the drunk’s service — are at grievous risk
  8. The issue is not simply the freedom of choice of drinkers; it is also the freedom of life, safety and dignity, of family income and the productivity of other people

India and its neighbours:

  1. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the government policy and religion are anti-alcohol
  2. According to WHO 2015 statistics, the annual per adult consumption of absolute alcohol (legal plus illicit) in India is 4,000 ml while it is 100 ml in Pakistan and 200 ml in Bangladesh
  3. In the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and Bhutan, it is 700 ml
  4. It is less than 1,000 ml in 26 countries where governments and culture have taken an anti-alcohol view. Clearly, alcohol consumption can be controlled

Government’s role:

  1. Culture does influence peoples’ behaviour, especially when the government also holds a similar view
  2. Most religions in India — Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism — prohibit drinking
  3. The net cultural influence in India is, therefore, anti-alcohol
  4. According to WHO, even today, 80% of the adults in India don’t drink
  5. If government policy and efforts complement this cultural factor, lessening the present alcohol consumption by 75%, and reducing it to less than 1,000 ml per capita, may not be impossible
  6. Even countries like France and Italy, known for their drinking culture, have reduced alcohol consumption by a third. Russia aims to reduce it by 55%

Note4Students:

Alcohol consumption probably will never become zero. The right question to ask is not whether prohibition was successful or a failure, but if it reduced alcohol consumption. Moreover, as the Supreme Court judgement says, it is the government’s constitutional duty to make the policy work. The question about prohibition is not if, but how. Make notes for Mains answer as well as Essay on the topic.

Women Empowerment: Policy Wise Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] Low, stagnating female labour-force participation in India

Context:

  1. In recent decades, India has enjoyed economic and demographic conditions that ordinarily would lead to rising female labour-force participation rates
  2. Economic growth has been high, averaging 6-7% in the 1990s and 2000s; fertility has fallen substantially; and female education has risen dramatically, albeit from a low level
  3. In other regions, including Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa, similar trends have led to large increases in female participation
  4. Yet National Sample Survey (NSS) data for India show that labour force participation rates of women aged 25-54 (including primary and subsidiary status) have stagnated at about 26-28% in urban areas, and fallen substantially from 57% to 44% in rural areas, between 1987 and 2011
  5. Different age groups or different surveys essentially tell the same story, even though the levels differ slightly

Disadvantage:

  1. India is now in the phase of “demographic dividend”, where the share of working-age people is particularly high, which can propel per capita growth rates through labour force participation, savings, and investment effects
  2. But if women largely stay out of the labour force, this effect will be much weaker and India could run up labour shortages in key sectors of the economy
  3. Also, there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that employed women have greater bargaining power with positive repercussions on their own well-being and that of their families

A Feminization U hypothesis for female labour participation?

  1. One possible explanation for this trend could be that India is behaving according to the feminization U hypothesis, wherein the development process, female labour force participation first declines and then rises
  2. The hypothesized mechanisms for the decline are a rising incompatibility of work and family duties as the workplace moves away from home, an income effect of the husband’s earnings, and a stigma against females working outside the home (generally, or in particular sectors)
  3. The rising portion then comes with a receding stigma, high potential earnings of females as their education improves further, as well as fertility decline, and better options to combine work and family duties

Demand and supply-side drivers of female labour participation:

  1. A number of new micro-level studies using NSS data have appeared in the last few years, trying to shed light on this phenomenon, examining labour supply and labour demand factors
  2. After first showing that the decline in female participation in rural areas is concentrated among married women aged 25-64
  3. From 1987-2011, rising own education, incomes, and husband’s education could account for most of the decline in female labour force participation in rural areas
  4. They also argue that the decline might be driven by increasing returns to home production, relative to market production
  5. This might be particularly relevant if the domestic production is childcare
  6. While the educated women that drop out report being engaged in home production, the direction of causality is less clear
  7. Maybe women drop out of the labour force for other reasons and then report a focus on domestic activities
  8. Also, it would be good to test whether this decline of participation occurs particularly among women with children of school-going age
  9. There is a negative effect of husband’s education, a U-shaped own-education effect, a negative effect of children, marriage, and the presence of in-laws
  10. Positive effects of access to finance and infrastructure, and access to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) employment
  11. Rising household incomes and husband’s education, falling labour market attachment of highly educated women, as well as adverse development in district-level labour demand, contributed to declines in female participation, while fertility decline and rising own education worked in the opposite direction, to generate a net stagnation
  12. More generally, they argue that rising education and incomes are allowing women to get out of menial and undesirable employment, while jobs deemed appropriate for more educated women (especially in healthcare, education and public service) have not grown commensurately with the rise in female education, leading to falling participation among more educated groups
  13. The focus is towards labour demand and the lack of availability of agricultural and non-agricultural jobs in rural areas appears to be driving the declining participation in rural areas
  14. Structural change in India, which led to a rapidly shrinking agricultural sector in favour of a rapidly expanding service and construction sector, mainly contributed to the declining female labour force participation
  15. The lack of a shift towards manufacturing and a persistently low female share in manufacturing ensured that the labour force as a whole did not become more female
  16. It appears clear that labour supply factors do play a role in depressing female incomes
  17. It is difficult for married women with some education and children to be employed, especially if they have an educated and well-earning spouse
  18. In rural areas, it appears that declining agricultural employment has left a gap in employment opportunities for women as non-agricultural jobs have not emerged at the required pace

Factors that need further investigation:

  1. The role of rising female education needs further investigation, as it is not associated with a commensurate rise in labour market attachment
  2. Education appears to play other roles like in the marriage market
  3. Second, the role of in-laws seems to differ across studies
  4. Third, the role of policies needs to be investigated more clearly. More micro evidence on the effectiveness of employment policies is crucially necessary
  5. The role of macro, trade and structural policies also needs to be investigated
  6. When comparing India with Bangladesh, one notices how an export-oriented, manufacturing-centred growth strategy has led to increasing female employment opportunities there
  7. China, of course, also pursued such a strategy much earlier with similar impact on female employment
  8. India’s growth strategy has focused on domestic demand and high-value service exports, which generate too few employment opportunities for women, particularly those with medium levels of education
  9. Lastly, policies will be needed to tackle the social stigma that appears to prevent particularly educated women from engaging in outside employment

Note4Students:

Important op-ed for Mains and Essay writing.

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare: Schemes, Policies & Missions Health, Education & Human Resources

[op-ed snap] National Health Policy 2017: A road map for health

Context:

  1. The National Health Policy 2017 announced this week by the Centre after a nudge from the Supreme Court last year
  2. It faces the challenging task of ensuring affordable, quality medical care to every citizen

Challenges:

  1. A fifth of the world’s disease burden on India
  2. There is a growing incidence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes
  3. There are poor financial arrangements to pay for care
  4. India brings up the rear among the BRICS countries in health sector performance

An opportunity to ensure better health through a stronger National Health Mission:

  1. Among the most glaring lacunae is the lack of capacity to use higher levels of public funding for health
  2. Rectifying this in partnership with the States is crucial if the Central government is to make the best use of the targeted government spending of 5% of GDP by 2025, up from 1.15% now
  3. A major capacity expansion to produce MBBS graduates took place between 2009 and 2015
  4. This is unlikely to meet policy goals since only 11.3% of registered allopathic doctors were working in the public sector as of 2014, and even among these, the number in rural areas was abysmally low
  5. More health professionals need to be deployed for primary care in rural areas
  6. Availability of trained doctors and nurses would help meet the new infant mortality and maternal mortality goals, and build on the gains from higher institutional deliveries, which exceeded 80% in recent years

Private sector:

  1. Contracting of health services from the private sector may be inevitable in the short term
  2. About 70% of all outpatient care and 60% of inpatient treatments are provided by it
  3. This requires accountability, both on the quality and cost of care

Way forward:

  1. No more time should be lost in forming regulatory and accreditation agencies for healthcare providers at the national and State levels as suggested by the expert group on universal health coverage of the Planning Commission more than five years ago
  2. Without such oversight, unethical commercial entities would have easy backdoor access to public funds in the form of state-backed insurance
  3. It should be mandatory for all health institutions to be accredited, and to publish the approved cost of treatments, in order to remove the prevailing asymmetry of information
  4. For the new policy to start on a firm footing, the Centre has to get robust health data
  5. Currently this is fragmented because inputs from multiple sources and sample surveys are not reconciled, and the private sector is often not in the picture
  6. To reduce high out-of-pocket spending, early deadlines should be set for public institutions to offer essential medicines and diagnostic tests free to everyone

Note4Students:

National Health Policy is an ambitious government policy that will ensure better health and health facilities. It is important to read this for both Prelims and Mains.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China India & Neighbours

[op-ed snap] Rivals and partners

Context:

  1. China Development Forum kicks off in Beijing this weekend
  2. Leaders from both countries (India and China) should look to each other as partners in collaboration and knowledge-sharing to tackle some of the most urgent challenges of our time

Positive commonality:

  1. The two Asian giants are the two most populous nations, as well as two of the world’s largest economies
  2. Both countries have made extraordinary strides in growth and poverty reduction
  3. China has harnessed three decades of rapid development to lift more than 700 million citizens out of poverty
  4. India’s GDP rose by almost 9% each year for nearly a decade beginning in 2003, and it has surpassed China as the world’s fastest growing major economy

Common negative grounds:

  1. These gains, however, have been slowed by high environmental and social costs
  2. Income inequality, for instance, poses a particular challenge: The richest 1% of households in China own a third of the country’s wealth, while in India, they own about 58%
  3. Spreading the benefits of growth to a wider portion of their populations will be key which, in turn, suggests that in future, the quality of growth for both will matter more than solely the quantity
  4. In each country, air pollution from vehicles, power plants and industry leads to more than one million premature deaths per year
  5. Energy-intensive manufacturing, rapid urbanisation and high energy and consumption demands have made China and India the first and third highest emitters of greenhouse gases respectively
  6. Both have acknowledged that fossil fuels won’t be able to sustain the development they need, signalling important shifts

Plans for reducing pollution levels:

  1. In China’s case, its 5-year plan for 2016-2020 indicates its intention to become an “ecological civilisation”
  2. It will move away from polluting industries and towards consumption patterns that are less resource-intensive
  3. This year, it will be home to the world’s largest emissions trading scheme as it expands seven regional pilot trading systems to the national level
  4. India drew on the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi to frame its climate pledge for the landmark Paris climate agreement
  5. Its ambitious goal of achieving 175 GW of total capacity by 2022, and the recent auction of solar power below Rs 3 (4 cents) per kilowatt hour, are extremely promising signs of the direction of travel
  6. India is not only on track to achieve its renewable energy target set for Paris, it will likely do so three years ahead of schedule

The problems being faced:

  1. While India and China may be at different stages in development, both countries are poised to transform their economies to deliver high-quality, resilient and inclusive economic growth
  2. Their success will hinge on two key areas, urbanisation and energy
  3. Urbanisation drives the economy in both countries, but Chinese and Indian cities are experiencing significant growing pains
  4. Dangerous levels of air pollution impose a significant burden on health and GDP and have led to higher citizen awareness and action
  5. Traffic congestion has also become a large-scale challenge — it costs Bangalore an estimated 5% of its economic output and Beijing around 10%
  6. Both countries have introduced initiatives for better urban development

Steps taken:

  1. In China, 36 low-carbon pilot cities have set ambitious targets for carbon intensity reductions
  2. In India, a major push on delivering better urbanisation is underway through the government’s “Smart Cities” programme
  3. Recent analysis of India’s urbanisation used satellite data of night-time lights to compare cities’ urban form with their economic growth
  4. It found that Indian cities that were more compact in 2002 experienced faster economic growth from 2002-2012. Perhaps a similar analysis could be done in China
  5. The lesson can be shared: Better, more sustainable cities present a clear economic opportunity
  6. On energy, both China and India have made great strides in advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency, but they are still largely dependent on fossil fuels

Better opportunities if they join hands:

  1. Plenty of opportunities exist for collaboration on technology development and deployment
  2. China, for example, has some of the world’s largest manufacturing plants for solar and wind energy, and is the leading investor in clean energy
  3. India’s renewable energy target, if met, will be almost the same amount as the world’s entire installed solar power in 2014
  4. Both countries are in the process of reducing fossil fuel subsidies as well
  5. China has begun an internal review and identified nine subsidies to reform
  6. Going forward, it can learn from India’s experiences of deregulating diesel and kerosene prices and operationalising a coal cess, with some of the revenue raised going towards a clean energy fund

 

Ministry of Road Transport and Highways

[op-ed snap] Roads To Nowhere

Context:

  1. India has a dubious record of having the most road traffic accidents and fatalities in the world, barring China
  2. There are over five lakh accidents every year and in 2015, 1,46,133 people were killed on our roads

Factors contributing to road accidents:

  1. Lacunae in road design
  2. Poor quality and maintenance
  3. Inadequate safety features in vehicles and dangerous driver behaviour. Undisciplined driving is itself a result of decades of weak enforcement
  4. Rising income levels, heavy dependence on road transport (for intercity travel and freight movement)
  5. Poor public transport and pedestrian infrastructure in cities have magnified these problems, resulting in this daily carnage

Enforcement problems:

  1. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 is a Central law, while the agencies for enforcement, the police and the RTOs, are state-controlled
  2. The enforcement of basic laws, such as traffic violations, is resisted by the public and the police often face a backlash with no political support
  3. Wider roads coupled with more powerful vehicles have increased reckless driving — very significant reasons for not only more accidents, but also more severe ones

How to stop these rising numbers?

  1. The mantra has to be for each stakeholder to stop blaming the other and do what they need to do
  2. Auto manufacturers need to meet global safety standards and not blame road quality or driver behaviour
  3. The police need to enforce the law and not blame the RTO for granting licences without proper testing
  4. The National Highways Authority of India and the various PWDs need to focus on better road design, and engineering
  5. Cities need to aggressively improve public transport and non-motorised transport infrastructure and curb use of private vehicles
  6. Finally, vehicle operators need to follow traffic rules, wear helmets and seat belts and not blame corrupt officials or cite traffic congestion for their behaviour

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2017:

  1. Penal provisions need to be made stricter
  2. Fines, currently set at 1988 levels, need to be revised to make them an effective deterrent
  3. Petrol prices have increased 10-fold in this period; so, an increase of fines by five times is eminently justified
  4. Since speeding is a leading cause of accidents and deaths, limiting the speeds or acceleration capability of vehicles manufactured for use in India must be set by the law
  5. Drunken driving is a serious offence and must be effectively stamped out
  6. The government must consider allowing random sobriety tests and reducing allowable blood alcohol levels for young and novice drivers to 20 mg per 100 ml of blood
  7. A scientific investigation of road crashes and criminal liability of officials and contractors found responsible for poor road quality is also essential

Note4Students:

Road traffic accidents spare no one, be they rich or poor, urban or rural, young or old, man or woman or of any caste or religion. The legislators, therefore, need to take tough decisions which are in the best interest of the country. A tough law is not the end, but only the beginning of reforms that are needed to halve road traffic accidents by 2020, a commitment we have made by adopting the Brasilia Declaration for Road Safety. Important op-ed for both Prelims and Mains.

Note4Students:

Brasilia Declaration for Road Safety:

  1. Hosted by the Government of Brazil on 18-19 November 2015 in Brasilia, Brazil
  2. Co-sponsored by WHO
  3. At the close of the Conference, the 2200 delegates adopted the “Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety” through which they agreed ways to halve road traffic deaths by the end of this decade – a key milestone within the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target
  4. Brasilia Declaration is a call to rethink transport policies in order to favour more sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and using public transport
  5. It highlights strategies to ensure the safety of all road users, particularly by improving laws and enforcement; making roads safer through infrastructural modifications; ensuring that vehicles are equipped with life-saving technologies; and enhancing emergency trauma care systems
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