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Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Decoding inequality in a digital world

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Growing inequality in access to health and education

Impact of pandemic

  • The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies in India, even for essential services such as health and education, where access to them might be poor.
  • Economic inequality has increased: people whose jobs and salaries are protected, face no economic fallout.
  • Well-recognised channels of economic and social mobility — education and health — are getting rejigged in ways that make access more inequitable in an already unequal society.

Growing inequality in access to education

  • According to National Sample Survey data from 2017, only 6% rural households and 25% urban households have a computer.
  • Access to Internet facilities is not universal either: 17% in rural areas and 42% in urban areas.
  • Surveys by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Azim Premji Foundation, ASER and Oxfam suggest that between 27% and 60% could not access online classes for a range of reasons: lack of devices, shared devices, inability to buy “data packs”, etc.
  • Further, lack of stable connectivity jeopardises their evaluations.
  • Besides this, many lack a learning environment at home.
  • Peer learning has also suffered.

Inequality in access to health care

  •  India’s public spending on health is barely 1% of GDP.
  • Partly as a result, the share of ‘out of pocket’ (OOP) health expenditure (of total health spending) in India was over 60% in 2018.
  • Even in a highly privatised health system such as the United States, OOP was merely 10%.
  • Moreover, the private health sector in India is poorly regulated in practice.
  • Both put the poor at a disadvantage in accessing good health care.
  • Right now, the focus is on the shortage of essentials: drugs, hospital beds, oxygen, vaccines.
  • In several instances, developing an app is being seen as a solution for allocation of various health services. 
  • Digital “solutions” create additional bureaucracy for all sick persons in search of these services without disciplining the culprits.
  • Platform- and app-based solutions can exclude the poor entirely, or squeeze their access to scarce health services further.
  • In other spheres (e.g., vaccination) too, digital technologies are creating extra hurdles.
  • The use of CoWIN to book a slot makes it that much harder for those without phones, computers and the Internet. 

Issues with the creation of centralised database

  • The digital health ID project is being pushed during the pandemic when its merits cannot be adequately debated.
  • Electronic and interoperable health records are the purported benefits.
  • For patients, interoperability i.e., you do not have to lug your x-rays, past medication and investigations can be achieved by decentralising digital storage say, on smart cards as France and Taiwan have done.
  • Given that we lack a data privacy law in India, it is very likely that our health records will end up with private entities without our consent, even weaponised against us.
  • For example, a private insurance companies may use health record to deny poor people an insurance policy or charge a higher premium.
  • There are worries that the government is using the vaccination drive to populate the digital health ID database.

Way forward

  • Unless health expenditure on basic health services (ward staff, nurses, doctors, laboratory technicians, medicines, beds, oxygen, ventilators) is increased, apps such as Aarogya Setu, Aadhaar and digital health IDs can improve little.
  • Unless laws against medical malpractices are enforced strictly, digital solutions will obfuscate and distract us from the real problem.
  • We need political, not technocratic, solutions.

Conclusion

Today, there is greater understanding that the harms from Aadhaar and its cousins fall disproportionately on the vulnerable. Hopefully, the pandemic will teach us to be more discerning about which digital technologies we embrace.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

What does US departure from Afghanistan mean for South Asia?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its implications for the region

The article highlights the important role played by the US in the geopolitics of the region and the impact of the US retreat on the region foreign policy landscape.

How the US shaped the regional politics of South Asia

  • Since it replaced Britain as the major external power in Greater Middle East half a century ago, America has been the pivot around which the regional politics has played out.
  • Many regional actors sought alliances with America to secure themselves against ambitious or troublesome neighbours.
  • Others sought to balance against America.
  • Israel’s security, ensuring oil supplies, competing with other powers, making regional peace, promoting democracy, and stamping out terrorism are no longer compelling factors demanding massive American military, political and diplomatic investments in the region.

Region now has to learn to live with neighbours

  • As America steps back from the Middle East, most regional actors either need alternate patrons or reduced tensions with their neighbours.
  • Although China and Russia have regional ambitions, neither of them bring the kind of strategic heft America brought to bear on the Middle East all these decades.
  • Turkey has figured that its troubled economy can’t sustain the ambitious regional policies.
  •  After years of challenging Saudi leadership of the Islamic world, Erdogan is offering an olive branch to Riyadh.
  • After years of intense mutual hostility, Saudi Arabia and Iran are now exploring means to reduce bilateral tensions and moderate their proxy wars in the region.
  • Saudi Arabia is also trying to heal the rift within the Gulf by ending the earlier effort to isolate Qatar. 
  •  These changes come in the wake of the big moves last year by some Arab states — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — to normalise ties with Israel.

How India’s approach helped maintain ties in the region

  • India’s emphasis on good relations with all the regional actors without a reference to their conflicts has been vindicated by the turn of events.
  • Barring Turkey, which turned hostile to India under Erdogan, India has managed to expand its ties with most regional actors.
  • Hopefully, the new regional churn will encourage Turkey to take a fresh look at its relations with India.

Effect on India-Pak relations

  • The regional reset in the Middle East has coincided with efforts by Delhi and Rawalpindi to cool their tensions.
  • The ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir announced at the end of February appears to be holding.
  • The US withdrawal from Afghanistan poses major challenges to the Subcontinent.
  • India and Pakistan, for very different reasons, would have liked to see the US forces stay forever in Afghanistan.
  • For India, American military presence would have kept a check on extremist forces and created conducive conditions for an Indian role in Afghanistan.
  • For Pakistan, American military presence in Afghanistan keeps the US utterly dependent on Pakistan for geographic access and operational support.

Challenge of terrorism

  • The prospect of trans-border links between the Taliban and other extremist forces in the region is a challenge that South Asian states will have to confront sooner than later.
  • Soaring levels of violence in Afghanistan and attack on the former president of Maldives, underlines South Asia’s enduring challenges with terrorism.
  • Unless the South Asian states collaborate on countering extremism and terrorism, every one of them will be weakened.

Consider the question “How US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will influence the regional geopolitics of the region?”

Conclusion

The region needs to focus on the peace and harmony in the region while resolving the bilateral issues through dialogue.

Behind the clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : al-Aqsa mosque

Mains level : Paper 2- Israel-Palestine conflict

Context

On Monday, Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem, leaving a reported 300 people injured. The stand-off came at the end of a week of tensions over the eviction of Palestinian residents from two neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, to make way for Jewish settlers.

Cause of the clashes

  • The Al-Aqsa is located on a plaza at Temple Mount, which is known in Islam as Haram-e-Sharif.
  • The Mount is also Judaism’s holiest site.
  • The most imposing structure on the compound is the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome.
  • The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall sacred to Jews, is one side of the retaining wall of the Al-Aqsa compound.
  • Soon after the 1967 Six-Day War ended, Israel gave back to Jordan the administration and management of the Al-Aqsa compound.
  • While non-Muslims have not been allowed to worship at Al-Aqsa, Jewish individuals and groups have made repeated attempts to gain entry to the Mount Temple plaza.
  • Since the late 1990s, around the time of the first intifada, such attempts began occurring with a regularity as Jewish settlers began claiming land in East Jerusalem and surrounding areas.
  • It has led to repeated clashes and tensions at Al-Aqsa.

Rival claims over Jerusalem

  • Both Israel and Palestine have declared Jerusale their capital.
  • In July 1980, the Israeli Parliament passed the Jerusalem Law declaring it the country’s capital.
  • Palestinians declared Jerusalem the capital of the putative state of Palestine by a law passed by the Palestinian Authority in 2000.
  • The 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence also declared Jerusalem as the capital.
  • For the present, the Palestinian Authority has its headquarters in Ramallah.

How the world is reacting

  • The Security Council held a meeting on the situation in Jerusalem, but did not make any statement immediately.
  • Last Friday, the US said it was “extremely concerned” .
  • The UAE, which recently recognised as Israel as a state and sealed a historic peace agreement to normalise relations with it, has “strongly condemned” the clashes and the planned evictions in Jerusalem over the past week.
  • Saudi Arabia said it “rejects Israel’s plans and measures to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem”.
  • Pakistan Prime Minister also condemned Israel for violation of international law.

Intellectual Property Rights in India

A TRIPS waiver is useful but not a magic pill

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Challenges after TRIPS waiver

The article highlights the challenges countries could face despite the patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccine.

TRIPS waiver for Covid-19 vaccine

  • The United States has finally relented and declared its support for a temporary waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
  • Hopefully, the U.S.’s decision would cause other holdouts like Canada and the European Union to give up their opposition.
  • While the U.S.’s decision is to be welcomed, the devil would be in the details.

The challenges after waiver

1) Conditions of the waiver

  •  If the experience of negotiating such waivers, especially on TRIPS, were anything to go by, it would be too early to celebrate.
  • In the aftermath of the HIV/AIDS crisis the WTO adopted a decision in 2003 waiving certain TRIPS obligations to increase the accessibility of medicines.
  • However, this waiver (later incorporated as Article 31 bis in the TRIPS agreement) was subject to several stringent requirements such as the drugs so manufactured are to be exported to that nation only; the medicines should be easily identifiable through different colour.
  • Given these cumbersome requirements, hardly any country, in the last 17 years, made effective use of this waiver.

2) Countries will protect the interest of pharma companies

  •  India and South Africa proposed a waiver not just on vaccines but also on medicines and other therapeutics and technologies related to the treatment of COVID-19.
  • So, the U.S. has already narrowed down the scope of the waiver considerably by restricting it to vaccines.
  • Medicines useful in treating COVID-19 and other therapeutics must be also included in the waiver.
  • While the U.S. would not like to be seen as blocking the TRIPS waiver and attracting the ire of the global community, make no mistake that it would resolutely defend the interests of its pharmaceutical corporations.

3) Lack of access to technology

  • The TRIPS waiver would lift the legal restrictions on manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines.
  • But it would not solve the problem of the lack of access to technological ‘know-how’ related to manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Waiving IP protection does not impose a legal requirement on pharmaceutical companies to transfer or share technology.
  • While individual countries may adopt coercive legal measures for a forced transfer of technology, it would be too draconian and counterproductive.
  • Therefore, governments would have to be proactive in negotiating and cajoling pharmaceutical companies to transfer technology using various legal and policy tools including financial incentives.

4) Domestic IP regulation

  • While a TRIPS waiver would enable countries to escape WTO obligations, it will not change the nature of domestic IP regulations.
  • Therefore, countries should start working towards making suitable changes in their domestic legal framework to operationalise and enforce the TRIPS waiver.
  • In this regard, the Indian government should immediately put in place a team of best IP lawyers who could study the various TRIPS waiver scenarios and accordingly recommend the changes to be made in the Indian legal framework.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding the usefulness of the TRIPS waiver, it is not a magic pill. It would work well only if countries simultaneously address the non-IP bottlenecks.

Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

Power generation from renewables increased despite drop in new capacity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Rise in power generation from renewable goes up

What the data from Central Electricity Authority says

  • The total power generation from renewable energy sources including solar, wind, bagasse, biomass, small hydro and others stood at 147.25 billion units in FY21 compared with 138.34 billion units in FY20.
  • This is an increase of six per cent, according to data from the Central Electricity Authority.
  • All other key segments such as thermal, hydro and nuclear have reported a drop in power generation during FY21.
  • This is despite a significant drop in new capacity addition in the renewables sector in Covid-battered 2020-21.
  • The total power generation from renewable energy sources (including solar, wind, bagasse, biomass, small hydro and others) stood at 147.25 billion units in FY21 compared with 138.34 billion units in FY20.
  • In FY21, total power generation from thermal, hydro, nuclear and renewables stood at 1372.9 billion units compared with 1383.33 billion units in FY20.

Factors responsible

  • There are several factors working for an increase in generation by renewable sources.
  • The first factor is the thrust given to renewable energy by the government.
  • Second is the growing environmental awareness in the country, and the potential growth is driving more capacity creation here.
  • Third, getting in investment, — both domestic and foreign, is easier as this is an attractive area for them.

Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU

India and EU relaunch FTA talks, sign connectivity partnership

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BTIA

Mains level : Paper 2- Talks on India-EU trade agreement resumed

Resumption of FTA

  • Prime Minister of India interacted virtually from Delhi with EU chiefs.
  • India and the European Union agreed to relaunch free trade negotiations by resuming talks that were suspended in 2013 for the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA).
  • The talks had run into trouble over market access issues, and tariffs by India on products like wine, dairy and automotive parts, as well as EU resistance over visas for Indian professionals.
  • In addition, Indian government’s decision to scrap all Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) in 2015 posed hurdles for new EU investments in India.

Connectivity Partnership document

  • The EU-India leaders adopted a Connectivity Partnership document.
  • The India-EU connectivity partnership committed the two sides to working together on digital, energy, transport, people to people connectivity.
  • The partnership is seen as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and comes as the EU’s negotiations with China on their Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) have run into trouble.
  • The contract for the second tranche of $150 million from the EU for the Pune Metro rail project was also signed.

No EU support for Covid-19 vaccine waiver

  • India failed to secure the support of the European leaders for patent waivers for Covid vaccine.
  • The support of a major bloc like the EU is crucial to passing the resolution at the WTO by consensus.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Environment Appraisal Committee allows Great Nicobar plan to advance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- EAC allows Great Nicobar plan to advance

About the Great Nicobar plan

  • The Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) – Infrastructure I of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has flagged serious concerns about NITI Aayog’s ambitious project for Great Nicobar Island.
  • The EAC was responding to ‘pre-feasibility’ report, ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands’.
  • The report is prepared for the NITI Aayog by the Gurugram-based consulting agency.
  • The proposal includes an international container transshipment terminal, a greenfield international airport, a power plant and a township complex spread over 166 sq. km. and is estimated to cost ₹75,000 crore.
  • The committee has, however, removed the first hurdle faced by the project.
  • It has recommended it “for grant of terms of reference (TOR)” for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, which in the first instance will include baseline studies over three months.

What the EAC said

  • The committee noted that the site selection for the port had been done mainly on technical and financial criteria, ignoring the environmental aspects.
  • It has now asked for an independent study/ evaluation for the suitability of the proposed port site with specific focus on Leatherback Turtle, Nicobar Magapode and Dugong.
  • It highlighted the need for an independent assessment of terrestrial and marine biodiversity, a study on the impact of dredging, reclamation and port operations, including oil spills.
  • It has also highlighted the need for studies of alternative sites for the port with a focus on environmental and ecological impact,  analysis of risk-handling capabilities, a seismic and tsunami hazard map, a disaster management plan, an assessment of the cumulative impact, and a hydro-geological study to assess impact on round and surface water regimes.
  • The committee has also asked for details of the corporate environment policy of the implementing agency — whether the company has an environment policy, a prescribed standard operating procedure to deal with environmental and forest violations, and a compliance management system.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

What patent waiver in the COVID fight mean for global health equity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TRIPS

Mains level : Paper 2- Implications of patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccine

The article highlights the implications of patent waiver for Covid-19 for global health equity.

Where the opposition to waiver proposal came from

  • Recently, the US agreed to support the India-South Africa proposal, seeking a waiver of patent protection for technologies needed to combat and contain COVID-19.
  • Response to the proposal was divided during earlier debates at the WTO.
  • While many low and middle income countries supported it, resistance came from the U.S., the United Kingdom, the European Union, Switzerland, Australia and Japan.
  • Since the WTO operates on consensus rather than by voting, the proposal did not advance despite drawing support of over 60 countries.
  • Predictably, the pharmaceutical industry fiercely opposed it and vigorously lobbied many governments.
  • Right-wing political groups in the high income countries sided with the industry.

Issues with the reasons given for opposition to the waiver proposal

1) Quality and safety of vaccine production in low and middle-income countries

  • It was argued that the capacity for producing vaccines of assured quality and safety was limited to some laboratories.
  • So, it is argued that it would be hazardous to permit manufacturers in low and middle-income countries.
  • However, pharmaceutical manufacturers have no reservations about contracting industries in those countries to manufacture their patent-protected vaccines for the global market.

2) Licenced manufacturing

  • The counter to patent waiver is an offer to license manufacturers in developing countries while retaining patent rights.
  • This restricts the opportunity for production to a chosen few.
  • The terms of those agreements are opaque and offer no assurance of equity in access to the products at affordable prices, either to the country of manufacture or to other developing countries.

3) Supplying vaccines through COVAX facility

  • It was also stated that developing countries could be supplied vaccines through the COVAX facility, set up by several international agencies and donors.
  • While well-intended, it has fallen far short of promised delivery.
  • Some U.S. states have received more vaccines than entire Africa has from COVAX.

4) No availability of extra capacity for vaccine production

  • Critics of a patent waiver say there is no evidence that extra capacity exists for producing vaccines outside of firms undertaking them now.
  • Even before the change in the U.S.’s position, manufacturers from many countries expressed their readiness and avidly sought opportunities to produce the approved vaccines.
  • They included industries in Canada and South Korea, suggesting that capable manufacturers in high income countries too are ready to avail of patent waivers but are not being allowed to enter a restricted circle.
  • The World Health Organization’s mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub has already drawn interest from over 50 firms.
  • Instead of arguing that capacity is limited, high-income countries and other donors should be supporting the growth of more capacity to meet the current and likely future pandemic.
  • They should learn from the manner in which India built up capacity and gained a reputation as a respected global pharmacy by moving from product patenting to process patenting between 1970 and 2005.

5) Time required to utilise patented technology is long

  • Patent waivers are also dismissed as useless on the grounds that the time taken for their utilisation by new firms will be too long to help combat the present pandemic.
  • But many countries have low vaccination rates and variants are gleefully emerging from unprotected populations.
  • This makes it difficult to put the end date for the pandemic to end

6) China factor

  • An argument put forth by multinational pharmaceutical firms is that a breach in the patent barricade will allow China to steal their technologies, now and in the future.
  • The original genomic sequence was openly shared by China, which gave these firms a head start in developing vaccines.

Issue of rewarding innovation financially

  • Much of the foundational science that built the path for vaccine production came from public-funded universities and research institutes.
  • Further, what use is it to hold on to patents when global health and the global economy are devastated?
  • It is often argued that for defending patent protection, is that innovation and investment by industry need to be financially rewarded to incentivise them to develop new products.
  • Even if compulsory licences are issued bypassing patent restrictions, royalties are paid to the original innovators and patent holders.

Way forward

  • Developing countries must take heart from his gesture and start issuing compulsory licences.
  • The Doha declaration on TRIPS flexibilities permits their use in a public health emergency.
  • High-income countries and multilateral agencies should provide financial and technical support to enable expansion of global production capacity.

Consider the question “Why are the implications of patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccine for the global health equity? What were the reasons for opposition to waiver proposal?” 

Conclusion

The U.S.-supported patent waiver in the COVID fight has the potential to bring in much-needed global health equity.

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Section 142 of the Social Security Code – 2020 Notified

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Section 142

Mains level : Paper 2- Section 142 of social security code

Aadhaar mandatory

  • The Union government has made Aadhaar mandatory for availing social security benefits, and for registration on a national informal workers’ database being developed for migrants.
  • The labour ministry has notified section 142 of the social security code.
  • It allows authorities to collect Aadhaar details for the database of beneficiaries under various social security schemes.
  • The move will be applicable to both formal and informal workers and may also help in curbing duplication of data by keeping imposters at bay, authorities said.
  • However, people who don’t have Aadhaar will not be denied of benefits, the ministry claims.

National informal workers’ database

  •  National database for unorganized workers is at an advanced stage of development by National Informatics Centre.
  • The portal is aimed at collection of data for unorganized workers, including migrant workers for the purpose of giving benefits of the various schemes of the government.
  • An inter-state migrant worker can register himself on the portal on the basis of submission of Aadhaar alone.

——————————————————//—————————————–

BACK2BASICS

  • The Code on Social Security, 2020 is a code to amend and consolidate the laws relating to social security with the goal to extend social security to all employees and workers either in the organised or unorganised or any other sectors.
  • The Social Security Code, 2020 brings unorganised sector, gig workers and platform workers under the ambit of social security schemes, including life insurance and disability insurance, health and maternity benefits, provident fund and skill upgradation, etc. The act amalgamates 9 central labour enactments relating to social security.
  • To access complete Act, you can click on the link given below:

https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/SS_Code_Gazette.pdf

Pulses Production – Subramanian Committee, Eco Survey, etc.

Mini-Seed Kits to boost pulses output in kharif 2021

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pulses production in India

Mains level : Paper 3- Measures to increase pulses' production

Central government to distribute mini-kits of seed

  • The government on said it will distribute over 20 lakh mini-kits of seeds worth Rs 82.01 crore as part of a strategy to boost pulses production in the kharif season of the 2021-22 crop year.
  • The total cost for these mini-kits will be borne by the central government to boost the production and productivity of tur, moong and urad.
  • In addition to this, the usual programme of inter-cropping and area expansion by the states will continue on a sharing basis between the Centre and state, it said.

Increasing production and productivity

  • From a meagre production of 14.76 million tonnes in the 2007-08 crop year, pulses production has now reached 24.42 million tonnes in the 2020-2021 crop year, which is a phenomenal increase of 65 per cent.
  • India is still importing around 4 lakh tonnes of tur, 0.6 lakh tonnes of moong and around 3 lakh tonnes of urad for meeting its demand.
  • The special programme will increase the production and productivity of the three pulses of tur, moong and urad to a great extent and will play an important role in reducing the import burden.

RBI Notifications

RBI steps in to ease COVID-19 burden

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SLTRO

Mains level : Paper 3- RBI measures to mitigate the impact of second Covid wave

Term Liquidity Facility announced

  • Reserve Bank of India stepped in on Wednesday with measures aimed at alleviating any financing constraints for healthcare infrastructure and services reeling under the second Covid wave.
  • RBI Governor announced a Term Liquidity Facility of ₹50,000 crore with tenor of up to three years, at the repo rate, to ease access to credit for providers of emergency health services.
  • Under the scheme, banks will provide fresh lending support to a wide range of entities, including vaccine manufacturers, importers/suppliers of vaccines and priority medical devices, hospitals/dispensaries, pathology labs, manufacturers and suppliers of oxygen and ventilators, and logistics firms. 
  • These loans will continue to be classified under priority sector till repayment or maturity, whichever is earlier.

Measures for individual and MSME borrowers

  • As part of a “comprehensive targeted policy response”, the RBI also unveiled schemes to provide credit relief to individual and MSME borrowers impacted by the pandemic.
  • RBI unveiled a Resolution Framework 2.0 for COVID-related stressed assets of individuals, small businesses and MSMEs.
  • To provide further support to small business units, micro and small industries, and other unorganised sector entities the RBI decided to conduct special three-year long-term repo operations (SLTRO) of ₹10,000 crore at the repo rate for Small Finance Banks.
  • The SFBs would be able to deploy these funds for fresh lending of up to ₹10 lakh per borrower.
  • In view of the fresh challenges brought on by the pandemic and to address the emergent liquidity position of smaller MFIs, SFBs are now being permitted to reckon fresh lending to smaller MFIs (with asset size of up to ₹500 crore) for onlending to individual borrowers as priority sector lending.

Measure for States

  • To enable the State governments to better manage their fiscal situation in terms of their cash flows and market borrowings, maximum number of days of overdraft (OD) in a quarter is being increased from 36 to 50 days and the number of consecutive days of OD from 14 to 21 days, the RBI said.

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

Atmanirbhar Bharat & the informal sector

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GVA

Mains level : Paper 3- Role informal sector can play in Atmanirbhar Bharat

The article highlights the important role the informal sector can play in the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Economic development through Atmanirbhar Bharat

  • The vision of the Atmanirbhar Bharat is rooted in the classical paradigm of economic development, based on demand injection in the economy via two sources, domestic and external.
  • ‘Vocal for local’ exhorts a distinct and decisive shift in consumer preferences towards locally-produced goods and services.
  • ‘Make for the world’ is more ambitious and resembles the export-led growth strategy adopted in East Asia.
  • Thus, the Atmanirbhar Bharat categorically bestows the Indian economy with twin engines of growth.

Important role informal sector can play

  • The strategy is based on an assumption of lack of adequate demand.
  • So a prognosis of supply side with respect to the ability of domestic producers of goods and services to seize the opportunity at the requisite scale and scope is pertinent.
  • The nature, character, structure and contributions of the informal sector require retrospection.
  • The size of India’s informal sector is massive, it accounts for about 50% of GVA and a major share in the export basket.
  • This position proffers it with growth opportunities emanating from domestic as well as external sources.

Constraints faced by informal sector

  • Most firms are micro in size and deploy little capital.
  • They have a small scale of production, substandard/unbranded quality of products, and localised scope of procuring raw material and marketing their products.
  • They are vulnerable to business downturns and other market uncertainties, as reflected in high mortality.
  • Their access to cheap, reliable and long-term credit sources is highly restricted.
  • The sector also endures a lack of official identity and recognition of its existence and contribution.

Three transformations informal sector need to adopt

  • Atmanirbhar Bharat promises enhanced demand for domestically-produced goods and services, but the exposure to stiff global competition, especially for informal sector units, is imminent.
  • In such a scenario, the informal sector must embrace for three tectonic shifts with respect to internal transformation, strategic positioning and labour-market dynamics.

1)  Internal transformation

  • Enterprises must undergo drastic internal transformation, progressively converging at incremental formalisation through spontaneous and self-propelled transition into economically-viable units.
  • It requires infusion of capital to ensure enhanced labour productivity and higher wages.
  • A systemic disruption, fostering natural growth must be ushered in, which would also curb the birth of new informal enterprises.
  • Moreover, internal consolidation in the sector via merger and acquisitions of units would bring benefits accruing from scale economies.

2) Strategic positioning

  • Two, because the vision of the Atmanirbhar Bharat exposes the informal sector to global competition, entrepreneurs must embrace the subtle art of strategic positioning in global mega-supply chains.
  • They must pick their products and markets with utmost care, and engrain two mantras of success at the global stage in the DNA of their business strategies.
  • Global mega-supply chains demand ultra-flexibility in production cycle in addition to heightened resilience to withstand headwinds emanating from not just domestic factors but also global.

3) Labour market dynamics

  • The informal sector employs more than 80% of India’s workforce.
  • The changes in the first two spheres i.e. higher capital intensity-led enhanced labour productivity and ultra-flexibility in production cycles may have severe repercussions on the availability and quality of jobs in India.
  • To alleviate these concerns, the first assumption is that the proportionate increase in expected demand must be more than the enhanced labour productivity to at least retain the currently employed workers.
  • To generate good quality jobs, diversification (both horizontal and vertical) must be encouraged.
  • Vertical diversification entails products not just be partly produced or assembled in India, they must be the end-products of fully indigenised and integrated production and supply chains, from design to made in India.
  • Horizontal diversification involves expansion into newer products and markets, smartly aligning with India’s comparative advantage of surplus labour.

Consider the question ” India’s vast informal sector is poised to play an instrumental, decisive and intriguing role in the vision of the Atmanirbhar Bharat.  But the sector, in its current form, appears severely constrained to harness the opportunities. In lights of this, examine the constraints faced by the sector and suggest the measures needed to transform the sector.” 

Conclusion

The vision of the Atmanirbhar Bharat is an inflexion point for India’s informal sector, which stipulates adroit manoeuvring between contrasting forces of continuity and change.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

U.S. to support intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- US in support of IP waiver for Covid-19 vaccine

US in support of TRIPS waiver

  • The United States announced its support to an initiative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) protection for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The initiative was first floated by India and South Africa last October.
  • Over a 100 countries have supported the proposal, according to the Associated Press.

Opposition to the move

  • Among the arguments proffered to retain IP protection are that biotech jobs will be transferred from the U.S. to foreign countries and that waiving IP still not does overcome bottlenecks like manufacturing capacity.
  • Twelve Republican Members of Congress wrote to Mr. Biden on Tuesday urging him to consider other means to increase vaccine access that did not involve weaking IP protections.
  • Weakening protections would hamper American competitiveness and innovation, they said.

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[pib] Kerala presents its Annual Action plan under Jal Jeevan Mission

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Jal Jeevan Mission

Mains level : Paper 2- Annual Action Plan submitted by Kerala for Jal Jeevan Mission

Annual Action Plan presented

  • Annual Action Plan (AAP) on planning and implementation of Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) in Kerala was presented.
  • Kerala State officials outlined the roadmap of the financial year 2021-2022 to the national committee via video conferencing.
  • The State plans to achieve the target of ‘Har Ghar Jal’ by 2024.
  • The State also plans to provide potable water in all quality-affected habitations by June 2021 through piped water supply or Community Water Purification Plants (CWPP).
  • The national committee analysed and advised on the plan presented by the State.
  • The committee emphasized the preparation of Village Action Plans and the constitution of Village Water &Sanitation Committee/ Pani Samiti as a sub-committee of Gram Panchayat with a minimum 50% of women members.
  • Also, emphasis is required on Water Quality Monitoring & Surveillance (WQM&S) activities to ensure Field Test Kit testing at Gram Panchayat level, Aanganwadi centres and schools.

About Jal Jeevan Mission

  • Jal Jeevan Mission is the flagship programme of Government of India, which aims to provide household tap water connection to every rural household by 2024.
  • Since announcement of the mission in August 2019, 4.17 Core new tap connections have been provided in the rural areas of the country during this period.
  • As a result, 7.40 Crore (38.56%) rural households have tap water supply vis-à-vis 3.23 Crore (17%) in 2019.
  •  Efforts are made to dovetail all available resources by convergence of different programmes viz. MGNREGS, SBM, 15th Finance Commission Grants to PRIs, CAMPA funds, Local Area Development Funds, etc.

Allocation for the JJM

  •  In 2021-22, Rs. 50,000 Crore budgetary allocation has been made for Jal Jeevan Mission.
  • In addition to this, there is also Rs. 26,940 Crore assured fund available under the 15th Finance Commission tied grants to RLBs/ PRIs for water & sanitation, matching State share and externally aided projects.
  • Thus, in 2021-22, more than Rs. 1 lakh Crore is planned to be invested in the country on ensuring tap water supply to rural homes.
  • This huge investment will give a boost to manufacturing activities, create employment opportunities in rural areas as well boost the rural economy.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

The vaccine patent row

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WTO

Mains level : Paper 2- Growing support for IP waiver for Covid vaccines

What is the vaccine patent row about?

  • Medicines and other inventions are covered by patents which provide legal protection against being copied, and vaccines are no exception.
  • Patents give makers the rights to their discoveries as well as the means to make more money from them – which is an incentive to encourage innovation.
  • But these are not normal times.
  • Last autumn, developing nations led by India and South Africa proposed to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the patents on vaccinations and other Covid-related items should be waived.
  • They argued that, given the extreme nature of the pandemic, the recipe for the life-saving jabs should be made widely available so they could be produced locally in bulk by other manufacturers.

What’s the problem?

  • The proposals were met with immediate criticism from pharmaceutical companies and Western nations including the EU, UK and the US.
  • The obvious objection to lifting patents is that it could erode revenue and deter innovation.

So, does this just come down to money?

  • The key argument from vaccine producers and their home countries is that waiving patents alone wouldn’t solve much. It would, they say, be like handing out a recipe without the ingredients or instructions.
  • The patent covers the bare bones of the blue print but not the precise production process. That’s crucial here. Vaccines of the mRNA type – such as Pfizer and Moderna – are a new breed and only a small number of people understand how to make them.
  • BioNTech, the German company which partnered with Pfizer, have said that developing the manufacturing process took a decade and validating production sites can take up to a year. The availability of the raw materials needed has also been an issue.
  • Industry bodies fear that without access to all the know-how and parts, a waiver could result in quality, safety and efficacy issues and possibly even counterfeits. They point out that Moderna has already said it would not prosecute those found to be infringing their patent – but no one has yet.

What’s the alternative?

  • The EU says it is ready to talk, but it previously said the best short-term fix would be supply chain improvements and pushing richer countries to export more jabs.
  • The UK says it is one of the biggest donors to Covax, which is masterminding the rollout of vaccines to many poorer countries. It also favours voluntary licensing – such as collaborations between the Serum Institute of India and Oxford-AstraZeneca. It wants the WTO, which oversees the rules on global trade, to support more partnerships.
  • The WTO system allows for this licensing arrangement to go even further. Governments can impose compulsory licenses on vaccine makers, compelling them to share their know-how and overseeing the production process along the way. But those pharmaceutical companies would have to be compensated for doing so.

Why did the US change its mind?

The announcement came after the US Trade Representative Katharine Tai held meetings with the big vaccine makers in an effort to supercharge vaccine production.

What happens next?

  • Now the discussions will continue at the WTO where decisions are made by consensus.
  • Without the backing of other key nations, the proposals may stall. But they may pave the way to a compromise that could boost production.
  • The key question is when – and by how much.

Support grows for IP waiver

  • Attention is now turning to those richer nations, notably in the European Union — and France was the first to voice its support.
  • France joined the United States in supporting an easing of patent and other protections on COVID-19 vaccines that could help poorer countries get more doses and speed the end of the pandemic.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin also said he supported the idea of a waiver on patent protections for coronavirus vaccines.

 

[pib] India-UK virtual summit strengthens STI cooperation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IICEP

Mains level : Paper 2- India-UK cooperation in STI

Enhance partnership in science, education, research and innovation

  • The Prime Minister of India and the UK  met virtually on 4 May 2021 and emphasised their shared commitment to an enhanced partnership in science, education, research and innovation.
  • In keeping with this commitment, both the leaders welcomed the following:
  • The new MoU on Telecommunications/ICT and the Joint Declaration of Intent on Digital and Technology.
  • There was also the establishment of new high-level dialogues on tech.
  • A new joint rapid research investment into Covid19.
  • A new partnership to support zoonotic research,
  • New investment to advance understanding of weather and climate science.
  • There will be continuation of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI).

Key points to strengthen STI cooperation

  • Enhance cooperation between India and the UK on strengthening the role of women in STEM at schools, universities, and research institutions through initiatives like Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) project.
  • Develop collaborations between Industry, Academia and the Government to foster innovation among school students by focusing on teacher training, mentoring and sharing of global best practices through initiatives like the India Innovation Competency Enhancement Program (IICEP)
  • Build on the two countries’ existing bilateral research, science and innovation infrastructure and governmental relationships to continue to support high-quality, high-impact research and innovation through joint processes.
  • Forge partnership across the pipeline of research and innovation activity, from basic research to applied and interdisciplinary research.
  • Leverage and build on existing, long-standing bilateral partnerships such as on education, research and innovation, to stimulate a joint pipeline of talent, excellent researchers and early-career innovators.
  • Work together to share knowledge and expertise regarding artificial intelligence, scientific support to policies and regulatory aspects including ethics, and promote a dialogue in research and innovation.
  • Through Tech Summits, bring together tech innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs and policy makers to work together on challenges including the norms and governance of future tech under the cross-cutting theme of ‘data’.
  •  Grow programmes such as the Fast Track Start-Up Fund to nurture innovation-led, sustainable growth and jobs, and tech solutions that benefit both countries.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

What the easing of IP norms on Covid vaccines means for India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TRIPS

Mains level : Paper 2- What IP waiver for Covid vaccine mean to India

Background of waiver proposal

  • U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced its support for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Following the onset of the pandemic, the World Health Organisation proposed a COVID-technology access pool as a knowledge sharing initiative to rapidly scale up vaccine output around the world.
  • As vaccine research progressed last year, wealthy and advanced countries, placed huge advance purchase orders for vaccines.
  • This meant that smaller, developing countries would take longer to get vaccines and find resources to pay for them.
  • In October 2020, India and South Africa floated a proposal at the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council to waive certain provisions of the WTO’s TRIPS pact till the pandemic subsides.
  • The proposal envisaged facilitating wider access to technologies necessary for the production of vaccines and medicines.
  • While a majority of the least developed countries backed the proposal, some like China, Turkey and Thailand sought more clarity.
  • However, the proposal was nixed with the E.U., the U.S., Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan and the U.K. rejecting it outright, along with Brazil.
  • Among other things, the argument was that such waivers could dampen innovation and research in areas such as pharmaceuticals and diagnostic technologies.

What next

  • The WTO’s TRIPS Council is tentatively expected to hold a meeting on the waiver proposal again later this month.
  • If and when an agreement is reached here, the WTO’s Ministerial Council will also have to sign off.
  • Since WTO decisions are based on consensus, all 164 members need to agree on every single aspect of the negotiated waivers and conditions attached.

Way forward for India

  • The Centre can take two steps immediately in consonance with its stance at the WTO, following the U.S.’ statement of support.
  • The Union government must issue notification under Sections 92 and 100 of the Patents Act to freely licence all patents necessary for vaccine and drug production to treat COVID-19.
  • Issues of the amount of royalties can be decided in due course as laid out in the Patents Act, but that should not come in the way of immediate licensing by the government.
  • The government need to provide full support to companies to scale up vaccine production.
  • Indian industry has a well-respected expertise and capability to rapidly manufacture raw materials, consumables and equipment necessary to produce drugs, vaccines, medical devices and equipment if Intellectual Property barriers are removed.

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BACK2BASICS

  • COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) will compile, in one place, pledges of commitment made under the Solidarity Call to Action to voluntarily share COVID-19 health technology-related knowledge, intellectual property and data. C-TAP works through its implementing partners, the Medicines Patent Pool, Open COVID Pledge, UN Technology Bank-hosted Technology Access Partnership and Unitaid to facilitate timely, equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 health technologies.

Understand how the story has progressed:

India seeks TRIPS waiver for Vaccines

How IPR served as barrier to the right to access healthcare

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

India should go all out in its Westward trade push

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Exploring potential for a Westward trade push

After walking away from the RCEP, India needs to find alternative trading partners that can offer the potential for trade expansion. The article suggests a Westward trade push as an alternative.

Forging trade deals with the Western countries

  • Our rejection of RCEP, which covers much of the eastern hemisphere, had exposed us to the risk of losing out on cross-border commercial relations in a highly dynamic part of the world.
  • To compensate for the opportunity cost of that decision, it was imperative to strike other alliances.
  •  As a part of this, India adopted a roadmap for the rest of this decade to elevate ties with the UK and also moving to revive free-trade talks with the EU.
  • An India-UK plan unveiled recently will raise our bilateral relationship to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership in such areas as economic affairs, defence and health.
  • The two countries signed a £1-billion trade investment pact that is expected to generate jobs in both.
  • Separately, India and the EU are reportedly working out how to resume stalled negotiations for a trade deal.

Issues India may face

  • The signing of pacts would involve mutual tariff reductions and the lowering of other barriers, both of which have proven thorny so far.
  • In general, while the West wants us to lower import duties, our negotiators have been citing India’s sovereign right to protect domestic businesses under World Trade Organization rules.
  • Globally, even before covid knocked the wind out of the sails of cargo ships, commerce across borders had been doing badly under the extended effects of a financial crisis that shook things up in 2008-09.
  • But world trade remains a reliable path to global prosperity and must therefore regain its gusto.
  • For us, deal-making would mean opening up markets to imports in lieu of easier access to foreign ones.

Way forward

  • Concessions that cause very few job losses in India can easily be made. A broad cost-benefit analysis will have to guide our approach to talks, on complex issues like US visa rules which affect our software exports.
  • Since it is governments that thrash out deals, geopolitical convergences are often sought too.
  • We seem to be in a favourable position on this, given the West’s need to keep China’s rise in check.
  • The UK’s Rolls-Royce has just inked a memorandum with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd for warship engines, a sign of our strategic ties.
  • Technology could come our way from the US, too.
  • If we can leverage an ability to play a role in Asia’s balance of power to our economic benefit, we should.

Conclusion

Mutually assured flexibility on tariff concessions would help India and its Western partners score economic gains and also counterbalance China’s growing dominance of world trade.

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B2B

[pib] India-UK Virtual Summit

Important Judgements In News

Reading Maratha quota verdict

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 102nd Amendment

Mains level : Paper 2- Maratha quota judgement

  • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the Maharashtra law granting reservation to the Maratha community.
  • The court had framed six questions of law on the issue.
  • The court unanimously agreed on three of those issues, while the verdict was split 3:2 on the other three.

Issue 1:  Whether Indra Sawhney judgment needs to be revisited

  • One of the key issues was to examine whether the 1992 landmark ruling by the nine-judge bench in Indra Sawhney v Union of India had to be revisited.
  • First, it said that the criteria for a group to qualify for reservation is “social and educational backwardness”.
  • Second, it reiterated the 50% limit to vertical quotas reasoning that it was needed to ensure “efficiency” in administration.
  • However, the court said that this 50% limit will apply unless in “exceptional circumstances”.
  • The Maratha quota exceeded the 50% ceiling. 
  • The arguments by state governments before the court was that the Indra Sawhney verdict must be referred to a 11-judge Bench for reconsideration since it laid down an arbitrary ceiling which the Constitution does not envisage.
  • The court said that the 50% ceiling, although an arbitrary determination by the court in 1992, is now constitutionally recognized and held that there is no need to revisit the case.

Issue 2 and 3: Does Maratha quota law come under exceptional circumstances

  • The state government’s argument was that since the population of backward class is 85% and reservation limit is only 50%, an increase in reservation limit would qualify as an extraordinary circumstance.
  • All five judges disagreed with this argument.
  • The bench ruled that the above situation is not extraordinary.

Issue 4,5 and 6: Validity of 102nd Amendment

  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Act, 2018 gives constitutional status to the National Backward Classes Commission.
  • The Amendment also gives the President powers to notify backward classes.
  • The Bench unanimously upheld the constitutional validity of the 102nd Amendment but differed on the question of whether it affected the power of states to identify socially and economically backward classes (SEBCs).
  • Attorney General, appearing for the central government, clarified that this was not the intention of the law.
  • The Attorney General argued that it is inconceivable that no State shall have the power to identify backward class”.
  • The Attorney General explained that the state government will have their separate list of SEBCs for providing reservations in state government jobs and education.
  • The Parliament will only make the central list of SEBCs which would apply for central government jobs.
  • However, the Supreme Court held that “the final say in regard to inclusion or exclusion (or modification of lists) of SEBCs is firstly with the President, and thereafter, in case of modification or exclusion from the lists initially published, with the Parliament”.
  • This raises a question: How does this impact interventions by other states to provide reservations for other communities, for example Jats in Haryana and Kapus in Andhra?
  • The majority opinion essentially says that now the National Backward Classes Commission must publish a fresh list of SEBCs, both for states and the central list.
  • The Supreme Court also issued a direction under Article 142 of the Constitution of India which says that till the publication of the fresh list the existing lists will continue to operate.

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BACK2BASICS

  • National Commission for Backward Classes is a constitutional body (102nd amendment 2018 in the constitution to make it a constitutional body) (Article 338B of the Indian Constitution).
  • It was constituted pursuant to the provisions of the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993.
  • According to Article 338B, Commission shall consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three other Members and the conditions of service and tenure of office of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members so appointed shall be such as the President may by rule determine. The Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members of the Commission shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.

Tax Reforms

India notifies rules for digital tax

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various thresholds for digital tax

Mains level : Paper 3- Rules for digital tax

  • Starting April 2022, overseas entities that don’t have a physical presence in India but derive significant financial benefit from Indian customers will come under the Indian tax net.
  • While the main legal provision was introduced in 2018, the revenue department notified the thresholds for the purposes of significant economic presence (SEP) on May 3.
  • The concept was introduced via Finance Act, 2018, to enlarge the scope of income of non-residents that accrues or arises in India, by establishing a “business connection” of the foreign entities.
  • The idea is to tax profits of those online and offline businesses that don’t have a physical presence in India but derive significant economic value from the country.
  • Only those entities will get impacted by the SEP provisions who come from non-treaty jurisdictions.
  • That’s because the treaties specify non-resident entities will come under the tax net only if they have a permanent establishment in India.
  • India currently has a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with 97 countries.

Thresholds

  • Transaction Threshold: Any non-resident whose revenue exceeds Rs 2 crore for transactions in respect of goods, services or property with any person in India. This will include transactions on the download of data or software.
  • User Threshold: Any entity that systematically and continuously does business with more than 3 lakh users in India.

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BACK2BASICS

Revision of this topic further:

What are Digital Services Taxes?