Mains Paper 2: International relations| Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India’s presidency at G20 in 2022.
Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges that India might face while hosting G20 summit in 2022, in a brief manner.
In 2022, India will be hosting the G20 or Group of 20 nations, the world’s most influential economic multilateral forum.
G20 is the agenda-setting forum that develops and guides rules of global economic governance.
The G20 leaders-level dialogue came into being during the western financial crisis of 2008, when the large developing economies including India and China, helped fund the G8 countries out of the crisis.
G20 is unique
Here, developing countries can display their political, economic and intellectual leadership on a par with the most powerful countries.
The G20’s rotating presidency ensures that no one country dominates the agenda.
Instead, the G20 host sets an annual agenda, wielding vast direct and indirect influence on nations’ economies.
Is India ready for G20 leadership?
At some levels, India is ready.
Indian business and industry is becoming a noteworthy competitor globally.
The country’s domestic economy is starting to pick up, thanks to structural economic reforms.
The central government is economically stronger, and the states are starting to learn about economic independence, making them more aligned with their global counterparts.
Issues and Challenges
India need to have a clear global financial agenda.
The country should also have the capacity to lead the G20 year intellectually, financially, managerially and administratively.
Geopolitically, India is more internationally engaged but less so geoeconomically.
Its narrow focus is on the World Bank, IMF, WTO and foreign investment issues.
But India has much to contribute on issues like reconfiguration of global financial regulations, design of a new framework for trade in services and the digital economy and establishing better cross-border standards for transparency in financial flows.
To make its G20 year a success, India has to address organisational challenges, where the country has an infrastructure, management and intellectual gap.
A G20 presidency brings together several global leaders, their attending delegations, and independent experts.
Unlike the Olympics and more like Davos, this effort is focused on a small but powerful group which expects good airports, accommodation, conference facilities, and communications infrastructure all year round.
2. The president of the G20 is tasked with leading and managing the global economic agenda for the year.
This is typically undertaken by the finance and foreign ministry and a special appointee as G20 sherpa, which together act as the secretariat to the G20 presidency.
In India, the ministries have fine officers with this knowledge, but they are overworked and limited by their short tenures.
Global economic governance is no single ministry’s mandate.
For example, the ministries of commerce, energy, agriculture have deep stakes in the emerging global economic architecture.
The RBI and SEBI play a crucial role in contributing to the formulation of global financial regulations. They all have to work as one.
3. The logistical exercise is monumental, and unprecedented for India.
While India has organised annual conferences like Vibrant Gujarat, the G20’s all-year requirements are more intense and sophisticated.
It needs an energetic secretariat to organise over 150 high-level ministerial, sub-ministerial and sub-forum meetings through the year.
At least 50 task forces lead scores of meetings including those by sub-forums for think tanks and business.
Then there is content management, negotiation and feedback processes and developing and executing the year-long agenda.
India’s closest experience was in 2016 when as chair of the five BRICS countries, the government led over 100 meetings but with uneven success in the presidency year.
4. Intellectually, India is constrained on capacity.
There is limited expertise within think tanks or academia on this subject.
It requires deep inter-disciplinary research on the international monetary system, global financial architecture, global trading system, and global climate, energy and sustainability issues.
This restricts India to being a passive rule-taker, not rule-maker or designer of global economic rules.
Consequential economic decisions are then driven by the West, and increasingly by China — neither of which are suitable for an India that should be a leading thinker of the new global economic era.
Hosting a successful G20 presidency in 2022 is a welcome challenge and the preparations must begin now.
Like other countries, the government will have to work together with its think tanks, businesses and civil society to develop a working mechanism and an agenda for 2022.
India is a growing, emerging economy but leads no global economic forums.
It is said that “those who hold the pen, write the rules”.
The time has come for India to both hold the pen and write the rules for a more equitable global economics and governance.
Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources..
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Basic knowledge of public health and health services in India.
Mains level: The news-card analyses the challenges of India’s public health system vis-à-vis its health services system, in a brief manner.
In India, public health and health services have been synonymous.
This integration has dwarfed the growth of a comprehensive public health system, which is critical to overcome some of the systemic challenges in healthcare.
Issues and Probable Solutions
Need an interdisciplinary approach
A stark increase in population growth, along with rising life expectancy, provides the burden of chronic diseases.
Tackling this requires an interdisciplinary approach.
An individual-centric approach within healthcare centres does little to promote well-being in the community.
Tight laws, regulations around food and drug safety, and policies for tobacco and substance use as well as climate change and clean energy are all intrinsic to health.
But they are not necessarily the responsibilities of healthcare services.
As most nations realise the vitality of a robust public health system, India lacks a comprehensive model that isn’t subservient to healthcare services.
A different curriculum
India’s public health workforce come from an estimated 51 colleges that offer a graduate programme in public health.
This number is lower at the undergraduate level.
In stark contrast, 238 universities offer a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in the U.S.
India’s diversity problem
In addition to the quantitative problem, India also has a diversity problem.
A diverse student population is necessary to create an interdisciplinary workforce.
The 2017 Gorakhpur tragedy in Uttar Pradesh, the 2018 Majerhat bridge collapse in Kolkata, air pollution in Delhi and the Punjab narcotics crisis are all public health tragedies.
In all these cases, the quality of healthcare services is critical to prevent morbidity and mortality.
However, a well organised public health system with supporting infrastructure strives to prevent catastrophic events like this.
Strong academic programmes are critical for interdisciplinary approach
Public health tracks range from research, global health, health communication, urban planning, health policy, environmental science, behavioural sciences, healthcare management, financing, and behavioural economics.
In the U.S., it is routine for public health graduates to come from engineering, social work, medicine, finance, law, architecture, and anthropology.
This diversity is further enhanced by a curriculum that enables graduates to become key stakeholders in the health system.
Hence, strong academic programmes are critical to harness the potential that students from various disciplines will prospectively bring to MPH training.
Investments in health/social services take precedence over public health expenditure
While benefits from population-level investments are usually long term but sustained, they tend to accrue much later than the tenure of most politicians.
This is often cited to be a reason for reluctance in investing in public health as opposed to other health and social services.
This is not only specific to India; most national health systems struggle with this conundrum.
A recent systematic review on Return on Investment (ROI) in public health looked at health promotion, legislation, social determinants, and health protection.
They opine that a $1 investment in the taxation of sugary beverages can yield returns of $55 in the long term.
Another study showed a $9 ROI for every dollar spent on early childhood health, while tobacco prevention programmes yield a 1,900% ROI for every dollar spent.
The impact of saving valuable revenue through prevention is indispensable for growing economies like India.
Problem of Health Literacy
Legislation is often shaped by public perception.
While it is ideal for legislation to be informed by research, it is rarely the case.
It is health literacy through health communication that shapes this perception.
Health communication, an integral arm of public health, aims to disseminate critical information to improve the health literacy of the population.
The World Health Organisation calls for efforts to improve health literacy, which is an independent determinant of better health outcome.
India certainly has a serious problem with health literacy and it is the responsibility of public health professionals to close this gap.
System of evaluating National programmes
Equally important is a system of evaluating national programmes.
While some fail due to the internal validity of the intervention itself, many fail from improper implementation.
Programme planning, implementation and evaluation matrices will distinguish formative and outcome evaluation, so valuable time and money can be saved.
Public health system and Healthcare services
The public health system looks at the social ecology and determinants focusing on optimising wellness.
Healthcare services, on the other hand, primarily focus on preventing morbidity and mortality.
A comprehensive healthcare system will seamlessly bridge the two.
A council for Public health
A central body along the lines of a council for public health may be envisaged to synergistically work with agencies such as the public works department, the narcotics bureau, water management, food safety, sanitation, urban and rural planning, housing and infrastructure to promote population-level health.
The proposed council for public health should also work closely with academic institutions to develop curriculum and provide license and accreditation to schools to promote interdisciplinary curriculum in public health.
As international health systems are combating rising healthcare costs, there is an impending need to systematically make healthcare inclusive to all.
While the proposed, comprehensive insurance programme Ayushman Bharat caters to a subset of the population, systemic reforms in public health will shift the entire population to better health.
Regulatory challenges force governments to deploy cost-effective solutions while ethical challenges to create equitable services concerns all of India.
With the infusion of technology driving costs on the secondary and tertiary end, it is going to be paramount for India to reinvigorate its public health system to maximise prevention.
India’s public health system can no longer function within the shadow of its health services.
Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Nothing as such.
Mains level: The news-card analyses the recent ruling of the SC in V. Surendra Mohan v. Union of India, in a brief manner.
Recently the Supreme Court of India has given a ruling in V. Surendra Mohan v. Union of India case which is regarded by the experts as one of the darkest in India’s disability rights movement.
Supreme Court’s Ruling
The Court had to rule on the legality of the Tamil Nadu government’s policy of reserving the post of civil judge only for people whose percentage of blindness does not exceed 40-50%, resulting in the exclusion of the applicant who was 70% blind.
It held that the government’s decision was rational and reasonable.
It ruled that a judicial officer has to possess a reasonable amount of sight and hearing to discharge her functions.
It accepted the claim that impaired vision makes it impossible to perform the functions required of judicial officers, such as assessing the demeanour of witnesses and reading and analysing evidence.
It also accepted that asking a blind judicial officer to perform such administrative functions as recording dying declarations and conducting inquiries can result in avoidable complications.
However, the judgement is being seen as problematic by the experts for four key reasons.
Examples of success
The view that a totally blind person cannot thrive as a judge is belied by several examples of successful judges who are blind.
One is former South African Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob, who has repudiated the notion that one needs to be sighted to assess a witness’s demeanour as being nonsensical,
U.S. Court of Appeals DC Circuit judge David S. Tatel, who thinks that it is neither fair nor accurate to impose low expectations on what blind lawyers can do.
Yousaf Saleem who last year became Pakistan’s first blind civil judge.
2. How can a blind person be reasonably expected to thrive as a judge without being excessively dependent and inefficient?
However, as the Supreme Court itself noted in 2017, “A lawyer can be just as effective in a wheelchair, as long as she has access to the courtroom and the legal library, as well as to whatever other places and material or equipment that are necessary for her to do her job well.”
3. The Court’s unreasoned assertion is an outcome of their ignorance about the capabilities of the disabled.
However, ignorance simply cannot be an excuse.
It is simply unacceptable to condemn disabled legal professionals, possessing the intellectual wherewithal to be a judge, to the status of outcasts only because the judges delivering the judgement in this case appear simply not to have bothered to notice the competence of the millions of disabled people who inhabit this world.
4. Reasonable accommodations
As to obviating avoidable complications, the reasonable accommodations required by a blind judge may be considered irksome.
However, it bears noting that “there is a distinct exhortatory dimension to be recognised in deciding whether an adjustment to assist a disabled person to overcome the disadvantage that she or he has in comparison to an able-bodied person is reasonable.”
The constitutional promise of equality cannot be fully realised, if we lack the ability to even pay the price of making reasonable accommodations.
When the Supreme Court tells that blindness makes someone intrinsically incapable of becoming a judicial officer, when it declares thousands of blind people as incompetence, its declaration cuts to the core of their confidence about the fairness and robustness of our judicial system.
It is how we choose to respond to this institutional display of pure and simple discrimination dressed up as legal reasoning will be reflective of what kind of a society one hope to be.
Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: CRIC 17 Assessment
Mains level: Impact of Urbanization on forest cover
A preliminary assessment report circulated by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) shows that tree-covered areas remain the dominant land use class.
While the rate of deforestation has slowed down after 2005, forests continue to shrink.
The Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 17) of UNCCD is meeting in Georgetown, Guyana.
This is the first such global assessment of land degradation based on data submitted by countries party to the convention.
The assessment is for the 2000-2015 period.
Out of the 197 countries party to UNCCD, 145 have submitted data on land degradation.
Assessment on Tree-Cover
The preliminary assessment based on this data shows that the world’s dominant land class is still the tree-covered areas that include natural forests.
Tree-covered areas account for 32.4 per cent of total land cover area reported by countries.
Globally, tree-covered areas fell by ~1, 41,610 sq km from 2000 to 2005, but rebounded by 2015 to a net decline of 35,204 sq km (-0.1 per cent) below 2000 levels,” says the assessment.
After tree-covered areas, grasslands, croplands, wetlands and artificial surfaces represent 23.1 per cent, 17.7 per cent, 4.2 per cent and 0.8 per cent of the total reported land area.
Tree-covered areas have increased in Central and Eastern Europe, the Northern Mediterranean and Asia.
Such areas have decreased in Latin American and Caribbean countries and Africa.
Sixty per cent of the tree-covered areas globally are in Central and Eastern Europe and in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The world has reported the highest change in the land class called artificial areas that primarily account for lands diverted for uses like urbanisation.
This class recorded a 32.2 per cent growth in the 2000-2015 period.
In other words, an addition of 1, 68, 000 square km.
This trend in increasing artificial areas is considered a critical transition, with 48,240 sq km of the new artificial areas coming from previously ‘natural’ areas, jumping to 143,200 sq km when combining ‘natural and semi-natural’ areas.”
This transition mostly happened from croplands and grasslands.
What made all these changes?
Transitions from other land to cropland are almost three times the transition of cropland to other land, indicating that more marginal lands have been brought back into production.
Drivers of cropland losses include urbanisation, improper soil management, improper crop management and industrial activities.
Population pressure, land tenure and poverty are the most frequently-cited indirect drivers of land cover change, says the report.
This class has gained 575,000 sq km.
Most of this is the result of transitions from tree-covered areas (369,000 sq km), other land (310,900 sq km) and grassland (424,700 sq km).