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[oped of the day] Deadly spread: On ‘vaccine hesitancy’

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Measles vaccination in India

Mains level : Measles vaccine - the issue of Vaccine Hesitancy


Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.

Context

There is a 30% increase in measles cases worldwide in 2018 and the WHO included ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the 10 threats to global health this year. 

Vaccine hesitancy

  • Vaccine hesitancy is defined as the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”.
  • It only appears to have grown more dangerous to public health. 

The case of Measles

  • Measles vaccine not only provides lifelong protection against the virus but also reduces mortality from other childhood infections. 
  • This is because measles viruses kill immune cells, leaving the child vulnerable to infectious diseases for two to three years.
  • There is a surge in measles cases from the WHO African region, WHO European region. 
  • The infection spread in the European region has been unprecedented in recent years. Last month the U.K., Greece, the Czech Republic, and Albania lost their measles elimination status.

Reasons for Vaccine Hesitancy

  • A 2018 report on vaccine confidence among the EU member states shows why vaccine coverage has not been increasing to offer protection even to those not vaccinated. 
  • It found younger people (18-34 years) and those with less education are less likely to agree that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe. 
  • Only 52% of respondents from 28 EU member states agree that vaccines are definitely effective in preventing diseases, while 33% felt they were probably effective. 48% of the respondents believed that vaccines cause serious side effects and 38% think vaccines actually cause the disease that they are supposed to protect against. 
  • Even in India, a 2018 study found low awareness to be the main reason why 45% of children missed different vaccinations in 121 Indian districts that have higher rates of unimmunised children. They had apprehension about adverse effects, were reluctant to get immunised for reasons other than fear of adverse effects. 
  • Social media is playing a crucial role in spreading vaccine disinformation.

Way ahead

  • Work should be done to address misinformation. 
  • Facebook committed to “reduce distribution” of vaccine misinformation.

 


Back2Basics

Health – Diseases

[op-ed snap] The fires of Arabia

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Houthi attack on Saudi - Peace in the Middle East


Context

The drone attacks on major Saudi hydrocarbon facilities have led to a spike in world oil prices. 

Facts of the issue

  • The attacks are claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
  • It has knocked out more than half of Saudi crude output and5% of the global oil supplies. 
  • Oil industry experts say the damage is serious and Saudi Arabia will not be able to quickly make up for the shortfall in production close to 5.7 million barrels a day. 

Marginal global impact

  • Global oil production expanded in recent years and there is the emergence of new major exporters like the US.
  • The world could possibly absorb the new oil shock without too much pain.

Challenges remain

  • Drone attacks have exposed the massive vulnerability of Saudi oil production 
  • Houthis have promised to attack again if Saudi Arabia continues its four-year-old war against them
  • The other is the danger of escalation in the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has enveloped the region in proxy wars. 
  • If Saudi Arabia has supported the government in Yemen in the tragic civil war, Iran has been the main backer of the Houthi rebels. 
  • Iran has backed the Houthi right to self-defense against Saudi Arabia. 
  • The US decision to blame Iran after the attack appeared to push the region to the brink of a new war. 
  • In the last couple of years, Iran has seen most of its oil exports vanish due to the American sanctions. 
  • Though Iran can hurt Saudi oil production, a military confrontation with the US could set Tehran back by decades. 

Way ahead

  • The recent developments offer an opportunity for all sides to step back. 
  • The US and Saudi Arabia have miscalculated that Iran would cave under the current campaign to put “maximum pressure”.
  • The current lose-lose situation should open the door for sensible compromises all around. 
  • India, which is friends with all the actors in the Middle East, can easily do more than being a passive observer. 
  • Like Japan and Europe, which are trying to calm the waters, India too must step in to nudge the region towards military restraint and political engagement.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] How to set the sell-off ball rolling once again

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Disinvestment - various types

Mains level : Disinvestment challenges and Way ahead


Context

The government is drawing up plans to sell its stake in several state-run companies as part of its disinvestment programme for this financial year. 

Disinvestment

  • Several companies have been identified for the sale of minority stakes.
  • Some companies for strategic disinvestment—where the government reduces its ownership to a minority holding. 

Need for disinvestment

  • Half of this financial year is almost over. Of the ₹1.05 trillion disinvestment target set for 2019-20, only ₹12,357 crores, or 12%, has been raised so far. 
  • The government could anyways engineer one state-run company to buy the stake of another—like the ONGC-HPCL deal last year—or by having Life Insurance Corporation subscribe to share offerings.
  • Buch a strategy could erode the agenda’s credibility. 
  • It’s best if disinvestment is done to achieve efficiency aims. 
  • Firms that would perform better in private hands than the public should be allowed to change owners.

Making Disinvestments work

  • For better price realizations on shares, the government may be tempted to wait for market conditions to improve. 
  • But markets are subject to various vagaries, and there is no appropriate time for disinvestment. 
  • If a more efficient economy is the objective, then government equity should be offloaded regardless of market index levels. 
  • The government should resist imposing conditions that make stake sales unattractive. A strategic buyer of a firm would need a free hand to reorganize operations as it deems fit. 
  • In the case of Air India, the Centre had stiff riders on matters such as the retention of employees, mergers of ancillary businesses, and so on; it also insisted on retaining a 24% stake in the airline. 
  • With a heavy debt burden, Air India failed to attract even a single bid despite two attempts.
  • Disinvestment process demands clarity on its main goal.
  • It needs to be made investor-friendly.
  • Some state-owned companies need to be privatized outright, with no strings attached. 
  • The assurance that the government would cease to exert control may be necessary for prospective buyers to see value in taking over. 
  • Private turnaround plans often include staff downsizing; this should not pose a political problem. 
  • Profitable public sector units
    • sell-offs tend to meet even more resistance, mostly from employees who fear for their jobs
    • Many of these are likely to do better under private management. 
    • Investor appetite for such companies is likely to be higher. 
    • The successful sale of a high-profile profit maker could even generate enthusiasm for the entire programme. 

Way ahead

  • “The government has no business being in business”. Along with this, the state should focus on governance and not on activities that private parties are better equipped to handle. 
  • Companies that are vital to the state’s strategic interests cannot be sold off. But most businesses owned by the government surely can.

 


Back2Basics

Disinvestment Policy in India.

Disinvestment in India

Explained: Uniform Civil code — the debate, the status

Mains Paper 2 : Indian Constitution - historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Debate over UCC



News

  • Recently while hearing a matter relating to properties of a Goan, the Supreme Court described Goa as a “shining example” with a Uniform Civil Code.
  • The court observed that the founders of the Constitution had “hoped and expected” a UCC for India but there has been no attempt at framing one.

What is a Uniform Civil Code?

  • A Uniform Civil Code is one that would provide for one law for the entire country, applicable to all religious communities in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption etc.
  • Article 44, one of the directive principles of the Constitution lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.
  • These, as defined in Article 37, are not justiciable (not enforceable by any court) but the principles laid down therein are fundamental in governance.

Greater role for State

  • Fundamental rights are enforceable in a court of law.
  • While Article 44 uses the words “state shall endeavour”, other Articles in the ‘Directive Principles’ chapter use words such as “in particular strive”; “shall in particular direct its policy”; “shall be obligation of the state” etc.
  • Article 43 mentions “state shall endeavour by suitable legislation” while the phrase “by suitable legislation” is absent in Article 44.
  • All this implies that the duty of the state is greater in other directive principles than in Article 44.

What are more important — fundamental rights or directive principles?

  • There is no doubt that fundamental rights are more important.
  • The Supreme Court held in Minerva Mills (1980): Indian Constitution is founded on the bed-rock of the balance between Parts III (Fundamental Rights) and IV (Directive Principles).
  • To give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the Constitution.
  • Article 31C inserted by the 42nd Amendment in 1976, however, lays down that if a law is made to implement any directive principle, it cannot be challenged on the ground of being violative of the FRs under Articles 14 and 19.

Does India not already have a uniform code in civil matters?

  • Indian laws do follow a uniform code in most civil matters – Indian Contract Act, Civil Procedure Code, Sale of Goods Act, Transfer of Property Act, Partnership Act, Evidence Act etc.
  • States, however, have made hundreds of amendments and therefore in certain matters, there is diversity even under these secular civil laws.
  • Recently, several states refused to be governed by the uniform Motor Vehicles Act, 2019.

What about personal laws?

  • If the framers of the Constitution had intended to have a Uniform Civil Code, they would have given exclusive jurisdiction to Parliament in respect of personal laws, by including this subject in the Union List.
  • But “personal laws” are mentioned in the Concurrent List.
  • Last year, the Law Commission concluded that a Uniform Civil Code is neither feasible nor desirable.

Is there one common personal law for any religious community governing all its members?

  • All Hindus of the country are not governed by one law, nor are all Muslims or all Christians.
  • Not only British legal traditions, even those of the Portuguese and the French remain operative in some parts.
  • In Jammu and Kashmir until August 5, 2019, local Hindu law statutes differed from central enactments.
  • The Shariat Act of 1937 was extended to J&K a few years ago but has now been repealed.

Various customary laws

  • Muslims of Kashmir were governed by a customary law, which in many ways was at variance with Muslim Personal Law in the rest of the country and was, in fact, closer to Hindu law.
  • Even on registration of marriage among Muslims, laws differ from place to place. It was compulsory in J&K (1981 Act), and is optional in Bengal, Bihar (both under 1876 Act), Assam (1935 Act) and Odisha (1949 Act).
  • In the Northeast, there are more than 200 tribes with their own varied customary laws.
  • The Constitution itself protects local customs in Nagaland. Similar protections are enjoyed by Meghalaya and Mizoram.
  • Even reformed Hindu law, in spite of codification, protects customary practices.

How does the idea of a Uniform Civil Code relate to the fundamental right to religion?

  • Article 25 lays down an individual’s fundamental right to religion;
  • Article 26(b) upholds the right of each religious denomination or any section thereof to “manage its own affairs in matters of religion”;
  • Article 29 defines the right to conserve distinctive culture.
  • An individual’s freedom of religion under Article 25 is subject to “public order, health, morality” and other provisions relating to FRs, but a group’s freedom under Article 26 has not been subjected to other fundamental rights
  • In the Constituent Assembly, there was division on the issue of putting UCC in the fundamental rights chapter. The matter was settled by a vote.
  • By a 5:4 majority, the fundamental rights sub-committee headed by Sardar Patel held that the provision was outside the scope of FRs and therefore the UCC was made less important than freedom of religion.

Minority opinion in the Constituent Assembly

  • Some members sought to immunize Muslim Personal Law from state regulation.
  • Mohammed Ismail, who thrice tried unsuccessfully to get Muslim Personal Law exempted from Article 44, said a secular state should not interfere with the personal law of people.
  • B Pocker Saheb said he had received representations against a common civil code from various organisations, including Hindu organisations.
  • Hussain Imam questioned whether there could ever be uniformity of personal laws in a diverse country like India.
  • B R Ambedkar said “no government can use its provisions in a way that would force the Muslims to revolt”.
  • Alladi Krishnaswami, who was in favour of a UCC, conceded that it would be unwise to enact UCC ignoring strong opposition from any community.
  • Gender justice was never discussed in these debates.

How did the debate on a common code for Hindus play out?

  • In June 1948, Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly, warned Nehru that to introduce “basic changes” in personal law was to impose “progressive ideas” of a “microscopic minority” on the Hindu community as a whole.
  • Others opposed to reforms in Hindu law included Sardar Patel, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, M A Ayyangar, M M Malaviya and Kailash Nath Katju.
  • When the debate on the Hindu Code Bill took place in December 1949, 23 of 28 speakers opposed it.
  • On September 15, 1951, President Prasad threatened to use his powers of returning the Bill to Parliament or vetoing it. Ambedkar eventually had to resign.
  • Nehru agreed to trifurcation of the Code into separate Acts and diluted several provisions.
Uniform Civil Code: Triple Talaq debate, Polygamy issue, etc.

In news: National Recruitment Agency (NRA)

Mains Paper 2 : Civil Service |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NRA

Mains level : Need for centralised recruitment


Context

  • The Finance Ministry has approved a proposal to streamline recruitment of some posts in the government along with various equivalent recruitment in public sector banks.
  • A new National Recruitment Agency (NRA) will be set up to conduct the Common Eligibility Test (CET) for all these competitive examinations, in which an estimated 2.5 crore candidates appear annually.

National Recruitment Agency (NRA)

  • The proposed NRA will conduct preliminary examinations for all these recruitment, which are at present conducted by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) and the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS).
  • As per the proposal, the NRA will subsequently forward the list of qualifying candidates to the respective recruiting agencies to conduct the mains examinations.
  • The SSC and IBPS, it is learnt, will not be disbanded for now and will conduct the mains examinations as usual.
  • The basic idea behind this proposal is to shortlist qualifying candidates through a Common Eligibility Test before sending them for the mains examination.

Why a new agency is proposed?

  • The proposal for a new agency is meant to streamline recruitment process on subordinate-rank posts in the government.
  • The proposed NRA is expected to reduce the burden of SSC and the IBPS, among others, from holding preliminary recruitment exams, which is an extensive exercise.
  • Once up and running, NRA will work as a preliminary single-window agency to shortlist qualifying candidates from bulk of applicants and forward the list to SSC, IBPS, etc, to hold the mains.
  • According to an estimate, more than 2.5 crore candidates sit for these prelims, most of them conducted by SSC.
  • Recruitment conducted at present through the SSC and proposed to go to the new agency include the Combined Graduate Level (CGL) examination to enter government departments.

For clerical level

  • Similarly in line with CGL, recruitment tests for clerical-level recruitment in public sector banks are proposed to go to the NRA.
  • The proposed agency, however, will not be in charge of recruitment of Probationary Officers (PO) in banks.
Civil Services Reforms

Government-funded NGOs come under RTI ambit: SC

Mains Paper 2 : NGO, SHG & Civil Society |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI Act

Mains level : Prevention of money laundering through NGOs


News

  • Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) “substantially” financed by the government fall within the ambit of the Right to Information Act, the Supreme Court held in a judgment.

About the judgment

  • NGOs which receive considerable finances from the government or are essentially dependent on the government fall under the category of “public authority” defined in Section 2(h) of the RTI Act of 2005.
  • This means that they have to disclose vital information, ranging from finances to hierarchy to decisions to functioning, to citizens who apply under RTI.
  • An NGO, the court said, may also include societies which are neither owned or controlled by the government, but if they are significantly funded by the government, directly or indirectly, they come under the RTI Act.

Why such move?

  • RTI Act was enacted with the purpose of bringing transparency in public dealings and probity in public life.
  • If NGOs or other bodies get substantial finance from the government we find no reason why any citizen cannot ask for information.
  • With the judgment citizens can find out whether his/her money which has been given to an NGO is being used for the requisite purpose.

‘Substantial’ means how much?

  • The court defined “substantial” as a “large portion.”
  • It does not necessarily have to mean a major portion or more than 50%.
  • No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this regard. Substantial financing can be both direct or indirect.
  • If government gives land in a city free of cost or on heavy discount to hospitals, educational institutions or any such body, this in itself could also be substantial financing, the judgment explained.

Back2Basics

[Burning Issue] RTI amendment Bill

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Paraquat herbicide

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paraquat

Mains level : Preventing farmers death due to hazardous chemicals


News

  • The use of herbicide Paraquat killed around 170 people in the last two years in Odisha’s Burla district leading to demands for its ban.

Paraquat

  • Paraquat is a toxic chemical that is widely used as an herbicide (plant killer), primarily for weed and grass control.
  • It has been banned in 32 countries including Switzerland, where herbicide producing company Sygenta is based.
  • Paraquat also figures on the list of 99 pesticides and herbicides the Supreme Court to ban in an ongoing case.
  • Paraquat dichloride is being used for 25 crops in India, whereas it is approved to be used on only nine crops by the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee. This is a violation of the Indian Insecticides Act.
  • So far in India, only Kerala has banned the herbicide.
  • Another violation: since farmers can’t and don’t read the label on paraquat containers, retailers sell paraquat in plastic carry bags and refill bottles.

Why lethal?

  • There is no antidote to this herbicide, the consumers of which complain of kidney, liver and lung problems.
  • They may recover from kidney problems, but die of lung- and liver-related ailments. Some also witness kidney failure.

Need for worldwide ban

  • Paraquat is yet to be listed in the prior informed consent (PIC) of Rotterdam Convention, is an international treaty on import/export of hazardous chemicals signed in 1998.
  • If a chemical figures in the PIC, the exporting country has to take the importing nation’s prior consent before exporting it.

Back2Basics

Rotterdam Convention

  • The Rotterdam Convention is formally known as the Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.
  • It is a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to importation of hazardous chemicals.
  • The convention promotes open exchange of information and calls on exporters of hazardous chemicals to use proper labeling, include directions on safe handling, and inform purchasers of any known restrictions or bans.
  • Signatory nations can decide whether to allow or ban the importation of chemicals listed in the treaty, and exporting countries are obliged to make sure that producers within their jurisdiction comply.
  • India is a party to the convention, with 161 other parties.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Akademik Lomonosov: Worlds first floating Nuclear Plant

Mains Paper 3 : Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc. |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the reactor

Mains level : Protective measures against nuclear hazards



News

  • Recently, a Russian-built floating nuclear power plant completed its 5,000-km journey along the Northern Sea Route.
  • This has sparked fears among environmentalists over the safety of the Arctic region.

Akademik Lomonosov

  • The Akademik Lomonosov is a first-of-its-kind floating nuclear power station built in St Petersburg, the Russian port city on the Gulf of Finland.
  • Three tugboats pulled it from the northern port of Murmansk for 5,000 kilometres to Chukotka, in Russia’s far east.
  • Named after the 18th-century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, the 21,000-tonne floating plant is 144 m long and 30 m wide, and contains two nuclear reactors of 35 MW each.
  • It is a small plant compared to conventional land-based nuclear projects.
  • Run by the state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, it is expected to have a working life of 40 years.

Why such a plant

  • After it becomes operational next year, the plant will supply electricity to the Chukotka region, where important Russian national assets such as oil, gold, and coal reserves are located.
  • Some 50,000 people currently live in the area, and get their electricity from a coal power station and an ageing nuclear power plant.
  • The floating station would become the northernmost nuclear power project in the world.
  • Electricity supplied by floating power stations, without long-duration contracts or massive investments, is an option that island nations could consider.
  • Power from such small-sized plants can also be supplied to remote regions, as Russia plans to do.
  • Additionally, it is argued that nuclear power plants are a more climate-friendly option than coal-fired plants that emit greenhouse gases.

Fears and apprehensions

  • Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have criticised the project as a “Chernobyl on ice” and a “nuclear Titanic”.
  • Activists fear that any accident aboard the plant could cause great damage to the fragile Arctic region.
  • A recent nuclear accident in Russia after which there was a brief spike in radiation levels has added to the fears.
  • The radiation fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is also cited as a reason to not rush into such projects.
Nuclear Energy