April 2020
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Communicable and Non-communicable diseases – HIV, Malaria, Cancer, Mental Health, etc.

It’s time for the Red Beretsop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Formation of special UN force to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Context

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is not equipped to fight a pandemic of this proportion. The world needs a special UN force to fight COVID-19.

Limits of WHO in the fight against COVID-19

  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) is not equipped to fight a pandemic of this proportion.
  • Its responsibility is to monitor threats to public health and inform and advise the member states. The fight against COVID-19 has to be on a war footing.
  • The need for the composite force: For this we need a composite force that has the capabilities of massive sanitisation, testing, hospitalisation and providing support systems.
  • Signs of conflict: Even the most powerful nations are not able to cope with the effort and there are signs of conflict on account of shortages of equipment and trained personnel.
  • The only UN body which has the training for assembling fighting forces for emergencies is the Department of Peace Operations.

Pandemic as a threat to international peace and security

  • Contentions over pandemic: The UN Security Council (UNSC) stands paralysed because of petty battles on the name of the pandemic, its origin and the need for transparency.
  • It should hold an emergency meeting and authorise the UN Secretary-General to put together a force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
  • Interpreting the mandate: The mandate of the Charter should be interpreted to emphasise that this is the greatest threat to international peace and security.
  • Possibility of conflict: Moreover, conflicts are possible on account of the fragility of the international system.
  • Member states should be requested to send not only troops but also police, health workers and equipment.
  • Deploying the peace force: In war situations, the Secretary-General is able to put together a force in about four months. This operation requires greater emergency.
  • There is some delicacy about deploying the army internally in different political systems, but UN forces have been acceptable in most countries.
  • Who should bear the cost? As for the cost, the responsibility for the deployment of forces for peacekeeping, peace-building and peace enforcement is that of the permanent members.
  • Instead of competing with each other for leadership of the post-COVID-19 world, let them help create a post-COVID-19 world.
  • Fear of devastation in the poor countries: So far COVID-19 has spread in relatively prosperous regions of the world, which have stable infrastructure and health systems.
  • We cannot trust that it will not spread to less equipped states, in which the devastation will be much more.
  • Only a UN force which can enforce social distancing and lockdowns can prevent a catastrophe.

Resolution under Chapter VII

  • In which situation it is used: Most Chapter VII resolutions determine the existence of a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace, or an act of aggression in accordance with Article 39, and make a decision explicitly under Chapter VII.
  • A UNSC Resolution is considered to be ‘a Chapter VII resolution’ if it makes an explicit determination that the situation under consideration constitutes a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace, or an act of aggression, and/or explicitly/ implicitly states that the UNSC is acting under Chapter VII in the adoption of some or all operative paragraphs.
  • Chapter VII resolutions are very rarely isolated measures.
  • Often the first response to a crisis is a resolution demanding the crisis be ended. This is later followed by an actual resolution detailing the measures required to secure compliance with the first resolution.
  • Sometimes dozens of resolutions are passed over time to modify and extend the mandate of the first Chapter VII resolution.
  • The UN stands discredited today as the UNSC has not been able to meet.
  • It may take place, now that China has vacated the Security Council chair and Dominican Republic has taken over.
  • Several resolutions are in circulation, but none under Chapter VII.

Way forward

  • The first step will be to pass a resolution to take action to end the crisis and authorise the Secretary-General to request member states to make personnel available.
  • Meanwhile, another resolution must spell out the modalities of the operation.
  • Red berets: The UN peacekeeping forces are called Blue Berets because of the colour of the caps that they wear. The health force can have caps of another colour, probably red. The launch of the Red Berets will be a historic action to be taken at a critical moment.

Conclusion

This is the right time for the UN to act for the collective action against the pandemic which in turn help in establishing the UN’s relevance.

 

Government Budgets

Financing the pandemic rescue packageop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3-Options that government explore to finance the package announced in the wake of corona epidemic.


Context

The priority for India is to ensure that it overcomes the COVID-19 pandemic and kick-starts GDP growth.

Financing strategy for the 1.7 lakh crores package

  • Rather than fix the weaknesses in the macroeconomy: a high fiscal deficit of 7.49% and government indebtedness that was 69% of GDP in 2019, the government wants to overcome the pandemic.
  • When COVID-19 cases began to increase, the Government of India (GoI) swung into action by announcing a 21-day national lockdown and a ₹1.7-lakh crore (approximately $22.59 billion) rescue package.
  • Financing strategy: Available in the state disaster relief fund is ₹60,000 crore, comprising ₹30,000 crore of the outstanding balance and the Central government’s allocation of a similar amount for FY2021.
  • Hence, the GoI needs to raise an additional ₹1.1-lakh crore,e., 65% of the rescue package outlay.
  • Its financing strategy should be to raise long-term funds at cost-effective rates, with flexible repayment terms that allow it to take tactical advantage of market movements.
  • Following are some of the options that the government can explore to raise the required amount.

1. GDP-linked bonds

  • The GoI may issue listed, Indian rupee-denominated, 25-year GDP-linked bonds that are callable from, say, the fifth year.
  • What GDP-linked means? The coupon (interest) on a GDP-linked bond is correlated to the GDP growth rate and is subject to a cap.
  • The issuer, the GoI, is liable to pay a lower coupon during years of slower growth and vice-versa.
  • The callable feature from the fifth year till maturity allows the GoI to effect partial repayments during high growth years and when it earns non-recurring revenues such as proceeds from disinvestment of public sector enterprises (PSEs).
  • The listing of bonds provides investors with an exit option.
  • Examples from the world: Costa Rica, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina issued the first pure GDP-linked bonds in the 1990s.
  • Argentina and Greece issued warrant-like instruments similar to GDP-linked bonds in 2005 and 2012 respectively. India could learn from their experience.
  • Timely GDP data is a prerequisite: Publishing reliable and timely GDP data is a prerequisite for the successful issue of GDP-linked bonds, which the GoI may use to part-finance the COVID-19 rescue package and to diversify its borrowing sources.

2. Streamlining PSEs

  • The 15 largest non-financial central PSEs (CPSEs) in the S&P BSE CPSE index contributed approximately 75% of the GoI’s ₹48,256.41 crore dividend income from PSEs in FY2020.
  • The Union Budget projected PSE dividends to increase by 25% to ₹65,746.96 crore in FY2021.
  • This milestone is unlikely to be achieved in the current environment.
  • The 15 CPSEs have accumulated sizeable non-core assets including financial investments, loans, cash and bank deposits in excess of their operating requirements, and real estate.
  • The return on these assets (excluding real estate) is around 200 basis points lower than the returns on their core businesses.
  • These CPSEs owe the government ₹25,904 crore as of end-March 2019.
  • These non-core assets must be monetised to repay statutory dues and upstream dividends to GoI.
  • Formation of HOLDCO: While loans and excess cash and bank deposits may be monetised within three months, streamlining investments and selling real estate is a time-consuming process.
  • It is imperative for the GoI to form a PSE and public sector bank holding company (‘Holdco’) along the lines of Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and Malaysia’s Khazanah Nasional Berhad.
  • The Holdco will enable PSEs to monetise their non-core assets at remunerative prices, maximise their enterprise value and focus on their core businesses.
  • The ₹30,168 crore loans that CPSEs have extended to employees, vendors and associates may be securitised or refinanced, with CPSEs guaranteeing loans extended to weak counterparties.
  • Excess liquidity with PSEs: It is essential that businesses maintain liquidity, especially during a downturn. However, the outstanding cash and bank deposits of the 15 CPSEs (₹64,253 crore) is in excess of their operating requirements.
  • CPSEs must determine the cash they require to meet, say, six months of operating expenses and use the excess cash to repay statutory dues and upstream dividends to the GoI.
  • Banks must extend to CPSEs committed lines of credit that the latter may draw down during exigencies.
  • Financial investments of PSEs be transferred to HOLDCO: The 15 CPSEs have accumulated ₹93,562 crore financial investments comprising listed and unlisted debt, equity and mutual fund units.
  • These exclude investments in associates and joint ventures.
  • The CPSEs ought to transfer these investments to Holdco, which can manage the portfolio and transfer the returns to the original investors.
  • Real estate holdings of PSEs: One important non-core asset, whose value is likely to exceed the combined value of other non-core assets, is the real estate holdings of PSEs.
  • In September 2018, the GoI identified properties of nine PSEs (Air India, Pawan Hans, Hindustan Fluorocarbons, Hindustan Newsprint, Bharat Pumps & Compressors, Scooters India, Bridge and Roof Co, Hindustan Prefab, and Projects & Development India) to be divested.
  • The GoI must mandate all PSEs and government departments to transfer their non-core properties to Holdco, which can opportunistically sell these properties and transfer the proceeds to the owners.

Refrain from asking RBI to pay more dividend

  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has allocated ₹1 lakh crore to carry out long-term repo operations in tranches and has reduced the repo rates by 75 basis points to 4.4% to help banks augment their liquidity in the wake of the pandemic.
  • Recognising the RBI’s liquidity requirements, the GoI must refrain from asking the RBI to pay more dividends that it can viably pay.
  • During the five years ending on June 30, 2019, the RBI paid the GoI 100% of its net disposable income, with its FY2019 dividends more than trebling to ₹1.76 lakh crore from ₹50,000 crore in FY2018.
  • The Bimal Jalan panel constituted in 2019 to review the RBI’s economic capital framework opined that the RBI may pay interim dividends only under exceptional circumstances and that unrealised gains in the valuation of RBI’s assets ought to be used as risk buffers against market risks and may not be paid as dividends.

Conclusion

The Bimal Jalan panel recommendation must be adhered to in letter and spirit. The GoI may finance the COVID-19 rescue package by issuing GDP-linked bonds, tapping PSEs’ excess liquidity and monetising non-core assets.

Finance Commission – Issues related to devolution of resources

Needed, greater decentralisation of powerop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Federal system.

Mains level : Paper 2-Why it is said that there is a paradox in the federal system of India? Covid-19 has highlighted the need for decentralisation in India.


Context

Even as States have taken up positions of leadership in the pandemic response, federal limitations are becoming hurdles.

State governments at the position of leadership

  • In the fight against the pandemic, one of the striking features of governance has been the signal role played by State Chief Ministers across India.
  • Proactive measures: Even before the Union government invoked the Disaster Management Act, 2005, many State governments triggered the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and installed a series of measures to combat what was then an oncoming onslaught of COVID-19.
  • These actions have not always been perfect. Some of them have even disproportionately trenched upon basic civil liberties.
  • But, by and large, they have been tailored to the reality faced on the ground by the respective governments.
  • Policies to address local concerns: States such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and Karnataka have shaped their policies to address their direct, local concerns.
  • They have communicated these decisions to the public with clarity and consideration, helping, in the process, to lay out a broad framework for the nation.
  • Not just the laboratories of democracy: In doing so, they have acted not merely as “laboratories of democracy”, to paraphrase the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, but also as founts of reasoned authority.

Federal arrangements placing limitations on the states

  • Equally, though, as much as State governments have taken up positions of leadership, they have repeatedly found themselves throttled by the limitations of the extant federal arrangement.
  • The Centre for Policy Research has pointed out at least three specific limitations.
  • Funds and structuring own package: The inability of States to access funds and thereby structure their own welfare packages.
  • Curbs imposed by PFMS: The curbs imposed by a public finance management system (PFMS) that is mired in officialdom.
  • This has prevented States from easily and swiftly making payments for the purchase of health-care apparatus such as ventilators and personal protective equipment.
  • Disruption of supply chains: Three, the colossal disruption of supply chains not only of essential goods and services but also of other systems of production and distribution, which has placed States in a position of grave economic uncertainty.
  • Need to decentralise: As these limitations demonstrate an urgent need to decentralise administration, where States — and local bodies acting through such governments — are allowed greater managerial freedom.
  • Under such a model, the Union government will command less but coordinate more.

Indian federalism-two distinct levels

  • There are varying accounts of what Indian federalism truly demands.
  • Two levels: What is manifest from a reading of the Constitution is that it creates two distinct levels of government: one at the Centre and the other at each of the States.
  • The Seventh Schedule to the Constitution divides responsibilities between these two layers.
  • The Union government is tasked with matters of national importance, such as foreign affairs, defence, and airways.
  • But the responsibilities vested with the States are no less important. Issues concerning public health and sanitation, agriculture, public order, and police, among other things, have each been assigned to State governments.
  • In these domains, the States’ power is plenary.
  • This federal architecture is fortified by a bicameral Parliament.
  • Significantly, this bicameralism is not achieved through a simple demarcation of two separate houses, but through a creation of two distinct chambers that choose their members differently-
  • A House of the People [Lok Sabha] comprising directly elected representatives and a Council of States [Rajya Sabha] comprising members elected by the legislatures of the States.

Financial autonomy of the states

  • Ensuring financial autonomy: In formulating this scheme of equal partnership, the framers were also conscious of a need to make States financially autonomous.
  • No overlap: To that end, when they divided the power to tax between the two layers of government they took care to ensure that the authority of the Union and the States did not overlap.
  • Therefore, while the Centre, for example, was accorded the power to tax all income other than agricultural income and to levy indirect taxes in the form of customs and excise duties, the sole power to tax the sale of goods and the entry of goods into a State was vested in the State governments.
  • The underlying rationale was simple: States had to be guaranteed fiscal dominion to enable them to mould their policies according to the needs of their people.

History of paradox in federal system of India

  • Despite this plainly drawn arrangement, the history of our constitutional practice has been something of a paradox.
  • It is invariably at the level of the States that real development has fructified.
  • But the Union has repeatedly displayed a desire to treat States, as the Supreme Court said in R. Bommai v. Union of India, as mere “appendages of the Centre”.
  • Time and again, efforts have been made to centralise financial and administrative power, to take away from the States their ability to act independently and freely.
  • Following five examples demonstrated that the point made here.

1 Matters of finance-what was expected in theory did not realise

  • Consider the widely hailed decision to accept the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendation for an increase in the share of the States in total tax revenues from 32% to 42%.
  • While, in theory, this ought to have enabled the States to significantly increase their own spending, in reality, as a paper authored by Amar Nath H.K. and Alka Singh of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy suggests, this has not happened.
  • What went wrong? Gains made by the States, as the paper underlines, have been entirely offset by a simultaneous decline in share of grants and by a concomitant increase in the States’ own contribution towards expenditures on centrally sponsored schemes.

2. Goods and Service Tax

  • The decline in the sovereignty of the states: Notably, the creation of a Goods and Services Tax regime, which far from achieving its core purpose of uniformity has rendered nugatory the internal sovereignty vested in the States.
  • By striking at the Constitution’s federal edifice, it has made the very survival of the States dependent on the grace of the Union.
  • The tension today is so palpable that a number of the States are reported to have written to the Union Finance Ministry.
  • More than four months’ worth of Goods and Services Tax compensation to the States — reportedly totalling about a sum of ₹40,000 crore — remains unreleased.

3. Passing a bill as a money bill

  • The Union government’s centralising instinct, though, has not been restricted to matters of finance.
  • It has also introduced a slew of legislation as money bills, in a bid to bypass the Rajya Sabha’s sanction, even though these laws scarcely fit the constitutional definition.

4. Role of the Governors

  • Similarly, the role of the Governors has been weaponised to consolidate political power.

5. Article 370

  • But perhaps most egregious among the moves made is the gutting of Article 370 and the division of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.
  • It was done without securing consent from the State Legislative Assembly.

Conclusion

Perhaps a crisis of the kind that COVID-19 has wrought will show us that India needs greater decentralisation of power; that administration through a single central executive unit is unsuited to its diverse and heterogeneous polity. We cannot continue to regard the intricate niceties of our federal structure as a nettlesome trifle. In seeing it thus, we are reducing the promise of Article 1 of the Constitution, of an India that is a Union of States, to an illusory dream.

Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Is e-NAM portal capable of supporting farmers?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : e-NAM

Mains level : Read the attached story


Context

  • The union government has launched new features in electronic agriculture market platform (e-NAM), to decongest wholesale markets amid coronavirus threat.
  • Whether these features would solve the problems of farmers is a matter of question.

What is e-NAM?

  • eNAM platform is an online trading platform for agricultural commodities in India.
  • It was launched on April 14, 2016 as a pan-India electronic trade portal linking agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) across all states.
  • It facilitates farmers, traders and buyers with online trading in commodities.
  • It helps in better price discovery and provides facilities for smooth marketing of their produce.

Trading on e-NAM

  • Over 90 commodities including staple food grains, vegetables and fruits are currently listed in its list of commodities available for trade.
  • The farmer needs to upload details of his produce and a photo of the harvest on the platform.
  • It actually provided for evaluation and grading of produce.

Why farmers don’t prefer e-NAM?

  • Lack of internet connectivity is another issue impeding progress.
  • Farmers feel more comfortable with physical trading rather than going online as they face issues with transportation for their produce.
  • Only 8.42 per cent of the total mandis are connected through the e-NAM platform.

Issues with grading

  • There are no scientific sorting/grading facilities or quality testing machines.
  • The grading process makes farmers bring a sample of their produce that is evaluated and graded by agricultural assessors.
  • A report on the sample can be accessed by any buyer in any state before making the purchase, once graded by assessors.
  • The government realized the complexities allowed for gradation from a warehouse nearest to them and farmers need not commute to a mandi from remote areas.
  • It is, however, still not clear whether produce can be graded at the warehouse or not.

 

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

India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness PackagePriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation


The Centre has approved a centrally funded ‘India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package’ with the objective of strengthening national and state health systems.

About the Package

  • The package is 100 per cent centrally funded project under the National Health Mission.
  • It will be implemented in three phases from January 2020 to March 2024.
  • It aims at strengthening national and state health systems to support prevention and preparedness, procurement of essential medical equipment, consumables and drugs, etc.
  • The three phases of the project are Phase – 1 from January 2020 to June 2020, the second phase is from July 2020 to March 2021 and the third phase from April 2021 to March 2024.

What are the major activities planned under this package?

  • The key activities to be implemented under Phase -1 includes support to states/UTs for the development of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals and other hospitals, isolation blocks, negative pressure isolation rooms, ICUs with ventilators, the oxygen supply in hospitals etc..
  • The central package will also assist the state/ UTs for the Procurement of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), N95 masks and ventilators, over and above what is being procured and supplied by the govt.
  • The activities under the first phase also include the disinfection of hospitals, government ambulances, etc.
Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

[pib] Chitra Acrylosorb Secretion Solidification SystemPIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Acrylosorb

Mains level : Advanced materials and thier applications


Scientists at Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) have designed and developed a highly efficient superabsorbent material for liquid respiratory and other body fluid solidification and disinfection for the safe management of infected respiratory secretions.

 Chitra Acrylosorb Secretion Solidification System

  • It is a highly efficient superabsorbent material for liquid respiratory and other body fluid solidification and disinfection.
  • AcryloSorb can absorb liquids at least 20 times more than its dry weight and also contains a decontaminant for in situ disinfection.
  • Containers filled with this material will immobilize the contaminated fluid by solidifying it (gel-like), thus avoiding spillage and will also disinfect it.
  • The canister containing the solidified waste canister can then be decomposed as all other biomedical waste by incineration.

How it works?

  • In the developed system, suction canisters, disposable spit bags have been designed with “AcryloSorb” technology.
  • They are lined inside with the AcryloSorb material.
  • The AcryloSorb suction canisters will collect the liquid respiratory secretions from ICU patients or those with copious secretions treated in the wards.
  • The container will be spill-proof and can be sealed after use, making it safe and fit for disposal through the usual incineration system for biomedical wastes.

Significance of Acrylosorb

  • Sealable and disposable spit bags can be provided for solidifying the sputum and saliva of ambulant patients with respiratory infections, which can then be incinerated.
  • Thus it reduces the risk for the hospital staff, the need for personnel for disinfecting and cleaning the bottles and canisters for reusing them and makes the disposal safer and easier.
Digital India Initiatives

[pib] Integrated Government Online Training (iGOT)PIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : iGOT portal, DIKSHA Portal

Mains level : Not Much


The Union govt. has launched a training module for management of COVID-19 named ‘Integrated Government Online training’ (iGOT) on DIKSHA platform of MHRD.

About iGOT

  • It is training module for management of COVID-19 on DIKSHA platform for the capacity building of frontline workers to handle the COVID-19 pandemic efficiently.
  • Courses on iGOT have been launched specially for Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics, Hygiene Workers, Technicians, Auxiliary Nursing Midwives (ANMs), State Government Officers, Civil Defence Officers, Various Police Organisations.
  • They are also available to NCC corps, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), NSS volunteers, Indian Red Cross Society, Bharat Scouts and Guides and other volunteers at the stage.

Back2Basics: DIKSHA Portal

  • HRD ministry has launched Diksha Portal (diksha.gov.in) for providing a digital platform to a teacher to make their lifestyle more digital.
  • It aims to serve as National Digital Infrastructure for Teachers.
  • The portal will cover the whole teacher’s life cycle – from the time they were enrolled as student teachers in Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) to after they retire as teachers.
  • It will enable, accelerate and amplify solutions in the realm of teacher education. It will aid teachers to learn and train themselves for which assessment resources will be available.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[pib] Kendriya BhandarPIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kendriya Bhandar

Mains level : Not Much


Kendriya Bhandar which functions under the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has taken the unique initiative of providing “Essentials Kits” to needy families during the ongoing lockdown.

About Kendriya Bhandar

  • The Central Govt. Employees Consumer Cooperative Society Ltd. is popularly known as Kendriya Bhandar.
  • It was set up in 1963 as a welfare project for the benefit of Central Govt. employees and public at large.
  • It is functioning under aegis of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions and was registered with Delhi Registrar of Cooperative Societies.
  • Subsequently, it was registered with Central Registrar of Cooperative Societies, Govt. of India as a Multi-State Consumer Cooperative Society in September 2000.