Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

How India can combat vaccine hesitancy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Dealing with vaccine hesitancy

The article deals with the issue of vaccine hesitancy in India and suggests ways to deal with it.

Reoriented vaccine policy

  • The foremost challenge in vaccination in India has been a supply deficit.
  • Announcing a reoriented vaccine policy recently, the Prime Minister announced a coherent path forward.
  • Starting from June 21, the Union government will take charge of 75 per cent of the total procurement, and provide vaccines to states at no cost.
  • The government has reserved 30 crore vaccines with Hyderabad-based Biological-E by facilitating an advance payment of Rs 1,500 crore.
  • Fortnightly updates on the supply of vaccines to states are being taken to ensure transparency and efficiency in planning.

Dealing with two complex challenges

  • Two other complex challenges that need immediate focus are vaccine hesitancy and the much-discussed digital divide in the country.

1) Challenge of vaccine hesitancy

  • Contextualised and curated approaches are crucial.
  • The WHO has put forth the BeSD (behavioural and social drivers) vaccination model, which emphasises “motivation” as the vanguard of human psychology during a vaccination drive.
  • Vaccination coverage could be increased by incentivising and motivating citizens.
  • Unfortunately, in India, misinformation, disinformation and misplaced beliefs have led to fears about the potential harmful effects of vaccines.
  • The diversity of India necessitates community engagement at the local level to counter this narrative of misinformation.
  • A successful information campaign requires dissemination through mediums that invoke trust.
  • Local languages and dialects should be used to engage people via local radio, television channels and regional newspapers.
  • Another network that can be leveraged at the district level is that of the ASHA workers and the auxiliary nurse-midwives.
  • These are trusted local figures.

2) Bridging the digital divide

  • It is important to introduce solutions that bridge the digital divide.
  • A toll-free helpline number 1075 has been activated for those without internet.
  • Similarly, districts can explore missed-call campaigns, which could ensure that minimal infrastructure is being optimised for processing high-volume user requests.
  • Even though the reported adverse events following immunisation stands at only 0.012 per cent, dedicated representatives can provide vaccine-related pre- and post-counselling to individuals.

Way forward

Startups could help bridge digital divide

  • The devastating effects of the second wave in rural areas have prompted fintech startups to enable vaccine registration.
  • PayNearby has helped over 8 lakh citizens register through its network of agents called “digital pradhans”, who are present in kirana, ration, mobile and hardware stores, frequented regularly by rural users. 

Use points of contact for publicising benefits of vaccine and registration

  • Almost 81 crore beneficiaries, 75 per cent of whom are in rural areas, procure ration from 5,46,165 fair price shops across India.
  • There are over 11 lakh business correspondent outlets in India working mostly in rural areas to advance the mission of financial inclusion.
  • A network of around 1,54,965 post offices (as on March 2017) exists in India of which 1,39,067 are in the rural areas.
  • Such points of contact can be leveraged as dedicated units for publicising the benefits of Covid vaccines and as physical locations for vaccine registration

Direct engagement with citizens

  • The Prime Minister recently described district officials as “field commanders” in our efforts against Covid.
  • This ambit should move beyond just the district bureaucracy to the extensive network of public services. 
  • A stellar example of direct engagement also stems from the success of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
  • Direct engagement with citizens contributed greatly to the operational success of previous immunisation campaigns like the pulse polio programme.

Consider the question “What are the factors responsible for vaccine hesitency? Suggest the ways to deal with it.”

Conclusion

Thinking local and utilising established networks to create culturally resonant messages is the need of the hour to reduce vaccine hesitancy, bridge the digital divide and achieve vaccine saturation.

 

G20 : Economic Cooperation ahead

Can the G-7 give new direction to globalisation?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : G-7 countries

Mains level : Paper 2- Relevance of G-7

The article highlights the challenges associated with the globalisation and important role G-7 can play in dealing with these challenges.

The context that makes this G-7 Summit significant

  • The most significant expectation of the summit is that it will help determine the shape of globalisation.
  • There has been much discussion of the possibility of the G-7 pushing for global coordination on minimum corporate taxation.
  • The summit also seeks to redefine the broader relationship between states and markets in three ways.

Redefining the relationship between states and market in 3 ways

1) States reasserting the control over markets

  • States are reasserting control over the terms on which markets operate.
  • The idea of Neoliberalism did convey the idea that states should follow where the market leads, or step in only where there is a market failure.
  • However, this account of the relationship between states and markets had four harmful consequences.
  • 1) It provided a misleading picture of what makes economies vibrant.
  • 2) It led to a sense of loss of collective control over our economic future.
  • 3) It led to great inequality.
  • 4) In some fields like technology, it created new forms of corporate power.
  • To reverse some of these consequences, some coordination at the global level on taxation, or treatment of technology monopolies etc is required.

2) Global interdependence cannot be managed without global public goods

  • At one level the global roles of the G-7 or even the G-20 were something like the political steering committee for global capitalism.
  • Their most useful political roles were during the financial crisis, when global financial coordination was required.
  • But there was relatively little attention to the systemic vulnerabilities that globalisation might create.
  • These could be vulnerabilities because of the way supply chains were distributed, or those that arose from the creation of winners and losers within globalisation.
  • Most importantly, there was short shrift given to global public goods like health.
  • The Covid crisis has reminded us of all of these vulnerabilities.
  • The commitment of G-7 to provide one billion vaccine doses is a welcome step.
  • But whether this crisis-driven commitment will translate into an enduring and just framework for providing global public goods on health and environment remains to be seen.

3) Geopolitical context

  •  There are two geopolitical “cold wars” that cast a shadow on the G-7.
  • The first involves China.
  • In the context of rising geopolitical tensions with China, greater coordination and unity of purpose amongst the G-7 will become more important.
  • The second is a threat of authoritarian disruption.
  • Greater global disarray strengthens the possibility of giving political support to these political tendencies.
  • It is important, therefore, to demonstrate that the G-7 countries are part of a functional democratic civilisation.

Challenges ahead

  • Despite the directional changes, many of the central distributive conflicts that beset globalisation are likely to continue.
  • The talk of global public goods works only in a context where the advanced economies are at the receiving end.
  • Take the G-7 proposal for the coordination of taxation.
  • In principle, this is not a bad idea, if it can close off tax havens and prevent a global race to the bottom.
  • However, it is sobering to read the Tax Justice Network’s “The State of Tax Justice Report” 2020.
  • According to this report, the United States, Netherlands and United Kingdom are three of the top five countries (along with Cayman Islands and Luxembourg) responsible for tax losses inflicted on other countries.
  • The US, Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong are amongst the highest on the Financial Secrecy Index.
  • So, the visible corporate tax rate, or taxing at point of sales, may just be the window dressing the global tax problem that allows countries to hold onto their privileges.
  • Similarly, on climate change. There is a lot of encouraging talk of ambitious targets, investment-led transformations.
  • Intelligently done, this might be for the good.
  • But it could also repeat the familiar pattern of regulation serving to preserve the dominance of advanced economies.
  • There is also, in the talk of a new global economic order, the curious absence of discussions on finance.
  • But if one is looking at potential sources of vulnerability, the ability to create winners and losers, and possible threats to global resilience, then regulation and coordination of global finance deserve more attention.

Consider the question “What are the vulnerabilities associated with globalisation. Suggest the solutions to deal with these vulnerabilities.”

Conclusion

If the G-7 wants to truly exercise more leadership, it will have to convince the world that all its wonderful new principles, resilience, inclusion, global public goods, are not simply ruses to serve only the interests of the developed world.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

The sustainability pressure on companies

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Sustainability pressure on companies

The article discusses the three undercurrents that are pushing companies to adopt more sustainable business models.

Demand for sustainable business practices

  • Companies across the world are facing pressure to adopt sustainable business practices.
  • In a global first, a judicial court in the Netherlands has invoked the principles of human rights obligations of companies to rule that the Royal Dutch Shell will have to further accelerate its targeted reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission.
  •  The shareholders of Chevron forced upon the management a resolution to set strict emission targets from the products that it sells.
  • The German cabinet approved a law that requires all coal-fired plants to close down much earlier than the target date set only eighteen months ago.
  • In India, the SEBI came out with a new set of Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (BRSR).
  • BRSR will be mandatory for the top 1,000 companies from the next year.

Three factors driving the change

1) Investors’ pull

  • Workers saving for their pension do not want their investments to go to companies whose tailings-dam can burst and cause hundreds of death in Brazil.
  • Investors also realise the long-term business risk of companies if sustainability isn’t a focus.

2) Governments’/regulators’ push

  • In 2021, the US announced that it will cut emissions by over 50% by 2030.
  • Japan has almost doubled its 2030 targets.
  • The UK has now announced a target to cut 40-45% by the same time, from the earlier goal of a 30%-cut.
  • China has announced that its emissions will peak by 2030, and by 2060, it would have net zero emissions.
  • India is expected by the global community to announce net-zero by 2050.
  • All of these have huge implications not only for hydrocarbon companies but across multiple sectors.
  • Banking regulators are asking banks to include climate in the risk assessment of the companies they lend to.
  • Insurance and pension regulators are raising similar questions in their sector.

3) Measurement/reporting

  • When sustainability debates picked up, many organisations like CDP, CDSB, PRI, GRI, TCFD, IMP, IIRC, SASB, etc, sprang up to fulfill the need for sustainability reporting.
  • Often, these worked at cross purposes and in competition with each other, leading to ‘greenwashing’ and other malpractices and creating confusion in the minds of investors.
  • But, the realisation that the investors need a set of comparable and verifiable reporting formats has gathered momentum in the past one year.
  • The last excuse to avoid focus on sustainable business practices will also wither away.

Consider the question “Financial capital is just one of the multiple capitals a successful company must possess. This brings sustainability into the focus. In light of this, discuss the factors that are forcing the companies to factor in the sustainability in their business models.”

Conclusion

The decades-old debate on environmental damage and sustainability is now reaching a decisive phase. Companies need to factor in the sustainability aspect in their profit calculus to remain relevant in changing world.


Source:

https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/the-sustainability-heat-on-companies/2268494/

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

What Centre must do to meet the economic challenges

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tax buoyancy

Mains level : Paper 3- Dealing with the challenge of Covid second wave

The article takes an overview of the fiscal and monetary challenges posed by the second covid wave and suggest ensuring the availability of liquidity.

GDP projections need to be re-examined

  •  According to NSO’s provisional estimates for 2020-21, the annual contraction in real GDP turned out to be 7.3 per cent.
  • The erstwhile GDP growth projections for 2021-22 are being re-examined to take into account the adverse impact of the second wave of the pandemic.
  • The RBI has revised down its 2021-22 real GDP growth forecast to 9.5 per cent.
  • Some other recent estimates (ICRA) indicate the feasibility of a 9 per cent growth.
  •  It is also important to consider nominal GDP growth for 2021-22 since that would be a critical determinant of fiscal prospects. 
  • In the light of supply-side and cost-push pressures, the RBI has projected CPI inflation at 5.1 per cent.
  • The nominal GDP growth may be projected at 13.4 per cent, that is, 1 percentage point lower than Centre’s budget assumption of 14.4 per cent.

Fiscal aggregates

  • The Controller General of Accounts’ data indicate a gross tax revenues (GTR) of Rs 20.2 lakh crore and net tax revenue of Rs 14.2 lakh crore for 2020-21. 
  • The likely growth in GTR for 2021-22 may be derived by applying a buoyancy of 0.9.
  • This gives a tax revenue growth of 12 per cent, translating that to projected gross and net tax revenues for 2021-22 would mean Rs 22.7 lakh crore and Rs 15.8 lakh crore respectively. 
  • This implies some additional net tax revenues to the Centre amounting to Rs 0.35 lakh crore as compared to the budgeted magnitudes.
  • The main expected shortfall may still be in non-tax revenues and non-debt capital receipts.
  • According to the CGA numbers, their 2020-21 levels are respectively Rs 2.1 lakh crore and Rs 0.57 lakh crore.
  • Applying a growth rate of 15 per cent on these, a shortfall in 2021-22 to the tune of Rs 1.3 lakh crore may arise in non-tax revenues and non-debt capital receipts.

So, how much would be the Fiscal Deficit?

  • The growth rates of non-tax revenues and and non-debt capital receipts average to a little lower than 15 per cent during the five years preceding 2020-21.
  • In any case, the large budgeted growth of 304 per cent in non-debt capital receipts for 2021-22 seems quite unlikely because of the challenges posed by the second wave.
  • Taking into account RBI’s recently announced dividend of Rs 0.99 lakh crore to the Centre, the main shortfall may be in non-debt capital receipts.
  • Together, the overall shortfall in total non-debt receipts may be limited to about Rs 0.9 lakh crore, or 0.4 per cent of estimated nominal GDP.
  • This indicates that a slippage, if any, in the budgeted fiscal deficit of 6.7 per cent of GDP, as revised in view of the recently released GDP data, could be a limited one.

Way forward: Prioritise three heads

  • First, an increase in the provision for income support measures for the vulnerable rural and urban population.
  • Second, in light of the recent decision, the budgeted expenditure on vaccination of Rs 0.35 lakh crore ought to be augmented, at the very least, doubled.
  • Third, additional capital expenditure for select sectors, particularly healthcare, should also be provided for.
  • Together these additional expenditures would amount to Rs 1.7 lakh crore, about 0.8 per cent of the estimated nominal GDP.
  • Thus, we need to plan for a fiscal deficit of about 7.9 per cent of GDP.

Borrowing programme would need RBIs support

  • The Centre has announced borrowings of Rs 1.6 lakh crore to meet the shortfall in the GST compensation cess.
  • Given the higher fiscal deficit, it would need to add to its borrowing programme another Rs 2.6 lakh crore, taking the total borrowing, including GST compensation, to about Rs 16.3 lakh crore, from Rs 12.05 lakh crore now.
  • Borrowing by states would be in addition to this.
  • The net result will be an unprecedented borrowing programme by the Centre which may require RBI’s support.
  • RBI is injecting liquidity into the system through various channels.
  • Banks have sufficient liquidity to subscribe to new debt.
  • This is indirect monetisation of debt.
  • This is not new, but the scale is much higher.
  • Direct monetisation is best avoided.
  • The success of the borrowing programme of the Centre depends on the support provided by the RBI.
  • The support need not be direct.
  • It can be indirect as is currently happening. RBI is injecting liquidity into the system in a big way.
  • Despite this, the money multiplier is low.
  • This may be attributed to two reasons: Low credit expansion and larger leakage in the form of currency.
  • The potential for money supply growth is large.
  • The discussion in the monetary policy statement on inflation is focused entirely on supply availability and bottlenecks in the distribution of commodities.
  • The output gap is certainly relevant.
  • But equally relevant in an analysis of inflation is liquidity in the system, and its impact on output and prices with lags.
  • The injection of liquidity has its limits.

Conclusion

With higher expenditure, financed through borrowings, the impact of liquidity expansion on inflation needs to be monitored.

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Issues with special treatment of states with higher contribution to GST pool

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GST Council

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues with special treatment to states contributing more to GST pool

The article highlights the issues with the demand for special treatment of states with higher contribution to GST pool.

Debate on GST

  • The issue of GST concessions on COVID relief has brought into focus the structural flaws in the GST structure.
  • In this process, the structure and design of GST — essentially a tax on consumption — is being questioned.
  • The issue of  “rich” states versus “poor” ones, the decision-making process in the GST Council, and the representation of various states in the Council have also come into the focus.

Why States should be treated equally in GST Council

1) Consensus on GST

  • The structure and design of GST and its basic features, as enshrined in the 101st Constitution Amendment Act, were unanimously adopted and endorsed by Parliament.
  • The broader and finer points of the law, were thoroughly discussed and debated and recommended by the GST Council after a complete consensus.
  • These were further debated and approved by not only Parliament but also by each of the state legislatures.
  • There was complete consensus even on the issue of delegated legislation — something unheard of in a federal environment.

2) Equality of all states

  • In this process of consensus building, no state was accorded even the slightest of special privilege.
  • That is why the consensus surrounding GST was unprecedented whether in India or any other federation.
  • Therefore, arguing for special treatment of some states is a dangerous idea, particularly in governance, and more so in a welfare state.
  • For, this would open the gates for elitist arguments such as special rights for bigger taxpayers, unequal voting rights in elections and preferential treatment for a select few.

3) Issues with greater contribution to GST revenue pool

  • It is not correct to argue that the GST collected in a state represents the revenue of that particular state for, under the GST mechanism, the tax deposited by a taxpayer in a state is a function of largely the value of supplies made by such taxpayer.
  • Approximately 50 per cent at the aggregate level and much higher at the state level of such values are of an inter-state nature.
  • In other words, most supplies made from any producing state are consumed elsewhere and the revenue in such a situation naturally and rightfully accrues to the destination state.

4) No transfers based on a formula

  • It is equally fallacious to argue that under GST, most of the revenue is collected by the Union and is transferred to the states on the basis of some formula.
  • The quantum of IGST revenue that is settled to any state is directly related to the returns filed in that state and the cross utilisation of credit exhibited in such returns; part of this settlement also comprises tax on supplies destined to that state, as exhibited in the returns of such suppliers.
  • There is no “formula” as such for “transfer” of revenue collected by the Centre. Instead, such “transfers” are directly relatable to the consumption (whether intermediate or final) in any state.

5) Locational or geographical advantage

  • There is another dimension to the higher revenue collection in a few states.
  • One may note that such states enjoy locational or geographical advantages, being mostly coastal and immensely suited to the needs of trade and distribution as also manufacturing.
  • Also, the disadvantage to such states on account of lower availability of certain vital minerals like coal and iron ore was undone by the principle of freight equalisation resorted to in the years following Independence.
  • This contributed, in no small measure, to the development of such states.

6) Unequal transfers of Central receipts

  • The argument of unequal transfers of central receipts also does not hold water, either in India or in any other federation.
  • As is well known, such transfers are intended for correcting horizontal fiscal imbalances in a federation.

Conclusion

We should thus concentrate on carrying forward the glorious traditions of perhaps the only institution of co-operative federalism that we have been able to build so far.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

South Asia’s healthcare burden

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Need for investment in public healthcare in South Asia

The article contrasts the public healthcare system in South Asian countries with that of their Southeast Asian peers and highlights the shortcomings.

Subpar public healthcare system

  • Super spreader events, a fragile health infrastructure neglected for decades, citizens not following health protocols, and logistical mismanagement were the factors responsible for the destruction in the second Covid-19 wave.
  • What has exacerbated the situation is a subpar public healthcare system running on a meagre contribution of a little over 1% of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • While the private medical sector is booming, the public healthcare sector has been operating at a pitiful 0.08 doctors per 1,000 people, World Health Organization’s (WHO) prescribed standard ois1:1000.
  • India has only half a bed available for every 1,000 people, which is a deficient figure even for normal days.
  • Bangladesh and Pakistan fare no better, with a bed to patient ratio of 0.8 and 0.6, respectively, and a doctor availability of less than one for every 1,000 people.
  • While ideally, out-of-pocket expenditure should not surpass 15% to 20% of the total health expenditure, for India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, this figure stands at an appalling 62.67%, 73.87% and 56.24%, respectively.

Lack of investment in healthcare

  • Major public sector investments by the ‘big three’ of South Asia, i.e., India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are towards infrastructure and defence, with health taking a backseat.
  • While India has the world’s third-largest military expenditure, its health budget is the fourth-lowest.
  • Indian government in this year’s budget highlighted an increase of 137% in health and well-being expenditure, a closer look reveals a mismatch between facts and figures.
  • In Pakistan, even amidst the pandemic, the defence budget was increased while the spending on health remained around $151 million.
  • Not too far behind is Bangladesh, with decades of underfunding culminating in a crumbling public healthcare system.
  • Major public sector investments by the ‘big three’ of South Asia, i.e., India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are towards infrastructure and defence, with health taking a backseat.
  • A quick look at pre-pandemic sectoral allocations explains the chronically low status of human development indicators in the three countries.

Learning from Southeast Asia

  • Southeast Asia has prioritised investments in healthcare systems while broadening equitable access through universal health coverage schemes.
  • Vietnam’s preventive measures focused on investments in disease surveillance and emergency response mechanisms.
  • Even countries like Laos and Cambodia are making a constant effort towards improving the healthcare ecosystem.
  • All have done much better than their South Asian peers.

Conclusion

Learning from the devastation unleashed by the pandemic, South Asian countries must step up investment in their public healthcare sectors to make them sustainable, up to date and pro-poor; most importantly, the system should not turn its back on citizens.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Holding states to account

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Scrutinising the States

The article highlights the excessive focus on the Union government and the lack of scrutiny of the functioning of the States in various areas.

Need for focus on the States

  • In discussions on reforms or debates about public expenditure, there is an excessive focus on the Union government.
  • This focus reflects our mindset that there is a “Centre”, though constitutionally, there is no “Centre”. There is the Union government.
  • There is not as much interest in State Finance Commissions and their recommendations as it is in the Union Finance Commission’s recommendations.
  • Alternatively, there is limited scrutiny of state-level expenditure, or fiscal devolution and decentralisation of decision-making within states, or tracking functioning of state legislatures.
  • Most factor markets we seek to reform are on the concurrent list or the state list.

The Annual Review of State Laws 2020: Key findings

  • PRS Legislative Research published this report and it focuses on the legislative work performed by states in the calendar year 2020.
  • The annual review has been done in the pandemic year as 2020 saw the first wave of the pandemic.
  • It covers 19 state legislatures, including the Union territory of Delhi, which together accounts for 90 per cent of the population of the country.

1) Low Productivity

  • As a benchmark, the Parliament met for 33 days in 2020.
  • Pre-2020, these 19 states met for an average of 29 days a year.
  • In 2020, they met for an average of 18 days.
  • When they met in 2020, States passed an average of 22 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills).
  • Karnataka passed 61 Bills, the highest in the country.
  • The lowest was Delhi which passed one Bill, followed by West Bengal and Kerala, which passed two and three Bills respectively.

2) States pass Bills without scrutiny

  • The report states that the State legislatures pass most Bills without detailed scrutiny.
  • In 2020, 59 per cent of the Bills were passed on the same day that they were introduced in the legislature.
  • A further 14 per cent were passed within a day of being introduced.
  • In Parliament, Bills are often referred to Parliamentary Standing Committees for detailed examination.
  • In most states, such committees are non-existent.

3) Information not shared by the legislature

  • Information and data on state legislatures is not easily available.
  • While some state legislatures publish data on a regular basis, many do not have a systematic way of reporting legislative proceedings and business.”
  • Typically, information becomes available when countervailing pressure is generated.
  • Reports like this help to do that.

Consider the question “In discussions on reforms, or debates about public expenditure, there is an excessive focus on the Union government. However, on reforms and public expenditures, we also need to focus on scrutinising the states”. Comment.

 

Conclusion

Scrutinising States on various areas of their functioning is important to hold them accountable. The availability of data from state legislatures is an opportunity to monitor them better.

 

Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Protecting human rights in digital era

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Tackling disinformation

The article highlights the issues mentioned in the UNHRC report on disinformation and freedom of expression.

UNHRC Report: Upholding human rights helps dealing with falsehood

  • The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Special Rapporteur  submitted her report on “Disinformation and Freedom of Opinion and Expression” recently.
  • The UNHRC report specifically speaks of information disorder that arises from disinformation.
  • Impact of disinformation: Such information disorder leads to politically polarisation, hinders people from meaningfully exercising their human rights, and destroys their trust in governments and institutions.
  • Human rights provide a powerful and appropriate framework to challenge falsehoods and present alternative viewpoints.
  • Upholding human rights is useful in dealing with falsehood in two ways:
  • 1) Freedom of opinion and expression enables governance and development.
  • 2) Civil society, journalists and others are able to challenge falsehoods and present alternative viewpoints.
  • So, the report says that human rights friendly governance is both possible and doable; it is also desirable, as it protects political power against itself.

Review of the business model needed

  • The report asserts that reactive content moderation efforts” are unlikely to make any worthwhile difference in the absence of a serious review of the business model that underpins much of the drivers of disinformation and misinformation.
  • Problems of inconsistent application of companies’ terms of service, inadequate redress mechanisms and a lack of transparency and access to data re-emerge constantly.
  • Aalthough the platforms are global businesses, they do not appear to apply their policies consistently across all geographical areas or to uphold human rights in all jurisdictions to the same extent.

Need for legislative clarity on twin concept of misinformation and disinformation

  • The report highlights the lack of legislative and judicial clarity on the twin concepts of “disinformation” and “misinformation”.
  • It emphasises that the intention to harm is decisive to the disinformation.
  • “Disinformation” is false information disseminated intentionally to cause serious social harm.
  • In contrast, misinformation consists in the dissemination of false information unknowingly.
  • Nor are these terms to be used interchangeably.
  • Acknowledging the fact that “extremist or terrorist groups” frequently engage in the dissemination as part of their propaganda to radicalise and recruit members, the report disfavours any state response that adds to human rights concerns.

Other factors contributing to growth of disinformation

  • The growth of disinformation in recent times cannot be attributed solely to technology or malicious actors, according to the report.
  • Other factors such as digital transformation and competition from online platforms, state pressure, the absence of robust public information regimes, and digital and media literacy among the general public also matter.
  • Moreover, disinformation enhance the frustrations and grievances such as economic deprivation, market failures, political disenfranchisement, and social inequalities.
  • Disinformation is thus not the “cause but the consequence of societal crises and the breakdown of public trust in institutions”.
  • Strategies to address disinformation will succeed only when these underlying factors are tackled.

Issue of use of disinformation by states

  • A 2020 Oxford study of “Industrialised Disinformation” mentions that as many as “81 governments” use “social media to spread computational propaganda and disinformation about politics”.
  • Some authoritarian countries like Russia, China and Iran capitalised on coronavirus disinformation to amplify anti-democratic narratives.
  • Online disinformation also results in offline practices of violent social excursion on actually existing individuals and communities such as ethnic, gender, migrant, sexual minorities.

Consider the question “Reactive content moderation efforts are simply inadequate without a serious review of the business model that underpins much of the drivers of disinformation and misinformation on the social media platforms.” Critically examine.”

Conclusion

Will future itineraries of human rights in the digital era repeat past mistakes? The report offers grist to the mill for profound thought and conscientious action.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Bring genomic sequencing into the pandemic fight

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Variants of coronavirus

Mains level : Paper 3- Importance of genomic sequencing in dealing with the pandemic

The article highlights the importance of genomic sequencing in dealing effectively with the pandemic and suggest the scaling up of genomic sequencing.

Why genomic sequencing is important

  • An effective COVID-19 pandemic response requires, inter alia, keeping track of emerging variants and then conducting further studies about their transmissibility, immune escape and potential to cause severe disease.
  • The success of the United States and the United Kingdom in containing the virus also goes to scaled-up genomic sequencing, tracking the emerging variants and using that evidence for timely actions.
  • The data from genomic sequencing has both policy and operational implications.
  • Our scientific knowledge and understanding about emerging strains is going to be the key to deploy public health interventions (vaccines included) to fight the pandemic.
  • The emerging variants — with early evidence of higher transmissibility, immune escape and breakthrough infections — demand continuous re-thinking and re-strategising of the pandemic response by every country.

Insufficient genomic sequencing in India

  • Though the procedural steps such as setting up the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomic Consortia, or INSACOG have been taken, the sequencing has remained at a very low level of a few thousand cases only.
  • The challenge of insufficient genomic sequencing is further compounded by slow pace of data sharing.

Steps need to be taken

  • 1) Scale-up genomic sequencing: India needs to scale up genomic sequencing, across all States.
  •  More genomic sequencing is needed from large urban agglomerations.
  • A national-level analysis of collated genomic sequencing data should be done on a regular basis and findings shared publicly.
  • 2) Research on vaccine effectiveness: The Indian government needs to invest and support more scientific and operational research on vaccine effectiveness.
  • Rethink vaccine policy: There are early indications of immune escape and reduced vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant (especially after one-shot).
  • These are the questions that experts need to deliberate and come up with the answers.

Consider the question “What is genomic sequencing and how it could help in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic? Suggest the steps India need to take to use genomic sequencing in curbing the pandemic.”

Conclusion

As India prepares for the third wave, increasing genomic sequencing and use of scientific evidence for decision making are not a choice but an absolute essential.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Pushback against China more likely as Quad gains momentum

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Quad

Mains level : Paper 2- Pushback against China

The article discusses the future pushback against China in South Asia and Indo-Pacific as Quad gains more momentum. 

Context

Recently, the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jiming, warned Dhaka that there will be “substantial damage” in bilateral ties between China and Bangladesh if the latter joins the Quad.

Bangladesh’s reaction

  • Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen promptly and publicly challenged the Chinese envoy’s statement, underlining categorically that Dhaka pursues an independent foreign policy. 
  • That China’s remarks would reverberate far beyond South Asia was expected and perhaps intended.
  • The spokesperson of U.S. State Department remarked, “What we would say is that we respect Bangladesh’s sovereignty and we respect Bangladesh’s right to make foreign policy decisions for itself.”

Implications for South Asia and Info-Pacific

  • With its message to Bangladesh, Beijing was laying down a marker that nations should desist from engaging with the Quad.
  • This episode captures the emerging fault lines in South Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific.
  • For all its attempts to play down the relevance of the Quad, Beijing realises that the grouping, with all its weaknesses, is emerging as a reality and there is little it can do to prevent that.
  • And so, it is agitated about Quad’s future role and its potential success in offering the regional states an alternative to its own strong-arm tactics.

About Quad’s agenda

  • The Quad member states are figuring out a cohesive agenda amongst themselves and there are no plans for an expansion.
  • There is a desire to work with like-minded nations but that can only happen if the four members of the Quad can build a credible platform first.
  • Quad has not asked any country to join and no one has shown an interest.
  • But China wants to ensure that after failing in its initial attempt to prevent the Quad from gaining any traction.
  • Its message is well understood by other states who may harbour any desire of working closely with the Quad members.

Way forward

  • Beijing has failed to prevent nations from the West to the East from coming out with their Indo-Pacific strategies.
  • It has failed to prevent the operationalisation of the Quad, and now it might be worried about other nations in the region thinking of engaging with the Quad more proactively.
  • Even Bangladesh is planning to come out with its own Indo-Pacific strategy and Beijing has now warned Dhaka that a close cooperation with the Quad should not be part of the policy mix.
  •  As the Quad gains more momentum and the churn in the waters of the Indo-Pacific leads to new countervailing coalitions against China, Beijing’s belligerence can only be expected to grow.

Conclusion

Beijing is more likely to demand clear-cut foreign policy choices from its regional interlocutors, as its warning to Bangladesh underscores. But as Dhaka’s robust response makes it clear, states are more likely to push back than become subservient to Chinese largesse.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Opportunity to expand ties with West

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Opportunity for India to expand ties with the West

The article takes an overview of the growing convergence of India’s interest with the West in the changing geopolitical scenario and opportunities it offers to India.

Significance of G-7 Summit for India

  • Summit of the G-7, the Group of Seven industrial countries, will be hosted by the United Kingdom this week.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will participate digitally in this summit.
  • This participation also marks an important step towards a new global compact between India and the West.
  • The global financial crisis of 2008, the rapid rise of China, divisions within the West during the Trump years, and the chaotic response in North America and Europe to the Covid-19 pandemic, were the factors that indicated the decline of the West.
  • In his first tour abroad as the US president wants to demonstrate that the collective West is an enduring force to reckon with under renewed American leadership.
  • For India, the G-7 summit is an opportunity to expand the global dimension of India’s growing partnerships with the US and Europe.

Convergence of interests between India and the West

  • The challenges from an increasingly aggressive China, the urgency of mitigating climate change, and the construction of a post-pandemic international order are generating convergence between the interests of India and the West.
  • India’s current engagement with the G-7 is about global issues.
  • The idea of a global democratic coalition that is based more broadly than the geographic West has gained ground in recent years.
  • And India is at the very heart of that Western calculus.
  • For India, too, the G-7summit comes amidst intensifying strategic cooperation with the West.
  • This includes strong bilateral strategic cooperation with the US, France, UK as well as the Quad and the trilateral partnerships with France and Australia as well as Japan and Australia.
  • India has also stepped up its engagement with the European Union.

China factor

  • India’s increasing engagement with the US and the West has been triggered in part by the continuous deterioration of the relationship with China.
  • Besides the threat to territorial security, India finds that its hopes for strong global cooperation with China have taken a big beating in recent years.
  • China is the only great power that does not support India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council and blocks India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
  • At the end of the Cold War, India believed that China was a natural partner in the construction of a multipolar world.
  • India now can’t escape the conclusion that China is the greatest obstacle to India’s global aspirations and the West is an emerging partner.
  •  India has relied on Western support to fend off China’s effort to internationalise the Kashmir question after the 2019 constitutional changes.
  • India walked away from RCEP due to the growing trade imbalance with China and the negative impact of Chinese imports on India’s domestic manufacturing.
  • After China’s aggression in Ladakh last April, India has also sought to actively limit its exposure to Chinese investments and technology.

Way forward

  • The convergence of interests between India and the West does not mean the two sides will agree on everything.
  •  There are many areas of continuing divergence within the West — from the economic role of the state to the democratic regulation of social media and the technology giants.
  • It will surely not be easy translating the broad convergences between India and the West into tangible cooperation.
  • That would require sustained negotiations on converting shared interests.

Consider the question “The idea of a global democratic coalition that is based more broadly than the geographic West has gained ground in recent years. This offers India an opportunity to expand the global dimension of India’s growing partnerships with the US and Europe. Comment.”

Conclusion

While India continues to strengthen its partnerships in Asia and the global south, a more productive partnership with the West helps secure a growing array of India’s national interests and adds a new depth to India’s international relations.

Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Sustaining the welfare approach

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Performance of the current government in the past seven years

The article compares the performance of the present government under Prime Minister Modi with the first seven years of the Manmohan Singh government on various fronts.

Context

The current government completed seven years at the Centre recently. It is time to reflect and look back at its performance on basic economic parameters over the last seven years. It may also be interesting to compare and see how it fared vis-à-vis the first seven years of UPA government (2004-05 to 2010-11) under Manmohan Singh.

Analysing the progress by studying key economic indicator

1)  GDP growth

  • One of the key economic parameters is GDP growth.
  • It is not the most perfect one, as it does not capture specifically the impact on the poor, or on inequality.
  • But higher GDP growth is considered central to economic performance as it enlarges the size of the economic pie.
  • The average annual rate of growth of GDP under the Modi government so far has been just 4.8 per cent compared to 8.4 per cent during the first seven years of the Manmohan Singh government.
  • If this continues as business as usual, the dream of a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25 is not likely to be achieved.

2) Inflation

  • The Modi government scores much better on the inflation front with CPI (rural and urban combined) rising at 4.8 per cent per annum.
  • It is well within the tolerance limits of RBI’s targeted inflation band and also much lower than 7.8 per cent during the first seven years of the Manmohan Singh government.

3) Forex reserves

  • Also, at macro level, foreign exchange reserves provide resilience to the economy against any external shocks.
  • On this score too, the Modi government fares quite well with forex reserves rising from $313 billion on May 23, 2014 to $593 billion on May 21, 2021.

4) Food and agriculture

  • It engages the largest share of the workforce in the economy and matters most to poorer segments.
  • On the agri-front, both governments recorded an annual average growth of 3.5 per cent during their respective first seven years.
  • However, on the food and fertiliser subsidy front, the Modi government broke all records in FY21, by spending Rs 6.52 lakh crore and accumulating grain stocks exceeding 100 million tonnes in May end, 2021.
  • One area in which the Modi government performed very poorly is agri-exports.
  • In 2013-14 agri-exports had crossed $43 billion while during all the seven years of the Modi government agri-exports remained below this mark of $43 billion.
  • Sluggish agri-exports with rising output put downward pressure on food prices.
  • It helped contain CPI inflation, but subdued farmers’ incomes.

5) Infrastructure development

  • The Modi government has done better in power generation by increasing it from 720 billion units per annum to 1,280 billion units per annum.
  • Similarly, road construction too has been at least 30 per cent faster under the Modi government.

6) Social sector

  • Based on an international definition of extreme poverty (2011 PPP of $ 1.9 per capita per day), the World Bank estimated India’s extreme poverty in 2015 to be about 13.4 per cent, down from 21.6 per cent in FY 2011-12.
  • Even the incidence of multidimensional poverty hovered around 28 per cent in 2015-16.
  • Three key indicators can be used to assess performance on this front:
  • One, average annual person days generated under MGNREGA in the first five years since this programme started under the UPA in 2006-07 to 2010-11, which was 200 crore, and under Modi government it improved to 230 crore.
  • Two, average annual number of houses completed under the Indira Awaas Yojana and PM Awaas Yojana-Gramin, which improved from 21 lakhs to 30 lakhs per annum.
  • Three, open defecation free (ODF) which was only 38.7 per cent on October 2, 2014 and shot up to 100 per cent by October 2, 2019, as per government records.

Conclusion

The current government has turned out to be more welfare-oriented than reformist in revving up GDP growth. How long this welfare approach is sustainable without enlarging the size of GDP pie is an open question.

Electoral Reforms In India

Simultaneous polls is an idea whose time has come

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- One nation one election

The article deals with the issue frequent elections in the country and highlights the need for debate on the idea of “one nation, one election”.

Need for debate on one nation one election

The idea has been around since at least 1983, when the Election Commission first mooted it. The concept needs to be debated mainly around five issues.

1) Financial costs of  conducting elections

  • The costs of conducting each assembly or parliamentary election are huge and, in some senses, incalculable.
  • Directly budgeted costs are around Rs 300 crore for a state the size of Bihar.
  • But there are other financial costs, and incalculable economic costs.
  • Before each election, a “revision” of electoral rolls is mandatory.
  • The costs of the millions of man-hours used are not charged to the election budget.
  • The economic costs of lost teaching weeks, delayed public works, badly delivered or undelivered welfare schemes to the poor have never been calculated.

2) Cost of repeated administrative freezes

  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has economic costs too.
  • Works may have been announced long before an election is announced, but tenders cannot be finalised, nor work awarded, once the MCC comes into effect.
  • Time overruns translate into cost overruns.
  • But the huge costs of salaries and other administrative expenditures continue to be incurred.
  • Add to this the invisible cost of a missing leadership.
  • Important meetings and decisions get postponed, with costs and consequences that are difficult to calculate.
  • A NITI Aayog paper says that the country has at least one election each year.

3) Visible and invisible costs of repeatedly deploying security forces

  • There are also huge and visible costs of deploying security forces and transporting them, repeatedly.
  • A bigger invisible cost is paid by the nation in terms of diverting these forces from sensitive areas.

4)  Campaign and finance costs of political parties

  • There is little doubt that the fiscal and economic costs of an election are not trivial, and that two elections, held separately, will almost double costs, including those incurred by political parties themselves.

5) Question of regional/smaller parties having a level playing field

  • There are fears about the Centre somehow gaining greater power, or regional parties being at a disadvantage during simultaneously held elections.
  • However, fixed five-year terms for state legislatures in fact take away the central government’s power to dissolve state assemblies.
  •  Until 1967 when simultaneous elections were the norm.
  • The Constitution and other laws would need to be amended is obvious, but that is hardly an argument against the proposal.

Consider the question “There are huge costs associated with the frequent elections in the country. Is simultaneous elections a solution? What are the issues involved?”

Conclusion

As the elections in four states and one Union territory in March-April are suspected to have contributed to the second wave of Covid infections, a well-reasoned debate on a concept as important as “one nation, one election” is called for.

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Need to deal with distortions built into GST

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GST council decision making

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues with one state one vote system in GST council

The article highlights the issues with the one state one vote system adopted in the GST Council decision making.

Context

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council in India is still engaged in a discussion on whether life-saving and hard-to-come-by products should be taxed. Such delay in decision-making can largely be explained by the distorted design and incentive structure of the GST itself.

Imbalance in collection and distribution of taxes

  • The taxes collected under GST are accumulated by the Union government and a portion is transferred back to each state under a formula.
  • As is the case with most federal countries, there is a large imbalance in the collection and distribution of taxes between states.
  • this holds true also for income accrued to, and distributed, from the GST pool.
  • Four states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Gujarat contribute nearly as much as the remaining 27 states combined.
  • Most federal countries exhibit this characteristic where a few large, rich, provinces or states contribute disproportionately.

Variation in dependence of States on transfers from the Union government

  • Only about 30 per cent of the overall revenue of the states mentioned above — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Karnataka — comes from the Union government.
  • But for the remaining 27 states, roughly 60 per cent of their revenues are obtained through transfers from the Union government.
  • For the smaller Northeastern states, these transfers from the Union government constitute 80-90 per cent of their total revenues.
  •  In effect, the states that contribute the most to the GST pool are the least dependent on transfers from the Union government while the ones that contribute the least are the most dependent.

Two problems in net-transfers in India

1) One-sided transfers

  •  In almost every federal union, net-transfers work to reduce differences in development between states over time.
  • However, Over the last 25 years or so, net transfers have become increasingly one-sided in India.
  • That is, the quantum of net-transfers diminishes, as states become more equal through such transfers.
  • But in India, the opposite has occurred.

2) Indirect taxes and cess

  • The Union government of the last seven years has greatly exacerbated this problem through two actions.
  • First, it has reconstructed the composition of taxation away from the fair and progressive channel of direct taxation towards the inherently regressive and unfair channel of indirect taxes.
  • Second, the Union has shifted a large proportion of taxation roughly 18 per cent of its overall revenues into cesses, a special form of taxes that remain outside the GST pool and hence do not have to be shared with the states.
  • Since 2014, cess revenues grew 21 per cent every year leading to a doubling in terms of its share of GDP.

Implications of these two problems for fiscal federalism

  • The combined effect of these problems is that all states (collectively) get a lower share of overall revenues.
  • Individual states face an ever-increasing disparity in the ratio of funds received from the Union as a proportion of taxes collected by the Union from that state.
  • This is an affront to fiscal federalism and an assault on “cooperative federalism”.

Issue of ‘one state one vote’ system

  • States that are more dependent on transfers from the Union want to maximise GST collections while states that are less dependent can afford to be more sensitive to citizens’ concerns.
  • The case of taxes on Covid products is perhaps the starkest instance of such differences.
  • Most large states are ready to forego this tax revenue for humanitarian considerations.
  • But 19 states representing the remaining 30 per cent of the population seem keen to continue to levy GST on Covid products.
  •  These are mostly smaller states.
  • Given the smaller population of such states, the adverse impact of Covid taxes will be minimal for them.
  • But they will reap the benefits of additional revenues from GST on Covid products levied on the much larger populations of the bigger states.

Conclusion

When direct tax policy decisions are legislated by Parliament, which has proportional representation from states according to their size of the population, indirect tax policy decisions should not be subject to one state one vote system.

Important Judgements In News

Verdict on Maratha reservation ignores inequality within intermediate castes

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Reservation debate

The article highlights the issues with Maratha reservation judgement delivered by the Supreme Court which rejected the positive discrimination of lower classes of dominant caste.

About the verdict

  • The Supreme Court rendered a unanimous verdict on the validity of the SEBC Act, 2018 that was to grant reservation to Marathas.
  • The court held that the classification of Marathas as a socially and educationally backward class was unreasonable.
  • Court held that Maratha belonged to a politically dominant caste with significant economic resources.

Justification for 50% limit

  • The court also concluded that the majority opinion in the Indra Sawhney case was correct and that the limit of 50 per cent for caste-based reservation did not need consideration by a larger bench.
  • The court justified the fixed quantitative limit on caste-based reservation by postulating that it was intrinsic to the fundamental principle of equality.
  • The court highlighted the need to safeguard the interests of unreserved sections and said that all sections have progressed after 70 years of independence.
  • Based on this, the court rejected the state’s argument that the breach of the limit was necessitated by the fact that the population of backward classes was over 80 per cent.

Missed opportunity to acknowledge growing socio-economic differentiation within the dominant castes

Growing income difference

  • If in 2011-12, the average per capita income of the Marathas was second only to the Brahmins at Rs 36,548, against Rs 47,427.
  • Their highest quintile -20 per cent of the caste group- got 48 per cent of the total income of the Marathas with a mean per capita income of Rs 86,750.
  • The lowest quintile earned 10 times less (Rs 7,198) and the 40 per cent poorest got less than 13 per cent of the total income of the caste — and were lagging behind the Scheduled Castes elite.
  • In fact, the mean incomes of the highest Dalit quintile, Rs 63,030, and that of the second-highest, Rs 28,897, were above those of the three lowest quintiles of the Marathas.

What explains growing income difference

  • This is partly due to changes on the education front. 
  • The percentage of graduates among Dalits in 2004-05 was 1.9 per cent and has more than doubled to 5.1 per cent in 2011-12.
  • The corresponding figure for the OBCs was 3.5 per cent and has doubled to 7.6 per cent, while for the Marathas it was 4.6 per cent in 2004-05 and has come up to 8 per cent in 2011-12.
  • Correlatively, the percentage of salaried people among the Dalits was about 28 per cent in Maharashtra in 2011-12, as against 30 per cent among the Marathas.

Issues with the Maratha quota judgment

  •  The Court refused to recognise the need for positive discrimination of the lower classes of the dominant castes which continue to be seen as a dominant bloc.
  • It fails to admit the complexity that the role of class has introduced in post-liberalisation India.
  • This is unequivocal confirmation of a dated approach to social realities and a purely arithmetic limit that finds no expression in the Constitution.
  • The judgement also raises the issue of judicial supremacy in the broad area of social policy as it could lead to undesirable exclusion of beneficiaries.
  • The court seems to have forgotten its own observation in NM Thomas case that functional democracy postulates participation of all sections of the people and fair representation in administration is an index of such participation.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court has rejected the determination of Marathas as backward by holding that their relative deprivation and under-representation with regard to other sections of the general category did not entitle them to affirmative action.

Close the vaccination gap, in global lockstep

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : COVAX

Mains level : Paper 2- Dealing with the vaccine inequality

Why vaccination gap is cause of worry

  • By the end of May 2021, only 2.1% of Africans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • A widely vaccinated world population is the only way to end the pandemic; otherwise, the multiplication of variants is likely to undermine the effectiveness of existing vaccines.
  • Vaccination is also a prerequisite for lifting the restrictions that are holding back our economies and freedoms.
  • If the vaccination gap persists, it risks reversing the trend in recent decades of declining poverty and global inequalities.
  • Such a negative dynamic would hold back economic activity and increase geopolitical tensions.
  • The cost of inaction would for sure be much higher for advanced economies than what we collectively would have to spend to help vaccinate the whole world.
  • The International Monetary Fund has proposed $50 billion plan in order to be able to vaccinate 40% of the world population in 2021 and 60% by mid-2022.

Need to resist the vaccine nationalism

  • To achieve the goal set by IMF, we need closely coordinated multilateral action.
  • We must resist the threat posed by linking the provision of vaccines to political goals and vaccine nationalism.
  • The EU has been vaccinating its own population, while exporting large volumes of vaccines and contributing substantially to the vaccines roll-out in low-income countries.
  • The EU has also exported 240 million doses to 90 countries, which is about as much as used within the EU.
  • One-third of all COVAX doses delivered so far have been financed by the EU.
  • India’s Vaccine Maitri is another example of global solidarity.
  • However, this effort is still far from sufficient to prevent the vaccination gap from widening.

Way forward

  • To fill widening vaccination gap, countries with the required knowledge and means should increase their production capacities, so that they can both vaccinate their own populations and export more vaccines.
  • All countries must avoid restrictive measures that affect vaccine supply chains.
  • We also need to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technology, so that more countries can produce vaccines.
  • Voluntary licensing is the privileged way to ensure such transfer of technology and know-how.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that health is a global public good. Our common global COVID-19 vaccine action to close the vaccination gap must be the first step toward genuine global health cooperation, as foreseen by the Rome Declaration recently adopted at the Global Health Summit.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Bangladesh

India-Bangladesh Relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Bangladesh relations

The article highlights the need for Indian leaders to respect the sentiments of Bangladesh by avoiding adverse comments during elections and recognition of Bangladesh’s importance for India.

 Diplomacy with Bangladesh

  • Long-standing bilateral problems: As a neighbour nearly surrounded on all territorial sides by India, there are the inevitable bilateral problems of long duration.
  • Such problems include a perennially favourable balance of trade for India, drought and flood in the 54 transboundary rivers flowing from India to Bangladesh, and the smuggling of goods and vulnerable human beings across the approximately 4,100 kilometre land border.
  • Cultural ties with India: There are several sections who regard their Bengali roots and traditions as being of equal validity as their religious affiliation, and treasure the linguistic and cultural ties with adjacent India.
  • India’s expectations: For India’s attentions and support, India’s expectations are that a neighbour will keep India’s concerns in mind when devising and pursuing its policies.

Steps taken to consolidate the bilateral ties

  • Bangladesh has successfully dealt with Muslim fundamentalist terrorists.
  • Bangladesh has also controlled the Northeast militant movements sheltering in Bangladesh.
  • This has facilitated the pacification of India’s Northeast.
  • Bangladesh facilitated a considerable degree of connectivity between India and its Northeast by land, river and the use of Bangladeshi ports.
  • Indian investments in Bangladesh have been encouraged.
  • There are at least 100,000 Indian nationals now living and working in that country.
  • For economic integration along with free movement of commerce and capital, the movement of persons on the lines of Nepal and Bhutan will have to be considered.

Consider the question “To a certain degree both India and Bangladesh depend on each other for security and stability. In light of this, take an overview of the consolidation of the bilateral ties between the two countries and discuss the issues that need to be addressed between the two countries.”

Conclusion

Responsible individuals on both sides of the border, whether in government or the Opposition, must be actively discouraged from words and actions detrimental to the consolidation of the existing cordiality.

Challenges federalism faces in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Growing tendency towards centralisation

The article highlights the challenges faced by the federalism in India in various domains and forms and suggests the ways to deal with these challenges.

Growing tendency towards Centralisation

  • Moves to erode the powers of State governments are not new.
  • The Centre, on several occasions, has used its powers to dismiss or use the Governor to intimidate democratically elected governments.
  • During the Emergency, education was moved to the Concurrent list which was until then a State subject under the constitutional division of responsibilities.
  • However, the changes to federal relations at present are more systemic.
  • There has been increasing centralisation in resource allocations and welfare interventions.
  • After GST, the gap between the revenue that State governments are allowed to generate and the expenditure that they are expected to incur has been widening.
  • The Centre has been encroaching into domains under State government control through centrally sponsored schemes in sectors such as education and health.

Three domains in which federalism faces challenges

1) State-capital relation

  • At present there is growing trend towards centralising economic power in conjunction with political centralisation.
  • The consolidation and expansion of a few big business groups is taking place, probably at the expense of smaller players.
  •  On the one hand, the Centre has sought to insulate Indian big business from global competition by choosing not to enter into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  • But the power of small businesses is eroded through support for GST and the call for a single national market.
  • So, big businesses are more likely to benefit from a removal of State-level barriers to trade at the expense of smaller regional players.

2) Institutional transgression

  • Central institutions are increasingly weakening the policy levers of State institutions.
  • There are growing allegations of the misuse of institutions such as the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate and the National Investigation Agency are being used to intimidate opponents..
  •  Direct transfers to beneficiaries of welfare schemes bypassing States are also contributing to this dynamic.
  • The Centre is increasingly ignoring elected representatives of State governments, holding meetings with State secretaries and district collectors on issues that are primarily under State control.
  • Governors perform active administrative roles instead of their signatory roles.
  • To ensure national uniformity in educational institutions NEET was introduced in medical education.
  • But it subverts the affirmative action policies developed at the regional level in response to local.
  • In the domain of health, the Centre has now put State governments at a disadvantage in vaccine usage by fixing differential pricing for procuring vaccines.

3) Socio-cultural foundations

  • Beside the legal-constitutional aspects of federalism, it is diversity in cultural foundation of regions that sustains Indian federalism.
  •  Markers of regional identities and regional socio-cultural practices are now interpreted as belonging to a pan-Indian Hindu tradition.

Conclusion

To stem this trend towards centralisation we need to provide more legal and constitutional safeguard to the States, strong regional political assertion and a strong federal coalition.

Tax Reforms

Global minimum tax may help India but can cause international disagreements

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Global Minimum corporate tax and issues associated with it

The article deals with the issue of global minimum tax proposal floated by the US, challenges it faces and its implications for India.

The US proposal for global minimum tax

  • In its recent proposal, the U.S. sought to impose a global minimum tax on foreign income earned by U.S. corporations.
  • The proposal is intended to disincentivise American companies from inverting their structures due to the increase in the U.S. corporate tax rate.
  • The U.S. is now discussing a floor of 15% for the minimum tax rate.
  • The proposal is similar to Pillar Two, except for the rate of the effective minimum tax.

Similarity with Pillar Two Proposal

  • The Pillar Two proposal was the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) plan to plug the remaining Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) issues
  • It provide jurisdictions the right to “tax back” where other jurisdictions have either not exercised their primary taxing right or have exercised it at low levels of effective taxation.
  • For instance, if an Indian-headquartered multinational corporation (MNC) has an entity in Singapore or the Netherlands through which global operations are run, and its income from global operations is not taxed at an effective rate of 10% or 15%, then it can be taxed in India.
  • India has been part of the Pillar Two discussions and has not objected in principle to the proposal.

How Global Minimum Tax would benefit India?

  • The proposal, along with the increased tax bill for U.S. companies, may benefit the Indian revenue department.
  • The State of Tax Justice report of 2020 notes that India loses over $10 billion in tax revenue due to the use of offshore structures, particularly through investments made by Indian residents through Mauritius, Singapore and the Netherlands.
  • This is supported by the overseas direct investment (ODI) data from 2000 to 2021 published by the Reserve Bank of India.
  • Start-ups and large Indian conglomerates commonly use offshore structures for conducting global operations.
  • Revenue from such operations is often retained offshore and not repatriated to India.
  • Tax advantages incentivise such structures, due to which taxes on such income are not paid in India.
  • Once these proposals are implemented, Indian companies would have to pay additional taxes on their offshore structures to the extent that the effective rate of tax is lower than the global minimum tax rate.

Challenges

  • Lack of consensus: Several countries have taken a different approach to the rate of global minimum tax.
  • While France and Germany have expressed support, the EU has raised concerns regarding the high rate proposed by the United States.
  • Tax sovereignty issue: Countries have stated that the proposal infringes upon their tax sovereignty and that the fight against unfair tax competition should not become a fight against competitive tax systems.

Consider the question “What are the factors that led to the demand of global minimum corporate tax? What will be its implications for India?” 

Conclusion

As economies struggle amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity of encouraging trade and economic activity should be prioritised over disagreements on tax allocations. A tax-related trade war or entrenchment of unilateral levies may further harm both global and national economies.

Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

Child labour in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Challenges in dealing with child labour

The article highlights the risk posed by pandemic to the gains made by India on reducing the child labour in India.

Child labour in India

  • A Government of India survey (NSS Report No. 585, 2017-18) suggests that only 79.6%. of the children in the age group of 14-17 years are attending educational institutions (formal and informal).
  • The Census of India 2011 reports 10.1 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years.
  • Out of whom 8.1 million are in rural areas mainly engaged as cultivators (26%) and agricultural labourers (32.9%).
  • UNESCO estimates based on the 2011 Census record 38.1 million children as “out of school” i.e.18.3% of total children in the age group of 6-13 years.
  • A Rapid Survey on Children (2013-14), jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and UNICEF, found that less than half of children in the age group of 10-14 years have completed primary education.

How policies and initiatives helped reduce child labour in India (2001-11)

  • Child labour in India decreased in the decade 2001 to 2011.
  • Policy interventions such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) 2005, the Right to Education Act 2009 and the Mid Day Meal Scheme have paved the way for children to be in schools along with guaranteed wage employment (unskilled) for rural families.
  • Efforts towards convergence of government schemes is also the focus of the implementation of the National Child Labour Project.
  • Ratifying International Labour Organization Conventions Nos. 138 and 182 in 2017, the Indian government further demonstrated its commitment to the elimination of child labour.
  • The Ministry of Labour and Employment-operated online portal allows to share information and coordinate on child labour cases at the national, State and local levels for effective enforcement of child labour laws.

Challenges ahead

  • The economic contraction and lockdowns have worsened the situation, posing a real risk of backtracking the gains made in eliminating child labour.
  • With increased economic insecurity, lack of social protection and reduced household income, children from poor households are being pushed to contribute to the family income.
  • With closure of schools and challenges of distance learning, children may drop out leaving little scope for return unless affirmative and immediate actions are taken.
  • As many schools and educational institutions are moving to online platforms for continuation of learning, the ‘digital divide’ is a challenge that India has to reconcile within the next several years.
  • The NSS Report titled ‘Household Social Consumption on Education in India’ suggests that in 2017-18, only 24% of Indian households had access to an Internet facility.
  • The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020 survey highlights that a third of the total enrolled children received some kind of learning materials from their teachers during the reference period (October 2020) as digital mode of education was opted for.

Way forward

  •  It is through strategic partnerships and collaborations involving government, employers, trade unions, community-based organisations and child labour families that we could make a difference building back better and sooner.
  • We need a strong alliance paving our way towards ending child labour in all its forms by 2025 to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 8.7.

Consider the question “What are the policy measures and programmatic intervention implemented to reduce the child labour in India. How Covid-19 threatens the gains made on reducing the child labour?”

Conclusion

To deal with the child labour challenge, we need the right level of commitment among all the relevant stakeholders and the right mix of policy and programmatic interventions are present.