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Three messages: On Modi’s Leh visit (The Hindu)



Three messages: On Modi’s Leh visit (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3: Security 
Prelims level: LAC

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 2 July 2020 (Delhi diktat (Indian Express))



Delhi diktat (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: WHO
Mains level: Healthcare infrastructure and related issues

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 June 2020 (A case to exempt GST in Central Police Canteens (The Hindu))



Transparency during a crisis (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Right to Information Act
Mains level: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability

Context:

  • Right to Information (RTI) applications seeking information pertaining to the PM CARES Fund have been stonewalled.
  • No information exists on the official website of the Fund regarding the amount collected, names of donors, expenditure incurred, or details of beneficiaries. 
  • The trust deed of the fund chaired by the Prime Minister is not available for public scrutiny. 
  • Reports suggest that donations of over $1 billion have been made, including contributions from foreign sources. 

Access to information is crucial:

  • This violation of peoples’ RTI is particularly concerning given the unprecedented crisis gripping the nation. 
  • Relief and welfare programmes funded through public money are the sole lifeline of millions who suddenly lost income-earning opportunities during the lockdown. 
  • If the poor and marginalised affected by the public health emergency must have access to relevant information.
  • A narrative seems to have emerged that public scrutiny of government actions is undesirable during the crisis and citizens must unquestioningly trust the state. 
  • This undermines the basic democratic tenet that citizens’ participation and oversight is necessary to ensure they are able to access their rights. 
  • Without information, peoples’ ability to perform that role is...........................

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Seeking information:

  • The RTI Act, 2005, has empowered citizens to access information from public authorities and hold them accountable. 
  • During the COVID-19 crisis, proper implementation of the law has assumed greater significance than ever before. 
  • It is crucial that information related to implementation of relief measures announced by governments be widely disseminated. 
  • For instance, to ensure food security for the needy, Central and State governments have put in place schemes to provide subsidised rations. 
  • For effective delivery of foodgrains and other essential commodities, information must be made available in the public domain. 
  • Ground reports have revealed that in the absence of information, it is impossible for intended beneficiaries to get their due.  

Openness required:

  • Greater openness would prevent controversies of the kind exemplified by faulty testing kits and fake ventilators. 
  • Numerous instances have been reported of COVID-19-positive patients requiring treatment in intensive care units being shunted from one hospital to another. 
  • This could be prevented if hospitals and health centres publicly provide real-time information about availability of beds and other facilities. 
  • To ensure easy accessibility to those who need it the most, relevant information must be made available in local languages and widely disseminated. 
  • In fact, this is a statutory obligation of public authorities under Section 4 of the RTI Act. 

Role of transparency watchdogs:

  • In the current scenario the role of information commissions is crucial. 
  • While in the midst of a pandemic it is reasonable to expect delays in processing information requests.
  • Public authorities must not be allowed to interpret the crisis as a justification for not complying with the RTI Act. 
  • Unfortunately, an assessment revealed that 21 out of 29 commissions in the country did not hold a single hearing during the first three stages of the lockdown. 
  • While the Central Information Commission and some State commissions used audio and video conferencing to hear and dispose cases, most commissions did not make provision for hearing even urgent matters.
  • It is behind the cloak of secrecy that the rights of individuals are most frequently abrogated, corruption thrives and public trust in institutions is eroded. 

Way forward:

  • Incentives for secrecy are great, and the scope for discretionary actions wide. It is critical to create a culture of openness. 
  • Also, to empower people to participate meaningfully in the decisions that have profound effects on their lives and livelihoods. 
  • People must be able to obtain information about how and where their money is being spent in the efforts...................

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 June 2020 (A case to exempt GST in Central Police Canteens (The Hindu))



A case to exempt GST in Central Police Canteens (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Central Armed Police Force
Mains level: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation

Context:

  • Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced in early May that only indigenous products will be sold in all Central Police Canteens run by the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF). 
  • This is a welcome step in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directive to promote indigenously manufactured products, or swadeshi products, in India. 
  • As almost all products sold in CAPF canteens are indigenous, detailed instructions.......................

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Canteen sales:

  • There are over 119 master canteens functioning as depots and 1,700 canteens running across the country catering to over 50 lakh family members of 10 lakh serving personnel. 
  • the Central Police Canteen boasts of sales of over ₹2,800 crore worth of products annually. 
  • Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali has already made inroads into these canteens with various products and is expected to expand. 
  • The Khadi and Village Industries Commission is also channelising the sale of its products like textiles and uniform things through these canteens.
  • Non-exemption of GST on all products sold through canteens has been a sore point among the CAPF personnel. 
  • The rates at which the products are sold at present in the canteens are marginally less than the market rates. 
  • Exemption of GST will reduce the costs further making the products more easily affordable and lucrative. 
  • The government has to pay serious attention to this aspect. 

Paying VAT:

  • Before the GST came into effect, certain States had exempted the levy of VAT while many others, including Delhi, were reluctant to extend this benefit. 
  • While VAT was exempted for all Canteen Stores Department items, the Central Police Canteens in most States had to continue paying VAT.
  • The authorities cannot ignore the fact that the CAPF is working in difficult conditions across the country at grave risk to their lives.  

Conclusion:

  • While sale of indigenous products in CAPF canteens is a step in the right direction, the issue of ..........................

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 June 2020 (New-age mobility (Indian Express))



New-age mobility (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Electric vehicles
Mains level: Improving transport system with sustainable development 

Context:

  • Electric mobility is a definitive way to retain this pristine air without compromising functionality. 
  • Continuing with the ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles with the same alacrity as in the past may never enable us to see AQI of about 50 in Delhi and Mumbai. 
  • A shift to electric mobility is imminent and long overdue in India just as the trends show for Europe, the UK, China and other countries.

Initiatives towards promoting electric vehicles:

  • There were indications of this shift at the recently concluded Delhi Auto Expo 2020. 
  • Electric vehicles were the most photographed or Instagrammed stars of the show. A range of electric buses, commercial vehicles, cars, e-scooters and e-bikes were on display.
  • Electric buses are making an appearance in large cities, stimulated by the incentives available to municipal bodies. 
  • People find the idea of an electric bus sans noise and pollution.......................

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What is preventing electric cars from becoming the preferred option? 

  • The most cited reason is the lack of charging infrastructure. 
  • Our obligation to the Paris Agreement may fall short unless we make the transition to electric—big and swift.
  • We do have public chargers in most large cities in India.That’s because worldwide everyone charges their electric cars at home. 
  • Recharging an electric vehicle is unlike refuelling an ICE car. It’s a fundamental behavioural change that needs to sink in.
  • The electric cars we buy come bundled with a home charging kit. It’s like your own private petrol pump. 
  • The charger is installed next to the location where you park your car, whether your apartment is in a high-rise or an independent house. When we come back from work, plug the charger into our car and relax. 
  • Our car will be charged in a few hours. New-generation electric cars in India have a real-world driving range of 275-375 km. And if your commute is largely within your city, you are completely sorted for the week.
  • A smart home charger can be controlled through a mobile app. This means you can switch the charger on and off from your living room and don’t need to physically reach out to the charging spot or the car.
  • The app also gives you the current state of charge, cost, range, ability to charge with discounted off-peak rates (if offered by your discom), total monthly consumption, etc.
  • Public chargers are typically required for emergency top-ups or intercity journeys. 
  • Similarly, if we run low on charge within the city, we may find a public charger at a mall, a municipal public parking lot, a supermarket or even our workplace.
  • Operators like Tata Power, Fortum, etc, are putting up rapid chargers along highways, at malls, residential complexes, public parking lots, commercial complexes, etc. 
  • However, setting up ubiquitous charging infrastructure needs collaboration between the automakers, utilities, end-users or the community and government agencies—supported by a policy framework.

What can we do to make a difference now? 

Take an electric cab or bus:

  • Electric buses are being deployed on many routes these days by almost all city transport bodies. Similarly, there are a lot of options for e-cabs in all the big cities—Evera Cabs, BluSmart, Glyd, Lithium, Ryds, Meru and others. We will be comfortable, cocooned in silence and, more importantly, emission-free and guilt-free.

Encourage charging infrastructure:

  • Ask your municipality, organisation or RWA to put an EV charger in your premises. Have conversations with people who matter, the corporators, municipal officials, the society/RWA committee, etc. 
  • A potential buyer will be comforted to see a charger in the vicinity and this can swing her buying decision.

Drive an EV:

  • We have some gorgeous EVs in India, and more are waiting in the wings. Promise to buy an electric car as your next purchase. There are a lot of incentives like deeply discounted or free registration, free toll, free parking or similar such. 
  • Furthermore, an electric car is so much fun to drive—thrilling linear torque, no gears, noiseless operation, etc. Top that with low cost of running, low maintenance, low cost of ownership, and you have a winner on your hands.

Conclusion:

  • When we do buy an electric car. We have made a responsible choice. 
  • We are driving with the ultimate badge of honour—a green number plate...............

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 22 June 2020 (Fighting a double pandemic (The Hindu))



Fighting a double pandemic (The Hindu) 



Mains Paper 1:Society
Prelims level: National Commission for Women
Mains level: Gender based violence and associated issues

Context:

  • Waking up to screams, angry shouting and the troubling sound of someone crashing into a wall, a table, a door. 
  • This is the cruel reality of many children and young people across our Commonwealth. 
  • Economies, institutions and social welfare sectors continue to buckleunder the strain of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
  • During such times, there is a dangerous escalation in the risk to the millions of people caught in the clutchesof domestic and gender-based violence.

 Emerging evidences:

  • Emerging evidence on the impact of essential lockdown measures and the economic fallout of the pandemic on gender-based and domestic violence, paints a frightening picture.
  • The crisis has led to an alarming escalation of violence in the home, with women bearing the brunt of the frustration and anger. 
  • In some areas, there have been reports of women being prevented from seeing doctors, and female doctors being spat on while testing other women for COVID-19.
  • We are seeing surging numbers of emergency calls to helplines — with rises of anything between 25% and 300%.
  • We see dramatic increases in Internet searches for support for those affected by domestic violence, and higher numbers of domestic homicides. 
  • These are extremely disturbing trends..............................

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 Barriers to care:

  • Experience teaches us that women tend often to be at a disadvantage during crises, epidemics and now this pandemic, and that domestic violence tends to increase. 
  • In West Africa, 60% of total deaths in the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak were women. Following the Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand, there was a 53% rise in domestic violence.
  • In many cases this is because gender roles and harmful practices, including customs such as early and forced marriage, limit women’s access to health services. 
  • Women do three times as much unpaid care work at home compared to men, and make up 70% of workers in the health and social care sectors. They are squarely in infection’s path.
  • During the present COVID-19 pandemic, mass school closures are tending to entrench learning gaps between girls and boys, and putting many more girls at risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy and early or forced marriage. 
  • They also mean that children are unable to report abuse to a trusted teacher. 
  • And with restrictions on home visits by police and health workers, violence shelters being converted into health facilities, and courts being forced to close, many victims may find themselves trapped and feeling abandoned.
  • Mitigating the devastating impacts of this hidden pandemic of domestic violence requires strong and concerted action.  

 Organisations at work:

  • The Commonwealth Secretariat is working alongside partner organisations on measures which will help our 54 member countries to stemthe rising tide of gender-based violence.
  • Meetings were held with counterpart organisations such as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Council of Europe and the Community of Spanish Language Countries. 
  • Outcome was we have explored collaboration and mechanisms to ensure that women are at the centre of post-COVID-19 recovery planning. 
  • We will work with our respective members to implement policy responses and interventions to safeguard victims and those at risk.
  • These discussions allowed us to share concerns and ideas conveyed by our member governments, and to outline key considerations for the upcoming ministerial meetings being arranged by the Commonwealth.

 Health systems link: 

  • An important priority is the provision of basic health care to all individuals and communities free of charge at the point of delivery. 
  • All evidence points to a clear link between weak health systems and vulnerabilities to domestic violence. 
  • So urgent action needs to be taken to ensure that during this COVID-19 pandemic, victims of abuse are able to access the health care they need, including mental health services.

 Make financially reliant:

  • It is also key that post COVID-19 strategies include dedicated funding and support for micro, small and medium sized businesses and the informal sector, which are predominantly led by women. 
  • Many of whom need the assurance of financial independence to escape from dangerous domestic situations.
  • It is encouraging, in this regard, that throughout the Commonwealth, we already see evidence of renewed commitment and action to end violence against women and girls.
  • Much is being done in our member countries to keep domestic violence refuges open during the outbreak. 
  • There are also examples of innovative partnerships with businesses and organisations to provide alternative locations for victims to use as shelters.
  • Some governments have been able to provide additional resourcing and funding to organisations supporting victims, so they can upscale operations and continue providing services in a safe manner. 
  • Other useful innovations such as virtual hearings and legal advice, are allowing survivors to continue to access justice.

Key concerns:

  • What is clear from my meetings with officials and development leaders is the immense urgency of taking action to protect women and girls who are being abused, isolated, punched, kicked and even killed in their homes. 
  • Sadly, children living in violent homes not only witness violence but may themselves suffer abuse. 
  • Violence in the home is one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our time. 
  • Research from the Commonwealth project, The Economic Cost of Violence against Women and Girls: A Study of the Seychelles, carried out in 2019 before the pandemic, shows that gender-based violence leads to estimated costs of 4.625% of GDP.

Conclusion:

  • The Commonwealth collectively stands ready to bring the power of its advocacy and support to the planned UN Declaration on Women and COVID-19.
  • We are increasing our ongoing advocacy through a range of initiatives, including ..................

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 22 June 2020 (Reforms push to coal is justified (The Hindu))



Reforms push to coal is justified (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Coking coal
Mains level: End of captive mining in coal production

Context:

  • The Prime Minister announced the auction of 41 coal blocks.
  • To virtually anyone who might be interested with the government having removed end-use restrictions and relaxed prior mining experience as bidding criteria. 
  • This is a watershed effort to break the public sector monopoly on coal production, the enabling legal changes have been made over time. 

Background: 

  • The focus on self-sufficiency in this sector is justified; India imported 243 million tonnes of coal in 2019-20, about a third of its domestic output of 729 million tonnes, of which Coal India accounted for 602 million tonnes. 
  • Imports will only rise as the economy returns to its growth potential. Of these imports, high-grade metallurgical coal (or coking coal) used for making steel accounts for 50 million tonnes annually. 
  • Coking coal is scarce in India; most of the remaining imported coal can be substituted by domestic mining. 
  • The Centre has said that commercial mining can save ₹30,000 crore in coal imports, or about a sixth of India’s coal import bill. 
  • The move is expected to draw in an investment of ₹30,000 crore.....................

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End captive mining: 

  • The move to virtually end ‘captive mining’, or the allotment of mining rights only to those who directly use the coal as an input rather than trade in it, is justified. 
  • Captive mining of small blocks, a decontrol move that was initiated in 1993 and continued right up to the coal scam, has been an inefficient process. 
  • CIL has continued to account for well over 80 per cent of total output while being unable to meet the needs of input industries. 
  • The cancellation of the 204 captive mining licences and the reallotment of 89 of them has not helped ramp up output either. 
  • Commercial miningis likely to spur output in the medium term (assuming that private players will make a difference in five years), and provide some competition to CIL. 
  • It should spur CIL to ramp up its efficiency in summer months to deal with the coal shortage that typically sets in after the monsoon, leading to power plants tripping up on output. 
  • Experts estimate that there is considerable scope for CIL to ramp up its output by 15 per cent in the summer months. 
  • Given the current role of thermal power in the energy mix, additional coal output and imports would be needed. 
  • The key issue is whether the rise of renewables can temper coal demand — as indeed it should.

Conclusion:

  • India’s coal push should not undermine its achievements in renewables. Coal gasification is an idea whose environmental effects are uncertain. 
  • The impact of coal in terms of forest loss and air pollution (to get worse if unwashed coal is used) cannot be discounted in the context of climate change.

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