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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 06 May 2020 (MPLADS, its suspension, and why it must go (The Hindu))



MPLADS, its suspension, and why it must go  (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Polity  
Prelims level: MPLADS scheme 
Mains level: Reasons for abolition of MPLADs scheme

Context:

  • All Opposition parties have been unanimous in their criticism of the government’s recent move to suspend the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for two years, approved by the Cabinet. 
  • The government’s reason is this: to use these funds “to strengthen the government’s efforts in managing the challenges and adverse impact of COVID-19 in the country”.
  • Such political unanimity is not very common but does happen whenever self-interest is involved. Under the scheme, each Member of Parliament “has the choice to suggest to the District Collector for works to the tune of ₹5 crores per annum to be taken up in his/her constituency”.
  • It must be said upfront that notwithstanding the fact that unilateral decision-making is inappropriate in a democracy, the decision to suspend MPLADS for two years is a good first step. 

Five key reasons for abolition of MPLADs scheme:
Violates cardinal principles:

  • The scheme violates one of the cardinal principles, which though not specifically written down in the Constitution, actually permeates the entire Constitution: separation of powers. 
  • Simply put, this scheme, in effect, gives an executive function to legislators (read legislature). 
  • The argument that MPs only recommend projects, but the final choice and implementation rests with the district authorities is strange; there are hardly any authorities in the district who have the courage or the gumption to defy the wishes of an MP.

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CAG’s observations:

  • Implementation of the scheme has always left much to be desired. 
  • The details below, which are some of the observations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in a report make it clear: Expenditure incurred by the executing agencies being less than amount booked. Utilisation of funds between 49 to 90% of the booked amount.
  • Though the scheme envisages that works under the scheme should be limited to asset creation, 549 of the 707 works test-checked (78%) of the works recommended were for improvement of existing assets; 
  • Wide variations in quantities executed against the quantities specified in the BOQ (Bills of Quantity) in 137 of the 707 works test-checked. 
  • Variations ranged from 16 to 2312%. (“2312%” is the figure actually mentioned in the audit report); Use of lesser quantities of material than specified by contractors resulting in excess payments and sub-standard works; “no accountability for the expenditure in terms of the quality and quantities executed against specifications”; 
  • Delays in issuing work orders ranging from 5 to 387 days in 57% of the works against the requirement of issuing the work order within 45 days of the receipt of recommendation by the MP.
  • Extensions of time granted to contractors without following the correct procedure; Register of assets created, as required under the scheme, not maintained, therefore location and existence of assets could not be verified; “The implementation of the scheme was marked by various shortcomings and lapses. 
  • These were indicative of the failure of internal control mechanisms in the department in terms of non-maintenance of records”.

Gaps in utilization:

  • There are wide variations in the utilisation of the MPLAD amount in various constituencies. 
  • A report published in IndiaSpend has some very interesting insights based on data made available to it by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. 
  • Some of these are: “A year after they took office, 298 of 542 members of the 16th Lok Sabha — India’s lower house of parliament — have not spent a rupee from the ₹5 crore that is set aside annually for them to develop their constituencies”; 508 MPs (93.55%) did not, or could not, utilise the entire MPLADS amount from May 4, 2014 till December 10, 2018, in 4 years and 7 months. 
  • Only 35 MPs of the Lok Sabha utilised the entire amount of MPLADS during this period; Though ₹1,757 crore had been released for MPLADs, only ₹281 crore had been utilised by all the 543 MPs till May 15, 2015. 
  • This means only 16% of the money had been spent in one year by all the MPs put together, because the Lok Sabha was constituted in May 2014; Since the MPLADS began in 1993, ₹5,000 crore was lying unspent with various district authorities by May 15, 2015.
  • It is clear from the details above, as well as later experience, that most MPs use money under MPLADS quite haphazardly, and a significant portion of it is left unspent.

Appease or oblige:

  • Added to the data above is fairly widespread talk of money under MPLADS being used to appease or oblige two sets of people: opinion-makers or opinion-influencers, and favourite contractors.  Sometimes these two categories overlap.
  • An often-heard tale is that of the contractor being a relative, close friend, or a confidant of the MP, and the contractor and the MP being financially linked with each other.

Legality or constitutionality issue:

  • We come back to the legality or constitutionality issue which was mentioned earlier. The constitutional validity of MPLADS was challenged in the Supreme Court of India in 1999, followed by petitions in 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2005. 
  • The combined judgment for all these petitions was delivered on May 6, 2010, with the scheme being held to be constitutional.
  • With due respect to the top court, it must be said that the Court does not seem to have been able to appreciate the situation in totality. 
  • It seems to have placed an unquestioned trust in the efficacy of the scheme of implementation of MPLADS drawn up by the government without an assessment of the situation prevalent in the field, evidence of which is available in audit reports wherein gross irregularities and infirmities in implementation have been pointed out. 
  • The possibility that implementation of a lot of schemes bears no relationship to how the schemes were intended to be implemented, seems to have completely escaped the attention of the Court. 
  • Common experience does not support this because of large, yawning gaps being found in actual implementation.

Cases of misuse:

  • Reports of underutilisation and misutilisation of MPLADS funds continue to surface at regular intervals but there seems to have been no serious attempt to do anything about it till now. 
  • There are innumerable instances of misuse of these funds; one prominent example is the construction of a fountain in the open space of an unauthorised settlement, or a jhuggi jhopdi colony, which did not have provision of drinking water. 
  • The general belief in the settlement was that the contractor who bagged the contract to build the fountain was related to the local Member of Parliament.

Conclusion: 

  • Therefore, it would be in order to convert the two-year suspension into the complete abolition of this undesirable and unconstitutional scheme.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 06 May 2020 (Off course: On Cauvery water issue (The Hindu))



Off course: On Cauvery water issue (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Polity 
Prelims level: Cauvery water issue
Mains level: Process to make Cauvery Water Management Authority to became functional 

Context:

  • The Cauvery is a perennial source of controversies. 
  • The latest political row to erupt in Tamil Nadu is around the Centre’s April 24 notification bringing the Cauvery Water Management Authority under the administrative control of the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti, which was created a year ago by combining two Ministries. 

Upset with the notification:

  • Several political parties, especially the Opposition, and some farmers’ associations were upset with the notification on the ground that the move has reduced the Authority to a “puppet” of the Centre. 
  • They point out that the CWMA was created on the direction of the Supreme Court in February 2018. 
  • It is also argued that between June 2018-May 2019, when the Union Ministry of Water Resources was in existence, there was no public notification on the CWMA being designated as an organisation under the Ministry. 
  • Such an argument is weak, as the CWMA, a body corporate, has been working all along under the Ministry. 

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An apparent lapse:

  • Even in the case of its predecessor, the Cauvery River Authority (1998-2013) with the Prime Minister as the Chairman and Chief Ministers of the basin States as Members, the Union Ministry of Water Resources had administrative control. 
  • The CWMA has had only a part-time head, the chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC), attached to the Ministry. 
  • Besides, there are eight inter-State river water boards under the Jal Shakti Ministry. Along with the CWMA, four other bodies, including the Krishna and the Godavari Water Management Boards — which have been in existence since 2014 following the re-organisation of Andhra Pradesh — were designated to be under the Ministry. 
  • The formalisation of the CWMA’s status corrects an apparent lapse on the Ministry’s part and addresses administrative issues.
  • Making the CWMA fully operational:
  • Apart from meeting the procedural requirement, the notification does not, in any way, alter the character, functions or powers of the CWMA that form part of a scheme drawn up a few years ago, and which was approved by the Supreme Court. 
  • If there is anything the Centre can be blamed for, it is the way the CWMA functions. Even two years after its formation, the Authority does not have a full-fledged chairman. 
  • The Centre would do well to act, at least now, in making the CWMA fully operational, when the southwest monsoon is about to set in. 

Conclusion:

  • Successive governments at the Centre have been wary of acting decisively, other than under the orders of the Supreme Court for fear of alienating voters in one of the States involved. 
  • The latest episode should convince political parties that relentless politicisation of each and every matter concerning water resources does not benefit the stakeholders. 
  • The parties should realise that electoral gains or losses are not always linked to their stand on any one issue, even if it is the Cauvery, the lifeline of Tamil Nadu’s rice bowl.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 06 May 2020 (App for one season: on Centre's directive to use Arogya Setu (The Hindu))



App for one season: on Centre's directive to use Arogya Setu (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Polity 
Prelims level: Arogya Setu
Mains level: Shortfall of legislative guidance on Arogya Setu app

Context:

  • The Centre’s national directive for the mandatory use of its contact tracing app.

Shortfall of legislative guidance: 

  • Aarogya Setu, as part of its COVID-19 combat measures, falls short of established legal standards for the protection of privacy. 
  • The first requirement laid down by the Supreme Court in K.S. Puttaswamy, namely, a law authorising the involuntary use of such an app, has not been fulfilled. 
  • The government has no power to make the app’s use compulsory without legislative authorisation. 
  • There is no legislative guidance for the app’s purpose, functioning, and the nature of the use of the sensitive personal data it collects. 

Directives under the Disaster Management Act:

  • Going by the directive issued under the Disaster Management Act, all people residing in ‘containment zones’, all government and public sector staff and all employees, both public and private, who are allowed to work during the lockdown, will have to download the app, which also cautions against not keeping the phone’s location and Bluetooth on. 
  • Lawyers and activists have raised concerns not only over privacy; they also fear that assessments made on the basis of information collected may be used to restrict public movement and access. 

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Gaining popularity besides privacy concern: 

  • Aarogya Setu seems to be quite popular downloads have crossed 75 million. 
  • The government has going for itself is that many countries are implementing mobile app use for contact tracing.
  • More and more governments are introducing applications for automated location services to trace the contacts of those infected. 

Models followed across the world: 

  • India should abide by best practices elsewhere. 
  • The EU has laid down guidelines to the effect that such app use should be voluntary, that it should preserve user privacy and should not be used after it becomes no longer necessary. 
  • Israel’s Supreme Court recently struck down emergency powers given to the country’s intelligence agency to trace the phone location of COVID-19 patients without enabling legislation. 
  • Australia’s tracking app has sparked privacy concerns, but the government has released a privacy impact assessment. 

Way forward: 

  • While the intention behind the app’s introduction may be good, 
  • as it is a given that the government is keen on doing everything possible to keep a watch on the spread of the virus so that the lockdown, 
  • As well as relaxations given to zones based on colour-coding, 
  • Are effective it would be well-advised to heed privacy concerns raised by the Opposition, allay fears that it may become a permanent mass surveillance instrument and ensure that there is sufficient anonymising of data and its limited access. 
  • It has a duty to resort to methods that cause the least harm.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 05 May 2020 (Implement strong climate policy post COVID-19 (Financial Express))



Implement strong climate policy post COVID-19 (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 3: Environment
Prelims level: Post COVID-19 climate policy
Mains level: Implement strong climate policy post COVID-19

Context:

  • The last time India’s real GDP growth rate crashed to less than 1% was in 1991. 
  • The opportunity, however dark that might sound, was not wasted. 

Require a series of structural reforms:

  • India unleashed a series of structural reforms that placed greater faith in the market than ever before.
  • To freed firms from the shackles of licensing, reduced import tariffs, and created regulatory institutions to oversee liberalised product markets. 
  • What followed was not unexpected but, to many, it was a miraculous outcome. 
  • India not only breached the ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’ for consistently long periods of time but also established a new normal growth rate that was structurally different and an order of magnitude greater than that in the past.

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Empirical vindication:

  • The miracle lay in the empirical vindication that markets could actually deliver if given a chance, and that the mistrust of markets on which much of our previous development model was based was essentially unfounded.
  • Markets did not need to be distrusted, they needed to be regulated.
  • The largely uninterrupted high growth brought in its wake development impacts that were truly exceptional. Millions were lifted out of poverty, trade flourished, and India exported goods and services to developed markets that was, at one time, reckoned to be impossible. 
  • India became a favoured destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with the peak gross investment touching 36% of GDP just before the financial crisis hit in 2008. 
  • More recently, growth has slowed to below 5% for the first time since the structural reforms of 1991, and the outlook for next year, in the wake of Covid-19, is rather bleak. 
  • Much before Covid-19 struck, the economy was already in poor shape and cracks in the growth model were palpable.

Resource-intensive growth:

  • The resource-intensive growth of the last two decades has been associated with severe local air pollution and lasting harm to lives and livelihoods, especially of the poor. 
  • The damage due to more and more extreme weather events has raised anxieties over the sustainability of the business-as-usual (BAU) model of economic growth. 
  • Everywhere it is the poor and vulnerable who get hit the hardest, whether they live in rural areas or in the city. Covid-19 has already sharpened this disparity.
  • Taken together, climate change and Covid-19 pose a massive risk of undoing the poverty alleviating benefits of the high growth witnessed in the last decade. 
  • About 140 million people were lifted out of poverty between FY05 and FY12, and we risk dumping many more millions back into poverty unless we act decisively now. 
  • The resurgence of mass poverty will be a tragedy of monumental proportions.

Medical shock of Covid-19:

  • A fiscal stimulus of around 1% of GDP has been introduced as a preventive against job losses, and to make sure people who have lost jobs, or will lose them, have money to spend on essentials during the economy-wide lockdown.
  • Both, people and companies, need large doses of support from government and banks, which, in turn, need support from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). 
  • Essentially, the immediate focus must be to prevent as many individuals and firms from slipping into traumatic bankruptcies as possible.

Exposed the weaknesses in India:

  • The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in India’s public distribution, social security, and public health systems. 
  • The presence of a very large informal and migrant workforce in need of urgent state support has added several dimensions to the challenge. 
  • An immediate fallout of Covid-19 is the unambiguous warning that these systems will need to be overhauled to build resilience against the next pandemic, and to lay the foundation for a strong, humane, and inclusive economy.
  • Economists Amartya Sen have for long lamented India’s inadequate public spending on health and education. 
  • This is a moment to correct that failing. 
  • This is also an unprecedented opportunity to take a long view. 

Fiscal stimulus compelling: 

  • Fiscal injections are compelling during a crisis, but what is equally, if not even more compelling is how the economy can be restored and sustained post Covid-19. 
  • Fiscal stimulus is a means to start the recovery rather than an alternative to it.
  • Eventually, the stimulus will have to be gradually retracted as the wheels of the economy start to move again. 

Post Covid-19 revival process: 

  • The post Covid-19 revival ought to focus on the root causes of our growth model going awry. 
  • The massive environment degradation and unchecked air pollution are as much a worry in and of themselves as they are for being a reason for exacerbating unequal outcomes. 
  • We have reason to believe that climate change will magnify existing inequality as the poor will bear the brunt of its impact.
  • The ongoing regeneration of natural capital in India (blue skies, clean air, and breathing rivers) during the Covid-19 inspired lockdown and claim that growth produces negative externalities, and that damage to the environment is a cost which must inevitably be borne during the development process. 
  • According to The Economist, at one monitoring station in central Delhi, levels of nitrogen dioxide are 85% lower.
  • NASA, says that levels of suspended aerosols are lower than at any time since it started measuring them twenty years ago. 
  • The narrative that concerted action against climate change will compromise economic growth.
  • However it ignores the technological and financial innovations that now exist and which can lead the transition to a low-carbon economy. 
  • It also ignores effective public policy that could be designed to address the challenge.

Challenges in economic growth:

  • A reason we cannot abandon economic growth is that it speaks to people’s aspirations, and also provides resources for public policy programmes, not to mention jobs that are fundamental to India’s future. 
  • The absence of economic growth also leads to political instability and the potential for disturbance. 
  • The path to climate mitigation, and adaptation and inclusion is far better served not through slower economic growth, but through economic growth that is steered toward environmental sustainability.
  • Globally, efforts to reduce GHGs through mitigation measures—phasing out fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy sources, improving land use and agricultural practices—continue, albeit slowly. 
  • Our demand for climate justice must continue at the global level, but domestic policy change should not be kept hostage to it. Climate change is upon us, blighting lives of millions of people in India.

Investments in infrastructure:

  • Investments in infrastructure will assume centrestage post Covid-19. 
  • Since they are long lasting, the right investments will deliver what is now referred to as the “triple dividend” by avoiding future losses due to stranded high-carbon assets, stimulating economic gains through innovation, and delivering social and environmental benefits. 
  • Updated building codes, renewing urban infrastructure, scaling energy efficiency, making agriculture more climate resilient by investing in research and development are a few examples.

Way ahead:

  • We must mainstream sustainability and inclusion in our economic policy discourse.
  • There have been extraordinary developments in technologies such as AI and robotics, materials, biomedical and biological, and renewable energy to name a few that have the potential to transform our ability to manage cities, energy, transport, and land use.
  • The nationwide lockdown and the accompanying hardships will perhaps have made citizens more willing to accept decisions that have a high discount rate, i.e., benefits of which will be more apparent in the future. 
  • One could argue whether strong climate policy has a high discount rate or not, but even if it does, then political anxieties over strong climate policy action could well be more palatable post Covid-19. 

Conclusion: 

  • Never let a crisis go to waste is a sagely advice often heard in India and acted upon once, in 1991. With its large population and many vulnerabilities, it is time for an encore.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 05 May 2020 (Diplomacy in a virtual world (Indian Express))



Diplomacy in a virtual world (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2: International Relations 
Prelims level: India relations with Saint Vincent and Grenadines
Mains level: Diplomacy in a virtual world 

Context:

  • The Foreign Office is merely following other professions that are adapting to restrictions on travel across borders and within them by the corona crisis.
  • Not many in Delhi’s political, bureaucratic, and chattering classes will be able to find a nation called Saint Vincent and Grenadines on a large world map. 
  • But External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was on a call last week with the foreign minister of this small nation formed by many islands.

Background: 

  • Die-hard cricket fans will object to our proposition on Saint Vincent and Grenadines. 
  • Beyond cricket, island nations like Dominica, St Lucia, and Saint Vincent and Grenadines rarely feature on India’s diplomatic radar. 
  • They are sovereign states and members of the UN. Some of them are part of institutions like the Commonwealth. 
  • All of them are in important regional organisations in the Caribbean and Latin America. 
  • Jaishankar was on line with all three last week, as part of a comprehensive global outreach.

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Turning adversity into an opportunity:

  • The South Block is turning this adversity into an opportunity — to conduct a lot of routine diplomatic engagement online. 
  • The Foreign Office is merely following other professions that are adapting to restrictions on travel across borders and within them by the corona crisis. 
  • Work that was considered deeply inter-personal, like teaching, has now gone virtual as universities moved to cope with the massive disruption in their academic schedules. 
  • Diplomacy is another profession that requires facetime for both formal and seemingly informal work.

Required negotiations or consultations:

  • Negotiations or consultations of any kind required sitting across a table in a chancellery. 
  • Diplomats also work in less formal settings — say signalling a nuance in a quiet corridor conversation. 
  • They also assess the political mood in the host capital over drinks and dinner with local leaders. 
  • Official meetings involve a lot of detailed agreements on form and structure. And it is easier to discuss complicated issues in a pleasant setting.
  • Delhi took the lead in getting the South Asian leaders to meet through video to explore cooperation in combating the corona crisis. 
  • Delhi also pressed for a G-20 video meeting. Since then the UNSC, EU and NATO have all conferred through video. 
  • Besides the conversations with foreign leaders, senior officials of the South Block are engaging foreign embassies in Delhi through video. 
  • Diplomatic missions in Delhi have long complained that they barely get access to the MEA.
  • The Indian missions abroad have the same problem — of the GoI’s radio silence on responding to queries from foreign governments. 
  • Delhi is trying to make amends with the new medium. 
  • The EAM has begun regular engagement with ambassadors in various regions and sub-regions in recent days.

Reaching out to the heads of missions:

  • PM Modi had set the tone by reaching out to the heads of missions on the questions of safety and security of Indians abroad. 
  • Union Minister Piyush Goyal has followed through by interacting with commercial officers at the Indian embassies. 
  • Hopefully, other ministers and senior officials will make interaction with the embassies a regular affair.
  • To be sure, there is some resistance across the world’s foreign offices against virtual diplomacy. 
  • There are some real difficulties, technical and substantive, that will have to be overcome. 
  • Foreign offices, however, have learnt to work with new technologies, whether it was the trans-oceanic cable or the internet. 

Conduct a virtual summit:

  • There is speculation that PM Modi could conduct a virtual summit with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The Australian leader had cancelled his visit to Delhi earlier this year because of forest fires at home. 
  • It should not be impossible for Modi and Morrison to sign a joint statement, finalised by officials, at the end of video conversation. 

Conclusion:

  • Much of MEA’s energy goes into organising visits, but the follow-up has always been hard. 
  • Virtual diplomacy makes high-level engagement less burdensome. 
  • Involving the whole government should make the implementation of summit-level decisions a bit easier. 
  • An India that reboots after the lockdown could do with all the diplomatic efficiencies it can generate.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 05 May 2020 (The new capitalism (Indian Express))



The new capitalism (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2: International 
Prelims level: Globalisation 2.0
Mains level: Impact on the economics of globalisation and benefitted to China 

Context:

  • In 1920, John Maynard Keynes, perhaps the most influential economist of the first half of the 20th century, wrote a famous passage, which could well have been written for our times. 
  • Worth citing at length, Keynes was speaking of how the First World War ended what we now call Globalisation 1.0 that lasted nearly a century till then.

Life during World War 1:

  • What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of mankind, which came to an end in August 1914?
  • The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; …He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate… But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable.”

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Globalisation 2.0

  • No World War is likely anymore, as scholars of international relations continually remind us, thanks to nuclear weapons. 
  • But can COVID-19, instead, bring an end to what scholars call Globalisation 2.0, which began in the early 1980s and has lasted for four decades, an era when human beings, of a certain class, “could order by (the internet)… products of the whole earth… adventure wealth in any quarter of the world”, and regard “this state of affairs as normal, certain and permanent”?
  • In strictly economic terms, globalisation is about the free movement of capital, goods and labour across national borders. 
  • Capital and goods are disembodied; one does not necessarily see who produced them. Migrants are embodied, as it were. 
  • One can directly observe how ethnically, racially, religiously different from the mainstream they might be. 
  • Hence labour flows, if large, have nearly always triggered right-wing politics of nativism in a way that the movements of goods and capital rarely have.

Critique of globalization:

  • Donald Trump’s unrelenting critique of globalisation predates COVID-19. 
  • He made non-white immigrants, especially Hispanics and Muslims, a special object of his political ire.
  • But he was also vigorously against free trade as well as critical of businessmen who, in search of lower costs, had made China the destination of their accumulated investments, transferring jobs away from America’s industrial heartland. 
  • He levied higher tariffs to curtail freer trade, and exhorted American corporations to bring capital back to the US. In Europe, a similar politics has been led by the UK, though less vociferously.

Benefitted China:

  • In any realistic political sense, this question cannot be answered unless we pay special attention to how Globalisation 2.0 has benefitted China.
  • China was among the biggest sufferers of Globalisation 1.0 (1815-1914). 
  • In 1800, an estimated 33 per cent of the world’s manufactures were produced in China. Defeats in two Opium Wars later, this share had gone down to 6 per cent by 1900. 
  • More significantly for now, China was far behind other economies in the early years of Globalisation 2.0. In 1980, it was the 48th largest economy in the world. 
  • In 1982, with GDPs at roughly $200 billion, Indian and Chinese economies were similar in size.

Rise of China: 

  • In 2018, the last year for which we have systematic data, China, with a GDP of $13.6 trillion, was the second largest economy in the world, behind the US ($20.5 trillion), but far ahead of Japan ($4.9 trillion), Germany ($4.0 trillion), Britain ($2.8 trillion), France ($2.8 trillion) and India ($2.7 trillion). In 2018, China was also the largest trading nation in the world. 
  • Its exports were worth $2.5 trillion, substantially ahead of the US ($1.6 trillion). 
  • In 2018, China attracted over $203 billion worth of net foreign direct investment (FDI), much more than Germany, Japan, UK, France as well as India ($42 billion), and second only to the US ($258 billion), showing how monumental foreign investment in China had become.
  • Given the current pandemic, even more revealing are the data on medical equipment. For 50-80 per cent of its supplies, the US was dependent on China for protective surgical garments, plastic face shields, textile face masks and thermometers. Only for ventilators and hand sanitisers was the dependence less than 20 per cent.
  • No matter how much businessmen and economists argue that these trends are purely economic, only demonstrating how easy it is to manufacture at scale in China.
  • The political leaders of the world, not simply in the West, can only view it with great concern and, if China threatens supply disruptions for critical materials, even as a national security issue.

Impact on the economics of globalisation:

  • The political winds are now independent of President Trump, who is clearly trying to scapegoat China to cover up his own bungling. 
  • Given all the doubts, right or wrong, about how China handled the information about the origins of the virus in Wuhan, the anger against China in world capitals is very palpable. 
  • Born of sudden and enormous suffering, such anger cannot but have an impact on the economics of globalisation.
  • We should not only expect that labour flows will now be more strictly regulated than before. But also more than ever before in recent decades, Western investors will also have to factor in political risks in their investment decision-making. 
  • Instead of chasing lower labour costs, they will either bring capital back to domestic shores, or geographically restructure their supply chains. 
  • For a whole range of goods, the global supply chains for all practical purposes became Chinese supply chains. That level of economic concentration is no longer politically sustainable.

Conclusion: 

  • For the foreseeable future, economic efficiency, the cornerstone of market-based systems, will have to go into a lower gear. 
  • Politics will drive new economic policies, not market-based rationality. 
  • Globalisation will not end, but it will be pushed into greater retreat. We are entering a new phase of capitalism.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 05 May 2020 (Changing colours (Indian Express))



Changing colours (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2: Governance 
Prelims level: Zones of COVID 19
Mains level: Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States

Context:

  • On May 1, the Union home ministry extended the nationwide lockdown scheduled to end on May 3 by two weeks. 
  • The third phase of the lockdown will, however, be less stringent than that experienced by the country in the past 40 days. 
  • In 603 of the 733 districts, designated green and orange zones, markets other than malls can re-open, factories and industrial units can resume operations, self-employed people such as domestic helps and barbers can go back to work, and e-commerce in non-essential items can recommence. 

Grouse from states: 

  • But the fine print of the relaxation measures has left several states dissatisfied. 
  • Their grouse largely pertains to the red zones, the 130 districts which have been deemed as COVID-19 hotspots and therefore, placed under the maximum restrictions stipulated in the home ministry’s directive. 
  • Punjab Chief Minister has contended that several areas that have no COVID-19 cases, Nabha for example, have found themselves ineligible for relaxations because they happen to be located in red zone districts. 
  • The West Bengal government has also termed the Centre’s assessment of such zones in the state as “erroneous”. 
  • And Delhi Chief Minister has argued against designating entire districts as red zones — only the containment zones, areas with a high caseload in hot spot districts, should be subject to strident restrictions.

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Success of lockdown:

  • That 319 districts, more than half the districts in the country green zones have not had a single COVID-19 case in three weeks does testify to the success of the lockdown from a healthcare standpoint. 
  • A further 284 districts do not have a high caseload, the orange zones. 
  • The epidemiologists have consistently emphasised that lockdowns do not frame the endgame in the battle against the virus. 
  • Hotspots can change, the infection can recede from some areas and spread to new ones. Kejriwal, too, underscored the need to view the pandemic from such a dynamic perspective when he said that “what is a green zone today can turn red”. 

Powers given to states:

  • The Centre does allow states to re-designate green zones as orange and red zones. It also allows them the freedom to classify red areas as orange zones. But it does not give them the flexibility to relax the lockdown in areas within the hotspot districts. 
  • The Delhi CM underlined the limitations of this approach when he asked: “If a district has 50 villages and 40 cases emerge in one, why should the entire district be declared a red zone?”
  • States and local authorities dealing with the infection at ground level are the best placed to understand its spatial vagaries. 

Conclusion: 

  • It’s, therefore, imperative that they have a say in drawing the boundaries of the areas that have to be opened up. 
  • The details of the red, orange, green zone scheme need constant review and revision from such a perspective.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 05 May 2020 (Krishi Pradhan (Indian Express))



Krishi Pradhan (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3: Economy 
Prelims level: NABARD
Mains level: Process to maximise possibilities of agriculture production capabilities

Context:

  • The year 2019-20 saw India’s agriculture sector grow by 11.3 per cent at current prices, more than the overall annual GDP increase of 7.9 per cent. 
  • According to NITI Aayog, this is the first time since 1980-81 when farm sector growth has exceeded that of non-farm by such a wide margin. But that’s not all. 

Agricultural growth:

  • The current fiscal — the April-June quarter, definitely — could see agricultural growth surpassing that of non-agriculture even at constant prices. 
  • Simply put, agriculture is back to being the economy’s mainstay and, indeed, the only sector growing amid a nationwide lockdown. One indicator is wheat procurement. 
  • As on May 1, government agencies had bought 14.3 million tonnes (mt) of the new crop, equivalent to a minimum support price value of over Rs 27,500 crore, with another 20 mt likely to be procured by month-end. 

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Agriculture doing well:

  • Agriculture doing well is important both from the standpoint of inflation control (adequate supply of food, feed and fibre, along with low oil prices, makes it easier for the Reserve Bank of India to pursue an accommodative monetary policy) and reviving spending (farmers and rural labourers have higher marginal propensity to consume). 
  • But it is also a fact that the farm sector cannot support economic growth beyond a point. 

Income from non-agriculture:

  • A NABARD survey for 2016-17 showed that only 43 per cent of the average monthly income of even the country’s estimated 10 crore-plus agricultural households came from cultivation and livestock rearing. 
  • The growth of non-agriculture is, in other words, important for farming families themselves, many of which have members deriving incomes from manufacturing and service sector jobs. 
  • Many of the migrant labourers either stranded or returning from industrial centres and cities post-lockdown belong to rural farming communities. 
  • Given that not everyone can be gainfully employed in farms, it is a matter of time before they head back to work away from their homes.

The need of the hour:

  • The need of the hour is to maximise the possibilities in a sector which has demonstrated its utility and resilience in trying circumstances. 
  • The focus should be on the coming kharif cropping season, especially ensuring timely availability of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, credit and other inputs. 
  • The latter includes labour and machines, whose movement was rightly exempted from lockdown restrictions. 

Conclusion:

  • The government should seriously consider starting at the earliest special trains for labourers engaged in paddy transplantation and other agriculture-related operations. 
  • This is also the time to free farm produce trade by lifting all restrictions on stocking, domestic movement and exports. Let Indian farmers feed the world, not just India.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 04 May 2020 (Across the Aisle (Financial Express))



Across the Aisle (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 2: National 
Prelims level: Not much 
Mains level: Imagination is everything in war against reality

Context:

  • The war against COVID-19 and its social and economic consequences is being led by the Central and state governments and we the people are mere followers. 
  • But as followers, we can imagine many things.

The virus can be defeated without a vaccine:

  • That will lead us to imagine that a lockdown is a cure and, until the cure is complete, a lockdown will stop the spread of the virus. 
  • The reality is that a lockdown is not a cure, nor does it stop the spread of the virus. 
  • A lockdown is a pause, it may slow the spread of the virus, and it will buy us valuable time to build our medical and health infrastructure, spread awareness and be prepared to deal with the peak number of infected persons who will require hospitalisation. 
  • Those who had demanded a lockdown had understood the reality. 

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Migrant workers who were prevented from going back:

  • The migrant workers who were prevented from going back to their homes are happy to be in their shelter homes, quarantines or camps, are content with the living conditions, and are satisfied with the food. 
  • The reality is what the Delhi Police found after inspecting the shelter homes.
  • Fans not working, and no power back-up; sanitisation of toilets rarely done; most migrants want to leave as their families cannot survive; rude behaviour of civil defence staff; food quality not good; no hand wash and sanitizers; foul smell in toilets; water supply in the toilets only between 7 am and 11 am; one soap for bathing and no detergent for washing clothes; mosquito bites.
  • If those are the conditions of shelter homes (where the stay is voluntary), don’t imagine what they will be in quarantines and camps (where the stay is involuntary).
  • The reality is that the vast majority of such workers got no assistance from the governments — no cash transfer, no rations. 
  • Their only desire is to go home. Uttar Pradesh and some other states took an enlightened approach and sent buses to ferry them to their home states, Bihar refused, and the Central government was non-committal until April 29. Now, Bihar has joined others to demand non-stop trains!

No job losses and its availability:

  • The reality is what CMIE reported on April 27: that the unemployment rate stood at 21.1% even while labour force participation had fallen to 35.4%. 
  • The reality is that once an MSME is shut down, it is not easy to re-start it. The few workers — two to 10 — in the unit may have found other ways to earn a wage or migrated and, even if they are willing to come back, there will be arrears of wages. 
  • The unit would have bills to be collected and bills to be paid, and neither is easy after a prolonged shutdown. 
  • The unit would have run out of working capital and no bank or NBFC will lend without a credit guarantee. 
  • The supply chain would have been interrupted: what is the use of re-opening a dealership if the manufacturer has not resumed production?
  • No one who has never invested his own money to start a business will understand the problems of running a business or the pain of closing it down.

Financial Action Plan II:

  • The Central government will keep its promise, made on March 25, that it will soon come out with Financial Action Plan II to help businesses, especially the MSMEs. 
  • The reality is that nothing has been done until the time of this writing. We don’t know if the Financial Task Force has made any recommendation. 
  • A new committee to think ‘Big and Bold’ is still thinking. 
  • The reality is that banks are flush with funds but they prefer to park them with the RBI than lend to NBFCs or SMEs. NBFCs are fast becoming illiquid and cannot on-lend.

Survive and flourish the big industries:

  • The reality is that big industries have realised that the old normal is out forever and are in search of a new normal. 
  • They are looking for conserving cash, curtailing capital expenditure, optimising capacity utilisation, downsizing their workforce, becoming debt-free, and expanding work-from-home. 
  • Big industries will also consolidate, which will result in less competition (for example, telecom).

V-curve:

  • Imagine that the economy will bounce back smartly after the lockdown is lifted and we will see the V-curve.
  • The reality is that the Indian economy did not recover after the demonetisation blunder, it did not recover after the botched-up GST, and will not recover easily after the lockdown is lifted. 
  • Even a tick-shaped recovery will require hard work, plans, meticulous implementation, money, open markets, smart alliances and international co-operation.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 04 May 2020 (Pandemics without borders, South Asia’s evolution (The Hindu))



Pandemics without borders, South Asia’s evolution (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: International 
Prelims level: COVID-19 pandemic
Mains level: Impact of COVID-19 pandemic spares in South Asia

Context:

  • Even if the COVID-19 pandemic spares South Asia the worst impact it has reserved thus far for the northern latitudes.
  • It is certain that this region of nearly a fourth of the global population will be wounded gravely economically, and as the process unfolds, socio-politically.
  • Holding the largest volume and density of poverty in the world, the countries of South Asia are looking into an abyss of distress and discontent.

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Dire sign:

  • As the region from the Indian Ocean to the Himalaya is hit by recession, more than half a century’s effort against poverty could be wasted. 
  • The coddling of the middle class and neglect of the majority underclass, so starkly seen during the pandemic response, points to all that has gone wrong in our electoral democracies; no country of South Asia is presently a formal dictatorship.
  • South Asians should take the pandemic as a wake-up call beyond public health, 
  • on ills ranging from plastic pollution to global warming, extinction of species, hijacking of the commons, 
  • dirty water, 
  • toxic air, 
  • a weakening of the welfare state, 
  • infrastructural exceptionalism and 
  • the rapid conversion of our demographic diversity into the worldwide sameness of a suburban mall.
  • As a dire telegram sent by Earth to Humanity, COVID-19 has laid bare the demagoguery that marks the democracies of South Asia. 
  • The response of the regimes has been to entrench themselves further, and they are shifting blame on mal-governance to the pandemic even as they tighten state control through surveillance, repressive laws and radical populism backed by ultra-nationalism.

Soft power:

  • The reason to talk at length about India within South Asia is that the country comprises much of the region by population and geography. 
  • Further, the actions and the omissions of India impact each neighbour. 
  • While all the other capitals have adversarial positions vis-à-vis New Delhi, however, it is also true that modern India has been aspirational for neighbouring societies — till now, that is.
  • The trajectory of India, with its galloping centralisation, removes governance from the people’s reach. 
  • In both India and Pakistan, the two large countries of South Asia, ending insensitivity and inefficiency in governance require power and agency to pass to the provinces/States. 
  • Self-correction is only possible in smaller, devolved polities. 
  • As has been seen during the ongoing crisis, the States of India have risen to the occasion and are seen to be more caring, for the simple reason that they are closer to the ground and more accountable.

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Demand a permanent seat in UNSC:

  • If India were an internationally confident nation-state, as in decades past, it would have used its clout to lobby and build demand for a sitting of the UN Security Council to discuss the global security threat represented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • India is also weakened internally by the New Delhi intelligentsia’s China fixation, which must be overcome. 
  • New Delhi seeks to copy-paste Beijing’s centralism as well as its xenophobia, both of which are bound to backfire in a country whose historicity and circumstances are quite different.

A reformatting:

  • The unflinching lack of caring for the citizenry by governments in South Asia can only be reversed through a formula that incorporates the internal and external to the nation-states, a reformatting of relationships.
  • Internally, power must devolve from the capital to the provincial units of the two larger countries (Pakistan and India), as well as empowerment of local governments all over (as done in Nepal under the 2015 Constitution, but not yet fully implemented).
  • Externally, the countries of South Asia must bring down the hyper-nationalist mind barriers to allow porous borders, thereby reviving historical synergies in economy, ecology and culture. 
  • This is essential for both social justice and economic growth, and cannot happen without a palpable reduction in military expenditures that will come with abandonment of the national security state.

Regionalism: 

  • South Asian regionalism requires resuming the evolution of the subcontinental polity that was terminated in 1947 with Partition.
  • Regionalism would lead to collaborative battles against pestilence, and for wealth creation through trade, comparative advantage, and economies of scale. 
  • Regionalism would help fight plastic pollution in our rivers, battle the air pollution that wafts across our frontiers, promote cooperation in natural and human-made disasters, and boost the economies of the geographical “periphery” of each country.
  • The push for South Asia-wide thinking and planning need not be seen as a malevolent attempt to subvert India. 

Way forward:

  • Instead, it is the path for India’s own socio-economic advance, and the way to garner international recognition of its soft power. 
  • Internal devolution and cross-border bonding has always been a necessity but impossible for some to contemplate. 

Conclusion:

  • The opinion-makers of India economists, political scientists, philosophers, sociologists, diplomats and others have tended to be New Delhi-centric, and, as a result, downright reluctant to address issues of both federalism within and regionalism without. They have thus far been unable to see the jungle for the trees.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 04 May 2020 (Slow release: On lockdown 3.0 (The Hindu))



Slow release: On lockdown 3.0 (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Governance 
Prelims level: Lockdown 3.0
Mains level: Process of releasing the lockdown process 

Context:

  • Balancing lives and livelihoods, the Centre has extended the national lockdown for COVID-19 for two weeks from May 4, with fewer restrictions on activity. 
  • But the highly contagious virus has not disappeared and the weeks ahead present a challenge to States. 

Gained from lockdown so far: 

  • They must ensure that the gains from the lockdown in terms of a relatively low death toll and a cap on new cases are not reversed overnight in the red, orange and green zones, where normality of varying degrees is to be restored, barring the containment zones. 
  • Kerala, lauded for its success in containing the pandemic, has chosen to retain some curbs even in green zones. 
  • Allowing some economic activity, though not at full pace, and under safeguards, was inevitable.

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High degree of civic cooperation: 

  • Although the stipulations in the Home Ministry’s orders require a high degree of civic cooperation. 
  • The continued suspension of air, rail, inter-State and urban public transport, and the bar on mass gatherings and entertainment venues remove a major source of crowding.
  • The restrictions on the number of passengers allowed in private vehicles and taxi cabs, and the protocol for personnel in industries call for strict adherence to succeed. 
  • Allowing outpatient clinics to reopen and the permission given for plumbers, electricians and other technicians to work with safeguards are welcome. 
  • The relaxation process can be eased greatly if States adopt a ‘how to’ approach and communicate to citizens clearly.

Prevention option is only available: 

  • In the absence of medical remedies, prevention remains the only option against the virus. 
  • Using face masks, now mandatory, hand washing and physical distancing at all times are universally recognised precautions. 
  • Such measures were adopted relatively late in India, with politicians initially reluctant to even adjourn legislatures, leave alone impose strict curbs on public activity. 
  • It has taken more than a month to move migrant workers back to their home States by train; in the interim, several desperate families have tried to walk home across vast distances and many have perished. 
  • Besides ensuring decent conditions for these workers and the education of their children, States must also prepare for the arrival of expatriate workers in large numbers from West Asia and elsewhere. 
  • These unprecedented pressures add to the need to maintain the highest vigil against COVID-19. 

Way ahead:

  • The biggest cities, with a legacy of market-driven housing policies, unplanned densification, rampant pollution and poor health-care access are red zones, with large infection clusters. 
  • Their decay is marked by the absence of usable commons, including pavements in normally crowded localities, making it difficult to maintain distancing. 
  • This is an appropriate moment to start repairing that damage. 
  • What the public must be told emphatically is that the relaxation of the lockdown is not a return to life as it existed before the coronavirus. It is a new reality, one that calls for safe, measured activity.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 04 May 2020 (No comfort in numbers: On Bengal’s coronavirus cases (The Hindu))



No comfort in numbers: On Bengal’s coronavirus cases (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2: Governance 
Prelims level: Bengal’s coronavirus cases
Mains level: Handling the coronavirus cases by the West Bengal government 

Context:

  • West Bengal, which reported its first COVID-19 case in mid-March, has now recorded a total of 922 cases. 
  • The State has reported 48 deaths but had not counted 72 who died of comorbidities. 
  • West Bengal is now ranks fourth lowest in terms of the number of those tested, and is also way lower than Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. 
  • Against a national average of 721 tests per million, West Bengal has a dismal 212.6 tests per million. 

Lack of testing and not acknowledge of death: 

  • The general reluctance of the government to ramp up testing and to acknowledge deaths from the disease as such. 
  • This comes as a surprise given its initial proactive stand on several fronts to tackle COVID-19. 
  • It was the first State to move from containment to mitigation to contain the spread when it announced a complete lockdown before the Prime Minister announced it nationally. 
  • Chief Minister was seen doing all the right things including demonstrating how social distancing is to be practised and setting up quarantine centres in every district. 
  • While it is not clear if testing has improved, there is clearly a reluctance to divulge the true extent of spread of the virus. 
  • The hesitation is pronounced on the issue of sharing mortality numbers.

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Example set by Kerala: 

  • As Kerala has demonstrated, early detection of cases and tracing of contacts, quarantining and testing will not only help in containing the spread but also markedly reduce the case fatality rate. 
  • Trying to keep the numbers artificially low by testing fewer people or not divulging the actual numbers and tracing their contacts allows the virus to spread unchecked. 
  • The poor surveillance and delay in testing will overwhelm the health system and result in even more deaths, something that no government would be proud of. 
  • A higher number of cases is only a reflection of how active the State has been in waging a war against the virus, while a higher case fatality rate serves as evidence of poor response. 

Conclusion:

  • With the lockdown now extended by two more weeks, the government should follow the advice of WHO and cover lost ground by aggressively testing and isolating cases, and tracing contacts. 
  • Assembly polls next year should not be a reason for the Union and the State governments to politicise a public health issue that has been declared a pandemic.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 02 May 2020 (Covid-19: Time to think of key tax reforms (Financial Express))



Covid-19: Time to think of key tax reforms (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Tax reforms 
Mains level: Evolutions of the major tax reforms and its outcomes 

Context:

  • Two major laws, income-tax and customs were legislated during the national emergency in 1962. They have stood the test of time, revealing that the best policy measure evolves when human minds are sharpest and there is coordinated action, seeking light in chaos. 
  • The current crisis, as it settles, will draw a renewed attention of policymakers on tax revenue mobilisation and its impact will drive areas of government expenditure and fiscal stimulus to businesses. 

Key tax reforms for an impactful outcome:

  • The current or the new tax code, will enlist the broad principles on which the detailed tax law is based, which is the legislated tax policy.
  • The tax law that must be interpreted considering the former. The current approach of the statute is that it is the reference point for both the law and the legislative intent, owing to which interpretation-linked disputes arise and require the courts to fine-comb the law. 

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Why this radical reform is the need of the hour? 

  • The law today, due to many reasons, including incoherent drafting and target-driven approach of the administration, discourages most business enterprises and instead promotes taxpayers to resort to tax mitigation and at times evasive approaches, which enhances litigation.
  • The policy today is a complex mesh of varied and often competing objectives. For instance, specifically directed tax incentives, say SEZs and manufacturing-linked corporate tax rates.
  • Tax exemption provisions witness most disputes and varying tax rates give opportunities for business to reorganise their affairs. 
  • At the same time, the tax law is replete with ominous anti-avoidance provisions, such as GAAR, and the past decade has witnessed plethora of specific anti-avoidance (also called SAAR) provisions, whose only purpose is to deter business from resorting to tax-mitigation measures.
  • An inherent inter se tension between such competing stances manifests itself in tax litigation, which overwhelms all the three branches of the state-executive, legislative and judicial-consuming massive time and resource costs of taxpayers, besides resulting in an ineffective system. 

Is such a situation avoidable?

  • Perhaps, a qualified yes, or even a tacit no, as in a large measure it is contingent upon the lawmakers, who play the role of both the script director and a major actor.
  • The long-term fiscal policy of 1985, a first major attempt in the pre-economic reforms era, replete with enviable propositions, is forgotten in the liberalisation zeal. 
  • Rationalisation of tax rates mooted three decades ago is still relevant. 
  • With innovative suggestions such as a national tax court, a comprehensive tax-policy rewrite is the need for the hour; one resulting into a coherent tax law which de-hyphenates businesses from opportunistic tax-motivated manoeuvres.
  • Classification of corporate tax rates: 15% for MSMEs, 18% for manufacturing business and 20% for all others, with no room for any form of tax holiday. 
  • The suggestion may sound strange in an environment where the government’s tax revenues are already under stress and with the health crisis it will merely get accentuated. 
  • An underlying objective here is simplicity, which in our view will obviate most disputes and low tax-incidence will reinvigorate business sentiment.

Lowering surcharge/cess rate: 

  • As a measure to overcome immediate needs, a surcharge/cess not exceeding 10% can be considered, with a provision for carry back of losses, such that businesses reeling under losses are able to recoup.
  • Such provisions should be one-off in nature, say, applicable for 2-3 years. 
  • For individual taxpayers, other than businesses, a maximum marginal rate of 25% with no tax below annual income of Rs 8 lakh shall address the hardship factor and instil the capacity-to-pay principle, besides moderate tax rates. 

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Scope of tax on agricultural income: 

  • With political will, it is time to bring agricultural income within the scope of tax. 
  • As a start, rich farmers with income above 1 crore be taxed. 
  • Since this will require a constitutional amendment with the support of states, let the entire proceeds of such collections devolve upon states, as quid pro quo.
  • This will also reduce devolution commitment of the Union. 
  • The sense of inequitable treatment will be addressed that emanates from this sector getting the largesse of farm-loan incentives without tax obligations.

Enforcement and appellate functioning: 

  • Indeed, there is no economic rationale for keeping away such large earners outside the tax basket.
  • These changes will de-clutter the administration’s time and space from regular annual amendments unless they are essential. 
  • More importantly, the administration’s focus shall significantly move away from enforcement and appellate functioning, leaving space to focus on technology, policy and taxpayer service. 
  • Faceless/e-assessment coupled with taxpayers’ charter are a good start, but to make them effective, these must be backed with a change in mindset and investment in technology and rigorous training.

Administrative reforms: 

  • The additional, deputy and assistant commissioners be allocated to a group of other taxpayers under cooperative compliance function. 
  • Similarly, let there be stratification of taxpayers like large corporates, MSMEs, individuals and others. 
  • The degree of taxpayer services for businesses should be similar to the focus given for individuals, assessment and refund mechanism, which have been largely streamlined in the recent years.
  • These officers should be reskilled from the mindset of ‘assessing’ to ‘assist’, who will work with taxpayers in collaborative fashion to proactively fulfil compliance requirement, address contentious positions and thus avoid glaring tax controversies. 
  • The limited resources should be allocated for assessment or audit, which must be aligned to the faceless/e-assessment route scheme. 
  • Even limited resources should be allocated for enforcement function, dealing with search and investigation cases.

Establishing an independent appellate: 

  • An independent appellate functioning of the department (commissioner, Appeals) should be supplemented with a mechanism to settle disputes via a collegium of senior officials in the department of revenue and not via filed officials, due to inherent conflicts. 
  • Such collegium should be empowered to compromise/settle a dispute under the overall supervision of CBDT and not subjected to any vigilance oversight to ensure smooth decision-making. 
  • This will ensure that select cases of disagreement will trigger a dispute, unlike discretionary positions of assessments. 
  • All of this will entail material change in (re)allocation of work and skills, particularly at the level of commissioner and above, without which change will be meaningless.

Conclusion: 

  • Changed times offer an opportunity to usher in overdue administrative reforms, which is even more time-critical as businesses recover from the shock and view them as an avenue for incentivising economic growth.
  • Equally, it should not dither the government from pursuing its goal to garner tax revenues for addressing rising demands from social commitments by balancing needs of the business. 
  • A calibrated approach to balance welfare economics with a vision to pioneer economic activity and national growth is needed.
  • Such balance is tricky, but cannot be shied away by any nation and policymakers ought to display a crisis-driven change that will build a stronger and resilient India.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 02 May 2020 (It’s about food, nutrition and livelihood security (The Hindu))



It’s about food, nutrition and livelihood security (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Public Distribution System
Mains level: Highlights the different dimensions of the food security problem 

Context:

  • The current national lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the problems of food, nutrition and livelihood security confronting a large number of rural people, in particular, migrants to cities. 

Measures taken: 

  • Provisions such as by giving of additional rice or wheat, some pulses and oil free of cost.
  • As well as Rs.1,000 cash for the purchase of other essential commodities through the Public Distribution System (PDS).

Dimensions in food security: 
Availability of food in the market:

  • The first is the availability of food in the market, and this is seen as a function of production. 
  • Because of Green Revolution, today we have enough food in the market and in government godowns.
  • This is a great accomplishment by Indian farmers who converted a “ship to mouth” situation to a “right to food” commitment. Yet we cannot take farmers’ contributions in terms of sustaining production for granted. 
  • While some special exemptions have been given to the agricultural sector, farmers are confronted at the moment with labour shortages, many of the inputs, including seeds, are expensive or unavailable, marketing arrangements including supply chains are not fully functional, pricing is not remunerative, and public procurement is also not adequate. 

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Widen the food basket: 

  • The second dimension is the access to food, which is a function of purchasing power, as unless you are a farmer and grow your own food, others have to buy it. 
  • The government, through the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the PDS, has assured some additional food to every individual during this crisis. 
  • This should be further strengthened and the food basket widened by including millets, pulses and oil. Steps should also be taken to avoid hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients in the diet. 
  • In light of the closure of schools and anganwadi centres, and the consequent disruptions in the provision of midday meals or other nutritional inputs.
  • It is important to pay attention to the life cycle approach advocated in the NFSA, particularly the first thousand days in a child’s life, when the cognitive abilities of the child are shaped. 
  • We may otherwise see negative effects on nutritional security in the medium to longer term. 

Nutritious and good quality of food: 

  • Food security and access to nutritious, good quality food is also contingent on job security. 
  • Today, a lot of people employed both on farms and in the non-farm sector are without jobs. 
  • If job security is threatened, then so is food and nutrition security. 
  • We have to ensure people do not lose their jobs, and one way of doing this will be to ensure value addition to primary products. 
  • An example of such value addition is the Rice Biopark in Myanmar, wherein the straw, bran, and the entire biomass are utilised. 
  • This would of course mean some attention to and investment in new technologies that can contribute to biomass utilisation. 
  • The Amul model provides a good example from the dairy sector of improved incomes to milk producers through value addition. 

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Work under MGNREGA:

  • To livelihood security for small and marginal farmers and landless households, and women within them, is strengthening the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). 
  • The definition of a worker in MGNREGA has so far been applied only to unskilled, manual work, and not to skilled jobs in agriculture and allied activities. 
  • Given the lack of jobs and incomes during the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative to expand the definition of work in MGNREGA to cover skilled work related to farmers and their farming activities. 
  • This is particularly important for women farmers and workers, who should not just be given tasks of carrying stones or digging mud. 
  • Apart from farming, they engage in a range of essential care tasks, including caring for children, the elderly and sick people. 
  • These tasks, often invisible, need to be recognised as work and supported with appropriate education, including on nutrition. 

Focus on non-food factors:

  • The third dimension of food security is absorption of food in the body or its utilisation, which is dependent importantly on sanitation, drinking water and other non-food factors, including public health services. 
  • Ensuring that these services are functional depends on the capacities of the local panchayats and their coordination with other local bodies. 
  • The lack of adequate clean water in particular has come to the fore in both rural areas and urban slums in the context of COVID-19, where one of the key measures for stopping transmission relates to frequent hand-washing. 

Way ahead: 

  • If we can ensure food availability, food access and food absorption, then we have a fairly robust system of food and nutrition security. 
  • All the above dimensions are, however, now threatened by the novel coronavirus, as discussed earlier. 
  • It is very critical to highlight the linkages between agriculture, nutrition and health. 
  • While the PDS may be able to meet calorie needs, the inability to harvest, transport and market perishable fruits and vegetables at remunerative prices during the current crisis, has not just deprived farmers of incomes and livelihoods, but consumers too are deprived of micronutrients in their diets.
  • Farmers making losses, and agriculture moving from being job-led to jobless, raise questions about the sustainability of the production cycle. At the same time, this can have long-term consequences on nutrition and health security. 

Conclusion:

  • Today’s problems are not as daunting. 
  • Through a combination of farmers’ cooperation, technological upgrading and favourable public policies in procurement, pricing and distribution, we can deal with the fallouts of the pandemic. 
  • We hope that this pandemic will help recognise the contribution of our farmers.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 02 May 2020 (Ominous contraction: On core sector output (The Hindu))



Ominous contraction: On core sector output (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Coal sector 
Mains level: Effect of COVID-19 pandemic fall in India’s core sector 

Context:

  • The latest data on core sector output is signalling that considerable economic pain lies ahead in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown that commenced on March 25. 

Highlights of the data released by the Government: 

  • The provisional figures released by the Commerce Ministry show that production at all but one of the eight industries comprising the core sector shrank in March from a year earlier.
  • It resulting in the sharpest contraction in the index since the new series began in April 2012. 
  • The output contracted by as much as 6.5% in a month when most economic activities ground to a halt only in the last seven days. 
  • The output at petroleum refineries slid only by a marginal 0.5% as a bulk of the transportation sector was idled only in the last week of March, the 7.2% and 13% contractions in electricity and steel production, respectively, reflect the underlying stress in the economy, most crucially on the demand side. 
  • With all non-essential industries and commercial establishments ordered shut as part of the lockdown, demand for electricity declined by more than 9% in March, according to data from the National Load Despatch Centre. 

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Positive figure:

  • Coal, the only sector to post a positive figure in March as output expanded 4%, also presents a far from reassuring picture as growth slowed sharply from February’s 11.2% and was less than half the 9.1% pace seen in March 2019. 
  • With demand for coal from user sectors spanning thermal generators and the key process industries of steel and cement unlikely to revive any time soon, production of the crucial commodity is very likely to shrink in April. 
  • With the construction sector hit hard by the lockdown and likely to face serious labour supply issues even after the economy gradually reopens, cement may see production shrink in the first month of the new fiscal year by an even greater extent than the 25% drop seen in March. 

Way forward:

  • The fall of oil market with global crude prices tumbling is also certain to undermine the industries in the energy sector. April’s overall core output appears headed for an even sharper contraction. 
  • The eight major industries having a weight of 40.3% in the broader Index of Industrial Production, it is certain to drag industrial output as a whole into negative territory. 
  • The Centre may be left with little option but to massively lift public spending on infrastructure once the lockdown eases in order to revive the reeling economy.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 02 May 2020 (Recovering early: On India’s COVID-19 patients (The Hindu))



Recovering early: On India’s COVID-19 patients (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: COVID 19
Mains level: Process of the recovering COVID 19 patients 

Context:

  • Data for COVID-19 is still a long way from giving a complete picture, but it is encouraging that the basic metric of the number of those recovering as a share of confirmed infections is showing improvement in India. 

Cautions over data: 

  • The Health Ministry has said that the percentage of recoveries currently stands at just over 25.
  • It is almost double of what it was two weeks ago. 
  • National data on other parameters appear similar to disease trends witnessed globally, with the worst outcomes encountered among elderly patients — translating into a case fatality rate of 51.2% for Indians older than 60. 

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Required early testing: 

  • It is therefore imperative to find positive cases early and assess the pace of recovery accurately. 
  • Among the countries moving to a mass-testing strategy after a measured lockdown and successful control over viral transmission is New Zealand. 
  • In terms of deaths, there could be unknown fatalities caused by COVID-19 outside hospitals. 
  • Doctors in the United States have made a contrasting determination: of people who had the virus, but died of unrelated causes. 

Key highlights about research findings in India: 

  • These findings and trends underscore the importance of research on the progression of the pandemic in India.
  • Indiaofficially estimated at 3.2%, which seems low; it remains a topic for systematic study. 
  • There are many hypotheses for the less dismal outcome in India based on the impact of climate, benefits of immunisation, and other possible factors, but they remain untested. 
  • India’s fatalities may be low, and an improved recovery rate will help revive the economy, there is genuine worry that patients with non-COVID-19 conditions are at greater risk for poor health outcomes due to lack of access to care during the pandemic. 
  • The public health strategy for COVID-19 has to sharply focus on helping people determine their infection status through widely available testing. 

Way forward: 

  • This will enable selective quarantining, planning of welfare measures and participation of people who have recovered in trials for potential therapies such as convalescent plasma transfusion. 
  • With a relaxation of the lockdown, India’s strategy will need precise and intensive measures to drive down the reproduction number for the virus.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 02 May 2020 (Plasma therapy is no silver bullet (The Hindu))



Plasma therapy is no silver bullet (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: Plasma therapy
Mains level: Development of the scientific study in the field of plasma therapy

Context:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedentedchallenges to governments, health professionals and the general public at large, around the world. 
  • Every response, administrative, social, economic or medical is being subjected to intense public scrutiny, as it rightly should be in the spirit of mature democracy.

Plasma therapy:

  • The therapy involves infusingpatients suffering from COVID-19 with plasma from recovered patients.
  • In theory, the antibodies of the recovered person may help that patient’s immune system fight the virus. 
  • While showing great promise, it is a line of treatment that is yet to be validatedfor efficacy and safety and cannot be deployed widely without caution.

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Possible benefits: 

  • The current evidence to conclude anything about the true benefits of this therapy is very thin.
  • Scientific research in medicine is the only means to overcome novel and complex diseases such as COVID-19 and that too thriveson the same spirit of debate and criticism. 
  • The difference, however, is that the standards of evidence required, to generate consensus and arrive at the most optimalprotocols, are far more rigorousand time-taking than in most other walks of life.

Convalescent plasma therapy:

  • The convalescent plasma therapy is being currently studied by the Indian Council of Medical Research, through open label, randomised controlled trial to evaluate it for both safety and efficacy. 
  • Already, four patients have been enrolled in Ahmedabad and the study will be rolled out in 20 hospitals by the end of this week and at more centres over the next month.

Need for more research:

  • The most important principle in medical ethics is “do no harm”. The transfusion of convalescent plasma is also not without risks, which range from mild reactions like fever, itching, to life-threatening allergic reactions and lung injury. 
  • To recommend a therapy without studying it thoroughly with robust scientific methods may cause more harm than good.
  • Till date, there have been only three published case series for convalescent plasma in COVID-19 with a cumulative of 19 patients. 

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Randomised controlled trial:

  • To say with certainty whether a drug is truly effective or not, the gold standard in medicine is to conduct a randomised controlled trial, where half the patients get the experimental drug and the other half do not. Only if patients in the first half show substantial improvement over those in the second half, it indicates the drug is beneficial.
  • Further, convalescent plasma therapy requires intensive resources, healthy COVID-19 survivors to donate, a blood bank with proper machinery and trained personnel to remove plasma, equipment to store it and testing facilities to make sure it has an adequate amount of antibodies. 
  • Too much focus on one approach can take away the focus from other important therapeutic modalities like use of oxygen therapy, antivirals, and antibiotics for complicated hospital courses. 
  • To overcome the pandemic comprehensively, we should focus on strengthening health systems at all levels, including referral systems, supply chain, logistics and inventory management. 
  • We need to work on protecting our healthcare workers, improving prevention methods, promoting cough etiquettes,effective quarantining and accurate testing.

Conclusion:

  • Even these times of collective uncertainty are no reason to lower scientific temper. While it is good to be hopeful, the fact remains there are no real silver bullets in medicine and health outcomes are a result of not just a few pills or therapies but a complex set of factors. 
  • Science should be driven by reason and evidence with hope as a catalyst but not by either fear or populism. Pushing one or the other therapy without evidence or caution can only set back our larger fight against COVID-19.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 01 May 2020 (The making of the modern public intellectual (The Hindu))



The making of the modern public intellectual (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 4:Ethics 
Prelims level: Not much 
Mains level: Moral conscience of society

Context:

  • This article is based on fundamentals of a just law. Law is not the source of its own moral authority and legitimacy.

A setback to democracy:

  • Centuries later, M.K. Gandhi reiteratedthat a law is binding only if it satisfies the unwritten codes of public ethics. He spoke in the context of colonial rule. Surely democratic regimes ought to respect the right of citizens to dissent.
  • In today’s India, however, holders of state power refuse to tolerate ideas, reflection, debate, and discussion. Two years ago, the government arrestedeminent members of civil society on charges that were clearly produced by conspiratorial imaginations. 
  • On April 14, two of India’s well-known scholars/activists, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha, surrendered before the National Investigation Agency. 
  • In early April, an FIR was filed by the Uttar Pradesh government against the editor of the news website, The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan. The charges in these cases are flimsy. It is obvious that intellectuals are being penalised for taking on the government.

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Depressing commentary:

  • The arrests are a depressing commentaryon the nature of the present government. Sophisticatedsocieties respect intellectuals because they subject the present to historically informed investigation, interpretation, critique and prescription. This is integral to the idea of democratic politics as self-critique. 
  • Politics establishes rules that govern multiple transactions of society. It cannot be its own defendant, judge and jury. If politics is, as Aristotle put it, the master science (science for Greeks is knowledge), it has to accept reflective and critical activity. Politics is too important to be left to politicians alone.
  • While authoritarian societies breedcourt historians, mature democracies appreciate critical scholarship. But today intellectualism is dismissed contemptuously as elitist. Not only does this attitude foster a culture of mediocrity, intellectuals who hold a mirror to the state are hounded and arrested. This is a setback to democracy, because it foreclosesengagement with structures of power. Without its public intellectuals, democracy slides into authoritarianism.

Dreyfus affair:

  • The first public intellectual was, of course, Socrates. The modern notion of the public intellectual is, however, fairly recent. It took shape in the tumultuousdays of what has come to be known as the ‘Dreyfus affair’ in France in 1894. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish Army officer, had allegedly handed over important government documents to the Germans. He was convicted of treasonamidst a roar of revolting anti-Semitism.
  • When Dreyfus was stripped of his medals, the crowd shouted ‘Death to the Jew’. The atmosphere was charged, mob mentality ruled, and sanevoices were drowned in the din. Scholars, artists, and novelists could hardly keep away. 
  • They had to summon their knowledge to reflect on citizens’ rights, the irrationalbehaviour of crowds, the ugly slogans that stereotypedan entire community, and the unholy gleewith which crowds watched the humiliation of an army officer. 
  • The incident propelled Paris-based intellectuals into the mainstream of French politics. This was the time when scholars came out from their ivory towersand took sides, despite massive crowd hysteriathat broke boundsof civility.

Injustice, prejudice and intolerance:

  • Dreyfus was later exonerated,but the affair split the French intelligentsia wide open. Emile Zola wrote an open letter, J’Accuse, in support of the beleagueredarmy officer. Zola attacked injustice, prejudiceand intolerance. 
  • He reserved for the intellectual the function that Socrates had reserved for the philosopher: stand by the universal in the quest for truth and in the fight against injustice. Julien Benda, a noted Jewish intellectual, argued that the duty of the intellectual is to defend universal values over and above the politics of the moment.

Commitment to truth, reason and justice: 

  • But other scholars propagatedanti-Semitism. In 1942, the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote an account of the anti-Semitism directed at Dreyfus by right-wing intellectuals in France. 
  • Intellectuals who upheldRepublicanism and basic rights were too weak to confront the power of the mob. Mobs are fickle, their rhetoric is blood-curdling, they hate debate, detestinstitutions, and hero-worship leaders. 
  • When intellectuals follow the mob or, worse, the leader, they pave the way for fascism, the destruction of institutions, the emergence of the hero, and pogromsof the minority. When intellectuals fail to live up to codes of public ethics, they uphold injustice. 
  • Their commitment to truth, reason and justice lapses; they become partners in injustice.

Moral conscience of society:

  • The Dreyfus affairlegitimisedthe idea that a public intellectual has to denounce injustice despite the power of the mob. Since then it has been held that intellectuals are not defined by what they are — professors, writers, artists or journalists — but by what they do. Intellectuals have to be competent in their own field, otherwise they will not be taken seriously by anyone. 
  • But there is more to being an intellectual. Scholars have to be public intellectuals. They have to cast their scholarly gaze(look) on issues that cause explosions, siftout the details, analyse, evaluate, and take a position. An intellectual has to be involved in public affairs.
  • Public intellectuals are the moral conscience of society, simply because they think. To think is to question, to call for freedom, and to invoke the right to disobey. 
  • Our intellectuals have to be reflective, philosophical beings, philosophical in the sense that they think about issues, addresses contemporary social problems and see them as the legacies of previously unresolved issues of social injustice

In India:

  • It is precisely the unresolved issue of social injustice that has been taken up by Mr. Teltumbde, Mr. Navlakha and Mr. Varadarajan repeatedly and insistently. All three of them have battled the reproduction of injustice in their own ways. 
  • Mr. Teltumbde is a fine chronicler of the injustice that has been heapedon the Dalit community. Mr. Navlakha has fiercelycastigatedviolations of civil liberties. And Mr. Varadarajan has exposed the horrific crimes committed by the merchants of hate. 
  • None of them has advocatedviolence, none of them has asked the Indian people to revolt against the elected regime. All they ask for is that the provisions of the Constitution be honoured by our leaders. 

Conclusion:

  • Leaders wield the scalpel, they ought to be the healers. Their touch should nurse the wounds in the body politic. 
  • Public intellectuals are the conscience of our country. They should be respected because they speak out against injustice wherever it occurs, not be subjected to punitiveaction. 

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