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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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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 01 May 2020 (Religion and freedom: On India and communal violence(The Hindu))



Religion and freedom: On India and communal violence(The Hindu)



Mains Paper 1:Society 
Prelims level: Communal violence
Mains level: Communal violence and its effects on Indian democracy 

Context:

  • Religious freedom is of paramount importance, not because it is about religion, but because it is about freedom. 
  • The characterisation by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) of India as a country of particular concern.
  • In its annual report, is not entirely surprising, considering its dimand known views about sectarian violence and aggravatinggovernmental measures over the last year. 

Repudiation: 

  • The Indian government not only repudiatedthe report but also ridiculedthe USCIRF. The autonomous, bipartisancommission’s influence over any U.S. executive action is limited and occasional but its presumption of global authority appears amusingly expansive.
  • Whether or not the U.S. government acts on its recommendation to impose targeted sanctionson Indian government agencies and officials depends on American strategic interests. 
  • The U.S. has used arguments of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and transparency as tools in its strategic pursuits(tracking), but there is no proof of any uniform or predictable pattern of enforcement of such moral attributes.

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Embracing and rejecting:

  • The process can be selective and often arbitraryin spotlighting countries. Mirroring this pattern, India selectively approaches global opinions on itself, embracing and celebrating laudatoryones and rejecting inconvenient ones. 
  • The frantic, and relatively successful, efforts to raise its Ease of Doing Business ranking by the World Bank is a case in point. 
  • Many of these reports have a circulatory life — the USCIRF report quotes U.N. Special Rapporteurs to buttressits point on the discriminatory outcome of the National Register ofCitizens in Assam.
  • Overall, such reports contribute to the construction of an image of a country, and the Indian government is cognisantof this pattern. 
  • In March, the Indian government told Niti Aayog to track 32 global indices and engage with the bodies that measure them, to advance reform and growth. 

 Multi-religious democracy:

  • India advertises itself as a multi-religious democracy and as an adherentto global norms of rule of law. It also aspires to be on the table of global rule making. For a country with such stated ambitions, its record on religious freedom as reflected through events of the last one year is deeply disconcerting.
  • The catalogueof religious violence, incitementand wreckingof the rule of law in several parts of the country remains an unsettling fact. The partisannature of the ruling dispensationis also difficult to wish away.  

Conclusion:

  • Reputation is important for a country’s economic development and global standing but beyond that instrumental perspective, rule of law and communal harmony are essential for any functioning democracy. 
  • India must protect its freedoms, and come down heavilyreligious violence.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 01 May 2020 (Strategic shift: On home isolation of mild coronavirus cases(The Hindu))



Strategic shift: On home isolation of mild coronavirus cases(The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: Segregation
Mains level: Rules in home isolation due to COVID 19 lockdown

Context:

  • On March 28, only 130 districts of India’s 736 had reported COVID-19 cases. 
  • The Health Ministry’s strategy then, after the national lockdown, was to ensure State supervision of those who manifestedsymptoms — as well as their high-risk contacts — and who had a travel history. 

Segregation: 

  • Suspected high-risk contacts or those likely to have been exposed to the infection were subjected to varying degrees of State quarantine.
  • Those not showing signs of the disease or ‘mild’ manifestations, were put in care centres and those noticeably sicker, in hospitals. The idea always was that if the sick and their contacts were segregatedfrom the community long enough, the transmission chain would be broken and the disease extinguished. 
  • As April ends, the number of affected districts stands at 401 and confirmed cases have risen by a 1,000 a day; the daily death count hoversbetween 50 and 60. 
  • In a containment strategy tweak, those with a mild form of the disease, or are presymptomatic, would have the option of home quarantining. But their homes ought to have self-isolation facilities, a full-time caregiver, and daily health-status reports given to the district surveillanceofficer.

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Relative relaxation:

  • The Health Ministry has not explained what promptedthis relative relaxation. However, anecdotalevidence suggests doctors and health-care workers have been disproportionately vulnerable to the infection and a single case leads to entire hospitals being shut down. 
  • Unlike in the U.S. and western Europe, India’s hospitals are not yet cloggedwith seriously ill patients. It could be due to India’s relatively low case-count and also people not turning up fearing infection. 
  • Allowing home quarantine could be seen as health authorities inferringthat quarantining in public facilities posed more risks. India is now forced to reserve its health-care facilities for those who need it the most.

Fortify health workers and hospitals:

  • The presymptomatics and asymptomaticsdid not benefit from treatment and were potentvirus spreaders, and therefore endangeredthe staff and health workers. They also stretched State resources in maintenance. 
  • The Ministry also found that among those who tested positive, there were two presymptomatics or asymptomatics for every symptomatic. 
  • The disease spread, it appears, is now beyond the abilityof the state to contain, by quarantine, and it was far more prudentto fortifyhealth workers and hospitals with the best facilities available to handle patients. 

Conclusion:

  • Officially, there is no community transmission in India but at this magnitude of cases, it does not practically matter. 
  • Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi are powering the spread of cases and only consistent declines here can broachdiscussion on the end of the pandemic. 
  • From a month ago, India, on paper, is equipped with better supply channels of personal protective equipment, infusion pumps (for oxygen), hospital beds, laboratories for testing and PCR kits. 
  • If the lockdown is lifted on May 3, the rationale behind the government’s containment strategy will be put to a stringenttest.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 01 May 2020 (Covid crisis shows India’s science capacity (Mint))



Covid crisis shows India’s science capacity (Mint)



Mains Paper 3:Science and Tech 
Prelims level: Covid-19
Mains level: Role of Indian Science and Technology fraternity to combat COVID 19

Context:

  • Right now, because there’s no cure or vaccine yet globally, the focus is on testing, tagging, tracking, significantly cutting down the transmission, planning for the post-lockdown scenarios and managing the Covid-19 cases. 

Role of science: 

  • In all of these, the role of science is paramount. 
  • Whether it is in the understanding of virus behaviour, its impact on the human body, or its modes of transmission, it is science that has given us the answers, enabling us to formulate meaningful strategies. 
  • Now, the next steps are to connect strongly globally to search for vaccines and drugs. 
  • Work on all of these fronts has begun actively in India with several labs, academia, startups and companies working in tandem on hospital supplies, therapies, vaccines and on inexpensive, rapid diagnostics for large scale testing.

Do you think the Indian Science and Technology fraternity has responded well to Covid-19?

  • Our scientific fraternity has responded well in the area of managing the infected people. Several new and inexpensive designs of ventilators and other respiratory support systems have come up rapidly, some of which are designed for non-ICU use including home care. 
  • A plethora of effective PPEs, masks, sanitisers and novel disinfecting systems have been developed and begun to be manufactured at scale. The experimental trials for alternative therapies like convalescent plasma therapy in critical cases have begun.
  • On another front inexpensive, fast and accurate methods of diagnosis, driven by cutting edge science, have evolved in India within the past month. 

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Does Indian science have answers to challenges faced, and the ability to handle crises?

  • India has a very deep scientific knowledge base and infrastructure across the country in various institutions and Research and Development labs. 
  • We are number three in the world in number of scientific and engineering publications, and also at number three in many cutting-edge fields like nanosciences and materials science. 
  • We shouldn’t underestimate the brilliance of our scientific human resources, who are among the best in the world. Given a challenge, we can rise to meet it. Some areas do need improvement. 
  • While our quantity of research is adequate, the quality of research can further improve by shifting from incremental research to research that is profound, disruptive where needed, cutting edge and relevant.

How does India compare with other countries? Poorly, in some aspects?

  • We don’t compare poorly in research with other nations. We think the point you make is given all our strengths, why don’t we see enough technology solutions and commercial activity based on them on the scale seen in some other countries.
  • The point we often miss is that there are two distinct systems that need to seamlessly collaborate to make this possible – systems that generate knowledge (academia, Research and Development labs) and systems that consume knowledge (industry, startups …). 
  • The knowledge generated needs a push, which combined with an equally effective pull of the knowledge consuming system, allows societal and commercial translation of knowledge. 
  • The pull factor becomes stronger in a knowledge based economy that aspires to be globally competitive. It is in this push-pull connect and the strength of pull that we have been historically weak.
  • Covid-19 has helped us see these forces at work very clearly. 
  • If there is a clear and present challenge and a clear resulting opportunity, then our knowledge ecosystem can work holistically from research to development to translation to prototyping to scale up to commercialisation. 
  • Then, both the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, and the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, see the value of mutual collaboration for the fulfilment of each.

What should be the roles of private industry and government?

  • As in many knowledge-based economies, industries should create a strong pull factor for knowledge, for example, by attracting the bright young minds and creating knowledge-based culture which can interface strongly with academia, labs and startups to translate research into scalable technological solutions. 
  • Government through its policies and direct support, creates an enabling environment for Research and Development, innovation and its connections to industry. 
  • Our education and academic research should also bring the elements of innovation, relevance and critical independent thinking to produce the best of scientists.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 30 April 2020 (Afghan peace and India’s elbow room (The Hindu))



Afghan peace and India’s elbow room (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:International Relations 
Prelims level: India- Afghanistan relations 
Mains level: Bilateral groupings and agreements 

Context:

  • Earlier this month, the United Nations Secretariat held a meeting of what it calls the “6+2+1” group on regional efforts to support peace in Afghanistan.
  • A group that includes six neighbouring countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; global players the United States and Russia, and Afghanistan itself. 
  • India was conspicuous by its absence from the meeting on April 16, given its historical and strategic ties with Afghanistan, but not for the first time.
  • Left out, but some recovery
  • The Indian team led by special envoy arrived in Germany’s Petersberg hotel near Bonn, where the famous Bonn agreement was negotiated, to find no reservations had been made for them at the official venue. 
  • In January 2010, India was invited to attend the “London Conference” on Afghanistan, but left out of the room during a crucial meeting that decided on opening talks with the Taliban.
  • In 2020, the reason given for keeping India out of regional discussions on Afghanistan was ostensibly that it holds no “boundary” with Afghanistan; but it is because New Delhi has never announced its support for the U.S.-Taliban peace process. 
  • In both 2001 and 2010, however, India fought back its exclusion successfully. At the Bonn agreement, Ambassador of India was widely credited for ensuring that Northern Alliance leaders came to a consensus to accept Hamid Karzai as the Chairman of the interim arrangement that replaced the Taliban regime. 

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New Delhi’s stand:

  • India’s resistance to publicly talking to the Taliban has made it an awkward interlocutor at any table. 
  • Its position that only an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled process can be allowed is a principled one, but has no takers. 
  • Kabul, or the Ashraf Ghani government does not lead, own or control the reconciliation process today, comprising the U.S.-Taliban negotiation for an American troops withdrawal, and intra-Afghan talks on power sharing. 
  • The U.S.-Taliban peace deal means that the Taliban, which has not let up on violent attacks on the Afghan Army, will become more potent as the U.S. withdraws soldiers from the country, and will hold more sway in the inter-Afghan process as well, as the U.S. withdraws funding for the government in Kabul.

Two-fold effect: 

  • Its voice in the reconciliation process has been limited, and it has weakened India’s position with other leaders of the deeply divided democratic setup in Kabul such as the former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah. 
  • India’s presence inside Afghanistan, which has been painstakingly built up since 2001, is being threatened anew by terror groups such as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), believed to be backed by Pakistan’s establishment. 
  • Intercepts showed that the brutal attack, in March, that killed 25 at a gurudwara in Kabul was meant for the embassy in Kabul, and intelligence agencies had warned of suicide car bomb threats to the consulates in Jalalabad and Herat last December.

What dents India’s goodwill?

  • The government must also consider the damage done to the vast reservoir of goodwill India enjoys in Afghanistan because of recent events in the country, especially the controversy over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. 
  • The building blocks of that goodwill are India’s assistance in infrastructure projects, health care, education, trade and food security, and also in the liberal access to Afghans to study, train and work in India.  
  • Afghanistan’s majority-Muslim citizens, many of whom have treated India as a second home, have felt cut out of the move to offer fast track citizenship to only Afghan minorities, as much as they have by reports of anti-Muslim rhetoric and incidents of violence in India.
  • India’s assistance of more than $3 billion in projects, trade of about $1 billion, a $20 billion projected development expenditure of an alternate route through Chabahar, as well as its support to the Afghan National Army, bureaucrats, doctors and other professionals for training in India should assure it a leading position in Afghanistan’s regional formulation.
  • Three major projects:The Afghan Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma dam), along with hundreds of small development projects (of schools, hospitals and water projects) have cemented that position in Afghan hearts nationwide.

Making a leap:

  • India must also pursue opportunities to fulfil its role in the peace efforts in Afghanistan, starting with efforts to bridge the Ghani-Abdullah divide, and bringing together other major leaders with whom India has built ties for decades. 
  • It would be an utter tragedy if the Taliban were to enter the government in Kabul as the U.S. deal envisages, to find the opposing front collapse as it did in 1996.
  • The conversation India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had with the U.S.’s Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last week, where they discussed India’s “engagement” in the peace process, appears to open a window in that direction.
  • An understanding between Iran and the U.S. on Afghanistan is necessary for lasting peace as well, and India could play a mediatory part, as it did in order for the Chabahar project.

Way ahead:

  • New Delhi should use the United Nations’s call for a pause in conflicts during the novel coronavirus pandemic, to ensure a hold on hostilities with Pakistan. 
  • This will be even more difficult than it sounds, given the abyss that bilateral relations have fallen into in the past year over Kashmir and the rise in firepower exchanged at the Line of Control.
  • However, if there is one lesson that the the U.S.-Taliban talks have imparted, it is that both have found it necessary to come to the table for talks on Afghanistan’s future. 
  • For India, given its abiding interest in Afghanistan’s success and traditional warmth for its people, making that leap should be a bit easier.

Conclusion: 

  • Above all, the government must consider the appointment of a special envoy, as it has been done in the past, to deal with its efforts in Afghanistan, which need both diplomatic agility and a firmness of purpose at a watershed moment in that country’s history.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 30 April 2020 (A task for South Asia (The Hindu))



A task for South Asia (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: SAARC
Mains level: Healthcare system in South Asia region 

Context:

  • South Asia, one of the world’s most populous regions, is also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Karachi and Mumbai, among the world’s most densely populated cities, where we live and work, are being overwhelmed by cases. 
  • While the death rate in these places may not be as alarming as in Europe and the U.S., the collateraldamage of the lockdown is taking its own toll.
  • While there are many differences amongst the countries of the region, there are also common features which impact the health of its people, some of them a result of our shared cultural and geopolitical history. 
  • The collective experience of dealing with COVID-19 may provide important lessons, which transcendnational boundaries.

Poor healthcare system: 

  • South Asian countries have invested very little in health. This is reflected in our abysmallylow health parameters. 
  • It is interesting that Britain, which formulated our health policies before independence, went on to form one of the world’s strongest public health systems, the National Health Service, whereas its South Asian colonies chose to strayfrom that path. This resulted in a dysfunctional public healthcare system.

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Privatisation:

  • Whilst privatisation has brought in advanced technology and expertise, the high costs of treatment in the private sector have resulted in impoverishment as most of the population has no insurance or third-party coverage, and pays out of pocket. 
  • The sector has also been poorly regulated. The result is that it is responsible for several excesses in its quest for profit. 

Other problems:

  • Hunger, malnutrition, poor sanitation and large-scale migration are features of this region. Existing infectious diseases like TB, HIV and malaria have been worsened by emerging ones like dengue, chikungunya, healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistance. The region is also an epicentre of an epidemic of lifestyle diseases.
  • Constant internal and external conflicts in South Asia not only consume a large portion of national budgets, but also divert the attention of the public and policymakers from healthcare needs. 
  • Defence budgets take the largest share of national budgets, and obviously adverselyimpact social sector spending. Underfunded public health is going to hinder our capacity to fight COVID-19.

Religion:

  • Religion continues to occupy a central space in the society and politics of the region. Though it offers succourto many, religious dogmacan impact health policy and health-seeking behaviour. 
  • The refusal of devotees across Pakistan to avoid religious congregations during Ramadan despite the government’s orders has significantly fed the community spread of the virus. On the other hand, the Tablighi Jamaat congregationin Delhi was used to whip upsentiments against the entire Muslim population in India. 
  • This will only put a further strain on the social fabric. The medical community must emphasise that religious practices cannot be exceptions to epidemic-control practices.

A silver lining:

  • If there is a silver liningCOVID-19 has forced us to seriously reflect on our healthcare system. This is welcome if it results in policy change. 
  • Healthcare professionals and bodies must seize this opportunity to push our respective governments to address it seriously and not just as a pre-election strategy. A long-term commitment to universal health care, with not only a national but also a regional and global focus, is needed.
  • The SAARC heads of state have already offered help to one another. A regional strategy has a better chance of controlling the pandemic than isolated national-level efforts. 
  • Pooling of resources and sharing data may not only help flatten the curve but perhaps even develop into longer-term efforts towards effective treatment. 
  • It is being speculated that our populations are behaving differently; that the BCG vaccinemay be a protective influence. Joint research into such areas can be a unifying point for SAARC.

Way ahead:

  • The region’s healthcare community has many tasks. We have the responsibility of upholding science as the guiding principle of policy, of guarding against fake cures, unethical experimentation and quackery.
  • We also have theoneroustask of convincing our people that regional conflicts fuelledby geopolitical interests are not in our mutual interest. 
  • This could even mean standing up to populist narratives on nationalism and reminding our citizens that the real threat to the security of our nations is our misplaced priorities. 

Conclusion:

  • It is in our collective interest to look at health security and not just national security. By the accident of their birth, South Asians haveendured a lot. They meritbetter.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 30 April 2020 (It is now essential to begin end of lockdown (Indian Express))



It is now essential to begin end of lockdown (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Lockdown
Mains level: Arguments behind to exiting from the lockdown 

Context:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his fourth round of consultations with state governments on April 27 to review the COVID-19 situation. 
  • The draconian lockdown, which completes 40 days on May 3, was discussed. 
  • As in the earlier meetings, several chief ministers urged that the lockdown be extended. While no decision was announced, the lockdown might well continue.

Experience from lockdown: 

  • For governments everywhere, more so after the experience of Italy, Britain and the United States, where governments did too little too late, imposing and continuing lockdowns is a risk-averse strategy. 
  • If the spread can be curbed, it would bring political kudos. If it is not, the microbe is to blame. 
  • It is the equivalent of a one-way option in financial markets, where you cannot lose. This is even more attractive now as it conforms to herd-behaviour by governments worldwide. 

Real dilemma from exiting lockdown: 

  • Exit from a lockdown poses a real dilemma for governments. 
  • It is about decision-making under high uncertainty, which requires conviction and confidence.
  • This dilemma will always be larger than life when there is a single objective of saving lives in a pandemic. 
  • But it must also be recognised that the health of people and the health of an economy are interdependent, where both shape the wellbeing of people. Thus, saving livelihoods is an equally important objective. 

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Importance of lockdown: 

  • Lockdowns, combined with mass-testing, contact-tracing, containment-zones, mandatory-quarantines, can only slow down the speed at which the infection spreads. 
  • This might help in countries where public health facilities are robust, yet not adequate for large numbers. 
  • But our public health system is poor and could never suffice for our large population if the pandemic spreads. 
  • There is no vaccine yet. From development through trials to production will be at least one year, and far longer before it becomes available in sufficient quantities for our massive population.

Begin the process of exit from the lockdown:

  • It would enable the government to find some balance between the twin objectives of saving lives and saving livelihoods.
  • It would help restart the economy, which has been almost completely shut down, and the collateral damage is bound to be far greater if the lockdown is extended.
  • A calibrated, planned and phased exit could also help manage the spread of the virus. So far, morbidity and mortality associated with 
  • Lower COVID-19 cases in India is possibly attributable to our immune systems, which have antibodies that could be effective in resisting the virus. 
  • It suggests that there are already some elements of herd-immunity in India that would grow stronger as the lockdown is lifted slowly.
  • The economic and social consequences of the lockdown have been severe. 
  • A large proportion of the self-employed, casual workers on daily wages, and informal workers, who constitute 90 per cent of the total workforce, have lost their livelihoods. 
  • Demand has dropped sharply as employment has contracted. Supply has been strangled by the massive reduction in output. 
  • Government revenues, for both Centre and states, have collapsed. And, even if the lockdown is lifted now, economic growth during 2020-21 would be zero or negative.
  • For the poor – 75 per cent of rural households and 50 per cent of urban households – food security is at risk. It is a matter of survival. 
  • For micro-small-medium enterprises, their survival is at stake. Large firms, except those with deep pockets, will also struggle. 
  • Whatever the government might stipulate, most firms will find it difficult to pay the wages of their employees, for these will only add to their cash losses during the lockdown. 
  • Healthcare for patients, except those with COVID-19, has diminished in terms of both access and quality. 
  • In education, learning outcomes, already poor, will get worse as schools and colleges remain closed. 
  • In every sphere, the short-term effects of the lockdown will have long-term consequences – hysteresis – as future outcomes will be shaped by this past.

Way ahead: 

  • For the economy, the sooner the lockdown is lifted the better. 
  • But the process of exit from the lockdown will have to be in calibrated steps based on a planned transition path in terms of sequence and speed.
  • In this phasing, the geographical size and diversity of India provide degrees of freedom that are missing in most countries.
  • Economic activity can be resumed in districts without infections and in green zones. 
  • The orange zone districts can be brought in as they turn green. 
  • The lockdown should continue in states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi (with limited relaxations where possible) and in red zone districts, containment-zones or hot spots within cities, as long as necessary.

Conclusion: 

  • In this decision to begin exit from the lockdown, PM Modi will need to act with the same confidence as he did when imposing the lockdown.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 30 April 2020 (Schools are functioning despite extraordinary challenges, no ground to deny them fees (Indian Express))



Schools are functioning despite extraordinary challenges, no ground to deny them fees (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Education 
Prelims level: Rule 165 of the Delhi School Education Rules 1973
Mains level: Judiciary 

Context:

  • The Delhi High Court has rightly dismissed a petition seeking exemption from payment of school fees, including tuition fees, for the duration of the lockdown. 
  • The petition argued that the crisis had led to job losses and pay cuts, and parents should not be forced to pay fees to schools as the premises are shut and only online classes are being conducted. 

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Constitutional background: 

  • It invoked Rule 165 of the Delhi School Education Rules, 1973, which states that if a school is shut on the 10th day of a month—the period by when fees need to be paid—the payment can be deferred till the 10th day after it reopens. 
  • Though it is unclear how this rules applies, the petitioner argued that since schools remain shut, even tuition fees shouldn’t be charged. 
  • However, the High Court rejected this invocation of Rule 165, ruling that the it specified only the payability conditions of fees, and not the chargeability of it.

Key arguments behind this decision: 

  • It is much more difficult for teachers to take classes online, as the High Court rightly noted, and their efforts cannot be ignored. 
  • Even with online classes, schools are incurring considerable expenditure in arranging for, and maintaining the required digital infrastructure. 
  • Schools hiring platforms to deliver e-lessons also need to pay the fees these charge. 
  • To suggest that schools should not charge the tuition fees because they are shut is without foundation, because their fundamental deliverables have not been suspended. 

Conclusion: 

  • The current economic milieu has put pressures on all sectors. 
  • The fact that schools have not stopped teaching is something that should be appreciated and supported by guardians and the society at large.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 30 April 2020 (India’s lightbulb moment (Financial Express))



India’s lightbulb moment (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Electricity Amendment Bill 2020
Mains level: Issues pertaining with electricity sector in India 

Context:

  • The 9-minute lights-off on April 5 was the appeal of the PM’s call, the extent of public participation, and the expert management of the national electricity grid. 
  • Switching off, and then bringing back in just a few minutes, a massive 32,000 MW of power, is a great technical accomplishment.

Key issues for sustainable future: 

  • Continues to integrate renewable energy (RE): In keeping with energy security and climate change goals, a market-based, automatic mechanism for integration of infirm renewable power into the grid is non-negotiable. 
  • Doing with inefficient coal plants: The plan to retrofit 440 power units aggregating to 166.5GW with flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) systems by December 2022 is way behind schedule. 
  • Trend of low power demand: In the post-Covid economy, and increased RE generation, will continue to put a ceiling on the PLF of the thermal fleet. 

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Plan for sustainable future: 

  • Chance for ‘Make in India: It is an opportunity to bring in fresh Covid-influenced industrial investment from Korea and Japan, which are diversifying away from China. 
  • Lower industrial power tariffsto meet the competition: Lowering industrial tariffs obliges the unravelling of the cross-subsidy regime. The key issue is of agricultural tariffs, and a permanent solution is needed. 
  • There is a precedent for from the successful marketisation of fuel oils.
  • Making these long-delayed changes would also address the perennial and oldest issue of the financial health of the discoms. 

Electricity Amendment Bill 2020:

  • The proposed Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020, is an ambitious step in the right direction—with bold moves to institute cost-reflective tariffs, remove subsidies, and strengthen the sanctity of contracts through greater enforcement and provision of payment security to generators. 
  • Each state can be asked to endorse the legislation with its variant, which could become a condition to accept the Centre’s band-aid assistance.

Shortcomings: 

  • However, the proposed Bill could have gone further to introduce the radical reforms needed. 
  • In the current draft, many of the reforms proposed earlier—carriage and content separation, more effective RPOs, and default open access to RE—have either been dropped or watered down. 
  • A bold reform move would be the complete abolition of cross-subsidy at a defined future date. 
  • The discoms should also be required to implement “DBT” for paying any subsidy on electricity (rather than this being borne by the discom, as is the case presently). 
  • Removing the cross-subsidy will create the urgency to solve the subsidy problem, and concurrently make power tariffs more competitive—something we need to attract factories relocating from China.

Conclusion: 

  • It is said that India reforms only when there is a crisis. 
  • We have a monster of a crisis now, and to not use this crisis for meaningful reform would be a waste of talent, leadership, and this rare lightbulb moment at every level.

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(Notification) UPPSC :  ACF RFO (Assistant Conservator of Forest / Range Forest Officer) EXAM Notification 2020



(Notification) UPPSC :  ACF RFO EXAM Notification 2020



Post Detail :

1- Candidates applying for Assistant Conservator of Forest / Range Forest Officer Services Examination-2020 should note that they are required to appear in the Combined State / Upper Subordinate Services (Preliminary) Examination 2020 and qualify the same for going to the second stage of Assistant Conservator of Forest / Range Forest Officer Services Main Examination (Written) and Interview.

2- Candidates desirous of applying for Assistant Conservator of Forest / Range Forest Officer Services Examination as well as for Combined State / Upper Subordinate Services Examination can apply through a Common Online Application Form subject to meeting the requisite Eligibility Criteria by them.

3- If at any stage it is found that the candidate has concealed or misrepresented any desired/required information, his candidature may be cancelled and other appropriate action like debarment may be initiated against him.

NEW! Study Materials for UPPSC Preliminary Examination

NEW! उत्तर प्रदेश PSC (Preliminary) Exam (GS Paper-1) स्टडी किट

Education Qualification:

10. EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION: For the posts included in the Combined State / Upper Subordinate Services Examination-  The  candidates  must  possess  Bachelors Degree of any recognised University or equivalent qualification upto the last date for receipt of application. This should be mentioned by the candidate in the relevant column of their application form but for some posts specific qualifications have been prescribed of which the details are given below:-

Child Development 

Project Officer

Graduate Degree in Sociology or Social Work or Home Science or any qualification equivalent thereto recognised by the Government

 

Designated Officer / Food Safety Officer

(1) Post Graduate Degree in Chemistry as one of the subjects from a University established by law in India or a qualification recognised by the Government as equivalent thereto,

or

(2)  Atleast   one   of   qualification   prescribed   for   Direct Recruitment to the post of Food Safety Officer given as below: A Bachelor's Degree in Food Technology or Dairy Technology or Biotechnology or Oil Technology or Agricultural Science or Veterinary Sciences or Bio-Chemistry or Microbiology or Post Graduate Degree in Chemistry or Degree in Medicine from a recognised  University,  or  any  other  equivalent/recognised qualification notified by the Central Government,

Provided that no person who has any financial Interest in the manufacture, import or sale of any article of food shall be appointed to be a Food Safety Officer.

 

Statistical officer

Post Graduate Degree in mathematics or Mathematical Statistics or Statistics or Agricultural Statistics from an university recognized by Law in India or equivalent qualification recognised by the Government.

 

Labour Enforcement

Officer

Bachelor's degree with Economics or Sociology or commerce and Post Graduate Diploma or Post graduate Degree in Law / Labour relation / Labour welfare / Labour Law / Commerce / Sociology / Social work / Social welfare / Trade Management / Personnel Management.

 

 

Note:- “In case of special educational Qualification posts, the candidates must mention their options clearly, 'yes', in that conditions only they shall be considered for the posts bearing special education qualification.”

Under the Assistant Conservator of Forest  /  Range Forest Officer Services

Examination.

For the Post of Assistant Conservator of Forest:- ESSENTIAL QUALIFICATION A Bachelor's degree with at least one of the subject namely Botany, Zoology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Geology, Forestry, Statistics or a Bachelor's degree in Agriculture or Bachelor's degree in Engineering from a University established by Law in India or a Foreign University approved by the Central Government from time to time, or a qualification recognised by the Government as equivalent thereto.

PREFERENTIAL QUALIFICATION : A candidate who has (1) served in the Territorial Army for a minimum period of two years, or (2) obtained a "B" certificate of N.C.C. shall other things being equal, be given preference in the matter of direct recruitment.

FOR THE POST OF RANGE FOREST OFFICER:- ESSENTIAL QUALIFICATION- A Bachelor's Degree with two or more of the subjects, namely Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Forestry, Geology, Agriculture, Statistics, Horticulture and Environment or Bechelor's Degree in Agriculture or Bachelor's degree in Engineering or Bachelor's degree in Veterinary Science from a University established by Law in India or possess a qualification recognized by the Government as equivalent thereto.

PREFERENTIAL QUALIFICATION- A candidate who has: (I) Served in the Territorial Army for a minimum period of two years, or (II) Obtained a 'B' Certificate of National Cadet Corps, or (III) Represented the state in any game, shall, other things being equal, be given preference in the matter of direct recruitment.

MINIMUM PHYSICAL STANDARD : (A) For the Post of Assistant Conservator of Forest:- (1) No candidate for direct recruitment shall be appointed to the service unless he/she possesses the minimum standard for height and chest girth as specified below:-

 

Sex

Height

Chest girth (Fully expanded)

Expansion

 

1

2

3

4

 

Male

163 cms.

84 cms.

5 cms.

 

Female

150 cms.

79 cms.

5 cms.

 

Provided that the minimum height standard in case of candidates belonging to Scheduled Tribes and to races such as Gorkhas, Nepalies, Assamese, Meghalayan Tribal, Laddakhese, Sikkimiese, Bhutanese, Garhwalies, Kumaunies, Nagas and Arunachal Pradesh candidates, shall be as follows:-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2) The male candidates will be required to qualify in walking test of 25 kms. to be completed in Four hours and female candidates of 14 kms. to be completed in Four hours. The arrangement for conducting this test will be made by the Chief Conservator of Forests, Uttar Pradesh so as to synchronise with the sittings of the Medical Board.

(B) For the post of Range Forest Officer:-

(1) No candidate for direct recruitment shall be appointed to the service unless he/she possesses the minimum standard for height and chest girth as specified below:-

 

Sub Registrar, Assistant Prosecuting Officer (Transport)

 

Law Graduate

 

District Basik Shiksha Adhikari / Associate DIOS and Other equivalent administrative posts, District Administrative Officer

 

Post Graduate Degree

 

District Audit Officer

(Revenue Audit)

 

Commerce Graduate

 

Assistant Controller Legal Measurement (Grade-I) / Assistant Controller Legal Measurement (Grade-II)

 

 

Degree in Science with Physics or Mechanical Engg. As one subject.

 

Sex

Height

Chest girth (Fully expanded)

Expansion

 

Assistant Labour

Commissioner

Degree in Arts with Sociology or Economics as a subject or

Commerce/Law.

 

1

2

3

4

 

Male

163 cms.

84 cms.

5 cms.

 

District Programme

Officer

Degree in Sociology or Social Science or Home Science or

Social Work.

 

Female

150 cms.

79 cms.

5 cms.

 

Provided that the minimum standard of height in case of candidates belonging to Scheduled

Tribes and to races such as Gorkhas, Nepalis, Gardhwalis, Kumaonis shall be as follows:-

 

Senior Lecturer, DIET

Post Graduate Degree with B.Ed.

 

 

District Probation

Officer

Post Graduate Degree in Psychology or Sociology or Social Work or any qualification equivalent thereto or Post Graduate Diploma in any Branch of Social Work from any recognised Institute of Social Work.

 

Sex

Height

 

 

1

2

 

Male

152.5 cms.

 

Female

145.0 cms.

 

 

Contd...

 

Pay Scale :

1. Assistant conservator :  Rs.15600/- to Rs.39100/-, Grade Pay- Rs.5400/-, (Levelof Forest 10 in the pay matrix Group) Group “B”, Gazetted.
2. Range Forest Officer  : Rs.9300/- to Rs.34800/-, Grade Pay – Rs.4800/-, (Levelof Forest 8 pay matrix 47600 - 151100) Group “B”, Gazetted.

Age :

Candidates must have attained the age of 21 years and must not have crossed the age of 40 years on July 1, 2020 i.e. they must have not been born earlier than 2nd July, 1980 and not later than July 1, 1999. For PH candidates, the maximum age limit is 55 years i.e. they must have not been born before 02 July, 1965. 

How to Apply :

At the top of the page there is a Declaration. The candidates are advised to go through the contents of the Declaration carefully. Candidate has the option either to agree or disagree with the contents of Declaration by clicking on 'I agree' or 'I do not agree' buttons. In case the candidate opts to disagree, the application will be dropped, and the procedure will be terminated. Accepting to agree only will submit the candidate's On-line Application. Notification Details: This section shows information relevant to notification. Personal Details: This section shows information about candidate's personal details i.e. Registration Number, Candidate's Name, Father/Husband's Name, Gender, Date of Birth, UP domicile, Category, Marital Status, Email-ID and Contact Number. Other Details of Candidate: Other details of candidate shows the information details about UP Freedom Fighter, Ex Army, service duration and your physical deformity. Education & Experience Details: It shows your educational and experience details. Candidate Address, Photo & Signature details: Here you will see your complete communication address and photo with your signature. Declaration Segment: At the bottom of the page there is a 'Declaration' for the candidates. Candidates are advised to go through the contents of the Declaration carefully. After filling all above particulars there is provision for preview your detail before final submission of application form on clicking on “Preview” button. Preview page will display all facts/particulars that you have mentioned on entry time if you are sure with filled details then click on “Submit” button to finally push data into server with successfully submission report that you can print. Otherwise using “Back” button option you can modify your details. [CANDIDATES ARE ADVISED TO TAKE A PRINT OF THIS PAGE BY CLICKING ON THE “PRINT” OPTION AVAILABLE]

1. On clicking “View Application status” option in candidate Segment page you can see current status of candidate.
2. On clicking “Result” option in candidate Segment page candidate can see result status of periodically.
3. “Interview/Exam Schedule” option in candidate Segment page candidate can see interview and examination schedule details periodically.
4. On clicking “Key Answer Sheet” candidate can download key answer sheet.
5. On clicking “Admit Card/Hall Ticket” candidate can download their Admit Card using with some basic credential of candidate.
6. On clicking “List of Rejected Candidate” candidate can view rejected candidate list.
7. On clicking “Syllabus” candidate can view syllabus of particular examination. (Candidates applying On-line need NOT send hard copy of the On-line Application filled by them On-line or any other document/certificate/testimonial to the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission. However they are advised to take printout of the On-line Application and retain it for further communication with the UPPSC.) (The Candidates applying for the examination should ensure that they fulfill all eligibility conditions for admission to examination. Their admission at all the stages of the examination will be purely provisional subject to satisfying the prescribed eligibility conditions). UPPSC takes up verification of eligibility conditions with reference to original documents at subsequent stages of examination process. 

LAST DATE FOR RECEIPT OF APPLICATIONS: On-line Application process must be completed (including filling up of Part-I, Part-II and Part-III of the Form) before last date of form submission according to advertisement, after which the Web. Link will be disabled.

Fee Payment :

In the ON-LINE Application process, after completing the procedure of first stage, Category wise prescribed examination fee is to be deposited as per instructions provided in second stage. The prescribed fee of preliminary examination for different categories is as under:- 

(i) Unreserved/Economically weaker sections/ : Exam fee Rs. 100/- + On-line processing fee 
 Other Backward Class Rs. 25/- Total = Rs. 125/-

(ii) Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe : Exam fee Rs. 40/- + On-line processing fee Rs. 25/- Total = Rs. 65/-
(iii) Handicapped : Exam fee NIL+ On-line processing fee Rs. 25/- Total = Rs. 25/-
(iv) Ex-Serviceman : Exam fee Rs. 40/- + On-line processing fee  Rs. 25/- Total = Rs. 65/-
(v) Dependents of the Freedom : According to their original category  Fighters/Women

Important Dates: 

  • Date of Commencement of On-line Application: 21/04/2020
  • Last Date for Receipt of Examination Fee On-line in the Bank: 18/05/2020
  • Last Date for Submission of On-line Application: 21/05/2020

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 29 April 2020 (Breathing easy on ventilator quality (Financial Express))



Breathing easy on ventilator quality (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: Ventilator
Mains level: Process to increase the production of good ventilators to increase the survival rate of COVID 19 patients 

Context:

  • If one were to name the one hallmark feature of the 21st century, we would venture to say it is innovation. 
  • Our modernity enables us, more than ever, to make, for instance, better predictions. 
  • That because of the fundamental reason is technological advancement, which has now enabled us not only to generate humongous volumes of data but also to collate this and make sense of it.

What are we to do? 

  • The first step towards solving a problem is identifying it. The critical challenge, obviously, is developing a vaccine against the disease. 
  • With researchers and scientists already engaged in this, success is not a matter of possibility, but merely one of time. 
  • However, until then, we are faced with more immediate challenges, which it is imperative we resolve as soon as possible. Let us take a look at one such critical problem.

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The crisis:

  • When Covid-19 broke out of China, it caught the world off-guard.
  • Its impact has sent nations into lockdown, while hospitals and medical centres teem with overwhelming activity. 
  • As front line healthcare professionals, supporting staff and public servants work tirelessly to tend to infected masses, the world was woken up to a realisation.
  • Most of us were not prepared to deal with a health crisis of such catastrophic levels. 
  • This realisation was triggered by shortage of an equipment that is an essential tool in our collective battle against the deadly virus—the ventilator.

Need to increase the supply of ventilators: 

  • Boosting the supply of ventilators across the country and the globe is essential to setting the world on the path to resuscitation.
  • Covid-19 poses the most risk to individuals with respiratory challenges since the virus targets the lungs. 
  • In the worst-case scenario, the virus can lead an individual to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). 
  • Most ARDS patients need the help of a machine to breathe—this is where ventilators come into the picture. 
  • A mechanical ventilator pushes air into the lungs and forces some of the fluid out of the air sacs. 
  • Another key step in caring for ARDS patients is supplying them with supplemental oxygen. Thus, doctors also leverage ventilators to optimise patients’ blood oxygen levels.

Finding the perfect ventilator:

  • A ventilator, at its most basic, is any instrument penetrating via the mouth (endotracheal tube), nose, or skin (tracheostomy tube through a stoma, a surgically-created hole in the windpipe) to serve as an artificial airway. 
  • In the absence of such machines, doctors may have to use a manual resuscitator called a bag valve mask, or an Ambu bag, which forces air into the lungs of patients who are either not breathing or not breathing adequately. 
  • This cannot be used to help critical Covid-19 patients as it is not suitable for continuous use and needs a highly-trained operator to make use of it.
  • A good ventilator design must keep the health of caregivers as a primary consideration.

The best bet:

  • In the wake of the pandemic, most countries have stopped exports of medical equipment, and all global ventilators have been snapped up. Even components for ventilators are in short supply. 
  • In India, the cottage industry has inevitably been stirred into action, with every other player claiming to have a ventilator that can meet present needs. 
  • In their understandable desperation, driven by the grief of the human tragedy underway, local authorities, government bodies, and corporations are pumping capital into procuring sub-standard products. 
  • This, instead of advancing our struggle, is forcing us to take a step back. 

How, then, do we hit the mark amidst all this noise?

  • We need to move cautiously and home in on the answer by a calculated process of elimination. 
  • Although we are engaged in a race against time, jumping the gun is not an option.
  • We need to make an informed decision by considering valid factors so that we can identify and pick a solution that represents the best of not only the modern industry, but also the modern age.
  • We cannot afford to treat our ‘suitable ventilator’ as a mere electronic item—it will be a high-precision product of the combination of top-class engineering efforts, optimum manufacturing capability, and robust financial backing. 
  • Hence, while scrutinising a ventilator, we need to ask: Who has designed it? Who has manufactured it? Will the product stand the test of time? Can the company maintain the product over the next 3-5 years—not only until our battle with Covid-19 is won but also beyond, for future emergencies?

Ideal strategy to improve survival in Covid-19 patients: 

  • The ideal strategy to improve survival in Covid-19 patients while preventing lung injury is invasive mechanical ventilation with low tidal volumes and high levels of positive end-expiratory pressure. 
  • •    This primarily aims to provide oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, decrease the work of breathing, and reverse life-threatening conditions such as hypoxemia, or insufficient oxygenation of arterial blood.
  • •    As much as low ventilator inventory is a grave concern due to its shortage being directly proportional to the mortality rate, the absence of a suitable ventilator design is equally worthy of consideration. 
  • •    And, we can generate a fair idea of what an ideal ventilator looks like, and of what it can do. 

Conclusion: 

  • •    A good ventilator must be a high-precision product, a combination of top-class engineering efforts, optimum manufacturing capability, and robust financial backing.
  • •    Hence, considering the lineage of the company creating the new-age ventilator is crucial. 
  • •    The good news is that India, the third-largest startup ecosystem, is well-equipped to breed such innovators.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 29 April 2020 (Online Education: Ending an apartheid (Financial Express))



Online Education: Ending an apartheid (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 2:Education 
Prelims level: Ilbert Bill of 1884
Mains level: Role of online education to reduce the existing challenges in global higher education institutions 

Context:

  • India’s current online university regulations create a similar apartheid by allowing only seven of our 993 universities to launch online courses; 
  • During the Covid-19 lockdown overseas universities have signed up 100,000+ students in India for online courses. 
  • The lockdown exposes the folly and unfairness of the UGC 2018 online regulations; 
  • It must immediately allow all accredited universities to launch online courses with full flexibility in design, delivery, and assessment. 

Enrolments in Indian universities: 

  • India’s universities have delivered quantity, but uneven quality and employability. 
  • There have roughly 38 million university students; of these, 34 million are on campuses, 4 million are in traditional distance education, and only 25,000 students have opted for online education. 
  • UGC banned online education in 2015, but notified new licensing guidelines in 2018. 
  • Since then, UGC has only licensed seven universities for online courses. 

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This raises three important questions:

  • Why aren’t all accredited universities automatically allowed to launch online courses when India can’t stop overseas universities from signing students in India? 
  • Why distinguish between licensing for paper-based distance learning and online learning? 
  • Why not give universities flexibility in curriculum, design, delivery, and assessment of online courses rather than force them to be the equivalent of an ATM machine with a teller physically handing out cash?

The Ilbert Bill of 1884: 

  • It is a proposed law that would make English and Indian judges equal in the British Raj.
  • It was withdrawn after an uproar from Englishmen that benefited from the apartheid.

Pre-existing challenges in higher education system: 

  • The global higher education system has ten multi-decade, pre-existing challenges. 
  • Crisis of affordability:Many US college classrooms now cost $200 per hour. 
  • Crisis of education returns:Estimates before Covid-19 suggested that 50% of the $1.5 trillion student debt (`1,14,75,150 crore) was slated to default. 
  • Broken promise of employability: The college graduates include 60% of Korean taxi drivers, 31% of US retail checkout clerks in the US, and 15% of Indian high-end security guards. 
  • Differential needs of adult learners: They need anytime, anywhere, and affordable learning that they can do concurrently with their jobs. 
  • Massive shortage of quality faculty. 
  • Problem of diversity: The typical university student is no longer an 18-year old privileged urban male studying full-time; today’s students are just as likely to be female, poor, older, from rural areas, or studying part-time. These education outsiders need more flexible admission criteria, rolling admissions, continuous assessments, on-demand, on-the-go, always-on, qualification modularity and multi-modal delivery. 
  • Change in the definition of employability:The most important 21st-century skill is learning how to learn. 
  • Create a new balance between repair, prepare and upgrade:A new world of work where employment shifting from a lifetime contract to a taxicab relationship needs a new balance between repair, prepare and upgrade.
  • Blurring of the line between corporate training and higher education; research suggests that employed-learners are expected to cross traditional learners within five years. 
  • The attractive self-financing, employability and signalling value of degree linked apprenticeships. 
  • Online higher education not only addresses these ten challenges, but the lockdown has brought forward its destiny from 2030 to 2020 in one month.
  • Many Indian universities don’t balance cost, quality, scale, and employability because regulations stifle innovation. 

Modification of UGC Online Regulations 2018:

  • The UGC Online Regulations 2018 needs modification in five ways; 
  • a) Remove clauses 4(1)(i), 4(1)(ii), 4(1) (iii), and 6 that restrict licensing, and prescribe a discretionary approval process and replace them with something that authorises all accredited universities to design, develop and deliver their own online programmes. 
  • b) Modify clause 4 (2) to allow innovation, flexibility, and relevance in an online curriculum that allows universities to work closely with industries on their list of courses, and ensure the integrity of purpose.
  • c) Rewrite clause 7(2)(i) appropriately to allow universities to work with the best technology platforms without holding them hostage to a state sponsored system. 
  • d) Modify clause 7(3)(viii) to allow rolling admissions, and, 
  • e) Replace clause 7(2)(vi) with clause 4(4)(iv) to allow technology-driven, on-demand, and credible online assessments.

Conclusion:

  • The Covid crisis of 2020 should lead to Poorna Swaraj for all Indian universities to go online.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 29 April 2020 (NGOs provide lifeline to villagers in Bihar, ease rural distress (Indian Express))



NGOs provide lifeline to villagers in Bihar, ease rural distress (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:National 
Prelims level: NGOs 
Mains level: Role of NGOs and SHGs reducing rural distress 

Context:

  • Thousands of migrant labour are stuck in camps in Mumbai, Delhi, Surat, Ahmedabad and several other cities.
  • In Village India there is an urgency to put cash in the hands of women and others for their daily needs as well as provide transport support to take vegetables and harvested crops to district markets. 
  • There is need to provide information and motivate villagers to protect themselves from the corona virus.

Problems observed by the NGOs:

  • NGOs with deep insights and bonding with communities at the grass roots.
  • They have already begun work to cope with rural distress. 
  • Food is not such a big problem since the public distribution system is functioning and most villagers have ration cards. 
  • Some do not have ration cards and the AKF is assisting them to get one. 
  • Many continue to live off vegetables and home grown crops. 

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Increasing awareness: 

  • The AKF has been working in Bettiah, West Champaran, Bihar, for several years now. 
  • When the lockdown was announced, with the help of its field partner, Samagra Shikshan Evam Vikas Sansthan (SSEVS), the AKF activated the SMS service to SHGs, farmers groups, Farmers Producer Company and others. 
  • Six messages in Hindi were prepared on social distancing, the need to wear masks even during harvesting, availability of super grain bags free of cost for safe storage of harvested grain/pulses till they reached market, and the service of four-wheelers to transport crops directly from field to the markets. 
  • Since villagers could not step out of their villages and the middlemen who normally bought their crop from their doorsteps could no longer enter the villages, there was urgency to market harvested crops.
  • In addition to the scaled up messaging service followed by phone calls, posters were created and pasted at village chowks, on school walls and public buildings to decimate the fear of the virus and share information on measures provided by the NGO to make life easier.

Not a single positive case: 

  • The good news is that not a single positive case of the virus has been reported in the 49 villages (population 2.5 lakhs) of West Champaran where the AKF is working. 
  • About 2,500 of the 4,000 plus migrants who were quarantined on coming back have also been cleared and have returned home. 
  • The return of the others is anxiously waited, since March and April are the months when the zaid crops are sown and the rabi harvested.

Initiatives taken towards to ensure cash in hand:
Earning money through making masks: 

  • To ensure cash in the hands of the home-makers, the SHGs (Self Help Groups) at Jogapatti and Nautan blocks were activated to make masks using cotton cloth, based on the design given to them. 
  • Some 5,000 masks were made and sold to the Atmanirbhar Farmers’ Producer Company, also a partner of the AKF and SSEVS, at Rs 20 each with the women earning Rs 5 on each mask. 
  • Currently, they are working on an order for 50,000 masks. The masks are picked up from the SHGs by the Company and distributed door to door to some 2500 families.

Provided vehicles to sell their crops: 

  • An important lifeline of the villages are the four four-wheel vehicles provided by the AKF and partners, that transport the harvested crops and vegetables to the bigger mandis. 
  • Four volunteers have been given passes by the local administration to ferry crops without hindrance from Nautan and Bariya blocks of Bettiah. 
  • By evening, the money is in the hands of the villagers without they having to step out. Going to the bigger markets, also ensures a better price for their products.

Introducing the cultivation of pulses:

  • The AKF re-introduced cultivation of pulses with women taking the lead. 
  • The Farmers Producer Company is now negotiating purchase of six tonnes of lentils from 162 farmers at market price. This is expected to put at least Rs 3 lakh cash in the hands of farmers. 

Way forward:

  • •    NGOs, who have helped village communities with enhanced livelihoods, schooling for children, best practices in farming and in a myriad other way, have earned their trust. 
  • •    So, when they tell them about social distancing or wearing masks they listen. 
  • •    In the queues at the ration shops and even on the fields, social distancing is maintained. 
  • •    However, there is anxiety and scramble at markets where shops are open for a limited time, and in the queues outside banks because people are desperate for cash.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 29 April 2020 (Let’s fill up the tank (Indian Express))



Let’s fill up the tank (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Strategic petroleum reserves 
Mains level: Importance of increasing the strategic petroleum reserves

Context:

  • Oil prices continue to decline globally, with crude hitting multi-decade lows, as global demand evaporates.
  • Earlier last week, in unprecedented price action, the near-month contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) sweet crude oil dropped to -$37.63 a bbl. 
  • A negative price has never before been registered for a major global crude oil benchmark. 
  • The extreme price action is a signal that there is a global oil glut with few places to store oil. Global oil markets have been severely disrupted. 
  • While WTI does not feature in India’s basket, Brent Crude Oil, which does, is trading around $25 a barrel, the lowest in 18 years.

Declining the price of oil considers a silver lining for future recovery:

  • Even as India suffers from a lockdown, a silver lining for future recovery and reconstruction is the price of oil.
  • Given India’s growth aspirations and lack of self-sustaining oil production, a sharp reduction in oil prices is a bonanza. 
  • Normally, reduced oil prices would translate into surplus for the consumers and a fiscal bonus for the government through increased tax collections. 
  • However, given that the demand for petrol has slumped, those gains will not accrue right away. But India should look at this as an opportunity to strengthen its energy security by buying oil and filling up our Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR). 

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An emergency stockpile of oil reserves: 

  • Under the existing Strategic Petroleum Reserves programme, India claims to have 87 days of reserves. 
  • Out of this, refiners maintain 65 days of oil storage and the rest of the reserves are held in underground salt caverns maintained by Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL). 
  • The existing and planned capacity for the underground reserves is 10 and 12 days of import cover for crude oil respectively.

Key problems for reserve: 

Capacity utilisation: 

  • The capacity does not directly translate into utilisation, which is partly because oil is an expensive commodity most days of the year. 
  • In 2019, the average closing price of a barrel of crude was $57.05. In 2018, it was $64.90, and in 2017, U$50.84. Of the existing 10 days of capacity, only about 50 per cent is utilised.

Issue of refinery holdings: 

  • In India, the SPR arrangement between the oil refineries and the Union or state governments is not specified well, though most of the refineries that hold stock are publicly-owned companies. 
  • In fact, a breakdown of which refineries hold SPR and in what form (crude or refined) or information about where they are located is not publicly available.

Introduce transparency and accountability in Strategic Petroleum Reserves:

  • There should be to introduce transparency and accountability in relation to the SPR. 
  • The procedures, protocols and facts about Indian SPR storage require greater public and parliamentary scrutiny, just like India’s other strategic reserves (for instance, foreign exchange). 
  • There should be timely and reliable dissemination of information. Instead, it is now shrouded in secrecy.
  • The lack of transparency around our SPR holdings is compounded by the ambiguity surrounding the mobilisation process. SPR reserves are meant to be used in emergencies, where time is likely to be of the essence. 
  • The SPR mobilisation process could be made more efficient by laying out designated roles for different agencies to avoid redundancies in times of crisis. 

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Diversification in SPR: 

  • Further, in order to mitigate risks better, India should look to diversify its SPR holdings. 
  • Diversification can be based on geographical location (storing oil either domestically or abroad), storage location (underground or overground) and product type (oil can be held in either crude or refined form). 
  • Storage and transportation costs could be saved by diversifying geographically. 
  • Diversification could also be in the form of ownership — either publicly owned through ISPRL or by private oil companies, such as ADNOC of Abu Dhabi.
  • The private companies which could fill up the SPR when prices are low and take advantage of price arbitrage.
  • This could achieve a degree of price stability and reduce the cost for India to buy such large quantities of oil. 
  • The only requirement for this to work is to have a clear contract with the private companies about the mandatory minimum level of stock that they should preserve for use in emergency times. 

Storing oil in abroad:

  • With oil dirt-cheap, if we can purchase more than we can store in our existing facilities, why not go abroad for more storage space?
  • For instance, one option could be to operationalise, modernise, and add to the oil tanking facilities at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka. 
  • Another opportunity would be to enter into a strategic partnership with Oman (Ras Markaz) for oil storage, which would also help India avoid the potential bottleneck of the straits of Hormuz. 
  • Since many of these places could potentially be vulnerable to geopolitical risks, only a small part of India’s overall SPR strategy should involve storing abroad.

Conclusion:

  • Energy is and will remain vital to India’s aspirations for growth. The sharp fall in the price of oil presents an opportunity for the Union government to increase its SPR stockpile and achieve a degree of energy security. 
  • This is especially important at this time when every rupee needs to be conserved to get back on a positive economic track and lift the most vulnerable segments of our population.
  • The message is clear: While prices are low, we should fill up our reserve tanks and rent space abroad. The oil will come in handy when prices have gone up — and more importantly, when we need it.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 29 April 2020 (It will take fiscal boldness now to relieve financial distress (Mint))



It will take fiscal boldness now to relieve financial distress (Mint)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Fiscal measures 
Mains level: Tightened fiscal measures need to address the financial distress due to COVID 19

Context:

  • The Indian government has till now come up with an insipid fiscal response to the ongoing economic crisis. 
  • The government does not want to fire all its bullets in what threatens to be a long battle. It wants to time its interventions. 
  • The other possible explanation for this fiscal timidity is that India has entered this crisis with weak public finances.

Comparison the crisis with 2008 financial crisis:

  • The combined official fiscal deficit of the Union plus state governments was at its lowest level in many decades. 
  • The economic boom of the preceding four years had led to higher tax collections pouring into the treasury. 
  • The massive increase in spending announced in the budget of February 2008 was with an eye on the national election scheduled a year later, rather than in anticipation of a coming storm. 
  • Then followed a second wave of fiscal expansion after the North Atlantic financial crisis hit Indian shores seven months later. 
  • Back then, India’s effective fiscal stimulus over two years was a substantial 4.3% of gross domestic product (GDP). 
  • In 2020, the crisis-driven spending plan announced by the government so far is less than 1% of GDP.

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Tighter fiscal policy than its regional peers:

  • Some of the budget estimates released a few days ago by the International Monetary Fund are telling.
  • In 2018, the total fiscal deficit of the Indian government as a proportion of GDP was 2.4 percentage points higher than the average for Asian emerging markets. 
  • India is expected to end 2020 with a total fiscal deficit that will be 2.5 percentage points lower than Asia’s average.
  • India ran a looser fiscal policy compared to the rest of Asia in normal times, but is likely to run a tighter fiscal policy than its regional peers in a crisis year. 
  • Something similar can be seen in estimates for public debt. Asian public debt as a proportion of GDP is expected to go up by nine percentage points in 2020. The comparable figure for India is 2.9 percentage points. (These estimates are being cited with full knowledge that forecasting models break down during extreme events.)

Funding extra expenditure through money creation: 

  • Lack of traditional fiscal space should not hold the government back in a crisis situation. 
  • There are many options outside the consensus macro playbook. 
  • A commonly cited option right now is funding extra expenditure through money creation rather than borrowing. 
  • The size of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) balance sheet as a percentage of nominal GDP is close to its 35-year average. 
  • There is scope for printing more money right now—and the inflationary consequences are likely to be muted because of lower velocity of money amid a demand collapse.
  • Getting public finances back on track is a battle that lies in the future. 
  • A rapid recovery in economic activity would be the best solution. 
  • Otherwise, history tells us that countries have brought down their public debt numbers through some combination of financial repression, austerity, higher taxes and inflation. 
  • Some element of capital controls could also be back in play.

Need for an increase in discretionary government spending:

  • The collapse in tax revenues as the economy is shut down will automatically lead to a rise in India’s fiscal deficit. 
  • However, there is the need for an increase in discretionary government spending as well. 
  • Economists have shown that spending multipliers are higher than tax multipliers in India. 
  • In other words, the increase in economic output for every unit increase in the fiscal deficit is higher when the government spends rather than changes tax rates. 
  • Also, spending by states gives more bang for the buck than equivalent spending by the Union government.

Below the line measures to support economy: 

  • Also, there are options other than direct spending to support the economy.
  • Countries such as Germany, the UK, Italy, France and South Korea have complemented traditional fiscal expansions with “below the line" measures such as loans and guarantees to companies. 
  • In an excellent recent study, analysts estimate that more than half of Indian corporate balances sheets will be unable to meet expenses with zero revenues. 
  • They are careful to point out that their analysis is based on extreme assumptions that there is no fall in their wage bills, no revenues, and no access to fresh credit.

Way forward: 

  • The poor need income support for their very survival. That should be at the top of any democratic government’s list of priorities. 
  • However, protecting Indian companies from a financial collapse also matters, because otherwise the economy will see a reduction in its capital stock, which will be needed both for a rapid recovery as well as job creation once the worst is over. 
  • There are contagion risks in financial markets as well, going by what has happened to some mutual funds that were invested in bonds.

Conclusion: 

  • These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures. 
  • The danger from a delayed fiscal programme is that hysteresis may set in, as companies run out of money and supply chains are broken, damaging our economic prospects in the medium term.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 28 April 2020 (The script of disruption and a new order (The Hindu))



The script of disruption and a new order (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:International 
Prelims level: UN Security Council
Mains level: Changes of the geopolitical and geo-economic due to COVID 19 pandemic

Context:

  • Pandemics have often changed the world and reshaped human society.
  • Empires have collapsed. Commentators are already talking of fundamental alterations in governance and business norms. 
  • What is left unsaid — and likely to pose an even bigger challenge — is the extent to which the pandemic will impact human values and conduct. 
  • There is already concern that a diminution in human values could occur, and with this, the concept of an international community might well cease to exist. 
  • Each nation is tending to look inwards, concentrating on its narrowly defined national interests. 

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Institutions under fire

  • International institutions such as the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council and the World Health Organization (WHO) are seen to have failed to measure up to the grave challenge posed by the pandemic.
  • The UN Security Council is under attack for being slow in dealing with a situation that appears, at least on the surface, far graver than any military threat in recent decades.
  • WHO has been tarred with the charge of bias and of grossly underestimating the nature of the epidemic. 
  • That prestigious global institutions should have been singled out for attack at this time speaks volumes about the mood prevailing across the world.
  • Economic shock
  • There are many other aspects of the COVID-19 crisis that will drastically impact the globe. 
  • On the economic front, the World Bank has already predicted negative growth for most nations. 
  • India’s growth forecast for the current fiscal year has been put at 1.5% to 2.8%. 
  • Contraction of the economy and the loss of millions of jobs across all segments will further complicate this situation.

Role of state:

  • What is likely to change even more dramatically are certain other aspects relating to political management and security. 
  • Both terms are set to gain new meanings. 
  • The role of the state as an enforcer of public good will almost certainly become greatly enhanced. 
  • The dominant imperative would be to not put limits on the role of the state even where the situation may not be as grave as the present one. 
  • Many pieces of legislation of yesteryears that had been relegated to the archives — they were perceived to be anachronistic in a modern democratic set-up — may get a new lease of life. 
  • Some pieces of legislation such as the Disaster Management Act already reflect this reality today. Other pieces of legislation could follow in its wake.
  • This trend is already becoming evident to some extent across the world. Europe has shown a willingness to sacrifice personal liberties in favour of greater state control.
  • There are no serious protests over the fact that many of the powers being vested in the instruments of state in democracies today, to meet the current challenge, are eerily similar to those already practised by authoritarian regimes such as China.
  • Post COVID-19, the world may have to pay a heavy price in terms of loss of liberty. An omnipotent state could well become a reality.

China in the spotlight

  • Far-reaching changes can also be anticipated in the realm of geo-economics and geopolitics. The world needs to prepare for a sea change. One nation, viz. 
  • China, is presently seeking to take advantage of and benefit from the problems faced by the rest of the world in the wake of the epidemic. 
  • Already one of the most prominent nations of the world and an important player in international institutions, China remains totally unfazed by the stigma that the current world pandemic owes a great deal to its negligence.
  • The first identified and detected COVID-19 victim in Wuhan was on December 1, 2019, but it was only in the second week of January 2020, that China sounded the alarm. 
  • More importantly, it is seeking to convert its ‘failure’ into a significant opportunity. This is Sino-centrism at its best, or possibly its worst. 
  • China now seeks to benefit from the fact of its ‘early recovery’ to take advantage of the travails of the rest of the world, by using its manufacturing capability to its geo-economic advantage. 

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A faltering West:

  • The geopolitical fallout of this pandemic could be still more serious. One distinct possibility is that COVID-19 would effectively put paid to the existing global order that has existed since the late 1940s. 
  • The United States which is already being touted in some circles as a ‘failing’ state, will be compelled to cede ground. 
  • Weakened economically and politically after COVID-19 has ravaged the nation, the U.S.’s capacity to play a critical role in world affairs is certain to diminish. 
  • The main beneficiary of this geopolitical turnaround is likely to be China, a country that does not quite believe in playing by the rules of international conduct. 
  • Europe, in the short and medium term, will prove incapable of defining and defending its common interests, let alone having any influence in world affairs. 
  • Germany, which may still retain some of its present strength, is already turning insular, while both France and a post-Brexit United Kingdom will be out of the reckoning as of now.

West Asia and India:

  • In West Asia, both Saudi Arabia and Iran are set to face difficult times. 
  • The oil price meltdown will aggravate an already difficult situation across the region. There may be no victors, but Israel may be one country that is in a position to exploit this situation to its advantage. 
  • The economic downturn greatly reduces India’s room for manoeuvre. In South Asia, it faces the prospect of being isolated, with the Chinese juggernaut winning Beijing new friends and contacts across a region deeply impacted by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • India’s leverage in West Asia — already greatly diminished — will suffer further, with oil prices going down and the Indian expatriate community (who are among the hardest hit by this downturn) out on a limb. 
  • Many of the latter may seek repatriation back to the host country, substantially reducing the inflow of foreign funds to India from the region.

Conclusion:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented, involving as it does far too many variables. 
  • The very complexity of the novel coronavirus leads to radical uncertainty. Hence, it it unlikely that the world will ever be the same again. Abnormal could well become the new normal.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 28 April 2020 (Lacking in transparency (The Hindu))



Lacking in transparency (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: World Health Organization
Mains level: Preparedness for COVID 19 pandemic

Context:

  • The lockdown of the country has had a devastating social impact. 
  • A recent survey of internal migrant workers found that 42% did not even have a day’s worth of rations left. 
  • The situation in the agricultural sector is also grim.

Preparing for lockdown: 

  • A lockdown is not a permanent solution for the pandemic. 
  • Models suggest that, in the absence of other long-term measures, the epidemic could bounce back when restrictions are eased. 
  • Therefore, a lockdown is just a method of buying time to prepare the healthcare system for a long battle.
  • The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” on January 30. India was lucky because the virus arrived here relatively late. 

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A result of government failure:

  • If the government had scaled up testing capability in February, tested and quarantined international travellers from high-risk countries, including asymptomatic travellers, and established stocks of personal protective equipment, a total lockdown could have been avoided. 
  • India could not have escaped the epidemic entirely, but it could have minimised damage to the economy, while keeping infections at a manageable level through testing, contact-tracing and, possibly, targeted lockdowns. 
  • It follows that the social catastrophe caused by the lockdown is the direct result of the failure of the government to respond to the epidemic in a timely manner.

Lack of testing: 

  • On April 14, the Prime Minister remarked that his government took “quick decisions” to contain the disease. 
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s reluctance to expand the scope of testing. 
  • On April 27, India had tested 486 individuals per million of the population. This is not only more than 50 times lower than the corresponding rate in Italy, it is significantly lower than the rate in Pakistan. 
  • Almost a week into the lockdown, on March 30, the ICMR admitted that it was testing at “less than 30%” of its capacity. This raises serious questions about whether ICMR’s strict testing guidelines are partly motivated by the desire to keep the number of reported infections low and disingenuously suggest that the epidemic is in control.
  • Studies suggest that more than 80% of those infected by COVID-19 are asymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic. 
  • Since such individuals can nevertheless infect others, they must be included in the ambit of testing. 
  • Otherwise, they could form the base for a rapid spread of the epidemic.

No transparency, accountability

  • The government must not only collect more data, it must share and analyse this data openly so that people can verify the rationale behind its administrative decisions. 
  • Instead, the government has started peddling numbers that make no sense. 
  • Just before extending the lockdown, the government claimed that India would have had 8 lakh cases by 15 April without the lockdown.
  • But independent analysts believe that the lockdown’s role in reducing the number of cases in India has been of a smaller magnitude.
  • A crisis provides the state with a ready justification to shun both accountability and transparency. 
  • However, while this might be expedient for those in power, it does not lead to an effective public health strategy. 
  • The virus is immune to political spin and data-suppression. This is why the role of the Indian people is crucial, and it goes well beyond lighting candles. 

Conclusion:

  • We can best contribute in the country’s battle against the epidemic by keeping ourselves informed, holding the government to account, and constantly pushing it to adopt policies that are scientific, transparent and people-oriented.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 28 April 2020 (Institutional challenges to migrants’ welfare (Indian Express))



Institutional challenges to migrants’ welfare (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:National 
Prelims level: Cess fund 
Mains level: Welfare scheme for migrant workers 

Context:

  • The relief package announced by the finance minister on March 26 included a direction to all states.
  • The labour ministry had previously estimated that about Rs 52,000 crore was available with states. 
  • But, whatever the amount, this assistance is likely to be constrained in practice by low worker registrations, limited capacity for expenditure, significant variations across states, and issues of interstate migrants. 
  • This will affect the ability of central and state governments to ensure wages to migrants, many of them construction workers.

Proper use of the cess money for welfare of the people: 

  • States collect a cess from construction projects, register construction workers, and design schemes to use the funds collected for their welfare. 
  • But states have not been very good at spending this money.
  • The current crisis is an opportunity for them to improve their record, but this will need significant changes in practice.
  • The overall registration of workersonly registered construction workers benefit from the welfare schemesitself has been unsatisfactory. 
  • Figures from the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment show that 3.24 crore workers (estimated at 3.5 crore currently) were registered across the country as of end-2018, which represented about 60% of the construction workforce in India, as per PLFS 2017-18. Much of this progress is recent, after monitoring by the Supreme Court; registration increased by more than 50% between 2015 and 2018. 
  • The field studies at labour chowks show that many workers remain unaware of this benefit.

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Limited subset of registered workers:

  • But even for the limited subset of registered workers, the benefit would depend on the state in which they are registered, since there is wide variation in the availability of cess funds across states. 
  • In 2018, the last year for which a state-wise breakup is officially available, half of the collected cess amount was in just six states—Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Conversely, six states—Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and West Bengal—have 54% of the registered workforce, but only 32% of cess funds collected.

Other issues: 

  • There is the issue of migrant workers, many of who made desperate attempts to walk long distances home after the lockdown, who constitute 42.7% of the urban construction workforce (Census 2001). 
  • The accompanying graphic shows that the largest concentration of migrant construction workers is in Maharashtra, Gujarat (low registration and low expenditure), undivided Andhra Pradesh, Haryana (high registration, low expenditure), Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh (high registration, high expenditure).
  • Many workers walking home told journalists that they had little access to social security at work. 
  • This is corroborated by fieldwork from several states showing that boards are reluctant to register migrants, and registration processes are onerous. Thus, 

How, then, do we mitigate this problem?

  • The Centre can use the expertise of the Central Building and Other Construction Workers’ Advisory Committee to play a proactive role in coordinating amongst states, especially sending and receiving migrants. 
  • It can facilitate sharing beneficiary lists and funds between these states, perhaps through interstate MoUs, to be used in combination with ground-level targeting, involving civil society and employers, to ensure that all workers get access to some minimum sustenance for the period of the lockdown. 
  • A quick start can be made with high registration states that have a demonstrated capacity to spend.
  • Stateslabour departments and welfare boards—must do much more to implement the law. 
  • Much remains to be done to convey the benefits of registration, and to make it easily accessible. 
  • The quarantine camps for migrants are, ironically, an opportunity to disseminate information, and even register such workers.

Conclusion:

  • One can only hope that this crisis, having made their struggle visible, will improve construction workers’ lives a little, and shame states into ensuring that any future disaster does not leave them, literally, on the roads.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 28 April 2020 (Why it is time to end Covid-19 lockdown(Indian Express))



Why it is time to end Covid-19 lockdown(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Lockdown
Mains level: Purpose of the lockdown and benefits achieved during the process  

Context:

  • A three-week lockdown was essential to push out the epidemic curve to June 2020, by which time the country could prepare adequately for the disease. 
  • To favour of focused state-level shutdowns rather than a national shutdown, that because of the economic and human costs involved.
  • There may have been political and logistical challenges in communicating different messages to different parts of the country. So here we are a month into the big lockdown.

What all have we achieved with the lockdown?

  • The number of infections would have been about eight times as much without the lockdown. 
  • The rationale for enforced distancing that lockdowns enable is that they temporarily reduce the transmission of infection, which then slows the speed at which an exponential curve can take-off. 
  • Without a lockdown, the number of Covid-19 infections was projected to double approximately every three days—roughly the rate that other countries have seen without a lockdown. At this speed, it takes only 66 days to get from 100 infections to 420 million infections. 

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Purpose of lockdown: 

  • The purpose of the lockdown was only to buy time. Since March 24, the rate of testing has increased from under 2,000 per day to over 36,000 at the current time. 
  • According to the government’s reports, we are now prepared with thousands more ICU beds, supplies of personal protective equipment, organisation of healthcare professionals, clinical protocols and other equipment for critical care.
  • All of this preparedness planning should undoubtedly continue. However, each additional day of lockdown is now much less valuable in terms of our ability to prepare and, in effect, we are pushing out the epidemic peak only a little bit. 

Are the benefits worth the costs? 

  • In human terms, the consequences are enormous in terms of lost jobs, localised shortages of food and the suffering of the migrants and homeless. 
  • Companies have lost significant revenues and will have to lay-off workers. The transportation industry is in shambles, as is the construction industry. 
  • The firm Acuité Ratings and Research estimates that every day of lockdown costs the country about `35,000 crore ($4.5 billion). 
  • That works as a crude approximation given that about half of the economy of $3 trillion is not functional and assuming about 330 working days. The daily value-add of additional preparation is certainly not anything close to `35,000 crore.
  • We could end the lockdown now and spend the additional government revenues from the revival of the economy on increasing testing, containment, hospital beds, critical care and messaging on carrying on distancing. 
  • We can achieve much more through continuation of bans on mass gatherings, covering mouths and noses in public, spitting bans, physical distancing to the extent possible in markets, and expanded testing. 
  • That would mean no movie theatres, and no large weddings, religious gatherings, sporting events or other social events. 
  • Increased testing is the mantra simply because it enables those who are infected to know their infection status and, therefore, to protect their families and community.

High prioritised to reducing stigma:

  • If we treat Covid-19 patients like criminals rather than victims of a condition they had no control over, we will find that people will not come forward to be tested. 
  • There may be some who think that the lockdown is all that is needed to control Covid-19 and when cases start coming down, we can end the lockdown and we can resume as before. 
  • And as testing increases, we will uncover more cases. There is simply no way to stop the epidemic in its tracks.
  • The national lockdown was timely and important. It came on the back of early action that India took to stop flights to China, close borders, and trace and quarantine foreign travellers. 
  • All of these helped slow down the disease, along with the big lockdown. But the lockdown has achieved its purpose. 
  • There is no added value and it is time to go back to work, albeit with some important safety measures. 
  • We may yet need another lockdown or two before the end of the year to curb the sharp rise of the disease, and it is important to keep some powder dry for these situations.

Conclusion: 

  • However, it is how we effectively control disease transmission and maintain infection prevention and control behaviour post-lockdown and not the continuation of the lockdown that will determine the future trajectory of Covid-19 in India.

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