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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 14 January 2020 (India’s growth hinges on cooperative federalism (The Hindu))

India’s growth hinges on cooperative federalism (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Cooperative federalism
Mains level: Development of cooperative federalism

Context:

  • In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index released last month, India ranked 63, an impressive jump from its lowly rank of 142 in 2014.

Challenges ahead:

  • The government amended the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission a few months ago asking that allocations for defence and internal security be carved out upfront, before determining the pool of resources to be shared with the states, the latter baulked at the highhandedness of the Centre.
  • It has been attempted to reform the land acquisition law by tweaking the balance in favour of investors, but quickly buckled down as many states took umbrage.
  • Even though land is on the concurrent list in the Constitution, and a central law would have prevailed notwithstanding states’ opposition.

Importance of states in India’s economic management:

  • In the early years of our republic, the Centre dominated across all domains — political, economic and administrative — and states, even those led by leaders with political heft, acquiesced to this unequal arrangement.
  • The reaction to central dominance came in the early 1980s when strong regional leaders started agitating against “the hegemony of the Centre”.
  • Several of them, for instance N T Rama Rao, built their political careers on an “anti-Centre” platform.
  • Much of the economic policy control stayed with the Centre which decided not just public investment but even private investment through its industrial and import licensing policies, leaving the states on the margins of economic management.

Three trends in economic reforms:

  • That arrangement started to change with the onset of reforms from 1991.
  • Three trends, in particular, have shifted the economic centre of gravity from the Centre to the states

Change in the content of the reform agenda:

  • The Centre could push through the reforms of the 1990s without even informing, much less consulting, the states because they all pertained to subjects such as industrial licencing, import permits, exchange rate and the financial sector, which were entirely within its domain.
  • In contrast, the second-generation reforms on the agenda now shift the emphasis, to use economic jargon, from product to factor markets like land, labour and taxation, which need, not just acquiescence, but often the consent of states.
  • There was a clash of interests not just between the Centre and states but also between producer and consumer states, large and small states and coastal and inland states.
  • The grand bargain that culminated in the GST, admittedly imperfect, involved all parties making compromises.
  • But the deal could not be clinched until the Centre guaranteed to fill the revenue gap, if any, of states according to an agreed formula.

Driving the economic centre of gravity towards states:

  • This is the changing dynamics of our fiscal federalism. Ballpark estimates suggest that the Centre collects about 60 per cent of the combined revenue (Centre and states), but gets to spend only about 40 per cent of the combined expenditure.
  • This asymmetry is mirrored on the states’ side. Together, they collect 40 per cent of the combined revenue, but spend as much as 60 per cent of the combined expenditure.
  • The aggregates is the greater autonomy that states now enjoy in determining their expenditure. Gone is the Planning Commission.
  • The states now not only get a larger quantum of central transfers but also get to decide on how to spend that larger quantum.

How states manage their public finances matters much more than before?

  • The RBI in its latest annual report on state finances, raised several red flags — states’ increasing weakness in raising revenue, their unsustainable debt burden and their tendency to retrench capital expenditures in order to accommodate fiscal shocks such as farm loan waivers, power sector loans under UDAY and a host of income transfer schemes.
  • As the RBI pointed out, the quality of expenditure at the state level has a multiplier effect on overall development outcomes.
  • Conversely, fiscal irresponsibility will take a heavy toll on our growth and welfare prospects.
  • The market will penalise mismanagement of public finances; it does not much care who is responsible, the Centre or the states, for an unsustainable debt burden or for even the colour of the fiscal deficit.

3. Growing importance in economic federalism:

  • Their critical role in creating a conducive investment climate in the country. Much of the responsibility for improving the ease of doing business rests not with Delhi but with the states.
  • This highlights the need for coordinated action.

Conclusion:

  • India’s prospects, including our aspiration for a $5 trillion economy, depend on the Centre and the states working together.
  • No one would know this better than Modi who combines over two decades of experience as chief minister and prime minister.
  • Arguably, he has another unique advantage in that more than two-thirds of the states are currently governed by the BJP.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 14 January 2020 (Moving towards a Colombo reset (The Hindu))

Moving towards a Colombo reset (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: New dimensions of India – Sri Lanka Relations

Context:

  • Even before the new president of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was sworn in, the narrative about Colombo’s renewed “tilt” towards China and against India had taken root.
  • The headline misrepresents the complex power play involving Beijing, Delhi and Colombo.

Background:

  • The Great Game in the Subcontinent is not limited to just India and China.
  • It is quite easy to forget the considerable interests and influence of many other powers in the region, including the US, European Union, Japan and Russia.
  • The exclusive focus on major power rivalry masks the agency of South Asian political elites and their capacity to manoeuvre among the major powers.

About Rajapaksas:

  • Although the Rajapaksas had blamed India for their defeat in the 2015 elections, they have sought to make up with Delhi in recent years.
  • India has been engaging all the major political formations in Sri Lanka.
  • The stage, then, is ready for a reset in the bilateral relations between the two strong governments in Delhi and Colombo.

China’s movement:

  • India is acutely aware that China’s economic and strategic salience in the Subcontinent will continue to grow and is not tied to the regime leadership in its neighbourhood.
  • Delhi can’t expect its neighbours to shut down economic and commercial engagement with Beijing, notwithstanding the many questions about the terms of China’s assistance on projects, including those under the Belt and

Road Initiative.

  • But Delhi will be right to ask Colombo not to take steps with Beijing that threaten India’s security.
  • That reset involves addressing the structural factors that have complicated the relationship between Delhi and Colombo.

Develop India-Sri Lanka relationship:

  • Delhi and Colombo need a clear understanding of mutual red lines relating to national security and a political comfort level to discuss cases that fall within the orange zone.
  • That should help prevent the recurrence of the controversy over Chinese submarines in Colombo port that generated so much bad blood between the two nations in 2014.
  • As the world rediscovers the geopolitical value of Sri Lanka at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, Colombo has huge opportunities to leverage its location for national benefit.
  • A prudent and important part of that strategy would be to avoid provoking India.
  • Delhi too would be wise to be mindful of Colombo’s security concerns and find ways to develop long-term strategic cooperation with Sri Lanka.

Resolve disputes

  • Delhi needs to invest some political capital in resolving problems such as the long-standing dispute over fisheries.
  • Beyond its objection to China’s BRI projects, Delhi, either alone or in partnership with like-minded countries like Japan, should offer sustainable terms for infrastructure development.
  • Delhi also needs to contribute more to the development of Colombo’s defence and counter-terror capabilities.

Shaping India’s relations with Sri Lanka:

  • The structural factor shaping India’s relations with Sri Lanka is the Tamil question.
  • India’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s tragic civil war has been far more consequential than the China factor in complicating Delhi’s relations with Colombo.
  • Delhi has certainly learnt the dangers of being drawn too deep into the domestic conflicts of neighbouring countries.

Way ahead:

  • The Rajapaksas have declared that they will not bend before foreign pressures.
  • India knows that too much heat from the West will automatically increase China’s leverage in Colombo.
  • If the Tamil question continues to have a big impact on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, Delhi needs to look beyond old formulae to try and encourage reconciliation within Lanka and across the Palk Strait with Tamil Nadu.

Conclusion:

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 14 January 2020 (The longevity is the biggest achievement: on Shinzo Abe (Indian Express))

The longevity is the biggest achievement: on Shinzo Abe (Indian Express)

Mains Paper 2: International
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: Challenges ahead of the PM Shinzo Abe

Context:

  • On November 20, Shinzo Abe will become the longest- serving Prime Minister of Japan, overtaking Taro Katsura’s record of 2,886 days in office.

Prime Minister term of Mr. Abe:

  • Mr. Abe has been in power for two different spells: a short-lived one, between July 2006 and September 2007, and the current stretch since 2012.
  • Over the last seven years, he has brought stability to a political landscape that had been fractured, honing the image of a strong, conservative leader readying Japan for a newly muscular role in a shifting geopolitical landscape.
  • Mr. Abe has steered the economy out of deflation and decline, if not into growth.
  • He has presided over a significant increase in the country’s military capabilities and attempted to expand Japan’s strategic options beyond its traditional reliance on the United States.

The TINA factor

  • His legacy might not be as long-lasting as his time in office.
  • Critics say the only reason Mr. Abe is still in power is because of a weak and uninspiring Opposition.
  • The TINA (there is no alternative) factor that voters around the world are all too familiar with.

Tenure and performance of Mr. Abe:

  • Mr. Abe returned to power in 2012, Japan had been through five Prime Ministers in as many years.
  • His immediate order of business was implementing a set of economic reforms to stimulate the economy, popularly dubbed Abenomics.
  • The three pillars of this stimulus included monetary easing, fiscal spending and deregulation to promote private investment.
  • He also vowed to bring more women into the workforce, an attempt nicknamed “womenomics”.
  • Mr. Abe has reinvented Japan, from a recalcitrant participant in trade liberalisation to a leader of the Trans-Pacific Partnership bloc, after the U.S. withdrew from it in 2017.
  • Under him, Japan has boosted defence spending and enhanced its ability to project power outside of its borders.
  • In a historic shift in 2014, Mr. Abe’s government reinterpreted (without amending) the Constitution to permit Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since the Second World War.
  • A five-year defence programme announced in 2018 allocated 25.5 trillion yen ($233.7 billion) in spending, a 6.4% rise over the previous five years.

On the diplomatic front:

  • Mr. Abe has reached out to traditional partners like the U.S. (he was the first foreign leader to meet with Donald Trump after the President’s election), while keeping ties with rival China on an even keel.
  • Mr. Abe made an official visit to Beijing last October (the first such visit in nearly seven years) and President Xi Jinping is expected in Japan next year.
  • For Japan, it has been a difficult balancing act, to avoid excessive dependence on the U.S., while anticipating the dangers associated with a more assertive China.
  • Mr. Abe has demonstrated considerable tactical pragmatism in walking this tightrope.
  • Mr. Abe has also reached out to strengthen alliances with regional powers like India and floated the idea of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific for which he has gained the backing, to varying degrees, of the U.S., Australia and India.But, despite this smorgasbord of initiatives,

Criticism:

  • Mr. Abe’s tenure has not been entirely rosy.
  • The Japanese economy remains limp and Japanese corporations have so far proved unable to transform themselves into 21st century technology leaders.
  • Though, during his tenure, Japan has benefited from periods of economic growth and low unemployment, the country remains mired in a slow-growth, high-debt deflationary trap.
  • The government recently downgraded its 2019 growth forecast to 0.9% from an earlier prediction of 1.3%.

Moving away from pacifism

  • Domestically, Mr. Abe’s vision of a less pacifist Japan remains deeply contested.
  • His most cherished policy goal is the amendment of Article 9 in the Constitution: the clause that restricts Japan’s ability to maintain a military deterrent.
  • But it is looking no closer to fulfilment than it did at the beginning of his reign. The Prime Minister wants to write the existence of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, as the military is known, into Article 9, giving constitutional standing to de facto reality.
  • However, a survey conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper earlier this year showed that 64% of respondents opposed even this modest revision.
  • While Mr. Abe continues to reiterate his pledge to push through the revision by 2020, it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will prove successful.

Way ahead:

  • Japan can meet the challenge of China’s increasing heft. Relations with neighbour and potential ally, South Korea, are worse than ever.
  • Under Mr. Abe, Japan has made little progress in facing up to its historical responsibility for the widespread atrocities of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Second World War.
  • The recent deterioration in relations with Seoul were prompted by unresolved grievances involving Koreans who were forced to work in Japan’s mines and factories during the war, as well as “comfort women” who were made to service the military’s brothels.
  • Far from helping heal the historical wounds inflicted by Japan, Mr. Abe’s nationalistic stance is seen as unrepentant at best and provocative at worst.

Conclusion:

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 14 January 2020 (Maternity scheme beneficiaries (Mint))

Maternity scheme beneficiaries (Mint)

Mains Paper 2: Governance
Prelims level: Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana
Mains level: Government policies and interventions for development in various Sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation incl. Housing

Context:

  • A vital programme to support lactating mothers and pregnant women by compensating them for loss of wages during their pregnancy has been able to reach less than a third of the eligible beneficiaries.
  • The researchers who extrapolated from data obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act said.

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana:

  • Almost 61% of beneficiaries registered under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) between April 2018 and July 2019 (38.3 lakh out of the total 62.8 lakh enrolled) received the full amount of ₹6,000 promised under the scheme, according to an RTI reply.
  • However, the researchers, who are development economists, assert that since the scheme failed to reach at least 49% of all mothers who would have delivered their first child (an estimated total of 123 lakh for 2017 according to the researchers), the scheme was able to benefit only 31% of its intended beneficiaries.
  • The PMMVY is targeted only at women delivering their first child.
  • A cash amount of ₹6,000 is transferred to the bank account of the beneficiary in three instalments upon meeting certain conditions including early registration of pregnancy, having at least one ante-natal check-up and registration of child birth.

The stipulated conditions:

  • The scheme brings under its ambit 23% of all births and pays full benefits to a mere 14% of all births, which was at 270.5 lakh for 2017.
  • The meagre reach calculated is also an overestimate, asserts Ritika Khera, Assistant Professor, IIM Ahmedabad.
  • The actual number of beneficiaries would have been higher for 2018-2019, she contends, as the figure increases from one year to the next.
  • The data extrapolated from the RTI reply is also consistent with a survey coordinated by three development economists Jean Dreze, Anmol Somanchi and Ms. Khera.
  • The survey was conducted to assess the implementation of the scheme.
  • The survey team covered a district each in six States — Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha — in 2019 to interview women and inspect anganwadis.
  • A total of 706 women were interviewed, including 342 pregnant and 364 lactating women.

Inadequate awareness:

  • The study found that only 50% of pregnant women and 57% of nursing women surveyed were eligible for the scheme.
  • It also throws light on the need for higher awareness among the pool of beneficiaries — only 66% of pregnant women and 69% of nursing women knew about the scheme. Only 8% of pregnant women and 23% of nursing mothers received some benefits.

Shortcomings:

  • Several factors impeded proper implementation of the programme that aims to fight malnutrition among children.
  • These include an application form of about 23 pages, a slew of documents such as mother-child protection card, Aadhaar card, husband’s Aadhaar card and bank passbook aside from linking their bank accounts with Aadhaar.
  • The requirement to produce the husband’s Aadhaar card results in excluding women who may be living with men they are not married to, single mothers and those who may be staying at their natal home.
  • Women must also have the address of their marital home on their Aadhaar card, which often results in newly weds being either left out or forced to go from door-to-door when pregnant and needing rest and care.
  • Odisha, which decided to not implement PMMVY because it has its own State-sponsored scheme called ‘Mamata’ that includes two births, has a few lessons to offer through its near universal coverage.

Way ahead:

  • According to the survey, 95% of pregnant women and 89% of nursing mothers had been enrolled, the level of awareness was more than 90% among the two categories of women.
  • However, there were long delays in transferring the cash amount to the beneficiaries resulting in only 35% of all women who were pregnant and 67% of all nursing women receiving some benefits.
  • The survey findings also highlight the need to pay greater attention to the special needs of pregnancy good food, extra rest and health care.
  • Only 22% of the nursing women surveyed reported that they had been eating more than usual during their pregnancy and the average weight gain was barely 7kg when it should be at least 13-18kg.
  • Almost all the respondents had done household work regularly during their last pregnancy.
  • 21% of nursing women said that they had no one to help them with domestic chores and 63% said that they had been working right until the day of delivery.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 14 January 2020 (Empowered Action Group States (Mint))

Empowered Action Group States (Mint)

Mains Paper 2: Health
Prelims level: National Family Health Survey
Mains level: National Family Health Survey report on malnutrition in Odisha

Context:

  • Odisha, which is one of the Empowered Action Group States, or eight socioeconomically backward States of India, has done remarkably well in health and nutrition outcomes over the past two decades. Its infant mortality rate has significantly declined.
  • Its under-five mortality rate almost halved in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 from NFHS-3.
  • It has seen a steep decline in stunting in children under five. Anaemia in children and pregnant women has also decreased since NFHS-3.
  • Antenatal care and institutional deliveries have shown good improvement. All these changes have been possible with financing, policy support, robust leadership, and innovations in delivery of services.

Nutritional interventions

  • Nutrition has a strong correlation to health, and is integral to growth and development. Timely nutritional interventions of breastfeeding, age-appropriate complementary feeding, Vitamin A supplementation, and full immunisation are effective in improving nutrition outcomes in children.
  • Odisha has performed better than other Empowered Action Group States in reducing undernutrition, and sets an example with its nutrition action plan calling for convergence with health, nutrition, and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) programmes.
  • Odisha has taken a decisive step of decentralising the procurement of supplementary nutrition under the Integrated Child Development Services programme.
  • This has led to fair access of services under the ICDS by all beneficiaries.
  • This is evident from the rise in utilisation of services under the ICDS as compared to a decade ago.
  • There has been a marked improvement in supplementary nutrition received by pregnant and lactating women in NFHS-4 compared to NFHS-3.

Major loopholes highlighted:

  • However, despite progress in child and maternal indicators, Odisha continues to be plagued by a high level of malnutrition.
  • There is stark variability across districts in stunting ranging from as high as 47.5% in Subarnapur to a low of 15.3% in Cuttack.
  • Wasting is high in 25 out of 30 districts. Almost half of the under-five children from tribal communities in Odisha are underweight, and 46% are stunted.
  • The infant mortality rate among tribals is the fourth highest in Odisha, after Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
  • Supplementary food given under the ICDS programme has shown a significant increase.
  • However, data show that less of such food is given as children grow older.
  • There is also a decline is children receiving timely complementary feeding.
  • Less than 10% of children receive a minimum acceptable diet. This can be attributed to a possible lack of understanding and awareness about nutrition due to illiteracy.

Improving implementation

  • Another challenge for Odisha is in reaching out to remote and particularly vulnerable tribal groups.
  • This could be the reason why tribal women and children are lagging behind the national average on nutrition and health indicators.
  • It is essential to improve the implementation of schemes, and ensure last-mile delivery of nutrition services.
  • A part of the solution lies in setting up mini Anganwadi centres catering to far-flung tribal hamlets.
  • Raising awareness through community campaigns on the need for good nutrition would help improve utilisation of services by beneficiaries.
  • The International Food Policy Research Institute, in its research, called for inter-department engagements to accelerate the nutrition outcome in Odisha.
  • There is a need to improve sanitation, women’s education and underlying poverty, to be able to tackle undernutrition.

Conclusion:

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 13 January 2020 (Global trading system poised for a new normal (The Hindu))

Global trading system poised for a new normal (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level : World Trade Organisation
Mains level : Bilateral trade grouping and its affect India’s interest

Context:

  • The tale of two events at two different points of time demonstrate unusual commonalities.
  • One occurred in 2001, and another is about to take place on January 15.
  • While the first event happened against the backdrop of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the impending Iraq war, the second is about to unfold amidst escalating US-Iran tensions.
  • In both events, the dramatis personae are the same: the US and China, the world’s two largest economies.

Protracted negotiations preceded:

  • The US paved the way for China to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001, after extracting a significant price by forcing Beijing to slash its tariffs on industrial and agricultural products to levels that industrialised countries took more than 200 years to bring down. China had also committed to reduce subsidies and other trade-promoting measures for industry and agriculture.
  • Beijing had agreed to reduce its de minimis support for agriculture producers below what was allowed for developing countries.
  • For almost 15 years, anti-dumping investigations against Chinese products were punitively high as they were treated as products originating from non-market economy. \
  • China chose to pay the price to establish its presence in the global trading system.

US’ allegations:

  • The US says China aggressively promotes 10 advanced manufacturing industries domestically “to replace foreign products with Chinese companies’ products in the China market through a variety of fair and unfair means, including through the extraction of foreign technologies,” according to a 2017 report to the US Congress by the Office of the US Trade Representative in January 2018.
  • The continued ballooning of the US trade deficit which touched $648 billion in manufactured goods last year and the loss of five million jobs during the last 16 years demonstrates that multilateral, regional, and even bilateral trade agreements with Korea and others, have only brought de-industrialisation and destruction.
  • In short, the US argues that ever increasing trade deficits are an offshoot of the manner in which it was duped, cheated, and deceived by its trade partners who refused to play by the rules governing the so-called “fair and free trade”.
  • The new Sino-US normal attempts to cock a snook at the global trading system based on rules and comparative advantage.
  • So, the trade war between the two largest economies in the world has almost paved the way for managed trade in which countries compete not on the basis of their comparative trading strengths but on sheer market and power-based equations.
  • There will be several collateral causalities in the global trade because of this new normal.
  • Countries like Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and other major farm producers will take a hit once orders from China dry up because of the purchase of American farm products.

Conclusion:

  • There is no guarantee that trade relations between the two major powers will dramatically improve.
  • Indeed, the trade war could continue for a considerable period of time.
  • It is essentially a battle over who is going to be the hegemon and who is going to lead the fourth industrial revolution,” former South African trade minister Rob Davies told this columnist.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 13 January 2020 (NPA crisis: Prevention is the cure (The Hindu))

NPA crisis: Prevention is the cure (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 3: Economy
Prelims level : Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code
Mains level : Significance of the IBC

Context:

  • At the end of September 2019, the GNPA was at 9.1 per cent of banks’ loans and other outstandings.

Significance of the IBC:

  • Credit for this has been given to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
  • While it has indeed put the fear of God into defaulting company promoters (who don’t want to lose the controlling interest in the company to the highest bidder), for banks it means huge sacrifices, euphemistically and flippantly described as ‘haircuts’, in the range of 50-60 per cent.

‘Cleaning up’ the balance sheet:

  • Balance sheets of banks look squeaky clean when bad debts (or NPAs) are brushed under the carpet after the IBC resolution process is over. But then, banishing the problem is not the same as finding a solution.
  • The IBC resolution process, to be sure, is better than the earlier state of affairs when banks would wait helplessly for years wringing their hands in desperation. In the end, they may recover a small portion, which is better than nothing.
  • While the grim prospect of losing control of the company is bound to halt the rampaging promoters in their tracks, the economic downturn and genuine business issues often come in the way of loan and interest repayment.
  • Some fly-by-night, thick-skinned operators do not really lose sleep over losing control of their companies.

Asset-liability mismatch:

  • Banks have also been guilty of courting trouble by lending to long-gestation infrastructure projects. Asset-liability mismatch (ALM) is a banker’s nightmare.
  • If a bank has accepted fixed deposits of ₹1,000 crore for three years, it must earmark this for loans of shorter maturities.
  • Otherwise it may find itself in a fix, with depositors demanding their money back after three years.
  • It is to avoid ALM that take-out financing emerged on the scene. Like a relay race, with bank A passes the baton to bank B after the first three years, bank B to bank C after the next three years and so on, so that no bank faces the pitfalls of an ALM.
  • But in India, take-out financing is extremely inadequate, with specialised infrastructure financing agencies like IIFCL passing the buck to the banks instead of undertaking loan appraisal upfront, and then bringing the banks into picture when things have stabilised.

Way ahead:

  • Banks which read the riot act to mortgagers and gold-loan clients have, alas, no immediate and sure-shot recourse when it comes to industrial loans.
  • They do compensate for this extra risk by charging higher interests, but when the loans go sour, interest too stops flowing in.
  • The government and the RBI must celebrate only when they succeed in preventing NPAs from building up in the first place, rather than after brushing them under a carpet.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 13 January 2020 (Shameful deaths (The Hindu))

Shameful deaths (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: Health
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Loopholes in health system in India

Context:

  • At JK Lon Hospital in Kota, 105 infants died in December alone. In neighbouring Gujarat, 111 infants died in Rajkot Civil Hospital and 85 deaths were recorded in Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, also in December.
  • The divergence in Gujarat between its economic and social indicators (as indeed for India as a whole) points to the problems with India’s model of development, where the State has persistently under-invested in the social sector.

Causes of death:

  • As for the prevalence of hunger amidst a stockpile of foodgrains, the government needs to do some explaining.
  • Community medicine research has established the role of nutrition in keeping even vector-borne diseases like malaria at bay.
  • In Rajasthan, the report of a government panel reveals that a majority of infants died due to hypothermia.
  • The ICU did not have warmers to maintain the infant body temperature at its ideal of 36.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Of the total 28 nebulisers, 22 were dysfunctional, there were no para monitors or oxymeters that are routinely required to monitor oxygen levels, there was no oxygen pipeline, and the ICU had not been fumigated for months.

Way ahead:

  • These revelations are reflective of both the appalling state of public hospitals in India and the vulnerability to disease of the impoverished population.
  • In the range of 1.2-1.4 per cent of GDP over the past decade, public financing of health accounts for less than a third of overall, mostly out of pocket, health expenditure.
  • As a result, life expectancy at birth in India is lower than in Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • The infant mortality rate is higher than that of Bangladesh.
  • Full immunisation rate of children is 62 per cent while many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have rates higher than 90 per cent.
  • The urgency of a substantial increase in public financing of health care, besides health system reforms, cannot be greater.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 13 January 2020 (Man-made disaster: On Iran shooting down Ukraine plane (The Hindu))

Man-made disaster: On Iran shooting down Ukraine plane (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: International
Prelims level : Surface-to-air missile
Mains level : Iran shooting down Ukraine plane

Context:

  • The shooting down of a passenger plane by Iran’s military on Wednesday, a few hours after it launched missile attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, is the most tragic outcome of the recent spike in U.S.-Iran tensions.
  • The Ukrainian jet with 176 aboard was hit by an Iranian surface-to-air missile shortly after it took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport.
  • After initially rejecting western assertion that an Iranian missile brought down the plane, Tehran on Saturday said one of its soldiers fired the missile, mistaking the jet for an enemy aircraft “as it turned to a sensitive area”.

Background:

  • This is not the first time U.S.-Iran tensions have led to an aviation disaster.
  • In 1988, in the last stage of the Iran-Iraq war, a U.S. Navy warship shot down an Iran Air flight over the Gulf, killing all 290 passengers.
  • Then the U.S. troops said they mistook the plane for a military aircraft that was going to attack the ship.
  • Iran says the same today. In both incidents, innocents, who did not have anything to do with the conflict, became victims.

Man-made disaster:

  • Iran blames “human error” for the attack on the passenger plane. But whatever the context is, it cannot abdicate responsibility for what happened.
  • Ukraine International Airlines says the flight took off after clearance from the airport.
  • The airline also rejects the Iranian military’s claim that the plane veered off its route.
  • Iran’s admission and apology is a step in the right direction. But it should carry out, along with international investigators, a thorough probe into what led to the “accident”, and punish whoever is responsible for the “human error”.
  • Such mistakes are unacceptable even in war.
  • Iran should have put in place the highest safety measures and followed international protocols while preparing itself for enemy retaliation.
  • Clearly it did not do so. And innocent people paid a price for Iran’s mistake.

Way ahead:

  • Both Iran and the U.S. should also ask themselves whether the confrontational path they have chosen since Mr. Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018, was worth the risk.
  • Both countries were on the brink of an all-out war early this week.
  • At least 226 people, mostly Iranians, have already lost their lives in tragedies related to the Soleimani killing (over 50 were killed in a stampede at the funeral).
  • If Iran is sincere in its apology, it should not only unearth what happened and punish the culprits but also take immediate steps to reduce tensions with the U.S.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 13 January 2020 (Matter of interpretation: On NCRB’s Crime in India Report 2018 (The Hindu))

Matter of interpretation: On NCRB’s Crime in India Report 2018 (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 3: Defense and Security
Prelims level : NCRB 2018
Mains level : Highlights the NCRB’s Crime in India Report 2018

Context:

  • The National Crime Records Bureau’s 2018 report was unveiled last week. \
  • While the fact that this document has been made available so soon should be welcomed, this report, as with those for earlier years, carries the caveat that crime records and statistics are only as good as their reporting.
  • Some States are better than others in tracking and registering crimes.

Key highlights of the report:

  • Kerala and the National Capital Region having the highest crime rates in the country — 1463.2 per one lakh population and 1342.5, respectively — is also a reflection of the fact that crime reporting, follow-up and subsequent steps in trial and punishment are much better undertaken in these two States/UTs.
  • Yet, what should be worrying for the capital city region is that unlike Kerala, the number of cognisable crimes has steadily increased to 2,62,612 in 2018 from 2,16,920 in 2016.
  • Better reporting could also perhaps explain why there is a 15% increase in the total crimes against women across all States, but the fact that this number went up by 66% in a large State such as Uttar Pradesh must because for concern.
  • The crimes against women fell 20.8% after reaching a peak number of 17,222 in Delhi.
  • The fall in these numbers, corresponding to the general increase in crimes, could reflect the outcomes of better gender sensitisation in the capital region.
  • Unlike crime numbers that are difficult to interpret due to registration and policing issues, the number of murders across States is a stark reflection of violent crime.
  • The finding in the 2017 NCRB report that northeastern States such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya have a relatively higher murder rate compared to most States bears itself out in 2018 as well.
  • Other States which have a worrisome record here include Jharkhand (4.6 murders per one lakh population, the highest in the country) and Haryana (3.9). Among cities, Patna (4.4) has an egregious murder rate.
  • The protests and violence related to them have occupied the news cycle in the last month or so, data from the report suggest that there has been a marginal decrease in the total cases related to rioting from 2016 (61,974) to 2018 (57,828).
  • Cases related to caste and communal/religious riots, political violence and agrarian conflicts registered a dip while there was an increase in industrial rioting and other personal disputes.

Way ahead:

  • Among cases registered as “offences against the State”, there has been an ominous increase under “sedition” with the number of those booked in 2018 double that of 2016, even as most such cases under this section came under the “Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act”; Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh led with nearly half of the overall cases.

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Exam Name: Engineering Services Exam (IES)

Paper : Mechanical Engineering

Year: 2020

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 January 2020 (Hypocrisy in the name of liberalism (Indian Express))

Hypocrisy in the name of liberalism (Indian Express)

Mains Paper 3: Defense and Security
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Challenges associate with spreading left-wing-extremism

Context:

  • Uninformed opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act is a classic case of back-door support to the front-door entry of Bangladeshi infiltrators.
  • While those in office are striving to ward off the impact of the challenges from the global economy and give further impetus to India’s manufacturing sector, many in the opposition are working overtime to “manufacture” unrest.

Background:

  • It is easier to do so as most “narrative shapers” come from the left-of-centre camp.
  • Compared to the BJP, ideologies opposed to it have always had an upper hand in the mainstream media.
  • Even in the NGO sector, many of whom now call themselves civil society, leftists have been in a dominant position.
  • This used to be the case in academia as well. Even the Padma awards were almost an exclusive right of the left-of-centre artistes and authors.

Post 2014:

  • Post 2014, this situation has been changing. The left-of-centre ideological block is facing stiff opposition in every walk of public life.
  • Accustomed to calling the shots without any accountability, this group is now bewildered at an establishment that is demanding answers.
  • Increasingly, they are now finding it tough to protect their privileges.
  • Habituated to an unquestioned hegemony in their chosen sectors, leftists are perturbed to find that their opponents can outsmart them.
  • During the last five years, all this contributed to the unease in the leftist block.
  • Frustration in this block reached its zenith after the resounding victory of the BJP-NDA in the 2019 general election.
  • Finding themselves in a helpless situation, they are now spreading unfounded fears, sowing seeds of suspicion and rejecting the fears about the impact of unchecked infiltration of Bangladeshis, expressed even by the apex court.
  • Uninformed opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act is a classic case of back-door support to the front-door entry of Bangladeshi infiltrators.

Spreading left-wing-extremism:

  • The people are being told that opposing the CAA is equal to progressivism. Now that there is a greater public awakening about the truth behind the CAA and with the initial opposition to the Act depleting, violence in JNU is being used by the leftist to play the martyr.
  • It is, therefore, educative to understand the general game plan as well as the usual positions of the leftists.
  • To start with, nationalism was always a bad word for the Left. Many in the ultra-left have a firm conviction that India is a conglomeration of several nationalities.
  • Although they talk of constitutionalism, they look grudgingly even at the constitutional boundaries of India.
  • Disregarding the threat of secessionism, they have always been pro-Article 370, much against the desire of the framers of Constitution.
  • Supreme Court observations and reprimands notwithstanding, leftists always opposed the common civil code and by implication, freedom to Muslim women from the barbaric practice of triple talaq as well.
  • Post JNU, the entire leftist ecosystem is busy in condemning violence.
  • Violence is always deplorable. But the leftists have double standards.
  • They don’t mind burning public property in Delhi and unleashing murderous politics in Kerala.
  • But when violence takes a toll on their functionaries, they suddenly become Gandhian and create a picture as if their political activism has always been within the “legal framework” and non-violent as well.

Way forward:

  • Frustrated by electoral reverses, the ideological untouchability practised by the leftists leading to intellectual arrogance is now acquiring new, dangerous dimensions.
  • Their hegemony is now being challenged and that is the real reason for their stomach ache.
  • This frustration takes a perverted turn when enmity to and a pathological hatred of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is added to it.
  • Unless the saner elements in their ideological block ensure that leftists liberate themselves from this hypocrisy, their anarchist politics is going to wreak havoc, and sadly, all in the name of liberalism.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 January 2020 (Demographic dividend to demographic wasteland (Indian Express))

Demographic dividend to demographic wasteland (Indian Express)

Mains Paper 2: Society
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism and secularism

Context:

  • One of the greatest privileges of being a Chief Economic Advisor was the opportunity to meet with students from all over India.

Dividend to wasteland:

  • We speak of creating a $5-trillion economy by taking advantage of our demographic dividend.
  • But if our universities become war zones rather than sacred sanctuaries of learning, we don’t build human capital.
  • We make carcasses of the hopes of our students.
  • Just as the psychological burdens of poverty and hardship narrow cognitive bandwidth (according to research by Sendhil Mullainathan and Anandi Mani), the psychological burdens of violence on students could impair their capabilities and turn the demographic dividend into a demographic wasteland.
  • Since building human capital, maintaining social peace and creating strong institutions are key determinants of long-run development, recent actions triply undermine achieving sabka saath, sabka vikas.
  • It is bad enough that our higher education system has routinely been failing our youth. It is bad enough too that their prospects of getting decent, well-paying jobs are becoming more grim.
  • To heap violence and physical and psychological insecurity only adds more hopelessness to their educational years and to their sense of the future that awaits them.

Conclusion:

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 January 2020 (Tech’s 2020 agenda (The Hindu))

Tech’s 2020 agenda (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level : Artificial Intelligence
Mains level : Challenges associated with the rise of Artificial Intelligence

Context:.

  • The year 2019 stood testimony to this fact.
  • This was a period in which dramatic developments occurred in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, cloud computing and more.

Rise of Artificial Intelligence:

  • The AI juggernaut got all powered up in 2019 so much so that concerns around its advancements and application in fields such as welfare distribution, recruitments, match-making, etc.
  • For companies, governments and similar agencies drew worldwide criticism, with data scientists and technologists calling for more transparency and ethical clarity in the development, distribution and application of such algorithmic tools and products.
  • And there has been some progress towards that end, with policymakers in a few geographies introducing bills and laws to tackle abuse of AI.

Need to regulate:

  • It more needs to be done to tackle the wilfully wrong application of technologies.
  • Given the pace at which technologies evolve, we’d better hurry.
  • The governments are quite handicapped when it comes to developing tools and procedures to tackle mal-tech.
  • One of the most alarming tech trends of 2019 was the unbridled use and abuse of deep fake technology.
  • For starters, this is a malicious technology which helps make fake videos of people in which they can be shown doing things they would never have done in reality.
  • The promise that computers can now create convincing videos and images of events, people and actions that never happened is quite scary.

Way ahead:

  • Verifying the veracity of such products is a tall order as things stand now.
  • The response from Big Tech, when asked about developing solutions to address such problems, has not been really proactive so far.
  • The onus is now on consumers and policymakers.
  • The year 2020 should see more efforts towards making tech more humane, proactive and egalitarian.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 January 2020 (For universal access to healthcare (The Hindu))

For universal access to healthcare (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: Health
Prelims level : Ayushman Bharat scheme
Mains level : Accessibility of Universal health coverage

Context:

  • Most middle-class taxpayers in private jobs are stuck between the devil and the deep sea when it comes to accessing quality, and yet affordable, healthcare.
  • Their faith in government hospitals is eroding, and dependence on expensive private hospitals is increasing.

Coverage of Ayushman Bharat scheme:

  • The government claims to cover 50 crore poor people under the cashless health insurance scheme Ayushman Bharat, officials say a much lesser population is being tracked in urban areas because of lack of proper addresses in the Socio-Economic Caste Census.
  • The rest of the population, except government employees, are bereft of any government sponsored health cover or subsidy.

Challenges for achieving Universal Health Coverage:

  • In 1948, the World Health Organisation had enshrined ‘Universal Health Coverage’ — which means quality health services provided at affordable costs — as a fundamental right of each citizen.
  • Seventy-two years have passed without that becoming a reality in India, even as the country acceded to this in 1979 and hence making it obligatory to progress towards the goal.
  • To expand the health net, the government will also have to increase its healthcare budget, which is currently around 1.5 per cent of GDP.
  • As per the government’s own reckoning, the budget has to be scaled up by 26 per cent year-on-year to achieve a target of 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2025.

Way ahead:

  • As the government aims at ushering in universal health coverage, it has not charted a way forward yet.
  • The biggest hurdle to universalising access to health is improving and regulating the quality of care.
  • In the event of non-upgradation, taxpayers may have to pay up but not get care in their choice of hospital.
  • This apart, doctors themselves are the biggest roadblock, as they oppose implementation of The Clinical Establishments Act, which aims at regulating the quality of care.
  • While funds for schemes can gradually be figured out, improving and regulating the quality of care is a bigger issue.
  • Without addressing this, talking about access to healthcare is futile.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 January 2020 (As US-Iran tensions rise, what should be India’s gameplan? (The Hindu))

As US-Iran tensions rise, what should be India’s gameplan? (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level : US-Iran tensions
Mains level : Effect of policies and politics of developed anddeveloping countries on India's interests

Context:

  • The Middle East has been thrown into chaos in the wake of the US assassination of Iran’s Major Gen Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds special forces and the second-most powerful figure after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Iran’s vowed to retaliate, and rockets have already landed near the US Embassy in Baghdad.

How it affects India’s economy?

  • This conflagration could destabilise oil prices at a time when India’s economy is in fragile health.
  • The US now an oil exporter, higher prices could help it narrow its trade deficit.
  • India, a major Iranian oil buyer before US pressure forced a halt, purchases two-thirds of its crude from the Gulf, with Iraq the top supplier.
  • Oil prices rose $3 right after the attack and Indian pump prices were hiked Monday.
  • Gold prices have also hit six-year highs and the BSE slid by 800 points on Monday.

Affecting equity and trade markets:

  • The rupee declined sharply to 71.8 against the dollar on Friday, it recovered after an initial slide on Monday.
  • Similarly, the dollar index and the Japanese Yen too have not reacted too much on Monday.
  • Equity markets were however nervous and all global indices are trading 1-2 per cent lower.
  • Also, as risk aversion increases in the equity market, foreign portfolio investors tend to pull money out of emerging markets into safe havens.
  • The Reserve Bank should keep its power dry to defend the rupee.
  • Despite the US sanctions against trade with Iran, India’s trade with Iran increased in 2018-19 owing to the waiver on oil from November 2018.
  • Exports went up to $3 billion in 2018-19, which was 33 per cent higher than the previous fiscal, while imports increased 21 per cent to $13.5 billion.
  • After the waiver period ended in mid-2019, oil imports reduced to zero.
  • Exports have been hit as payments are stuck. Basmati and tea exporters fear further difficulties in obtaining payments.
  • It is high time that India created a major strategic reserve for oil to deal with contingencies.

Way forward:

  • The Iranians played a key role in Afghanistan and had been backers of the Northern Alliance along with India. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to explain US moves.
  • The US also announced it’s resuming training of Pakistan military personnel halted earlier by Trump.
  • External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has reportedly been in talks with the US to defuse the situation in the region.
  • The Gulf is home to over eight million Indians, a source of crucial remittances. So far, Washington has not resumed military aid but there’s an assumption Pakistan will get assistance in some form.
  • It’s not clear what Trump hoped to achieve by the killing, rejected by his two predecessors as too risky for Middle East peace.
  • What’s certain is that we have entered a new stage of brinkmanship.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 11 January 2020 (Taking a holistic approach to dengue (The Hindu))

Taking a holistic approach to dengue (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: Health
Prelims level : Dengue disease
Mains level : Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health

Context:

  • The advent of a new tetravalent vaccine against the dengue virus has thrown new light into the evidence-based management of dengue.

Background:

  • An article of New England Journal of Medicine revealed that this vaccine confers about 80% protection to children vaccinated between 4 and 16 years of age without any major side effects.
  • It was a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised, multi-centre trial which included 20,017 participants from the dengue-endemic countries.
  • Apart from promoting the use of the vaccine, gaining control over dengue will also require a holistic approach that has to include within its ambit vector control and proper case management.

About Dengue:

  • Dengue is essentially a tropical disease that occurs in the countries around the Equator; hot weather and intermittent rainfall favour the sustenance of Aedes aegypti — the vector transmitting the dengue virus —and Aedes albopictus, a minor contributor.
  • Aedes eggs can remain dormant for more than a year and will hatch once they come in contact with water.
  • Urbanisation, poor town planning, and improper sanitation are the major risk factors for the multiplication of such mosquitoes.
  • Aedes mosquitoes cannot fly beyond a hundred metres. Hence, keeping the ambience clean can help prevent their breeding.
  • Further, these mosquitoes bite during the daytime, so keeping the windows shut in the day hours is also useful.

Shortage of skilled manpower

  • Many other source reduction activities can be undertaken, including preventing water stagnation and using chemical larvicides and adulticides.
  • These chemicals need to be applied in periodic cycles to kill the larvae that remain even after the first spray.
  • The number of skilled workers available for such measures is low; many posts in government departments remain vacant despite there being a dire public health need.
  • Due to this deficiency of manpower, active surveillance is not being done in India, says the National Vector Borne Disease Control Program.

Other factors:

  • Also, dengue cases are often under-reported due to political reasons and also to avoid spreading panic among the common people.
  • There is a lack of coordination between the local bodies and health departments in the delivery of public health measures.
  • A comprehensive mechanism is required to address these issues.

Need epidemiological measures:

  • Moreover, epidemiological measures are essential in the management of any communicable disease.
  • Singapore uses one successful model of mapping and analysing data on dengue, using Geographical Information System (GIS). This involves mapping the streets with dengue cases for vector densities.

Type of infection:

  • Dengue is mostly an asymptomatic infection, and only a very few develop severe disease.
  • Those very young or very old and those who have a chronic ailment are at a greater risk of developing severe disease.
  • But the worldwide case fatality rate is as low as 0.3%.
  • The dengue virus has four serotypes and only a second infection with a different serotype will cause a severe disease. \
  • Fluid management is the cornerstone in the management of severe diseases like dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome.
  • Here, the role of platelet depletion in exacerbating the condition of a patient is overemphasised even by many medical personnel. \
  • Contrary to the common belief, platelet transfusions are not needed even in cases of active bleeding, as per the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Coagulation abnormalities are not due to a reduction in the number of platelets alone.
  • This is why the WHO recommends fresh whole blood or packed cell transfusion in the event of bleeding. The platelet count will increase automatically as fever subsides.

Alternative medicine drugs:

  • Despite the adequate and well-formed guidelines for the management of dengue cases by the WHO and the Indian government, the usage of complementary medicines like Nilavembu kudineer (a Siddha medicine) and papaya leaf extract are rampant among the people.
  • Nilavembu sooranam, which reportedly contains about nine different substances, has been widely promoted for use to treat dengue fever despite the safety of and complex interactions among its different constituents not having been tested.
  • The efficacy of Nilavembu kudineer in the management of several other diseases is based on very primitive forms of research like case reports, in-vitro studies, and animal studies.

Side effects:

  • There are case reports where Andrographis paniculata, an active constituent of Nilavembu sooranam, showed anti-fertility effects in animal models, causing abortion.
  • Even meta-analysis of various studies has shown that there is no credible evidence for the use of papaya extract in dengue fever. \
  • For unknown reasons, even some pharmaceutical companies are being allowed to market papaya extract pills.
  • In Tamil Nadu, complementary medicine practitioners often argue that a proper double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial cannot be conducted as it involves huge money and manpower.
  • Though this argument is partially correct, patients cannot be treated as guinea pigs. For any medicine, safety is more important than efficacy. \
  • Every modern medicine drug has come out after rigorous safety and efficacy studies for around 10 years, with an informed declaration of the side effects.
  • Hence, instead of carrying out distribution of medicines like Nilavembu kudineer, the government can concentrate its energies on other public health activities.

Conclusion:

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Exam Name: Engineering Services Exam (IES)

Paper : General Studies and Engineering Aptitude

Year: 2020

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 10 January 2020 (Indian Cobra Genome Decoded (Indian Express))

Indian Cobra Genome Decoded (Indian Express)

Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level : Cobra Genome
Mains level : Challenges in production of effective anti-venom

Context:

  • An international team of researchers have sequenced the genome of the Indian cobra, in the process identifying the genes that define its venom.

Major significance:

  • This genome sequence can provide a blueprint for developing more effective anti-venom.
  • The cobra genome sequence is of really high quality.
  • Sequence information of the genes that code for venom proteins is very important for the production of recombinant anti-venoms.

Existing anti-venoms not effective enough:

  • Their efficacy varies, besides producing side effects.
  • In India, the challenge has been producing anti-venom for the species known collectively as the “big four”, The Indian cobra (Naja naja), Common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii), and Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus).
  • Common anti-venom is marketed for the treatment of bites from the “big four”, but its effectiveness came under question in a recent study.
  • The common anti-venom worked against the saw-scaled viper and the common cobra.
  • But this anti-venom fell short against some neglected species and also against one of the “big four” - the common krait.
  • Facts - Accidental contacts with snakes lead to over 100,000 deaths across the world every year.
  • India alone accounts for about 50,000 deaths annually, and these are primarily attributed to the “big four”.

Challenges in production of effective anti-venom:

  • Venom is a complex mixture of an estimated 140-odd protein or peptides.
  • Only some of these constituents are toxins that cause the physiological symptoms seen after snakebite.
  • But anti-venom available today does not target these toxins specifically.
  • Anti-venom is currently produced by a century-old process.
  • In this process, a small amount of venom is injected into a horse or sheep, which produces antibodies that are then collected and developed into anti-venom.

Issues with this ‘horse technique’

  • This is expensive, cumbersome technique and comes with complications.
  • Some of the antibodies raised from the horse may be completely irrelevant.
  • The horse also has a lot of antibodies floating in its blood that have nothing to do with the venom toxins.
  • One more problem with horse antibodies is that our immune system recognises it as foreign and when anti-venom is given our body mounts an antibody response. This leads to what is called serum sickness.

Decoding the genome:

  • In the Indian cobra genome, the researchers have identified 19 key toxin genes, the only ones that should matter in snakebite treatment.
  • They stress the need to leverage this knowledge for creation of safe and effective anti-venom using synthetic human antibodies.
  • The next step would be obtaining the genomes and the venom gland genes from the other three of the “big four” and the deadly African species.

Way forward:

THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 10 January 2020 (Betrayals from outside and within (The Hindu))

Betrayals from outside and within (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level : Islamic State
Mains level : Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism and secularism.

Context:

  • The fight against the Islamic State (IS) was won with the help of three major forces on the ground, for the Western coalition on its own would not have managed to do much with remote-controlled bombs.
  • These were the Kurds, the Shia militia and ordinary Muslims (Sunni and Shia) who spoke up against the kind of Islam espoused by the IS and its supporters, choking the movement of easy recruits.
  • Towards the end of 2019, Donald Trump’s America betrayed the Kurds and abandoned them.
  • In early 2020, with the ‘targeted killing’ of Qassem Soleimani, Trump’s America betrayed the second partner.
  • The very Shia forces with which the West had collaborated in both Afghanistan and Iraq to fight al-Qaeda and the IS.

Narrow identity:

  • At the core of the crisis in the so-called Muslim world is not the U.S. or any other external factor. It is the narrowness of Muslims themselves.
  • It is the narrowness of their understanding of themselves.
  • By failing to allow other Muslims to believe or not to believe in their own ways, they do not just divide themselves up — persecuting the atheists, Ahmedis, Bohras, Shias, Sunnis etc. — they also cut themselves off from other communities.
  • If you cannot allow fellow Muslims to differ openly, how will you accept Hindus or Sikhs who do not believe like you do?

Conclusion:

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