28 July, 2020

  • In reverse gear - Draft EIA - Editorial (Environment)
  • Needed, a map for India's foreign policy - Lead Article (International Relations)
  • An opportunity to reshape health care - Article - (Social Issues)
  • The majority cannot afford a balanced diet - Article (Social Issues)
  • Question for the Day

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    Daily Current Affairs for UPSC - 28th July 2020

    1. In reverse gear - Environment impact assessment - Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Act 2020 - UPSC
      (The Hindu - Pg 6)

    Prelims: Environment

    Mains: GS Paper III – Environment

    This editorial mentions about several hurried projects by Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change including the Draft Environment Impact Assessment legislation which fundamentally changes the process of project approvals.      

    Major provisions of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020

    Division of Projects into Categories – A & B as per Draft EIA, 2020

    • Projects in Schedule-1 have been divided into two categories, Category A and B.
    • Category A project will require clearance from Central Government (MEF).
    • Category B will require clearance from State Government. However, the state government will first classify if the B project falls under B1 or B2 category.
    • B1 projects will require preparation of EIA reports while remaining projects will be termed as B2 projects and will not require EIA report.

     

    Concerns highlighted about Draft EIA, 2020

    • It seeks to reduce or even remove public participation, and by extension independent expert opinion, from the process of granting environmental clearances to various projects.
    • Public reporting of environmental violations may also not be taken cognisance of by the authorities.
    • Projects not needing Environment Clearance or Permission - Section 26 of the draft provides for 40 projects which will not require Environment Clearance or Permission from authorities. Some of the exempted activities include
    • Dredging and de-silting of dams, reservoirs, weirs, barrages, river, and canals for the purpose of their maintenance.
    • Coal and non-coal mineral prospecting
    • Seismic surveys which are part of exploration surveys for offshore and onshore oil and gas including coal bed methane and shale gas.
    • Thermal Power plants using Waste Heat Recovery Boilers (WHRB) without any auxiliary fuel.
    • Exemption from Public Consultation in certain Projects - Section 14 of the draft provides for exemption from public consultation thereby limiting the scope of public involvement in districts
    • in the case of national parks and sanctuaries where pipeline infrastructure will pass.
    • in certain Roads and highways construction passing through national parks and sanctuaries and certain Building Construction and Area Development Projects
    • all Category ‘B2’ projects and activities.
    • all projects concerning national defence and security or involving other strategic considerations as determined by the Central Government.
    • All the off-shore projects located beyond the 12 Nautical Miles.
    • Public Hearing - EIA Draft also retains the clause that if a public agency or authority considers the local situation not conducive to participation by citizens, the public consultation need not include a public hearing.
    • Not providing enough opportunity to the public to give their suggestion - The government tried to shield the draft from public opinion by closing the window early. This move was distorted by Delhi High Court Judgment which has given an extension till 11th August for the public to air and express their opinion and concern on the draft.

     

    Way Forward

    • COVID-19 which extended lockdown only allowed nature to spring back due to less pollution. Most of the changes pushed through the draft allows for denigration of environment including forest land as it allows unregulated construction activities.

    Thus, the government must balance development along with our fast depleting natural resources and environment. 

     

     

    Need a map for India’s foreign policy – Foreign Policy of India-UPSC (The Hindu - Pg 6)

    Mains: GS Paper II – International Relations (Foreign Policy)

    India’s relations with its neighbours

    The Article reflects India’s deteriorating neighbourhood relations as compared to the past where India maintained healthy and co-operative relation with each of neighbours and extended neighbours to achieve our strategic goal. India’s present policies turned India’s neighbour hostile and belligerent including China and Nepal. According to the author, what makes the current downturn serious is that there is a relative decline in India’s smart power, especially in the neighbourhood and the extended neighbourhood, which demands a deeper examination of India’s foreign policy trajectory itself.   

    Comparative study of foreign policy of India (Past & Present)

    Comparison Chart – India’s Neighbourhood Relations   

    Past

    Present

    SAARC

    India was the de facto leader of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

     SAARC is out of joint as India wants Pakistan culled out of SAARC.

     

    China

    India was competing and cooperating with China at the same time. While the long border between the two countries remained largely peaceful.  

    India is perhaps facing its gravest national security crisis in 20 years, with China having changed the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector in its favour.

     

    Nepal

    Nepal was India’s friend and all time ally. India maintained healthy, peaceful and friendly relationship with Nepal.

    Nepal has turned against India accusing India of big brotherly treatment. Nepal passed a constitutional amendment changing its map by adding India’s territory. This has effectively started border disputes with India. (with help from China)

     

    Sri Lanka

    Earlier, for Sri Lanka, India was an important partner and majority of the decisions were taken after due consultations with India. India also maintained healthy relation with Sri Lanka.

    Sri Lanka has tilted towards China and are undertaking massive infrastructure projects including development of its ports by Chinese. This which will impact India’s maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region including Bay of Bengal. 

     

    Bangladesh

    India enjoyed traditional goodwill and influence

    Bangladesh is not happy with NRC in Assam as well as India passing Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.

     

    Afghanistan

    India had invested billions of dollars in development projects in Afghanistan. India also maintained good ties with the former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai.  

    India has lost the Afghan track and is out of multi-party talks going on between Taliban, USA and Pakistan.

     

    Iran

    India had committed itself to multilateralism and the Central Asian

    Connectivity project and Iran was India’s gateway to the Central Asian Region through Chabahar Port.

    Iran has inaugurated a railway link project connecting the Chabahar port, on the Gulf of Oman to Zahedan without India’s involvement. 

     

     

    The author highlights three problems with respect to the present decline

    1. A closer alignment of policy with the U.S. line
    2. Coupling of foreign policy with domestic politics and
    3. Hubris
    1. A closer alignment of policy with the U.S. line
    • India’s official policy has been its commitment to multilateralism and strategic autonomy in its policy initiatives.
    • However, there has been a steady erosion in India’s strategic autonomy and it predates the current government. With the India US Nuclear Agreement during the time of Manmohan Singh Government, India started to slowly align its foreign policy with the US.

    The Example of Iran – US Pressure on India

    • The agreement to develop the Chabahar port was signed in 2003 but because of pressure from United States, India moved slowly on the Chabahar project despite knowing that Chabahar port will grant India access to Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.
    • India voted against Iran at the United Nations; scuttled an ambitious Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project and cut down trade ties with Iran drastically. 
    • After the Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, India immediately stepped up oil purchases and expanded works at Chabahar. In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Tehran and signed a trilateral connectivity project with Afghanistan and Iran.
    • But when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on the country, India toed the U.S. line, bringing down its oil imports to zero.
    • India also deepened its defence and military ties with US AS Washington DC wants India to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region to contain China’s rise. On the other hand, China has signed trade and military partnership with Iran.

    Growing China-Iran Ties might irk US & India

    • The partnership would vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects.
    • In exchange, China would receive a regular and heavily discounted supply of Iranian oil over the next 25 years. This will also allow China to increase its sphere of influence in the Middle East, throwing Iran an economic lifeline and creating new flash points with the United States.
    • India cannot remain immune from this development and might antagonize with Iran to remain close to United States.

    China’s Assessment of India getting closer to United States

    • While India has been cautious of becoming an ally, it has steadily deepened military-to-military cooperation in the recent past - the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and has asked Australia to join the Malabar Naval exercise to complete the QUAD.
    • These developments probably altered Beijing’s assessment of India. The border aggression at different points on the LAC could not be a localised conflict and is part of a larger strategic move, initiated by the top brass of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
    • One of the reasons for the shift could be Beijing’s assessment that India has already become a de facto ally of the U.S. The forceful altering of the status quo on the border is a risky message to both New Delhi & Washington D.C.

    2. Coupling of foreign policy with domestic politics

    • Two decisions of Indian government keeping its domestic audience and domestic politics in mind have had foreign policy consequences. They were passing of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) and abrogation of special status of Jammu & Kashmir.

    Problems with CAA

    • The official narrative of CAA was that it was to secure persecuted minorities of three countries from six religions and particularly leaving out Muslims.
    • This resulted in regionalization of India’s domestic politics with countries and impacted India’s neighbourhood relations with some countries (Bangladesh & Afghanistan) which are India’s long-time friends. These countries are genuinely upset with India’s move.
    • This also impacted India’s relationship with countries having Muslim majority especially in our neighourhood with whom India maintained good relationship such as Bangladesh which took offence at the CAA and the National Register of Citizens as the referred to citizens from Bangladesh as termites.
    • Even Afghanistan which has been India’s good friend has seen anti-India protest recently.

    Abrogation of Special Status of Jammu & Kashmir

    • This was another popular move based on domestic politics and catered to the domestic audience. Abrogation of Article 370 led to the suspension of fundamental rights in the Kashmir Valley for a prolonged period and this
    • damaged India’s reputation as a responsible democratic power and
    • gave propaganda weapons to Pakistan.
    • The move did not help India quell militancy either as the Valley continues to see violence nearly a year after the decision.
    • More importantly, the change of status quo in Jammu and Kashmir, including the bifurcation and reduction of the erstwhile State into Union Territories, could be another factor that prompted the Chinese to move aggressively towards the border in Ladakh.

    3. Perils of Hubris

    • The author says that misplaced confidence is not good for rising power and great powers wait to establish their standing before declaring that they have arrived. 
    • India is no exception to this rule and must learn from Russia and China. Russia because it started acting like a superpower after it won the Second World War with the help of allies.
    • China because it bided it’s time for 40 years before it started taking on the mighty U.S. Since the 1970s, China’s focus has almost entirely been on its economic rise rather than fighting United States or even India.
    • India should not have used high-handedness in Nepal during the country’s constitutional crisis and caused a traditional and civilizational ally to turn hostile. The updated political map which India released in November rubbed salt into the wound on the Nepal border.

     

    Way Forward

    • To address the current crises, India has to reconsider its foreign policy trajectory. It is a big power with one of the world’s biggest militaries.

    It is a natural naval force in the Indian Ocean. It does not lack resources to claim what is its due in global politics. What it lacks is strategic depth.

     

    3. An opportunity to reshape health care – Covid-19 and healthcare in India-UPSC (The Hindu Page 06)

    Mains: GS Paper II – Social issues (Health issues)

    Context:

    • The COVID-19 pandemic has massively disrupted our lives. 
    • The most prominent impact has been that of Health care system.
    • In this article author enumerate both positive as well as negative impacts which covid has brought in its wake.
    • So the discussion will have following major issues (use this for description) 
      • Increasing privatization of Indian Health Care
      • Dramatic reduction in the numbers of patients seeking care.
      • ‘Cut practice’ and its downfall during Covid:
      • Rethinking on many “treatment” strategies
      • Negative Impact of Covid on health care:

    Increasing privatization of Indian Health Care

    • Indian health care has been increasingly privatised over the last few decades.
    • This has led to intense market competition. A uniquely unregulated form of health care has thrived.
    • It has also been marked by several questionable practices.

    These have been under the media and public glare leading to a huge trust deficit. Will the changed milieu have an impact on this? How will this affect care of other conditions?

    Dramatic reduction in the numbers of patients seeking care.

    • Since most patients are scared to visit health facilities fearing COVID-19
    • This has both positive as well as negative consequences
      • This has resulted in postponement of all the planned, non-urgent problems including procedures and surgeries.
      • This has led to condition of some patients worsening or taking an unfortunate turn.
      • Some patients have been spared of procedures for debatable indications.
      • For example, the large number of women who undergo an unnecessary hysterectomy has reduced.
      • The incidence of Caesarean sections is reported to have gone down.
      • Similarly, procedures such as coronary stents, knee replacements or cosmetic surgery which reflect supplier-induced demand have almost stopped.
      • ‘Routine’ admissions for ‘observation’ or ‘insurance claims’ have got curtailed.
      • Strangely, even emergency medical cases have declined during the lockdown, with a decrease in the cases of heart attacks or strokes presenting to hospitals.
      • the unpolluted air,
      • decreased work stress,
      • home-cooked food
      • Negative
      • Positive (REDUCED OVER-DIAGNOSIS AND OVER TREATMENT)
      • Most of this looks like an impact of lockdown

    The cartelisation of health care has been naturally curbed during the pandemic.

    ‘Cut practice’ has reduced:

    • This practice in our health care system, when the referee of a patient pays out to the referrer for sending him "business", is known as "cut practice", or simply "cut" or "referral fee"
    • It involves doctors and hospitals prescribing tests, drugs, referrals and procedures in return for commissions, is entrenched in India.
    • Its negative consequences
      • increased patient expenses,
      • patients not reaching the right doctor or not getting the appropriate investigation
      • erosion in the doctor-patient relationship and the image of the fraternity.
    • How has this practice changed?
      • During the pandemic, the availability of doctors, beds and proximity are now the chief drivers for patient referrals, rather than the commission route.
      • Most practices have had to take a forced ‘detox’ of sorts from this addiction.

    Rethinking on many “treatment” strategies

    • There are several grey areas in treatment decisions, where doctors are not sure of the best way forward for the patient.
      • For example, terminal patients with widespread cancers are often prescribed chemotherapy, which can cause side-effects worse than the disease, without impact on life span or quality of life.
      • Oncologists often end up prescribing chemotherapy to such patients instead of symptomatic treatment to alleviate the pain and weakness because of the urge to ‘do something’, or even financial imperatives.
      • The dangers of chemotherapy with COVID-19 lurking in the air has made everyone weigh its pros and cons with more caution than usual.
      • The widely prevalent practice of a ‘health check-up’ which does not have proven public health value but is a tactic which targets health-obsessed ‘clients’, has also got derailed.
      • The focus has instead fortunately moved back to the basics of preventive health such as diet, exercise, good sugar control, and quitting smoking and tobacco.
      • The pandemic may have finally taught our population the importance of not coughing or spitting in the open. These may indeed have more far-reaching benefits in a much larger population.
      • Rethink on Chemotherapy
      • “excessive health checkup culture”

    Negative Impact of Covid on health care:

    • The breakdown of overburdened health-care facilities
    • Negative impact on the morale of health-care workers
    • The collapse of private sector institutions (under financial strain)
    • Hospital and doctors incomes are falling during the pandemic
      • This could also result in increase of unethical practices with a vengeance as the industry tries to make up its losses.
      • This is already evident in the huge bills that patients with COVID-19 are being slapped with, often by creating additional billing heads. 

    In general, the medical fraternity in India has risen admirably to the challenge of COVID-19.. Public respect for the profession has also improved.

    If we can seize this chance to correct undesirable practices, which have become an albatross around our neck, it may help the return of trust in the doctor-patient relationship, which was under severe threat before the pandemic.

     

    4. The majority cannot afford a balanced diet- State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 (SOFI) report-UPSC | India and SOFI Report-UPSC | (The Hindu Page 07)

    Mains: GS Paper II : Social issues (Hunger)

    The majority cannot afford a balanced diet

    Context - Detailed analysis of the “cost and affordability of healthy diets around the world” is a new feature of State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 (SOFI) report. The report shows that hundreds of millions of people in India above the international poverty line of $1.90 purchasing power parity (PPP) per person per day cannot afford a healthy or nutritious diet.

    The large majority of Indians cannot afford a balanced diet. The problem is of unaffordability and not of lack of information on nutrition or tastes or cultural preferences.

    Types of diets

    1. “Basic energy sufficient” diet - 2,329 Kcal intake is met by consuming only the cheapest starchy cereal available (say, rice or wheat).
    2. “nutrient adequate” diet - required calorie and 23 macro and micro-nutrients are met. This diet includes least cost items from different food groups.
    3. “Healthy diet” - meets the calorie norm and the macro- and micro-nutrient norm and also allows for consumption of a diverse diet, from several food groups.

    For “healthy diet” FAO uses actual recommendations for selected countries. The Indian recommendation includes consumption of items from six groups: starchy staples, protein-rich food (legumes, meat and eggs), dairy, vegetables, fruits, and fats. It includes 30 gm of cereal, 30 gm of pulses, 50 gm of meat/chicken/fish and 50 gm of eggs, 100 gm of milk, 100 gm of vegetables and fruit each, and 5 gm of oil a day. In short, a balanced and healthy meal but not excessive in any way. 

    FAO findings for South Asia

    • Energy-sufficient diet costs around 80 cents a day in South Asia. It is thus affordable to a poor person or one defined as having an income of $1.9 a day.
    • The nutrient-adequate diet costs $2.12 a day. If a person with income just above the poverty line spent her entire daily expenditure on food (ignoring fuel, transport, rent, medicines or any other expenditure), even then she would not be able to afford the nutrient-adequate diet. 
    • The healthy diet costs $4.07 a day, or more than twice the international poverty line. In other words, a healthy diet is totally unaffordable for those with incomes at even twice the poverty line

    The SOFI Report estimates that 18% of South Asians (numbering 586 million people) cannot afford the nutrient-adequate diet and 58% of South Asians (1,337 million people) cannot afford the healthy diet. The SOFI Report assumes that a person cannot spend more than 63% of total expenditure on food (that is, 37% would be required for non-food essentials).

    India and SOFI Report

    • Indian poverty line of 2011-12, as defined by the Tendulkar Committee, amounted to ₹33 per day in urban areas and ₹27 per day in rural areas, and corresponded roughly to $1 a day at international PPP prices. The Indian poverty line (there has been no redefinition in the last decade) is thus lower than the international poverty line used in the SOFI Report. So actual number of people unable to afford “Basic energy sufficient” and "healthy diet" will be much higher.
    • Also this number must have risen in the last three months, as employment and incomes collapsed for the majority of workers in the informal sector.
    • This result is completely contrary to the view of scholars such as Arvind Panagariya that the poverty line in India “may not permit a comfortable existence, including a balanced diet, (but) allows above subsistence existence.” 
    • If we want to reduce malnutrition and food insecurity, we have to address the problem of affordability of healthy diets.

    The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana offers, up to November 2020, an additional 5 kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of gram or lentils a month free of cost to all households with ration cards. This is welcome, of course, but inadequate to address the massive and growing problem of “Basic energy sufficient” and "healthy diet".

    Comments

    K Pushpendu Prashant 4 months ago

    Hello Team,
    Just wanted to know is there in any specific Rau's IAS program for Senior Players (Who have given more than one attempt and have completed syllabus but lacks something to clear the exams )?