Editorial Simplified : Over to the States | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the article

With the economic centre of gravity shifting to states, India’s growth hinges on cooperative federalism.


Introduction

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. Yet, there is anecdotal evidence of investors being frustrated by venality, indifference and corruption at the operating level.


The growing 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”.
  • As a consequence, the Centre yielded to the states, but largely in the political space. 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.
  • 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
    • The first is the 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. In contrast, the second-generation reforms on the agenda now shift the emphasis from product to factor markets like land, labour and taxation, which need, not just acquiescence, but often the consent of states.
    • The second factor driving the economic centre of gravity towards states is the changing dynamics of our fiscal federalism. Together, states collect 40 per cent of the combined revenue, but spend as much as 60 per cent of the combined expenditure. More important than the aggregates is the greater autonomy that states now enjoy in determining their expenditure. Thus, the states now not only get a larger quantum of central transfers but also get to decide on how to spend that larger quantum. And how states manage their public finances matters much more than before.
    • The third major trend behind the states’ growing importance in economic federalism is 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. If ever there was an opportune moment for a big push on cooperative federalism, it is now.


Gist of Editorials: Substance across the Arabian Sea | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Introduction

India-Saudi Arabia relations have not only remained steady, but have  kept their positive trajectory.

Acknowledging core interests

  • Saudi Arabia showed an “understanding” of recent Indian actions in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Their bilateral defence, security and anti-terror cooperation has intensified.

The Riyadh summit

The third Riyadh summit was recently held. It demonstrates the two nations’ maturity and strategic construct.

The issues in the relations

  • Trade has drifted downwards largely due to lower crude prices.
  • The bilateral trade in has fallen in 2019 compare to 2018.
  • Trade is in Saudi’s favour by ratio of 5: 1.
  • Trade is dominated by the traditional commodities.
  • The Saudi investment in India remains far below potential.

Reasons for optimism

  • Indian community in Saudi is still the largest foreign community and their remittances remain steady.
  • Saudi’s Vision 2030 lists eight major partner countries including India.
  • Saudi Aramco is to be one of the two strategic partners in the proposed PSU refinery at Raigarh.
  • Saudi has committed to investing $100 billion in India.
  • Setting up of a bilateral Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) to be co-chaired by India and Saudi Arabia.

Way ahead

  • Greater bilateral synergy in Indian infrastructure, agriculture, start-ups, skilling and IT.
  • Shifting some labour-intensive establishments from Saudi Arabia to India to boost ‘Make in India’.

Conclusion

When the sub-region’s two largest, top-performing and complementary economies join hands, the sum would be greater than the total of the parts.


Editorial Simplified : Turning the Policy Focus to Child Undernutrition | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Introduction

The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) report, brought out recently by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, assumes salience, especially against two important factors.

  • One, the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI), 2019 ranks India at the 102nd position out of 117 countries.
  • Two, India’s past performance in reducing child undernutrition has been rather mixed: there was a moderate decline in stunting but not in wasting..

Educated mothers

Stunting among children under four years came down from 46% to 19%, a whopping 27% points decline, when maternal education went up from illiteracy/no schooling to 12 years of schooling completed. This phenomenal decline was also true for the number of underweight children.


Decline in wasting

  • The extent of decline in wasting is larger than that of stunting: about 4% points within 22 months.
  • Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana have reduced wasting by 10% points or more within just 30 months or less, the best performer being Uttarakhand that has reduced wasting by 14% points.
  • Surprisingly, these States have not performed equally well in reducing stunting, despite the fact that wasting and stunting share many common causes.

What can be done ?

  • Ending open defecation and enhancing access to safe water and sanitation are indeed appropriate policy goals, which need to be sustained. However, ending open defecation alone will not reduce stunting phenomenally, as is evident from the experience of Bangladesh.
  • One aspect, which is yet to be firmly embedded into nutrition policy, is dietary diversity. It is important to move away from the present focus on rice and wheat, which studies denounce as ‘staple grain fundamentalism,’ of Public Distribution System (PDS), to a more diversified food basket, with an emphasis on coarse grains.

Editorial Simplified : Still a Developing Country | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the article

India’s publicity overdrive about development can come back to bite it at the WTO.


Introduction 

While on the one hand, the official narrative in India is that of a country making rapid developmental strides since 2014, on the other, when it comes to developmental status at the World Trade Organization (WTO), India is trying hard to prove that it is a poor country.


Why this dichotomy?

While the former assertion is made to please the domestic constituency, the latter proclamation is because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat that countries like India should be stripped off their ‘developing country’ status in the WTO.


‘Developing country’ status in WTO

  • Under the WTO system, generally, countries are designated as developed, developing, and least developed countries (LDCs).
  • Article IX.2 of the WTO agreement provides that the LDC status of a country in the WTO is based on such status being recognised by the UN.
  • But the agreement does not mention any criterion to determine a ‘developing country’ status.

Distinction between developed and developing in WTO

  • The uneven level of development between developed and developing countries in the WTO is a well-recognised fact.
  • Article XVIII of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) recognises that attaining the objectives of this agreement would require facilitating the progressive development of those countries that can only support low levels of development and are at the early stages of development.
  • Accordingly, countries self-designate themselves as ‘developing country’ to take advantage of provisions like Article XVIII of GATT and other special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions in the WTO agreements.
  • These provisions are aimed at increasing trade opportunities for developing countries, ensuring longer transitional periods to comply with WTO obligations, and affording technical assistance to countries, among other things.

The US initiative 

  • In January 2019, the U.S. made a formal submission to the WTO that countries like India are no more ‘developing countries’ and thus should not enjoy the S&DT benefits.
  • It presented data such as the fact that India’s GDP has grown from $0.60 trillion in 1995 to $2.63 trillion in 2017.
  • The U.S. proposed that any country that meets one of the following criteria shall not be eligible for S&DT benefits: membership of, or seeking accession to OECD; membership of G20; share in world exports exceeding 0.5% or classified as high-income group by the World Bank.
  • India is a member of the G20 and its share in world exports is around 1.7% as of early 2019. So, as per these criteria, India will not qualify as a developing country.
  • While graduating to a ‘developed country’ status would have been a matter of joy, the ground reality is very different. India rightly countered the U.S.’s argument. India gave several numbers to show that it is still a poor country and thus requires S&DT provisions.

U.S. threat

  • The U.S., in July, declared that if substantial progress were not made in the WTO in reforming the determination of ‘developing country’ status, it would, within three months, unilaterally stop treating certain countries as ‘developing country’. Thus, the U.S. would stop giving trade benefits to such countries.
  • Despite the bonhomie displayed by President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in U.S. in September, the U.S. has renewed this threat recently to mount pressure.
  • A few days back, South Korea capitulated to this pressure, giving up its ‘developing country’ status. The heat is on India.

Conclusion

Any unilateral action by the U.S. would be a violation of international law and yet another onslaught on trade multilateralism. At the same time, the Indian political leadership also needs to refrain from being on a publicity overdrive about India’s development. At times, its own rhetoric can come back to bite India.


Gist of Editorials: In Mammallapuram| GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Introduction

The second informal summit between India and China was held in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu.

Some stress points

  • China’s position on issues such as
    • Masood Azhar,
    • India’s NSG membership,
    • Trade gap,
    • inroads into South Asia,
    • support for Pakistan on J&K

have created turbulence in relationship. .

  • China’s endorsement of the CPEC has been rejected by India as it passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

The thaw in relationship

  • Both India and China are keen to deepen engagement and impart stability and predictability to their relations.
  • For example, after the stand-off at Doklam (2017), the two leaders met within days at the BRICS Summit.

Way forward

  • firewalling the bilateral track from third-party considerations,
  • fighting stereotypes through objective media coverage,
  • encouraging high level and other exchanges
  • enhancing confidence building measures between the armed forces,
  • balancing India’s trade deficit of $58 billion and
  • injecting greater transparency in China’s growing presence in South Asia.

Conclusion

Neither China nor India can contain the other. Both are destined to rise. Much will depend on the choices we make.


Editorial Simplified : Should Schools have Prayers? | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Context

The headmaster of a government school in Uttar Pradesh was suspended for asking students to sing religious prayers in the morning assembly.


Do prayers in the morning assembly amount to giving religious instruction?

Yes:

  • According to Article 28(3) it is not required for a child to attend religious instructions of state-funded schools.
  • It contradicts the spirit of rationality and compromises on scientific temper.
  • Religion has contributed to ethics but have also led to bloodshed.

No:

  • There is no distinction between the aesthetics of a song and [of] a poem that has spiritual overtones.
  • Bhajans are very basic to the cultural and literary traditions of the entire Hindi belt.
  • Direct religious instruction has to be distinguished from traditions of religion which are part of a cultural ethos of the country.
  • Article 51A of the Constitution says citizens should cherish and follow the noble ideals of those who guided our freedom struggle. Therefore, bhajans such as those of Gandhi’s cannot be banned.

Conclusion

We need greater autonomy and a far greater intellectual space to engage with our heritage.


Gist of Editorials: Forging Trade Alliances | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Introduction

RCEP  aims to create the world’s largest trading block.

Importance of RCEP

  • It will constitute almost half of world’s economy.
  • It consists of three of the six largest economies of the world.
  • Out of top 16 countries with the largest GDP, six belong to RCEP.

Why should India join RCEP ?

  • India can balance China by joining it.
  • RCEP can bring in newer technology and make Indian industry far more competitive.
  • RCEP provides Indian industry a huge market to grow and expand.
  • Opening up markets and reducing tariffs will benefit consumers.
  • RCEP is a natural follow up of India’s Act East policy.

The China factor

  • By entering RCEP, India may be able to get greater market access to even China.
  • India’s presence in this trading block could lead to a large number of multinationals shifting their production facilities from China to India.
  • RCEP will force China to provide a level playing field.

Way forward

  • India must ensure that RCEP includes unbridled access for Indian service providers.
  • Protection will need to be ensured for some sensitive industries crucial for national security.
  • Some temporary protection may be required for certain sectors of agriculture, crucial for food security.

Conclusion

India’s absence from RCEP will virtually handover this significant grouping to China, which is certainly not in India’s interest.


Gist of Editorials: Maintaining the India-China Stride Length | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper  II


Analysing India-China relations

  • Over the past decade, three forces have been shaping India-China relations.
    • changing world order and the rise of Asia
    • West’s declining capacity to manage international affairs,
    • a changing South Asia with China’s policies such as Belt and Road initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
  • Between 2014 and 2017, the relation was characterised by tension, mistrust, and competition
  • The Doklam episode saw the culmination of mistrust.
  • At 2018 “informal summit” in Wuhan, both sides attempted to chart a fresh course.

The Wuhan Summit

  • Wuhan Summit was was built on pillars such as:
    • simultaneous emergence of India and China
    • respecting each other’s concerns and aspirations
    • peaceful border management
    • greater consultation on all matters of common interest
  • Wuhan approach was critiqued for not going far enough in terms of laying out a blueprint to resolve differences.

Road map

India’s China policy should be guided by three grand strategic goals:

  • an inclusive security architecture in Asia
  • a fair and rules-based open international order
  • sustainable economic development in the neighbourhood.

Conclusion

Both countries should step up and play constructive roles to shape the emerging world order.


Editorial Simplified : A More Equal Friendship | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the article

India must recast relations with Nepal on basis of geographic and cultural interdependence, sovereign equality and mutual benefit.


Introduction

President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Kathmandu has helped focus on the changing dynamic between India, China and Nepal. One of the central themes in the new discourse is the alleged loss of Indian “hegemony” over Nepal.


India’s hegemony overstated

  • India’s hegemony or primacy in Nepal is somewhat over-stated. Lodged between Tibet and the Gangetic plain, Nepal has close civilisational ties with both China and India. Its geopolitics, too, were shaped by both the neighbours.
  • Balancing between Tibet and the Qing empire in the north and British Raj in the south was very much part of modern Nepal’s political evolution. It was only with the weakening of the Qing and the rise of the Raj from the mid-19th century that set the stage for southern dominance over Nepal. But it was not going to last forever.
  • When China gained control of Tibet in 1950, Nepal’s monarchy that was frightened by the communist threat turned to Jawaharlal Nehru for protection. Delhi and Kathmandu revived the 19th century security arrangements of the British Raj in a 1950 Treaty of Friendship.
  • The Sino-Indian conflict, meanwhile, opened up space for Kathmandu to weaken the treaty arrangements with India and re-balance the relationship.
  • India has struggled since the middle of the 20th century to sustain the primacy in Nepal it had inherited from the Raj. China’s dramatic rise in the 21st century makes Beijing a far more compelling partner for Kathmandu.

Reason for loss of hegemony

  • India’s failure was not in an over-reliance on geopolitics, but the neglect of geoeconomics. While the security establishment and the political classes operated as if Nepal was a protectorate of India, Delhi’s economic bureaucracy treated Nepal as a separate entity.
  • Delhi’s emphasis on economic autarky meant there was no special value attached in India to the commercial interdependence with land-locked Nepal, let alone nurture it.
  • Vested interests inevitably found space to arbitrage the wide gap in the economic policies of the two nations.
  • Delhi also allowed the border infrastructure to rot over the decades.
  • Delhi’s attempts to revive connectivity with Nepal in recent years have run into India’s traditional problems with project implementation.
  • Even more important, there has been growing political resistance in Kathmandu to deeper economic relations.
  • Put simply, the change in the regional balance and the communist dominance over Nepal’s domestic politics means the old rules don’t apply any more in the triangular relationship.

Options before Nepal

  • Kathmandu has at least three possible options in crafting a new strategy for Nepal.
  • One is to opt for neutrality and symmetry in its relations with India and China.
  • Second, it could decide that a special relationship with China is more valuable than the one with India.
  • Third, it could continue a policy of dynamic balancing and make the best of the possibilities with both China and India.
  • If Nepal opts for strict symmetry, it would have to turn its open border with India into a closed one similar to its northern frontier with China.
  • A considered strategic tilt towards China means Kathmandu would want to discard the special privileges it has in the relationship with Delhi, for example, the freedom for Nepali citizens to live and work in India.
  • The third option would involve modernisation of the India relationship and expansion of the China ties with sufficient regard to the concerns of both the powers.

Way forward for India

  • For India, it is time stop whining about China’s growing presence in Nepal or lamenting the loss of much-vaunted primacy in Nepal.
  • Nothing infuriates the Kathmandu elite more than Delhi’s claim to know what is good for Nepal. Delhi does not. Instead, Delhi should let Nepalese decide what is good for them and tailor India’s own responses accordingly.

Conclusion

India has had its share of strategic errors in dealing with Nepal. The best corrective Delhi can offer is a new compact with Nepal that can build on the natural geographic and cultural interdependence between the two nations. This time around it must be based on sovereign equality and mutual benefit. It is up to Kathmandu in the end to accept, reject or negotiate on such an offer.


Editorial Simplified : A Health Warning | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper  II


Theme of the article

An end to TB is not possible till we end malnutrition, poverty and poor sanitation.


Context

The Annual India Tuberculosis (TB) report was released by the government in September. India is now home to about a quarter of the total global TB patients. The current government is committed to ending TB in India by 2025.


About the TB report

  • As per the report, 21.5 lakh TB cases were reported in the country in 2018 — the highest number of TB cases registered in any country.
  • The report says that with the introduction of Nikshay, the computer-based surveillance programme for TB patients, the reporting of TB cases has improved dramatically.

TB: a social disease

  • Over the last century or so, it has been established beyond doubt that TB is more of a social disease owing its roots to poverty, malnutrition and poor sanitary conditions.
  • It is thus important to evaluate India’s TB report in the context of two developments — India’s continuing downfall in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) and the declaration of our villages as ODF.

Barriers to TB notification

  • Despite a national notification system — of Nikshay — other factors like patient confidentiality issues, poor knowledge of notification system, etc, prevented notification of TB patients in a hospital setting. These factors are social and without intervening at that level, it is hard to believe that the notification of TB cases can reach a significant number vis-à-vis ending TB by 2025.
  • The GHI report, in which India ranks 102, is another stark reminder of what else is wrong in claiming that TB can be ended by 2025. A hungry India cannot be free of TB. Dietary deprivation is a direct indicator of inequality. Unequal societies cannot be made free of disease and infirmity. The proportion of malnutrition in TB patients was nearly 60 per cent.
  • TB and sanitation have a direct causal relationship. There was no statistically significant reduction in the occurrence of vector-borne epidemics in the country, two years after the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SAB).

The private sector

  • Of the total notifications, 5.4 lakh cases were from the private sector, an increase of 40 per cent from last year.
  • Over the last decade or so, there has been a near-complete takeover of India’s health sector by the private players.
  • Data shows that more than 80 per cent of healthcare is now being delivered by private health enterprises — something is evidently not right with the public health system.
  • With a virtually unregulated private health system, an increase in notification of TB patients could be heartening for the government. But for the public health system, it is bad news.

Conclusion

An end to TB is not possible till we end malnutrition, poverty and poor sanitation. We need a paradigm shift in the response to TB. This should include a more sensitive approach on gender and towards the underprivileged.