Gist of Editorials: At the High Table | GS – II


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By winning endorsement of Asia-Pacific Group, India has cleared an important hurdle in its quest for a UNSC non-permanent seat for 2021-22.

The next Step

  • India will need to show the support of at least 129 countries.
  • It will then occupy the seat at the UNSC for a two-year period.

Reasons why India decided to pursue candidature

  • To have India’s voice at the high table as many times as possible.
  • By rotation, that seat would have reached India only in the 2030s.
  • India has a unique role to play given the polarization among permanent members.
  • The year 2022 marks the 75th year of India’s Independence.

The positive sign

Despite the challenges in relations with Pakistan and China, both the countries agreed to the nomination.

Way forward for India

  • Work out a comprehensive strategy for what it plans to do with the seat.
  • Shed the image of ‘fence-sitting’ by abstaining on votes.
  • Strengthen the multilateral world order amid unilateral moves by US and China.
  • Nudge all five permanent members on the reform and expansion of the UNSC.

Editorial Simplified: RCEP Next Steps | GS – II


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Why has this issue cropped up?

Leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations have resoundingly committed to conclude negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade agreement by the end of 2019.


A step further

Some members like Malaysia went a step further, suggesting that countries not ready to join the RCEP, notably India but also Australia and New Zealand, could join at a later date, allowing a truncated 13-member RCEP to go ahead. Others insist that all 16 members must agree on the final RCEP document.


Significance of RCEP

RCEP includes ASEAN’s FTA partners — India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — and the FTA would encompass 40% of all global trade among economies that make up a third of global GDP.


Pressure to complete negotiations

  • It is clear that ASEAN, which first promoted the RCEP idea in 2012, is putting pressure on all stakeholders to complete the last-mile negotiations.
  • The ASEAN summit, which recently ended in Bangkok, agreed to send a three-member delegation to New Delhi to take forward the talks.

India’s case

  • India has been keen to join. But six years into negotiations, its concerns remain: opening its markets for cheaper goods from countries like China and South Korea; and ensuring that RCEP countries open their markets for Indian manpower (services).
  • India has a trade deficit with as many as 11 of the RCEP countries, and it is the only one among them that isn’t negotiating a bilateral or multilateral free trade agreement with China at present.
  • As a result, although negotiators have agreed to New Delhi’s demand for differential tariffs for its trade with China vis-à-vis the others, India has also made tagging the “Country of Origin” on all products a sticking point in RCEP negotiations.
  • Despite its misgivings, however, the government has reiterated that it is committed to making RCEP work, and any attempt to cut India out of the agreement was “extremely premature”.

Why India must join RCEP

  • Giving up the chance to join RCEP would mean India would not just miss out on regional trade, but also lose the ability to frame the rules as well as investment standards for the grouping.
  • Above all, at a time of global uncertainties and challenges to multilateralism and the international economic order, a negative message on RCEP would undermine India’s plans for economic growth.

What lies ahead?

  • In the next few months, India will be expected to keep up intense negotiations, and most important, give a clear indication both internally and to the world that it is joining RCEP.
  • To that end, the Commerce Ministry has begun consultations with stakeholders from industries that are most worried about RCEP, including steel and aluminium, copper, textile and pharmaceuticals, and has engaged think tanks and management institutes to develop a consensus in favour of signing the regional agreement.

Conclusion

India cannot afford to fall out of the free trade agreement negotiations.


Editorial Simplified: Scoring on Health | GS – II


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Theme of the Article

States, now with greater resources at their command, must upgrade primary health care.


Why has this issue cropped up?

The Health Index 2019 has been released by NITI Aayog recently.


What is NITI Aayog Index?

  • The NITI Aayog Index is a composite based on 23 indicators, covering such aspects as neonatal and infant mortality rates, fertility rate, low birth weight, immunisation coverage and progress in treating tuberculosis and HIV.
  • States are also assessed on improvements to administrative capability and public health infrastructure.

Findings of the NITI Aayog Index

  • It makes the important point that some States and Union Territories are doing better on health and well-being even with a lower economic output, while others are not improving upon high standards. Some are actually slipping in their performance.
  • A few large States present a dismal picture, reflecting the low priority their governments have accorded to health and human development since the Aayog produced its first ranking for 2015-16.
  • The disparities are stark. Populous and politically important Uttar Pradesh brings up the rear on the overall Health Index with a low score of 28.61, while the national leader, Kerala, has scored 74.01.

The issue with healthcare

  • While the Centre has devoted greater attention to tertiary care and reduction of out-of-pocket expenses through financial risk protection initiatives such as Ayushman Bharat, several States remain laggards when it comes to creating a primary health care system with well-equipped PHCs as the unit. This was first recommended in 1946 by the Bhore Committee.
  • The neglect of such a reliable primary care approach even after so many decades affects States such as Bihar, where much work needs to be done to reduce infant and neonatal mortality and low birth weight, and create specialist departments at district hospitals.

Way forward

  • For a leading State like Tamil Nadu, the order of merit in the report should serve as a sobering reminder to stop resting on its oars: it has slipped from third to ninth rank on parameters such as low birth weight, functioning public health centres and community health centre grading.
  • For the Health Index concept to spur States into action, public health must become part of mainstream politics.
  • Special attention is needed to shore up standards of primary care in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Assam and Jharkhand, which are at the bottom of the scale, as per the NITI Aayog assessment.
  • The Health Index does not capture other related dimensions, such as non-communicable diseases, infectious diseases and mental health. It also does not get uniformly reliable data, especially from the growing private sector. This needs attention.

Conclusion

What is clear is that State governments now have greater resources at their command under the new scheme of financial devolution, and, in partnership with the Centre, they must use the funds to transform primary health care.


Gist of Editorials: Hope for Migrant Workers | GS – II


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Introduction

The total earning of India’s internal migrant workers is around 6% of India’s GDP.

The sad state of Affairs

  • The migrant population in India is riddled with inadequate housing; low-paid, insecure or hazardous work, etc.
  • Furthermore, there are mental health issues.
  • Fund constituted by cess on builders lies grossly underutilised.

Way forward

  • Trade unions are the best way for the workers to benefit from government welfare schemes.
  • Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act (1979) needs improvement.
  • Civil society organisations, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives; government schemes provide rays of hope.
  • Multi-level reforms with legally binding implementation protocols are required.

Conclusion

We need to improve the conditions of migrant workers live through various quick reforms.


Gist of Editorials: Missing Remedies | GS – II


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Why has this issue cropped up?

Recently, an attack on a doctor in Kolkata has led to agitation by medical professionals.

Deepening of social divide

There are clear factors that are deepening the social divide. Chief among these are

  • neglect of the public health sector,
  • unaffordable treatments
  • vacancies in public hospitals,
  • high cost of medical education

Way forward

  • we must understand that doctors and patients do not have an antagonistic relationship
  • should not take a hard line against the agitating doctors
  • The IMA should institute better systems to counsel patients
  • National Health Policy must
    • scale up infrastructure and the capabilities of government hospitals,
    • provide financial protection for treatment in expensive private hospitals.

Gist of Editorials: Reimagining the NITI Aayog | GS – II


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NITI Aayog can play an important role in refreshing India’s fiscal federalism.

Horizontal and vertical imbalances

  • Typically, federations face vertical and horizontal imbalances.
  • A vertical imbalance arises when tax revenues to the Central government are greater compared to the State governments.
  • The horizontal imbalances arise because of differing levels of attainment by the States.
  • In India, there are 2 types of horizontal imbalance:
    • Type I deals with basic public goods and services
    • Type II deals with infrastructure.

New role for NITI Aayog

  • Traditionally, Finance Commissions have dealt with these imbalances.
  • NITI Aayog must become the second pillar of the fiscal federal structure.
  • Now with the Planning Commission disbanded, there is a vacuum as NITI Aayog is primarily a think tank with no resources to dispense.
  • Finance Commission should be confined to Type I horizontal imbalance.
  • NITI Ayog should focus on Type II horizontal imbalance.
  • NITI Aayog should receive significant resources (say 1% to 2% of the GDP).
  • NITI Aayog should also be mandated to create an independent evaluation office.
  • It must be also accorded a place at the high table of decision-making.

The Third Pillar

  • Decentralisation hasto be the third pillar of fiscal federal architecture.
  • Seriousness has to be accorded to the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.
  • Centre and States should contribute an equal proportion to the consolidated fund of the third tier.
  • State Finance Commissions should be accorded the same status as the Finance Commission.

The Fourth Pillar

  • The fourth pillar is the “flawless” GST.
  • There should be a single rate GST.
  • GST Council should be transparent and create its own secretariat.

Editorial Simplified: At the High Table | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Theme of the Article

India must think big as it takes a step towards a non-permanent seat on the UNSC.


Why has this issue cropped up?

By winning the unanimous endorsement of the 55-nation Asia-Pacific Group at the United Nations Security Council, India has cleared an important hurdle in its quest for a non-permanent seat for 2021-22. The decision of the grouping this week was taken as India was the sole candidate for the post.


The Next Step

  • In the next step, all 193 members of the UN General Assembly will vote for five non-permanent seats in June 2020, when India will need to show the support of at least 129 countries to go through to the UNSC.
  • It will then occupy the seat at the UNSC for a two-year period, as it has previously on seven occasions since 1950-51.

Reasons why India decide to pursue candidature

There are several reasons why India decided to pursue its candidature for 2021-22.

  • The government at the time had felt it was necessary to have India’s voice at the high table as many times as possible, and therefore began the process for another seat shortly after it had ended its previous tenure in 2011-2012.
  • By rotation, that seat would have reached India only in the 2030s, and India had to reach out to Afghanistan, which had put in its bid already for the 2021-22 slot, to request it to withdraw.
  • India has a unique role to play at the UNSC, given the near-complete polarization among the permanent members (P-5 nations), with the U.S., the U.K. and France on one side, and Russia and China on the other. India’s ability to work with both sides is well known.
  • The year 2022 also has a sentimental value attached to it, as it marks the 75th year of India’s Independence, and a place at the UNSC would no doubt add to the planned celebrations that year.

The Positive Sign

It is significant that despite the poor state of bilateral relations with Pakistan, and the many challenges India has faced from China at the UN, both the countries graciously agreed to the nomination.


Way forward

  • From this point on, it is necessary for the government to think beyond the campaign for the UNSC, and work out a comprehensive strategy for what it plans to do with the seat.
  • In the past, India has earned a reputation for ‘fence-sitting’ by abstaining on votes when it was required to take a considered stand on principle, and the seat will be a chance to undo that image.
  • Given the twin challenges of a rising China, and the U.S. receding from its UN responsibilities, India must consider how it will strengthen the multilateral world order amid frequent unilateral moves by both the world powers.
  • An even bigger challenge will be to nudge all five permanent members on the one issue they have unitedly resisted: towards the reform and expansion of the UNSC, which would include India’s claim to a permanent seat at the high table.

Gist of Editorials: India and the Sino-Russian Alliance | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


Recently, PM Modi went to attend the summit of the SCO.

The Sino-Russian factor

  • Unfolding alliance between Russia and China holds significance for India’s international relations.
  • Sino-Russian alliance, being framed as a counter to the United States, increases complications for Indian diplomacy.
  • Navigating the rivalry between the great powers remains the biggest challenge for India’s foreign policy.

Way forward for India

India should be wary of the emerging Sino-Russian alliance for India’s engagement with other powers and the regional consequences for India’s neighbourhood.

Conclusion

However, there is little reason for panic for India. As foreign minister S Jaishankar puts it, “in every clash, there is an opportunity”.


Gist of Editorials: Why South Asia Must Cooperate | GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II


South Asia is a region of significant importance for international development.

The South Asia challenge

  • This is one of the world’s least integrated regions.
  • Intra-regional trade is a meagre 5% of the total trade.
  • Average GDP per capita is only about 9.64% of the global average.
  • The region faces myriad economic and environmental challenges.
  • Economic cooperation remains less than adequate.
  • SAARC has become unsuccessful in promoting regional economic cooperation.

Opportunities for South Asia

  • Regional initiatives such as BIMSTEC and BBIN can bring the countries closer.
  • Attaining the 2030 Agenda for SDGs provides enormous opportunities for cooperation.

Way forward

  • A regional strategic approach to tackle common development challenges.
  • Policy harmonisation can play a pivotal role in increasing efficiency to achieve SDGs.
  • To address institutional and infrastructural deficits, South Asian countries need deeper regional cooperation.
  • Countries can work towards increasing the flow of intra-regional FDI.
  • The private sector too can play a vital role in resource mobilisation.

Conclusion

If South Asia can come to a common understanding, it can unleash a powerful synergistic force.


Gist of Editorials: Smart Diplomacy | GS – II


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The nature of Southern Asian geopolitics is undergoing a radical transformation.

Great power competition in the region

  • Russia and China are jointly and individually challenging the U.S.’s pre-eminence in the region.
  • Regional geopolitics is increasingly being shaped by China.

Emerging features

  • Neighbours tend to recalibrate their policies and old partnerships and alliances.
  • A trust deficit exists between even seemingly congenial partners such as the U.S. and India, Russia and China.
  • The rising war talk in the region is yet another contemporary feature of the Southern Asian regional sub-system.

Options before India

  • It would need to balance its relations between US and China.
  • India should take care of its energy and other interests in West Asia.
  • Dealing with the Russia-China partnership will be crucial for India’s continental strategy.
  • India need to balance carefully the strategic partnership between Pakistan and China.

Conclusion

Engaging in a delicate balancing game is undeniably the need of the hour.