18 May 2020: UPSC Exam Comprehensive News Analysis

18 May 2020 CNA:- Download PDF Here

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A. GS 1 Related
B. GS 2 Related
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
1. Afghan President, rival sign power sharing deal
2. ‘India must not give Taliban legitimacy until it joins intra-Afghan talks’
POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
1. Over 42,000 undertrials released
C. GS 3 Related
ECONOMY
1. Centre throws open all sectors to private players
INFRASTRUCTURE
1. Multiple conditions on discoms
AGRICULTURE
1. Punjab farmers’ to go for direct seeding of rice
D. GS 4 Related
E. Editorials
POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
1. Farm gate in focus
ECONOMY
1. Labour rights are in free fall
HEALTH
1. Where is health in the stimulus package?
F. Prelims Facts
1. Odisha braces for Amphan impact
2. Lockdown extended; States will take a call on infection zones
G. Tidbits
1. Pak. President issues order to hold polls in Gilgit-Baltistan
H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions
I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions

2. ‘India must not give Taliban legitimacy until it joins intra-Afghan talks’

Context:

  • National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) member and former envoy to Afghanistan, Amar Sinha has expressed his views on the evolving situation in Afghanistan and India’s response to it.

Background:

Rising violence in Afghanistan:

  • Recently, there have been instances of attacks in Kabul, including at a hospital maternity ward. The situation seems to have worsened since the U.S.-Taliban agreement.
  • Amar Sinha notes that, unfortunately, the U.S.-Taliban deal has a tolerance for violence written into it as it contains no commitment to stopping attacks against Afghan forces and only deals with attacks against American soldiers and NATO forces.

U.S. Response:

  • The U.S. statement blames the recent attacks on ISIS.
  • The U.S. seems to be trying to salvage their deal with the Taliban despite the rising violence in Afghanistan, and has been trying to absolve the Taliban of guilt while investigations are still under way.

Calls for ceasefire:

  • In the light of rising violence in Afghanistan, several countries including India have called for an immediate ceasefire to help Afghanistan deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Taliban has thus far rejected all calls for a ceasefire.

U.S.’s call for India’s participation:

  • Despite bilateral ties between New Delhi and Kabul remaining strong, India is being sidelined in the regional talks on Afghanistan.
  • India has been reluctant of talking to the Taliban directly and has limited itself to “non-official” presence in the intra-Afghan meet convened by Russia involving the Taliban representatives and regional countries.

Check CNA dated March 2, 2020

  • The U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has suggested that India should play a more active role in the Afghan Peace process and should talk directly to the Taliban.

Check CNA dated May 9, 2020

Details:

  • The call by the U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad asking India to speak to the Taliban directly to discuss security concerns is concerning, given that it is identical to the situation before 2001, before the global war on terror, when each country was on its own.
  • India is not averse to talking to the Taliban, if it joins the mainstream and becomes a political force representing Afghan interests. Taliban has shown no intent to join the intra-Afghan talks.
  • Talking directly to the Taliban should be done only after India’s concerns such as commitments on security, safety of minorities, and infrastructure projects are guaranteed by the Taliban.
  • It would be pointless for India to engage with the Taliban till it joins the intra-Afghan dialogue.

Category: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

1. Over 42,000 undertrials released

Context:

  • Report from the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
    • NALSA is a statutory body providing free legal services to the weaker sections.

Background:

Congested prisons in India:

  • There are 1,339 prisons with approximately 4,66,084 inmates in India with the undertrial prisoners accounting for a large share of the inmates. The National Crime Records Bureau estimates the rate of occupancy of Indian prisons at 117.6%.

COVID-19 crisis:

  • The Supreme Court had observed that physical distancing, an effective measure to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, would be difficult in prisons.
  • The court issued guidelines, formed committees and asked the legal services authorities to work together and release undertrial prisoners and those on bail and parole to bring the prison population down.

Details:

  • The legal services institutions have intervened to release 42,529 undertrial prisoners as well as 16,391 convicts on parole to de-congest prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Issue of domestic violence:

  • Legal assistance was provided in 658 cases of domestic violence during the lockdown.
  • NALSA, in coordination with the Ministry of Women and Child Development, has issued directions to the State legal services authorities to collaborate with One Stop Centres (OSCs) established in each State for providing legal assistance to women facing domestic violence.
  • It has been also involved in providing counselling services to victims and the needy.

Category: INFRASTRUCTURE

1. Multiple conditions on discoms

Context:

  • The announcement of the ‘Special Long Term Transition Loan to Discoms for COVID-19’ under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan stimulus package.

Check CNA dated May 17, 2020

Background:

  • The financial assistance is meant to help the discoms clear their dues to power producers, both belonging to the Central Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and the private sector, and transmission companies.
  • The financial assistance will be paid in two tranches and the loan will have tenure of up to 10 years, including moratorium of not more than 3 years.

Details:

  • The central authorities have imposed a number of conditions on state governments and their power distribution companies (discoms) to avail themselves of benefits from the 90,000-crore rupees package.
    • The discoms should submit an “unconditional and irrevocable” guarantee from the respective State governments with due approval from the State Finance Departments before the first disbursement. If a State fails to pay the power bill and subsidy within 60 days of the due date, it will be charged with an additional interest of 0.25% on the outstanding loan amount.
    • As part of “pre-commitment conditions,” the discoms should have arrangements for self-assessment by end consumers and digital payment of the bills, apart from installation of “smart” or pre-paid meters at the premises of the government departments and attached offices.
      • The insistence on “smart” or pre-paid meters is being made so that the discoms get their dues regularly.

Category: AGRICULTURE

1. Punjab farmers’ to go for direct seeding of rice

Context:

  • Kharif sowing of paddy in Punjab.

Details:

  • As the labour shortage is imminent owing to exodus of migrant labourers amid the ongoing lockdown, farmers in Punjab seem all set to go for direct seeding of rice (DSR) this Kharif season, moving away from the traditional practice of raising rice nursery and then transplanting rice seedlings in a puddled field.
  • The DSR technique called ‘tar-wattar DSR’ has been developed and successfully tested on a good scale at farmers’ fields.

Advantages of DSR method:

  • The DSR technology recommended in Punjab as an alternative method of rice (paddy) planting offers several advantages:
    • It will help save irrigation water and energy (power) in contrast to the conventional method.
    • The DSR technique is less time consuming and labour intensive than the conventional practice.
    • There is lesser weed problem, besides the reduced incidence of nutrient deficiency, especially iron, owing to lesser leaching of nutrients and deeper root development.
    • The technology has a wide adaptability as it is suitable for medium to heavy textured soils including sandy loam, loam, clay loam and silt loam, which account for 87% area of paddy cultivation in Punjab.
    • The DSR offers avenue for groundwater recharge as well as it prevents the development of hard pan just beneath the plough layer.
    • Under DSR, the crop matures 7-10 days earlier than puddle transplanted rice, hence, it gives more time for the management of paddy straw, for the timely sowing of the next wheat crop.
    • Results from research trials and farmers’ field survey have also indicated that wheat grain yield, after DSR, is 1.0-1.2 quintal per acre higher than puddle transplanted rice.
    • The DSR involves more precision in timing and greater accuracy in operations compared to conventional transplanted rice.

E. Editorials

Category: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

1. Farm gate in focus

Context:

  • Farm sector reforms announced under the Atmanirbhar Bharat package.

Also read: CNA dated May 16, 2020

Details:

  • The Centre’s moves for farm sector reforms have received both positive and negative feedback from the stakeholders.

Positive steps:

Agricultural infrastructure:

  • Given the lack of adequate cold-storage facilities which was causing large post-harvest losses, especially in perishables, the 1-lakh crore rupees fund to finance agriculture infrastructure projects at the farm gate and produce aggregation points is a laudable step.
  • The government’s proposal to channel the funds to agricultural cooperatives, farmer producer organisations, rural entrepreneurs and start-ups is encouraging as it lays the onus of creating the appropriate infrastructure or logistics solution largely on the principal beneficiaries, the farmers themselves. This would ensure greater effectiveness and accountability.

Promoting food processing units:

  • The 10,000 crore rupees scheme to promote the formalisation of micro food enterprises is a significant step forward.
  • A cluster approach focused on different regions on signature produce would assist unorganised enterprises in scaling up food safety standards to earn the products certification and build brand value.

Concerns:

  • The package includes three reform proposals that are aimed at enabling better price realisation for farmers by removing restrictions and facilitating enhanced marketing freedom. It included:
    • Amendments to the Essential Commodities Act
    • Proposal for a federal law to facilitate barrier free inter-state trade of farm products
    • Law for contract farming

Essential Commodities Act:

  • Though the reforms are well-intended, the move to amend the Essential Commodities Act is fraught with risks.
    • The Essential Commodities Act has been a vital tool in the government’s armoury for protecting consumers from irrational volatility in the prices of essentials by tamping down on black marketeers and hoarders.
    • Despite the chances of harassment of even honest traders and exporters under the old act, the total deregulation for foodgrains is fraught with the risk of future inflationary food price spikes.
      • The amendment deregulates cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potato from stocking limits, all of which are essential parts of the Indian diet.

Bypassing APMC Act and contract farming law:

  • The centre seeks to bypass the APMC regime through a central law that would allow farmers the freedom to sell across State borders.
  • There is also a proposal for a framework for farmers to enter into pre-sowing contracts with buyers.
  • The proposed changes, once enacted, could privilege market forces without necessarily safeguarding food security.

Category: ECONOMY

1. Labour rights are in free fall

Context:

  • Under compulsion of reviving the economy, the state governments are amending and relaxing labour laws.

Check CNA dated May 12, 2020

Government’s arguments:

  • The government’s strategy visualises effecting an economic turnaround through improvement of India’s rank in the “ease of doing business” index, thereby attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and enthusing domestic private capital.
  • Industry associations and government are projecting these changes as necessary for enticing FDI relocating from China.
  • Flexible labour and environmental laws are key instruments through which business sentiments are being sought to be improved.
  • The extension of a work day up to 12 hours would help address the problem of labour shortages at a time when social distancing is the norm.

Concerns:

Labour law dilution:

  • There seems to be steady effort at easing labour laws in favour of the businesses.
  • Elements of labour law dilution were already visible in the four labour codes aimed at consolidating 44 central labour laws (on wages, industrial relations, social security and occupational safety, health and working conditions).
  • The COVID crisis seems to have provided an opportunity for the government to amplify its efforts in labour law reforms.

Minimum Wages Act:

Under Labour Code:

  • The Code on Wages, 2019 makes a distinction between national minimum wage and national floor wage.
  • The minimum wage calculated by a government-appointed committee in 2018 was ₹375 per day, whereas, the national floor wage in the same year was ₹176 per day.
  • The State governments, under the wages code, are directed to set their minimum wages only above the national floor wage. Thus, States, vying for private investments, would invariably consider the national floor wage, and this in effect would dilute the idea of minimum wage.

Under COVID crisis:

  • Some states under the current crisis have sought to exempt employers from complying with the Minimum Wages Act 1948.

Industrial Disputes Act:

Under Labour Code:

  • The Industrial Relations Code, 2019, proposes to raise the membership threshold of a trade union from 15% to 75% of the workforce in an establishment, for it to be recognised as the negotiating union.

Under COVID crisis:

  • Some states have sought to exempt employers from complying with the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
    • Therefore, employers can hire and fire workers at will.
    • Employers are allowed to offer “fixed-term” employment without any restrictions on the number of renewals.
  • The M.P. ordinance states that for new establishments, provisions guiding industrial dispute resolution, strikes/lockouts and trade unions would cease to operate.

Labour inspection:

Under Labour Code:

  • The wages code had severely eroded the inspection mechanism by snatching away the power of inspectors to conduct surprise checks. Even when violations in law are detected, they are mandated to advise, provide information and facilitate employers to comply with the law.

Under COVID crisis:

  • Some states under new amendments have sought to exempt factories employing less than 50 workers from regular inspections and allow third-party inspections.

Undemocratic route:

  • The governments have chosen the path of promulgating ordinances and notifying rules, in which labour rights have been suspended without discussion and deliberation.

Period of suspension:

  • The length of suspension of the labour rights varies from 1,000 days (M.P.) to three years (U.P.). There is no basis to expect that the impact of the lockdown will stretch for so long and it appears that State governments are competing to project themselves as investor-friendly.

Doubtful impact:

  • There are doubts over whether the suspension of labour rights, aimed at reducing labour cost, would stimulate private investment and ensure recovery.
  • Past experience does not inspire confidence.
    • The Reserve Bank of India’s policies designed to reduce the cost of borrowing capital has not been able to increase credit takeoff.
    • Reductions in corporate tax made no impact in boosting private capital and reviving growth in subsequent quarters.
  • Banking on private investment for economic recovery when the economy is facing acute uncertainty may turn out to be futile.

For more information on this issue, refer to:

CNA dated May 12, 2020
Category: HEALTH

1. Where is health in the stimulus package?

Context:

  • Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan stimulus package.

Details:

  • The package of 20-lakh crore rupees announced by the Prime Minister focuses on reviving economic activities, restoring livelihoods, addressing concerns of hunger and starvation, stimulating small and medium enterprises, and enhancing farm incomes. The health sector has not received much attention.

Concerns:

Poor state of healthcare facilities:

  • The healthcare delivery system in most States is extremely fragile given the poor state of primary healthcare facilities.
  • The public provisioning of healthcare has been found to be insufficient, of poor quality and having limited reach.

Poor resource allotment to health sector:

  • The public spending on health has been consistently low at around 1.15% of GDP for well over a decade.

Opportunity cost of COVID-19 pandemic:

  • It is possible that resources allocated for other health programmes are being diverted to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The opportunity cost of such diversion of funds could be high.
  • People’s access to routine maternal and child health as well as family planning services in parts of the country has been negatively impacted. Progress made with respect to various diseases could witness setbacks.

Limitations of private sector:

  • India’s private sector in health is sizable.
    • The private sector accounts for 93% of all hospitals, 64% of all hospital beds, and 80-85% of all doctors.
  • Most private healthcare providers seem to be incapable of and unwilling to help even during a national crisis.
    • Rapidly declining revenues and sharply eroding profits are leading to the closure of many private hospitals.
    • Only a few private providers have come forward to extend support to the government.

Way forward:

Strengthening public health:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic experience has brought out the critical importance of the public sector in health provisioning.
  • There is a need to invest in universal health coverage (UHC) by reversing the financial neglect of public healthcare. Nearly every country in the world that has achieved anything like UHC has done it through the public assurance of primary healthcare.

Increasing investments in health:

  • There is a need to urgently and immediately step up investments in health.
  • A new ‘health investment plan’ (as part of the stimulus package), at least 1% of the GDP, out of the stimulus package should be earmarked for improving the country’s health infrastructure and strengthening public health service delivery.

Prioritizing primary healthcare:

  • Up to 70% of the additional expenditures should be ring-fenced for primary healthcare and further strengthening health and wellness centres, primary health centres and community health centres. This would enable the State governments to be better prepared to face a second round of the pandemic.

Conclusion:

  • Investing in health, apart from improving people’s well-being, is also essential for accelerating and sustaining India’s economic growth.

F. Prelims Facts

1. Odisha braces for Amphan impact

  • The severe cyclonic storm ‘AMPHAN’ over southeast Bay of Bengal is very likely to move nearly northwards slowly during the next 24 hours and then re-curve north-north-eastwards.
  • Odisha is bracing for heavy rain under the influence of the severe cyclonic storm Amphan, which is set to skirt away from the State’s northern coast to make landfall between West Bengal and Bangladesh.
  • The IMD has issued an ‘orange alert’ expecting heavy to very heavy rainfall in coastal districts.

2. Lockdown extended; States will take a call on infection zones

  • The Centre has extended the nationwide lockdown for the fourth time till May 31 while giving considerable flexibility to the States in deciding red, green and orange zones of COVID-19 intensity.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs, in its fresh guidelines for Lockdown 4.0, has eased restrictions considerably.
  • The decision to extend the lockdown was taken after the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) directed the Centre and the State governments to continue the lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
  • The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the NDMA, chaired by the Union Home Secretary, was directed to modify the lockdown guidelines keeping in view the need to restart economic activities.

G. Tidbits

1. Pak. President issues order to hold polls in Gilgit-Baltistan

  • Pakistan President has promulgated an order to form a caretaker government, as well as to conduct elections in Gilgit-Baltistan province, a move strongly opposed by India.
  • India has argued that the entire union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India.

H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions

Q1. Which of the following statements is/are correct with respect to the National Legal 
Services Authority of India (NALSA)?
  1. It is a statutory body.
  2. It organizes the Lok Adalats for speedy resolution of cases.
  3. The Chief Justice of India is the executive Chairman of NALSA.

Options:

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 1, 2 and 3
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. 3 only
See
Answer
Q2. Which of the following are the advantages of the Direct Seeding of Rice
(DSR) technology being propounded in Punjab?
  1. Less time consuming
  2. Less labour intensive
  3. Lesser weed problem
  4. Lesser water requirements
  5. Crops mature earlier
  6. Aids groundwater recharge

Options:

  1. 1, 2 and 4 only
  2. 1, 2 and 3 only
  3. 1, 2, 5 and 6 only
  4. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
See
Answer
Q3. The severe cyclonic storm ‘AMPHAN’ is associated with which of the following 
regions?
  1. East coast of India
  2. West coast of India
  3. South east Asia
  4. West Asian region
See
Answer
Q4. The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the National Disaster Management 
Authority (NDMA) is chaired by
  1. Union Home Minister
  2. Prime Minister
  3. Union Home Secretary
  4. Cabinet Secretary
See
Answer

I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions

  1. In the light of the farm sector reforms announced under the Atmanirbhar Bharat package, discuss the significance of the reforms and the possible concerns due to the changes proposed. (15 marks, 250 words)
  2. Under compulsion of reviving the economy, the state governments are amending and relaxing labour laws. Analyze the government’s arguments for the changes being made and also the concerns expressed by the stakeholders. (10 marks, 150 words)
  3. In the light of the health sector not receiving much attention under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan stimulus package, discuss the challenges in the Indian health sector and suggest suitable measures to mitigate the risks involved. (15 marks, 250 words)

Read the previous CNA here.

18 May 2020 CNA:- Download PDF Here

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *