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GS: 1

Society related issues:

Nutritional politics (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

After more than a decade of discussions, there is no agreement on what to feed children in anganwadis

What has happened?

Data on malnutrition should serve as a wake-up call for the government: 38% of children are stunted and 35.7% are underweight in India. About 21% of children under the age of five are wasted (low weight for height), according to the National Family Health Survey-4 data.

Questions raised by the author

  • How many more children must suffer from stunted growth before the Minister in charge of their welfare decides on whether to serve them hot-cooked nutritious meals or packaged/processed fortified mixes?
  • And why does there have to be a choice between the two? Why can’t India incorporate both?
  • Is it really that difficult to keep a close watch on the quality of food served to children between the ages of three and six as well as take-home ration for pregnant and lactating women?

Earlier

  • Eight years ago, when malnutrition deaths occurred in some districts in Maharashtra, a simple solution involving a protein-rich diet called Lapsi — a green millet mixture combined with water and milk — was given to malnourished babies
  • In Jharkhand, dry rations such as oil, dal, wheat or rice were given to mothers — until the contractor lobby forced the government to shift in favour of processed food.

Author suggests

Address malnourishment through locally produced, diverse food options that the country offers.

Conclusion

Is it impossible to work out a solution? Or is there no solution because children cannot be quantified as vote banks?

GS: 2

International Relations:

Saving Afghanistan (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Global and regional powers must desist from playing the ‘Great Game’ and build peace

Current situation in Afghanistan

  • Violence escalated this year
  • The new ‘South Asia’ policy hasn’t yielded any major results, as violence continues on the ground.
  • The statement from the Taliban rejecting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of talks “without preconditions” and calling for the targeting of American forces in Afghanistan as part of a “spring offensive” signals the security challenge.
  • According to the U.S., Afghan forces control just a little over half the territory today, down from nearly three-fourths in 2015

Different countries have different agendas in Afghanistan

  • Growing U.S.-Russia tensions are creating space for proxies for both on Afghan soil, and the attacks by al-Qaeda and IS-related terror groups have their roots in the larger war between Iran and the Arab world
  • Tensions between India and Pakistan cast a shadow over Afghanistan, with India’s development assistance under attack.
  • Driven by the desire to secure itself from Islamist groups, China is trying to build a rival military base in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Defeating terrorism in Afghanistan needs every stakeholder to put aside differences, and acknowledge that the current situation is a danger to all.

H-4 visa move draws criticism (The Hindu)

Context

Several Democratic lawmakers oppose plan to scrap work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders

What has happened?

The move by the Donald Trump administration to end work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders is a regressive measure that would also adversely impact the American economy, according to several Democratic lawmakers

Background

These lawmakers were speaking at an event hosted by the U.S.-India Friendship Council, an organisation led by prominent Indian American businessman Swadesh Chatterjee

Gender discrimination

Lawmakers also underscored the gender discriminatory impact of the move as most of the beneficiaries of the current rule that was enacted in 2015 are women

H-4 is the category of visas allotted for spouses of H-1B visa holders.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Unpacking the Dalit angst (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Reverence for Ambedkar requires fighting caste discrimination and safeguarding the Constitution

BJP reveres Ambedkar

Stung by the criticism over his government’s alleged inaction in defending the Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, before the Supreme Court, Mr. Modi cited his reverence for Ambedkar as proof of his government’s commitment to the welfare of SCs and STs.

Widespread dissatisfaction

  • The controversy over the Atrocities Act forces one to take a position on the special provisions for the protection and welfare of SCs/STs
  • Can the interests of these groups be ensured without resorting to special provisions? Second, one must consider the issue within the larger context of the unprecedented attacks on the Constitution mounted by some BJP leaders
  • Modi’s position appears ambiguous on special provisions and he is silent on the Constitution.

Caste annihilated?

Where the committee and the court erred is in their failure to revisit why Parliament thought it necessary to make a draconian law that bypasses due process and whether the conditions have changed so much to warrant dilution of the Act

Ignorance doesn’t solve the problem: to ignore the monster is to have killed it

Mr. Modi’s genuine aversion to caste as a divisive force in society has been translated into myriad incongruities

  • The government still refuses to release caste data from the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), reducing the SECC to merely the Socio-Economic Census
  • Departing from tradition, the President’s annual address to Parliament this year had no references to the government’s commitment to special care that SC/STs and other weaker sections deserve
  • Traditionally the annual Economic Survey used to carry trends in social sector spending, especially on SC/STs, minorities, etc. The Budget would follow a similar pattern. In 2015, the government dropped this feature in these important policy documents

The advocates of a caste-blind approach are entitled to hope that it would lead to a casteless society. But it can also throw us into Social Darwinism.

Respecting the Constitution: RSS emergence into the mainstream

  • Dalits and other weaker sections revere the Constitution as the ultimate guarantor of their rights in view of the way it recognises them. Most Indians also respect the Constitution for its obvious merits
  • Two notable exceptions to this are the far left and the religious right, which is represented by the Rashrtiya Swayamsevak Sangh
  • While the former remains in margins, the latter has come to dominate the mainstream.

The RSS had rejected the constitution

  • As historian Ramachandra Guha highlighted, the RSS rejected the Constitution as it’s not in tune with theManusmritiwhose laws, the RSS claimed in 1949, “excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity [among Hindus in India].”
  • The rub is the “spontaneous obedience and conformity” to the caste system which Ambedkar found so obnoxious that he burnt the book to express his outrage.

BJP members echo RSS idealogy

  • The only change in seven decades is that the RSS no longer invokes theManusmriti,and its chief, Mohan Bhagwat, takes a nuanced position by merely saying that the Constitution does not reflect “Bharatiya ethos”
  • Union Minister Anantkumar Hegde ended the ambiguity, saying: “We are here to change the Constitution.”
  • A BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh went a step ahead and declared that India would be a Hindu Rashtra by 2024
  • No senior leader of the government or the party contradicted any of these utterances.

Conclusion

For Mr. Modi, silence doesn’t seem to be an option any longer.

GS: 3

Economy:

‘States unable to implement farmer price support schemes’ (The Hindu)

Context

Infrastructure and funding required

What has happened?

The Centre’s proposals to decentralise price support schemes for farmers are not viable as State governments do not possess the infrastructure or the willingness required to implement them, said S.K. Singh, additional managing director of the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED), on the sidelines of the Agriculture Ministry’s annual kharif conference on Thursday.

Reasons

States fail to maintain a revolving fund from which they can pay farmers over the 10-day window before they receive payment from the Centre; some also lack storage space, adequate number of procurement centres, and trained surveyors

Aadhaar-SIM linking based on SC orders’ (The Hindu)

What has happened?

The government on Thursday insisted that the directives of the Department of Telecommunications to seed SIM cards with Aadhaar is based on “at least two Supreme Court orders”

Constitution bench

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said one of the Supreme Court orders was from Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who is a member of the five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra hearing the challenge to the Aadhaar scheme

‘India to lose if oil prices climb more’ (The Hindu)

What has happened?

India, along with other emerging economies like Turkey and the Philippines, will be a loser if the recent oil price rise continues, according to a Nomura report

Affecting net oil importers with weak economic fundamentals

The supply side-driven increase in crude oil prices is likely to spur a major differentiation in emerging markets’ performance, hurting large net oil importers with weak economic fundamentals, possibly by more than it benefits large net oil exporters

Worsening CAD

Every $10/barrel (bbl) rise in oil price would worsen the current account balance by 0.4% of GDP, increase inflation by 30-40 basis points (bps), hurt growth by 15 bps and worsen the fiscal balance by 0.1% of GDP

The winners

The clear cut winners from the rise in oil prices include exporters Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Colombia

‘Simplifying Finance Bill must be the next big reform’ (The Hindu)

Context

Interview excerpt with the new president of the Confederation of Indian Industry Rakesh Bharti Mittal

What is the real progress you are seeing in fixing the twin balance sheet problem, especially on the company balance sheet side?

  • There is good progress, especially on the company side where many stressed assets have been referred to the NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal)
  • However, in some cases, the resolution is taking some time due to the judicial process that has to be followed
  • These things cannot be concluded in a hurry as all [the] parties need to be satisfied. Quick resolutions will ensure that more stressed assets are able to take advantage of the IBC process.

How would you rate the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code [IBC] in its current form? What are the changes you would like to see incorporated?

  • It [IBC] is a major reform that has been brought in and something that the country was lacking
  • Companies that become bankrupt due to various reasons did not have a way to shut down their business
  • Any major reform, when first introduced, will need some modifications depending on [the] issues that come up. I believe changes have been suggested, for example, to allow promoters to buy back their own assets
  • Another issue is that of home buyers who need to be compensated for any loss even if the builder has filed for bankruptcy.

There are some green shoots in private investment but by when do you see it recovering enough to properly drive economic growth in the country?

  • There are definitely signs of a pick-up in investment activity as the capital goods sector is doing well.
  • I believe that the investment cycle should begin to move up by the end of this year. Economic growth will then move to the 8%-plus rate.

Has bank credit to the private sector started picking up?

  • Bank credit has started to move up
  • One could say that there is preference for accessing the market directly for funds
  • Non-banks are also becoming more active as providers of credit, especially to the small and medium sector
  • The bulk of bank lending is to the retail sector.

What would you consider the next big policy decision that would improve the ease of doing business?

  • The next big reform should be in the area of direct taxes where the complex Finance Bill needs to be replaced with a simpler one which reduces the tax rate and removes exemptions
  • This would be a bold move and therefore may take some time to implement
  • Meanwhile, [the] CII is looking at rationalisation of the GST (Goods and Services Tax) in terms of fewer rates and inclusion of more products

What are the reforms you would like to see in the agricultural sector?

  • Agriculture has great potential and the involvement of the private sector is required for the realisation of the Prime Minister’s vision of doubling farmers’ income
  • A host of reforms are required at the State level such as allowing long tenure land leases, giving freedom to farmers to sell their perishable produce and others.
  • NITI Aayog should initiate a ranking of State governments on the ease of doing agricultural business
  • This should cover areas such as power, micro-irrigation, high value crops and agri-infrastructure. This will induce competition across States to improve their agri-environment.

Government Policies:

World Bank loan for Biopharma Mission (The Hindu)

What has happened?

The government has secured a loan of about Rs. 1,600 crore from the World Bank to develop new vaccines, medical devices and medicines

Key points

  • The money will be disbursed over five years and is part of the Department of Biotechnology-led National Biopharma Mission.
  • The goal is to have 6 to 10 new products in the next five years and in the process create a slew of jobs.
  • It was approved by the Cabinet in May 2017 and launched on June 30, 2017.

National Biopharma Mission

  • The National Biopharma Mission has been launched by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology on 30thJune 2017 in New Delhi
  • This is an Industry-Academia mission to accelerate biopharmaceutical development in India that has been approved by the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs in its meeting held on 17thMay, 2017

Objectives of the Mission:

  • Development of products from leads that are at advanced stages in the product development lifecycle and relevant to the public health.
  • Strengthening and establishing shared infrastructurefacilities for both product discovery validation and manufacturing.
  • Developing human capital by providing specific training to address the critical skills gaps in researchers, nascent biotech companies across the product development value chain, including in business plan development and market penetration.
  • Creating and enhancing technology transfer and intellectual property management capacities and capabilities in public and private sector.

Focus on

  • The programme will specifically focus on the development of new vaccines, bio-therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices to better address the rising burden of diseases in the country.
  • It will also bring isolated centres of excellence together, enhance regional capabilities and strengthen the current bio-clusters network in terms of capacities as well as quantity and quality of output

Implemented by: BIRAC

  • The Mission Programme of Department of Biotechnology, will be implemented by Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) a Public Sector Undertaking of the Department
  • BIRAC as an umbrella Product Development Partnership (PDP) would facilitate this program by bringing together partners through existing frameworks for specific program goals and would facilitate this program by involving established organizations with relevant expertise in product development
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