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Society related issues:
People as auditors(The Hindu Opinion)
Social audits ensure a citizen-centric mode of accountability
Democracy needs eternal public vigilance
Democratic governance needs the citizen to be legally empowered to ask questions, file complaints, and be a part of the corrective process
Jan Sunwais: a type of social audit experiment in the mid-1990s
- In the mid-1990s, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) experimented with village-based Jan Sunwais (public hearings) on development expenditure
- In a Jan Sunwai campaign, organised in five different development blocks of central Rajasthan, people learnt by doing
- Public readings of informally accessed development records had dramatic outcomes
- As the names were read out from government labour lists, the responses were immediate and galvanised the people
Effects of Jan Sunwais
- The Jan Sunwai facilitated the reading of information and recorded the people’s response.
- Many scams, ghost names, ghost works, fake developmental works, fake payments to dead people etc. were uncovered
Only RTI not enough; Social audit is needed
- The RTI Act brought into effect the first prerequisite for social audits — giving citizens access to government records
- The last 13 years of its use have demonstrated its salutary effect, but also made it obvious that information itself is not enough without any redressal mechanism
- The social audit places accountability in the centre of its frame, and transfers the power of scrutiny and validation to the people: a citizen-centric mode of accountability.
What is social audit?
- This means “audit returning to its roots”: the word audit comes from the Latin word audiere, which means “to hear”
- Information is to be proactively shared amongst people so that they can “ performance audit” a service or programme, from planning, to implementation and evaluation.
What needs to be done?
- An independent facilitation structure needs to be set up, fleshed out, legally empowered and mandated to ensure that social audits are conducted
- The relationship between the powerful and the powerless has to shift from patronage to rights, and from inequality to equality, making the right to question inalienable
- Specific methods of sharing information, recording comments and acting on findings have been worked out. They now need to be acted upon
Examples of social audits currently
- The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was the first law to mandate social audit as a statutory requirement
- Faced opposition in Rajasthan; was duly implemented in undivided Andhra Pradesh which reaped its benefits later
Institutionalised social audits
- Nationally, institutionalised social audits have begun to make real progress only recently, with the interest and support of the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), and the orders of the Supreme Court
- Meghalaya: first State to pass and roll out a social audit law
In what was a social audit breakthrough in 2017, Meghalaya became the first State to pass and roll out a social audit law to cover all departments.
What has been done?
Social audit standards developed by CAG:
- The Office of the CAG developed social audit rules for the MGNREGA in 2011, conducted a performance audit in 2015, and finally a year later formulated social audit standards in consultation with the Ministry of Rural Development — the first time in the world
State Social audit units:
- The Supreme Court has recently passed a series of orders to give social audits the robust infrastructural framework they need.
- Citing the statutory requirements in the MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act, the court has ordered that the CAG-formulated Social Audit Standards be applied to set up truly independent state-supported State Social Audit units
The system of social audits needs synergetic endorsement and a push by multiple authorities to establish an institutionalised framework which cannot be undermined by any vested interests. It is now an opportune time for citizens groups to campaign to strengthen social audits, and make real progress in holding the political executive and implementing agencies to account.
Scary, yet banal(The Hindu Opinion)
It is important to use different themes on tobacco products to shock users
What has happened?
India has come a long way from the small, meaningless and ineffectual pictorial warnings that were first used on tobacco products in May 2009. The size of the warnings was increased from 40% of the principal display area on only one side of the packet to 85% on the front and back sides of the packet from April 2016 onwards. India now has the third largest warnings in the world after Nepal and Vanuatu. In September, India will follow the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) guidelines by using scarier images to shock tobacco users
Why these new images might not have the desired effect?
- Though scary, they will highlight the same theme of oral cancer
- The fatigue that sets in on seeing the same theme may reduce the informational and shock value of the pictorial warnings, a fact that the WHO has also pointed out.
Connection between tobacco and lung cancer difficult for people to understand
- Images field-tested in India prior to finalising the new images revealed that people were unable to understand the connection between tobacco and lung cancer and other diseases
- While the devastating effects of oral cancer are plainly visible and shocking, every effort should be taken to depict the other negative consequences of tobacco use.
The Health Ministry has been steadfast in its goal to turn tobacco packaging to its benefit and so cannot be found wanting in 2020 when the next set of images is released
Substance and optics of the summit(The Hindu Opinion)
India-China relations have been under great stress in recent years. The 2017 military standoff at the Doklam tri-junction and the war of words that followed vitiated a relationship that was already reeling under a great deal of pressure. The Wuhan summit should be viewed in the context of this vitiated atmosphere and a strong desire for stability and rapprochement.
The Electoral benefits
- Modi needed this meeting more than Mr. Xi did given how the former would need a calm and peaceful India-China border as he leads his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into the general election
- While tensions with Pakistan wouldn’t be costly for the BJP from an electoral point of view, a ‘failed China policy’ could potentially be used by the Opposition to take on Mr. Modi in the context of the BJP’s unsuccessful policy towards the neighbourhood.
Outcomes and measures that need be taken
- Both the leaders issued strategic guidance to their respective militaries to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs and directed their militaries to earnestly implement various confidence building measures agreed upon between the two sides
- It is important that the both India-China update the 2013 defence cooperation agreement as well as set up the hotline between the two military HQs
- If China can persuade Pakistan to see the utility of India-China (and potentially Pakistan) collaboration in Afghanistan, it could promote trust and cooperation all around
- If China and India can cooperate in Afghanistan, they can certainly do so in other parts of the neighbourhood and can consider joint India-China projects in the region.
- Notwithstanding the positive outcome of the Wuhan summit, it must be asked whether the summit has come too late in Mr. Modi’s current term as Prime Minister to herald a new beginning between India and China, especially on the border question
- China watchers argue that the broad contours of a India-China border agreement have been worked out during the 20 rounds of talks at the Special Representatives level.
- However, an agreement can only be arrived at a higher political level. While Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi, both with strong domestic political standing, would be able to reach such an agreement, and use it to further consolidate their domestic appeal, will Mr. Modi take that gamble? If not, weren’t the ministerial visits that were already taking place and Mr. Modi’s upcoming visit to China in June for the SCO summit enough to sustain the thaw?
- The answer perhaps lies in Mr. Modi’s keen eye for the optics and its domestic political utility.
Optics: public perception
Pyongyang’s next steps(The Hindu Opinion)
What has happened?
North Korea and South Korea have jointly declared that the Korean War will be finally over. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met for the first time on Friday, have pledged to ensure peace, prosperity and the unification of the Korean peninsula.
Pitch for equality
- The differences between Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon on the question of denuclearisation are evident
- While Mr. Moon emphasised that complete denuclearisation was essential for peace, Mr. Kim did not utter the “D” word
- North Korea will seek parity with South Korea in terms of nuclear security and well-being, which is hard to accomplish in the short term.
The Indian template
- Denuclearisation is key to the whole process as it means different things to different people. North Korea seems to have another model in mind; an Indian model nuclear deal in which it gets recognised as a “technologically advanced responsible state” on the basis of certain strategic assurances.
- The direct threat that they faced from the U.S., South Korea and Japan must have resulted in the aggressive approach, but now that North Korea has established its nuclear capability, it is inclined to negotiate its way into removing sanctions and shaping its future
- In fact, it seems to be following India’s choreography in shaping its nuclear policy
- In a way, Mr. Kim has gone further than India by suspending all missile tests and taking steps to shut down a nuclear test site, to which the U.S., South Korea and China have reacted positively
Upcoming US-North Korea talks
- S. would be far more reluctant to make any concessions to North Korea without an agreement on denuclearisation
- The forthcoming negotiations will prove whether the Indian model will help North Korea in restoring peace in the Korean Peninsula and having a cooperative relationship with the U.S. and the rest of the world.
- Some amount of domestic reform at home, in terms of civil liberties, would help North Korea make its case better
Wisdom at Wuhan(The Hindu Opinion)
PM Modi and President Xi change the tenorof India-China ties. They must build on it
What has happened?
For an “informal summit”, the Wuhan meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to cover much ground over the two days — in terms of public appearances and in the two statements issued. Most of their conversations were unstructured, at informal events where they were accompanied only by translators
Message from Wuhan
- That despite bilateral and geopolitical differences, India and China can resolve differences peacefully and through prolonged dialogue.
- The Wuhan summit has recommitted India and China to managing bilateral relations in a manner that creates the conditions for the “Asian Century”
- Much will depend on whether the Wuhan understanding can prevent skirmishes and misunderstandings becoming standoffs, as in the past
India, Pak. to take part in war games(The Hindu)
Counter-terror drill planned in Russia
What has happened?
In a first, arch rivals India and Pakistan will be part of a multi-nation counter-terror exercise in Russia in September, which will also be joined by China and several other countries.
Under SCO Framework
- The military exercise will take place under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a China-dominated security grouping which is increasingly seen as a counterweight to NATO.
- The military drill would be held in the Ural Mountains of Russia, and almost all SCO member countries will be part of it.
Mission of the exercise
Will be to enhance counter-terror cooperation among the eight member countries.
It will be for the first time since Independence that India and Pakistan will be part of a military exercise, though the armies of the two nations have worked together in U.N. peacekeeping missions
Indian Constitution and Polity:
An antidote to virtual toxicity(The Hindu Opinion)
How good journalism can help tackle disinformation
What has happened?
A regulatory framework that balances free speech and accountability is one of the hallmarks of a mature democracy. In this context, the latest recommendations by the European Commission (EC) to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions to tackle online disinformation is a fine document that refrains from any overreach that would undermine free expression
Latest Study on Press Freedom by Reporters without borders
- India is placed at a low 138 out of 180 countries
- According to the report: “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.”
Present news ecology
In India, the present information ecology is vitiated by many factors:
- Undue pressure on mainstream news organisations and journalists
- Strategic deployment of trolls
- Planting suspicion regarding legitimate reports by indulging in whataboutery (the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue), and amplifying disinformation through social media networks
- India is also one of the few countries where defamation is both a civil and a criminal offence
How did Europe manage to deal with this issue without taking away the rights of citizens?
Basic tenets that the technical team which worked on this subject used to formulate its response:
- To not give power to either governments or private companies to manage political debate
- The three most harmful contents — child pornography, hate speech and incitement of violence — are dealt with by existing laws But It is a question of political will to implement the existing laws. There is no need to create new ones
- We need to have space for voices that are not desirable for many and yet not illegal
Role of platform companies
- The business model of platform companies, which collect data for monetisation, is central to the crisis
- Hence, the EC recommendation focusses more on the role of platform companies. It demands a more transparent, trustworthy and accountable online ecosystem in which “it is necessary to promote adequate changes in platforms’ conduct, a more accountable information ecosystem, enhanced fact-checking capabilities and collective knowledge on disinformation, and the use of new technologies to improve the way information is produced and disseminated online.”
High Quality journalism is the anti-dote that we need
- One of the areas where the EC communication makes a breakthrough is to come up with protocols that harness technologies across platforms “to play a central role in tackling disinformation over the longer term”
- Central to this idea is “to invest in high-quality journalism”
- In other words, it says that good journalism is the antidote to a toxic virtual space.
On a wing and a prayer(The Hindu)
Can India make commercial planes? In a decade or two, it could, with serious funding, govt. incentives
What has happened?
India is poised to become the world’s third-biggest aviation market in seven years with more than 20% growth, after China and the U.S.
- To meet demand, Indian carriers have placed orders for 1,000 aircraft worth more than Rs. 10 lakh crore; and, more than 6,000 planes would be needed by 2050
- In 2017, Indian carriers flew 117.18 million domestic passengers marking an 18% growth over 2016
- This market is to grow to 250 million by FY23, according to CAPA, an aviation advisory firm
- Boeing has forecast that the Indian market would need 2,100 new planes valued at $290 billion by 2036
- Airbus has said the Indian civil aviation market will grow by 8.1% for next 20 years which is above the world average of 4.4%.
Can India manufacture commercial civil airplanes domestically?
Possible but very challenging
- Need large funding in R&D, global partners and the highest commitment by the government
- Chinese and Russian civil aircraft programmes are yet to take off except in their home countries
- HAL has failed in delivering commercial aircraft, except for the manufacture of the 19-seater Dornier 228 which can be deployed in regional sectors
- Need a serious and time-bound approach to encourage and develop a viable and futuristic aircraft manufacturing programme to at least reach the level achieved by Brazil which has developed and sustained the Embraer programme
- No MROs (Maintenance, repair, and overhaul): We don’t have the aerospace grade of suppliers in India. Iran has far better local supplier base. Brazil developed its aerospace programme in the ’80s. In fifty years, our expertise is nearly zero. We need to be aerospace grade ready
- Robust government-private collaboration: The government needs to enforce a robust government-private collaboration to take Indian aerospace manufacturing to the next level
- Huge Entry barrier: So far, the world has had only two major manufacturers of commercial planes and less than a handful making small aircraft. Even the biggest aerospace powers do not have any aircraft that is 100% built in their country. The level of sophistication and specialisation that exists in aerospace requires sourcing of components and subsystems from all across the world.
- Expansion of airport infrastructure
- The Make in India incentive for manufacturing in India; and
- To revitalise the MRO industry in India through fiscal incentives
What has happened?
Government data showed that the Indian economy grew 7.2% in the quarter ended December 31 while the Chinese economy expanded by 6.8%.
- Impact of higher oil prices, Indian banking system’s struggle with note ban, bad loans and polls among reasons
- Overall bearish sentiments towards emerging markets with India being no exception
- There are tensions in West Asia, potential trade war concerns are escalating between the U.S. and China, oil prices are hovering around $75 levels plus dollar is strengthening
- So, the uncertainties are at dramatically high levels and it is impacting foreign flows into emerging markets
- Investors believe they can make more money investing in the U.S. as the interest rate there is also rising
As the world’s second-largest digital nation, India’s biggest risk in 2017, according to the FICCI–Pinkerton India Risk Survey 2017, was in the area of ‘information and cyber insecurity’ for business operations.
- India was the third-worst affected country during the WannaCry ransomware attacks in May 2017
- In June 2017, operations at one of the three terminals in India’s largest port, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust near Mumbai, was disrupted due to the Petyacyberattack
- In October 2017, Seqrite Intelligence Labs discovered an advertisement announcing secret access to the servers and databases of over 6,000 Indian organisations
Steps to protect Indian business against cybercrimes
- A more robust cyber security policy: India’s existing cybersecurity policy of 2013 needs to be made more robust to push back digital intrusions at all levels
- Cybersecurity agency needs to be set up: A national cybersecurity agency needs to be set up to develop appropriate strategy and action plans
- Shared best practices on security: Close partnership between government and private enterprises can ensure that best practices on security and intelligence on intrusions are comprehensively shared to build better incident response capabilities
- A National gold standard for adherence: Creating a national gold standard for hardware and software adherence to highest safety protocols is also important
- Enhancing technical capabilities: Businesses must enhance technological and investigative capabilities through research, development and intelligence sharing.
- Building competencies: Equally important are building competencies to develop advanced solutions in business continuity, risk analysis, operating systems, firmware and cyberforensics.
Protection of the Children
- An estimated 100 million children in India are expected to access the Internet by 2018.
- Themes of security awareness: knowledge, responsibility and
Privacy: What can and should not be shared?
- How do they choose who they interact with online? What can be the consequences of their actions? How can they safeguard themselves from the big, bad cyberwolves?
Initiation from school: We need to teach children cyberdefense from the school age.
Cyber as a war zone is becoming increasingly real — and everything from social media to mobile phones now have a cyber impact that we cannot shrug off. A seismic shift to smarter cybersecurity is the need of the hour.
Nutrition panel drops Maneka proposal(The Hindu)
Panel rejects idea to replace ready-to-eat food rations with energy-dense nutrient packets for beneficiaries
What has happened?
The National Council on Nutrition (NCN) has unanimously rejected Union Minister for Women and Child Development (WCD) Maneka Gandhi’s proposal to replace ready-to-eat food as take-home dry rations with energy-dense nutrient packets which could be mixed with food for anganwadi beneficiaries
- The National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, headed by Vice-Chairman of the NITI Aayog Rajiv Kumar, was constituted in January to provide policy directions to address nutritional challenges in the country and review programmes on a quarterly basis.
- The council has also directed that pilot projects be conducted in 10 select districts on cash transfers instead of take-home rations — Ms. Gandhi has opposed the idea on the grounds that there is no guarantee that beneficiaries would use the money for food
Difference between the Minister and officials in her ministry
- While the Minister is in favour of factory-made and energy-dense nutrient packets, which can be delivered by postmen, officials in her Ministry proposed food items such asdalia (broken wheat) and khichdi ( rice and lentil stew) prepared with local ingredients and sourced from self-help groups
- As a result of the disagreement within the Ministry, two different nutrition guidelines were prepared — one by Ms. Gandhi and another by officials in the WCD Ministry — and sent to the NITI Aayog, ahead of a meeting of the Nutrition Advisory Technical Board
Food first (The Hindu Opinion)
There is no substitute for hot-cooked mealsto address poor child nutrition
Attempts to commercialise
- Tinkering with the existing national programme of providing hot-cooked meals to children three to six years old, and take-home rations for younger children and pregnant and lactating mothers is fraught with danger
- Attempts to substitute meals or rations with factory-made nutrients will inject commercialisation into a key mission, and upset the nutritional basis of the scheme.
Anganwadi Services Scheme
- If it is to achieve better outcomes, it must focus on the provision of physical infrastructure and funding, besides closer monitoring of the nutrition mission
- Theoretically, the mission covers every child, but in practice it is not accessible to all.
A long way to go
- The National Family Health Survey-4 shows a drop in underweight and stunted children under five years of age compared to the previous survey, but the absolute numbers are still high
- An estimated 35.7% children are underweight and 38.4% are stunted in that age group
- The body mass index of 22.9% women aged 15-49 indicates chronic energy deficiency. These figures should cause alarm that even after a long period of robust economic growth, India has not achieved a transformation
- An integrator that will build capacity among nutrition workers
- The target of the mission is to bring down stunting among children in the age group 0-6 years from 38.4% to 25% by 2022
- To accelerate the pace of progress, POSHAN Abhiyaan should rigorously measure levels of access and quality of nutrition, and publish the data periodically.
Several States underperforming
- It should be pointed out that NFHS data show several States performing worse than the national average
- In a recent report, Nourishing India , the NITI Aayog refers to acute malnutrition levels of about 25% in some States
There is no quick fix, and the answer to better nutrition lies in fresh, wholesome and varied intake.
What has happened?
Australia pledged Aus $500 million ($379 million) in new funding to restore and protect the Great Barrier Reef on Sunday, in what it said would be a game-changer for the embattled natural wonder
- Canberra has previously committed more than Aus$2 billion to protect the site over the next decade, but has been criticised for backing a huge coal project by Indian mining giant Adani nearby
- With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population, Australia is considered one of the world’s worst per-capita greenhouse gas polluters.
- Canberra insists it is taking strong action to address the global threat of climate change, having set an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.
While the funding was “an important step”, the biggest threat to the reef was global warming and not enough was being done to combat it by embracing clean energy
The bulk of the new funding was earmarked to improve water quality by changing farming practices and adopting new technologies and land management
Damage to the reef continues
- Earlier this month, scientists said the site suffered a “catastrophic die-off” of coral during an extended heatwave in 2016, threatening a broader range of reef life than previously feared.
- A study in the journal Nature said some 30% of the reef’s coral perished, the first of an unprecedented two successive years of coral bleaching along the 2,300-km reef.