9 PM Daily Brief – June 27th,2020

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9 PM for Main examination

GS-2

  1. The Peace process in Afghanistan
  2. Online education – New shift in post corona India

GS-3

  1. Getting out of the ‘guns, germs and steel’ crisis
  2. Why is the Draft EIA Notification flawed?

9 PM for Preliminary examination

FACTLy


1.The Peace process in Afghanistan

Source: The Indian Express

Syllabus: GS 2-Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

Context: The “shock and awe” mission of the US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation has created polarizing waves in India.

The US special Envoy especially called for India’s direct engagement with the Taliban. The proposal is being debated between proponents and opponents.

Supporters of suggestion Opponent to suggestion
· They feel that the takeover by Taliban is inevitable and hence it’s important to appease the new victors.

· There is deterrence to western authority among some segments of Indian policy-makers who want to engage directly.

· The nature of Afghan conflict is complex and exhausting and there is need for Delhi to stand its ground in supporting the post-2001 constitutional order (an order that can accommodate the Taliban as a non-violent political stakeholder).

· The critics see little value in engaging with a group that remains fully under the control of Pakistan.

· In line with Delhi’s stated policy of supporting an Afghan-led process, the critics recommend following the Afghan government’s lead in engaging with the Taliban.

Evaluating the suggestion within a historical context:

  • Doha agreement 2020:
    • This agreement between the Taliban and the US has effectively changed the status of the post-2001 constitutional order from “at the table” to an “on the table” new reality.
  • US priorities: 
    • US has capacity to manufacture a new reality to suit its interests. Pakistan has been the center piece of the US’s South Asia engagement despite occasional rhetorical admonition and half-baked sanctions.
    • Before Soviet invasions in 1979:The US joined Pakistan in supporting the Mujahideen in toppling the Afghan government through Operation Cyclone.
    • After the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001:In 2004, the US recognized Pakistan as “major non-Nato ally”.
    • US steps to appease Pakistan’s concerns: The US made some major Afghanistan-related political, security and defence decisions such as:
      • Downsizing the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces.
      • Promoting pro-Pakistan officials within the Afghan government.
      • Limiting India’s role to just a large NGO.
      • Projecting the Taliban as an independent nationalistic insurgency.

How to achieve Peace in Afghanistan:

  • Afghanistan will be at peace if and when there are a set of three mutually reinforcing pillars:

  • A coherent peace process should be based on the four pillars:

  • Inclusivity has to be recognised as a cross-cutting principle, coupled with a primary role for Afghan ownership and ensuing Afghan responsibility.
  • Despite its structural flaws, the post-2001 constitutional order has the capacity and legitimacy to become the basis for an inclusive peace process.

Role of India and Way Forward:

  • India must come up with ideas and structures in the fields of development, politics, security and diplomacy.
  • Similar to Iran’s tenacity and resolve in supporting the UN-recognised Syrian government, India can and should champion an inclusive, multifaceted and Kabul-centric peace process.
  • Despite an adventurist temptation, “Afghanistan in pieces” is a nightmarish outcome for many stakeholders and even the Pakistan military establishment.

2.Online education – New shift in post corona India

Source – The Hindu

Syllabus –GS 2 – Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

Context – To ensure that students do not miss out on their studies in lockdown and afterwards, educational institutions moved classes online, making students to attend lectures via their gadgets.

Online education is a boon in pandemic when social distancing is the new norm and schools, colleges will remain closed for a long time. However, it has many drawbacks as well which has lead to the debate of its efficiency and usefulness.

Disadvantages of Online learning

1.Online student feedback is limited – In traditional classrooms, teachers can give students immediate face-to-face feedback. Students who are experiencing problems in the curriculum can resolve them quickly and directly either during the lecture or during the dedicated office hours.

2. Social Isolation and lack of communication skills development- The E-Learning methods currently practiced in education tend to make participating students undergo contemplation, remoteness and a lack of interaction. As a result, many of the students and teachers who inevitably spend much of their time online can start experiencing signs of social isolation, due to the lack of human communication in their lives.

3. Self-motivation and time management skills – Lack of self-motivation among students continues to be one of the primary reasons why students fail to complete online courses.

4. Cheating prevention during online assessments is complicated – Compared to on-campus students, online students can cheat on assessments more easily as they take assessments in their own environment and while using their personal computer. This affects their learning and overall development.

5. Not suitable for al courses – Courses that traditionally need a laboratory or practical component are an obvious example where online classes cannot offer an alternative.

6. Digital Divide – The adoption or integration of technology in education also depends on the specific institution and its location: there is a huge digital divide in the country in terms of bandwidth and reliable connectivity, as well as very unequal access to funding.

7. Hinders Research and Development – Beyond classroom lectures and courses, there has been a serious impact on academic research in all disciplines. There is need for close personal interaction and discussion in research supervision, and it is not clear when and how doctoral research and supervision can resume.

 Suggested solutions

Integration of Artificial Intelligence –Digital tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) can be adapted to deliver personalized instruction based on the learning needs for each student. The use of AI can improve learning outcomes; in particular, this can be a boon for teaching students who are differently-abled.

1. Decentralization in education – Pedagogic material must be made available in our other national languages; this will extend access, and can help overcome staff shortages that plague remote institutions. The state will have to bear much of the responsibility, both to improve digital infrastructure and to ensure that every needy student has access to a laptop or smart phone

 Way Forward – Online education being an emergent domain to develop human resources requires policy guidelines for all stakeholders including schools, colleges, non-profit organizations, parents and children which can facilitate tele-education for all by 2030.

3.Getting out of the ‘guns, germs and steel’ crisis

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS 3- Government Budgeting

Context: India is facing the gravest confluence of military, health and economic crises.

Crisis of “guns, germs and steel”: There are Chinese “guns” on the borders, coronavirus “germs” in our bodies and “steel” makers and other businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Economic threats due to these challenges:

  • Military threats:
    • Inevitable drain on finances:
      • As we are standing up to a military threat by a superpower neighbour.
    • Example: War against Pakistan in Kargil in 1999:
      • India’s defence expenditure in the war year shot up by nearly 20% from the previous year.
      • It also forced the government to increase India’s defence budget for the next financial year to 2.7% of nominal GDP.
    • The Challenge of China:
      • Asserting its rights by India necessitates higher expenditure: India’s defence budget has been whittled down to just 2% of GDP for the financial year 2021 while China’s defence budget is nearly four times larger. The Chinese conflict will stretch government finances by an additional one to two percentage points of GDP as India staves off the current threat and shores up its defence preparedness.
    • Health care and economy:
      • Exposure of India’s inadequate health infrastructure by COVID-19:
        • The combined public health expenditure of States and the central government in India is a mere 1.5% of GDP compared to China’s at 3% and US’s at 9%.
        • Need to ramp up India’s health expenditure:Many public health experts are of the opinion that the government will need additional funds of the equivalent of at least one percentage point of GDP to continue the fight against COVID-19.
      • Disorder of economy due to National lockdown:
        • India’s economy has four major drivers: People’s spending on consumption, Government spending, Investment and External trade.
        • Consumer spending: Spending by people is the largest contributor to India’s economic growth every year. For every ₹100 in incremental GDP ₹60 to ₹70 comes from people’s consumption spending. The lockdown shut off people from spending for two full months.
      • Issues of economy prior to COVID-19:
        • India’s trade levels had fallen from 55% of nominal GDP in 2014 to 40% in 2020.
        • As the global economy in tatters, trade is not a viable alternative to offset the loss from consumption.
        • Investment is also not a viable option at this stage since the demand for goods and services has fallen dramatically.

The common thread across these is that its resolution requires significant financial resources.

Need of Incremental funds:

  • Options to improve economy: To either put money in the hands of the needy to stimulate immediate consumption or for the government to embark on a massive spending spree like the “New Deal” which was a series of programmes and projects instituted by the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
  • Overall estimation: India’s “guns, germs and steel” crisis will impose a total financial burden of an additional eight percentage points of GDP on the central government exchequer.
  • Higher spending and lower revenues: The government needs to spend an additional eight percentage points of GDP while revenues will be lower by two percentage points of GDP.

Sources of Funds:

  • Potential new Source of revenue:
    • The ideas of wealth tax or a large capital gains tax are ideas worth exploring for the medium term but not good for immediate needs.
  • More borrowing:
    • The only option for the government to finance its needs is to borrow abundantly which will push up debt to high levels.
    • With rising debt levels, international ratings agencies will likely downgrade India’s investment rating which will then trigger panic among foreign investors.
  • Print the money as per needs to overcome crisis:
    • Though it may lead to a massive spike in prices and inflation as per economic theory but this theory has fallen flat in the past decade in developed nations such as the US where the creation of phantom money has not led to inflation.
    • It also counted as government debt and not escape a potential downgrading of rating.

Way Forward

India’s choices are clear to be bold and go on a rescue mission or do nothing and hope the situation resolves itself.

 4.Why is the Draft EIA Notification flawed?

Source: The Indian Express

Syllabus: GS-3- Environment

Context: The government has put up for public consideration and comment the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020 which seeks to replace Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

  • EIA is a process which studies all aspects of the environment and seeks to anticipate the impact (positive and/or negative) of a proposed project or development on the environment.
  • EIA is mandatory under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 for 29 categories of developmental activities involving investments of Rs. 50 crores and above.

EIA Notification 2006

The EIA Cycle comprises of four stages:

EIA Notification 2006 decentralised the environmental clearance projects by categorizing the developmental projects in two categories:

  1. Category A: These projects require mandatory environmental clearance and do not go through screening process. They are appraised at the national level by Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) and the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).
  2. Category B: They are apprised at the state level. State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) are constituted to provide clearance to these projects. Category B projects are further categorised into two:
  • Category B1 projects: They require mandatory EIA
  • Category B2 projects: They do not require EIA

Draft EIA Notification 2020

Changes proposed Concern
It allows for post facto approval for projects. It has provisions to award clearances for projects even if they have started construction or have been running without securing environmental clearances. It is in violation of the “precautionary principle”-a principle of environmental sustainability.

Further, any environmental damage caused by the project is likely to be waived off by only as the violations get legitimised.

It has omitted prior screening requirements for Category B projects and expanded the list of projects categorised under B2 It has eased process for many industries which might have socio-environmental consequences. Compromising appraisal in such cases will result in further environmental damage.
It proposes to classify inland waterways as Category B2 projects and will not require public consultations irrespective of whether these projects are located in notified ecologically sensitive areas. It might have significant impact on the marine ecosystem and long-term survival of India’s rivers
It proposes to expand the list of projects that do not require public consultation before receiving Prior-EC.

It confers absolute power to the central government to categorise projects as “strategic” and information related to these projects will not be put in public domain.

The provision has completely diluted public consultation process and there is a risk of states taking up development initiatives at the risk of environmental degradation
New construction projects up to 1,50,000 square metres (instead of the existing 20,000 square metres) will not require detailed scrutiny by the Expert Committee, EIA studies and public consultation. The building and construction sector is among the largest greenhouse gas emitters however, the proposed notification gives leeway to the sector
It proposes an eased monitoring mechanism Under the draft, project owners are to submit environmental compliance reports (after getting clearance) every year in contrast to present 6 months. It dilutes the backbone of environment clearance rules i.e. monitoring the conditions on which projects are cleared and ensuring compliance.

Conclusion: The recent Vishakhapatnam Gas leak case, and massive fire that erupted at an Oil India Limited (OIL) production well in Baghjan, Assam highlights the importance of stringent environmental safeguards. Dilution of EIA to boost economic growth is a flawed idea and its high time for the government to address the increasing socio-economic and environmental challenges.


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