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List of Contents
- Public’s right to information vs. national security interest
- Political and administrative elements in maintaining Healthy Federalism
- Single dose of vaccine can’t control Delta Variant: Global Study on vaccines
- POSHAN 2.0 and tackling malnutrition in India
- Special treatment under GST for few states is a bad idea
Public’s right to information vs. national security interest
Source: The Hindu
Gs2: Important Aspects of Governance, Transparency and Accountability,
Synopsis: This article summarises the opinions and views of the former home secretary of India (G.K. Pillai) and retired Indian diplomat (Syed Akbaruddin). They provide their opinion regarding the public’s right to information vs. national security interest.
- Recently, the Government of India prohibited retired officials of security and intelligence organisations from publishing anything about their work or organisation without prior clearance from the head of the organisation.
- Though some restrictions on sharing of sensitive information related to the government are necessary, there is a need to ensure the public’s right to information by declassifying files in a timely manner.
Does restrictions base on national security interest justifiable?
- One, officers of intelligence and security organisations and other departments are exposed to a lot of sensitive information. So, there needs to be some government control over that information.
- Two, there is a near-universal consensus among decision-makers, around the world, that some measure of secrecy is necessary to protect authorised national security activities.
- Three, no rights to freedom of expression can be absolute; they will always be restricted in certain contexts.
- However, there are certain ambiguities that need to be addressed. For instance, the notification calls for lifelong restriction and the word Sensitive information is not clearly defined.
- According to G.K. Pillai, there needs to be a time limit of 5 years after retirement rather than imposing lifelong restrictions. Because, in five years, operational information that is actually more sensitive will not be of concern in most cases.
How to balance the public’s right to information vs. national security interest?
- One way of addressing this dilemma is by providing the information to the public through the declassification of files. A declassification is an important tool in raising public awareness after a specified period.
- For instance, In the US, at the end of 30 years, after a rigorous examination, they declassify most files and make them available in the public domain. However, In India, the availability of declassified information is less.
- Also, a consequence of extreme secrecy will produce undesirable effects such as the explosion of deep throats (secret informant who provided information). That is not good for any society.
- A free and democratic country should guarantee the free flow of information and the right of the public to be aware of situations.
- Information can be revealed without, revealing national secrets or difficult situations.
- The government needs to prioritise declassification of the top-secret files that are of less relevance today.
Political and administrative elements in maintaining Healthy Federalism
Source: The Hindu
Gs2: Functions and Responsibilities of the Union and the States, Issues and Challenges Pertaining to the Federal Structure.
Synopsis: The recent Centre-West Bengal controversy over Political and administrative elements has brought attention towards the health of the federal structure in India.
- The recent issue is that the former Chief Secretary of Bengal reached late in the meeting called by Prime Minister to review cyclone relief work.
- Though both political and administrative state functionaries were requested to attend the meeting, the chief secretary along with West Bengal Chief Minister left the meeting abruptly.
- Consequently, the centre has sent showcase notices and a charge sheet for the chief secretary’s failure in fully and properly participating in the meeting.
- These events raised concerns regarding the norms of civil service conduct, political and administrative arrogance and revengeful behaviour.
Why the Centre’s action on the Former chief secretary of Bengal is unwarranted?
To understand this issue, a few important political and administrative elements should be kept in mind.
- Firstly, India is a ‘union of states ‘.
- The State governments are not subordinate agencies of the central government.
- As per the Constitution, the Centre’s decisions have primacy over those of the State governments.
- But the primacy does not extend to the holding of meetings.
- Secondly, most relief and rehabilitation work during natural calamity or disaster is done at the local level under the State governments.
- Also, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 operates mainly at the State, district and local levels.
- However, the States have given space to the Centre for disaster management for getting financial, technical and logistical support.
- Thirdly, civil servants are required to balance between loyalty toward states and loyalty toward center.
- IAS officers are ultimately subject to the control of the respective State governments when they are in the employment of their States.
- Otherwise, IAS officers will face trust deficit, if they show preference or loyalty to the central government just because they are appointed by the Center.
- Fourthly, the center has violated the norms required for “deputation”.
- As a measure of punishment, the former chief secretary for his conduct was initially called to the Centre on ‘deputation’ on the day he was to retire.
- This was done without the concurrence of the state government. But the concurrence of the state is required before an officer of its cadre is deputed to the Centre.
- Fourthly, absurd interpretation of the provision of Disaster Management act, 2005.
- Actions against the former Chief secretary is taken under Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act for failing to comply with the Centre’s direction.
- However, this section is meant to deal with cases of defiance of the lawful orders or action of the competent authorities under the Act for handling disaster management.
- Lastly, the All-India service officer or any officer has to act under the direction of his official superior.
- For an IAS officer, the State government is the official superior.
- If this is not followed, there will be chaos and indiscipline in administration.
The conduct of the former chief secretary and the reaction of the Central government must be seen in an overall context. Also, in these kinds of circumstances, one needs to use the wisdom of our tall political leaders to maintain proper Political and administrative elements for a healthy federal polity.
Single dose of vaccine can’t control Delta Variant: Global Study on vaccines
Source: The Indian Express
Syllabus: GS 2 – Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
The data from clinical trials and post-vaccination study on vaccines shows that the Dominant delta variant of Covid-19 can’t be easily controlled by a single dose of vaccine. The countries must administer two doses of vaccine and should reduce the time gap between them.
- The WHO has recently given a new classification to SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest (VOI) and variants of concern (VOC) on the basis of Greek letters. The objective was to create easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels for VOI and VOC.
- However, the established nomenclature systems for naming and tracking of SARS-CoV-2 genetic lineages by GISAID, Nextstrain and Pango will remain in use for scientific research.
- The new classification is as follows:
- VOC B.1.1.7 will be called Alpha Variant. It was the earliest documented in the United Kingdom (September 2020).
- VOC B.1.351 will be called Beta Variant. It was the earliest documented in South Africa (May 2020).
- VOC P.1 will be called Gamma Variant. It was the earliest documented in Brazil (November 2020).
- VOC B.1.617.2 will be called Delta Variant. It was the earliest documented in India (October 2020).
About the Delta Variant:
- It was first identified in Maharashtra and is believed to be responsible for the severe second wave in India.
- It has now spread to most parts of India and also been identified in many other countries.
- The rapid expansion has induced the WHO to graduate it from a “variant of interest” (VOI) to a “variant of concern” (VOC) category.
Scientists have undertaken various studies to address 3 major questions surrounding the delta VOC –
- Is it more infectious than the prevalent virus?
- Is it more lethal than the previous virus?
- Does the delta variant is more resistant to the effect of vaccines?
Data shown by various studies on vaccines:
- Results of Study conducted by Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC):
- The Delta variant is the “prime reason” behind the second wave, though the wave may have been initiated by the Alpha variant.
- The Delta Variant has become dominant even in Britain, where scientists have recently noted that it is 50% more infectious than the Alpha variant.
- Results of study on vaccines conducted by Public Health England:
- A single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine provided 33% efficacy against the Delta variant, while it was 51% against the Alpha variant.
- The second dose improved the efficacy to 60% against the Delta variant and to 66% against the Alpha variant.
- Further, two doses of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine provided much higher levels of protection than two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
- Results of a British study on vaccines published in Lancet Journal:
- Merely 32%of the vaccinated individuals had adequate antibody levels against the Delta variant after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. It was 25% against the beta variant.
- The antibody levels rose after the second dose. However, they were far below the levels obtained against the initial variant of the Covid-19 virus.
- Results of a study on vaccines conducted by the Pasteur Institute, France:
- The Delta variant showed reduced response to both the vaccines (Pfizer and Astrazeneca). It was resistant to neutralisation by some monoclonal antibodies targeting the Spike protein.
- The study concluded that a single dose of the Astrazeneca vaccine will not display optimal protection against the delta variant.
Lessons learnt from the various study on vaccines:
- First, the Delta variant is the most infectious variant in circulation. However, there is not much convincing evidence to prove it is more deadlier than the previous variants.
- Second, vaccines have diminished efficacy against the delta variant. Further, a single dose of either the AstraZeneca or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does not provide adequate protection against the Delta variant.
- Third, a shortened dosing interval is recommended to deal with the Delta variant. Britain has already reduced the interval to 8 weeks from earlier 12 weeks.
POSHAN 2.0 and tackling malnutrition in India
Source-The Indian Express
Syllabus- GS 2 – Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States.
Synopsis– What is POSHAN 2.0 and how it is going to help tackle malnutrition in India.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the burden of malnutrition, especially among the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged families.
- The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have put nearly 115 million children in danger of malnutrition as incomes, food consumption and essential services all come under pressure.
- Thus, to solve India’s nutrition crisis, an evidence-based, integrated, and outcome-focused approach is urgently required.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition addresses three broad groups of conditions:
About POSHAN & POSHAN 2.0 scheme
POSHAN scheme – Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment
- The government of India had launched the POSHAN Abhiyaan in 2018 to ensure a Malnutrition Free India by 2022.
- The scheme, by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, aims to reduce stunting, undernutrition, anaemia and reduced low birth weight by 2%, 2%, 3% and 2% per annum respectively.
To improve nutritional outcome- POSHAN 2.0 announced in 2021 Budget.
- New guidelines of POSHAN 2.0-
- POSHAN scheme focuses on the 1,000 days between a mother’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.
- Prioritizing women and girls, and addressing their nutritional deficiencies through fortification and provision of take-home rations.
- The introduction of community-based programmes for tackling severe acute malnutrition.
- The guidelines now place accountability at the district level with nutrition indicators included in the KPIs (key performance indicators) of DN/DC.
- POSHAN tracker- The Ministry of Women and Child Development has developed a new software tool called the Poshan Tracker. The aim is to streamline the supply side of the scheme. This will replace the earlier ICDS CAS, because the data generated by it was not usable.
Advantages of POSHAN tracker-
- It will provide a holistic view of distribution and access of nutrition services by Anganwadi centres and AWWs (Anganwadi workers) to eligible groups.
- The software will ensure real-time updates, enhance transparency and enabling the system to identify last-mile beneficiaries.
- The tracker carries a module that enables AWWs to identify and provide support to orphaned children [due Covid-19].
Over 2.94 million take-home rations and 1.35 crore hot cooked meals delivered and tracked using the tracker thus far.
What else needs to be done to address malnutrition?
- Convergent actions, especially agriculture-nutrition convergence and strengthening of demand-side behaviour, can play a pivotal role in helping India tackle malnutrition.
- Agriculture-nutrition convergence means creating agricultural policies which are based on a nutrition-sensitive approach. For e.g.: incentivizing the production of millets in an area that is rain-deficient results not only in nutritional well-being but also promotes sustainable agriculture.
- Empower women farmer – The majority of India’s smallholder plots are worked upon by women farmers. Government should invest in nutrition-sensitive agricultural programmes. This can help women and their communities live healthier and more prosperous lives.
The undernutrition problem in India can be addressed through scientific innovation, traditional knowledge systems, community participation, digital technologies, and data-driven management.
Special treatment under GST for few states is a bad idea
Source: The Indian Express
Syllabus: GS3 – Indian Economy
Synopsis: The issue of special allowances under GST on Covid-19 relief products is being projected as a Centre versus states issue.
This is an attempt to gain political benefit on an issue of human and national importance. The structure and design of GST are being questioned. Already settled debates on the decision-making process in the GST Council are sought to be re-opened.
- The structure and design of GST and its basic features were unanimously adopted and endorsed by Parliament and each of the state legislature. All sections and clauses were discussed and recommended by the GST Council after complete consent.
- No state was given special privilege during consensus building. This shows maturity in the debates of the Council. Having come so far, any attempt to reopen some of the fundamental issues should be criticized.
What is GST?
The Goods and Services Tax in India is a comprehensive, multi-stage, destination-based value-added indirect tax. It has replaced many central and state indirect taxes in India such as excise duty, VAT, services tax, etc.
|Also read: GST Compensation issue|
Special treatment under GST is a bad idea
Arguing for any special treatment to states under GST whose contribution to the GST pool is higher is a dangerous idea. This could lead to arguments such as special rights for bigger taxpayers, unequal voting rights in elections etc.
- Firstly, it is not right to say that the GST collected in a state represents the revenue of that particular state. The tax deposited by a taxpayer in a state under the GST mechanism is a function of the value of supplies made by such taxpayer. Most of such values are of an inter-state nature.
- Most supplies made from any producing state are consumed elsewhere and the revenue in such a situation naturally and rightfully adds to the destination state.
- Secondly, it is false to say that under GST; most of the profits is collected by the Union and is given to the states on the basis of some formula. The major chunk of IGST revenue that is given to any state is directly related to the returns filed in that state.
- This payment also comprises tax on supplies “destined” to that state, as shown in the returns of such suppliers.
- Thirdly, the reason why some states have a higher revenue collection is because such states enjoy locational or geographical advantages. They are coastal areas and hugely suited to the needs of trade and distribution as also manufacturing.
- However, such states have a disadvantage in the account of the lower availability of certain vital minerals like coal and iron ore. This was undone by the principle of cargo equalization implemented in the years following Independence.
- Fourthly, the argument of unequal transfers of central receipts is also untrue. Such transfers are made for improving horizontal fiscal imbalances in a federation.
|Also read: Analysis of GST regime in India|
The principle of “one state one vote” is intact and is also the norm in every civilized discourse. Even in the UN, every country has one vote. If this principle is questioned, it would lead to the undoing of the force that binds this great country. Special treatment under GST would only hamper the true spirit of cooperative federalism.