9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – May 18, 2021

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Government Must Ensure ‘Right to Life’ for Economic Recovery

Source: Click Here 

Syllabus: GS 3 – Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources

SynopsisThe pandemic time warrants the state to take some proactive measures that would enable the masses to properly exercise their ‘Right to Life’. This would enhance their consumption capacity thereby fueling demand and eventually leading to revival. 

Background:

  • The Indian population is undergoing severe stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes:
    • Surviving a health emergency on a crippled health infrastructure
    • Battling Job losses and reduction of incomes
    • Countering mass hunger and worsening nutrition.
  • A recent study called ‘hunger watch’ found that almost 25% of households witnessed a 50% decline in income levels. Similarly, 2/3rd of households were eating less than what they did before the lockdown.
  • This all is happening because the government is unable to protect and augment the Right to Life of the masses. 

About Right to life:

  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law’.
  • The courts have widened the meaning of life in multiple judgments to allow the individuals to live a dignified life. 
    • For instance, In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court gave a new dimension to Art. 21. 
    • It held that the right to live is not merely a physical right but includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. It includes bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter over the head, etc.

Acts undermining Right to Life during the Pandemic:

  • The current vaccine policy for the 18-45 age group that demands a fee for vaccinating in private hospitals is against the right to life. The policy discriminates against the poor people who can’t afford to pay a hefty sum. This discriminatory policy was formulated as:
    • The government did not ensure adequate production through compulsory licensing of more producers; 
    • It did not order enough vaccines; 
    • It introduced differential pricing. This forced state governments to compete with each other and with private clinics to buy vaccines.
    • It allowed price overcharging by Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India.
  • The Supreme Court ordered providing free rations and meals without insisting on ID proof to all migrant workers in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. However, it was criticized as:
    • It was restricted to a few states rather than the whole country
    • It did not extend the facility to cover cash payments by the state besides meals and ration
    • Lastly, It made the facility a state prerogative rather than a right.
  • The policymakers abandoned the plight of the poor (especially informal workers). Because, they were denied adequate compensation over the past year of lockdowns, restrictions, and economic distress.
  • The country remains fiscally conservative, resulting in less expenditure on welfare activities and discouraged economic revival. 
    • The Central government spending over April 2020 to February 2021 shows a rise in non-interest expenditure only by 2.1% of GDP.  The focus was on creating infrastructure for economic recovery.

Ineffectiveness of current measures:

  • Focusing on infrastructure creation has a lesser ‘multiplier’ effect than cash transfers to people.
    • Countries that were hit more severely in the first wave than India, managed to show a good recovery. They announced larger fiscal packages directed towards providing income support to people.
    • Cash Transfers helped people spend more on domestically produced goods and revive the economy.
  • Free rations and meals, as mandated by the Supreme Court, have a very little expansionary effect on the economy. As the bulk of the commodities required to come from the existing stocks of food grains. 

Way Forward:

  • The state needs to take multiple measures to augment the ‘Right to Life’ that would also ensure equitable economic recovery. This includes:
    • Centralised procurement of Covid-19 vaccines along with enhancement of production capacity. Both things must be done to ensure free immunization to all.
    • Universal access to free foodgrains of 5 kg per month to all the vulnerable people for the next six months.
    • Cash transfers of Rs. 7,000 per household to those without regular formal employment for at least three months.
    • MGNREGA expansion by removing the limit on the number of days or beneficiaries per household. 
    • A parallel scheme like MGNREGA for the educated unemployed in urban areas.
  • These measures would cost around 3.5% of GDP. This might enhance the fiscal deficit that would further widen wealth inequalities and frighten globally mobile finance capital. 
    • However, 1% cost would be set off by the additional taxation generated by Centre and State Governments. For the remaining 2.5% GDP, the government can impose a 1.5% Wealth Tax on the top 1% of households.  

India’s Palestine policy

Source: Click Here  

Syllabus: GS 2 – Foreign Policy of India

Synopsis:

India’s statement at the recent UNSC meeting points towards the evolving nature of India’s Palestine policy. The country backed Palestine but without any reference to Jerusalem or its borders.

Background:

  • The violence between Israel and Hamas has intensified since the May 11 encounter. It involved the exchange of rockets between Hamas and Israel.
  • A meeting of UNSC was convened to bring about a ceasefire of the situation, although no concrete outcome was achieved. The US blocked a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
  • Being a non-permanent member, India gave its statement in the meeting.  

India’s Palestine Policy

India recently issued a statement on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In this statement;

  • It showed strong support for the just Palestinian cause. Further, India supported the two-state solution for solving the conflict.
  • The country expressed deep concern over violence in Jerusalem especially on Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramzan. Further, the possible eviction process in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem was also criticized.
  • The statement pointed towards the clashes in the Al-Aqsa compound and East Jerusalem’s neighborhood as the trigger point of conflict. Rather than May 10 rocket strikes by the Hamas group over Israel.
  • The country requested both sides to refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighborhood. 
    • This means Israel should stop the eviction process of Palestinians and restore the status quo ante at the Al Aqsa compound.

Evolving Nature of India’s Palestine policy:

  • In the statement, there was no direct reference to the status of Jerusalem or the future Israel-Palestine borders.
    • The statement fails to mention east Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine under the two-state solution. Although, this has been the traditional stance of India.
    • Until 2017, India called for creating secure and recognized borders, side by side at peace with Israel. However, now the focus is only on peaceful coexistence with Israel.
  • Earlier India used to use the term Haram esh-Sharif, but now it has been using the term Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount. The Former term meant exclusive Islamic control and ownership but the latter makes it a Jewish as well as Islamic issue.
  • Further, as a part of the Link West Policy, India has de-hyphenated its relationship with Israel and Palestine in 2018. This allows it to treat both the countries as mutually independent and exclusive.

Method to Estimate Covid Deaths in India

Source: The Hindu

Gs2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health

Synopsis: Instead, of calculating the ‘excess’ death at the national level, Excess death calculated at the District level will provide a more accurate estimation of Covid19 deaths in India.

Background

  • To understand the magnitude of the pandemic there is a need for estimating COVID-19 deaths globally and in India.
  • The most commonly used approach is the “excess” death approach. It is the difference between death in Normal years and deaths during the Covid-19 period.
  • It includes deaths directly caused by COVID-19 as well as deaths indirectly caused due to the lack of access to care for other diseases during the pandemic and the lockdown.
  • Based on the excess” death approach estimates have been released globally. However, India’s reported deaths contradict Global estimates.
  • At present India needs to rely on global estimates rather than India-specific data.
  • This is because of poor data availability for COVID-19 excess deaths, India has been classified in category 3 countries by WHO.
  • Category 3 constitutes countries where the data on deaths are not available or usable. Hence, they are forced to adopt an indirect approach of using data from other countries.
  • So, to have a reliable estimate for India on Covid deaths, India needs to calculate Excess death at the District level by analyzing the data from the Civil Registration System (CRS).

What do the global estimates reveal about the Covid deaths?

As far as now two estimates have been released globally.

  • One, the World Mortality Dataset. It is the largest international dataset of all-cause mortality in 89 countries. According to this dataset, researchers conclude that excess mortality exceeds the number of reported COVID-19 deaths in these countries by over 1.6 times.
  • Two, The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). According to their findings, global COVID-19 deaths by May 3, 2021 is at 6.93 million. This is two times higher than the reported number of deaths of 3.24 million.
    • India accounted for about 10% of them at 6,54,395. This is about three times higher than the reported official figure.

What needs to be done?

India currently has only crude estimates based on the number of extra deaths reported as compared to previous years. To improve the accuracy of Covid death estimation, we need to do the following.

  • First, before estimating excess deaths a probable baseline should be defined. It can be done by estimating the mean and standard error based on data for the last five years to provide a probable range for a baseline.
  • Second, Civil Registration System (CRS) data of districts with an acceptable quality of registration should be analyzed to estimate the excess deaths in a given period.
    • Since there are enormous differences in the severity and timing of the epidemic and its health system capacity within India combining data at higher levels is likely to lead to errors in estimation
  • Third, for districts that lack an acceptable quality of registration, we could use alternative approaches.
  • Finally, the long-term way out for India is to address the data limitations while academics work on refining their statistical approaches.

West Asia’s Diplomatic Resets

Source: The Hindu

Gs2: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Synopsis: Factors responsible for the diplomatic engagements between West Asian rivals and India’s opportunity to assist West Asia in providing regional security.

Background

  • In the last few months, many West Asian nations have made efforts to bridge their diplomatic ties with their rival nations.
    • One, the most significant one is the recent interaction between Saudi and Iranian officials.
    • Two, the removal of the diplomatic and economic blockade on Qatar that was imposed by Saudi Arabia.
    • Three, similarly, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, Qatar has made efforts to bridge ties with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
    • Four, most recently Turkey and Egypt had their first diplomatic meeting in Cairo after they had broken diplomatic ties in 2013.
  • Diplomatic engagements have provided an opportunity for countries, to address their differences. It could realign the existing regional alignments and possibly end ongoing conflicts.

What are the reasons for resetting diplomatic ties between rival west Asian countries?

  • First, the change in the U.S. approach towards West Asian affairs is a major factor compelling the need for diplomatic engagements. Some Changed US approaches are,
    • One, US’s non-lenient approach towards Saudi Arabia. For instance, the US has called for closer scrutiny of its human rights record and has strongly opposed the war in Yemen. Egypt too has concerns on the human rights issue,
    • Two, appeasing attitude towards Iran. The US could re-enter the nuclear agreement and sanctions on Iran could be revoked.
    • Three, increasing distrust in U.S – Turkey relations. Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has built close ties with Russia, while threatening U.S. allies in Syria, the Kurds, with military force. Compounding to the problem, the US recognition of the Armenian “genocide” has created more distrust between the two allies.
    • Fourth, S decision to depart away from its responsibility of providing regional security to West Asian nations. The US wants regional states to be responsible for their regional security.
  • Second, the novel coronavirus pandemic is devastating West Asia. The epidemic has severely damaged regional economies and has impacted oil prices creating uncertainties for the producer states.
  • Third, the West Asian nations have recognised that Peaceful resolution of disputes is the better solution. For instance, the ongoing regional conflicts, in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, despite the massive death and destruction, have yielded no military outcome The priority for Saudi Arabia is to end the Yemen conflict.
  • Fourth, conflicts impose huge economic costs on Nations. For instance, Iran’s role in Syria costs its exchequer a few billion dollars every month. Whereas Saudi Arabia has spent several hundred billion dollars in buying weaponry to sustain its partnership with the U.S.

Opportunity for India

  • Currently, West Asian nations are preparing to negotiate their strategic interests without outside intrusion.
  • However, given that the regional contentions are inter-connected, third-party facilitators are needed to promote mutual confidence and prepare the ground for a comprehensive regional security arrangement.
  • This arrangement will have provisions for participating states to uphold regional peace and promote mutually beneficial cooperation in energy, economic and logistical connectivity areas.
  • Given India’s close ties with all the regional states, India is well-placed to build an association of like-minded states with Japan, Russia, South Korea to shape the West Asian peace process

Misuse of Sedition law in India

Source- The Hindu

Syllabus- GS 2 – Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Synopsis – Unwarranted arrest of MP in Andhra Pradesh is another example of the misuse of the Sedition law in India relating to exciting disaffection against the government.

Introduction-

  • Section 124-A [which deals with sedition law] has been misused in a number of cases in India. One of them is the unwarranted arrest of K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju, an MP from Andhra Pradesh.
  • Raju was arrested for allegedly acting in a manner that harmed the state government’s reputation.
  • He has been charged under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups), and 505 (conducing public mischief).

What is the sedition act and the issues related to it?

Section 124A of the IPC, which deals with sedition states – Any offense committed with the intent to bring hatred or contempt or attempt to spread disaffection toward the government, shall be punished.

Punishment under sedition law- Sedition is a non-bailable offense. The punishment under the law varies from imprisonment up to three years to a life term and fine.

Issues with the act-

  • Against fundamental right to speech – The law often goes against the fundamental right to free speech and expressions. Which are essential parts of democracy. The sedition law has a chilling effect on people who think and speak freely.
    • For example- Raju was accused of only speech-based offenses relating to his diatribe against his party leader and CM.
  • Sedition law is a relic of colonial legacy – The law of sedition [British legacy] is an outdated and archaic rule that stands in the way of the Constitution’s provision of freedom of speech.
  • Low conviction rate- Most cases that are filed do not end in a conviction if Section 124A is applied.
  • The sedition law is overly wide and loosely defined- The terminology used under Section 124-A, such as disaffection, is unclear and open to multiple interpretations depending on the investigating officers.

How K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju’s arrest was unjust?

According to the Supreme Court’s Arnesh Kumar judgment (2014), there is no need to arrest someone for a crime that carries a sentence of seven years or less.

  • Prison time for Sections 153A and Sections 505 is less than seven years.
  • And Sections 124A (sedition), which has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, also prescribes an alternative jail term of three years.

Way forward-

  • The definition of sedition should be narrowed down and properly defined.
  • Section 124A should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech and expression and it would be even more protective of free speech if the Centre abolished the provision.

Factly :-News Articles For UPSC Prelims | 18 May, 2021

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