News & Events
In this section, we are presenting our readers/aspirants compilation of selected editorials of national daily viz. The Hindu, The live mint,The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, PIB etc. This section caters the requirement of Civil Services Mains (GS + Essay) , PCS, HAS Mains (GS + Essay) & others essay writing competition.
1. Losing trust: On K.P. Sharma Oli and Nepal politics
Despite Mr. Oli’s loss, Nepal’s Opposition is still divided over an alternative government
Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s loss of a trust vote in Parliament on Monday comes at a particularly crucial time. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has not only ravaged India but has also begun to affect its landlocked neighbour Nepal, leaving citizens reeling under oxygen shortages, spikes in the daily case load, and fatalities. Political instability is the last thing Nepal needs now, but the trust vote did little to resolve the issue of who will take over the role of leading the government. Mr. Oli won just 93 votes in the 271-strong House of Representatives where only 232 turned up to vote, with 124 voting against him and 15 members staying neutral. The leading party in the Opposition, the Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, with 61 members voted against Mr. Oli along with the Pushpa Kumar Dahal-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) with 49 votes. The Maoists had just recently de-merged from the Nepal Communist Party after a Supreme Court ruling de-recognised its merger with Mr. Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). Mr. Oli could not command the full support of his own party as the 28 legislator-strong Madhav Kumar Nepal-Jhalanath Khanal-led faction within the UML decided to remain absent from the House. Mr. Nepal had taken up the cudgels against Mr. Oli in the unified NCP along with Mr. Dahal, and had opposed Mr. Oli’s decision to dissolve Parliament — a move which was also struck down by the Supreme Court.
Even more intriguing was the vertical split in another Opposition party, the Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP) — the 15-member Baburam Bhattarai-Upendra Yadav faction voted against Mr. Oli while the 15-member Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato-led group decided to stay neutral. While Mr. Bhattarai and Mr. Yadav have taken a clear ideological position in line with their stated goal of a federally restructured Nepali state favourable to the plain-dwelling Madhesis — something that Mr. Oli had steadfastly opposed — the other faction is inclined to support Mr. Oli in order to wrest concessions for the Madhesis. The net effect of the trust vote was a loss of face for Prime Minister Oli, and yet it is not clear if an alternative government can be formed by the Opposition as things stand. Mr. Deuba enjoys support from the Maoists and the Bhattarai-Yadav faction of the JSP but it remains to be seen whether the Nepal-Khanal faction will decide to resign from Parliament to enable a victory for the NC. Nepal’s political class has been, more often than not, caught up in political tugs of war with frequent changes in regimes despite the people reposing their faith in democratic institutions through two “jan andolans” — the first removing absolute monarchy, and the second enabling a constitutional republic. At least now, when Nepal faces the onslaught of the novel coronavirus, the polity must rise to the occasion and work towards an alternative stable regime.
2.A matter of concern: On Indian coronavirus variant
New variants do not always merit changes in public health response, but keep people alert
The Indian variant, B.1.617 and its family of related coronaviruses have been categorised as a Variant of Concern (VOC) by WHO, a classification which will now prompt greater international scrutiny of those who test positive overseas. While there are several so-called ‘variants of interest’, only three, other than the B.1.617, have been categorised as VOC — the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), the South Africa variant (B.1.351) and the Brazilian variant (P2). Usually, in countries that detect emergent variants, it is the health authorities there who flag them as potential VOC. To qualify as one, the identified variant must be linked to increased transmission or be associated with more severe disease or found to be evading detection by diagnostic tests. Concerns that the B.1.617 may be playing a role in disease spread in India were expressed by scientists by mid-March. The INSACOG, or the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomic Consortia, had flagged a variant with two concerning mutations, E484Q and L452R, that separately had been found in other variants elsewhere. INSACOG said they now seemed to appear together on a variant that was linked to a large fraction of cases in Maharashtra and began to be called ‘double mutant’ or even ‘triple mutant’ (as it also had another important mutation, P614R).
In March nearly 20% of the cases out of Maharashtra, which has consistently been among the most afflicted States, were being linked to the variant. However, it was in early April that this variant became formally classified as a lineage, B.1.617. It was only after the U.K.’s labelling it as a VOC that it was called so by health authorities in India. In fact, unlike the United States’s CDC or Public Health England, India still does not have a classification criterion for labelling viruses as variants of interest, or concern. Classifying variants is not just a matter of mere academic interest. Based on the prevalence, some variants may go on to become the dominant strain in a region or multiple geographies. It then becomes the responsibility of vaccine companies to check whether their vaccines continue to be effective. Such studies have already begun in India, but while laboratory studies show that vaccines continue to be effective, some of the emerging variants do seem to be better at evading antibodies. Along with monitoring reinfections and cases of breakthrough infections (testing positive after being double inoculated), flagging variants must be seen as a crucial health response. Detecting newer variants does not always merit radical changes in public health response — such as masking up — but they go a long way in reminding people to continue being alert, viewing vaccines as an important defence but not a magic pill, and keeping health authorities on their toes.
3.The speedbreaker: Vaccine supply may trail demand for months. States must learn from Centre’s missteps
The gaping deficit between demand and supply after the new “liberalised” vaccination policy kicked off on May 1 appears unresolvable for now. Centre’s affidavit to Supreme Court suggests Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech can manufacture 8.5 crore doses a month, translating into a maximum daily capacity to administer roughly 28 lakh doses. On Monday, 24.3 lakh jabs were dispensed, signifying little scope for ramping up vaccination without more supplies.
By July, India’s monthly vaccine production may exceed 13 crore doses, offering potentially 40 lakh jabs daily. But this is of little consolation: Relying on now exhausted stockpiles India was inoculating at this pace in early April itself. Centre opened vaccination for the 18-44 age group “to respect the wishes of various state governments”. It’s a reminder of how information is a crucial policy good for society, because states had expressed such wishes with poor data on actual vaccine production. With only 10 crore persons in the 45-plus category having received their first doses, and even fewer 2.3 crore their second doses, immediate prospects are not good for the 59 crore population in the 18-44 group.
Had Centre backed its original plan to deliver 60 crore jabs by July end for priority groups with bulk upfront payments like other countries, the story could have been different. Signalling course correction, it has paid Rs 1,700 crore for 11 crore Covishield doses and Rs 772 crore for 5 crore Covaxin doses to be delivered in May, June and July. There are also 2 crore doses available in May for state governments to procure directly from vaccine makers. With Centre’s supply earmarked for priority groups returning for second doses, the under-45 group has some wait ahead. This must be communicated to them properly.
State governments must replicate Centre’s belated tack of advance payments for bulk orders to incentivise vaccine-makers to scale up rapidly. Grudging advance payments for vaccines is futile: The forbidding costs of lockdowns are reason enough to shed penny-wise-pound-foolish approaches. BMC and Odisha’s global tenders to import vaccines given the domestic shortage hold promise. The US, for instance, is already reporting supply gluts. Its Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, Novavax and AstraZeneca shots can help India. Meanwhile, China’s Sinopharm vaccine, approved by WHO unlike Covaxin, is gaining mileage. With India struggling to vaccinate rapidly, it must improve masking and social distancing. Let’s at least realise this low-cost safety.
4. Political rebirths: Even as Congress fades its erstwhile youth brigades shine. Even in recent assembly elections
The results this month of the five assembly elections had many interpretations and one common conclusion: Congress is in decline. But no one can say that the party isn’t a prized political finishing school. Three of the five CMs, Mamata Banerjee, Himanta Biswa Sarma and N Rangaswamy, cut their teeth in Congress. In West Bengal, both CM and leader of opposition once won elections on a Congress ticket. It can be safely said that even if Congress is fading, its erstwhile youth brigade shines.
For many of India’s leaders, politics is their soul. Their political journey is reminiscent of the foundational doctrine of Indic religions, samsara. Rebirth is always possible in another party and movement over time is cyclic. YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the Congress Lok Sabha MP from Kadapa in 2009, eventually became Andhra Pradesh’s CM in 2019, having led his regional party YSR Congress to victory. His neighbour, Telangana’s CM K Chandrashekar Rao, too has had an eventful journey through different parties before successfully launching one. Canny politicians have proven themselves to be more nimble than the party that may have provided the launch pad.
If Congress appears to be the ship that is leaking many stalwarts, it is not an exception. The current DMK government in Tamil Nadu has ministers who once served governments run by its principal rival AIADMK. In Gujarat, Shankersinh Vaghela migrated from BJP to Congress and kept moving. Sometimes, the movement has been cyclical. BS Yediyurappa, BJP’s first CM in a south Indian state, left for a while to form his own party. He eventually returned and is now once again the CM of Karnataka’s BJP government. A unique feature of Indian politics is a class of politicians whose success transcends that of their original parties.
5. Don’t dilute green safeguards
Last week, the environment ministry allowed companies in several industries to expand capacity, based on a self-certification that their operations will not increase the pollution load. This is in line with the amendments in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, in 2016 and 2020, which introduced the principles of “no increase in pollution load”, and exemption from seeking environment clearance if the resultant increase of production capacity was less than 50%.
This was expanded in a March 2021 notification, which allowed any amount of expansion — applicable to industries such as coal-washing, mineral processing, pesticides, fertilisers, and synthetic chemicals such as paint, cement, petrochemicals, and sugar, which already have a gigantic environmental footprint. This fast-track clearance can harm the environment as well as lives and livelihoods. Prior to these exemptions, an EIA could systematically examine both beneficial and adverse consequences of the project and plan for mitigation in the project-planning cycle. Importantly, the local communities had a chance to voice their opinions. An example is the Andaman water aerodrome project. The green assessment of this new project has established that the site for the construction of the terminal building and associate infrastructure will impact mangroves, which are natural green barriers, and that the local administration has no mitigation plan. A ministry panel has now raised questions, based on this EIA.