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. A perpetual war: On dilemmas of ending U.S’s ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan
U.S. should have backed Afghan govt. more instead of pushing hard to engage the Taliban
The dilemmas of ending the U.S.’s ‘forever war’ appeared to fall heavily upon the shoulders of President Joe Biden, who is now helming his country’s rush for the exit before the self-imposed deadline of September 11, 2021, the 20-year anniversary of the WTC terror attacks. While he clearly signalled his intention to remain engaged with the war-torn country by meeting, in the first instance, Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, and Chairman of its High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, at the White House this week, the U.S.’s troop withdrawal since May 1, 2021, in a sense signals the opposite intention. There is no mistaking the Taliban’s reaction, especially to Washington’s plan to wind down its Afghan military presence. Ever since February 29, 2020, when the U.S. and the Taliban signed the Doha “agreement for bringing peace” to Afghanistan, Taliban-linked violence has risen steadily, U.S. intelligence reports have assessed that al-Qaeda still has a presence in Afghanistan and the terrorist outfit’s decades-long ties with the Taliban have been undiminished. Meanwhile the situation on the ground is far from inspiring for anyone who hopes for peace in the region. Facing tepid resistance from the ANDSF, now with ever-reducing access to U.S. air support, the Taliban have managed to fight, hold on to and even take back the territories from the government.
This reality begs the question of what new vortexes of violence, terrorist havens and other sources of regional instability Afghanistan might play host to now, and whether the U.S. and western powers will retain enough influence to prevent events in this regard from spiralling out of control. Closer to home, a sense of concern must be pervading South Block as the last U.S. troop carriers lift off from Bagram, potentially allowing agents linked to Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment a freer hand to engage with extremist elements in Afghan with possible blowback for India. What will become of New Delhi’s long-sighted, soft-power investments into education, training and infrastructure and civil society development? Had the U.S. played a consistently strong hand supporting the Afghan government instead of pushing as hard as it did to engage the Taliban, that might have delayed Washington’s exit plans but provided more leeway for the ANDSF to push harder and take enough territory to weaken the Taliban’s overall strategic grip. Given the prospect of the ANDSF’s fragmentation — already occurring in some areas — it now appears more likely that a deal may be forged between the Taliban and powerbrokers once associated with the Afghan government. This could lead to a Taliban-centric religious council that sets an overall tenor of governance based on Islamic law yet permits a semi-autonomous executive governmental power to operate within that framework.
2.A time to give: On ex-gratia compensation to families of COVID-19 victims
Families who lost breadwinners in COVID-19 need supportive policies and a safety net
The Centre’s stated position before the Supreme Court on paying a standard ex gratia compensation to families of those who died of COVID-19 shows poor appreciation of the fallout of an unprecedented disaster. After initially asserting that such payments were beyond the Government’s fiscal affordability, although there is a provision in the Disaster Management Act for compensation, and externalising the pandemic as a global, ongoing event, the Home Ministry has now averred that the issue was the manner in which funds were to be put to use. Clearly, lack of resources would be a legless argument when the Centre is pursuing expensive redevelopment projects such as the Central Vista. What the Government says it wants to do is to deploy funds in health care, enhance social protection and support economic recovery of affected communities, rather than give one-time compensation payments (₹4 lakh) or notified ex gratia sought by the petitioners. There is nothing wrong in keeping the focus on provision of essential supplies and additional health infrastructure. In fact, the second wave peak was made considerably worse by poor health infrastructure and low public health expenditure, and a policy failure recorded by the Economic Survey which called for higher public spending of 2.5%-3% of GDP on health. But lending a helping hand to families now impoverished should also be a priority. The Centre, after tying itself in knots on free vaccines, should now spell out its road map for a universal public health system.
The annual Budget included a raft of schemes under COVID-19 initiatives and claimed credit for Atmanirbhar Bharat packages, which, together with the RBI’s ameliorative steps, officially amounted to 13% of GDP. But the “above-the-line” relief in terms of health care and social protection, including cash transfers, are a small share of other spending such as credit provision to several sectors, as per some estimates. The IMF analysis of policy responses says that early in the pandemic, food, fuel and cash transfers to lower-income households came to 1.2% of GDP. With the second wave marked by many deaths and nationwide closures, a review of direct benefits is urgently called for. In court, the Home Ministry has said that confining solutions to compensation would be narrow. It is no one’s case that large direct cash benefits are the only good interventions. Families who have lost breadwinners need help while orphaned children need support. It also does not help that India’s pension system is weakening, bank deposits have low yields and official policy expects people to essentially fend for themselves. The Centre should not hesitate to review its tax basket to rely more on the wealthiest to compensate those who have been hit the hardest.
3.Non-Congress opposition unity faces too many hindrances but Sharad Pawar can be expected to keep trying
The “Rashtriya Manch” meeting to which non-BJP, non-Congress leaders and other prominent individuals have been invited could mark an early attempt to cobble a third front. The idea of a third front has been a non-starter ever since the decline of the Janata Dal as a national presence, and its fracturing into several regional parties. But ambitious CMs like Mamata Banerjee and K Chandrashekar Rao have talked up the idea in the run-up to Lok Sabha elections, only to find little traction for their efforts.
If the Sharad Pawar-Yashwant Sinha-led confabulations do make headway, it would mark a definitive change in the political landscape. The next Lok Sabha elections are another 33 months away. But the country is missing a solid national opposition. Regional parties putting up some kind of unity at the national level looks improbable now, given that their governments need to work with the Centre.
Even poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who had a meeting with Pawar, is reportedly cool to the idea of a third or fourth front. Given BJP’s single party dominance and the bipolar Congress-BJP politics in a dozen or so states, regional parties are too scattered to be seen as a credible national alternative. Since Ahmed Patel’s demise, the Gandhi family has been isolated further from the larger opposition spectrum.
In this scenario, Pawar and Sinha appear to have decided that someone must take the initiative for broadening opposition unity given Congress’s comatose condition. But if a critical mass of non-Congress parties do show interest, their next challenge would be to rope in Congress and resolve the militating interests of Congress and regional parties. But having stunned BJP with the Maha Vikas Aghadi, Pawar’s consummate talents in the art of coalition building will be watched keenly in the months ahead.
4.Health of the nation: Covid has shown what medical expenses can do to poor & even middle class. Govts must act at micro, macro levels
With detected Covid cases touching 3 crore, it is entirely possible that many lakh citizens needed hospitalisation over the last year. Last month, the General Insurance Council revealed that insurers had received over 15 lakh claims. But this could just be a fraction of total claims that come in. And lakhs more would have availed treatment without the benefit of insurance. The 2017-18 NSO survey on healthcare had pointed out that more than 80% of Indians had no health insurance cover. The same report also revealed that just 42% of patients sought in-patient treatment at government hospitals, pointing to the extent of private care dependence for low-income Indians.
This newspaper, yesterday, highlighted a marginal farmer’s widow, Sunita Paswan, saddled with a Rs 2.5 lakh debt after fruitlessly shifting him to a private hospital because a Muzaffarpur government hospital had no bed. The last earning from the farm’s harvest was just Rs 18,000 – highlighting terrible odds Sunita now faces. Even the insured middle class have had to dip into their pockets with insurers disallowing claims for many aspects of Covid treatment in private hospitals like consumables (masks, gloves, PPEs etc) and various operating expenses. Even pre-Covid, out of pocket expenditure (OOP) on healthcare trumped government spending 2:1.
Not just most developed countries but even some emerging economies like Brazil, Cuba, South Africa and Turkey have much lower OOP than India. Clearly, India needs to improve both public health and insurance coverage. Since the 2018 NSO survey, Centre’s PM-JAY has enrolled 16 crore households. But its effectiveness during this pandemic is in question after RTI replies revealed that PM-JAY has performed abysmally in many states with UP, Bihar, Gujarat, Punjab and Jharkhand the worst culprits.
For too long, most parts of India have underspent on public health. In 2018, just 4% of those who received in-patient medical care in Bihar government hospitals received free medicines against 89% in Tamil Nadu. One of every five BPL households blamed medical expenditure for their plight. The latest Economic Survey also pointedly warned government of healthcare costs driving people to poverty, while suggesting a rise in public healthcare budgets to 3% of India’s GDP. Given India’s current unemployment crisis, such a boost in spending will also create lakhs of healthcare jobs. While Centre has rejected a PIL seeking Rs 4 lakh compensation for the Covid dead, governments must make an effort to figure out Covid hospitalisation-related indebtedness, and make special payments for most deserving cases. And if this crisis doesn’t spur greater public health expenditure, we truly wonder what will.