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. Kerala’s Covid puzzle grows more worrisome
In vaccination the state has done well, with 20.9% of the 18+ population fully vaccinated, next only to Himachal Pradesh’s 21.1%, and way ahead of India’s 9.9%.
But Kerala’s continuing high incidence of Covid cases has been a worry. It recorded 1,10,593 fresh cases in the last seven days, not only amounting to 41% of all cases in the country but also registering a sharp 15.7% surge over the previous week.
Experts who have been arguing in favour of the state’s infection management, cite more robust testing than other states, plus point to hospital and ICU capacity not being under pressure.
But the problem is that despite Kerala’s high vaccination, this is the first time in seven weeks that any state in the country has reported over 1 lakh fresh cases in a week ending Sunday. Current CFR also exceeds 1% in many districts now.
Adding to the puzzle, the fourth ICMR serosurvey has found that only 42.7% of people have antibodies in Kerala as compared to the all-India figure of 67.6%. This suggests that despite the sustained higher infection rate than the country, the virus has made lesser inroads here.
Aren’t these ideal conditions for more mutations? Are variants playing here in a distinct way? Do first dose vaccinations need to be prioritised to cover a wider population? Why haven’t the state’s lockdowns been working? Genome sequencing and other research needs to be intensified to answer these questions. The state government and Centre need to work together on this.
2.Spooky change: Intelligence agencies need parliamentary oversight. Let that be the post-Pegasus consensus
Amidst the political slugfest over Pegasus, Congress MP Manish Tewari has revived his private members’ bill to give legal backing and parliamentary oversight to intelligence and security agencies, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO). The idea, first mooted by Tewari in 2011, is excellent and merits cross-party support. In a democracy, it is essential for these agencies to be accountable to the public through the legislature, rather than report to the executive alone.
Take the case of IB. It was set up in 1887 through an administrative order by a British official. Today, 134 years later, there is no constitutional or statutory backing for IB, or even a formal charter, apart from a law in 1985 restricting some of its rights. There’s no independent oversight or external scrutiny. It is essential to lay out an intelligence agency’s remit, the range of actions permitted to the minister it reports to, and protections for the agency’s director. There must be institutional safeguards to allow officials to refuse unreasonable instructions from the political executive.
Of course, secrecy is needed for security and intelligence work. But in democracies, safeguards to prevent illegal or dubious practices are as important. For example, there has to be clear demarcation between public duties and information-gathering that looks political in nature or seems ultra vires of constitutional liberties.
All over the world, it was scandals and rights abuses that spurred change. In mid-1970s, shocked by CIA spying, the US enacted oversight mechanisms, including congressional scrutiny. Australia and Canada followed suit in 1980s. In Canada, for instance, ministerial instructions have to be put in writing and made available to the oversight committee, in Australia, to an independent inspector-general who also reports to the leader of the opposition.
Parliamentary oversight doesn’t mean the whole House. A specialised parliamentary committee to exercise systematic and focussed oversight is what India needs. In the US, congressional intelligence committees, which work within a ring of secrecy, must be informed in advance of special operations. In the UK, the intelligence and security committee’s oversight is limited to policy and finance, in Norway, to matters of human rights and the rule of law. India would do well to follow the US model.
Given intelligence agencies’ enormous new powers of surveillance, and the atmosphere of political polarisation and mutual distrust, it is crucial that India’s espiocrats re-establish their credibility as well as their neutrality.
3.A climate risk: On extreme weather events
Only proper planning can insure against the inevitable extremities of nature
The monsoon is nearing its halfway mark and July, which is among the rainiest months, began with a rainfall deficit but has since seen a revival. For most of last week, all-India rainfall has been over 50% more than what is normal for this time of the year. Many regions in the Konkan coast and the southern peninsula have been seeing instances of extreme rainfall. According to India Meteorological Department (IMD) data on the regional distribution, the ‘South Peninsula’ has seen 29% more rain from June 1-July 25 than what is normal for this period. Rainfall in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra, was torrential enough to beat its all-time record, according to the IMD. The monsoon is characterised by unexpected variability that forecast models can capture only in a limited way. However, much evidence is accumulating that there is a distinctive change in climate patterns. The frequency and the strength of cyclones over the Arabian Sea have increased in the last two decades. There has been a 52% increase in the frequency of cyclones over the Arabian Sea from 2001-2019 and an 8% decrease over the Bay of Bengal compared to 1982-2002, when, historically, most cyclones have been in the Bay of Bengal, according to a new study in Climate Dynamics.
Even the duration of these cyclones has increased by 80%. More cyclones are bringing in more moisture from the Arabian Sea and contributing to extreme rainfall events over the western coast, the most recent example being cyclone Tauktae in May, which at 185 kilometres per hour was among the strongest cyclones to approach Mumbai. They drive storm surges that flood the coast. Studies show that a heating globe has increased atmospheric moisture levels, contributing to short, intense spells of rains. The interaction between warming, rainfall and temperature is complex and variables such as aerosol emissions, particulate matter pollution, agriculture and forestry patterns must be accounted for. However, the broader picture is that extreme events — bursts of torrential localised rainfall and prolonged droughts and heatwaves — are likely to increase, making the role of accurate forecasts that are able to warn of such events at least three to five days ahead even more important. But the bigger challenge is to undertake so-called climate-proofing of the most vulnerable regions and taking warnings of scientific risk assessment seriously. Evacuations ahead of a flood or a cyclone are not always effective and what is needed is limited construction in places that have been marked vulnerable. Just as it is possible to plan earthquake-resilient structures and site them scientifically, but hard to anticipate a major quake, similarly, proper planning can insure against the inevitable extremities of nature. International climate change agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions will yield benefits only in the very long term but what is done in the near future will mean the difference between surviving and thriving.
4. Money changer: On need for an official digital currency
India needs to move forward on introducing an official digital currency
In contrast to India’s continued ambiguity over the legality of cryptocurrencies, its stance on introducing an official digital currency has been reassuringly clear and consistent over time. And, four years after an inter-ministerial committee recommended that India launch fiat money in digital form, the Reserve Bank of India has indicated that pilot projects to figure out its viability are likely to be launched soon. In a speech a few days ago, T. Rabi Sankar, Deputy Governor, RBI, said, “RBI is currently working towards a phased implementation strategy and examining use cases which could be implemented with little or no disruption.” The clarity is welcome, given that the much-awaited Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, is yet to be introduced. In recent years, the significant rise of private cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether has spooked central banks throughout the world, and pushed the case for official digital currencies. Mr. Rabi Sankar himself cited a 2021 BIS survey of central banks, which found that 86% were actively researching the potential for such currencies, 60% were experimenting with the technology, and 14% were deploying pilot projects. China, having already engaged in pilot projects for its digital RMB, is in fact planning a major roll-out soon. There has been little doubt, therefore, that India needs a digital rupee. The important questions are about the details and the timeline.
There are crucial decisions to be made about the design of the currency with regards to how it will be issued, the degree of anonymity it will have, the kind of technology that is to be used, and so on. It is possible that the question of the degree of anonymity, especially, will be quite a challenging one. While official digital currencies can borrow the underlying technology feature of private cryptocurrencies, they significantly differ from the latter in their philosophy and goals. Also to be considered are possible impacts of the introduction of an official digital currency on people, the monetary policy, and the banking system. There are risks to be considered as well, not the least of which will be those emerging from cyberattacks. What is more, many laws need to be amended to make the digital rupee a reality. So, while India might have done exceedingly well in digital payments in recent years — the Deputy Governor said they have grown at a compounded annual growth rate of 55% over the last five years — the digital rupee will be something else altogether. Notwithstanding all these challenges, it would seem that the answer to Mr. Rabi Sankar’s speech title, ‘Central Bank Digital Currency – Is This the Future of Money’, is a yes.
5. Two parties, one challenge
From Uttar Pradesh to Punjab, Karnataka to Rajasthan, the BJP and the Congress are attempting to manage state units with an eye on the next election and generational transition, while ensuring Delhi’s writ runs.
A month ago, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress were struggling with the political situation in two states where they were the governing party. In Uttar Pradesh, the management of the second wave triggered criticism of chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath; there was also criticism of his governance style and alleged patronage to certain castes. The BJP national leadership let the controversy play out, uncharacteristically, in public view. But eventually, it backed Mr Adityanath’s continuation as CM while making some adjustments, both at the central and state level, to accommodate leaders of other castes. With this, it hopes to tap into both the incumbency vote (in favour of the CM) as well as the vote of the discontented (who may be disenchanted with the CM but have faith in the prime minister).
In Punjab, the acrimonious battle between CM Captain Amarinder Singh and rebel Navjot Singh Sidhu played out, with the national leadership allowing Mr Sidhu to undermine the CM. Eventually, a power-sharing formula was imposed with Mr Sidhu appointed as party chief. With this, the Congress too hopes to tap into both the pro-incumbency vote (of supporters of Captain Singh) and the anti-incumbency vote (with Mr Sidhu doubling up both as party chief but also chief dissenter against the state government). While the context is different, the BJP’s formula is cleaner to execute — back the CM, while ensuring the PM is seen as above the fray. The Congress’s formula is harder to execute — since the CM has to deal with an official rival in the same party structure.