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.Vital relief: On COVID-19 death compensation
The court-mediated decision for COVID-19 death compensation will help the poorest
It took an assertive Supreme Court to persuade a reluctant Centre, and in a welcome turn of events, families of those who died of COVID-19 are to get ex gratia financial relief of ₹50,000 per deceased individual within 30 days of submitting the necessary documents. The staggering impact of the pandemic cannot be meaningfully addressed with a token sum, but it nevertheless provides immediate succour to families that have lost breadwinners and productive members. No other scourge in living memory has taken a toll of tens of thousands of lives in 18 months, although India has high chronic and invisible mortality due to disease and road traffic accidents. As of September 13, WHO recorded 4,45,768 COVID-19 deaths in India and 3,35,31,498 confirmed cases, indicating that the current ex gratia outlay would be of the order of ₹2,300 crore. The relief amount proposed by the National Disaster Management Authority is to be paid out of the State Disaster Response Fund, which represents a dedicated facility to deal with notified disasters, including COVID-19; State authorities will create a people-friendly claims mechanism. Fresh audits and recertification of deaths have become an important factor, given the move by several States to keep virus mortality numbers low, attribute a significant number of deaths to co-morbidities rather than the infection, and the indisputable undercounting of lives lost in the two phases of the pandemic.
The ex gratia payment decision puts the issue of compensation on a sound footing, and provides clarity for future cases, but the task before the States is to ensure that the process is easy, accurate and empathetic. It should be possible for such claimants to submit a simple form electronically. More challenging will be the issue of resolving cases where the medical certification of cause of death has not acknowledged it as COVID-19. In fact, such disputes have already entered the realm of litigation, with families seeking judicial relief, because doctors refuse proper certification and cite underlying conditions of patients based on Government instructions. Also, the Centre must consider providing additional compensation in the future, treating COVID-19 on a par with other disasters such as cyclones, major accidents, building collapses and industrial mishaps, where the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund has been sanctioning ₹2 lakh for death and ₹50,000 for serious injury. In a positive move, the demand for inclusion of COVID-19 cases for compensation where people took their own lives due to mental agony has been accepted. Going forward, the Centre must now quickly set up risk insurance for disasters as suggested by the XV Finance Commission, to which States will readily contribute.
2.Another grouping: On AUKUS
AUKUS presents both challenges and opportunities for India as a Quad member
In its first reaction to AUKUS, the new partnership between Australia, the U.S. and the U.K., India has made it clear that it does not welcome the announcement, nor does it wish to link AUKUS to Indian interests. Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said that AUKUS, which was launched a week before the first in-person summit of leaders of the Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Quadrilateral, will not affect plans to strengthen the Quad. He called them two very different groupings, describing AUKUS as a security alliance, and indicating that security is not the Quad’s main focus. Brushing aside criticism from China and Iran on the plans within the partnership for the U.S. and the U.K. to develop nuclear-propelled submarines for Australia, he said that India does not see AUKUS as nuclear proliferation. But New Delhi has noticed the protests from others, especially France, that has lost a lucrative submarine deal in the bargain, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to reach out to their French counterparts. France has recalled its Ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, accusing them of betrayal by negotiating their defence partnership with the U.K., and without informing European allies. The EU and ASEAN countries have been reserved in their reactions. U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have now spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron, but it remains to be seen whether the damage to ties can be reversed.
Given the different reactions and widespread impact of the AUKUS partnership, India’s non-committal note is not surprising. There are two sides to it. The promising possibilities of the alliance include strengthening the Quad’s agenda to keep the Indo-Pacific region free, open and inclusive. The alliance could also extend itself to bolstering the Quad’s efforts on maritime exercises, security and efforts in countering COVID-19, climate change, cooperating on critical technologies, and building resilient supply chains. More broadly, the U.S.’s three-fold messaging on AUKUS seems to be in line with India’s hopes: that “America is back” after four years of retrenchment from global issues; is as engaged with its Indo-Pacific flank as it is with its Transatlantic flank, and is focused on partnerships with fellow democracies in particular. But the concerns over AUKUS are considerable too: that the timing of the announcement of the deal just before the Quad leaders meet could overshadow the latter, and also signal that the U.S. is relegating the Quad to less substantive issues in the Indo-Pacific. With the sudden announcement of AUKUS, a worry for New Delhi is that the U.S. is now promoting a security partnership with its “Anglo-Saxon” treaty allies that it is excluded from, possibly upsetting the balance of power in the region, and setting off new tensions to India’s east, adding to the substantial turbulence in India’s west caused by the developments in Afghanistan.
3.In poll-bound states, the challenge for the Congress
In Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Goa and Uttarakhand, the party faces stiff challenges ahead of the next year’s assembly elections. To be taken seriously in 2024, the Congress needs to get 2022 right.The Congress has been focused on Punjab, with good reason. Among the states going to polls early next year — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab — it is only in the north Indian state that the party is in power. While it has picked a new Dalit chief minister (CM), the party’s mismanagement of the transition — Captain Amari-nder Singh is upset, and there are factions jostling for leadership — will add to its electoral challenge.
But it is not just Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress continues to suffer from institutional, ideological and political challenges — and the latest symbol of its mismanagement is the exit of Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, a former legislator, and a great gran-dson of one of the party’s tallest leaders in the state, Kamalapati Tripathi. It hasn’t been able to develop a core vote in the state, and whether it is indeed able to improve its 2017 performance — when it won seven of the 403 seats in the assembly — is open to question. In Manipur, an old Congress stronghold, the BJP picked a former Congress leader, N Biren Singh, and made him CM in 2017. Given the delicate balance between the tribal and non-tribal areas, and the role of resources in polls, the Congress begins as the underdog despite internal cleavages in the BJP.
In Uttarakhand, logically, after the BJP has had to change three CMs in six months, the Congress should have been a natural alternative. But Harish Rawat, the possible CM face, is busy dousing fires in Punjab and the Aam Aadmi Party has made some inroads. In Goa, where, once again the BJP is facing anti-incumbency, the Congress is finding it hard to present itself as a credible alternative given a majority of its legislators moved to the ruling party in the last five years. To be taken seriously in 2024, the Congress needs to get 2022 right.
4.Rarefied standards: WHO’s new air pollution goals show how far India is. But let’s also accept the reality of growth challenge
WHO’s decision to revise air quality guidelines making them more stringent compared to its earlier 2005 standards, virtually sounds a global air pollution emergency. According to the international health body, each year over 7 million deaths globally are linked to air pollution. For India, the national capital territory of Delhi alone had at least 57,000 deaths due to air pollution last year. In fact, Delhi’s mean average PM2.5 for 2020 exceeded the earlier WHO standards by eight times – it will be a whopping 17 times higher than the new safe limits.The story is repeated for other cities, with Mumbai now exceeding the standards by eight times, Kolkata 9.4 times and Chennai 5.4 times. Hence, there’s no denying that both Indian air quality standards and pollution mitigation measures need to be strengthened. In fact, new WHO guidelines should inform the ongoing exercise to revise Indian air quality benchmarks. That said, developing countries like India also need to balance economic growth and pollution mitigation goals. Thus, blindly following the WHO standards isn’t feasible.
Besides, switching to a greener economy is expensive. As noted investment strategist and columnist Ruchir Sharma wrote in these pages recently, materials needed for building green power sources – lithium-ion batteries and copper-based green electrification – are themselves subject to environment regulation and are therefore costly to produce. The result is ‘greenflation’ where supply of green energy sources becomes cost prohibitive. At the end of the day, fighting air pollution is a subset of climate change mitigation efforts. And the rich world, which bears the greatest historical emission responsibilities, can’t expect climate change mitigation without transferring substantial technology and finance to the developing world. But India, better placed than most low-middle income countries in terms of technological capacity, should develop its own green tech.
5.Compensating death: Ex gratia for Covid victim kin raises many thorny questions, fiscally and ethically
With the National Disaster Management Authority recommending Rs 50,000 as ex gratia compensation to the kin of Covid victims to be paid from the State Disaster Response Fund, an administrative challenge awaits state governments. India’s official Covid death toll is inching close to 4.5 lakh signifying a payout of nearly Rs 2,250 crore from the state kitty. GoI contributes 75% to each state’s SDRF except for hill states and NE states, where its share is 90%. There are a number of questions.First, the ex gratia order doesn’t account for patchy certification of Covid deaths, particularly during the virulent second wave. Poorer citizens were most often the victims of this process. Ex gratia payments will most likely elude them. Second, even if the Rs 29,983 crore corpus addition to SDRF this fiscal seems adequate for ex gratia payments, it needs to be kept in mind that expenses related to recurring notified disasters such as droughts and floods will also have to be met. Therefore, a potential outcome is that perverse incentives can creep in. In a year of fiscal stress, undercounting of Covid deaths may continue. That will be particularly unfair to vulnerable citizens.Third, there’s the issue whether ex gratia should have been limited to poorer citizens, just like welfare benefits are. Neither SC nor GoI seems to have given this a thought. A Rs 50,000 payout for a daily wager’s family can make a real difference, not so for a senior corporate executive’s family. Fourth, some opposition-governed states are saying the Centre has passed the buck. Given that ex gratia here is open-ended, and no one knows how the pandemic will play out, the Centre may think of creating a special fund for this.
Fifth, there’s also the question why other disease-related deaths should not attract ex gratia payments. In a country with poor public health and extremely unequal access to quality private healthcare, Covid wasn’t the first and won’t be the last disease that can cause deaths on a large scale. Should there be compulsory ex gratia for all widespread disease-related deaths? Covid was declared a disaster. What about a massive outbreak of another disease? How will states, or even the Centre, fund such compensation when there are so many other calls on the public purse? Perhaps, governments will take this SC order as an incentive for improving public health and therefore lowering payouts. Or, given this is the Indian state, perhaps not.