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Editorial Today (English)

in this section, we are presenting our readers/aspirants compilation of selected editorials of national daily viz. The Hindu, The livemint,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.Pandemic Gifts: Going Digital, Innovation

The latest edition of The Economic Times CEO Roundtable noted, discussing ‘The Road to Recovery: 2021 and Beyond’, how the pandemic has cemented and accelerated two trends that had been gathering momentum, albeit leisurely and sporadically: digitalisation and innovation.

The CEOs asserting these to be the major themes to emerge from the pandemic were four majors in manufacturing, Kumar Birla, Sanjiv Goenka, Nisaba Godrej and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw; four titans of tech, Vinod Khosla, Nandan Nilekani, Sundar Pichai and Shantanu Narayen, two wizards of finance, Sanjiv Bajaj and Zerodha founder Nithin Kamath, telecom service provider Sunil Mittal and business service provider Deloitte’s N Venkatram.

Combined, these worthies cover a huge swathe of the economy by direct presence or by enabling businesses. They concurred, for the most part, on most things. To begin with, the primary and urgent challenge to vaccinate everyone: five to 10 million people aday, so as to shield the population and burgeoning economic recovery from any new wave of infection spearheaded by mutant variants of the SarsCov-2 virus.

This must be accompanied by robust data management, to ensure that every vaccinated person can sport a valid, credible, digital certificate of having been vaccinated. Entirely doable, given the unprecedented scale of technological adaptation displayed across the economy in the wake of the pandemic.

The one area where panelists displayed at least a minor degree of disagreement was on regulation. While everyone agrees regulation is necessary in the areas of privacy, protecting freedom of expression from arbitrary censorship and competition, some would place the onus on corporate conduct to lead, because regulation always plays catch-up.

2.Finance Commission Cossets the Centre

The 15th Finance Commission’s wide-ranging recommendations will provide more fiscal space to the Centre without vastly raising the aggregate transfers from the Centre to the states. The commission estimates the share of grants and tax devolution to states in the Centre’s gross tax receipts at around 34%.

Devolutions from the divisible pool are 41%, against 42% in the Fourteenth Finance Commission’s award, adjusting for Jammu and Kashmir’s change of status from a state to two Union territories. Cesses and surcharges, which are outside the divisible pool, are estimated to be 18.4% of gross tax revenue between 2021-22 and 2025-26.

Instead of deploring this misappropriation of shareable resources by the Centre, the commission rationalises it. Given that the states account for almost 60% of the total government expenditure, they need more funds to fulfil their constitutional obligations in healthcare and education.

Not unexpectedly, the government has accepted in principle the commission’s recommendation to create a non-lapsable fund for defence that must be funded adequately. Monies to the fund must be allocated after devolution to states, and not earmarked from the gross tax collections by the Centre as that would lower the amounts devolved to states and curtail their capacity to spend further. Post-devolution revenue deficit grants to 17 states is welcome, as is the effort to encourage revenue effort at the state level.

States must collect user charges for water and electricity and raise collections from property taxes. They must also agree to bring petroleum, electricity duties, real estate and alcohol under goods and services tax. Extra borrowing leeway for states of 0.5% of GSDP from 2021-22 to 2024-25 subject to their meeting the criteria for power sector reforms is in order. It is also increasingly clear that fiscal deficit targets should leave room for countercyclical action. The government must overhaul the fiscal responsibility law, and set up an independent fiscal council, to keep government debt in check.

3.Assam’s choices: Will voters repose trust in BJP a second time, as they did with Congress thrice?

The 2016 Assam victory was a milestone kickstarting BJP’s Northeast juggernaut. Now the five-year election cycle has come full circle. Returning to voters, BJP’s performance will be compared with the three-term Tarun Gogoi government, credited with ushering stability into the strife torn state. Amid Congress struggling to regroup and BJP’s 2016 allies AGP and BPF losing steam, the government enjoyed a smooth sailing, except during anti-NRC-CAA protests. The Assam BJP also boasts of a peculiar arrangement where the No 2 in government, Himanta Biswa Sarma, enjoys a higher media profile than chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

Unlike BJP’s “double engine”, Congress’s next-gen leaders are missing Gogoi’s reassuring hand. Gogoi had pushed the “grand alliance” that Congress is laboriously stitching together with Badruddin Ajmal’s AUDF, three Left parties and new outfit AGM. With BJP preferring UPPL as its new Bodo partner, Congress is wooing BPF. Congress-AUDF seat sharing talks must reconcile with many constituencies where both have pockets of influence. Ajmal is a double edged sword for Congress; his presence allows BJP to play up religious polarisation to its advantage. In Telangana and Bihar, Congress’s “grand” alliances had sunk, bereft of chemistry. But with BJP expanding even into Bodoland, the risky alliance gamble could be Congress’s best bet.

Though BJP struggles with the CAA following the Assam NRC, it will be relieved at Congress’s half-hearted articulation of the two issues. CAA potentially offers amnesty to Bengali Hindus left out of the Assam NRC, but the ethnic rather than religious dimension of the illegal migration from Bangladesh was the original Assam flashpoint. BJP’s attempt to distinguish between Hindu and Muslim migration hasn’t impressed many. Not surprisingly, unlike in Bengal, BJP is soft pedalling CAA in Assam. Public opinion on NRC, which has left many Assamese stateless besides triggering corruption amid a desperate rush for documents, is also divided.

The NFHS-5 survey has revealed a clear improvement in institutional health facilities in the state between  2015-16 and 2019-20. But one startling finding was the increase in malnutrition among under-5 children. While Assam seems to have escaped the public health brunt of Covid, the economic fallout, especially for migrant workers who are a big denomination in the state, hasn’t become a talking point yet. The elections have also prompted a big infrastructure push by the Centre. Amid farm turmoil, the rare direct BJP-Congress fight is also an opportunity for both parties to dictate the national narrative

4.Make it happen: India-EU FTA can be achieved in phases. Early harvest is a practical step

A high level dialogue was held between India and the EU this month. It was an outcome of the 15th India-EU Leaders’ Summit held last July, when both sides decided to look for ways to revive stalled trade talks. The EU accounted for about 11% of India’s total trade in 2019, making it more important than China. In 2007, both sides tried to deepen trade ties through a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. After six years of toil, the negotiations were suspended due to “a gap in the level of ambition” between the two sides, according to the EU.

A couple of months ago, foreign minister S Jaishankar said the EU still appears reluctant. However, subsequent developments suggest that both sides have taken a practical approach towards a comprehensive FTA. Work is on to reach an interim agreement, or early harvest. This approach will help iron out potential irritants – the EU is a complainant against India at WTO on a tariff issue and has also flagged India’s switch to raising tariff barriers at a WTO review meeting this year. Both sides have a lot to gain by moving past these issues towards tighter economic integration.

India opted out of RCEP in 2019 as it felt its concerns were not addressed. Since then, others have closed the deal. RCEP will impact India as it creates conditions for a tighter integration of East Asian economies. In this backdrop, we should pursue a close integration with the EU as there is greater complementarity between India and Europe. More trade and export orientation is the key to moving India to a higher trajectory of economic growth. Closer integration with the EU will also help Indian firms access better technology. Much has changed since the two sides began negotiations. If anything, the case for an FTA is stronger than ever.

5. When Mr Biden called Mr Modi

In their first conversation after Joe Biden took over as the 46th President of the United States (US), Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and Mr Biden reiterated their commitment to a strong India-US relationship. At a time when there is some concern in New Delhi about the Biden admin-istration’s approach to China, both the US and Indian statements on the conversation highlight the strategic convergence on a free and open Indo-Pacific. Indeed, the White House statement goes a step further in suggesting that the two leaders agreed on the principles of freedom of navigation, territorial integrity and building a strong regional architecture through Quad. This is good news for India, for it is this strategic alignment on China that has driven deeper security, intelligence and defence ties between the two countries.

The two leaders also spoke about democracy being a binding factor between the two countries. While the Indian readout of the conversation mentioned that the relationship is “firmly anchored in a shared commitment to democratic values”, besides strategic interests, the US statement was more explicit — with President Biden underscoring his “desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world”. Once again, this is good news, for it is democracies which must stand at the forefront of battling the authoritarian model presented by China. But this also means that the quality of Indian democracy will emerge in bilateral discussions. The State Department statement on the farm protests last week and the discussion held by the India Caucus on the Hill show that India will have to more effectively underline its democratic credentials to allay apprehensions. Given that the US statement mentioned Myanmar, and India’s did not, there is also a possibility of differences on how to approach democracy promotion in the region and beyond.

The two sides also agreed to collaborate more deeply on climate. Mr Biden will find that India’s position has shifted quite radically from the time he was last in office when New Delhi was viewed as a reluctant partner — India has stopped being defensive on climate and worked on its Paris commitments seriously. And finally, counter-terrorism will continue to rank high on the list of priorities, and the US must internalise that this battle will remain incomplete till it holds Pakistan accountable. What is clear is that notwithstanding possible missteps, the Delhi-DC dance will continue under the new administration.

 

 

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