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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. Throw bathwater, RBI, not the baby

The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) reported rule to disallow online merchants, ecommerce websites and payment aggregators from storing customer card credentials in their database or servers from July this year is needlessly restrictive and counterproductive from the point of view of encouraging digital payments. The implication of the directive is that a consumer will have to enter her entire card details for recurring payments that she can otherwise make today by just entering the three-digit card verification value (CVV). An OTP (one-time password) on the consumer’s registered mobile is the second factor of authentication, ensuring security of the online payment.

RBI’s intent of enhancing security for digital payments is entirely legitimate, but there are better ways to achieve the goal without creating inconvenience of a degree that could kill off segments of business, say, subscription services that need periodic renewal, or impulse purchases online. Consumers provide merchants consent to store and charge their card information until they cancel their service so that the service is seamless. Card payments for international transactions do not require OTP, making them vulnerable to sophisticated phishing and bot attacks. Consumers could block international usage for most cards and let ecommerce sites store only domestic usage cards to prevent this abuse.

However, the more sophisticated solution is tokenisation, in which protection is accorded by a combination of two methods: one, the card information is stored in fortified wallets of payment aggregators that allow multiple merchants to use their facilities to let their customers make single-click payments from those wallets, with one or more factors of authentication; two, a token number, rather than the card data, is transmitted over the network, suitably encrypted and decrypted as needed. The technology is mature, but its adoption could need more time than RBI has accorded. That wait is fine: India has one of the lowest levels of card fraud in the world.

2. Needed, vaccination, investment for growth

Estimates of economic output for the third quarter (Q3) show that the economy is growing again, after two consecutive quarters of pandemic-affected growth contraction on a year-ago basis. The growth in gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at no more than 0.4% for Q3, but which is nonetheless significant after negative 24.4% growth posted in Q1, and –7.3% notched in Q2 (over like period in the previous year).

The National Statistical Office (NSO) has also put out its second advance estimates of national income for this fiscal, which show a GDP contraction of 8% in 2020-21. In terms of current prices, the GDP decline for the year is estimated to be –3.8%, indicating economywide inflation of 4.2%. In terms of value addition, there appears to be credible Q3 growth in such sectors as agriculture (7.4%) or even construction (9.8%), but the figures do reflect the fact that supply-side constraints have driven up food prices. Besides, in terms of current prices, gross fixed capital formation, which indicates investments, is down to 26.7% of GDP as per the latest advance estimates. The investment rate needs to be proactively raised for the economy to traverse to a higher growth path going forward.

Real growth in 2020-21 gross value-added is –6.5%, with manufacturing declining by 8.4%, construction by 10.3%, and trade, hotels, transport and communication by 18%. Recovery would clearly require sustained policy support to rev up the growth momentum in such key sectors as manufactures, construction and the travel and trade segments, so as to policy-induce sustained overall growth. Successful vaccination, a prerequisite for services, and effective follow up of the budget’s growth strategy hold the key to revival.

3. Poll bugle sounds: Assembly elections in four states could reconfigure national politics

The announcement of dates for Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry assembly elections has focussed attention on the strong repercussions their outcome will have for national politics. BJP governs Assam, is a strong challenger in Bengal, and its ally AIADMK administers TN. Any setback for BJP in Bengal and Assam and ally AIADMK in TN could bring the opposition roaring back into contention in national politics. Consequently, BJP will face greater questioning over farm policy, high fuel prices and attempts to pursue economic reforms like privatisation. But a BJP/ NDA victory in these three states will pose existential questions to its rivals. For instance, a strong opposition voice like Mamata Banerjee losing sway over Bengal will signal a version of pan-India primacy of BJP.

Not surprisingly, the contestation is fiercest in Bengal, with both sides boasting evenly matched resources. Foreseeing intense political violence, Election Commission has announced an eight-phased poll for Bengal, which some fear may only prolong the unrest. With Mamata invoking Bengali pride to counter the rush of Hindi heartland leaders campaigning against her, BJP is making a strong pitch for “poriborton” and attempting to ride anti-incumbency in Bengal.

Much like 2019, PM Modi remains BJP’s most saleable face in Bengal. But an assembly election may dim Modi’s traction, requiring local leaders to up their game. With Assam and Bengal elections coinciding, the CAA has forced BJP into a delicate balancing act. While the party hopes CAA will give it huge traction among East Bengal Hindu migrants, it’s unpopular in Assam where BJP has to underplay it. Delays in notifying CAA rules can be read as a symptom of BJP’s dilemma, allowing TMC to dub it a gimmick.

Pursuing a third straight term in TN, AIADMK passed a quota for the influential Vanniyar community. AIADMK must also grapple with Sasikala’s return from prison, which could turn into a full blown power struggle if the party loses. TN would worry BJP for its sizeable industrial base, which will bolster UPA’s fundraising ability if it wins. Wiped out of Bengal and Tripura, CPM faces a difficult task in Kerala with its history of voting out incumbents. For Congress, wins in Kerala, Assam, TN and Puducherry will help regain lost respectability amid constant setbacks and counter growing dissidence against Rahul Gandhi. The summer of 2021 promises big changes in national politics.

4. Pitching straight: Fuss over spin-friendly Ahmedabad wicket hides England’s lack of application

The controversy over the pitch in the third India-England Test match at Ahmedabad has seen former English cricketers like Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and David Lloyd question the spinning track that was offered to the visitors which saw them lose within two days. In fact, the Ahmedabad tie was the shortest completed Test match since 1935. This has led to the criticism that the pitch wasn’t good enough for Test cricket and India was unfairly preparing rank turners. But such an argument reeks of hypocrisy and fails to look at other factors that saw England underperform.

There’s no denying that every home team prepares pitches according to local conditions. That’s the whole point behind home advantage. In fact, when Team India tours abroad, it has to contend with green tops and bouncy tracks in England, Australia and New Zealand. No one cries foul on these occasions and Team India’s difficulties in coping with prodigious swing and bounce are put down as lack of application. Besides, there’s nothing in the rulebook about what kind of pitches home teams should prepare for a good contest. With England having first choice of the surface at Ahmedabad, one doesn’t see what the fuss is all about.

Second, England’s team selection was odd in that they went with three fast bowlers on a turning track. Plus, their rotation policy has already seen players like Moeen Ali – whose spin could have helped at Ahmedabad – go home. Then there is the statistic of India’s pink-ball Test matches – like Ahmedabad – ending within three days. Therefore, the Ahmedabad result had many factors. While there’s something to be said about Test matches not lasting the full five days – perhaps this is an impact of T20 cricket – imputing biases here is uncalled for. After all, cricket remains a game of ‘glorious uncertainties’.

5. Reading the numbers right

India’s third quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers, released on Friday, are interesting for a variety of reasons, not the least being the fact that while the GDP number was marginally lower than estimates, the gross value added (GVA) number was marginally higher. Some experts have explained this as being caused by the payment of past year dues on subsidies (which are among the things subtracted from GDP to arrive at the GVA), and this is a plausible theory. This would also seem to suggest that the recovery is perhaps proceeding along expected lines.

But how does this correspond with the estimate that the Indian economy (GDP) will contract by 8% in 2020-21, higher than the previously estimated contraction of 7.7%? Does this mean the recovery is losing some steam? Or does the subsidy factor play out here too? After all, a 8% contraction for the entire year, some number-crunching shows, will mean the economy contracts in the fourth quarter too, which is at odds with just about every other piece of data available. What does one make of really bad news coming from the informal sector? Sure, much of this is anecdotal, but it has always been difficult to measure activity in the informal sector. And finally, while the numbers show a sharp recovery in private consumption in the three months ending December, was this one-off, caused by pent-up demand and festive spending, or can it be sustained? All are valid questions, pointing to the larger debate — the worst is over, but how strong and widespread will the bounce back be?


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