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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 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.Put a lid on ugly shows of strength

The unpleasantest truth about politics is that misfortunes and tragedies make for fodder in this ‘professional’ sport of one-upmanship. The death of four people in Sitalkuchi village in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar on polling day on April 10 when Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel opened fire on a mob can add ‘misunderstanding’ to the recipe of political blame-gaming. How trained members of central forces killed – instead of shooting in the air or to injure – locals reportedly trying to snatch their guns will, hopefully, be answered in a report. But the tragic incident is not an anomaly in the larger scheme of things of Bengal polls. Nor is it likely to be the last ‘collateral’ in an ugly turf war. This is not how elections in any decent democracy are held.

The tu-tu mein-mein of words between defender Trinamool Congress (TMC) and challenger BJP may make for low, risible entertainment. But the other tit-for-tat — or tat-for-tit, it doesn’t matter after a point — is grisly, less visible and murderous. Central forces must be now doubly capable of protecting those whom they have been brought in to protect. Political violence is not new in this so-called state of the bhadralok (genteel man). But ‘ashol poriborton’ must come while polls are underway, if elections are not to be made a byword for terror for Bengal’s voters once again.

Cadres from both TMC and BJP have turned this eight-phase election into a banal war for Lebensraum. Politicians on both sides must desist from fuelling this fire, even rhetorically. For, the same cadres will remain in the state long after the battle is lost and won. A lid should be put firmly now on this open show of violence being flaunted as a show of strength, not be put back in a box on May 2 for a later day.

2. Mining Policy: The wrinkles that remain

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. In the case of mining reform, strains of the relevant trill indicating the end of the process would be the clanging of machinery as new mines open up and imports of the very same minerals that lie buried under Indian soil cease. The recent amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDRA) do go a long way in removing hurdles in the path of making good on the country’s mineral wealth. However, niggles such as unrealistic pricing norms abort local mining and extend dependence on imports, as in the case of bauxite, the raw material for aluminium.

Among other things, the amended MMDRA puts an end to new captive mines that can only be used to feed one specific end-user, and transfers, when a lease changes hands, the assorted clearances that a mine requires to operate to the new lease-holder. Both are immensely useful reforms. Existing captive mines can sell up to 50% of their output to third parties. These reforms are welcome. Some have criticised the carry-over of clearances to new operators on the ground that it does not take into account the changes and their environmental impact since the commencement of mining.

This objection really is not to transfer of clearances when ownership changes but to the absence of periodic renewal of environmental clearances. It would be a good idea to incorporate environmental impact assessment (EIA) as an ongoing process. It would minimise environmental hazards, protect health and lives. It would benefit mining companies as well, averting the sort of penal damages global mining major Vale had to suffer, after the dam storing its iron ore waste burst and killed 270 people in Brazil.

The same principle applies in the case of holding mandatory public hearings in earnest and carrying local communities along. With environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors weighing heavily on allocation decisions of not just small ethical investors but of large institutional capital pools, it will pay to strengthen the relevant legal provisions and make them stick.

3.Our Sputnik moment: India must quickly scale up vaccine manufacturing capacity through advance payments

Russian vaccine Sputnik V is on the verge of getting emergency use approval in India. This development comes in the backdrop of states reverting to lockdowns to cope with India’s second wave of coronavirus. This period has also seen a ramp up in vaccination, with a cumulative 104.52 million doses given till Sunday night. To put this data in context, Israel and the US have fully vaccinated about 54% and 22% of their population respectively, while India is at around 1%.

Expanding vaccination coverage is the best and quickest way to limit the pandemic. The government must leverage India’s famed vaccine production capability and work to make more vaccines available quickly. Bharat Biotech plans to enhance its production capacity to more than double its monthly output by July. Separately, Indian manufacturers of Sputnik V are likely to increase manufacturing capacity. Avoiding regressive measures like lockdowns, which extract a huge economic cost, depends on the speed with which vaccines can be brought into play. Here, the 2020 experience is worth revisiting.

Time is of the essence in combating a pandemic. Therefore, vaccines need to have their development cycles compressed to minimise damage. The US government launched Operation Warp Speed in May last year to underwrite the financial risks in vaccine development. The $18 billion effort allowed manufacturers to build capacity even before vaccines had received regulatory approval. This shortened the time to kick off vaccination drives. Similarly, the multilateral Covax alliance tied up with Serum Institute through advance payments before the AstraZeneca clinical trials were completed. Covax locked in a price of $3 to $3.15 a dose.

India’s large vaccine manufacturing capacity puts us in a unique position as we can fully vaccinate the adult population faster than most countries. Covaxin was a good effort which brought together Bharat Biotech and ICMR. Now, there is a pressing need for government to step on the gas. Upfront investment in manufacturing capacity will allow for smooth rollout of vaccination at a fast clip. The government can lock in both quantity and price for its advance payments, which will allow vaccination to progress in a stable environment. These investments will generate manifold returns through an end to lockdowns and resumption of full economic activity. Not to mention the priceless benefit of an end to the suffering caused by the pandemic.

4.Future shock: India must quickly develop capabilities to respond to cyberattacks

Iran has expressed outrage over a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility, which it called an act of nuclear terrorism. Coming just as Iran and the US were beginning to engage in indirect talks over reviving the Iran nuclear deal, the blackout is being attributed to a cyberattack, with the needle of suspicion pointing to Israel. While this could once again raise tensions in the Middle East, the episode also highlights the reality of cyberwarfare today. In fact, with conventional weapons of mass destruction having reached frightening proportions, this has incentivised cyberwarfare which requires fewer resources and can be carried out discreetly.

Cyberwarfare by its very nature is well-suited for grey-zone warfare – where offensive activities are carried out below the threshold of all-out war – and asymmetric attacks. India faces both these classes of threats from the China-Pakistan axis. The Union home ministry recently informed Parliament that cyberattacks rose by almost 300% last year amid the Covid pandemic. Additionally, the Union power ministry has admitted that state sponsored Chinese hacker groups have tried targeting India’s critical power infrastructure. One such group called Red Echo is believed to have been behind the Mumbai power outage last year.

Just imagine the chaos that could be caused by a Chinese or Pakistani cyber strike on an Indian nuclear facility. In such a scenario, Delhi must cultivate both defensive and offensive cyberwarfare capabilities. CDS General Bipin Rawat recently revealed that the country is taking steps to counter China’s cyberwarfare through risk mitigation strategies, building firewalls and recovery systems, and integrating the three services’ cybersecurity resources. But India remains way behind China in this domain. To bridge the difference, New Delhi must work closely with the US and other democracies to quickly upgrade its cyber tech. This is surely another arena where the Quad nations can fruitfully coordinate.

5. Stop public rallies, now

India is in the middle of its most serious public health emergency — more serious and severe than last year, when the coronavirus pandemic first struck. Each day brings in a new record of the number of cases (on Sunday, daily cases crossed 170,000). Each day brings in a new set of alarming figures from some of India’s largest, politically sensitive, and economically crucial states. Each day brings in more reports of the impact of the new variants of Sars-Cov-2. And each day brings in tragic stories of human suffering, isolation, even fatalities, devastating for those who have lost their loved ones to Covid-19.

There are only two known ways to beat the pand-emic. The first is vaccination. More vaccines need to be approved (one was on Monday, and not a moment too soon), more demographic groups need to be able to access the vaccine, more data needs to be transparently disclosed, and manufacturing capacities need to be expanded. The second is Covid-19-appropriate behaviour — which either stems from a strong sense of citizen responsibility or government diktats, or both. With enhanced restrictions in key urban centres, the State is now trying to nudge citizen behaviour back to the norms of the past year.

But this will not work out unless India’s national leaders — political figures who inspire citizens, who have the power to take life-altering decisions, and who have political organisations at their disposal with unprecedented mass outreach — can credibly communicate the need for social distancing. This credibility is today missing, either because governments have happily allowed mega religious congregations or because political leaders are still — even in the middle of this nightmarish pandemic — addressing hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are unmasked and jostling for space with each other, in public rallies. To be sure, democracy is a non-negotiable and so is the right of citizens to elect their representatives at regular intervals and the right of political parties to propagate their views. But political communication must happen in ways that don’t risk people’s lives, and send out a message of complacency and irresponsibility at a time when caution and responsibility needs to be exercised. Lives are at stake. An all-party consensus on reconfiguring the tools of campaigning for the remaining phases of Bengal’s polls to make it Covid-19-appropriate is worth considering.

 

 

 

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