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19th May – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. Ensuring access and equity in education
  2. Lessons from the Great Depression for India
  3. Reform WHO
  4. How the financial package is the silver lining?
  5. A jolt to national energy security

ENSURING ACCESS AND EQUITY IN EDUCATION

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

The Finance minister announced a slew of measures for the education sector as a part of the ~20 lakh crore economic package.

The key principles behind the education sector reforms are equity and access for students.

Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER)

  • Of the total population in the age group of 18-23, which is around 150 million, only 26.3% (37 million) are enrolled in the education system in India.
  • China and India had the Same Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in 1990s, and Now, China’s GER has increased to 48%.
  • Hence, we need a paradigm shift in the manner of in which youth can access the education system.

Equal Learning Opportunities

  • In a diverse country like India, we need to look at how to provide equal opportunities for learning so that a student in a rural setting gets the same education material as that of a student in an urban one.
  • India has 504 million active Internet users, riding on the success of Digital India, the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has launched a comprehensive initiative called PM e-Vidya which unifies all efforts related to digital/online/on-air education for further expansion of e-learning in higher education.,
  • Digital learning through the PM e- Vidya and Open Distance Learning (ODL) in higher education will create equal access to teachers in integrating technology into their curriculum for students of varied geographies and backgrounds.

Aiming Key Changes

The policy’s vision includes the following key changes to the current system:

  1. Moving towards a higher educational system consisting of large, multidisciplinary universities and colleges, with at least one university or college in or near every district.
  2. Building of free boarding facilities in the form of hostels.
  3. Revamping curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and student support for enhanced student experiences across schools and higher education.
  4. Strengthening of open schooling.
  5. Substantial increase in scholarships at private/philanthropic universities for disadvantaged and underprivileged students.
  6. Creation of a gender-inclusion fund.
  7. Creating a cohort of highly motivated and rigorously trained teachers for all learners.

Click Here to read more about the e-VIDYA scheme (3rd Article)

-Source: Hindustan Times

LESSONS FROM THE GREAT DEPRESSION FOR INDIA

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Introduction

The Great Depression, which gripped the United States (US) in the 1930s, is being discussed in the context of the economic aftermath of Covid-19.

The economic downturn began in the US around the end of 1929, with a sharp dip in production and GDP, and a sharp increase in unemployment. Production also dropped significantly in other industrialised countries of Europe.

How did the U.S. come out of the Great Depression?

  • In 1933, one-fourth of the workforce was unemployed.
  • The then president of U.S. Franklin. D. Roosevelt took several hard decisions to stabilise agriculture production and improve the quality of life for farmers.
  • By forming the Tennessee Valley Authority, Roosevelt began the construction of dams and power stations.
  • He took measures to control floods — a common occurrence at that time.
  • In 1935, he instituted the social security Act which guaranteed pensions.
  • The federal government took on the responsibility to ensure meals for children of the unemployed.
  • Under the head of public work administration, his government provided direct financial assistance to at least three million people.
  • The taxes on the rich was increased to fund all of this.

Indians outside India

  • India has the largest pool of graduates in the world. Yet, talented young men and women who have gone from India to different countries have contributed immensely by sheer intelligence and hard work, leaving India with a massive “brain drain”.
  • Due to the present pressure to return is relation to economic setbacks as a result of the pandemic, India needs to ensure that these valuable resources are used to enhance domestic productivity.
  • Young people with bright minds returning from foreign can help the recovery and carry on the baton in different sectors.

Thinking About the Long-Term

  • For now, India has used the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme to help those without work, provided funds for industries that were struggling etc., but it is also the time to think about the long-term plans.
  • We have to leverage our resources – For Instance, India is the largest producer of cotton — our global share is 23%, however, we are not yet central to global brands.
  • The country is filled with opportunities in both rural and urban areas. Health, tourism and digital technology are a few sectors that have enormous potential that needs to be realised.

-Source: Hindustan Times

REFORM WHO

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

With the 73rd World Health Assembly – the decision-making body of WHO- – taking place through Videoconferencing, the Covid-19 pandemic is taking centre stage.

Call for Action: Investigate COVID-19

  • WHA is taking up a motion backed by more than 120 countries, including India, that calls for a “stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of WHO coordinated international response to Covid-19.
  • It also calls for the identification of the zoonotic source of the coronavirus and its transmission to human populations.
  • Albeit, the motion refrains from mentioning China or Wuhan, its implementation will necessarily have to include investigation into China’s handling of the outbreak in the initial days.
  • A probe into the origin of the coronavirus is important to understand how it mutated and spread so quickly.

China’s Position on Investigations

  • China has been objecting to such a probe and even threatened Australia with trade repercussions for trying to drum up international support for an investigation.
  • In fact, Canberra has already been hit with a beef strike with Beijing suspending imports from four major Australian suppliers.
  • But with the WHA motion getting the backing of a majority of nations, China may not have a choice but to go along with it.

Fundamental Issue: Need to reform WHO

  • The fundamental issue here is WHO’s limited ability to tackle a pandemic like Covid-19.
  • The global health body can only issue advisories and has no enforcement powers.
  • WHO should be reformed to play a more active role in preventing global health threats.
  • The minimum it can do is ask for annual compliance reports from member countries vis-à-vis health recommendations made by it – something that its constitution already allows.

India and the Way Forward

  • With India taking over the chair of the WHO executive board, it should push for new crisis management protocols and give the global health body some teeth.
  • Covid-19 has shown that WHO can’t remain a soft adviser. It must helm a global health architecture that demands accountability.

-Source: Times of India

HOW THE FINANCIAL PACKAGE IS THE SILVER LINING?

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

India’s Economic Position

India as a resilient economy ranks 59th. For a country that is fifth largest in terms of GDP, this rank of being only the 59th most resilient Economy shows that we need to revisit our economic principles.

Reasons for India’s Low Resilient Economy Ranking: Measure Taken

I – Productivity

  • MSMEs feared regulatory measures once they outgrew their size, thus they abhorred expansion.
  • The Rs 3 lakh crore collateral free financial package for MSMEs will motivate them in converting India into a manufacturing powerhouse.
  • The government’s decision to disallow global tenders under Rs 200 crore will increase their participation in India’s infrastructure story.

II – Supply Chain

  • An EU study showed that major post-pandemic disruption would be on supply chains (two-thirds) while consumption disruption will be one-third.
  • Building a local supply chain will not only make us pandemic proof and economically self-sufficient, it will also insulate us from future diseases.

III – Globalisation Index

  • Our globalisation index is 62.25%, this means we are consumers in the globalised world and not producers.
  • There is need for a paradigm shift to enjoy the fruits of globalisation.

-Source: Times of India

A JOLT TO NATIONAL ENERGY SECURITY

Focus: GS-III Industry and Infrastructure

Why in news?

The Finance Minister announced the reform of power tariff policy — announced as part of the stimulus package following the pandemic.

DISCOM troubles

  • These proposals have to be seen in the context of a continuing centralisation of control over the sector whose main impact in the last 25 years has been to drive up the cost of power purchase to 80% of the total costs of State DISCOMs.
  • At the core of DISCOM woes is the two-part tariff policy, mandated by the Ministry of Power in the 1990s at the behest of the World Bank.
  • As more private developers came forward to invest in generation, DISCOMs were required to sign long-term power purchase agreements (PPA), committing to pay a fixed cost to the power generator, irrespective of whether the State draws the power or not, and a variable charge for fuel when it does.
  • Due to the CEA’s overestimates, the all-India plant load factor of coal power plants is at an abysmal 56% even before COVID-19.

Factor of renewable energy

  • From 2010, solar and wind power plants were declared as “must-run”, requiring DISCOMs to absorb all renewable power as long as there was sun or wind, in excess of mandatory renewable purchase obligations.
  • This means backing down thermal generation to accommodate all available green power, entailing further idle fixed costs payable on account of two-part tariff PPAs.
  • Since the power demand peaks after sunset, in the absence of viable storage, every megawatt of renewable power requires twice as much spinning reserves to keep lights on after sunset.
  • The Centre announced an ambitious target of 175 gigawatts of renewable power by 2022, offering a slew of concessions to renewable energy developers, and aggravating the burden of DISCOMs.

The fine print: Electricity Act 2020

  • The amendment proposes sub-franchisees, presumably private, in an attempt to usher in markets through the back door.
  • Going by past privatisation experiments, private sub-franchisees are likely to cherry-pick the more profitable segments of the DISCOM’s jurisdiction.
  • The amendment proposes even greater concessions to renewable power developers, with its cascading impact on idling fixed charges, impacting the viability of DISCOMs even more.
  • The Amendment seeks to eliminate in one stroke, the cross-subsidies in retail power tariff. This means each consumer category would be charged what it costs to service that category. Rural consumers requiring long lines and numerous step-down transformers and the attendant higher line losses will pay the steepest tariffs.
  • State regulators will henceforth be appointed by a central selection committee, the composition of which inspires little confidence in its objectivity, jeopardising not only regulatory autonomy and independence but also the concurrent status of the electricity sector.
  • The establishment of a centralised Electricity Contract Enforcement Authority whose members and chairman will again be selected by the same selection committee referred to above.

-Source: The Hindu

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