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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 07 February 2022

Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 07 February 2022  


  1. Weighing in on a health data retention plan  
  2. The missing green

Weighing in on a health data retention plan


The National Health Authority (NHA), the body responsible for administering the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) has initiated a consultation process on the retention of health data by health-care providers in India.


GS III: Government Policies & Interventions.

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Consultation process on retention of health data
  2. What is the need to such a Policy?
  3. Benefits and Risks of Data Retention
  4. Safeguards needed to Ensure Data Privacy
  5. Way Forward

Consultation process on retention of Health data:

  • The process intends to ask feedback on the type of data to be retained and the duration of its retention.
  • What are its key findings?
    • The consultation paper points out the possible implications arising from over-collection and retention of unnecessary data.
    • Also, an one-size-fits-all system can also lead to under-retention of data that is genuinely required for research or public policy needs
  • This emphasis the need to classify heath data based on its use.

What is the need to such a Policy?

  • The Question of Individual choice?
    • In the current situation, service providers can compete on how the data of individuals or health records can be handled, leaving the choice of the service provider to the people based on the data policies they are comfortable with.
    • Given the landscape of health-care access in India, including through informal providers, many patients may not think about this factor in practice.
    • The decision to take choice out of the individual’s hands is a serious concern.
  • Interference with the Right to privacy:
    • The Right to Privacy is a Fundamental right under Article 21. Any interference in the right must pass a four-part test:
      • legality
      • legitimate aim
      • proportionality, and
      • appropriate safeguards.
    • The mandatory retention of health data is one such form of interference with the right to privacy.
  • Legality:
    • The consultation paper asks whether the health data retention policy should be made applicable only to health-care providers who are participating in the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) ecosystem, or to all health-care providers in general.
    • A more acceptable answer can only be the former; since the NHA is not a sector-wide regulator, it has no legal basis for formulating guidelines for health-care providers in general.

Benefits and Risks of Data Retention:

  • Benefits:
    • Convenience and choice: Individuals benefit through greater convenience and choice, created through portability of health records.
    • The broader public benefits through research and innovation, driven by the availability of more and better data to analyse.
  • Risks:
    • Data Sensitivity: Health data is particularly sensitive, and improper disclosure of this data can expose a person to a range of significant harms.
    • The impact of data breach can be difficult to restore, so it is not enough to have penalties for such breaches
    • All possible efforts need to be made to minimise the extent of data collected and to hold it only for the amount of time needed to reduce the likelihood of any breach.
  • Privacy risk can make an individual hesitant against retaining his/her complete medical record on the grounds that they might be useful for research someday.
    • As per Indian law, if an individual’s rights are to be curtailed due to anticipated benefits, such benefits cannot be potential or speculatory: they must be clearly defined and identifiable.
  • The principle of proportionality:  It requires choosing the least intrusive option available when it comes to the choice of information.
  • Standards for anonymisation:
    • Anonymisation may not be the least intrusive solution to safeguarding patients’ rights in all scenarios.
    • There can be a possibility of of anonymised data still being linked back to specific individuals.
    • However, the research community across the world are yet to arrive at consensus on what constitutes adequate anonymisation

Safeguards needed to Ensure Data Privacy:

  • Definite Purpose: A data should be retained for clear and specific cases as identified for such retention, by suitable authorities following a rigorous process.
  • Anonymise data: A second safeguard would be to anonymise data that is being retained for research purposes — again, unless a specific case is made for keeping personally identifiable information.
  • Informed Consent: An alternate basis for retaining data can be the express and informed consent of the individual in question.
    • However, this idea has its own drawbacks:
      • In India, Health care is a field where patients rely on the expertise and advice of doctors, making the idea of informed consent complicated.
      • Further, if consent is made necessary for accessing state-provided services, many people may agree simply because they lack any other way to access that care.

Way Forward:

  • Once the Parliament adopts a suitable data protection law, it is imperative for health-care service providers and others to ensure compliance.
  • The current Bill already requires purpose limitation for collecting, processing, sharing, or retaining data
  • Thus a use-based classification process would bring the ABDM ecosystem actors in compliance with this law as well.

-Source: The Hindu

The missing green


Recent investigation has revealed that six mega initiatives cleared between 2004 and 2020 have failed to fulfil their green commitments.


GS III: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are the criticisms?
  2. Non-Compliance of Projects
  3. Emphasis on Infrastructure development
  4. Way Forward

What are the criticisms?

  • Dilution of Environmental Impact Assessment:
    • Over the years, Environmentalists have been alleging that a large number of infrastructure projects are implemented without mandatory due diligence and green clearance procedures are often riddled with irregularities.
    • They have also alledge that successive governments have diluted ecological safeguards in the name of streamlining the clearance procedures.
  • Reduced Performance of India:
    • Two years ago, an Environmental Performance Index of Yale University ranked India 168 amongst 220 countries.

Non-Compliance of Projects:

  • Six mega initiatives cleared between 2004 and 2020 have failed to fulfil their green commitments.
  • It is significant to note that experts had questioned the environmental sustainability of these projects since their inception.
  • These Projects include:
    • the Mopa International Airport in Goa,
    • the Dibang Hydel project in Arunachal,
    • Kulda Coal Mine in Odisha
    • Tamnar Thermal Project in Chhattisgarh,
    • the Subansiri Hydel Project on the Assam Arunachal border
  • Non-Compliance: The main reason attributed to this is the absence of an effective mechanism to ensure environmental compliance.
  • Shortage of Officials: The investigation points out the paucity of officials with the Ministry of Environment and Forests to conduct field visits.
    • The state pollution control boards and environmental tribunals are almost always short-staffed.
  • Post-facto clearances: The Governments at the Centre and states have been relying on procedures such as post-facto clearances rather than strengthening the monitoring mechanism.
    • As a move to ensure compliance, the government gives incentives or subsidies to project developers.
    • In 2020, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court called out the practice of allowing project developers to report a violation retrospectively as “a derogation of the fundamental principle of environmental jurisprudence”.
    • Allowing for an ex-post facto clearance would essentially condone the operation of industrial activities without the grant of an environmental clearance (EC). In the absence of an EC, there would be no conditions to safeguard the environment,” the court pointed out.

Emphasis on Infrastructure development:

  • The recent budget calls for rapid infrastructural development as India strives to grow into a $5-trillion economy.
  • However, the Policy makers need to ensure that the prosperity from such developmental projects doesn’t come at the cost of the environment.
  • Location: Most often the developmental projects is located in ecologically fragile zones.
    • Example: The corridor between Kulda and Tamnar located between coal mines and thermal plants are known to be rife with pollutants that harm people’s health, contaminate water bodies, and impair farm productivity.

Way Forward:

  • There is a need for strong checks and balances to prevent Environmental hazards.
  • Government must apply correctives to ensure compliance and protect environment.

-Source: The Indian Express

February 2024