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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

VISION IAS Mains 2021 Test 4 With Solution PDF


 VISION IAS Mains 2021 Test 4 With Solution PDF

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Roles of the Centre and States - COVID-19 Management


 What is the issue?

  • The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light some fundamental gaps in dealing with medical emergencies as the current one.
  • It calls for an assessment of the roles of the Centre and States in this regard.

What should the Centre be clear about?

  • Clearly, events like that the current pandemic are national crises.
  • They call for concerted efforts by both, the Government of India (GoI) and state governments.
  • Denials, finger-pointing, and media management will not help in rightfully dealing with these.
  • It is time the GoI realises that health is a state subject.
  • The number of employees in the health wing of the GoI is negligible as compared to that in any state government.
  • The implication is that if anything good in health or Covid management happens, the credit must rightly go to the state government.
  • The GoI must however help the states, motivate them to do better and assist them in their task.

What key role can the Centre play?

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Centre’s J&K Outreach - India’s Kashmir Policy


 Why in news?

The Union Home Secretary has extended invitation to the leadership of the J&K-based political parties to discuss on the Kashmir issue.

What is the significance?

  • On August 5, 2019, the State of J&K was stripped of its special constitutional status and dismembered into two Union Territories.
  • The Prime Minister has now decided to meet 14 party leaders from the Union Territory.
  • It includes those who were incarcerated for opposing the Centre's move.
  • [The leaders of mainstream parties, including former CMs, were jailed after 2019.]
  • This will be the first political engagement since the August 5 move.
  • The decision signals a revival of the political process in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • It demonstrates a desirable flexibility in the Centre’s approach towards resolving the Kashmir issue.

Why now?

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The Right Vaccine Policy


 What is the issue?

With the mounting challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to have the appropriate vaccine policy now.

How significant are vaccines?

  • At the individual level, vaccines provide protection from disease and death, and preferably also from mild disease and infection.
  • From public health point of view, vaccines decrease the burden of illness and spread of infection.
  • Besides these, for society, the ability to go back to productivity and social interactions also matters.

Why is vaccine policy essential here?

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Monday, June 21, 2021

VISION IAS Mains 2021 Test 3 With Solution PDF


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Daily Current Affairs, 21st June 2021



1)  International Day of Yoga: 21 June

•United Nations celebrates International Day of Yoga globally on 21 June every year to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practising yoga. Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolizing the union of body and consciousness.

•Recognizing this important role of Yoga, this year’s commemoration of the International Day of Yoga focuses on “Yoga for well-being” – how the practice of Yoga can promote the holistic health of every individual.

2)  World Music Day: 21st June

•World Music Day is observed globally on 21st June every year. This day is celebrated to honour amateur and professional musicians. Over 120 countries celebrate World Music Day by organizing free public concerts in parks, streets, stations, museums and other such public places. The aim of celebrating World Music Day is to provide free music to everyone, and also to encourage amateur musicians to showcase their work to the world.

3)  International Day of the Celebration of the Solstice

•International Day of the Celebration of the Solstice is observed globally on 21st June. This day bring awareness about solstices and equinoxes and their significance for several religions and ethnic cultures. The International Day of the Celebration of the Solstice was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 20th June 2019 within Resolution A/RES/73/300.

4)  Ebrahim Raisi wins Iran’s 2021 Presidential Election

•Ebrahim Raisi has won the 2021 Iranian presidential election, winning 62 per cent of the vote with about 90 per cent of ballots counted. The 60-year-old Raisi will succeed Hassan Rouhani in August 2021, to begin his four-year term. He is also the Chief Justice of Iran since March 2019.

5)  World’s Third-Largest Diamond Unearthed in Botswana

•A 1,098-carat diamond has been discovered in Botswana, by Debswana Diamond Company, a joint venture between the government of Botswana and the South African diamond company De Beers. The newly discovered diamond is believed to be the third-largest gem-quality stone ever to be mined in the world.

•The stone has been presented by Debswana Diamond Company to the President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi. The largest diamond to be recovered to date is 3,106 carat Cullinan stone in South Africa in 1905, followed by the 1,109 carats Lesedi La Rona unearthed by Lucara Diamonds in Botswana in 2015.

6)  PAN to be declared ‘INOPERATIVE’ if not linked before June 30, 2021

•The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) had recently extended the deadline to link Permanent Account Number (PAN) with Aadhaar number to June 30, 2021, due to the difficulties posed by the ongoing Covid pandemic. So now as the deadline is fast approaching, here are some guidelines which must be kept in mind.

•As per the new Section 234H of the Income-tax Act 1961, which has been recently introduced during Budget 2021, the PAN cards which are not linked to Aadhaar after June 30, 2021, would be declared “inoperative”, as well as a penalty of Rs 1,000 may also be imposed. On the other hand, the person will be considered as an individual without a PAN card.

7)  Ease of Living Index: Bengaluru ‘most liveable’ city

•Bengaluru has been named as the most liveable city of India, in the Ease of Living Index 2020, released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The Ease of Living Index 2020 is part of the report titled State of India’s Environment 2021. Bengaluru is followed by Chennai, Shimla, Bhubaneshwar, and Mumbai, as the top five best cities respectively.

8)  India’s Rank 120th in Sustainable Development Report 2021

•According to the 6th Edition of ‘Sustainable Development Report 2021 (SDR 2021)’ released by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), India with a score of 60.1 has been placed at 120th rank out of 165 countries. Finland topped the Index followed by Sweden & Denmark.

•For the 1st time since 2015, all countries have shown a reversal in progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SDR 2021 has been written by a group of authors led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, President of the SDSN and has been published by Cambridge University Press.

9)  India ranked 51st in terms of Money Deposited in Swiss Banks

•According to ‘Annual Bank Statistics of 2020’ released by Swiss National Bank (SNB), the Central Bank of Switzerland. India with Swiss Francs (CHF) 2.55 billion (INR 20,706 Crore) has been placed at 51st place in the list of foreign clients’ money in Swiss Banks during 2020. The United Kingdom (UK) topped the list with CHF 377 billion, followed by the US (152 billion). India was ahead of countries like New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Mauritius, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in terms of foreign clients’ money in Swiss banks.

•Funds held by Indian individuals and firms in Swiss banks rose over 2.55 billion Swiss francs (over Rs 20,700 crore) in 2020 marking the highest level in 13 years. The figures stood at a record high of nearly CHF 6.5 billion in 2006, after which it has been mostly on a downward path, except for a few years including in 2011, 2013, and 2017, as per the Swiss National Bank (SNB) data.

10)  Naveen Patnaik releases Bishnupada Sethi’s ‘Beyond Here and Other Poems’

•Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik released a book of poems ‘Beyond Here and Other Poems’ written by senior bureaucrat Bishnupada Sethi. It is a collection of 61 poems that are a reflection of a spectrum of experiences of life, perception of death and philosophical contemplation.

•Noted writer Haraprasad Das has written the preface. The cover design of the 161-page book has been made by eminent artist Gajendra Sahu. Sethi, Principal Secretary in the Information and Public Relations department has written several poetry and other books including ‘My World of Words’ and ‘Beyond Feelings’.

11)  Amitav Ghosh’s new book ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse’

•Jnanpith Awardee and renowned author Amitav Ghosh’s authored a book titled, ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis’. It is published by John Murray. The book talks about the history of the influence of colonialism on the world today, through the story of the nutmeg.

•In ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse’, Ghosh discusses that the nutmeg’s journey from its native Banda islands sheds light on a widespread colonial mindset of exploitation of human life and the environment, which is present even today. Some of Ghosh’s other notable works include the Ibis trilogy and ‘The Great Derangement’ among others.

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The HINDU Notes – 21st June 2021



📰 Vision document for conserving Assam temple turtles launched

Two NGOs, zoo and Kamrup district administration sign pact with a major temple at Hajo near Guwahati for the project.

•A major temple in Assam has signed a memorandum of understanding with two green NGOs, the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden and the Kamrup district administration for long-term conservation of the rare freshwater black softshell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans).

•A vision document 2030 was also launched after Turtle Survival Alliance India and Help Earth signed the pact involving the Hayagriva Madhava Temple Committee. The temple, revered by both Hindus and Buddhists, is at Hajo, about 30 km northwest of Guwahati.

•Until sightings along the Brahmaputra River’s drainage in Assam, the black softshell turtle was thought to be ‘extinct in the wild’ and confined only to ponds of temples in northeastern India and Bangladesh.

‘Critically endangered’

•The International Union for Conservation of Nature had in 2021 listed the turtle as ‘critically endangered’. But it does not enjoy legal protection under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 although it has traditionally been hunted for its meat and cartilage, traded in regional and international markets.

•“Various temple ponds in Assam such as that of the Hayagriva Madhava Temple harbour various threatened species of turtles. Since the turtles are conserved in these ponds only based on religious grounds, many biological requirements for building a sustainable wild population have since long been overlooked,” Arpita Dutta of Turtle Survival said.

•“This multi-stakeholder association (conservation pact) aims to restock the wild with viable, self-sufficient and genetically pure threatened turtle populations in the region. We will offer assistance for the required improvement of husbandry of turtles kept in such ponds, and further recovery efforts are recommended for the long-term survival and existence of the endangered freshwater turtles,” she added.

•Kamrup Deputy Commissioner Kailash Kartik N. emphasised mass awareness on the conservation issues of all species of turtles in the region while working on threats and opportunities to strengthen the black softshell turtle population in Assam.

•A proposal was also mooted for retaining the hatchlings from eastern Assam at the Nature Discovery Centre at Biswanath Ghat run by Turtle Survival Alliance India for proper upkeep and monitoring before they are released in the wild. Biswanath Ghat is about 240 km northeast of Guwahati.

•Zoo director Tejas Mariswamy and Help Earth’s Jayaditya Purkayastha attended the programme on June 19 along with the key members of the Hayagriva Madhava Temple Committee.

📰 Students fear Central Universities Common Entrance Test may favour those with prior coaching

Those looking to change streams would find it hard to attempt subject-specific papers, say aspirants.

•A group of students who have just completed Class12 are objecting to the proposal to use a common entrance test for admission to all Central universities, including those such as Delhi University which have used only Class 12 board marks as the criteria so far. The students, who hail from different parts of the country, have written to the Education Ministry and the DU authorities, warning that such a move will favour richer students who have had access to coaching classes or are already preparing for standardised tests such as JEE or NEET.

•The National Testing Agency is yet to take a final decision on the scope or the date for the Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET) this year. The test’s multiple choice question papers cover language, general awareness, mathematical aptitude and analytical skills, as well as domain knowledge in the candidate’s chosen subjects.

•“Delhi University aspirants were entirely focused towards boards preparation. Since an entrance exam will contain aptitude part, many will face problems dealing with it as it entirely varies from what one has learnt in 10+2,” said one common letter sent by students to the DU Vice-Chancellor, noting that science students may not be prepared for the general knowledge section, while arts and commerce stream students may need time to prepare for the logical reasoning and quantitative ability sections.

•“Also, the students who were already preparing for professional degree courses would find it easier as they were already preparing for such a test since grade 11,” it said, noting that lakhs of students do not have the resources to suddenly access online paid coaching classes at this stage. The students also noted that students looking to change streams would find it hard to attempt the subject-specific papers.

•Last year, the CUCET was only used for admission to 14 new Central Universities and four State universities. However, earlier this year, the Education Ministry told all Central Universities including older, more prestigious institutions that have so far depended on Class 12 mark cutoffs or their own entrance tests, that CUCET could be expanded to cover them as well in accordance with the National Education Policy recommendations.

•The proposal has taken on new urgency since Class 12 examinations were cancelled, with every board issuing its own tabulation formula to assign marks instead. The students suggested that these marks could still be used with different cut-offs for different boards.

•Namrata Kalita, a Class 12 student from Assam, sent her own letter, noting that students from the northeast who attempt to enter the Central Universities would be particularly affected. “The CUCET has no clarification so far, no pattern, no syllabus, no previous year questions to practice. Although it was proposed under NEP-2020, the authorities never gave any official announcement regarding its implementation. For a national level entrance, we need adequate time and space to prepare which is absent in the current situation,” she wrote, adding that letters have been sent to the Education Ministry and the admissions authorities at the DU.

•She argued that the same health and digital divide concerns which led to the cancellation of Class 12 exams should apply to CUCET as well in a pandemic year. “The CUCET is perhaps a good initiative but it’s not right to conduct it suddenly in this unprecedented year without informing about it earlier. Holding another set of exams would further delay our session and waste our entire year keeping us under constant foreboding. We have faith in the Education Ministry and the varsities that they would listen to the students’ concerns,” she wrote.

📰 Health infrastructure has increased up to 45-fold to brace successive waves, Centre says in SC

•The Centre told the Supreme Court that the nation’s health infrastructure has increased up to 45-fold to brace successive waves of COVID-19 pandemic.

•The government also informed the total cumulative vaccine coverage is 27.23 crore doses as on June 19. The total cost, including payment, advance and operational cost, has been ₹9,504.315 crore. The government has shared the information with the court even as apprehensions have been raised about a third wave hitting the country soon.

•A detailed affidavit filed by the Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, in the Supreme Court shows that the total ICU beds had increased by 45-fold from a baseline 2,500 to 1,13,035.

•The total isolation beds (excluding ICU beds) have climbed 42-fold from 41,000 to 17.17 lakh. The number of category one COVID-19 dedicated hospitals have increased 25-fold from 163 to 4,096, while the number of category two dedicated COVID-19 health centres and category three dedicated COVID-19 care centres are 7,929 and 9,954, respectively. Oxygen-supported beds have multiplied 7.5-fold from 50,583 to 3.81 lakh. Even isolation railway coaches grew from zero to 5,601.

•The government said over 1.5 lakh health personnel have been engaged — 7,024 medical officers, 3,680 specialists, 35,996 staff nurses, 18,649 MHWs, 1,01,155 community volunteers, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and ASHA facilitators and 48,453 other support staffs.

•The affidavit said insurance coverage was given to 22.12 lakhs heath workers, including ASHAs fighting COVID-19. Testing capacity had been increased with 2,621 labs.

•The government called its increase in testing capacity “phenomenal”, from 30,000 tests aday in April 2020 to a high of 22 lakh tests daily. Cumulatively, over 36.1 crore COVID-19 tests were conducted.

•The affidavit said 1,051 additional pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants at the cost of ₹1,137 crores were approved to be set up in various public health facilities across the country. This would take the tally to 1,213 PSA plants funded through the PMCARES Fund, it said.

•The Centre had further enhanced the ceiling limit for expenditure of State Disaster Response Fund from 35% to 50% in 2020-21 for States to finance COVID-19 containment measures.

📰 Work begins on Krivak class frigate

Stealth ship is being built by Goa Shipyard with technology transfer from Russia

•The keel of the second frigate of the additional Krivak class stealth ships being built with technology transfer from Russia by Goa Shipyard Ltd. (GSL) was laid by the Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral, G. Ashok Kumar, on Friday.

•“Keel laying is a major milestone activity in the construction of any ship symbolising formal commencement of the construction process. The keel for the first ship was laid on January 29, 2021. It would be delivered in 2026 and the second ship after six months,” the Navy said.

•Vice Admiral Kumar said it was for the first time that these vessels, with such technological complexity, were being constructed indigenously at the GSL.

•“He said a large number of major equipment are being substituted with indigenous equivalents, in addition to use of significant indigenous build material. The entire hulls of the ships are also being built with indigenous steel,” the statement quoted him.

•In October 2016, India and Russia signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for four Krivak or Talwar stealth frigates — two to be procured directly from Russia and two to be built by the GSL. Following that, India signed a $1-billion deal with Russia for the direct purchase.

•The basic structures of the two frigates are already ready at the Yantar shipyard in Russia and are now being completed.

•In November 2018, the GSL signed a $500-million deal with Rosoboronexport of Russia for material, design and specialists assistance to locally manufacture two stealth frigates and in January 2019 the contract was signed between the Ministry of Defence and the GSL.

•The engines for the ships are supplied by Zorya Nashproekt of Ukraine. Four gas turbine engines, gear boxes and specialist support will cost around $50-million per ship, officials had said earlier.

•India had earlier procured six Krivak class frigates weighing around 4,000 tonnes in two different batches, the Talwar class and the upgraded Teg class. The four ships to be built will weigh 300 tonnes more than the earlier ones and will be armed with BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, the Navy said earlier.

📰 A matter of dress and discipline

When the police wear formal clothes and conduct themselves professionally, they command respect

•The Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, recently directed all officials in the agency to dress in formal clothes while on duty. This means that all the male officers should wear collared shirts, formal trousers and shoes and all the women officers should wear sarees, suits, or formal shirts and trousers. Casuals are a strict no-no.

•Until a few decades back, there was no need to issue such an order. Police officers are normally trained to maintain decorum in office. But over the years, there has been more indiscipline, which has led to this situation. The enforcement of discipline originates from the top. The head of the organisation may himself be observing a proper dress code. But enforcement of discipline needs to flow down the line to the last man. Such enforcement builds up a culture and an ethos within the organisation.

•When I joined the Central Reserve Police Force for my basic training in Neemuch, most of my batchmates who wore printed shirts were asked to pack them and never to be seen in them again. Only plain, striped, or checked shirts were to be worn. The barber turned us into easily recognisable trainees by giving us crew cuts. All this instilled a sense of pride in us.

Image of the police

•Decorum isn’t about clothes alone. The Director General (DG) of Bihar Police, S.K. Singhal, issued instructions recently to all personnel to not use their mobile phones while on duty, except in exceptional cases, as it “affects the image of the police”. A strict enforcement of this order will not only enhance the image of the police but will go a long way in improving the efficiency of the force. Alertness, the hallmark of efficiency in a police force, will produce the desired results. When the police are seen chatting on mobile phones while on duty, it tends to tarnish the image of the police. They are seen as being negligent and inefficient in the performance of their duties. The responsibility largely devolves on the junior officers to check their subordinates from using mobiles.

•A few years ago, the then DG of Bihar Police issued orders that police personnel should not sport any religious symbols on their uniforms or body that would indicate their religious leanings. The order was issued because many were sporting a ‘tilak’ on their foreheads while in uniform. As per regulations, policemen are debarred from wearing any religious marks on their face or uniform. Only Sikh personnel are permitted to wear turbans and grow a beard and moustache. There can be no compromise in projecting the secular nature of the police forces of the country.

•The Police Commissioner of Delhi, S.N. Shrivastava, recently raised objections to civil defence volunteers donning the khaki, an exclusive preserve of the police. A civil defence volunteer was recently arrested for posing as a sub-Inspector and prosecuting those who were violating COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. The matter is being taken up by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

•When the police are smartly dressed and conduct themselves in a professional manner, they command the respect of the general public. Pot-bellied policemen project a bad image of the force. The Central Armed Police Forces rightly introduced the concept of an annual medical examination in the late nineties for all the personnel. This has not only kept them trim and fit but has also ensured that they are always in good health. Any medical deficiency can result in their losing promotions.

•Once the pandemic ends, it is hoped that the health sector shows drastic improvement. It would be a step in the right direction if medical examinations are introduced in all government departments. If this is done, health issues can be detected in the initial stages and treated early.

•The Central and State governments should issue orders as part of the conduct rules that all employees must be in formal wear when attending office. When private companies can enforce a dress code, there is no reason why government services shouldn’t.

📰 The comrades and their divergent perspectives

Russia’s uncritical advocacy of China’s global vision is what seems to be leaving India quite confounded

•Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently asserted that both the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, are “responsible” enough to solve issues between their countries, while underlining the need to debar any “extra-regional power” to interfere in the process. The implications of Mr. Putin’s advice for India are numerous and far-reaching as Moscow expects New Delhi to ignominiously give up all efforts to reverse Beijing’s encroachment strategies. The Russians may have their reasons to remain blind to China’s growing aggressiveness, but the Indians have learned to expect at Chinese hands an unremitting effort to undermine India’s global position — to destroy their confidence in themselves and the confidence of others in them — and to reduce India to a state of isolation and impotence in global affairs.

The Quad factor

•Mr. Putin’s remarks can only be seen as reinforcing China’s claim that the Quadrilateral or Quad (comprising India, the United States, Japan and Australia) is aimed at containing Beijing’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. In fact, Mr. Putin’s assertion is the logical extension of views expressed by Russia’s Ambassador to India, Nikolay Kudashev. Sometime ago, he had advised New Delhi to take a “larger look at Chinese foreign policies”, while describing the Indo-Pacific strategy as an effort to revive the Cold War mentality. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has frequently, and quite acerbically, lashed out at the Quad.

•Notwithstanding the cataclysmic changes in the global and regional politico-security environment, India has been able to maintain amicable ties with Russia. Yet, Russia’s continued criticism of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad give ample evidence of the divergent perspectives of New Delhi and Russia on how to deal with China’s rise to global prominence. Russia has rejected the Indo-Pacific construct in favour of the Asia-Pacific on the ground that the first is primarily an American initiative designed to contain both China and Russia.

•Obviously, India thinks otherwise since Russia’s simplistic advice is not sagacious enough to solve its China problem. India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, in a virtual discussion with his Australian and French counterparts, had recently asserted that no country can have a veto on India’s participation in the Quad ( This assertion was an indirect counterpoise to what Mr. Lavrov had termed the Quad — as “Asian NATO”. In an unmistakable indication of India’s attempt to reimagine a new geostrategic maritime role for itself, Mr. Jaishankar had further observed that incorporation of the Indo-Pacific concept in Indian diplomacy means that India can no longer be confined between the Malacca Strait and Gulf of Aden.

•Though the recent diplomatic romance between Russia and Pakistan has generated some unease in India, it is Russia’s uncritical advocacy of China’s global vision that seems to have left New Delhi overly confounded. For many policymakers and people in our country, the Russian attitude toward China’s growing power and influence will be the touchstone of Russia’s relations with India. While the Sino-Indian relationship has experienced a sharp downward trend since the Galwan clashes in June 2020, New Delhi has become particularly concerned with Moscow downplaying China’s display of coercive military pressure against India. With the catastrophic rise of populist nationalism amidst the bankruptcy of globalisation, the resolution of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute appears a hopeless dream in the absence of a miracle. India is confronted in Ladakh with a situation far uglier and more recalcitrant than is generally recognised.

Beginnings of looking West

•It need not be necessary to remind us again that the decade following the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a period of great turbulence in global politics. A bewildered India soon realised Russia was much weaker than the erstwhile USSR and incapable of helping New Delhi balance potential threats from Beijing. This does not mean that India completely abandoned external balancing strategies; it began to diversify its sources of external balancing. On the other hand, Russia began to cast Moscow as the leader of a supposed trilateral grouping of Russia-India-China against a U.S.-led unipolar world.

•Leaving behind the bitterness and mistrust between Moscow and Beijing during the Cold War, Russia became an early proponent of the ‘strategic triangle’ to bring together the three major powers. Aware of the emerging international system as an expression of western expansion, India’s fear of the unipolar moment too made it easier for New Delhi to become part of this initiative. But China’s dismissive attitude toward Indian capabilities, coupled with an emerging China-Pakistan nexus, prevented the success of this trilateral. India, instead, invested its diplomatic energies in rapprochement with the United States.

•Unlike Russia, which tried to build an alternative international economic architecture, India decided to get integrated in the economic order it once denounced. Economic liberalisation also allowed New Delhi to buy sophisticated weapons from a wider global market that included suppliers such as Israel and France. Both were keen to sell weapons technology to India, and this also boosted New Delhi’s bargaining capacity with Moscow. As the logic of intensive engagement with the West was effectively established, strategic partnership with the U.S. was a logical corollary.

•India’s cooperation with the U.S. has strengthened still further, in part against the perceived terrorism threat, but also in light of China’s growing assertiveness whose undesirable impacts are now being felt across the world. However, Russia’s ability to influence the India-China relationship has become doubtful. India has been searching for other major powers to balance against China as it does not have the sufficient means for hard balancing. Adding options to its statecraft toolbox, India has deepened its ties with Japan and Australia in a way that is close to soft balancing. Nevertheless, among all of India’s balancing efforts, the stupendous growth in ties with the U.S. has been the greatest source of concern for China which views the India-U.S. rapprochement as containment.

•While India needs Russia’s partnership for its defence needs, New Delhi cannot endorse the Russian perspective on the Indo-Pacific and the Quad. For New Delhi, it would be self-defeating to accept that the Indo-Pacific is an American construct. With the first-ever summit of the four leaders in the ‘Quadrilateral framework’ in March this year, the Quad is being formalised into a functional strategic alignment.

Maritime structures

•The real ‘strategic triangle’ in the maritime domain will be that between New Delhi, Washington and Beijing. While other powers such as France, Australia, Japan and Russia will have an impact on the emerging maritime structures of the Indo-Pacific region, it is the triangular dynamic between India, China and the U.S. that is going to be the most consequential. Russia is yet to realise that it will gain immensely from the multilateralism that the Indo-Pacific seeks to promote, and being China’s junior partner only undermines Moscow’s great-power ambitions. But the Putin regime is making things unnecessarily hard for Russia as well as for India; and it is clear that those responsible for Russian policy have arrived at a flawed assessment of the current situation. As the Kremlin’s policymakers are obsessively preoccupied with Russia’s ‘status’ rivalry with the U.S., Russia’s view of India-China relations seems understandable. But there is an inherent danger in permitting it to harden into a permanent attitude as an increasingly pro-Beijing Russia might adopt more aggressive blocking of India’s policy agendas. That is why India is particularly interested in a normalisation of relations between Washington and Moscow as it will help it steer ties among the great powers. and also diminish Moscow’s propensity to closely coordinate its South Asian policies with Beijing.

India-China ties

•There is no doubt that shared identities and beliefs in the principle of non-alignment, painful memories of colonial subjugation, opposition to great-power hegemony, and strong beliefs in sovereignty and strategic autonomy have been the key influencers in shaping India’s and China’s engagement with each other as well as the western world. But this has begun to change as Beijing is asserting its hegemony over Asia. In such circumstances, multilateral forums such as the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have little practical value for Indian diplomacy. Without China’s reciprocity, options before India are limited. India’s concessions, whatever their form, must meet with some form of positive response from China. The response cannot be just symbolic or rhetorical. The absence of any material evidence of reciprocity is bound to doom an attempt at Sino-Indian rapprochement.

•Beijing seems to be acting as though it is immune not only to the strategic consequences for its actions but also to all the conventional rules of international politics. China is undoubtedly the most powerful actor in its neighbourhood but it cannot simply have its way in shaping Asia’s new geopolitics. Beijing’s policies will still be constrained and altered in fundamental ways by India which cannot be expected to adopt a hopeless stance of remaining peripheral in its own strategic backyard.

📰 In Kerala, the need to budget for the future

Beyond the pandemic, there are structural issues the State has to address concerning livelihoods and employment

•Kerala, under duress from the novel coronavirus pandemic, is passing through a recessionary phase, shrinking by about 3.8% during 2019-20. Disease containment measures, including intermittent lockdowns, have stalled the livelihoods of many, probably the entire 66% of the workforce who are either self-employed or casual labourers. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) estimates Kerala’s unemployment rate at a high of 23.5% for May 2021. The extent of wage loss is uncertain, though primary surveys indicate substantial wage reduction.

The pandemic and welfare

•Social priorities for financial planning under such a crisis must appear straightforward. The Budget of the newly elected government of Kerala presented by Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal weighed the priorities right, keeping the pandemic in focus. The free vaccination policy, despite a drastic decline in public revenue by 18%, positions the Government as one that prioritises its people. Unemployment and employability find mention early in the Budget reiterating its inclinations. Setting aside ₹8,900 crore for an income transfer scheme would be a rescue line for the poor and the vulnerable. Such an infusion will also stimulate the economy by boosting consumption demand.

High unemployment

•Beyond the immediate crisis, Kerala is undergoing a transformation grappling with structural issues. For decades, the State has recorded one of the highest open unemployment rates in India — around 10%. Further, the labour force arguably suffers from the problem of ‘employability’, alluding to poor skills and incompetence.

•With the youth bulge in Kerala’s age structure, a large share of the population entered the labour force. This coincided with the structural transformation of the economy, i.e., the share of output shifting from agriculture to service.

•However, this large rise in the labour force could not be absorbed in the emerging sectors that were less labour intensive causing structural unemployment. The economy now needed to grow at faster rates to absorb the new entrants. Concurrently, high reservation wages owing to international remittances, institutional wage setting and the State’s welfare programmes implied that jobseekers sought jobs with decent wages as well. Low wage sectors are filled with inter-State migrant workers, remaining unattractive to the locals. Open unemployment is thus a problem of economic growth and distribution.

Knowledge economy

•This Budget’s focus on tackling unemployment is through the knowledge economy mission, initiated by the outgoing Government. With Kerala’s reasonably high levels of an educated workforce, global exposure and its fragile ecosystem, a globally-linked knowledge-based economy has the potential for ecologically sustainable high economic growth. However, upon close reading, it seems that the mission addresses the wrong side of the problem. Instead of enhancing production in the knowledge-based economy, it envisages to increase the supply of skilled workers, through skilling programmes and matching demand and supply. The fundamental problem is not of labour market mismatch or supply of educated workforce, but that of poor labour demand.

•The above view is often countered by the argument that poor labour demand is due to poor employability. Part of the knowledge economy frame is to improve ‘employability’ by improving skills and skill certification. Improved skills may enhance immediate employment chances. But the notion that skill is static and once acquired, the worker is employable is misplaced. Skill is dynamic, especially in the knowledge economy. The skill requirements are continuously being redefined. The knowledge economy is distinguished by its ability to innovate in short time spans.

•As innovations take place, the skill requirements also evolve. For firms to remain competitive in the knowledge economy, they must recognise skill obsolescence and re-skill their workers. In fact, lifelong learning is a well-known feature of the knowledge economy. Under such circumstances, firms would want to reduce this complex phenomenon into a deficiency in workers, labelling it as poor ‘employability’ and arguing it as State failure in skilling. In fact, what labour market participants lack is the skill requirements that are ever changing in firms. Firms are best placed to know what skills are needed, and not the State. Firms are best placed to train the workers, not the State. Firms are the prime gainers in skill training, not the public. The Government could at best facilitate producers to undertake skill training. The innovative German programme on skilling can inform us.

State of traditional industries

•Meanwhile, industrial transformation has pushed many into frictional unemployment, due to their inability to move from one sector to another. Even while Kerala entered a high-growth trajectory in the 1990s driven by the services, the traditional industries and agriculture sectors remained stagnant. These traditional agro-based industries are now competing in the global markets with not only competitor firms but even substitute products — for instance, coir with its plastic variant. Many such industries, such as cashew, are either moving out from Kerala or are being out competed in export markets. Having joined these sectors at an early age and worked throughout their lives, workers in these sectors are trapped in these ‘sunset’ industries, surviving on subsistence incomes and welfare support. With shrinking incomes and no alternative employment, these households are being driven to penury. The State must devise mechanisms to survive their lives with dignity.

•Small and marginal farmers, and petty service providers suffer from poor incomes despite their efforts, a form of underemployment. Effective interventions can encourage collectivisation to overcome size-related diseconomies. New forms of collectives such as Kudumbasree and the new initiative of the Cooperative Initiative for Agriculture Infrastructure in Kerala (CAIK), are encouraging. Nevertheless, history must guide us to steer clear of the cooperative failures in the past, marred by poor incentive structures, rent seeking and political intervention.

📰 Focus on COVID-19 estimated deaths

Mortality estimates, not officially reported deaths, have the potential to strengthen the pandemic response

•In India, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 85% of all deaths were registered and only one-fourth of the registered deaths were medically certified for the causes of death. There have been wide variations among States and within them, in rural and urban areas. Understanding the causes of death is essential for health sector planning and optimal allocation of health resources. In the absence of robust data on the causes of death, governments rely on estimates.

Reporting COVID-19 deaths

•The World Health Organization has estimated that world over, COVID-19 deaths could be two-three times the officially reported numbers. Public health experts, disease modellers, and research institutes which specialise in morbidity and mortality data have estimated that COVID-19 deaths in India could be in the range of three to 14 times the officially reported number of deaths.

•As per ground reports, there has been under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths during the second wave of infections in India. In April and May 2021, crematorium and burial grounds had long queues, dead bodies were floating in rivers, more cremations were being done following the COVID-19 protocols than the officially reported number of deaths, and everyone had a few people in their social circle who had succumbed to COVID-19. All of these have been captured in media reports from various settings, including major cities and a number of States. Each of these cities and States has reported excess deaths (comparing two similar periods in different years) that are twice to even 30-40 times higher than the officially reported COVID-19 numbers.

•Rural India is known to have a weak death registration system; however, there is corroborative evidence of excess deaths. At an existing death rate of seven per 1,000 people, an average village of 1,000 people should report around one death every two months. But most Indian villages have experienced deaths at a far higher rate in the two months of the second COVID-19 wave.

•The Union and State governments have always been quick to deny estimates. Their core argument has been that COVID-19 deaths cannot be hidden. However, the biggest counter to this position has come from the reconciliation of COVID-19 deaths in Bihar and Maharashtra. Following reviews and audits, these States showed a nearly 75% increase in COVID-19 deaths over the officially reported deaths for the specified periods. The reconciliation from Bihar and Maharashtra was attributed to under-reporting in private hospitals, in home isolation, in transit to the hospitals/facilities and those who died with post-COVID-19 complications. In some of the districts, the revision resulted in the increase being twice or thrice the number of reported deaths. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that if and when other States initiate similar exercises, they are likely to report an upward shift in COVID-19 deaths.

•In fact, the majority of the current analyses of excess deaths has come from urban settings and large municipal corporations, known for a relatively better functioning death registration system. The challenges in death reporting in rural areas are very different and far bigger. During the second wave, access to COVID-19 testing services and treatment facilities was limited in rural India. Pandemic-related restrictions, lack of transport and the health-seeking behaviour of citizens indicate that many people from the villages did not come in contact with the formal health system, which is concentrated in urban settings. Very few rural health facilities were providing services for COVID-19 care. Many people were admitted in the healthcare facilities without a RT-PCR test, and on the basis of clinical symptoms. As many ground reports have shown, deaths in these sub-groups did not make it to officially reported COVID-19 deaths.

•One of the core objectives of the pandemic response is to reduce mortality. Therefore, COVID-19 deaths are a good surrogate indicator of the health system’s performance at the State and district levels. This is a more focused indicator of the response of the health system compared to process-oriented indicators such as daily tests conducted or dedicated COVID-19 beds added. If realistic estimates of COVID-19 deaths by city, rural settings, districts and States are known, a more targeted response could be mounted to the pandemic. The death estimates could be very useful to plan for the next wave of the pandemic (in the short term) and to strengthen the Indian health care system (in the long run).

Refining estimates

•There are at least four approaches which can help us refine the estimates: death audits; excess death analysis; death surveys followed by verbal autopsies; and decadal Census, which is due in India.

•First, every State should get death audits done to correctly classify all the deaths that occurred during the pandemic. The audits should focus on all the health facilities, in the public and private sector, as well as deaths in homes. The process of death audits needs to be institutionalised. The experiences of Bihar and Maharashtra show that this can be done quickly.

•Second, the excess deaths in the pandemic period should be analysed more systematically. For urban settings and those States which have a relatively high death registration, such analysis can be done in a short period of time.

•Third, rural areas and smaller towns require additional data collection. The death registers at the village level can be utilised and panchayats can provide this data in real-time, which can be collated by the administration. The sample registration system teams functioning under the Registrar General and Census Commissioner in India and the booth-level officers used in elections can be mobilised to collect additional information on deaths reported in April and May 2021. This can help the government in getting more realistic death estimates in the next few months. The Jharkhand government completed one such survey, focused exclusively on rural areas, which found 43% excess deaths than the comparable period before the pandemic. The State surveyed two-third of its population with the help of the existing workforce, in 10 days. Such surveys should be planned by all States, followed by verbal autopsy, to assign the causes of deaths.

•Fourth, there is an urgent need to initiate the decadal Census in India. The U.S. and China conducted their census in 2020 during the pandemic. India should urgently plan for the Census, which would provide useful data for all sectors. Inter-censal growth will provide an important insight into the excess mortality.

•The political leadership and health policymakers seem to be taking solace in the fact that India has not yet reported the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world. However, there is bigger merit in developing realistic COVID-19 death estimates, which could be more helpful in policy formulation, planning, resource allocation and health system strengthening. Therefore, the governments at all levels (Union, States and districts) should work to come up with the estimated number of COVID-19 deaths. That kind of granular data on deaths along with other health data will help India fight the pandemic and plan for the post-pandemic period more effectively.
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