The HINDU Notes – 19th September 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 19th September 2019

📰 India is the top source of immigrants across the globe

India is the top source of immigrants across the globe
A UN report reveals that one-third of all immigrants come from 10 countries

•India has emerged as the leading country of origin for immigrants across the world, with 17.5 million international migrants in 2019 coming from India, up from 15.9 million in 2015, according to a dataset released by the Union Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York on Tuesday.

Sharp increase

•The International Migrant Stock 2019, released by the UN DESA's Population Division, said the number of international migrants in the world had reached an estimated 272 million 2019 — 51 million more than in 2010. The percentage of international migrants of the total global population has increased to 3.5% from 2.8% in 2000.

•While India remained as the top source of international migrants, the number of migrants living in India saw a slight decline from 5.24 million in 2015 to an estimated 5.15 million in 2019 – both 0.4% of the total population of the country.

•Bangladesh was the leading country of origin for migrants in India, the report stated.

From 10 countries

•In a statement, the UN DESA Population Division said that one-third of all international migrants originated from 10 countries — after India, Mexico ranked second as the country of origin for 12 million migrants, followed by China (11 million), Russia (10 million) and Syria (8 million).

•The European region hosted the highest number of the immigrants at 82 million in 2019, followed by North America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million). Among countries, the U.S. hosts the highest number of international migrants (51 million), about 19% of the global population.

•The statement also said that around two-fifths of all international migrants had gone from one developing country to another.

•The statement added that further, forced displacements continue to rise, with the number of refugees and asylum seekers increased by about 13 million from 2010 to 2017, the statement added.

📰 Two out of three child deaths due to malnutrition: report

Analysis of health data finds that Assam, Bihar, Rajasthan and U.P. are the most affected States

•Two-thirds of the 1.04 million deaths in children under five years in India are still attributable to malnutrition, according to the first comprehensive estimate of disease burden due to child and maternal malnutrition and the trends of its indicators in every State from 1990.

•The report states that the disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rate attributable to malnutrition in children varies 7-fold among the States and is highest in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Nagaland and Tripura.

•The report was published on Wednesday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative. The report says the overall under-five death rate and the death rate due to malnutrition has decreased substantially from 1990 to 2017, but malnutrition is still the leading risk factor for death in children under five years, and is also the leading risk factor for disease burden for all ages considered together in most States.

•The malnutrition trends over about three decades reported in this paper utilised all available data sources from India, which enable more robust estimates than the estimates based on single sources that may have more biases.

•The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative is a joint initiative of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare along with experts and stakeholders associated with over 100 Indian institutions, involving many leading health scientists and policy makers from India.

•Vinod K. Paul, member, NITI Aayog, said that the government is now intensifying its efforts to address the issue of malnutrition across the country. “State governments are being encouraged to intensify efforts to reduce malnutrition and undertake robust monitoring to track the progress,” he said.

•Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR said: “The National Institute of Nutrition, an ICMR institute, and other partners are setting in place mechanisms to ensure that there is more data available on malnutrition in the various States which will help monitor progress. The findings reported in the paper published today highlight that there are wide variations in the malnutrition status between the States. It is important therefore to plan the reduction in malnutrition in a manner that is suitable for the trends and context of each State.”

Low birth weight

•Senior author of the paper Lalit Dandona, also director of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, explained that the study reports that malnutrition has reduced in India, but continues to be the predominant risk factor for child deaths, underscoring it importance in addressing child mortality. “It reveals that while it is important to address the gaps in all malnutrition indicators, low birth weight needs particular policy attention in India as it is the biggest contributor to child death among all malnutrition indications and its rate of decline is among the lowest. Another important revelation is that overweight among a subset of children is becoming a significant public health problem as it is increasing rapidly across all States,” he said.

•Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organisation and first author on this paper, noted that the study findings have highlighted where efforts need to be intensified.

•“For substantial improvements across the malnutrition indicators, States will need to implement an integrated nutrition policy to effectively address the broader determinants of under-nutrition across the life cycle. Focus will be needed on major determinants like provision of clean drinking water, reducing rates of open defecation, improving women’s educational status, and food and nutrition security for the most vulnerable families,” she explained.

📰 Cabinet approves ban on e-cigarettes

Cabinet approves ban on e-cigarettes
•The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a ban on e-cigarettes, citing the need to take early action to protect public health.

•Upon promulgation of the ordinance, any production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale (including online sale), distribution or advertisement (including online advertisement) of e-cigarettes shall be a cognisable offence punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, or fine up to ₹1 lakh, or both for the first offence; and imprisonment of up to three years and fine up to ₹5 lakh for a subsequent offence. Storage of electronic-cigarettes shall also be punishable with imprisonment of up to 6 months or a fine of up to ₹50,000 or both.

Children at risk

•“Envisioned as a tool to combat tobacco addiction, electronic cigarettes and other vaping products have become a major problem and increase the risk of children adopting them,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a media briefing.

•As per a release issued by the Centre, owners of existing stocks of e-cigarettes on the date of commencement of the ordinance will have to suo motu declare and deposit these with the nearest police station.

•The sub-inspector has been designated as the authorised officer to take action under the ordinance. The Central or State governments may also designate any other equivalent officer(s) as authorised officer for enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance.

•The Prohibition of E-cigarettes Ordinance, 2019, was recently examined by a Group of Ministers (GoM) following directions from the Prime Minister’s Office. In the draft ordinance, the Health Ministry had proposed a maximum imprisonment of up to one year along with a penalty of ₹1 lakh against first time violators.

•E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that produce aerosol by heating a solution containing nicotine, which is the addictive substance in combustible cigarettes.

•The Minister noted that as per data the misuse of e-cigarettes is very high among students. The Union Health Ministry had earlier issued an advisory to all States and Union Territories to ensure that Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn devices, vape, e-sheesha, e-nicotine flavoured hookah, and devices that enable nicotine delivery are not sold (including online sale), manufactured, distributed, traded, imported and advertised in their jurisdictions.

•Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan had also written to the Commerce Secretary to block the entry of a U.S.-based company manufacturing vaping devices like e-cigarettes, into India stating that “if not prevented, [it] could undermine the efforts taken by the government towards tobacco control.”

•The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) too had cautioned against the growing use of e-cigarettes citing studies which noted that use of e-cigarettes could have adverse effects on humans, which include DNA damage, carcinogenic, cellular, molecular and immunological toxicity, respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological disorders, and adverse impact on foetal development and pregnancy.

•The Association of Vapers India (AVI), an organisation that represents e-cigarette users across the country, slammed the government’s move, terming it ‘a black day’ for 11 crore smokers in India who had been deprived of safer options.

•“The government may be patting its back for banning e-cigarettes but this is a draconian move considering the risk to the health of crores of smokers,” asserted Samrat Chowdhery, AVI director and harm reduction advocate. “On one hand, we talk about transitioning from a developing to developed nation but on the other we are closing our doors to new technology that has been embraced globally by governments and used by millions worldwide to quit smoking,” he added.

📰 The Taliban problem: On the Afghan crisis

Terrorists will not be keen on talks, but finding a solution to the Afghan crisis must continue

•When the U.S.-Taliban talks collapsed last week, the insurgent group threatened to step up attacks in Afghanistan. It made good on its pledge on Tuesday using two suicide bombers who killed at least 48 people by targeting a rally being addressed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani north of Kabul, and also the capital. These attacks are yet another warning of the security challenges Afghanistan faces, especially when it is gearing up to the September 28 presidential poll. Both the 2014 presidential election and last year’s parliamentary poll were violently disturbed by the Taliban. This time, the group has asked civilians to stay away from political gatherings, making all those who participate in the political process potential targets. Rising attacks against Afghan civilians make the Taliban’s claim that it is fighting on behalf of them against the foreign invaders hollow. The Taliban did not suspend its terror campaign even while holding talks with the U.S. in Qatar. In July, when the talks were under way, Amrullah Saleh, Mr. Ghani’s running mate and the former intelligence chief, escaped a serious assassination attempt. Now that the talks have collapsed, a vengeful Taliban is unleashing itself on the Afghans.

•The Afghan government seems determined to go ahead with the election. It has deployed some 70,000 troops to protect over 5,000 polling stations. But the threat from the Taliban is so grave that the President is largely addressing campaign rallies through Skype. Even if the elections are over without further attacks, the Taliban problem will remain. Afghanistan needs a solution to this crisis and regional and international players should help the new government. The fundamental problem with the U.S.-Taliban peace process was that it excluded the Kabul government at the insistence of the insurgents, which itself was a major compromise by the U.S. On the other side, the Taliban was not even ready to cease hostilities. A peace agreement dictated by the Taliban won’t sustain. The Taliban can’t be allowed to have a free terror run either. A permanently unstable Afghanistan and an insurgent group growing further in strength is not good news for any nation, including Afghanistan’s neighbours. Afghanistan needs a comprehensive peace push in which all stakeholders, including the government, the U.S., the Taliban and regional players will have a say. The U.S. should continue to back the Kabul government, put pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Afghan Taliban, double down its counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and invite regional players such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India and China to take part in the diplomatic efforts. In other words, the Taliban should be forced to return to talks. The U.S.-Taliban peace talks may have collapsed. But it need not be the end of the road for finding a settlement for the Afghan crisis.

📰 A self-inflicted economic slowdown

The government has failed to heed recommendations made by economists and bureaucrats on turnaround measures

•One of the visitors to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his re-election this summer was a former Secretary to the Government of India holding a high-profile constitutional office. During the conversation, the Prime Minister asked: “Arthvyavastha ka kya karna chahiye? (What should be done about the economy?)”

•The former bureaucrat , who had studied economics at college, replied: “All of that listed in the presentation I made to you in 2015,” referring to the marathon brainstorming sessions the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had held nearly four years ago to set the policy agenda for Mr. Modi’s first term. It was a sharp remark to make. For it implied that Mr. Modi’s government had made little progress on translating agenda into action.

Ending the paralysis

•Back then, the economy was still in recovery phase. In the final 18 months of its 10 years, the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had moved the economy into repair phase.

•For all its faulty handling of the economy, the Manmohan Singh-led government did manage to end the parliamentary paralysis and pass its land and food Bills in 2013, the choice of legislative action dictated by ideological inputs, rather than the wisdom of the then Prime Minister expressed by his key economic aides. A mechanism for handling projects which had been stalling for both economic and administrative reasons was set up in the Cabinet Secretariat and the PMO. The economy that had been named as one of the so-called ‘Fragile Five’ was no longer counted so and had exited the ignoble clubbing.

•The policy paralysis —an administrative and political bottleneck — had ended. The fiscal and current account deficits had been compressed, and GDP growth was slowly picking up momentum year after year, a recovery that continued till 2016-17, the year of demonetisation. Inflation remained out of control, also, in part, due to the sharp uptrend in global crude prices. In May 2014, after Mr. Modi’s Cabinet was sworn in, it was made clear to the new government that purposeful steps would strengthen this recovery. Without reforms, though, the recovery would be difficult to sustain.

•Among officers that made precise recommendations on action needed was the Prime Minister’s close aide and IAS officer, Hasmukh Adhia, who, as the Financial Services Secretary, made a presentation that detailed in the strongest possible terms the crying need for corrective action in public sector banks: the quicker the banking sector recovered its health, the speedier a pullback in the overall economy could be expected. A recovering economy would have meant, borrowers would be less likely to default on loans and bank NPAs (non-performing assets) would rise at a slower pace if at all.

Ignoring advice

•But advice on action needed and decisions that should be avoided were ignored. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cautioned the government against demonetisation in writing; the former RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan, did so orally.

•Ahead of the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), on invitation from the government, well-regarded economist and former Finance Secretary Vijay Kelkar briefed the Prime Minister and key Cabinet ministers on the criticality of avoiding the business-unfriendly rate structure and compliance system that had been worked out for introduction. He was invited to the midnight launch in Parliament’s Central Hall of the GST, but his advice went unheeded.

•As late as in the run-up to the July 5 Budget, economists openly sympathetic to the ruling party called for bold steps aimed at reversing the slowdown. After the Budget was tabled, economist Surjit Bhalla drew attention to the need for changing the status quo in agriculture and the impossibility of doubling farmer incomes. Economist Subramanian Swamy has consistently drawn attention to the dire consequences to be expected as a result of the Modi government’s approach to the economy. Members of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council have been a measured voice of wisdom. Arvind Panagariya is writing with concern over the lack of appetite for growth-accelerating reforms.

•The consequences of five years of ignoring advice are, well, hard to ignore now: the weak recovery inherited in 2014 has indeed petered out. A growth slowdown has been on for three years. The loss of growth momentum in the three years from 2016-17 to 2018-19 is significant: 8.2%, 7.2% and 6.8%. GDP growth hit a 25-quarter low of 5% in the April-June 2019 quarter.

•Scores of private sector jobs are getting axed. Growth in car sales, retail loans and property has plummeted to multi-year lows, as the impact of the slowdown spreads across the economy.

•Several policy pronouncements have been made since the day the courtesy call was paid. These include the July 5 Budget and the weekly press conferences of the Finance Ministry aimed at announcing measures for accelerating GDP growth. That the measures fall woefully short of the recommendations made by economists and bureaucrats over the last five years is an understatement. The government has also failed to take the steps required urgently at this stage of the slowdown.

•When there is a mine of advice sitting in government files, gathering dust for five years, who should be blamed for the unfolding economic slowdown?

📰 Shaking the foundation of fake news

Battling disinformation must involve a fight against the narratives that act as grist for the rumour mill

•Combating fake news is a growing preoccupation of the technology platforms, the political class, the news media, and an increasing tribe of citizens concerned about democracy being hijacked. There is a perception that fake news is a new phenomenon linked to the rise of social media; however, this is only half the story. Governments and political actors (anyone in the business of mobilising public opinion) have always invested in disinformation campaigns to build narratives of their choice. In fact, it is because the institutional news media is no longer seen as an arbitrator of the ‘real news’ — having lost credibility due to complicit and motivated reporting — that fake news has been able to thrive now. The advent of social media has merely decentralised the creation and propagation of fake news. It is this that has led to the ubiquity of and difficulty in controlling/eliminating fake news.

•The current response to fake news primarily revolves around three prongs — rebuttal, removal of the fake news item and educating the public. While these are necessary measures, it is not apparent that they are sufficient in themselves to address the larger ‘political’ problem posed by fake news.

Rebuttal and removal

•Rebuttal is a form of fact checking wherein the fake news is debunked by pointing out errors like mismatch, malicious editing and misattribution. To the extent that the fake news item appears on institutional handles, attempts are made to have it removed after rebuttal. There is much pressure on companies like Facebook and YouTube to proactively remove fake news from their platforms and rework their algorithms to ensure that such content does not gain prominence. The newly introduced limits on forwarding messages on WhatsApp are an offshoot of this discourse, where accountability to address fake news is offloaded on to the technology platforms. The third leg of the response revolves around educating the end users to be more discerning consumers of news by informing them of verification tools so that they can ascertain the accuracy of a news item before sharing it.

•Another emerging strand in this discourse, propagated by the government, concerns tracking the ‘source’ of fake news, ostensibly to address the issue at its root. However, this suggestion, when combined with another proposal to de-anonymise all social media accounts, is fraught with serious issues concerning invasion of privacy and free speech, and will more often than not be used by governments to quell dissent.

•While the measures outlined are important and must be expanded upon, there are some evident shortcomings in this approach. First, attempting to rebut fake news is akin to hitting a moving target, with a steady stream of fake news getting churned out consistently. It may be possible to rebut news on one fake instance of children getting abducted or on Indian citizens toting Pakistan’s flags but the ‘fake news factory’ will keep churning out similar stories to advance its chosen narrative.

•Second, it is impossible to completely ‘remove’ fake news even after rebuttal, given the decentralised nature of dissemination. Propagation and virality of a news item are contingent not on its accuracy but on how well it conforms to the dominant narrative and also on the strength of the associated distribution networks that spread the narrative. Thus, the act of ‘rebuttal’, instead of supplanting the original fake news item, could end up vying for space with the latter. Moreover, in India, the right-wing propagators of fake news are often better organised, especially on messaging platforms like WhatsApp, than the liberal Opposition.

Reinforcing the fake account

•However, the biggest shortcoming of this approach — the fact that the very act of rebuttal reinforces the fake narrative being pushed — goes beyond this cat-and-mouse problem. Since the act of rebuttal gets confined within the original framework of the fake news item, the political impact of the rebuttal is far less than ideal.

•The average consumer relies on overall frameworks/narratives to evaluate a piece of information. The increasing complexity of issues, in conjunction with the deluge of information — with the relevant jostling for space with the irrelevant — has made it impossible for any individual to develop a well-researched stand on all the topics. When an individual piece of information (fake news or otherwise) conforms to someone’s held beliefs, it is readily accepted and shared.

Confirmation bias

•Studies have confirmed that people don’t care about finding the ‘truth’ behind a news item and instead look for evidence to support their preferred narrative (confirmation bias). Therefore, debunking discrete items of fake news without addressing this battle of narratives will have only a marginal value. This is because when an individual fake news item having a reinforcement value is debunked, the purveyors simply discard it and replace it with another piece of similar fake news.

•It is evident that if we are concerned about the impact of fake news, we must address the underlying narratives, instead of merely trying to rebut individual items. This needs to be done in two connected ways: first, by addressing the weaknesses that allow the fake news narrative to take root. For instance, the right wing’s narrative across the world, while propelled by fake news, is premised on the loss of credibility of the liberal camp, which is perceived to be elitist and corrupt. Any way forward must involve a rebuilding of this lost credibility.

•Second, we must not get sucked into a losing narrative while attempting to rebut fake news. Instead, we must mobilise public opinion around an alternate narrative that makes the fake news item irrelevant. Most people cannot hold multiple stories in their head and thus, instead of poking holes in an opponent’s story, it may be more effective to replace it with a different narrative built on facts. Ultimately, all fake news is in service of a political, if not electoral, agenda. We should thus not lose sight of the wood for the trees by focussing disproportionately on individual fake news items instead of the larger narrative.

📰 The multitudes dispossessed by the ‘Gujarat model’

Extractive projects like Sardar Sarovar have hit many people.

•The Gujarat government has filled up the Sardar Sarovar this year, flooding the Narmada. In Madhya Pradesh alone, reportedly, more than 28,000 families still live in the submergence zone. They have not been given due rehabilitation or compensation. However, despite opposition by many groups, the Gujarat and Union governments are going ahead with this forced mass displacement of communities. Disturbing videos are circulating. In one, a woman is seen refusing to leave her home, even as it is flooded to waist level. In another, two childhood friends are seen consoling each other as they watch the only place they’ve called ‘home’ go under water. There are thousands of such scenes along the Narmada. Crops grown over the season have been destroyed and around 13,500 hectares of forests are being drowned by this developmental mayhem.

Ingress of sea water

•Beyond Sardar Sarovar, the once mighty Narmada is now a seasonal drain that carries sewage and industrial effluents. At the mouth of the river in Gujarat, because of lower freshwater pressure on account of the dam, the sea water has ingressed several km inland, rendering vast fertile lands saline. With some 10,000 hectares of agricultural land having been destroyed, the farmers of the area are devastated. Just in Bharuch, a fishing community of around 30,000 has lost its livelihood. The estuary’s once-thriving population of the coveted Hilsa fish is in danger due to the ingress. In response, the Gujarat government has built a barrage which, paradoxically will only end up destroying the breeding grounds of the Hilsa.

•When the dream of the Sardar Sarovar was sold to the people of Gujarat, these features of the dam were not mentioned. Even today, when proponents continue to defend the project after all that has happened, they fail to report these ‘gifts’ of the dam.

•But how was such a disaster allowed to unfold? For years, industrial lobbies constantly pushed politicians to build the dam despite activists raising important questions about it. The politicians found it opportune to go along with the industrialists’ agenda.

•The Sardar Sarovar was promised as a new lease of life for farmers across Gujarat. Even the Supreme Court, in allowing the project to go ahead in a 2000 verdict, relied pivotally on the argument that there was no other way to provide water to the dry areas of Gujarat. Farmers as far as Kutch were promised Narmada waters. They are still waiting as the canals leading to their agricultural lands have not been built as yet. Instead, the situation has worsened. As Gujarat neglected its own water resources and the changing climate, farmers, fishermen and herders have begun leaving, signalling the beginnings of a climate refugee crisis.

The primary beneficiaries

•Today, it is clear that the primary beneficiaries of the dam were the industrialists of Gujarat. Tata’s plant in Sanand, shifted from West Bengal after farmers there protested illegal land grab, draws a generous amount of Narmada’s water; as does Coca-Cola, which was thwarted from expanding in Plachimada, Kerala, and Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, due to protests. Meanwhile, Gujarat’s own river, Sabarmati, now draws water from the Narmada to fill it.

•The plight of the farmers of Dholera, who were once promised Narmada water and were successfully mobilised against anti-dam protests, brings out the cruel irony of the State’s policies. The soil of the area has turned saline, thanks to Gujarat’s neglect of its local water bodies. To add insult to injury, the State government now wants to build a ‘Special Investment Region’ there and has asked farmers to vacate the land. Any protest is being beaten into the earth. Such are the perverse ‘achievements’ of those relentless in their advocacy of the dam. The riches of Gujarat — shown as a model to the rest of the country — are the result of such violent extraction, exploitation and destruction that benefit a few while victimising many.

•As we near Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, let’s recall these words of warning from him: “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialisation after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [Britain] is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”

•We are now looking at 1,300-1,700 million people wanting to live like Britain. The ultimate outcome is a foregone conclusion.