The HINDU Notes – 01st August 2020 - VISION

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Saturday, August 01, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 01st August 2020

📰 ‘Rigorous consultations done before framing new National Education Policy’

Education Minister says there will be a major effort from both the Centre and the States to invest in a large number of teachers in all regional languages
•The State governments will take a decision on the medium of instruction in schools under their jurisdiction, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank says on the new National Education Policy (NEP). He expresses concern over a severe scarcity of skilled language teachers and the policy’s recommendations on governance and financing reforms.
Is the policy decision to make the mother tongue the medium of instruction till Class 5 going to be implemented mandatorily across the country, or is it optional for each State Education Department to adopt? Has the Centre taken the States’ views on board on this issue? Have any States raised concerns on implementing this?
•The Ministry of Education has conducted a rigorous consultation process to ensure an inclusive, participatory and holistic approach while framing the NEP. Over two lakh suggestions from 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, 6,600 blocks, 6,000 urban local bodies (ULBs), 676 districts were received.
•Most developed countries have made an earnest effort to ensure that the child studies in the mother tongue so that both parents and children participate in education in the early years of the child. Young children learn and grasp non-trivial concepts more quickly in their home language/mother tongue.
•Thereby, the New Education Policy states that, “Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/ local language/ regional language.” The RTE Act 2009 also states that the medium of instruction, as far as practicable, shall be the mother tongue.

•The decision regarding the medium of instruction in schools coming under their jurisdiction is to be taken by the respective State governments.

What is the timeline for implementing this decision? Are there sufficient teachers trained for this in all regional languages?

•There has been a severe scarcity of skilled language teachers in India. There will be a major effort from both the Central and State governments to invest in large numbers of language teachers in all regional languages around the country, and, in particular, for all languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. States from different regions of India may enter into bilateral agreements to hire teachers in large numbers from each other, to satisfy the three-language formula in their respective States, and also to encourage the study of Indian languages across the country.

•Language teaching too must be improved to be more experiential and to focus on the ability to converse and interact in the language and not just on the literature, vocabulary, and grammar of the language. Languages must be used more extensively for conversation and for teaching-learning.

•A number of initiatives will be adopted to foster languages in school as well as higher education. Strong departments and programmes in Indian languages, comparative literature, creative writing, arts, music, philosophy, etc. will be launched and developed across the country, and degrees including four-year B.Ed. dual degrees will be developed in these subjects.

Will the private and public schools affiliated to the CBSE and the ICSE be asked to mandatorily convert to teaching in the mother tongue only till Class 5? How about Kendriya Vidyalayas that are directly controlled by the Centre?

•The beauty of this policy is flexibility. The intent of the policy follows the mandate given under the Right to Education Act. We will try to take everyone along in the process of making a vibrant India.

The NEP mentions traditional Indian knowledge systems to be included in the curriculum. What are some of the topics and themes you think need to be included, and who are the experts that the Centre will rope in to ensure that this is done?

•We have just come out with the policy. This will be the mandate of the National Curriculum Framework Committee to decide what topics constitute traditional Indian knowledge systems.

•“Knowledge of India” will include knowledge from ancient India and its contributions to modern India and its successes and challenges, and a clear sense of India’s future aspirations with regard to education, health, environment, etc. These elements will be incorporated in an accurate and scientific manner throughout the school curriculum wherever relevant.

The original NEP draft from Dr. K. Kasturirangan’s panel had proposed a Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog as an apex body to oversee all education in the country to be headed by the Prime Minister. Why was this removed from the final policy?

•Upon conducting several rounds of consultations, it was decided that there is a dire need to strengthen and empower the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) which will have a much greater mandate and not only be a forum for widespread consultation and examination of issues relating to educational and cultural development.

•The remodelled and rejuvenated CABE will be responsible for developing, articulating, evaluating, and revising the vision of education in the country on a continuous basis, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the corresponding apex bodies of States. It shall also create and continuously review the institutional frameworks that shall help attain this vision.

The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill has been at the draft stage for over a year now. When will it be introduced in Parliament?

•The Ministry of Education is almost ready with the Cabinet note for the same and will take approval of the government soon.

Will the proposed increase of public funding for education to 6% of GDP be sufficient to finance all the proposed reforms? If not, how does the Centre propose to raise the needed funds for implementation?

•The Centre and the States will work together to increase the public investment in the education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest.

•In particular, financial support will be provided to various critical elements and components of education, such as ensuring universal access, learning resources, nutritional support, matters of student safety and well-being, adequate numbers of teachers and staff, teacher development, and support for all key initiatives towards equitable high-quality education for underprivileged and socio-economically disadvantaged groups.

Why was it important to change the name of the Ministry from Human Resource Development to Education?

•The name shifts the focus to the core work of the Ministry. The core work is imparting education to the millions of children and youth of the country. Now every personnel working in the Ministry will have this constant vision before him to improve the education system of the country.

📰 Fiscal deficit touches 83% of full-year target

•Economists said given the government’s additional borrowing plans, both to meet stimulus spending and bridge the revenue shortfall as a result of the pandemic, the fiscal deficit may end up as high as 8% of GDP, far exceeding the budget’s goal of 3.5%.

•The Union government has received Rs. 1.53 lakh crore (in terms of tax, non-tax revenue and loan recoveries) from April to June. This is less than 7% of budget estimates for the full year.

•The Centre’s total expenditure for the quarter was Rs. 8.15 crore, almost 27% of budget estimates for the year, according to the report published by the Controller General of Accounts on Friday. The Centre has also transferred Rs. 1.34 lakh crore to States as their share of taxes, which is Rs. 14,588 crore lower than the previous year.

•“The 83% figure is not surprising because it is using a denominator that has already been exceeded,” said D.K. Srivastava, chief economist with Ernst and Young, and a member of the advisory council to the 15th Finance Commission. “The Centre has already announced plans for additional borrowing that amounts to about 5.7% of GDP, and then on top of that, some more stimulus spending may be undertaken in the latter part of the fiscal year. So I expect that the Centre’s fiscal deficit... might cross even 6.5%,” he added.

•D.K. Pant, chief economist at India Ratings, estimated a fiscal deficit of 7.6%, while Madan Sabnavis, chief economist of CARE Ratings, said it could go as high as 8% of GDP. “When economic activity has been stopped because of the pandemic and lockdown, government revenues are also going to come down,” said Dr. Sabnavis. “We have been noting the positive trade surplus, but when imports are down, customs revenue is also lower. And consumers have also cut down on discretionary spending,” he added.

📰 Forced decoupling will hurt India and China: Chinese envoy

Economies interwoven, interdependent, says Sun Weidong

•As India reassesses its trade relations with China and considers a range of moves to reduce dependencies, China has called for ‘equal’ treatment for its firms and described ‘forced decoupling’ between the two economies as being harmful to both.

•India has rolled out moves to more tightly regulate Chinese investment and to dilute the presence of Chinese companies in certain sectors.

•The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy was amended in April to protect firms from takeovers, while following the June 15 clash in Galwan Valley, moves have been introduced to reduce Chinese presence in road projects, power equipment sales and in public procurement, besides banning at least 59 widely-used Chinese apps, including TikTok.

•Speaking at a webinar, China’s Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, said the trend of increasing dependencies would be ‘hard to reverse’ and that ‘forced decoupling’ would hurt both the economies.

•“The Chinese and Indian economies are interwoven and interdependent,” he said, citing statistics from 2018-19 showing that “92% of Indian computers, 82% of TVs, 80% of optical fibre, 85% of motorcycle components are imported from China.”

•“Countless examples like this are the reflection of globalisation,” he said. “Whether you want it or not, the trend is difficult to reverse.”

•The envoy, speaking at an event hosted by the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS) on Thursday, said “forced decoupling of the Chinese and Indian economies is against the trend and will only lead to a lose-lose outcome.”

•“A German friend working in India recently told me that, due to India’s recent restrictions on the import of Chinese auto components, the production of German automakers in India had been greatly affected,” he said. “Economic and trade exchanges should not become a knockout nor a zero-sum game that deliberately suppresses others. The Indian government announced that it will provide a favorable investment environment for foreign companies, which should include Chinese companies and treat everyone equally.”

•Beijing has hit out strongly at both the banning of 59 Chinese apps and at moves by India to impose restrictions on Chinese firms participating in highway projects and exporting power equipment.

•On July 1, Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari said Chinese firms would not be allowed to bid for highway projects. The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by warning against “artificial barriers”. “Some politicians in India have kept issuing irresponsible remarks that are detrimental to China-India relations,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on July 3, adding that China would “take all necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese businesses.”

•While some of the moves have followed the June 15 clash in Galwan Valley, India had, even prior to the border tensions, grown increasingly concerned both at the lop-sided trade relationship and at the surge of Chinese investment, particularly into the start-up space. India has also long complained of a lack of reciprocal treatment in China, with Indian firms in China facing market access issues and a range of non-tariff barriers, particularly in the pharmaceuticals and information technology sectors.

•Concerns about Chinese investment have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, with fears of vulnerable firms subject to takeovers. This prompted the government to amend the FDI policy on April 18, requiring prior government approval for investments from countries that share a land border with India. Since then, around 200 investment proposals from China have been awaiting security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

📰 The COVID-19 crisis as a metropolitan battle

The absence of comprehensive and integrated urban planning is starkly visible in the pandemic

•COVID-19 has brought in unprecedented challenges to India’s metropolitan cities, yet again highlighting their limited capabilities to self-govern. India’s top metropolitan cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad — now account for nearly half of the country’s cases of COVID-19.

No governance architecture

•This fallout has an obvious public health angle. India’s public health expenditure in 2018 was a mere 1.28% of GDP. According to the World Bank, India’s out-of-pocket health expenditure was 62.4% in 2017, while the world average was 18.2%. Additionally, manpower in the health sector is low with India’s doctor-population ratio being 1:1,457 which is lower than the World Health Organisation norm of 1:1,000.

•Complimenting an inequitable public health system is a larger governance issue. Governance has a bearing not just on the response to COVID-19 but also in preparedness for other natural and man-made disasters and contingencies. Specific systemic factors underlying city governance include spatial planning, municipal capacities, empowered mayors and councils and inter-agency coordination, and ward-level citizen participation. Twenty-seven years have passed since the enactment of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, but these reform agendas continue to be on slow burn.

•Lack of robust integrated spatial planning: The Constitution mandates formation of Metropolitan Planning Committees (MPCs) in all metropolitan areas with a million-plus population. MPCs are envisioned to ensure integrated planning for the entire metropolitan area, and are responsible for the preparation of draft development plans, synthesising priorities set by local authorities, State and Central governments. In reality, MPCs are either not constituted or are defunct. Janaagraha’s Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2017 report found that only nine out of 18 cities assessed had constituted MPCs even if on paper.

•The absence of comprehensive integrated planning is starkly visible in the COVID-19 crisis. Poor housing, sanitation, and a lack of access to meaningful social security are a reality for the urban poor. Only medium- to long-term spatial planning that focuses on equal access to opportunities and services can avoid a repeat of such disasters.

•Weak municipal capacities: India’s metropolitan cities have weak capacities in finance and staffing. Bengaluru’s average percentage of own revenue to total expenditure is 47.9%, Chennai 30.5%, Mumbai 36.1% and Kolkata at 48.4%. According to ASICS 2017, Mumbai has the highest number of officers per lakh population at 938. However, this is abysmally low compared to global cities such as Johannesburg with 2,922 officers and New York with 5,446 officers per lakh population.

•COVID-19 resurfaces the poor capacity of municipalities in delivering infrastructure and services, and managing disasters; highlighting the urgency to bolster the capability of municipalities to self-govern.

Need for authority

•Weak mayor and council and fragmentation of governance: The leaders steering India’s metropolitan cities are toothless. No big metropolitan cities with 10 million-plus population has a directly-elected Mayor. Mumbai’s Mayor has a tenure of 2.5 years, Delhi and Bengaluru, a mere one year. Furthermore, Mayors do not have full decision-making authority over critical functions of planning, housing, water, environment, fire and emergency services in most cases. Our metropolitan cities are far from being local self-governments. Parastatal agencies for planning, water and public transport report directly to State governments. The State government also largely controls public works and police.

•It is imperative that citizens are able to hold one political authority accountable in the city, and that political authority cannot be the Chief Minister or the State government.

•Transparency, accountability and citizen participation: Transparent cities with institutional platforms encouraging citizen participation have significant bearing on urban democracy. No metropolitan has functional ward committees and area sabhas. An absence of citizen participation is worsened by poor transparency in finance and operations. As per ASICS 2017, India’s big metropolitan cities on average score 3.04/10 in transparency, accountability and participation.

•Decentralised citizen participation platforms are critical in identifying beneficiaries to provide aid, co-opting communities for contact tracing, adoption of safety precautions, enforcing quarantine, recruiting volunteers, and collaborating with civil society organisations to battle the pandemic.

Look at smaller cities too

•A World Bank report notes that despite the emergence of smaller towns, the underlying character of India’s urbanisation is “metropolitan”, with new towns emerging around existing large cities. According to a McKinsey report, in 2012, 54 metropolitan cities and their hinterlands accounted for 40% of India’s GDP, and by 2025, 69 metropolitan cities, combined with their hinterlands, will generate over half of India’s incremental GDP between 2012 and 2025. Despite this, India is yet to begin an active discourse on cohesive metropolitan governance frameworks.

•COVID-19 is primarily a metropolitan battle; and, owing to their size and complexities, come with a higher scale of challenges and opportunities. Studies by the Centre for Policy Research point that India’s spatial feature exhibits the growth of small towns beyond the economics of large agglomerations. This indicates that while India’s urban vision should focus on its metropolitan cities to reap the benefit of scale, it shouldn’t ignore smaller cities.

•Globally, metropolitan cities are steered by a directly-elected leader, with robust mechanisms to reduce fragmentation in governance. Evolved examples include the Tokyo metropolitan government, and recent experimental models such as combined authorities in the United Kingdom and Australia. India needs home-grown solutions suited to its context and political realities, while imbibing lessons on institutional design from global examples.

•The challenges posed by COVID-19 offer a glimpse into various other future threats of climate change, natural disasters, etc. which will further strain Indian cities. It is time the Central and State governments lead efforts towards a metropolitan governance paradigm. The first steps should include empowered Mayors with five-year tenure, decentralised ward level governance, and inter-agency coordination anchored by the city government. India should use the current pandemic as an opportunity to introspect and reform the way its metropolises are governed.

📰 Diluting the EIA process spells a path of no return

The draft environmental impact assessment 2020 is a brazen attempt to weaken critical checks and balances

•On July 12, Fridays for Future India (FFF), a collective of young environmental campaigners, received a notice from the Delhi police that accused it of committing offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Its alleged crime: “sending too many emails” to the Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, with subjects tagged “EIA 2020”. Over the last few weeks, the FFF has organised a sustained protest against a proposed new notification, which aims to replace the existing model of conducting environmental impact assessments (EIA) in India. The notice the group received claimed that the campaign’s details published on its website contained “objectionable contents” and constituted “unlawful activities or terrorists act[s]” which were “dangerous for the peace, tranquillity and sovereignty of India”.

•Even though the notice was eventually withdrawn, after the police cited a “clerical” error, that the country’s anti-terror law can be invoked with such facile ease is a shuddering thought. But equally this must also make us wonder what it is about the FFF’s campaign that drew such ire out of the government. Is the new draft EIA policy so critical to the state’s programme that even the slightest acts of dissent are to be quashed with maximum force?

•The wreckages of COVID-19, one would have thought, would have given the government a chance to reassess what its goals towards climate justice ought to be. After all, the pandemic has had a searing effect on how we lead our lives. It has altered our relationships not only with each other but also with the environment. During this time, the decades of pitiful investment in public health and education have clearly been brought to the fore, as has the fragility of our basic infrastructure.

•But the responses to the crisis seem to mirror the failures of the past: the more that goes wrong, the more we want to do the same things again, as though all that we desire is a return to a pre-pandemic status quo. What we do not seem to understand is that the supposed normality that we are craving does not mean that there are no fresh disasters ahead. And those disasters, as every sign demonstrates, are likely to be all the more catastrophic unless we contend with the deplorable neglect that we have shown towards the environment. It is time we recognised, as Bill McKibben wrote in The New Yorker , that “normal is the enemy”.

Culture of disregard

•Yet, the proposed new EIA policy symbolises a rush to restore society to where it was before COVID-19 halted its motor of progress. The draft notification takes an already inadequate system and seeks to infuse into it a culture of disregard. It is almost as though, to the state, the global climate emergency is operating in a parallel universe of its own.

•Around the world, legislative interventions mandating EIAs began to burgeon in the late 1960s. The basic credo of these measures was to ensure that the state had at its possession a disinterested analysis of any development project and the potential impact that it might have on the environment. It took India, though, until 1994 before it notified its first set of assessment norms, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. This policy mandated that projects beyond a certain size from certain sectors — such as mining, thermal power plants, ports, airports and atomic energy — secure an environmental clearance as a precondition to their commencement. But the notification, subject as it was to regular amendments, proved a failure.

Abandoning rigour

•In 2006, a new EIA programme was conceived, ironically on the back of corporate pressure. There was a belief that the 1994 system hindered speedy growth. The new draft attempted to decentralise the process. It increased the number of projects that required an environmental clearance, but also created appraisal committees at the level of both the Centre and States, the recommendations of which were made a qualification for a sanctioning. What is more, the programme also mandated that pollution control boards hold a public hearing to glean the concerns of those living around the site of a project.

•But, in practice, the 2006 notification also proved regressive. The course remained mired in opacity. The final EIA report, for example, was not made available to the public; the procedure for securing clearances for certain kinds of projects was accelerated; and there was little scope available for independent judicial review. When clearances were challenged, the courts treated the views of the assessment authorities as sacrosanct. In the process, EIAs, far from serving as a bulwark for environmental justice, came to be regarded as a mere inconvenience, as a bureaucratic exercise that promoters of a project had to simply navigate through.

•Now, as we find ourselves amidst not just a pandemic but also a global climate emergency, it is hard not to despair at the nature of changes that we need to make, to not merely our laws and regulations, but also to how we lead our lives. Yet, the government is on a warpath to further weaken an already fragile system. As many campaigners have highlighted, the new draft is riddled with problems. It enables a sweeping clearance apparatus to a number of critical projects that previously required an EIA of special rigour; where some industries require expert appraisal under the existing 2006 notification, they will, under the new notification, be subject to less demanding processes. These include aerial ropeways, metallurgical industries, and a raft of irrigation projects, among others.

Damaging fundamental tenets

•What is more, the new proposal does nothing to strengthen the expert appraisal committees on which so much responsibility is reposed, leaving the body rudderless. It also does away with the need for public consultation for a slew of different sectors, negating perhaps a redeeming feature of the 2006 notification. But, most egregiously, the proposal opens up a window for securing post-facto clearances. That is, companies which have commenced a project without a valid certificate will be allowed to regularise their operations by paying a fine. If there is a singular logic to the EIA process, it is that an environmental clearance is a prerequisite to the launching of a project. But here the government wants to reverse that fundamental tenet.

•There is no doubt that a mere strengthening of the existing EIA norms will not by itself be sufficient. We need a renewed vision for the country; one that sees the protection of the environment as not merely a value unto itself but as something even more foundational to our democracy. To that end, we must begin to imagine a future where, as the American law professor, Jedediah S. Purdy, argues, our ecological and egalitarian projects can fuse together.

•For this to happen, though, we have to see ourselves as not distinct from the environment that we live in, but as an intrinsic part of it. Under such a model, our economic solutions will have to necessarily subsume a commitment to our natural surroundings. To achieve this broader vision we will need deeper thinking, greater political initiative, and a leap of faith.

•But, in the meantime, to allow the government to weaken the EIA process has the potential to make things irredeemable. And here, Wendell Berry’s words are worth recalling: “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, nature is party to all our deals and decisions,” and it “has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”