1 August 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) Towards a new normal: On Unlock 3-
GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- The Centre has announced further relaxations in the lockdown that began on March 25 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic although the numbers are unrelenting. The third phase will now take effect from August 5.
- At nearly 17 lakh, India stood third among countries with the highest number of cases; a third of these cases are currently active.
- With over 36,000 deaths, India’s case fatality(death) rate of 2.16% is relatively low.
VIGIL MUST CONTINUE:
- The possibility of wider prevalence(spread) indicated in serology surveys in Delhi and Mumbai suggests that the death rate could be even lower than current estimations.
- The disease spread has been uneven within the country. The responses of States and cities have also remained inconsistent.
- Along with the number of cases, overworked health-care professionals experiencing fatigue(tired) and the public showing impatience with restrictions are also on the rise.
- This is not a pleasant mix of circumstances, and utmost vigil(observation) must continue.
- By now, it is also evident that complete lockdowns that disrupt economic activities cannot be sustained over long periods of time.
- Gyms and yoga centres, but not educational institutions, metro rail, and large gatherings, will be allowed in the next phase.
- Movement of people and goods across borders will be easier as per the Centre’s guidelines.
- Random restrictions on movement such as those in Tamil Nadu, where an e-pass is required for intra- and inter-State travel, must now be done away with.
- As a vaccine or a cure is not yet visible, it is time the focus on adaptation got sharper.
- Though many questions about COVID-19 remain, certain measures are evidently helpful in managing the pandemic better and bringing fatalities down.
- The coming phase of unlocking must prepare the country for complete opening.
- For that, first of all, testing should be unlocked and made available on demand as close to home as possible.
- For those infected to not step out of home is a far superior measure in preventing spread, compared to inadequate mask usage.
- With most cases turning out to be asymptomatic, wider and cheaper availability of testing must be a thrust area for the government now.
- Easy, early diagnosis of infections, even when asymptomatic, will go a long way in containment.
- The concerns regarding increased dependence on rapid antigen tests in some places must be addressed.
- Second, real time epidemiological data should be unlocked.
- Just as weather data is freely available, and allows for cropping practice readjustments, disaggregated(seperated) real time data enables micro-planning and localised behavioural response.
- The proclivity(liking) shown by some States and cities to conceal data has been self-defeating.
- Even official death counts do not match with the numbers available with other sources.
- There must be efforts to harvest(find) accurate data, and with ease of availability.
- Normalcy, albeit(although) a new one, could be reached faster with the right efforts.
2) War and talks: On Taliban ceasefire-
GS 2- Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
- The Taliban’s decision to cease fire(suspension of fighting) for 3 days during Id-ul-Adha has come as a relief for Afghans who have seen unabated(unstopped) violence despite a peace agreement between the insurgents and the U.S.
- This is the third official respite since the war started in 2001.
- In June 2018 and May this year, the Taliban had briefly ended hostilities(aggression) to mark the end of the holy month of Ramzan.
- On both occasions, it refused to extend the ceasefire, returning to war as soon as the celebrations were over.
- This time, however, hopes are high that the truce(ceasefire) could be extended as Kabul and the insurgents are preparing to launch the intra-Afghan talks that were promised in the U.S.-Taliban deal.
- According to the pact, talks were to begin in March.
- But both sides failed to reach an agreement on prisoner exchange, which the U.S. had agreed with the Taliban.
- The insurgents complained that the government was not complying with the terms of the agreement, while officials of the Ashraf Ghani administration said the Taliban’s demands were unacceptable.
- Finally, President Ghani decided to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, which was followed by the Taliban’s ceasefire announcement.
- Both sides have now agreed to kick-start talks after Id and they could do it in a peaceful environment if the ceasefire is extended.
- While the cessation(end) of hostilities is welcome, there are underlying issues that continue to plague(hurt) the peace process.
- When the U.S. entered into talks with the insurgent group, it did not insist on a ceasefire.
- So the Taliban continues to engage in war and talks simultaneously.
- Worse, the Americans, badly looking for a way out of the conflict, kept the Afghan government out of the peace process.
- U.S.-Taliban agreement was signed in February, according to which the U.S. agreed to pull out its troops in return for security assurances from the Taliban.
- The responsibility was on a weakened Afghan government to start talks even as the Taliban continued attacks.
- According to the government, 3,560 government troops and 775 civilians have been killed in conflict since the deal was signed. Also, infighting made matters worse for the government.
- Last year’s presidential election saw a disturbed pattern and a record low turnout.
- These factors allowed a resurgent Taliban to maintain the upper hand — in war and in talks.
- This will be the government’s key challenge when its representatives and that of the Taliban would be holding talks.
- Taliban sees itself as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan who have yet not recognised the country’s Constitution.
The Taliban’s ceasefire is an opportunity to kick-start intra-Afghan peace talks.
3) Diluting the EIA process spells a path of no return-
GS 3- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
- 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, 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”.
- However the notice was eventually withdrawn, after the police cited a “clerical” error.
- But equally this must also make us wonder what it is about the FFF’s campaign that drew such ire(anger) 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?
CHANCE TO REASSESS:
- The wreckages(damages) 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.
- It has altered(changed) our relationships not only with each other but also with the environment.
- 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(harmful) unless we contend with the deplorable(shameful) 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(stopped) its motor of progress.
- Around the world, legislative interventions mandating EIAs began to burgeon(increase) in the late 1960s.
- The basic aim 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 should secure an environmental clearance as a precondition to their commencement.
- But the notification, subject as it was to regular amendments, proved a failure.
- In 2006, a new EIA programme was conceived(thought), ironically on the back of corporate pressure. There was a belief that the 1994 system hindered(obstructed) speedy growth.
- The new draft attempted to decentralise the process.
- It increased the number of projects that required an environmental clearance.
- It 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(get) the concerns of those living around the site of a project.
- But, in practice, the 2006 notification also proved regressive(backward). The course remained mired in opacity(unclear).
- 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.
- There was little scope available for independent judicial review.
- When clearances were challenged, the courts treated the views of the assessment authorities as sacrosanct(pure).
- In the process, EIAs, far from serving as a bulwark(custodian) 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.
- 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(strictness).
- The industries which required 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(without aim).
- It also does away with the need for public consultation for a slew of different sectors, negating perhaps a redeeming(saving) 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(essential) to the launching of a project.
- But here the government wants to reverse that fundamental tenet(principle).
- 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.
- 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.
- To achieve this broader vision we will need deeper thinking, greater political initiative, and a leap of faith.