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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

 


CONTEXT:

  1. 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.
  2. At nearly 17 lakh, India stood third among countries with the highest number of cases; a third of these cases are currently active.
  3. With over 36,000 deaths, India’s case fatality(death) rate of 2.16% is relatively low.

 

VIGIL MUST CONTINUE:

  1. 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.
  2. The disease spread has been uneven within the country. The responses of States and cities have also remained inconsistent.
  3. 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.
  4. This is not a pleasant mix of circumstances, and utmost vigil(observation) must continue.
  5. By now, it is also evident that complete lockdowns that disrupt economic activities cannot be sustained over long periods of time.
  6. Gyms and yoga centres, but not educational institutions, metro rail, and large gatherings, will be allowed in the next phase.
  7. Movement of people and goods across borders will be easier as per the Centre’s guidelines.
  8. 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.

 

 

ADAPTATION:

  1. As a vaccine or a cure is not yet visible, it is time the focus on adaptation got sharper.
  2. Though many questions about COVID-19 remain, certain measures are evidently helpful in managing the pandemic better and bringing fatalities down.
  3. The coming phase of unlocking must prepare the country for complete opening.
  4. For that, first of all, testing should be unlocked and made available on demand as close to home as possible.
  5. For those infected to not step out of home is a far superior measure in preventing spread, compared to inadequate mask usage.
  6. With most cases turning out to be asymptomatic, wider and cheaper availability of testing must be a thrust area for the government now.
  7. Easy, early diagnosis of infections, even when asymptomatic, will go a long way in containment.
  8. The concerns regarding increased dependence on rapid antigen tests in some places must be addressed.
  9. Second, real time epidemiological data should be unlocked.
  10. 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.
  11. The proclivity(liking) shown by some States and cities to conceal data has been self-defeating.
  12. Even official death counts do not match with the numbers available with other sources.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. There must be efforts to harvest(find) accurate data, and with ease of availability.
  2. 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


CONTEXT:

  1. 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.
  2. This is the third official respite since the war started in 2001.

 

 

HIGH HOPES:

  1. In June 2018 and May this year, the Taliban had briefly ended hostilities(aggression) to mark the end of the holy month of Ramzan.
  2. On both occasions, it refused to extend the ceasefire, returning to war as soon as the celebrations were over.
  3. 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.
  4. According to the pact, talks were to begin in March.
  5. But both sides failed to reach an agreement on prisoner exchange, which the U.S. had agreed with the Taliban.
  6. 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.
  7. Finally, President Ghani decided to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, which was followed by the Taliban’s ceasefire announcement.
  8. 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.

 

CHALLENGES:

  1. While the cessation(end) of hostilities is welcome, there are underlying issues that continue to plague(hurt) the peace process.
  2. When the U.S. entered into talks with the insurgent group, it did not insist on a ceasefire.
  3. So the Taliban continues to engage in war and talks simultaneously.
  4. Worse, the Americans, badly looking for a way out of the conflict, kept the Afghan government out of the peace process.
  5. 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.
  6. The responsibility was on a weakened Afghan government to start talks even as the Taliban continued attacks.
  7. 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.
  8. Last year’s presidential election saw a disturbed pattern and a record low turnout.
  9. These factors allowed a resurgent Taliban to maintain the upper hand — in war and in talks.
  10. This will be the government’s key challenge when its representatives and that of the Taliban would be holding talks.
  11. Taliban sees itself as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan who have yet not recognised the country’s Constitution.

 

CONCLUSION:

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

 


CONTEXT:

  1. 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.
  2. Its alleged crime: “sending too many emails” to the Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with subjects tagged “EIA 2020”.
  3. 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.
  4. 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”.
  5. However the notice was eventually withdrawn, after the police cited a “clerical” error.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. It has altered(changed) our relationships not only with each other but also with the environment.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. It is time we recognised, as Bill McKibben wrote in The New Yorker, that “normal is the enemy”.

 

 

CULTURE OF DISREGARD:

  1. 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.
  2. Around the world, legislative interventions mandating EIAs began to burgeon(increase) in the late 1960s.
  3. 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.
  4. It took India, though, until 1994 before it notified its first set of assessment norms, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  5. 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.
  6. But the notification, subject as it was to regular amendments, proved a failure.

 

ABANDONING RIGOUR:

  1. 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.
  2. The new draft attempted to decentralise the process.
  3. It increased the number of projects that required an environmental clearance.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. But, in practice, the 2006 notification also proved regressive(backward). The course remained mired in opacity(unclear).

 

DRAFT EIA:

  1. 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.
  2. There was little scope available for independent judicial review.
  3. When clearances were challenged, the courts treated the views of the assessment authorities as sacrosanct(pure).
  4. 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.
  5. As many campaigners have highlighted, the new draft is riddled with problems.
  6. It enables a sweeping clearance apparatus to a number of critical projects that previously required an EIA of special rigour(strictness).
  7. The industries which required expert appraisal under the existing 2006 notification, they will, under the new notification, be subject to less demanding processes.
  8. These include aerial ropeways, metallurgical industries, and a raft of irrigation projects, among others.

 

DAMAGING FUNDAMENTAL TENETS:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. But, most egregiously, the proposal opens up a window for securing post-facto clearances.
  4. That is, companies which have commenced a project without a valid certificate will be allowed to regularise their operations by paying a fine.
  5. 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.
  6. But here the government wants to reverse that fundamental tenet(principle).

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. There is no doubt that a mere strengthening of the existing EIA norms will not by itself be sufficient.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. To achieve this broader vision we will need deeper thinking, greater political initiative, and a leap of faith.