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19 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On state of Indian birds: Birds hit

  • CONTEXT: Bird diversity in India must be protected for cultural and ecological reasons
  1. Birds are under increasing pressure from human activity, struggling to survive as habitat loss, pesticides, hunting and trapping for the pet trade push them closer to the edge. 
  2. Once-thriving endemic or migrant bird populations have been decimated over the past quarter century in India, as the scientific report, State of India’s Birds 2020, points out. 
  1. The analysis, produced by 10 globally influential organisations, is a major addition to ornithology. 
  2. It is a rare synthesis of scientific understanding and citizen-led initiatives, using over 10 million observations made by over 15,500 bird watchers. It helped to achieve what would be difficult for small groups of researchers working alone.
  3. What emerges is an alarming picture of long-term declines of several species for which enough data is available over a 25-year period, as well as a more recent trend of annual losses. 
  4. Data inadequacies have led to the exclusion of many species. Some bird species assessed as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN, were found in peril in India.

  1. Remarkably, in spite of having a rich ornithological tradition, only 261 species out of 867 spotted qualified for a full analysis, 52% of them are now classified as being of ‘high concern’. 
  2. The heartening news is that sparrow numbers remain stable overall, although the bird has largely disappeared from some of the big cities. 
  3. But the Western Ghats offer bleak prospects, and the abundance index of 12 endemic species there has dropped by 75% since 2000. 
  4. The fortunes of the Nilgiri Pipit, Nilgiri Thrush and several Sholakilis are tied to the survival of the high shola forest-grasslands. 
  5. Equally critical to some species, such as the Hodgson’s bushchat wintering away from Mongolia, is the protection of terai grasslands in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and the NE States.

  1. Environment Ministry released the status report at the global conference of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals at Gandhinagar, Gujarat. India’s conservation community expects the Ministry to secure a future for birds.
  2. Resolute steps to protect forests and other habitats will confer multiple benefits, protecting other myriad species too. 
  3. The latest report is refreshing as it taps into citizen science for good data and should serve as a foundation for further collaborative work. 
  4. It is essential to revive the Great Indian Bustard, now pushed to precariously low numbers. 
  5. Coursers and floricans need help with their delicate habitat, as do neglected small birds such as the Green Munia that is widely trapped. 
  6. Bird diversity makes India, Kerala in particular, a birdwatching destination. 
  • CONCLUSION: That variety must be protected not just for cultural reasons, but to improve the health of forests, wetlands, open country habitat and high mountains.


2) On deportation of British MP: Visa power

  1. While mounting a diplomatic offensive, India should be more accommodative of criticism
  2. The Government had revoked British Labour MP Debbie Abrahams e-business visa three days prior to her travel.
  3. The government has explained its decision to detain and deport British Labour MP, saying that she had attempted to enter India on an “invalid visa”. 
  1. It also seems clear that the decision to revoke the visa was prompted by her frequent criticism of India on the issue of human rights in Jammu and Kashmir, and a proclivity towards echoing Pakistan’s line on the issue. 
  2. After the government’s amendment to Article 370 in August, Ms. Abrahams, who is the Chairperson of the U.K.’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir, had stepped up her campaign, and raised the issue of J&K in the British Parliament as well. 
  3. The government has not explained, however, how someone it considers so inimical to Indian interests received a one-year business visa in the first place in October 2019, and why it took four months to cancel it. 
  4. Eventually, its reaction to her arrival in New Delhi, detaining and questioning her before deporting her was nothing short of ham-handed. 
  1. To be clear, the government is well within its rights to deny entry to anyone that it desires to. 
  2. However, if its plan was to avoid public criticism of its actions in J&K or of its democratic values, then its treatment of the MP has only ended up having spotlighted its actions even more. 
  3. Parallels will also be made to the response to criticism from the U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who like Ms. Abrahams has family ties with India, and co-sponsored a House resolution critical of India on J&K. 
  4. EAM S. Jaishankar, in Washington in December, cancelled a meeting with the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee as a snub to Ms. Jayapal, instead of trying to engage her at the meeting. 
  5. The government is apparently banking on the fact that Ms. Jayapal and Ms. Abrahams are from Opposition parties, and hence it will not face adverse consequences from the Trump or the Johnson government.
  1. Where governments like those in Turkey and Malaysia have themselves been critical, India’s response has been equally sharp.
  2. The démarche to the Turkish Ambassador this week and travel advisories issued earlier to Indians travelling to Turkey, and; the trade restrictions on palm oil imports, most of which are from Malaysia, are notable examples.
  3. Negative comments by Turkish President Erdoğan or Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on India’s “internal affairs” angered Indian govt. The anger would seem more valid if it was not at the same time organising groups of envoys to visit J&K and encouraging them to express their positive opinions on the situation there. 
  • CONCLUSION: The boycott or deportation of politicians, visa denials to foreign journalists, all appear to be a part of a pattern of whimsical behaviour not suited to a democracy like India that prides in its traditions of openness and debate.


3) On U.S. trade action, an Indian counter-strategy

  • CONTEXT: Last week, the United States officially designated developing and least-developed countries for the purposes of implementing the countervailing measures provided by the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (ASCM) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
  1. According to the ASCM, developing countries are allowed to grant higher levels of subsidies as compared to the developed countries before countervailing duties (CVD) can be imposed.
  2. The agreement stipulates that any CVD investigation for a developing country must be terminated if the subsidies granted are found to be de minimis, which is defined as less than 2% of the value of imports of the product being investigated. 
  3. For a developed country the de minimis is 1% of the import value of the investigated product. 
  4. The United States’s annual exercise of designating developing, and least developed countries has assumed importance for India this year.
  5. It has been dropped from the list of developing countries. In other words, in its future countervailing duty investigations, the U.S. would treat India as a developed country.
  1. Under the WTO rules, any country can “self-designate” itself as a developing country. 
  2. In fact, the WTO does not lay down any specific criteria for making a distinction between a developed and a developing country member, unlike in the World Bank where per capita incomes are used to classify countries.
  3. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) employed an arbitrary methodology. that, It took into consideration: “economic, trade, and other factors, including the level of economic development of a country (based on a review of the country’s per capita GNI) and; a country’s share of world trade” to exclude India from list of designated developing countries.
  4. This is the second instance in less than a year, when the U.S. has refused to extend to India the benefits enjoyed by developing countries under the multilateral trade rules. 
  5. On May 31, 2019, U.S. President Trump announced that India would be taken off the list of beneficiary-developing countries under its scheme of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). 
  6. GSP: It is a special window provided by the U.S. and several other developed countries, through which they import identified products from developing countries at concessional rates of duties. 
  7. Importantly, GSP confers non-reciprocal benefits, implying that the developed countries cannot expect reciprocal market access from the beneficiary developing countries. 
  8. Yet, the U.S. denied GSP benefits to India arguing that India was unwilling to offer better market access to its products.
  9. U.S. has challenged India’s status as a developing country in the WTO by excluding India from the lists of developing countries for the purposes of using CVD measures or denying benefits of GSP 
  10. Over the past years, the U.S. has been arguing that the emerging economies, especially Brazil, China and India, have performed much better that those in the developed world. Therefore they should no longer enjoy the slew of benefits that they have as developing country members of the organisation.
  1. Potentially very large, for India would then lose the ability to use the special and differential treatment (S&DT) to which every developing country member of the WTO has a right. 
  2. In short, S&DT lessens the burden of adjustment that developing countries have to make while acceding to the various agreements under the WTO.
  3. Besides, when the WTO finalises an agreement in a specific area, developing countries are allowed longer implementation periods. 
  4. This measure helps developing countries to introduce a new agreement in phases and are thus required to deploy resources beyond their capacities. 
  5. S&DT has been particularly beneficial for India in two critical areas: one, implementation of the disciplines on agricultural subsidies and; two, opening up the markets for both agricultural and non-agricultural products.
  1. The WTO Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) provides an elaborate discipline on subsidies. 
  2. Subsidies are classified in three categories; but two of these are virtually outside the discipline since the WTO does not limit spending on these categories of subsidies. 
  3. The discipline exists in case of price support measures (minimum support price) and input subsidies which is the more common form of subsidies for most developing countries, including in India. 
  4. For developing countries, spending on price support measures and input subsides taken together cannot exceed 10% of the total value of agricultural production. 
  5. In contrast, developed countries are allowed to spend only 5% of their value of agricultural production.
  1. India is a major user of price support measures and input subsidies. Given the constraints imposed by the AoA, the government has spoken about its intention to move into the system of direct benefit transfer (DBT) for supporting farmers.
  2. A shift to DBT is attractive for India since there are no limits on spending, unlike in case of price support measures and input subsidies. 
  3. Further, faced with on-going farm distress, the government has had to rework its subsidies’ programme in order to extend greater benefits, especially to small and marginal farmers.
  4. However, implementation of DBT in agriculture has several insurmountable problems. Targeting potential beneficiaries of DBT seems difficult at this juncture for a number of reasons: Including inadequate records of ownership of agricultural land on the one hand, and; The presence of agricultural labour and tenants on the other. 
  5. This implies that in the foreseeable future, India would continue to depend on price support measures and input subsidies. 
  6. Given this scenario, the government needs the policy space to provide adequate levels of subsidies to a crisis-ridden agricultural sector. Therefore it is imperative that continues to enjoy the benefits as a developing country member of the WTO.
  1. The issue of market access, or the use of import tariffs, is one of the important trade policy instruments. 
  2. It has some key provisions on S&DT, which the developing countries can benefit from. 
  3. The most important among these is the undertaking from the developed countries that they would not demand reciprocal tariff cuts, and this reads as follows: 
  4. “The developed contracting parties do not expect reciprocity for commitments made by them in trade negotiations to reduce or remove tariffs and other barriers to the trade of less-developed contracting parties.”
  5. Over the past two years, the government of India has been extensively using import tariffs for protecting Indian businesses from import competition. 
  6. With increasing use of tariffs, almost across the board, India’s average tariffs have increased from about 13% in 2017-18 to above 17% at present. 
  7. The 2020-21 Budget has enhanced the level of protection of the domestic players in several key sectors, thus pushing the average tariffs even higher. 
  8. Developed country members of the WTO have generally maintained very low levels of tariffs.
  9. Therefore, India’s interests of maintaining a reasonable level of tariff protection would be well served through its continued access to S&DT, by remaining as a developing country member of the WTO.


4) On Powering the health-care engine with innovation

  1. It has been close to 18 months since the Prime Minister launched the country-wide implementation of Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) 
  2. Also called as National Health Protection Scheme; the initial momentum has been very encouraging. 
  1. The scheme is currently being implemented in 32 of 36 States and Union Territories. 
  2. It has provided 84 lakh free treatments to poor and vulnerable patients for secondary and tertiary ailments at 22,000 empanelled hospitals, countrywide. 
  3. Under PM-JAY, there is one free treatment every three seconds and two beneficiaries verified every second.
  1. A key area of focus is to expand the secondary and tertiary hospitals empanelled under PM-JAY and ensure their quality and capacity while keeping the costs down. 
  2. At present, there is one government bed for every 1,844 patients and one doctor for every 11,082 patients. 
  3. In the coming years, considering 3% hospitalisation of PM-JAY-covered beneficiaries, the scheme is likely to provide treatment to 1.5 crore patients annually. 
  4. This means physical and human infrastructure capacity would need to be augmented vastly. 
  5. Conservative estimates suggest the we would need more than 150,000 additional beds, especially in Tier-2 and -3 cities. 
  6. While a comprehensive long-term strategy will focus on expanding hospital and human resources infrastructure, an effective near-term approach is needed to improve efficiencies and bridge gaps within the existing supply and likely demand. 
  7. A strong, yet under-tapped lever for accelerating health system efficiency and bridging these gaps is mainstreaming innovation in the Indian health system.
  1. India’s burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit combined with a systematic push for the development of a start-up ecosystem has led to a plethora of innovations in health care. 
  2. It is estimated that there are more than 4,000 health-care technology start-ups in India. 
  3. Today, start-ups are working to bring innovative technologies and business models that leapfrog infrastructure, human resources, cost-effectiveness and efficiency challenges in Tier-2 and -3 cities. 
  1. Artificial Intelligence platforms that aid in rapid radiology diagnoses in low resource settings; tele-ICU platforms to bridge the gap in high-skilled critical care personnel, centralised drone delivery of blood; medicines and vaccines to reach remote locations cost-effectively and reliably are all no longer just theoretical ideas. 
  2. They are real solutions that are ready to be tested on the ground and potentially implemented. 
  3. It is high time for transformative solutions to make their way into our hospitals, especially in Tier-2 and -3 cities, to turbocharge the way health care is delivered at scale.
  1. This mainstreaming of health-care innovations, is lined with challenges at every step. The friction in their path to market often stems from multiple reasons.
  2. One challenge is non-uniform regulatory and validation standards. Regulatory requirements, specifically for biomedical start-ups, are still evolving in India. 
  3. As a result, hospitals often rely on foreign regulatory certifications such as FDA and CE, especially for riskier devices and instruments. 
  4. In addition, it is difficult for a start-up to understand the minimum necessary validation requirements in order to qualify for procurement by hospitals. 
  5. Lack of standards in this area leads to a huge variation in validation requirements at States and hospitals, forcing the start-up into a spiral of piloting studies. 
  6. The government is now pushing ahead to overhaul Indian med-tech regulatory standards and product standards which will help bridge this trust-deficit.
  7. Another problem in promoting start-ups is the operational liquidity crunch due to a long gestation period. 
  8. Health-care start-ups spend long periods of time in the early development of their product, especially where potential clinical risks are concerned. 
  • E.g's:
  1. The process of testing the idea and working prototype; 
  2. receiving certifications, performing clinical and commercial validations;
  3. and raising funds, in a low-trust and unstructured environment makes the gestational period unusually long thereby limiting the operational liquidity of the start-up.
  4. Another hurdle is the lack of incentives and adequate frameworks to grade and adopt innovations. 
  5. Health-care providers and clinicians, given limited bandwidth, often lack the incentives, operational capacity, and frameworks necessary to consider and adopt innovations. 
  6. This leads to limited traction for start-ups promoting innovative solutions.
  7. Start-ups also face procurement challenges in both public and private procurement. 
  8. They lack the financial capacity to deal with lengthy tenders and the roundabout process of price discovery. 
  9. Private procurement is complicated by the presence of a fragmented customer base and limited systematic channels for distribution.
  1. To accelerate this process of mainstreaming innovations within the hospital system in India, we need to focus on identifying promising market-ready health-care innovations that are ready to be tested and deployed at scale. 
  2. There is a need to facilitate standardised operational validation studies that are required for market adoption, to help ease out the start-up procurement .
  3. This, in effect, will serve the entire ecosystem of health-care innovators by opening up health-care markets for all. 
  4. A strong theme in mature health-care systems in other parts of the world is a vibrant and seamless interface between hospitals and health-care start-ups. 
  5. Through Ayushman Bharat, India has the unique opportunity to develop a robust ecosystem; where hospitals actively engage with health-care start-ups by providing access to testbeds, communicating their needs effectively and adopting promising innovations. 
  6. Start-ups can be effective collaborators for the most pressing health-care delivery challenges faced by hospitals, as opposed to being mere suppliers of technology or services.
  1. We believe that the launch and expansion of Ayushman Bharat-PM-JAY is a watershed moment for the Indian health-care service delivery ecosystem. 
  2. The government has taken a big step by rolling out world’s largest and most ambitious publicly funded health-care assurance programme. 
  3. We are now calling out to private sector health-care providers, health innovators, industry and start-ups to become equal partners in this movement. 
  4. The dream of an accessible, affordable and high-quality health-care system for all, will be achieved when we work in alignment to complement each other and jointly undertake the mission of creating an Ayushman Bharat.