25 Apr 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) No 100% quota: On overzealous reservation-
The Supreme Court is right in considering 100 per cent reservation as anathema(hateful) to the constitutional scheme of equality even if it is for the laudable(praiseworthy) objective of providing representation to historically deprived sections.
The verdict quashing(cancel) the reservation of 100% of all teaching posts in ‘Scheduled Areas’ of Andhra Pradesh for local Scheduled Tribes is not against affirmative programmes as such, but a caution against implementing them in a manner detrimental(harmful) to the rest of society.
Supreme Court ruling stresses that overzealous reservation tends to affect rights of other communities.
(TRIVIA- An affirmative action program is intended to ensure rights of all persons have equal opportunities in recruitment, hire, promotion, training, and discipline in employment)
A five-judge Constitution Bench found that earmarking(alloting) teacher posts in areas notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution adversely affected the interests of other candidates not only from Scheduled Castes and other backward communities but also other ST communities not native to those areas. Of course, what the State government did, in its original orders of 1986, and thereafter, in a subsequent order in 2000, was not without its own rationale(applicability of mind).
It found that there was chronic(severe) absenteeism among teachers who did not belong to those remote areas where the schools were located. However, its solution of drafting only members of the local tribes was not a viable solution. As the Bench noted, it could have come up with other incentives(motivation) to ensure the attendance of teachers.
(TRIVIA- The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration and control of Scheduled Areas as well as of Scheduled Tribes residing in any State other than the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram)
LOCAL AREA SYSTEM OF RECRUITMENT:
Another aspect that the court took into account was that Andhra Pradesh has a local area system of recruitment to public services. The President, under Article 371D, has issued orders that a resident of a district/zone cannot apply to another district/zone for appointment. Thus, the 100% quota deprived(disadvantaged) residents of the Scheduled Areas of any opportunity to apply for teaching posts.
Affirmative action loses its meaning if it does not leave the door slightly ajar(open) for open competition. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar observed during the debate in the Constituent Assembly on the equality clause, that any reservation normally ought to be for a “minority of seats”.
This is one of the points often urged in favour of the 50% cap imposed by the Court on total reservation, albeit(although) with some allowance for relaxation in special circumstances. It is still a matter of debate whether the ceiling has innate sanctity(holiness), but it is clear that wherever it is imperative(need) that the cap be breached, a special case must be made for it.
NEED FOR ST QUOTA:
Such a debate should not divert attention from the fact that there is a continuing need for a significant quota for STs, especially those living in areas under the Fifth Schedule special dispensation. In this backdrop, it is somewhat disappointing that courts tend to record obiter dicta advocating a revision of the list of SCs and STs.
While the power to amend the lists notified by the President is not in dispute, it is somewhat uncharitable(unkind) to say that the advanced and “affluent” sections within SCs and STs are cornering(gaining) all benefits and do not permit any trickle-down(the theory that the poorest in society gradually benefit as a result of the increasing wealth of the richest). Indian society is still some distance from reaching that point.
(TRIVIA- obiter dicta- a judge's expression of opinion uttered in court or in a written judgement, but not essential to the decision and therefore not legally binding as a precedent)
2) Joining of giants-
Facebook’s decision to invest ₹43,574 crore for a 9.9% stake in Reliance Industries Ltd.’s Jio Platforms marks a rare coming together of two giants who have a reputation for market domination.
The focus of their combined might is the India retail sector, a difficult terrain as large parts of it are still unorganised. But then for the same reason, it holds potential for huge disruption(interference).
In recent years, the retail space has been an ongoing battlefield for behemoths(giants) such as Amazon and Walmart, themselves globally dominant players. The other interested parties in this are payment services companies such as the Softbank- and Alibaba-backed Paytm, and Google, which runs Google Pay.
But the combination of Facebook and Reliance will be difficult to beat — they seem to have both the marketplace and the payment solution sides covered.
WHATSAPP AND JIOMART:
For Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service, India is the biggest market with over 400 million users. It currently awaits regulatory approval for its payment solutions. Jio is now India’s No. 1 telecom brand by user base, less than four years after it launched its service.
And then, JioMart is a recently-launched commerce marketplace, which seeks to connect local retailers with consumers. And this is why, “the largest investment for a minority stake by a technology company anywhere in the world” has been notably accompanied by an agreement to “further accelerate” business on the JioMart platform using WhatsApp.
In short, it is a win-win deal for both players. While its social media services and messaging services have been extremely popular in India, Facebook has however struggled to get past regulatory concerns in India over some of its ambitious projects such as its free limited Internet offering Free Basics and digital currency Libra.
While it stays blocked in mainland China, Facebook now gets to participate in a stronger way in one of the world’s fastest growing markets for e-commerce. Reliance can rely on the popular messaging service to accelerate the building of its marketplace. It has also received handy money to reduce its debt.
(TRIVIA- Free Basics by Facebook provides people with access to useful services on their mobile phones in markets where internet access may be less affordable. The websites are available for free without data charges, and include content on things like news, employment, health, education and local information. By introducing people to the benefits of the internet through these websites, we hope to bring more people online and help improve their lives.
Libra is a permissioned blockchain digital currency proposed by the American social media company Facebook, Inc. The currency and network do not yet exist, and only rudimentary experimental code has been released. The launch is planned to be in 2020.)
The deal, coming as it does at a time when the world is fighting the coronavirus pandemic, is a thumbs up to India’s potential. It is noteworthy that this is the largest foreign direct investment in the technology sector in India. But will the deal that brings together the world’s largest social media company and the group that is a leader in everything from oil to data lead to more consolidation(action or process of making something stronger) and fewer players, as it happened in the telecom sector?
(TRIVIA- A foreign direct investment is an investment in the form of a controlling ownership in a business in one country by an entity based in another country. It is thus distinguished from a foreign portfolio investment by a notion of direct control)
It is a big question mark, and the deal should not be passed without closely scrutinising(examining) this. For, the future of India’s Internet economy is at stake. The coming together of Facebook and Jio is exciting, but there is a risk of a monopoly(exclusive possession, control, or exercise of something).
3) Troughs and crests in the pandemic response-
The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the disease COVID-19, has proven the ultimate stress test for governance systems globally. And governments worldwide are failing, showing up for all to see how poorly prepared they were for this examination. Even those governments that are likely to be rated relatively highly by scholars of public policy studying this moment later will not pass the examination unscathed(unexamined).
Such is the virality and lethality(danger) of this pathogen(virus) that success will be measured in hundreds of lives lost, compared to the tens of thousands of fatalities(deaths) experienced elsewhere. Yet, the common challenges faced by all governments to fight COVID-19 must not mask(hide) the considerable variation in their performance which holds lessons from which we must learn.
STAGES IN THE RESPONSE:
Disease outbreaks, even global pandemics, are scarcely(barely) new. The playbook for dealing with them therefore is well understood and has been honed(developed) by practices and lessons gleaned(obtain) from hard-fought battles.
A first stage is early clear-eyed recognition of the incoming threat, and, in the case of COVID-19 at least, requires the unpalatable(unattractive) decision to lock down society.
Ideally this is done with full consideration of how to support the most vulnerable members of society, especially in a country such as India, where so many survive hand-to-mouth(satisfying only one's immediate needs because of lack of money for future plans and investments). This is a phase aimed at buying time, of flattening the epidemic curve, so that public health facilities are not overwhelmed(outnumbered); and, for using this time, paid for by collective sacrifice, to secure the personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies necessary to save lives.
The second phase of the pandemic response is slowly to ease the burden on the economy by permitting a measured return of business activity so that livelihoods and supply chains can be restored. This stage can only be safely executed if accompanied by a war-footing(the condition of being prepared to undertake or maintain war, here war is against Corona) expansion of testing capacity so that new infections can be identified and isolated at once, allowing contact tracing(process of identification of persons who may have come into contact with an infected person and subsequent collection of further information about these contacts) to be implemented by masses trained to do this crucial and painstaking work in communities across the country.
The final stage, which for COVID-19 seems a lifetime away, is a mass vaccination programme and then the full rebuilding of economic and social life. None of this is easy, but, like an examination in a dreaded subject, one’s only hope is early and persistent preparation and, at crunch time, remembering the lessons learned.
WHAT DRAGS SYSTEMS DOWN:
So, why have governments failed to do better? And what separates successful responses from failed ones? Answers lie in three main limitations of contemporary governance systems.
First, for all the defensive finger pointing, opportunistic politicking(engage in political activity) and xenophobic(having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries) posturing — exemplified(seen) best by the peevish(irritable) current occupant of the White House(Donald Trump) but hardly unique to him — this is not a crisis that can be tackled without robust and multidimensional international cooperation between nations.
(The above paragraph points at Trump’s narrow outlook against fighting Covid)
From the epidemiologists whose data-driven models inform policy debates about how and when to lift quarantines, to the medical community identifying more effective treatments, to the research scientists racing to find a vaccine, we are watching in real time the benefits of intellectual collaboration(collection) that does not stop at national borders.
But the nationalistic turn in global politics over the past two decades has reduced investment in and undermined the legitimacy(authenticity) of the very institutions that facilitate international partnership like WHO, UN at the very time they are needed most.
(The above paragraph points at how countries are inclined towards inward looking than to see the problem of Covid as a global problem)
VICTIMISATION OF ORGANISATION:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well to convene the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations in mid-March to discuss the possibility of a regional response, but that video-conference call also highlighted that there have been no summit-level meetings of SAARC since 2014, in no small part due to India-Pakistan jingoism(extreme patriotism) that has victimised the regional organisation.
Similarly, last week’s outburst by United States President Donald Trump that resulted in his demanding that the U.S. end its funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) not only endangers(risks) American lives by cutting off his own administration’s access to vital international data, but also directly affects India which receives significant funding and expertise from WHO (with ~10% of its overall WHO financing in 2019 coming directly from the U.S.).
Second, pandemic response requires a whole-of-government strategy, for which political will and legitimate leadership are vital to convene and maintain.
Germany and Kerala provide two powerful though different examples of this in action. In Germany, in spite of a high level of federalism that gives its States (Länder) a lot of power, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ability to mobilise the entire system has allowed Germany to emerge as a success story in Europe.
(TRIVIA- Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government with regional governments in a single political system)
In Kerala, State Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan convened a State response team at the earliest possible moment and has provided the full weight of his office in support of a coordinated public health strategy that has been accepted by the State’s citizens who have learned to trust the government in such situations. Yet these two examples stand out in part for how rare they are.
Consider again the cautionary tale of the U.S. where some State Governors have yet to issue stay-at-home orders, and others are rushing to open the economy against the express advice of public health experts, all while the U.S. President urges citizens in States governed by his political opponents to seek “liberation”.
PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEMS:
Third, we are seeing first-hand the consequences of starving(hungry) public health systems of necessary funds and resources. The comparative advantage of the private sector is efficiency; the need of the hour in pandemic response is redundancy, or, more precisely, excess capacity.
Most hospitals do not need invasive ventilators normally, just as they do not need vast stocks of PPE and extra intensive care units beds, but these are essential goods right now as we brace ourselves for a flood of sick patients into hospitals.
(TRIVIA- Mechanical ventilation is termed "invasive" if it involves any instrument inside the trachea through the mouth, such as an endotracheal tube or the skin, such as a tracheostomy tube)
Watching the advanced health-care system of northern Italy buckle(fasten) under the unimaginable pressures to which it was exposed over the past six weeks should be a cautionary tale for all countries that thought turning health care over to private actors was responsible governance.
It is not. Again, consider Kerala, which has consistently ranked at the top of State rankings for health expenditures, and which has, as a result, a well-functioning local public health system capable of implementing the test-isolate-trace protocols critical for fighting COVID-19.
A STATE IN CONTRAST- MADHYA PRADESH
For a sharp and worrying contrast to Kerala’s success, consider Madhya Pradesh. While State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan earlier earned plaudits(praise) for his investments in infrastructure, health expenditures are low, with the State ranking dead last in this category as in NITI Aayog’s data.
This will undermine the State’s ability to fight the virus, which given the rapid growth of cases and a relatively high case fatality(deaths) ratio, looks increasingly vulnerable to a debilitating outbreak. But even more worrisome is the abdication(giving up) of good sense by the political class in the State.
Even as the threat of COVID-19 was apparent(clear), and as Kerala had put its State response into action, a soap opera in Madhya Pradesh was in full swing, with defections and the collapse of the Congress State government.
Then, while the rest of the country was practising social distancing, Mr. Chouhan was at the centre of incongruous(inappropriate) images of large-scale packed celebrations. Now, finally, a full month after its new-old Chief Minister was inaugurated on March 23, Madhya Pradesh finally has a Health Minister. Wish him luck; he is going to need it.