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02 January 2021: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1) Look before you reform

GS 2: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies

Issues relating to development and management of Social Sectors relating to Education


Due to the dubious effects of the multiplicity of regulatory bodies in higher education, nearly all advisory panels appointed since 2005 have been pitching for a single regulator. With regards to this, recently, the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) provides for a common single regulator for the entire higher education system, with the exception of medical and law education.



  1. Regulatory bodies established essentially in response to the rapid growth of private participation since the 1980s.
  2. National Knowledge Commission (NKC) in 2007 concluded that the plethora of agencies attempting to control entry, operation, intake, price, size, output and exit had rendered the regulation of higher education ineffectual after finding higher education “overregulated and under-governed”.
  3. The Yash Pal Committee in its 2009 report also felt that the existence of multiple regulatory bodies had become an impediment to the pursuit of excellence. The committee’s key concern was compartmentalization of academia, with little scope for dialogue across disciplines.



  1. NKC recommended the setting up of an overarching Independent Regulatory Authority in Higher Education (IRAHE).
  2. To promote disciplinary dialogue, the Yash Pal committee recommended the creation of an apex body called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). It was meant to serve as a platform for academic exchange and dialogue across disciplines and professions rather than as a controlling machine.
  3. In 2016, a committee chaired by TSR Subramanian proposed a National Higher Education Promotion and Management Act for setting up an Indian Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) to subsume all existing regulatory bodies in higher education.
  4. In 2017, there was the possibility of a new regulatory body, tentatively titled Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA), to dissolve all existing regulatory bodies in higher education.
  5. The draft national policy by the Kasturirangan Committee in 2019 commended “a common regulatory regime for the entire higher education sector to eliminate isolation and disjunction” and proposed a National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) as a sole regulator for all higher education. The existing regulatory bodies, including MCI, were to become professional standard setting bodies. Additionally, the committee also recommended the setting up of three other independent agencies to oversee accreditation by multiple accrediting institutions (AIs).
  6. National Medical Commission of India (NMCI) Bill originally introduced in 2017 was reintroduced and passed by the Parliament in 2019 thereby repealing the Indian Medical Council Act 1956, dissolving the Medical Council of India (MCI) and vesting the regulation of medical education in the newly created National Medical Commission of India (NMCI).



  1. With so many independent institutions responsible for regulating various facets of higher education, the draft NEP 2020 proposed  a Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA) to coordinate, direct and address inter- institutional overlaps and conflicts.
  2. The idea of a common single regulator had morphed into a complex regulatory structure comprising an authority, three councils and a national commission with existing regulatory bodies and professional councils to continue to exist, albeit as professional standard setting bodies.
  3. Reviling the regulatory regimes for being “too heavy-handed”, NEP 2020 has now posited for a “light but tight” system under a single regulator for all higher education barring medical and law education.
  4. It envisages an overarching Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), with four independent verticals:
  1. National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC)
  2. National Accreditation Council (NAC)
  3. Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC)
  4. General Education Council (GEC)
  1. University Grants Commission (UGC) is to become HEGC while the other regulatory bodies will become professional standard setters. The five independent institutions recommended in draft NEP 2019 now stands collapsed into one which will function with existing, re-defined bodies.


  1. NEP 2020 envisions healthcare education as an integrative system offering allopathic medicine students “a basic understanding of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH) and vice versa”.
  2. With the enactment of the National Commission for Homoeopathy (NCH) and the National Commission for Indian System of Medicine (NCISM) and continuation of the Dental Council of India (DCI), Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) and the Indian Nursing Council (INC), it looks certain that medical education shall continue to be regulated in a fragmented manner.



  1. It is well-nigh impossible to design a single regulatory framework to take care of the domain-specific needs of disparate disciplines and professions even within healthcare education.
  2. But if accepted as a principle, it has the potential to delay, if not derail, the idea of a single regulator to cater to the diverse disciplines of general, professional and technical higher education.
  3. The idea of making medical education inter-disciplinary might be easier to enforce if all medical education were to be regulated in a coordinated manner by a single regulatory body.



  1. The regulatory architecture proposed in the NEP is far too monolithic for a system of higher education serving a geographically, culturally and politically diverse country like ours.
  2. Even in the matter of privatisation, one notices enormous diversity of players and practices. Historically too, private participation in the running of colleges has not followed a single pattern.
  3. To imagine that a uniform structure called Board of Governors can serve all different kinds of institutions across the country, then a serious vision of reform is needed for better appreciation of what exists.


2) A year to engage & assert

GS 2: India and its neighborhood- relations


  1. 2020 challenged India’s diplomatic and military standing as it faced seven hard realities in 2020, and has to deal with six challenges and opportunities in 2021.
  2. In April 1963, after the 1962 war with China, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, titled ‘Changing India’. He conceded that there was a need to “adjust our relations with friendly countries in the light of the changing actualities of the international situation”.
  3. According to him, 1962 war with China requires India to pay ‘considerably more attention to strengthening her armed forces’.” This task would need “external aid in adequate measure”.



  1.  China aims for top: In 2020, China, since 2013 had been consolidating its global influence, saw an opportunity in a world distracted with the pandemic. In the Indo-Pacific region, Chinese naval or militia forces rammed a Vietnamese fishing boat, “buzzed” a Philippines naval vessel, and harassed a Malaysian oil drilling operation. It even tried to arm-twist Australia through trade curbs. And since May 2019, Chinese troops have altered the status quo along the border with India, and violated every agreement to maintain peace.
  2. Trump Americans:  US walked out of or weakened almost a dozen multilateral bodies or agreements, from the Iran deal to the WHO. It also targeted China for disrupting the global order.
  3. Acceptance for Taliban:  US invaded Afghanistan and also tried to root out the Taliban, but in February 2019, US finally made peace with them. For India, this meant a beginning of the process of re-engaging with the Taliban.  Signaling long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future — under Taliban or other political forces — India has committed $80 million, over and above its $3 billion commitment in the last two decades. This means India too is finally looking at the Taliban as a political actor, although it is controlled by the Pakistan militaryt.
  4. Middle East equations:  The US-brokered rapprochement between Israel and four Arab countries — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. This reflected the changing landscape in the region. With Saudi Arabia and Iran competing for leadership, along with Turkey, in the Islamic world, there have been growing calls for ties with Israel.  India is cultivating ties with Israel as well as Saudi-UAE and the Iranians with deft diplomacy. But it has to be careful to not let its gains get impacted by polarising politics at home — be it through the CAA-NRC or religious fault-lines.
  5. Russia-China bonding: Ties between Russia and China got closer in 2020. India has always felt that it was the West, with its approach towards Russia after the annexation of the Crimea in 2014, that has pushed Moscow towards a tighter embrace of China. This has been possible also due to the US’s anti-Chinese rhetoric, collapse of oil prices and Russia’s dependence on Chinese consumption. India has strong ties with Russia, and it was the venue for all the India-China official and ministerial conversations over the border standoff. But, it has taken note of Moscow’s position on the Quad and Indo-Pacific, a near-echo of Beijing’s stance.
  6. Assertive neighbours: 2020 began with Bangladesh asserting itself on CAA-NRC, and then Nepal claiming territory and issuing a new map. By the end of 2020, New Delhi had moved to build bridges with both, wary of an active China. Bangladesh pushed back, and India did not notify the CAA rules. Nepal reached out at the highest level. India also watched closely the US and Chinese forays with Maldives and Sri Lanka. India appears to have made peace with the involvement of the US in Maldives, and that of Japan in Sri Lanka and Maldives.
  7. Aspirational India: “Self-reliance” and refusal to sign trade pacts with RCEP countries was widely perceived as “isolationist” and “inward-looking”. India did step up to supply medicines and protective kits to more than 150 countries, but did not come across as the global leader. Lack of resources, a contracting economy and its populist politics made it come across as an aspirational power.


2021: Challenges, opportunities

  1.  Countering China: India’s response to the border standoff has been guided by a thinking that one has to stand up to the bully, but that has come at a cost of  soldiers suffering and military assets deployed on land, in air and at sea. The standoff has reinforced Nehru’s belief in 1963 that India needs “external aid in adequate measure”. India will need continuing support from the US, Japan, Australia, besides Europe leaders such as France, Germany and the UK.
  2.  High table at UN: As India enters the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member for the eighth time, stakes are high in the wake of this leadership contest between China and the rest of the world. India will have to take positions on issues it had carefully avoided — from Tibet to Taiwan, from Iran-Saudi rivalry to the refugee crisis between Bangladesh and Myanmar. While cross-border terrorism is one of the top concerns and India will work towards isolating Pakistan further, a limited fixation on the western neighbour would distract from India’s aspirations of being a global leader.
  3.  Friendship with US: Moves towards a possible US-China trade deal will be watched by India closely. One of the key tests will be the future of Quad, and the Indo-Pacific strategy of the new administration. India will build on its deepening strategic and defence ties with the US, and would want to resolve trade and visa issues.
  4. Wooing Europe: As the UK and the EU agree on a deal, India will look ahead to negotiating a deal with the UK and a long-pending one with the EU. For a start, it has invited British PM as Chief Guest for Republic Day 2021. In May 2021, there is a possibility of an India-EU summit. Already, France and Germany have come up with their Indo-Pacific strategy, and a potential European strategy is a possibility, but a EU-China trade deal would be dissected by Indian negotiators.
  5. Engaging with neighbours: China’s growing economic footprint in India’s neighbourhood is a concern. While it is being played out in Nepal, India will also watch China’s moves in the rest of the subcontinent. Its moves in Iran, too, were closely watched, and as Presidential elections take place in Iran this year, stakes for engagement will be high.

One of the important aspects of 2021 is that, while there is a churning in Nepal, almost every South Asian country has had elections in the last couple of years. That means the governments in these countries are stable.

  1. Global, not just aspirational: In 2021, India will host the BRICS summit, and start its preparations for the G-20 summit in 2023. And the India-Africa Forum summit, which could not be held in 2020, could be held in 2021 or later. India has opportunities to articulate and be vocal on issues that matter to the world, and be proactive to further its interests.



  1. 2021 is considered productive for those who are “hardworking and methodical” and “fully feel the weight of their responsibilities”.
  2. It is “a year when it is necessary to redouble the efforts to accomplish anything at all”. That could well be the Indian strategy in 2021, as it navigates a post-COVID-19 future.
  3. As the world emerges from the pandemic, India has a lot to gain from what could be “vaccine diplomacy” with neighbours in 2021 — supplying vaccines either free or at affordable costs.


3) Virus in an Unequal society

GS 1: Issues related to Women 

GS 2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health


  1. Recent data on gender differentials in COVID-19 case fatality rates (CFR) in India highlight deviation from global trends. The disaggregated data show higher CFR for women when compared to men.



  1. Men tend to suffer from higher COVID-related co-morbidities like hypertension, as compared to women. This makes them more vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus. India is no exception to this worldwide trend.
  2. Men in India, on average, are also at a higher risk of contracting the disease owing to higher physical mobility and lifestyle choices like smoking.
  3. Women also tend to have a natural biological survival advantage over men. Yet, paradoxically, in India, the CFR for women is higher than that for men.



  1. There is a compelling evidence to believe that the CFR differential is likely to be higher than revealed by studies. This can be explained by the gender differential in India’s vital registration systems.
  2. Data from the Office of the Registrar General show that non-registration of deaths among women is higher than that of men.
  3. Data from 2016, for instance, show that of the total deaths registered in the country, 55 per cent were of men and 38 per cent women. And when deaths of women are registered, the likelihood of registering the cause of death remains lower for them when compared to men. Against this background, it is plausible that the COVID-19 CFR gender gap is higher than documented.



  1. A key factor is access to food and nutrition. Research shows that women are more likely to suffer from poor nutrition outcomes compared to men.
  2. NFHS 2015-2016 data indicate that as many as 23 per cent Indian women have a lower than normal BMI whereas only 63 per cent have some say in decisions regarding their healthcare.
  3. Female infants face a triple burden of under nutrition:
  1. Carryover effects of maternal under nutrition.
  2. Gender-bias in breastfeeding practices.
  3. Girl children are at a disadvantage in accessing nutrition, thereby affecting their survival outcomes.
  1. The poorer nutritional outcomes are tied to higher COVID-19 morbidity and mortality risk.
  2. In India, women have less access to facility-based healthcare. There is also evidence that families are less likely to travel long distances to provide healthcare to women.
  3. The gender differential in average health care expenditure (HCE) — HCE for men exceeds that for women by Rs 8,397. Families are less likely to opt for distressed financing to meet the healthcare needs of women.
  4. Women are usually taken to a healthcare facility when their symptoms are severe, potentially increasing their mortality risk.
  5. The unequal burden of unpaid care responsibilities on women in Indian households also reflects on their health.
  6. There is a strong chance that a recovering or recently recovered COVID-19 woman patient does not have the option of recuperating adequately because she is compelled to take on physically burdensome household responsibilities.
  7. In fact, as per the OECD, women in India, on average, spend five hours more than men on unpaid work.



  1. It would be naïve to assume that centuries of discriminatory socio-cultural practices will not affect mortality patterns during the pandemic.
  2. As the country inches towards a vaccination drive against the novel coronavirus, it would be pertinent to ask if policymakers have a gender-focus approach to ensure equity in access to the preventive.
  3. The social and economic crisis of COVID-19 must be understood through the lens of gender across the globe. The policy response must be structured around rebuilding economies and societies in ways that empower women to lead safe, productive and fulfilling lives.