6 July 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) Make haste slowly-
GS 2- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
- In anchoring development of COVID vaccine, ICMR must not do anything that undermines public trust.
- A day after being called out by medical experts for making unreasonable claims to launch a COVID-19 vaccine by August 15, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) issued a clarification.
- It said that its letter of July 2 to the 12 hospitals selected to conduct the vaccine’s clinical trials “was meant to cut unnecessary red tape(time consuming regulations)”.
LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY:
- However, the Council’s clarification, on July 4, is silent on an issue of critical medical and ethical importance — the unrealistic timeline it had set in the July 2 letter to the 12 hospitals.
- The ICMR had asked these healthcare facilities to select participants for clinical trials by July 7.
- But finding volunteers who agree to get a shot of an untested vaccine — in this case, introducing an inactivated COVID pathogen into their bodies — may not be an easy task.
- The procedure requires approval by an ethics committee.
- At least six of the hospitals, including AIIMS Delhi, had reasoned that five days was too short a period to complete the process.
- The ICMR’s clarification, that it will “follow all protocols”, falls short of adequately addressing this concern.
- A novel vaccine candidate undergoes an elaborate(lengthy) regulatory process.
- According to the WHO’s guidelines, Phase 1 of clinical trials involves testing the vaccine “in small numbers of healthy adults”.
- These trials are primarily concerned with “the safety of the vaccine”.
- Phase 2 studies involve “larger number of participants” and are intended to obtain information about the vaccine’s “ability to produce desired effects”.
- Researchers have to monitor samples and analyse data to estimate the time taken for the volunteers to develop antibodies.
- The human body takes its time to show if a vaccine works or not and there can be no shortcuts to these processes.
- Bharat Biotech, the Hyderabad-based company’s vaccine has been approved for clinical trials by the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI);
- The results of the first two phases of the trials would be out only by October.
- It’s unclear if the ICMR is on the same page with its collaborator on this time-frame.
- The WHO recommends that Phase 3 trials “be conducted on 20,000 to 30,000 people”.
- But before giving the go-ahead to inoculating(preventing) such a large number of people, regulatory agencies must ensure that the candidate vaccine has no side effects.
- That is why the procedures in the first two stages must stand up to all yardsticks of rigour(strictness).
- The WHO does note that participation in these trials “would be least risky for young healthy adults”.
- But the global health agency also underlines that “preserving public trust in research requires minimising harm not only to volunteers but also to research staff and third parties”.
- The ICMR, which has so far creditably anchored the country’s fight against COVID 19, cannot afford to relegate(take back) this imperative.
- In the development of a vaccine against the contagion, it must not do anything, or be seen to be doing anything, in undue haste(hurry).
2) Learning the Pandemic-
GS 2- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas” has united Indians and inspired them to focus on progress, prosperity and harmony.
- The PM has laid much emphasis on education, especially school education.
- Schemes to construct more than 400 new Ekalavya Model Residential Schools for tribal children by 2022 are a case in point.
- Make in India, Digital India, Skill India and the Aatmanirbhar Bharat project are other endeavours to make the country self-reliant.
- The PM has repeatedly emphasised a holistic system of education that is academically rich and enables students to pursue rewarding careers.
- The focus on the girl child’s education, modernisation of the educational infrastructure, and improvements in the field of teacher training are some of the notable measures of the government in the realm of education.
- When the coronavirus struck, the nation geared itself to saving the academic year and the careers of students.
- The Ministry of Human Resource Department has played an important part in facilitating several crucial initiatives.
- The government has initiated the YUKTI web portal, the Aarogya Setu app has been made available for free and the National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission aims to boost literacy.
- The National Curriculum and Pedagogical Framework and the Bharat Padhe online campaign are bringing knowledge to the grass roots.
- The minister’s experience and administrative skills helped the ministry turn a potential disaster into a productive time for 3.3 million students, and others.
- The approach to education during the pandemic has relied on short-term and strategic initiatives.
- The Prime Minister’s e-Vidya scheme synergises and strengthens several distance-education projects — digital, online, and mass media.
- Benefitting 25-crore school children, it focuses on developing permanent assets for quality education for generations to come.
- A dedicated channel for every class will ensure easy, customised lessons and study material. Importantly, it focuses on equity in education.
- This endeavour also individualises the teaching-learning experience to a considerable extent.
OTHER UNIQUE STEPS:
- For the differently-abled, this scheme provides bespoke materials under the Digitally Accessible Information System (DAISY).
- Webinars, podcasts, and online classes enrich the learning experience.
- In line with its comprehensive approach, the government has tried to address the equally important issue of psychological health.
- Manodarpan, a programme that covers both parents and students at a time when unprecedented challenges and stress have raised mental health issues.
- Continuously monitored, running along clear guidelines developed by experts, and available round the clock, Manodarpan is a true welfare measure of a government that is responsive to its people.
- This writer has initiated a unique concept, University Social Responsibility (USR), under which free online open educational resources in English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Spanish have been developed for those interested in learning the basics of these languages.
- EnglishPro, a free mobile app, is ready for launch to help those around the SSC/Class X level in improving their English pronunciation in the Bharatiya way.
- Stepping beyond academics, the English and Foreign Languages University(EFLU) created the University Social Responsibility Endowment Fund.
- With initial contributions from the staff, the university strengthened the hands of the government in a humble way in spreading awareness about COVID-19 through jingles on FM radio.
- The university has made all possible efforts in equipping the faculty and students with e-resources.
- EFLU is perhaps the first Central University to have completed end-semester examinations online and to have declared their results as well.
- The COVID-19 crisis has brought out the nation’s strengths, resilience and innovative spirit.
- Nowhere is this more evident than in education.
3) AtmaNirbhar in Agriculture-
GS 3- Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers
- With global supply chains being disrupted because of the COVID-19 crisis and the country embroiled in a border standoff with China, Prime Minister has given a clarion call for “Aatma Nirbhar Bharat”.
- The Modi government has banned 59 Chinese apps, it has stepped up effort to check imports and investments from China, even raised import duties, and asked Indians to “be vocal for local”.
- Many economists have described all this as “back to protectionism”.
- One may ask: What does Aatma Nirbhar Bharat mean? Is it self-reliance or self-sufficiency in all essential items?
- Can India be aatma nirbhar in crude oil, which is so essential and where import dependence is roughly 80-85 per cent?
- One gets fuzzy answers from the government.
AATMA NIRBHAR BHARAT IN AGRICULTURE SECTOR?
- It is presumed that for a large country like India, with a population of 1.37 billion, much of the food has to be produced at home.
- We don’t want to be in a “ship to mouth” situation, as we were in the mid-1960s.
- "ship to mouth" economy means that products come straight off the ship to the consumer. Relating to India it says that many things are imported to India as it has no productivity of its own
- We know the political cost of over-dependence on food aid.
- But there is one basic difference between the mid-1960s and today — the availability of foreign exchange reserves.
- In the mid-1960s, if India had spent all its foreign currency reserves — the country had about $400 million — just on wheat imports, it could have imported about seven million tonnes (mt) of wheat.
- Today, India has foreign exchange reserves of more than $500 billion.
- Even if the country has to buy 20 mt of wheat at a landed cost of $250/tonne, it will spend just $5 billion — just 1% of its foreign exchange reserves.
- In that sense, the biggest reform in the last three decades that has led to “aatma nirbharta” in food is the correction of the exchange rate, coupled with the gradual integration of India with the world economy.
- This has helped India increase its foreign exchange reserves from $1.1 billion in June end, 1991 to more than $500 billion today.
WITHIN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR:
- In any case, let us look within the agricultural sector. Is India a net exporter or net importer of agricultural products?
- The graph presents exports and imports of agricultural commodities over the last 10 years (2010-11 to 2019-20).
- It clearly shows that India has been a net exporter of agri-produce.
- In fact, it has been so ever since the economic reforms began in 1991.
- The golden year of agri-trade, however, was 2013-14.
- That year agri-exports peaked at $43.6 billion while imports were $18.9 billion, giving a net trade surplus of $24.7 billion.
- That was the last year of the UPA government.
- Since the Modi government took over the reins of the economy in 2014, agri-exports have been sluggish(poor) and sliding.
- In 2019-20, when the Modi government had completed six years in office, agri-exports were just $36 billion, and the net agri-trade surplus at $11.2 billion.
- With this lacklustre(uninspired) performance, talk of doubling agri-exports by 2022 looks almost impossible.
PRINCIPLE OF “COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE”:
- However, if one were to look at agriculture and chalk out a strategy where exports can be augmented and imports compressed, we would need to keep in mind the principle of “comparative advantage”.
- That means exporting more where we have a competitive edge, and importing where we lack competitiveness.
- The current agri-export basket of 2019-20 gives a sense of “revealed comparative advantage”.
- Marine products with $6.7 billion exports top the list, followed by rice at $6.4 billion (basmati at $4.6 billion and common rice at $2.0 billion), spices at $3.6 billion, buffalo meat at $3.2 billion, sugar at $2.0 billion, tea and coffee at $1.5 billion, fresh fruits and vegetables at $1.4 billion, and cotton at $1 billion.
- However, rice and sugar cultivation are quite subsidised through free power and highly subsidised fertilisers, especially urea.
- Together power and fertiliser subsidies account for about 10-15 per cent of the value of rice and sugar produced on a per hectare basis.
- But more importantly, it is leading to the virtual export of water as 1 kg of rice requires 3,500-5,000 litres of water for irrigation, and 1 kg of sugar consumes about 2,000 litres of water.
- , in a sense, the two crops are leading to a faster depletion of groundwater in states such as Punjab, Haryana (due to rice) and Maharashtra (due to sugar).
- Thus, quite a bit of the “revealed comparative advantage” in rice and sugar is hidden in input subsidies.
- This leads to increased pressure on scarce water and a highly inefficient use of fertilisers.
- It may be worth noting that almost 75% of the nitrogen in urea is not absorbed by plants.
- It either evaporates into the environment or leaches into groundwater making it unfit for drinking.
- Why don’t we offer similar incentives for exports of high-value agri-produce like fruits and vegetables, spices, tea and coffee, or even cotton, as we do for rice and sugar?
- This is a question that policy makers need to think about with an eye on the “comparative advantage” principle.
- On the agri-imports front, the biggest item is edible oils — worth about $10 billion (more than 15 mt).
- This is where there is a need to create “aatma nirbharta”, not by levying high import duties.
- It is important to create a competitive advantage through augmenting productivity and increasing the recovery ratio of oil from oilseeds and in case of palm oil, from fresh fruit bunches.
- While mustard, sunflower, groundnuts, and cottonseed have a potential to increase oil output to some extent, the maximum potential lies in oil palm.
- This is the only plant that can give about four tonnes of oil on a per hectare basis.
- India has about 2 million hectares that are suitable for oil palm cultivation — this can yield 8 mt of palm oil.
- But it needs a long term vision and strategy.
- If the Modi government wants “aatma nirbharta” in agriculture, oil palm is a crop to work on.