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Daily Current Affairs 13.08.2022 (‘29 elephant poaching cases in 3 years’, Essential Commodities Act invoked to rein in tur dal price, Industrial output growth slows, Independence in the words of an American, Moving policy away from population control, No holds barred, Never-ending fight)

Daily Current Affairs 13.08.2022 (‘29 elephant poaching cases in 3 years’, Essential Commodities Act invoked to rein in tur dal price, Industrial output growth slows, Independence in the words of an American, Moving policy away from population control, No holds barred, Never-ending fight)

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1. ‘29 elephant poaching cases in 3 years’

The period also saw 90 cases of seizure of tusks/ivory, Forest Ministry tells Lok Sabha

In the past three years, 90 cases of seizure of elephant tusks/ivory have been reported in India along with 29 cases of poaching of elephants. The data were shared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) in the Lok Sabha on August 8. The highest number of cases of elephant tusk seizure was reported in 2021 with 42 cases, and incidents of poaching were the highest in the year 2021 with 14 incidents having been reported throughout the country. Meghalaya alone accounted for seven of the 14 poaching deaths. In the year 2018-19, six elephant deaths due to poaching were reported and nine poaching deaths were reported in 2019-20.

Odisha, which has emerged as one of the hot spots of human-elephant conflict, has accounted for seven elephant deaths due to poaching in the past three years, while Meghalaya accounted for 12 poaching deaths in the past three years. Tamil Nadu has accounted for three deaths of elephants due to poaching. The data were tabled by Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey in response to a question by five MPs.

Of the 90 cases of seizure of elephant tusks reported in the past three years, in the year 2020 the number of such cases reported was 21. In 2019, 27 cases of seizure of elephant tusks were reported. In response to the question, the Ministry has informed that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has conducted a special pan-India enforcement operation to coordinate action among State and Central enforcement agencies. “Ivory seizures have been affected in the ‘Operation WILDNET-I, II, III and IV’,” the response added.

Wildlife experts and conservationists point out that while India is home to 60% of Asian elephants, the human-elephant conflict continues to be the biggest challenge for wildlife management.

Union Minister Bhupender Yadav had Informed the Lok Sabha on July 18 that 1,578 people died of elephant attacks in India between 2019-20 and 2021-22.

S.P. Pandey, coordinator of WTI-SPOAR Elephant Corridor Monitoring Project Northern West Bengal, said poaching and seizure of ivory were part of the larger problem of the human-elephant conflict. “In north Bengal, there are several incidents of seizure of ivory because of the region sharing borders with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan,” Mr. Pandey said.

Project Elephant

The Indian Elephant is widely seen in 16 of the 28 states of India, especially in the Southern part of the Western Ghats, North-Eastern India, Eastern India, Central India, and Northern India. 

The species is included in the list of protected species according to the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). 

According to recent reports, the elephant population in India is demonstrating a stable trend across elephant reserves in India. The population of elephants in the year 2012, was estimated at 31,368 while it had fallen to 27312 in 2017. The elephant population of India was 27,682 in 2007. The average population throughout the period was about 26700. 

Differing counts have been attributed to a difference in counting methods. Some states such as Manipur, Mizoram, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Andaman & Nicobar had reported sightings for the first time in 2017. 

Environmentalists have studied why are Indian Elephants endangered for a long time. They came to the conclusion that conversion of habitats into farmland, Human-Elephant conflict and an absence of elephant corridors in India were the main reasons for the decline in the population of elephants. 

Due to the conclusions drawn from these studies, ‘Project Elephant’ was launched by the Government of India in 1992. The population of these animals was about 15000 when the project was started and has increased since then. 

Elephant – The National Heritage Animal

The government of India in the year 2010 declared Elephant as the national heritage animal of the country on the recommendations of the standing committee of the national board for wildlife. This was done to make sure that sufficient protection to elephants was provided before their numbers fall to panic levels like in the case of tigers.

A proposed National elephant conservation authority (NECA) on the lines with NTCA has been proposed to be constituted by amending the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Project Elephant Objectives 

  • To ensure the Welfare of domesticated elephants
  • Protection of elephants, their habitats and elephant corridors.
  • Mitigation and prevention of human-elephant conflict.

Aims of Project Elephant

  • Develop and promote scientific and planned management strategies for Elephant conservation.
  • Prevent illegal trade of ivory and ensure elephant protection from hunters and poachers.
  • Develop strategies to prevent unnatural causes of elephants’ death in India.
  • Ensure ecological restoration of the natural elephant habitats and their migratory routes.
  • To mitigate and prevent the increasing conflict in elephant habitats between humans and elephants. 
  • Reduce and remove domestic livestock grazing, the pressure of humans and their activities in important elephant habitats.
  • Promote scientific research on issues related to elephant conservation and educating the public on these issues.
  • To facilitate veterinary care for proper breeding and health care of domesticated elephants and to facilitate Eco-development for the elephants.

MIKE Programme

MIKE the abbreviation of the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants program was started in South Asia in 2003 after the conference of parties a resolution of CITES. 

The aim of MIKE was to provide the information required by the elephant range countries for proper management and long-term protection of their elephant populations.

The objectives of the MIKE program is as follows:

To measure the levels and trends in the illegal poaching and ensure changes in the trends for elephant protection. 

To determine the factors responsible for such changes, and to assess the impact of decisions by the conference of parties to CITES.

Campaign Haathi Mere Saathi

The Ministry of Environment and forests in partnership with Wildlife Trust of India has launched a campaign Hathi Mere Sathi. The aim of the campaign was to increase public awareness and develop friendships between elephants and the local population. The campaign Haathi Mere Saathi was for the welfare of the elephants, to conserve and protect the elephants in India. 

The campaign was launched in Delhi on 24th May 2011 at Elephant- 8 ministerial meetings. The countries that are a part of the Elephant-8 ministerial meeting are Kenya, Srilanka, Botswana, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Indonesia, Thailand, and India.

Elephant Task Force

The increased tension due to rampant retaliatory killing of elephants and human-elephant conflict prompted the government to set up the Elephant Task Force along the lines of the Tiger Task Force. The focus of the Elephant Task Force was to bring pragmatic solutions for the conservation of elephants in the long-term. 

The ETF was headed by a wildlife historian and political analyst, Dr Mahesh Rangarajan. And the other members included were conservation and animal welfare activists, elephant biologists, and a veterinarian.

India has around 25000 – 29000 elephants in the wild. However, the tuskers (male) in India are as threatened as the Tigers as there are only around 1200 tusker elephants left in India.

The Asian elephants are threatened by habitat degradation, man-elephant conflict, and poaching for the Ivory. This problem is more intense in India which has around 50% of the total population of the world’s Asian elephants.

Project Elephant is considered a success in the view of many conservationists as it has been able to keep the population of elephants in India at a stable and sustainable level.

2. Essential Commodities Act invoked to rein in tur dal price

States to monitor and verify stocks available with traders

With tur dal prices surging since mid-July and reports coming in of some traders creating artificial supply squeeze by restricting sales, the Centre has invoked the Essential Commodities Act of 1955 to ask States to monitor and verify the stocks available with such traders.

The directive issued on August 12, 2022, came hours before the Retail inflation numbers for July are released. Consumer price inflation has been over 7% since April, and had moderated slightly to 7.01% in June.

Tur dal prices have risen since mid-July amid slow progress in kharif sowing as compared to last year due to excess rainfalls and water logging conditions in parts of major tur dal growing States of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the Department of Consumer Affairs has noted.

“On top of the sufficient overall availability of pulses in the domestic market, the government is currently holding about 38 lakh tonnes of pulses which are being released in the market to further augment the stocks available in the market,” the Department said, stressing that it is closely watching the availability and prices of pulses in the domestic as well as overseas markets to take pre-emptive steps if there is any unwarranted price rise in the upcoming months.

States and Union Territories have also been asked to direct ‘stockholder entities to upload the data of stocks held by them’ on an online monitoring portal of the Department of Consumer Affairs, on a weekly basis. The government hopes the move will rein in attempts by some sections of traders and stockists to push the price for tur dal upwards, by resorting to ‘restricted sales’ and creating an artificial scarcity.

Essential Commodities Act

The Essential Commodities Act (ECA) was a Parliamentary act which governed the delivery and supply of commodities or products, whose obstruction could affect the lives of the common people to a great extent.

The act was modified through the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 as part of the 2020 Indian Agricultural Acts (Also known as Farm Bills)

Details of the Essential Commodities Act

The Essential Commodities Act came into force in 1955 and has been used to manage the supply, distribution and production of commodities termed as ‘essentials’. In this way the government makes these commodities available for consumption at acceptable prices. A minimum support price can also be fixed by the government should it deem it necessary

The list of commodities included under the ECA are as follows:

  • Fertilizers
  • Pulses
  • Edible Oil
  • Cereals
  • Oilseeds
  • Petroleum and allied products
  • Seeds of fruits and vegetables

In the event of a commodity’s supply becoming short and its price increasing as a result, then the Centre can set stock holding limits for a specific period. Once the limit is set, the States will ensure that adequate steps are taken to ensure the guidelines are followed by preventing wholesalers, retailers, importers etc from accumulating a commodity beyond the specified quantity.

It is however at the discretion of the State to impose any form of restrictions. But should restrictions be imposed then the State will punish any errant shopkeeper and traders who indulge in black-market practices by conducting raids and auctioning of the excess goods.

Changes under the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020

It was announced in May 2020 by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that the ECA would be further amended to be only be implemented under extraordinary circumstances like war or famine.

This was taken in light of strides in agricultural productivity made in the ensuing decades.

The Essential Commodities (Amendment) was passed in the Lok Sabha on 15 September 2020, while it was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 22 September 2020. It received approval from the President Ram Nath Kovind on 27 September 2020.

The amendment has brought about the following changes:

  • It allows the government to remove few commodities termed as ‘essential’, provided there was no special circumstance at play (war, famine, natural calamities etc)
  • Future regulations would be based on the trajectory of rising prices. They would come into effect should there be a 100% rise in price for horticulture produce. While for non-perishable agricultural food items, the limit is set to 50% increase
  • Food stocks meant for common distribution will not be subjected to any form of restriction.

In addition to these changes the following benefits would also be brought about by the ECA Amendment:

  • Creation of a competitive agricultural market and prevention of agri-waste due to increased investment in cold-storage facilities
  • Bringing price stability for farmers.

Issues Regarding the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020

The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 has also its fair share of issues. They are as follows:

  • The new amendment to the ECA is believed by critics to infringe on State’s powers as they will be unable to regulate hoarding and black market practices.
  • The stock limit relaxations under the ECA may lead to black marketing and hoarding rather than benefiting the producers. This will lead to increase in inflation and monopoly of few individuals over prices of certain goods.

Despite these issues, the amendment to the ECA, 1955, was long due as the act was passed at a time when India was not self-sufficient enough to feed its growing population. Six decades hence, the scenario has changed and the Essential Commodities Amendment Act may actually help in increasing farmer’s income and improve ease of doing business.

3. Industrial output growth slows

IIP expands 12.3% from a year earlier, but rises only 0.14% over May 2022 levels

India’s industrial output grew 12.3% year-on-year in June, moderating from 19.6% this May, led by a 16.4% uptick in electricity and 12.5% growth in manufacturing. Mining activity grew 7.5% in the month.

The Index of Industrial Production (IIP), however, grew only 0.14% over May 2022, with manufacturing being the only sector to report a sequential uptick in output in June, rising 1.34%.

Production of consumer durables and capital goods led the growth trajectory among use-based categories for the second month in a row, rising 26.1% and 23.8%, respectively, in June. This is the third successive month of output growth for consumer durables after six months of contraction. By contrast, consumer non-durables’ output growth was 2.9% after a 0.9% rise in May.

Primary goods output rose 13.7%, followed by intermediate goods (11%) and infrastructure/construction items which grew 8%. However, these three sectors reported a sequential decline from May’s output levels, with primary goods slipping 3.8%, intermediate goods 2.9% and construction goods 2.7%.

Although growth in consumer non-durables is still low, it was the highest in five months, noted India Ratings economists Sunil Kumar Sinha and Paras Jasrai.

“A rebound in this sector is important for a durable and sustained industrial recovery which so far has been witnessing a K-shaped recovery (tepid growth in consumer non-durables and high growth in consumer durables segment),” they said, adding that a moderate recovery may occur in coming months with the progression of the monsoon.

“Given the moderation in the year-on-year performance recorded by most high-frequency indicators in July 2022, such as electricity generation and non-oil exports, we expect the IIP growth to ease to high single digits,” said ICRA chief economist Aditi Nayar.

Index of Industrial Production (IIP)

  • This index gives the growth rates of different industry groups of the economy over a specified time period.
  • The industry groups that it measures are classified under the following:
  • Broad sectors like manufacturing, mining, and electricity.
  • Use-based sectors like capital goods, basic goods, intermediate goods, infrastructure goods, consumer durables, and consumer non-durables.
  • The eight core industries of India represent about 40% of the weight of items that are included in the IIP. The Eight Core Sectors/Industries are:
    • Electricity
    • Steel
    • Refinery products
    • Crude oil
    • Coal
    • Cement
    • Natural gas
    • Fertilizers
  • The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) recommends including quarrying, gas steam and air-conditioning supply, sewerage, water supply, waste management, and remediation in the broad sectors. But this is not done due to the problems in data availability on a monthly basis for all these sectors. So, the data has been restricted to mining, electricity, and manufacturing.

Index of Industrial Production Importance

  • The Index is used by government agencies and departments such as the Finance Ministry and the RBI for policymaking.
  • It is also used for estimating the Gross Value Added of the manufacturing sector quarterly.
  • Also, the Index is used by business analysts, financial experts, and the private industry for multiple purposes.
  • It is the only measure of the physical volume of production.
  • It is also extremely useful for the projection of advance GDP estimates.

IIP Latest Change

  • The latest change in the IIP was made in 2017.
  • Any index is to be subject to changes and modifications like changing the base year, including more items in the basket, etc.
  • The new and current base year for IIP is 2011 – 12. The previous base year was 2004 – 05.
  • Another change was the inclusion and deletion of certain items in the data series.
  • Some items introduced:
  • Refined palm oil
  • Surgical accessories
  • Cement clinkers
  • Some items removed:
    • Chewing tobacco
    • Toothbrush
    • Calculators
    • Fans
    • Watches
    • Pens
  • This is the 9th base year revision ever since IIP was first published in 1950. The first base year was 1937.

Index of Industrial Production Base Year: 2011 – 12

Core industries in the IIP

The following table represents the weight of the eight core industries in the IIP.

4. Editorial-1: Independence, in the words of an American

The power of that magical moment when India became free, which Mildred Talbot recorded, must never be forgotten

Independent India will turn 75 on Sunday, under the helm of an Adivasi President and a Gujarati Prime Minister, who, in their addresses to the nation (as yet undelivered as I write these words), will give voice to the extraordinary civilisational ethos of our country that they themselves personify. It is a very special moment in the history of this ancient land, one we are all privileged to be living through.

A rare privilege

My mind turns this week, though, to another very special moment 75 years ago — the moment of India’s celebrated “freedom at midnight”. I am privileged to have seen a remarkable document, a letter written on August 27, 1947 by a young American woman, Mildred Talbot, who had the rare privilege of being present at the Independence ceremonies of both India and Pakistan. Mildred, the wife of the admirable journalist, diplomat and Indophile, Phillips Talbot, died in 2004 at the age of 89. But she had agreed that I could share with others her first-hand impressions of the day, and I do so in homage to the occasion whose anniversary we all commemorate today.

Mildred’s seven-page, single-spaced typed letter is a personal reminiscence of the sights, sounds and encounters, not a political analysis (she left that to her husband, who was covering events for the Chicago Daily News). In sending me her “simple, unsophisticated account”, she mentioned that she had put her impressions down while they were still fresh “to get them out of [her] system” — only then, she wrote, did sleep become possible again. (It is striking that someone who, by nationality, had no direct emotional stake in the events she witnessed still found them so exciting that thoughts of what she had seen kept her awake for two weeks.)

From Karachi to Delhi

I shall skip past her account of the Karachi ceremony — which took place on August 13-14 within eyeshot of a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi in a nearby circle — though some of her irreverent comments are worth quoting even now (“Jinnah, whose smile muscles seem to be permanently out of order…”). Karachi was still a Hindu-majority city, and large sections of the population were understandably subdued at Partition. Delhi’s mood was altogether more joyous. The Talbots arrived at the Constituent Assembly just in time after a hair-raising journey from Pakistan on the afternoon of August 14. Mildred describes Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous “Tryst with destiny” speech, recounts the now-forgotten exuberance of a delegate who marred the decorum of the occasion by shouting a cheer for the Mahatma, and then tells a story I have not come across elsewhere:

“At the moment when the clock was chiming the [midnight] hour there was a rude interruption which startled everyone. A conch shell was blown long and loudly from the rear of the hall. Involuntarily every head turned… It was revealing to witness the […] relief […] when they saw that it was one of the most highly respected members of the Assembly, a devout Hindu, simply invoking the gods to witness this ceremony… I happened to spot Nehru just as he was turning away, trying to hide a smile by covering his mouth with his hand.” The first harbinger of a Hindutva renaissance, or a simple reaffirmation of an ancient culture?

Mildred describes the pressure of the throngs outside the Assembly clamouring for a glimpse of their idol, Nehru, whom the police obliged “to slip out by a back entrance”. (As an American democrat, she was struck by the fact that when the crowds got out of hand, it was the VIP who changed his plans. As an Indian three-quarters of a century later, I know it would be the other way around today.)

There are numerous fascinating vignettes in her letter of the next morning’s Independence Day events: of Nehru’s horror at seeing a horse fall (he only turned his attention back to the ceremony when he saw the horse rise again and move); of the U.S. Ambassador’s irritation that U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s cable of congratulations had been omitted when other leaders’ greetings were read (it turned out that it had been misplaced); of Louis Mountbatten’s demeanour of “sincere pleasure”, a sharp contrast with his stiffness in Karachi (“Here he was relaxed and at home among friendly companions… his good wishes were obviously heartfelt.”) Mildred’s harrowing account of the evening’s ceremony, ruined by rain and by 5,00,000 people turning out for an event planned for 25,000, is too long to summarise here, but for one detail: amidst the chaos, Indira Gandhi looked “woebegone and bedraggled. Her sari was torn, her hair straggling, her fingernails ruined. And she was one of the dignitaries!”

When the flag was raised

But the highlight of Mildred’s account is of the morning of August 15, 1947 when the national flag was raised over the Council Hall: “The multitudes had gathered as far as the eye could see in the two-mile-long parkway approach to the Secretariat, on tops of buildings, in windows, on cornices, in trees, perched everywhere like so many birds. The raising of that first flag was the single most thrilling experience of the entire celebration…. The first who spotted it pointed like eager children; others… looked up and tried to push their way to a vantage point so they too could see this miracle. For a few minutes there was almost a subdued hush over the whole crowd; then a soft bass undertone slowly swelled until, perhaps when the flag reached the top… there was a breathtaking roar of cheering, shouting, and excited cries which others said penetrated to the hall inside and made their spines tingle. While I was being stirred by the sheer power and grandeur of the spectacle… the Indians either stood mute, immersed in their own overwhelming thoughts, or were shouting almost uncontrollably. It was a grand emotional experience that left most of us with shaky voices or complete inability to speak.”

These are the words not of an Indian nationalist but of a young American woman. Mildred wrote to an American friend two weeks after witnessing that first flag-raising: “The memory of the feelings that surged up within us as we watched their [i.e. the Indian masses’] excitement and awe still brings tears to my eyes.” Seventy-five years later, the memories of that first Independence Day have faded in all but a minuscule percentage of our population. But the power of that magical moment when India became free, and the hopes raised of what we would make of that freedom, must never be forgotten.

Today we contemplate a different India, when the hopes of that midnight moment are sought to be transmuted by rising intolerance and increasingly belligerent majoritarianism, to a very different idea of what this land is all about. And yet, re-reading Mildred’s letter makes August 15, for me, a day to remember that original moment, and to rededicate ourselves to its promise. It is the promise of an inclusive, pluralist, democratic and just India — the India that Mahatma Gandhi fought to free. As the nation celebrates the sweet nectar of an “Amrit Mahotsav”, let us not forget that original vision. It is one that every Indian can still do his or her own part to fulfil.

Shashi Tharoor is the Sahitya Akademi award-winning author of 22 books, including most recently ‘Pride, Prejudice and Punditry: The Essential Shashi Tharoor’. He is the third-term Lok Sabha MP for Thiruvananthapuram

5. Editorial-2: Moving policy away from population control

India’s focus should be on investment in human capital, on older adults living with dignity, and on healthy population ageing

The United Nations’ World Population Prospects (WPP), 2022, forecasts India becoming the most populous country by 2023, surpassing China, with a 140 crore population. This is four times the population India had at the time of Independence in 1947 (34 crore). Now, at the third stage of the demographic transition, and experiencing a slowing growth rate due to constant low mortality and rapidly declining fertility, India has 17.5% of the world’s population. As per the latest WPP, India will reach 150 crore by 2030 and 166 crore by 2050.

A sea change

In its 75-year journey since Independence, the country has seen a sea change in its demographic structure. In the 1960s, India had a population growth rate of over 2%. At the current rate of growth, this is expected to fall to 1% by 2025. However, there is a long way to go for the country to achieve stability in population. This is expected to be achieved no later than 2064 and is projected to be at 170 crore (as mentioned in WPP 2022).

Last year, India reached a significant demographic milestone as, for the first time, its total fertility rate (TFR) slipped to two, below the replacement level fertility (2.1 children per woman), as per the National Family Health Survey. However, even after reaching the replacement level of fertility, the population will continue to grow for three to four decades owing to the population momentum (large cohorts of women in their reproductive age groups). Post-Independence, in the 1950s, India had a TFR of six. Several States have reached a TFR of two except for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Manipur and Meghalaya. All these States face bottlenecks in achieving a low TFR. These include high illiteracy levels, rampant child marriage, high levels of under-five mortality rates, a low workforce participation of women, and low contraceptive usage compared to other States. A majority of women in these States do not have much of an economic or decisive say in their lives. Without ameliorating the status of women in society (quality of life), only lopsided development is achievable .

Demographic dividend

A larger population is perceived to mean greater human capital, higher economic growth and improved standards of living. In the last seven decades, the share of the working age population has grown from 50% to 65%, resulting in a remarkable decline in the dependency ratio (number of children and elderly persons per working age population). As in the WPP 2022, India will have one of the largest workforces globally, i.e., in the next 25 years, one in five working-age group persons will be living in India. This working-age bulge will keep growing till the mid-2050s, and India must make use of it. However, there are several obstacles to harnessing this demographic dividend. India’s labour force is constrained by the absence of women from the workforce; only a fourth of women are employed. The quality of educational attainments is not up to the mark, and the country’s workforce badly lacks the basic skills required for the modernised job market. Having the largest population with one of the world’s lowest employment rates is another enormous hurdle in reaping the ‘demographic dividend’.

Another demographic concern of independent India is the male-dominant sex ratio. In 1951, the country had a sex ratio of 946 females per 1,000 males. After aggressively withstanding the hurdles that stopped the betterment of sex ratios such as a preference for sons and sex-selective abortions, the nation, for the first time, began witnessing a slightly improving sex ratio from 1981. In 2011, the sex ratio was 943 females per 1,000 males; by 2022, it is expected to be approximately 950 females per 1,000 males. It is a shame that one in three girls missing globally due to sex selection (both pre-and post-natal), is from India — 46 million of the total 142 million missing girls. Improvement in sex ratio should be a priority as some communities face severe challenges from a marriage squeeze (an imbalance between the number of men and women available to marry in a specific society) and eventual bride purchase.

Life expectancy at birth, a summary indicator of overall public health achievements, saw a remarkable recovery graph from 32 years in 1947 to 70 years in 2019. It is welcome to see how several mortality indicators have improved in the last seven decades. The infant mortality rate declined from 133 in 1951 (for the big States) to 27 in 2020. The under-five mortality rate fell from 250 to 41, and the maternal mortality ratio dropped from 2,000 in the 1940s to 103 in 2019. Every other woman in the reproductive age group in India is anaemic, and every third child below five is stunted. India stands 101 out of 116 nations in the Global Hunger Index; this is pretty daunting for a country which has one of the most extensive welfare programmes for food security through the Public Distribution System and the Midday Meals Scheme.

Serious health risks

The disease pattern in the country has also seen a tremendous shift in these 75 years: while India was fighting communicable diseases post-Independence, there has been a transition towards non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the cause of more than 62% of total deaths. India is a global disease burden leader as the share of NCDs has almost doubled since the 1990s, which is the primary reason for worry. India is home to over eight crore people with diabetes. Further, more than a quarter of global deaths due to air pollution occur in India alone. With an increasingly ageing population in the grip of rising NCDs, India faces a serious health risk in the decades ahead. In contrast, India’s health-care infrastructure is highly inadequate and inefficient. Additionally, India’s public health financing is low, varying between 1% and 1.5% of GDP, which is among the lowest percentages in the world.

India is called a young nation, with 50% of its population below 25 years of age. But the share of India’s elderly population is now increasing and is expected to be 12% by 2050. After 2050, the elderly population will increase sharply. So, advance investments in the development of a robust social, financial and healthcare support system for old people is the need of the hour. The focus of action should be on extensive investment in human capital, on older adults living with dignity, and on healthy population ageing. We should be prepared with suitable infrastructure, conducive social welfare schemes and massive investment in quality education and health. The focus should not be on population control; we do not have such a severe problem now. Instead, an augmentation of the quality of life should be the priority.

6. Editorial-3: No holds barred

India must continue to try to designate terrorists and not lose faith in the process

By choosing to place a “technical hold” on the joint India-U.S. proposal to designate Jaish-e-Mohammad deputy chief Rauf Asghar a global terrorist on the United Nations Security Council 1267 Committee listing, China has swung another blow to its ties with India, which are already at a fragile point. Despite 16 rounds of military commander talks at the Line of Actual Control, India and China have failed to resolve the standoff that began with the PLA amassing troops, and transgressions along the LAC in April 2020. The two sides sparred in the maritime sphere this week, after India made its concerns over the proposed docking of a Chinese satellite tracking ship at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port clear to the Sri Lankan government. And while bilateral trade has recovered from the COVID-19 downturn, Chinese technology majors in India are being raided by the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities under suspicion of a range of financial crimes. At a time when bilateral trust is already in such deficit comes China’s decision to stop an important terror listing, just two months after Beijing similarly stopped the designation of Lashkar-e-Taiba deputy chief Abdul Rahman Makki. To take such measures on an issue that it knows India has always been extremely serious about, given the number of major attacks perpetrated on Indians by the LeT and JeM, right from the 1990s, is insensitive at the least, but part of an unfortunate pattern by China, which has held up several such listings in the past. Asghar is wanted for his role in freeing his brother Masood Azhar in the most dastardly way, by organising the hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC-814, and holding nearly 200 civilians hostage on the Kandahar tarmac, and other attacks. He is now reportedly in Pakistani prison, convicted on terror-related charges, and is on both the U.S.’s and India’s domestic ‘most wanted terrorist’ lists.

It is important, however, for India to persevere with attempts to designate both Makki and Asghar, as well as other terrorists responsible for attacks on Indians, without losing faith in the process. One option is to keep the international pressure up, and garner more co-sponsors for the listing, which was reportedly approved by 14 of 15 UNSC members. Another would be to work on changing 1267 Committee procedures, so that they don’t allow one country to hold back such important terror listings without due cause. A third may even be to open dialogues with both China and Pakistan bilaterally on the issue, leveraging Pakistan’s need to be removed from the FATF grey list later this year as well as China’s interest in Pakistan’s economic recovery, to ensure the listings are accomplished. Eventually, if the goal behind the UNSC listings is to ensure that perpetrators of terrorist acts are held accountable, the emphasis must be on working through all avenues.

7. Editorial-4: Never-ending fight

Free speech is constantly under threat from religious and caste groups

In quashing a criminal case against actor Suriya and director T.J. Gnanavel, the Madras High Court has spared them the ordeal of facing vexatious proceedings for allegedly insulting a section of society in the acclaimed film Jai Bhim. The FIR cited Section 295A of the IPC, a provision that makes it a crime to commit “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” on the basis of a complaint that the film insulted the Vanniyar community. A magistrate had forwarded the complaint to the police for the registration of a first information report by concluding that it disclosed a “cognisable offence”. The High Court has rightly concluded that the magistrate had acted mechanically as the order did not even mention what offence was made out in the complaint. In this case, it is quite strange that a perceived insult to a caste was seen as outraging “religious” feelings. It indicates the perfunctory manner in which caste and religion can be conflated with one another by those claiming to be hurt or insulted by others. The court has noted that except for a contention that the film was made in a manner that is likely to incite violence and hostility towards a particular community, there was no specific instance stated in the FIR.

The casual resort to criminal prosecution for perceived insults to religion or any other social segment has become an unfortunate feature of contemporary life. Some years ago, the Supreme Court had to intervene to quash a criminal complaint against cricket star Mahendra Singh Dhoni for being featured in the likeness of a deity on the cover of a magazine. Section 295A has been interpreted by a Constitution Bench in 1957 to the effect that it only “punishes the aggravated form of insult to religion” when something is done with a deliberate and malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of a class. However, in practice, groups and individuals use some imagined slight to themselves as a pretext to infringe the right to freedom of speech and expression by objecting to films, plays and public performances. In many cases, the police tend to give greater credence to such complaints than they deserve and cite the possibility of a disruption of law and order to clamp down on the screening or performance rather than protect free speech. Constitutional courts do intervene time and again to protect freedom of expression, but often such relief comes after a delay. Books have been pulped and performances and lectures have been cancelled based on threats and complaints more often than needed. These developments can only mean that the fight for free speech has to be fought anew from time to time.

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