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Daily Current Affairs 15.06.2022 (WPI inflation quickens to record 15.9%, Unemployment has decreased, says latest labour force survey, New plan to save jumbos from train hits, Elderly lack financial, social security: study, The ‘C’ factor in the Russia-Ukraine war, Malnutrition in India is a worry in a modern scenario, The way to end child marriage)

Daily Current Affairs 15.06.2022 (WPI inflation quickens to record 15.9%, Unemployment has decreased, says latest labour force survey, New plan to save jumbos from train hits, Elderly lack financial, social security: study, The ‘C’ factor in the Russia-Ukraine war, Malnutrition in India is a worry in a modern scenario, The way to end child marriage)

3-11

1. WPI inflation quickens to record 15.9%

Inflation in India’s wholesale prices quickened to a new record high of 15.9% in May, from April’s 15.1%, official data released on Tuesday show. This is the 14th month in a row that WPI inflation has stayed above the 10% mark. Inflation in May 2021 was 13.1%.

Fuel and power inflation accelerated further to 40.6%, from 38.7% in April and 31.8% in March. Inflation based on the WPI Food Index, which had eased to 8.9% in April from 9.3% in March, rebounded to 10.9% in May. Retail inflation had eased slightly to 7.04% in May from 7.79% in April as per data released on Monday.

But the further uptick in WPI inflation, in contrast to the consumer price trends, could warrant greater circumspection from the monetary policy perspective, as producers would eventually pass on higher costs to consumers, economists said. May’s “inordinately high” wholesale inflation was signalling continued upward pressure on retail inflation in the next few months, cautioned D.K. Srivastava, chief policy advisor, EY India.

Inflation in primary articles also gained momentum, rising to 19.7% from April’s 15.5%. LPG inflation shot up from 38.5% in April to 47.7% in May. While diesel inflation eased only marginally from 66.1% in April to 65.2% in May, petrol inflation dropped slightly from 60.6% in April to 58.8% in May. The government had pared excise duties on petrol and diesel on May 21.

“The high rate of inflation in May is primarily due to rise in prices of mineral oils, crude petroleum & natural gas, food articles, basic metals, non-food articles, chemicals & chemical products and food products compared to the previous year,” the Commerce and Industry Ministry said.

CARE Ratings’ Rajani Sinha attributed the record wholesale inflation to the spike in food and energy prices. “Vegetables and cereals prices surged due to heatwave-led disruptions and have pushed up primary food inflation, while elevated crude oil prices, LPG price hikes and electricity tariff revisions contributed to the rise in fuel and power inflation,” she said. The WPI for this March was also revised upwards, reflecting an inflation rate of 14.63% instead of the 14.5% earlier estimated by the Office of the Economic Adviser, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. “The rise in global crude oil prices is expected to put upward pressure on the headline WPI print for June 2022, even as the weakening of the Rupee is likely to augment the landed cost of imports. We expect the wholesale price inflation to remain elevated at ~15%-16% in June,” chief economist, ICRA, Aditi Nayar said.

Wholesale Price Index

  • It measures the changes in the prices of goods sold and traded in bulk by wholesale businesses to other businesses.
  • Published by the Office of Economic Adviser, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
  • It is the most widely used inflation indicator in India.
  • Major criticism for this index is that the general public does not buy products at wholesale price.
  • The base year of All-India WPI has been revised from 2004-05 to 2011-12 in 2017.

Importance of WPI

  • In a dynamic world, prices do not remain constant.
  • The inflation rate calculated on the basis of the movement of the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) is an important measure to monitor the dynamic movement of prices.
  • As WPI captures price movements in a most comprehensive way, it is widely used by Government, banks, industry and business circles.
  • Significant monetary and fiscal policy changes are often linked to WPI movements.
  • Similarly, the movement of WPI serves as an influential determinant, in the formulation of trade, fiscal and other economic policies by the Government of India.
  • The WPI indices are also used for the purpose of escalation clauses in the supply of raw materials, machinery and construction work.
  • WPI is used as a deflator of various nominal macroeconomic variables, including Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Consumer Price Index

  • It measures price changes from the perspective of a retail buyer. It is released by the National Statistical Office (NSO).
  • The CPI calculates the difference in the price of commodities and services such as food, medical care, education, electronics etc, which Indian consumers buy for use.
  • The CPI has several sub-groups including food and beverages, fuel and light, housing and clothing, bedding and footwear.

Four types of CPI are as follows:

  • CPI for Industrial Workers (IW).
  • CPI for Agricultural Labourer (AL).
  • CPI for Rural Labourer (RL).
  • CPI (Rural/Urban/Combined).
  • Of these, the first three are compiled by the Labour Bureau in the Ministry of Labour and Employment. Fourth is compiled by the NSO in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

Base Year for CPI is 2012.

  • Recently, the Ministry of Labour and Employment released the new series of Consumer Price Index for Industrial Worker (CPI-IW) with base year 2016.
  • The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) uses CPI data to control inflation. In April 2014, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had adopted the CPI as its key measure of inflation.

2. Unemployment has decreased, says latest labour force survey

Data show rate of joblessness fell to 4.2% in 2020-21, compared with 4.8% earlier

The unemployment rate saw a decrease of 0.6% and fell to 4.2% in 2020-21, compared with 4.8% in 2019-20, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) for 2020-21 released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation here on Tuesday.

This means that only 4.2% of adults who looked for jobs could not get any work in rural and urban areas of the country in 2020-21.

Rural areas recorded an unemployment rate of 3.3% and urban areas 6.7%.

The National Statistical Office (NSO) uses “rotational panel sampling design” in urban areas to assess the labour force participation rate (LFPR), worker population ratio (WPR) and the unemployment rate, and visits select households in urban areas four times. There was, however, no revisit for the rural samples.

The sample size for the first visit during July 2020-June 2021 in rural and urban areas was 12,800 first-stage sampling units (FSU) in 7,024 villages and 5,776 urban frame survey blocks.

First-stage sampling

Out of this, 12,562 FSUs (6,930 villages and 5,632 urban blocks) were surveyed for canvassing the PLFS schedule.

“The number of households surveyed was 1,00,344 (55,389 in rural areas and 44,955 in urban areas) and number of persons surveyed was 4,10,818 (2,36,279 in rural areas and 1,74,539 in urban areas),” the Ministry said in a release.

The LFPR, the percentage of persons in the labour force (that is, working or seeking work or available for work) in the population, was 41.6% during 2020-21. It was 40.1% in the previous year. The WPR was 39.8%, an increase from 38.2% of the previous year. The WPR is defined as the percentage of employed persons in the population.

Migrants are defined in the survey as a household member whose last usual place of residence, at any time in the past, was different from the present place of enumeration. The migration rate, according to the survey, is 28.9%. The migration rate among women was 48% and 47.8% in rural and urban areas, respectively.

Rural jobs

Experts point out that a second visit to the households in rural areas could have provided a bigger and larger picture of unemployment, which did not happen in the survey.

“Overall, the report suggests shifting the government’s policy directions as it has become more rural-centric. Creation of rural jobs other than in the agricultural sector and MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) could be priorities for the government at the Union and State levels,” Sridhar Kundu, senior research analyst at the Indian School of Business, said.

Unemployment

  • Unemployment occurs when a person who is actively searching for employment is unable to find work.
    • Unemployment is often used as a measure of the health of the economy.
  • The most frequent measure of unemployment is the unemployment rate, which is the number of unemployed people divided by the number of people in the labour force.
  • National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) defines employment and unemployment on the following activity statuses of an individual:
    • Working (engaged in an economic activity) i.e. ‘Employed’.
    • Seeking or available for work i.e. ‘Unemployed’.
    • Neither seeking nor available for work.
    • The first two constitute the labour force and unemployment rate is the percent of the labour force that is without work.
    • Unemployment rate = (Unemployed Workers / Total labour force) × 100

Types of Unemployment in India:

Disguised Unemployment:

  • It is a phenomenon wherein more people are employed than actually needed.
  • It is primarily traced in the agricultural and the unorganised sectors of India.

Seasonal Unemployment:

  • It is an unemployment that occurs during certain seasons of the year.
  • Agricultural labourers in India rarely have work throughout the year.

 Structural Unemployment:

  • It is a category of unemployment arising from the mismatch between the jobs available in the market and the skills of the available workers in the market.
  • Many people in India do not get job due to lack of requisite skills and due to poor education level, it becomes difficult to train them.

 Cyclical Unemployment:

  • It is result of the business cycle, where unemployment rises during recessions and declines with economic growth.
  • Cyclical unemployment figures in India are negligible. It is a phenomenon that is mostly found in capitalist economies.

 Technological Unemployment:

  • It is loss of jobs due to changes in technology.
  • In 2016, World Bank data predicted that the proportion of jobs threatened by automation in India is 69% year-on-year.

 Frictional Unemployment:

  • The Frictional Unemployment also called as Search Unemployment, refers to the time lag between the jobs when an individual is searching for a new job or is switching between the jobs.
  • In other words, an employee requires time for searching a new job or shifting from the existing to a new job, this inevitable time delay causes the frictional unemployment. It is often considered as a voluntary unemployment because it is not caused due to the shortage of job, but in fact, the workers themselves quit their jobs in search of better opportunities.

 Vulnerable Employment:

  • This means, people working informally, without proper job contracts and thus sans any legal protection. These persons are deemed ‘unemployed’ since records of their work are never maintained.
  • It is one of the main types of unemployment in India.

 Causes of Unemployment:

  • Large population.
  • Low or no educational levels and vocational skills of working population.
  • Inadequate state support, legal complexities and low infrastructural, financial and market linkages to small/ cottage industries or small businesses, making such enterprises unviable with cost and compliance overruns.
  • Huge workforce associated with informal sector due to lack of required education/ skills, which is not captured in any employment data. For ex: domestic helpers, construction workers etc.
  • The syllabus taught in schools and colleges, being not as per the current requirements of the industries. This is the main cause of structural unemployment.
  • Inadequate growth of infrastructure and low investments in manufacturing sector, hence restricting employment potential of secondary sector.
  • Low productivity in agriculture sector combined with lack of alternative opportunities for agricultural worker which makes transition from primary to secondary and tertiary sectors difficult.
  • Regressive social norms that deter women from taking/continuing employment.

Impact:

  • The problem of unemployment gives rise to the problem of poverty.
  • Young people after a long time of unemployment indulge in illegal and wrong activities for earning money. This also leads to increase in crime in the country.
  • Unemployed persons can easily be enticed by antisocial elements. This makes them lose faith in democratic values of the country.
  • It is often seen that unemployed people end up getting addicted to drugs and alcohol or attempts suicide, leading losses to the human resources of the country.
  • It also affects economy of the country as the workforce that could have been gainfully employed to generate resources actually gets dependent on the remaining working population, thus escalating socioeconomic costs for the State. For instance, 1 percent increase in unemployment reduces the GDP by 2 percent.

Steps Taken by Government:

Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) was launched in 1980 to create full employment opportunities in rural areas.

Training of Rural Youth for Self-Employment (TRYSEM): This scheme was started in 1979 with objective to help unemployed rural youth between the age of 18 and 35 years to acquire skills for self-employment. Priority was given to SC/ST Youth and Women.

RSETI/RUDSETI: With the aim of mitigating the unemployment problem among the youth, a new initiative was tried jointly by Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Educational Trust, Syndicate Bank and Canara Bank in 1982 which was the setting up of the “RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND SELF EMPLOYMENT TRAINING INSTITUTE” with its acronym RUDSETI near Dharmasthala in Karnataka. Rural Self Employment Training Institutes/ RSETIs are now managed by Banks with active co-operation from the Government of India and State Government.

By merging the two erstwhile wage employment programme – National Rural Employment programme (NREP) and Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme (RLEGP) the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY) was started with effect from April, 1, 1989 on 80:20 cost sharing basis between the centre and the States.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA): It is an employment scheme that was launched in 2005 to provide social security by guaranteeing a minimum of 100 days paid work per year to all the families whose adult members opt for unskilled labour-intensive work. This act provides Right to Work to people.

Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), launched in 2015 has an objective of enabling a large number of Indian youth to take up industry-relevant skill training that will help them in securing a better livelihood.

Start Up India Scheme, launched in 2016 aims at developing an ecosystem that promotes and nurtures entrepreneurship across the country.

Stand Up India Scheme, launched in 2016 aims to facilitate bank loans between Rs 10 lakh and Rs. 1 crore to at least one SC or ST borrower and at least one women borrower per bank branch for setting up a greenfield enterprise.

3. New plan to save jumbos from train hits

Geographical patterns to be analysed; measures that can be implemented by Railways to be proposed

With 186 elephants officially reported to have been killed in collisions with trains in the past decade, the Environment and Railway Ministries are exploring a project to minimise the number of such accidents.

While piecemeal measures have been taken in States, the latest initiative is to analyse patterns geographically and propose measures that the Railways can feasibly implement.

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, an autonomous body, and the Environment Ministry have had an initial round of discussions with Railway officials, said S.P. Yadav of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Bilal Habib, a scientist at the WII and one of the leaders of the project, said a draft document was expected to be readied in July. A preliminary analysis showed the States with the highest elephant numbers were not always the ones with the most deaths. Assam, West Bengal and Uttarakhand were hilly States that saw the most number of casualties, Mr. Habib said. Slopes were a tricky terrain for elephants and when the animals attempted to cross railway lines, they lingered longer near or on tracks resulting in collisions. “An elephant is the only mammal with six toes, one of which is exclusively for gripping slopes. Due to this, they take more time to descend slopes and when tracks are located at such locations, they tend to result in accidents,” Mr. Habib said.

Creating underpasses or dedicated elephant passes near existing lines are not always feasible for the Railways, given the expenses, as it required as much as 20 km of pathway on either side of the track.

Mr. Yadav cited instances of elephants refusing to abandon their young were they to get trapped on the lines, resulting in casualties.

In response to questions raised in Parliament on such collisions, the government said that it had put in place measures, such as providing fencing at selected locations, erecting signage boards to warn locomotive pilots about identified elephant corridors, sensitising train crew and stationmasters on a regular basis, clearing vegetation on the sides of the track within railway land, deputing a Forest Department staffer in Railway control offices to liaison with Railway, and have the Forest Department engage elephant trackers for timely action by alerting stationmasters and locomotive pilots.

Elephants Train Collisions

Elephants are often victims of train collisions and electric fences in the rising man-animal conflicts.

How frequent are the deaths?

  • RTI data – RTI reply byProject Elephant division of the MoEFCC shows killing of 1,160 elephants due causes other than natural causes over 11 years (till 2020).
  • 741 deaths were due to electrocution; railway accidents accounted for 186 cases; poaching 169 and poisoning 64.
  • CAG Report – Of the 29,964 elephants in India, nearly 14,580 are in the southern region.
  • That a greater number of casualties getting reported are in elephant passages has been confirmed by the C&AG in its latest compliance audit report on the Ministry of Railways.

How to save elephants from Electrocution?

  • Hanging Solar Powered Fences – Electric fences or barbed wire fences can be replaced with hanging solar-powered fences, as has been planned in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  • It will be installed on pillars and stainless steel wires will be hung from the main line. The fence is connected to a solar power supply point.
  • Here small animals could freely and safely move under them.
  • At the same time electric shock in such fences will be of mild intensity and will cause no harm to big animals.
  • Such hanging fences could be employed across the forest fringes to prevent the entry of elephants from the woods to human habitations.
  • They will be effective even in marshy and high conflict zones too.
  • Planting citronella and lemon grass – This is done in Golaghat district of Assam. Elephant avoid coming to such areas due to its aroma.
  • Planting such crops instead of electric fences is a viable alternative.
  • At the same time authorities should ensure that there are no illegal electric fences or barbed wire fences.
  • Participation of local communities – The critical role elephants play in biodiversity conservation must be highlighted, especially to those living in areas close to elephant corridors.
  • Wildlife crossings or eco-bridges – The Environment Ministry and Ministry of Railways should also expedite proposals for elevated wildlife crossings or eco-bridges and underpasses for the safe passage of animals.
  • A finding of the C&AG was that after the construction of underpasses and overpasses in the areas under the jurisdiction of East Central and Northeast Frontier Railways, there was no death reported.

What CAG report suggests for Elephant Train collision?

  • Periodic review of identification of elephant passages.
  • More sensitisation programmes for railway staff.
  • Standardisation of track signage.
  • Installation of an animal detection system (transmitter collars)
  • ‘Honey bee’ sound-emitting devices near all identified elephant passages.

Measures taken to avoid elephant casualties on railway lines

  • A Permanent Coordination Committee was constituted between the Ministry of Railways (Railway Board) and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths in train accidents.
  • Clearing vegetation along railway tracks to enable clear view for loco pilots.
  • Setting up underpass/overpass for safe passage of elephants. 
  • Regulation of train speed from sunset to sunrise in vulnerable stretches
  • Regular patrolling of vulnerable stretches of railway tracks 
  • The MoEFCC released ₹212.49 crore to elephant range States under Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) of Project Elephant to protect elephants, their habitat and corridors, to address man-elephant conflicts, and for the welfare of captive elephants, between 2011-12 and 2020-21.

4. Elderly lack financial, social security: study

52% of those surveyed reported inadequate income; 40% said they did not feel financially secure

A national survey carried out by HelpAge India has shown that 47% of elderly people are economically dependent on their families for income and 34% relied on pensions and cash transfers, while 40% of the surveyed people have expressed a desire to work “as long as possible”, highlighting the need to pay greater attention to social security of senior citizens in the country.

The report, released by Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry Secretary R. Subrahmanyam on the eve of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, was based on a survey conducted by the non-governmental organisation with the involvement of 4,399 senior citizens and 2,200 caregivers across 22 cities.

The report said that 52% of the elderly surveyed reported inadequate income; 40% said they did not feel financially secure; 57% said their expenditure was in excess of their savings; and 45% said the pension amount was not enough for survival.

“This suggests both financial planning for later years and social security needs much greater attention,” HelpAge India said in a statement, adding that it had been advocating for a universal pension of ₹3,000 a month.

The survey also found that 71% of senior citizens were not working, while 36% were willing to work and 40% wanted to work “as long as possible”. As much as 30% of the elders were willing to volunteer their time for various social causes.

“One good news is that 87% elders reported there is availability of healthcare facilities nearby, however 78% elders mentioned unavailability of app-based online healthcare facilities and a significant 67% elderly reported they do not have any health insurance at this critical stage in their lives and only 13% are covered under government insurance schemes,” HelpAge India said.

The report highlighted the way elder abuse is perceived and reported — 59% of elders felt that elder abuse was “prevalent” in society, but 10% reported being victims themselves.

Elderly in India

Implications of Increase in Life Expectancy: 

Life expectancy in India has risen from 50 (1970-75) to almost 70 years (2014-18), as a result, the number of elders (>60 years of age) is already 137 million, and expected to increase by 40% to 195 million in 2031, and 300 million by 2050.

Elderly, A Fast-Growing but Underutilised Resource: 

  • While one perspective looks at them as dependents, a rather different view would look at them as a potential asset: a massive resource of experienced, knowledgeable people.
  • Integrating the elderly into the lives of communities can make a substantial contribution to improving social conditions.

Elderly and Economy:

  • Elderly people carry immense experience of their personal and professional life which the society, at large, needs to channelise for a better tomorrow.
  • Including elderly people as active contributors in the economy will prepare India for the future when a major portion of its population will be aged.

Increasing Significance of Silver Economy:

  • Silver economy is the system of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services aimed at using the purchasing potential of older and ageing people and satisfying their consumption, living and health needs.
  • The SAGE initiative and the SACRED portal are some of the initiatives launched specifically to promote the silver economy.

Challenges to Socio-Economic Upliftment of the Elderly

Changing Healthcare Needs:

  • In a demographic where the growth rate of elders far exceeds that of the young, the biggest challenge is to provide a range of quality, affordable, and accessible health and care services to the elderly.
  • They require an array of specialised medical services at home including tele or home consultations, physiotherapy and rehabilitation services, mental health counselling and treatment, as well as pharmaceutical and diagnostic services.

Low HAQ Score of India:

  • As per the 2016 Healthcare Access and Quality Index, India (at 41.2) is still significantly below the global average of 54 points, ranking 145 out of 195 countries.
  • The low HAQ worsens even further in smaller cities and rural areas where basic quality health-care services are very inadequate.

Social Issues:

  • Factors such as familial neglect, low education levels, socio-cultural beliefs and stigma, low trust on institutionalised health-care services etc. exacerbate the situation for the elders.
  • Inequity in access to facilities compounds the problems for the elderly, who are already, physically, financially and at times psychologically restricted in understanding, and availing such facilities. Consequently, most of them live their years in neglect.

Vicious Cycle of Health, Economy and Unproductivity:

  • An overwhelming proportion of the elders are from the lower socio-economic strata.
  • The vicious cycle of poor health and unaffordable health costs is further accelerated by their inability to earn a livelihood.
  • As a result, not only are they economically unproductive but it also adds to their mental and emotional problems.

Inadequate Welfare Schemes:

  • Despite Ayushman Bharat and public health insurance schemes, a NITI Aayog report indicates that 400 million Indians do not have any financial cover for health expenses.
  • Despite the presence of pension schemes at centre and state level, a mere pittance as low as ₹350 to ₹400 a month is provided in some states which too is not universal.

Challenges to Inclusion of Elderly in the Economy: 

  • In order to include the elderly as active participants in the economy, they need to be reskilled and taught about the latest technologies to bring them at par with the current ‘tech-savvy’ generation.
  • Ensuring proper technology, human resource and other facilities for reskilling the elderly population at a large scale is a challenge.

Role of Government:

  • India needs to rapidly increase its public health-care spending, and invest heavily in the creation of well-equipped and staffed medical care facilities and home health-care and rehabilitation services.
  • It needs to accelerate implementation of programmes such as the National Programme for Health Care of the Elderly (NPHCE).
  • The Ayushman Bharat and PM-JAY ecosystems need to be further expanded and similar, special health-care coverage schemes and services need to be created for senior citizens from the lower economic strata.

Socio-Economic Inclusion of Elderly:

  • Similar to countries like in Europe which have small communities to take care of the elderly and provide them related facilities, India can build such a type of youth army to help elderly in the far away areas.
  • The best way of taking the best economic and social advantage of the elderly is not to treat them separately from the rest of the population and rather assimilate them into the mainstream population.
  • Elderly-inclusive policies which bring the larger segment of the elderly within the ambit of the welfare schemes shall be formulated ensuring the coverage upto the last mile.

Special Focus on Elderly Women:

  • Elderly women in particular shall be specifically looked after in the context of socio-economic upliftment, as the longevity for women is much longer than men.
  • Inaccessibility of opportunities to elderly women will make them dependent on others, exposing their survival to several vulnerabilities.

5. Editorial-1: The ‘C’ factor in the Russia-Ukraine war

There is little clarity about the extent to which both sides have used cyberweapons — there could be underlying reasons

Well into the second 100 days of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the world is awash with speculation about reasons for the so-called failure of the Russian armed forces to deal a decisive blow against a much smaller Ukrainian army. This may appear to be a one-sided viewpoint, but Russia is yet to achieve what can be termed as a decisive victory in any sector of the current conflict.

Analysing Russia’s response

Several reasons have been adduced by experts in the West for the lacklustre performance of the Russian army. Frequently mentioned are: lack of motivation and the poor morale of the Russian forces sent to Ukraine, many of whom were conscripts who had little desire to participate in a bloody conflict; absence of trust between the higher and the middle/lower rungs of the Russian armed forces, leading to a hiatus at the operational level; Russian weaponry being outdated and ineffective to fight an informationalised war under modern conditions, such as the one that Ukraine was waging at present with generous help from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and western powers.

Admittedly, Russian commanders have also proved inept in devising plans and taking appropriate decisions in battlefield conditions against a determined enemy. Viewed against the perspective when the conflict started, that Ukraine would capitulate within a matter of weeks, all this has contributed to a feeling in the West that Russia’s armed forces are overrated, and that the threat they pose to the democratic West is greatly exaggerated.

A word of caution is, however, called for. Russia’s spending on its military over several decades has been far higher than that of every other country in Europe, including the two most highly militarised countries, viz., the United Kingdom and France. Russia’s armed arsenal which has been on public display on several occasions in the recent past, can hardly be written off, even if questions are now being raised about the invincibility of Russia’s armed forces. The reality is that much of Russia’s advanced weaponry has not been employed in the Ukraine conflict — for reasons best known to the Kremlin — and, hence, the West should not read the ‘tea leaves’ wrongly, and write off Russia’s military strength, lest it encourages misguided elements to embark on any hazardous ‘misadventure’.

The role of ‘cyber’

Reasons for Russia’s lacklustre performance need to be found elsewhere. Given that cyber is often touted as the Fifth Dimension of warfare, it may be worthwhile to examine whether this indeed is the first major conflict in which ‘cyber’ is playing a crucial role, allowing a weaker nation with cyber capabilities to use it to its advantage. Public memory tends to be short, for it was only a decade ago that a distinguished President of the United States, Barack Obama, had warned that in the event of a conflict or otherwise, cyberattacks would plunge ‘entire cities into darkness’.

A former Chief of the National Security Agency of the U.S., which has responsibility for cyber in the military domain, in his memoirs had said that although cyberspace is a man-made domain, it had become critical to military operations on land, sea, air and in space. A former U.S. Secretary of Defence a few years ago,, even talked of a possible ‘cyber Pearl Harbour to paralyze nations and create a profound sense of vulnerability’. Likewise, some years ago, the U.S. intelligence community had put out a warning that their nation was under threat as North Korean operatives were in a position to pre-position ‘cyber munitions’ inside America’s critical infrastructure, and detonate them in the event of a conflict. Today, the West regularly portrays Russians using cyber-tactics to destroy nations.

The Russian military oligarchy is indeed among the world leaders in digital disruption and cyber-methodology, and one could have reasonably presumed that even before the conflict commenced, Russia would have swamped Ukraine with an avalanche of digital attacks. Ukraine, for its part, has its own digital army, including a corps of digital weapons. Several weeks into the war, however, there is little clarity as to the extent to which both sides have deployed cyberweapons.

Earlier attacks

There are several publicised instances earlier, of alleged Russian operatives waging a cyberwar against Ukraine. An instance that captured public imagination some years ago was Russia’s cyberattack on Ukraine’s electric grid, leaving many parts of the country without power for several days, in the midst of a grim winter. Ukrainian cyber security experts have also claimed to have prevented a major cyber operation — linked to the Kremlin — to derail the Ukrainian presidential election some years ago. These were, however, only the tip of the iceberg of Russia’s cyber offensive capabilities, vis-à-vis Ukraine.

Both sides now possess and use malware such as data-wipers which have proved highly effective. On the day the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Russian cyber units are believed to have successfully deployed destructive malware against several Ukrainian military targets. The Ukrainian Satellite Internet Provider, for instance, was the target of one such cyberattack, leading to widespread communications outages. A series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against Ukrainian banking and defence websites occurred simultaneously. In addition, Wiper malware was introduced into several Ukraine Government networks, while the websites of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry and military targets faced a series of DDoS and phishing attacks.

But no Armageddon

None of these, however, is tantamount to what can be described as large-scale cyberattacks. As far as the conduct of the war is concerned, the string of small-scale cyberattacks cannot be said to have had any material impact on the conduct or outcome of the conflict. Hence, the cardinal question is why given that Ukraine has put up such a heroic defence — and to a considerable extent stalled the Russian offensive — Russia has not embarked on a massive all-out cyber-offensive.

It is very likely, and possibly a fact, that there are major difficulties in planning and executing massive cyberattacks on a short timeline to ensure higher efficacy of kinetic attacks. If that be the case, then much of the speculation that cyberattacks in the event of a war provide a perpetrator the capability to enact another ‘Pearl Harbour’ seems highly unrealistic. The fact that both Russia and Ukraine, which have powerful armies of cyber-specialists, more so hackers (Ukraine even tried to create an international army of hackers to target critical Russian systems), have not succeeded in causing a cyber Armageddon can possibly be seen as a reprieve. But there are possibly other underlying reasons. There has always been a view among cyber experts that ‘Cyber Space is not a war zone’, and that it is fundamentally a civilian space — but without doubt leading to a ‘new exciting age in human experience, exploration and development’. Thus, it would seem that for all its potential to disrupt civilian targets such as power grids, hospitals, banks and industries, cyber-power is yet to achieve its so-called threat potential in terms of decisive impacts in battlefield situations. As of now, cyberattacks have an impact that is well below the threshold of what a nuclear war, even a limited one, could produce.

The West’s line

Meanwhile, the West is currently busy floating some ‘red herrings’, viz., that Moscow is possibly considering raising the stakes further given that the offensive in Ukraine has stalled. Implicit in this warning is that Moscow may be planning to embark on a nuclear conflict. The West believes that Russia could in such a situation, possibly employ tactical/battlefield nuclear weapons to drive home to Ukrainian defenders the high price of resistance to Russia’s offensive. It is not for the first time that the West is peddling such a view, for it has from time to time observed that Russia is a firm believer in ‘the value of nuclear weapons as a tool of statecraft’; and that a showdown in Ukraine, employing low-yield nuclear weapons, would help send a clear message not only to Ukraine but also to NATO and the United States as well, in regard to the extent of Russia’s determination not to allow any further extension of NATO to the east.

Conjuring up such a scenario with little evidence to support this argument could be dangerous. It could well turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are inherent dangers attached to all such speculation.

6. Editorial-2: Malnutrition in India is a worry in a modern scenario

The country’s response to its burden of malnutrition and growing anaemia has to be practical and innovative

Good nutrition has the power to empower the present and future generations. India’s greatest national treasure is its people — especially women and children — but even after 75 years of independence, a majority of them do not get the required diet to meet their nutritional needs. A child’s nutritional status is directly linked to their mother. Poor nutrition among pregnant women affects the nutritional status of the child and has a greater chance to affect future generations. Undernourished children are at risk of under-performing in studies and have limited job prospects. This vicious cycle restrains the development of the country, whose workforce, affected mentally and physically, has reduced work capacity.

Marginal improvement

While there has been some progress in tackling malnutrition among children and women over the past decade, the improvement has been modest at best. This is despite declining rates of poverty, increased self-sufficiency in food production, and the implementation of a range of government programmes. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) has shown marginal improvement in different nutrition indicators, indicating that the pace of progress is slow. Children in several States are more undernourished now than they were five years ago.

Stunting, wasting, anaemia

While there was some reduction in stunting rates (35.5% from 38.4% in NFHS-4) 13 States or Union Territories have seen an increase in stunted children since NFHS-4; this includes Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Kerala. (Stunting is defined as low height-for-age.) Malnutrition trends across NFHS surveys show that wasting, the most visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition, has either risen or has remained stagnant over the years (Wasting is defined as low weight-for-height).

India also has the highest prevalence of anaemia in the world (Anaemia is defined as the condition in which the number of red blood cells or the haemoglobin concentration within them is lower than normal). The NFHS-5 survey indicates that more than 57% of women (15-49 years) and over 67% children (six-59 months) suffer from anaemia. My home State, Assam, is among the low-performing States, with a huge burden of anaemic cases — 66.4% of women (15-49 years) and 68.4% children (6-59 months) are affected. It is imperative to introspect about these problems, which remain persistent, pervasive, and serious. Anaemia has major consequences in terms of human health and development: it reduces the work capacity of individuals, in turn impacting the economy and overall national growth. Developing countries lose up to 4.05% in GDP per annum due to iron deficiency anaemia; India loses up to 1.18% of GDP annually.

Step up the financing

There is a greater need now to increase investment in women and children’s health and nutrition to ensure their sustainable development and improved quality of life. While the Government’s focus has been on the consolidation of several programmes to improve outcomes, there is a need for increased financial commitment. Experts have pointed out that Saksham Anganwadi and the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment (POSHAN) 2.0 programme have seen only a marginal increase in budgetary allocation this year (₹20,263 crore from ₹20,105 crore in 2021-22). Additionally, 32% of funds released under POSHAN Abhiyaan to States and Union Territories have not been utilised.

Monitor constituencies too

India must adopt an outcome-oriented approach on nutrition programmes. It is crucial that parliamentarians begin monitoring needs and interventions in their constituencies and raise awareness on the issues, impact, and solutions to address the challenges at the local level. There has to be direct engagement with nutritionally vulnerable groups (this includes the elderly, pregnant women, those with special needs and young children), and contribute toward ensuring last-mile delivery of key nutrition services and interventions. This will ensure greater awareness on the one hand and proper planning and implementation of programmes at the grass-roots level on the other, which can then be replicated at the district and national levels.

With basic education and general awareness, every individual is informed, takes initiatives at the personal level and can become an agent of change. Various studies highlight a strong link between mothers’ education and improved access and compliance with nutrition interventions among children. We must ensure our young population has a competitive advantage; nutrition and health are foundational to that outcome.

Other steps

I strongly believe that there should be a process to monitor and evaluate programmes and address systemic and on the ground challenges. As a policymaker, I recommend that a new or existing committee or the relevant standing committees meet and deliberate over effective policy decisions, monitor the implementation of schemes, and review nutritional status across States. The country’s response to malnutrition and its growing anaemia burden should be practical and innovative. This is critical to make an India that is malnutrition-free and anaemia-free a reality, and not just an aspiration. Every one is a stakeholder and should contribute towards ending malnutrition and anaemia. We should not become part of a tragedy that is preventable.

7. Editorial-3: The way to end child marriage

A legalistic approach might become counterproductive if women’s schooling or skills are not enhanced

Since child marriage is rampant in India, will increasing the age of marriage of women solve this issue? The increase in age of marriage is claimed to bring substantive benefits at the individual and societal levels. Is this claim true? Data from the recently released National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), 2019-2021, enables us to examine the facts.

Structural factors

Several empirical studies from South Asia establish a significant association between early marriage and adverse health and educational outcomes of women and their children. Specifically, studies associate early marriage of women with early pregnancy, lower likelihood of accessing ante-natal care, higher risks of maternal morbidity and mortality, poor nutritional status of women and poor nutritional and educational outcomes of children. These studies seem to provide a rather compelling case for increasing the age of marriage of women from 18 to 21 years, as a delayed marriage might offer significant public health dividends.

But a closer reading of the evidence shows that the association between child marriage and adverse health outcomes does not emerge in a vacuum. Rather, it is abetted by structural factors, including social norms, poverty, and women’s education. It is because of social norms in many regions and cultures that parents begin preparations for a girl’s marriage once she has reached menarche. Equally, a large proportion of child marriages take place primarily because of poverty and the burden of the huge costs of dowry associated with delayed marriages. These factors curtail a girl’s opportunities to continue her education. And in turn, the lack of educational opportunities plays an important role in facilitating child marriage.

So, what matters more: the age of marriage or the factors that facilitate child marriage? Stated differently, does a woman’s age at marriage matter in itself, independent of education or poverty? It is in this context that the NFHS-5 data become salient. NFHS-5 data show that about 25% of women aged 18-29 years married before the legal marriageable age of 18. The proportion has declined only marginally from NFHS-4 (28%). Expectedly, the prevalence is higher in rural than urban India (28% and 17%, respectively). West Bengal has the highest prevalence (42%), followed by Bihar and Tripura (40% each). Oddly, the decline in child marriage has been paltry at best in these high-prevalence States. At the other end of the spectrum are Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala (6% to 7%).

Education outcomes

If we look at the data community-wise, 39% of child marriages in India take place among Adivasis and Dalits. The share of advantaged social groups is 17% and the remaining share is of Other Backward Classes. In terms of household wealth, 58% of these marriages take place among the poorest wealth groups (bottom 40%), about 40% of them take place among the middle 50% and only 2% of them take place among the top 10% of wealth groups. Only 4% of child marriages in India take place among women who have completed more than 12 years of education. Thus, the data confirm that a significant proportion of child marriages takes place among women with less than 12 years of schooling and households that are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Since child marriage is substantially lower among women with a higher level of schooling, it would be interesting to know whether an increase in years of schooling necessarily increases the age at marriage. Expectedly, the average age at marriage increases from 17 years among women who are illiterate and have had up to five years of schooling to 22 years among women who have had more than 12 years of schooling. This indicates that an increase in years of schooling goes hand in hand with an increase in age at marriage. While an increase in education is most likely to delay marriage, the increase in age at marriage may or may not increase women’s education.

Since the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, fixes 21 years as the marriageable age for women, we examine whether a mere increase in age at marriage without an increase in education bestows women with better nutritional outcomes. While 27% of illiterate women who married before 18 years are underweight (Body Mass Index below 18.5), the proportion is 24% for illiterate women who married at the age of 21 years. A high proportion (64%) of illiterate women are anaemic, in terms of iron deficiency, irrespective of their difference in age at marriage. In terms of the gap between marriage and first pregnancy, it is surprisingly 2.5 years among the former and 1.6 years among the latter. However, the former give birth to a higher number of children (2.4), on average, than the latter (1.4).

Women with 12 years of schooling married before 18 years and at 21 years have hardly any difference in underweight prevalence (14% and 13%, respectively). In iron deficiency anaemia, the prevalence is only marginally higher (54%) among the former than the latter (50%). The gap between marriage and first pregnancy is higher among the former (2.6 years) than among the latter (1.7 years), though the latter have fewer number of children (1 child on average) than the former (1.6). A cross comparison between women who have had more than 12 years of schooling but were married before 18 years and women with secondary education but married at 21 years also underlines the importance of education. While underweight prevalence is almost equal among both, anaemia is marginally higher among the latter. The broad pattern emerges in other indicators as well.

The way forward

To sum up, the health dividend emanating from women’s increased age at marriage is not imminent. Increasing the age of marriage without a commensurate improvement in women’s education is least likely to yield better health and nutritional outcomes. Instead, it might adversely impact the poor and illiterate. The fact that about one-fourth of women (18-29 years) in India have married before 18 years despite the law tells us that legally increasing the age of marriage may not fully prevent child marriages. By contrast, much of the benefits can be reaped by ensuring that women complete education at least up to 12 years. The case of Bangladesh shows that improving women’s education and imparting modern skills to them that increase their employability reduces child marriage and improves health and nutrition. Also, schemes which ease the financial burden of marriage but the eligibility criteria of which should essentially link to educational attainment in addition to age demand attention. The lessons from Janani Suraksha Yojana and the zeal demonstrated in ending open defecation might provide valid insights here.

Educating women is important for their personal freedom, social well being and contributes to human development. A legalistic approach to increasing the age at marriage will produce positive results only if it leads to an improvement in women’s education and skill acquisition for employability. In the absence of an enhancement in women’s schooling or skills, a legalistic approach to ending child marriage might become counterproductive.

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