1. Eye on China, Cabinet clears 7 ITBP battalions
Adding muscle: The strength of the ITBP will increase to 97,000, making it the fourth largest Central Armed Police Force.
Over 9,000 personnel to be recruited for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh; ₹4,800 cr. sanctioned under the Vibrant Villages Programme to stop migration and boost tourism in border villages
With a view to bolstering the social and security framework along the China border, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved raising of seven new battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and allocated ₹4,800 crore under the Vibrant Villages Programme to stop migration and boost tourism in villages along the border.
The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the proposal for raising the new ITBP battalions during a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This would entail recruitment of 9,400 personnel for deployment in Arunachal Pradesh, where 47 new border outposts and 12 staging camps are under construction. The outposts were sanctioned in January 2020. In all, there are 176 ITBP outposts along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control.
A sector headquarters for the ITBP was also announced. Union Minister Anurag Thakur said the decision was taken keeping an eye on the need for effective monitoring in the border areas and that the battalions and the sector headquarters would be raised by 2025-26.
“Under this, ₹1,808.15 crore non-recurring expenditure has been approved for construction of official and residential buildings, land acquisition, arms and ammunition. A recurring expenditure of ₹963.68 crore per year for the salary and ration of personnel has been approved,” Mr. Thakur said.
With this, the strength of the ITBP will increase to 97,000 from the current 88,000.
Indian and Chinese troops are engaged in a stand-off at several locations in eastern Ladakh since April-May 2020.
The Cabinet also approved the Vibrant Villages Programme for the financial years 2022-23 to 2025-26 with an allocation of ₹4,800 crore for the development of villages on the northern border, thus improving the quality of life of people living there.
An amount of ₹2,500 crore of the allocated funds would be spent on roads. Though the VVP was announced in the 2022-23 Budget, no concrete budget or concept plan was shared then.
“This will help in encouraging people to stay in their native locations in border areas and reversing the out migration from these villages, adding to improved security of the border. Students and college students will be encouraged to visit the border villages,” Mr. Thakur said.
The scheme will provide funds for development of essential infrastructure and creation of livelihood opportunities in 19 districts and 46 border blocks in four States and one Union Territory along the “northern land border of the country” which will help in achieving inclusive growth and retaining the population in the border areas. In the first phase, 663 villages will be covered. In all, 2,966 villages in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are proposed to be covered.
The Cabinet also approved the construction of Shinku La Tunnel to provide all-weather connectivity in Ladakh. Mr. Thakur said the construction work of the 4.1-km tunnel would be completed by December 2025 and the total expenditure would be ₹1,681 crore.
2. Indigenous carrier Vikrant will be operational by year-end: Navy chief
Major strides: INS Vikrant was commissioned into the Navy last September.
The carrier will be put through trials and radar fitment over the next few months, says Admiral R. Hari Kumar at the Aero India defence expo; Navy is likely to acquire 45 twin-engine, deck-based indigenous fighter jets by 2040, he adds
The country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which is undergoing aviation trials, will be fully operational by year-end, and all efforts are on to make it happen, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral R. Hari Kumar, said on Wednesday. The indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA-Navy) and the MiG-29K undertook maiden landings on the carrier earlier this month.
“We see another two months of trials in which in addition to the instrumented aircraft, other aircraft will start landing… MF-STAR (multi-functional digital active electronically scanned array radar) fitment will commence from May onwards and should take three-four months time. During that time, she will also undergo some guarantee refit activity. Thereafter, once the monsoon gets over, she will be operationally ready,” Adm. Kumar said in response to a question from The Hindu at Aero India.
It is an accomplishment that the LCA (Navy) landed on INS Vikrant within six months of its commissioning, he stated while expressing satisfaction with the performance of the ship.
In January 2020, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully demonstrated arrested landing of LCA-Navy on INS Vikramaditya. However, the Navy has projected a requirement for a twin-engine aircraft with reasonable combat payload and range to operate from the carriers. So the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the DRDO has embarked on developing a twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF) with an all-up weight of 26 tonnes and wing folding based on the experience of LCA (Navy).
On this, Adm. Kumar said in their discussions with the ADA, DRDO and HAL were quite confident that by 2026 they should be able to develop the prototype and keep doing the trials and productionise it by 2031-32.
“We may be able to get 45 aircraft by 2040. That is as far as indigenous aircraft are concerned,” he said, stating this would still leave a gap as the existing carrier compatible MiG-29K jets may not last till then. That is why we are looking at the acquisition of multi-role carrier-based aircraft, for which Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation Rafale-M were evaluated, the Admiral explained.
3. Governor should not enter political arena: CJI
The Supreme Court on Wednesday said Governors were not supposed to venture into the political arena of alliance-making among parties.
A Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, made the oral remark when Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra Governor, dwelt on how the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena had left the “principled” pre-poll alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena to join the “opportunistic” post-poll alliance of the Maha Vikas Aghadi with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.
“Here, the leader took his stable and went to the opposite party… People vote not for individuals but for an ideology and political philosophy…” Mr. Mehta said.
Chief Justice Chandrachud intervened to ask Mr. Mehta how a Governor was bothered by these political movements.
“How can a Governor be heard to say all this? On the formation of the government between the Shiv Sena and… How can the Governor have anything to say on all this? The Governor’s role is when they form the government… The Governor will ask them to have a trust vote… Governor should not enter the political arena,” the Chief Justice addressed Mr. Mehta.
Mr. Mehta, saying these were his submissions and not on behalf of the Governor, explained that he was only arguing on the “right of conscience” of every legislator. Every principled party member had the right to follow his conscience and stand up to his leader in a multi-party democracy, he said.
“I will not be able to go before my electorate if I sit with my opponents,” Mr. Mehta said. He noted that the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) of the Constitution was meant to prevent “unprincipled defections” and not “stifle genuine dissent”.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, vehemently objected to Mr. Mehta’s submissions, asking if the Governor could comment on politics and alliances. “How is the Governor arguing all this? He [Mr. Mehta] cannot have a status independent of the Governor… He is now saying he is arguing in his individual capacity. What capacity? This is not fair,” Mr. Sibal said.
The court is hearing petitions following the political crisis which rocked Maharashtra when Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his camp rebelled and brought down the MVA government in early 2022.
4. ‘Protest calendar for 2023-24 ready to press for Statehood for Ladakh’
By the people: Students from Leh stage a protest in New Delhi, demanding Statehood and constitutional safeguards.
Hundreds of Ladakh residents gathered in Delhi on Wednesday to demand Statehood and constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory.
The representatives from both Kargil and Leh asserted that when Sikkim with a population of only 2.5 lakh could be granted Statehood, the same could be done for Ladakh which has a population of around 3 lakh (as per 2011 Census). Rejecting the high-powered committee (HPC) constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on January 2, the speakers — including members of Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance — said that any dialogue would henceforth be held directly with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Thupstan Chhewang, former BJP MP from Ladakh, said that not a single job had been given to locals since Ladakh became a Union Territory. If their demands were not met, they would intensify the protest, he said, adding that the protest calender for 2023-24 were ready.
Mr. Chhewang added that the committee led by Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai did not have any real power and it did not acknowledge any of their demands.
The gathering brought forth people from all walks of life. Lobsang Shirap (88), a farmer from Nubra, said that he was there to fight for the future generation. “There are no jobs and no teachers in schools. I am here to extend support to the youth,” he said.
Tsewang Dolma (80) from Henaskot in West Ladakh listened in rapt attention to the speakers on stage as she joined others in raising slogans in support of the Sixth Schedule.
Education reformer Sonam Wangchuk received a rousing welcome as he took the stage. “Ladakh is ecologically sensitive. We were expecting U.T. with a legislature but got one without legislature, we thought it may be on the way. We made the BJP win but gradually they stopped talking about Sixth Schedule,” he pointed out.
5. HAL to provide maintenance and overhaul support for MQ-9B drone engines in India
Special service: The engine aboard the MQ-9B HALE RPAS is unique, requiring special training and equipment for MRO.
As India looks to purchase armed Predator Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) from the U.S., Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) and General Atomics announced at Aero India on Wednesday that the turbo-propeller engines that power the MQ-9B Guardian High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) RPAS will be supported by the HAL engine division for the Indian market. The companies are looking to formulate a comprehensive engine maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) programme for the upcoming HALE RPAS projects, a joint statement said.
“HAL has been manufacturing and providing MRO support for TPE 331-5 engines for the past 40 years. We are also establishing facilities for manufacturing TPE 331-12B engines for HTT-40 project. The engine used on the MQ-9B RPAS belongs to the same family of engines with upgraded configuration to adapt to the RPAS technology. I am glad that HAL Engine Division, Bengaluru would be providing MRO support to the engine for MQ-9B RPAS, one of the most sophisticated equipment in the world,” C.B. Ananthakrishnan, Chairman and Managing Director, HAL, said.
The Indian Navy operates two MQ-9B Sea Guardians taken on lease in 2020. A larger deal for 30 armed MQ-9Bs, 10 for each Service, is pending. Last year, the Defence Ministry ordered a reassessment of the requirements of the deal estimated at around $3 billion.
In another announcement, HAL and Germany-based HENSOLDT announced a collaboration agreement covering design/IPR Transfer for design and manufacturing of Obstacle Avoidance System (OAS) for Indian helicopters, primarily the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), and future exports.
6. Warm water melts Antarctica’s glacier: study
Scientists studying Antarctica’s vast Thwaites Glacier — nicknamed the Doomsday Glacier — say warm water is seeping into its weak spots, worsening melting caused by rising temperatures, two papers published in Nature journal showed on Wednesday.
Thwaites, which is roughly the size of Florida, represents more than half a metre of global sea level rise potential, and could destabilise neighbouring glaciers that have the potential to cause a further three-meter rise.
As part of the International Thwaites Glacier collaboration, a team of 13 U.S. and British scientists spent about six weeks on the glacier. They monitored the glacier using an underwater robot vehicle known as Icefin.
In one of the papers, Cornell University-based scientist Britney Schmidt said the melting was of grave concern.
7. China must take a haircut on its loans to poor countries, says India’s G-20 Sherpa
A Sri Lankan vendor near the Hambantota port, built with Chinese funds. It is now under China’s control due loan default.
Beijing needs to come out openly and say what their debt is and how to settle it, says Amitabh Kant, in a rare, direct reference to Chinese debt of developing nations; While the U.S. has been a vocal critic of Chinese debt, India has seldom commented on it while talking on sovereign debt
China must agree to take a haircut on its loans to poor countries and assist their economic recovery, India’s G-20 Sherpa has said, in a rare, direct reference to Chinese debt of developing nations.
“China needs to come out openly and say what their debt is and how to settle it,” said Amitabh Kant, according to a Bloomberg news report. “It can’t be that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) takes a haircut and it goes to settle Chinese debt. How is that possible? Everybody has to take a haircut,” the Sherpa was quoted as saying.
While the United States has been a vocal critic of Chinese debt in developing nations, with its top officials frequently commenting on the top Asian lender’s role in the restructure process, India has seldom made mention of China while commenting on sovereign debt of countries.
Mr. Kant’s remarks assume significance ahead of a scheduled virtual meeting of the Global Sovereign Debt Round-table, organised by the IMF, the World Bank and India, which is leading the Group of 20 major economies this year. The virtual round-table on February 17 will be followed by an in-person meeting in Bengaluru on February 25, PTI news agency reported from Washington DC.
The meeting will not feature a “country-specific” discussion but will focus on broader issues “impeding reaching a timely debt restructuring process”, and lessons from recent cases and possible technical solutions to address shortcomings, Director of the IMF’s Strategy and Policy Review Department Ceyla Pazarbasioglu told reporters. Officials from creditor countries including China, India, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Group of Seven (G-7) members are expected to participate.
Sri Lanka’s case
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday said the debt-ridden island nation hoped to receive the IMF’s $2.9 billion package by March to set the country’s economy on a path of recovery after last year’s painful financial crash.
Although the Export-Import Bank of China has offered a two-year moratorium to Sri Lanka, Beijing is yet to provide specific financing assurances to the IMF to help Sri Lanka unlock the $2.9 billion “bailout package” that Colombo is desperately counting on to rebuild its economy.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing on Wednesday that China “stands ready to work with relevant countries and [international] financial institutions to continue to play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka navigate the situation, easing its debt burden and helping it achieve sustainable development.”
8. Govt. monitoring imports to detect any surge that can hurt economy: FM
Atma Nirbhar Bharat approach is not inward-looking, imports of critical inputs not barred, says Sitharaman; Finance Minister urges exporters to be mindful of global demand slowdown in order to guard against getting ‘demotivated’
The Centre was keeping a “keen eye” on merchandise import trends to assess if there “was flooding” of any particular goods, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, observing that even a few months of import surges could hurt the economy for “a whole year”.
Stressing that the Atma Nirbhar Bharat approach was not inward-looking and that imports of critical inputs for Indian industry would not be barred, the Minister said on Wednesday the government would continue to reduce duties wherever it was possible to do so without hurting domestic players.
“At the same time, [government will] keep a very close watch on flooding or surge in any kind of imported goods. The surge sometimes hurt us, even if… only for three months, it can hurt us for a whole year,” she noted at an Assocham interaction. Ms. Sitharaman also expressed concern about the impending challenge to exporters from a global slowdown.
“Indian exporters will have to be far more receptive of what is happening there [in global markets] or even foresee how that will pan out for them and keep constantly engaging with the government. Otherwise, at a time when our exporters are really readying themselves to be on their toes, such challenges can really demotivate them,” Ms. Sitharaman said.
On the question of including petroleum products in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, she said it would require a consensus with States and would need the entire GST Council’s backing.
9. Editorial-1: Beyond limits
The real issues in J&K are statehood and special status, more than delimitation
The gulf between legality and political legitimacy can be quite substantial. The Supreme Court verdict upholding the constitution of a Delimitation Commission for Jammu and Kashmir and the subsequent delimitation exercise is indeed in line with the law, especially the constitutional provisions that empower Parliament to form new States, alter existing ones, and change their status and boundaries, as well as the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. However, it will be wrong to see it as granting judicial imprimatur to the political import of the redrawing of constituencies in the Union Territory. Most political parties in J&K, which was downgraded to Union Territory status in August 2019, have opposed the Commission’s report that added six seats in Jammu division and one in Kashmir division to take the total number of seats to 90. The parties see in the exercise an attempt to weaken the Muslim majority region’s political and electoral significance and boost the prospects of parties with a base in Jammu. They consider this as an extension of the project to strip J&K of its status and privileges and repurpose its politics to the advantage of the ruling party. This question of legitimacy can be answered by the outcome of an election, if and when one is held, to the territorial legislature. However, the readjustment of boundaries may by itself cast a shadow on that process too.
The petition that challenged the formation of the Delimitation Commission was a belated one, as it was filed after the panel published its draft order. The Court brushed aside its key contention that the delimitation has been frozen throughout the country until after the first Census held after 2026, noting that Article 170, which deals with this, applies only to States, and not Union Territories. It has also noted that J&K will be governed by its own reorganisation law, which allows the 2011 Census to be the basis for its delimitation, unlike the rest of the country, where the 2001 census was the basis for the last redrawing of constituency boundaries. It also rejected arguments rooted in the idea that some provisions of the Reorganisation Act were not consistent with the Constitution, noting that these provisions had not been specifically challenged. While the Court may be right in upholding the formation of the delimitation panel, the extensions given to it, and its decision based on laws currently assumed to be valid, the impression is inescapable that the people of J&K are being presented with a fait accompli on matters concerning their political destiny, as long as the core question — the validity of the withdrawal of its statehood and special status in 2019 — remains undecided.
10. Open Page-1: The role of welfare schemes and policies for the Parhaiyas of Jharkhand
Affirmative action: Members of the Asur tribe, also a particularly vulnerable tribal group, record news and songs for their mobile radio community in the Latehar district of Jharkhand.
Like most tribal groups, the Parhaiyas also share a history of exploitation and alienation from mainstream society despite having a rich culture and heritage. A look at the extent to which food and social security schemes help vulnerable tribal communities in Jharkhand
REBECCA ROSE VARGHESE
Somanchi, Anmol, ‘Food and Social Security at the Margins: The Parhaiyas of Jharkhand’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 58, Issue 4, January 28, 2023.
While many government policies and schemes have been announced across the country to help vulnerable communities, it is imperative to look at the extent to which these schemes have succeeded. Anmol Somachi’s paper, ‘Food and Social Security at the Margins: The Parhaiyas of Jharkhand’ is one such study that examines the level of penetration and coverage of government schemes and the bottlenecks that hinder its implementation.
At the margins of society
In 2003, the Supreme Court instructed governments to provide 35 kilograms of subsidised foodgrains every month to the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) through the public distribution system (PDS). Furthermore, the Jharkhand government, in 2015, introduced the Adim Jan Jati Pension (AJJP) scheme, which provides ₹600 every month to such households provided they are not already included in another pension scheme. It is in this context that the author looks at the effectiveness of welfare schemes promised to the Parhaiyas. A door-to-door survey of all PVTG households was conducted in November 2018, in the Manika block of Latehar district and Satbarwa block of Palamu district in Jharkhand. The survey, conducted by teams of student volunteers, looked at the status and coverage of social security programmes and the barriers to implementing such schemes. They visited 13 and five villages/hamlets in Manika and Satbarwa, respectively. Incidentally, all the households where the study was conducted, were from the Parhaiya tribe.
The author introduces the Parhaiya community of Jharkhand as one of the 75 communities listed under the PVTGs in the country. Like most tribal groups, despite having a rich culture and heritage, with different languages and livelihoods, the Parhaiyas share a history of exploitation, discrimination, marginalisation and alienation from mainstream society. Traditionally, their main source of living came from shifting agriculture and hunting-gathering. But climate change, wildlife and forest policies, denial of land rights and encroachment of their ancestral land by governments have made their livelihoods precarious. This has led to poverty, hunger and malnourishment in the community. The author explains that though the rate of development and advancement is extremely slow, the present living conditions are better, with almost every household having at least one source of clean drinking water, and toilet facilities and a few families even building pucca houses with the help of government housing schemes.
Yet, the potential for social mobility seems to be poor due to the lack of proper education. Among adults, more than two-thirds have never attended school and more than 25% of the younger generation have come out of school. Access to education was limited, putting the community at the mercy of precarious labour. Many, including children, were forced to enter exploitative labour contracts. With livelihood being so insecure, the community largely depends on government social security schemes.
Food and pension schemes
In Jharkhand, 88% of PVTG households were on the PDS list and under the Antyodaya scheme which ensured that PDS grains were free of cost for them. The author explains that such coverage was commendable as most households were scattered across the State.
However, the lack of a new ration card or Aadhar-related issues resulted in 12% of households not having access to such schemes. It was seen that in areas where Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) was mandatory, it became difficult to buy PDS grains. There has been a significant improvement in the PDS in the last decade.
Yet, problems of biometrics and corruption persist, becoming bottlenecks to the smooth functioning of such schemes. Many PDS dealers continue to take small cuts in the name of transportation at the time of monthly distribution, a practice locally known as katauti.
According to the author, attempts by the government to prevent corruption through biometrics and new schemes that eliminate the middlemen have largely failed due to a lack of digital infrastructure and poor management. On the other hand, pension schemes were better administered in the State, with lesser issues of corruption. But it has faced other challenges.
To begin with, the amount has remained very low (between ₹200 to ₹600) for a long time. Secondly, pensions were stopped for many households due to Aadhar-related issues and similar to the PDS system, many new families were excluded from the scheme due to a lack of ration cards. Thirdly, the pendency rate of the applications was high. Since there is a ceiling on the total pensions that local administrations adhere to due to budgetary restrictions, many eligible applicants remain on a waiting list till a vacancy opens up.
Almost 34% of the Parhaiya households surveyed had one or more pending applications. More than 60% of pension-less households had not applied for pensions despite meeting all eligibility criteria. The coercive introduction of the Aadhaar Payment Bridge System (APBS) for the payment of pension in 2019 has created a new hassle as pension payments have been discontinued for many households in Manika and Satbarwa due to problems related to e-KYC and Aadhaar.
The poor levels of digital infrastructure in the rural population and the government’s decision to expand the scale of Aadhaar have resulted in more problems, let alone transparency, in the process of distributing social security schemes.
A long way to go
The coverage of the food and social security schemes implemented by the government for the Parhaiya community must be considered a success, as it has improved significantly in the last decade.
Yet, most households that received both pension and food rations still reported occasional or frequent hunger. This shows the inadequacy of the basic food security and welfare provided to the tribal community in the State.
The provision of food and pension alone is insufficient for the overall development of vulnerable communities. Instead of merely focusing on short-term schemes that appease the public, more schemes and policies that promote long-term solutions such as stable employment and education along with maternity and healthcare benefits must be introduced by the local government for all vulnerable communities.
Moreover, steps must be taken to ensure that the overall social conditions of the community are improved.
11. Editorial-2: A manifesto for tackling the silent pandemic of AMR
While the world is emerging from the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the very harmful but invisible pandemic of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is unfortunately here to stay. Most countries understood in 2020 the clear and present danger of COVID-19, forcing governments, including India’s, to respond with speed and accuracy. The rapidly rising AMR rates also need an accelerated, multi-sectoral, global and national response.
In recent decades, while new drugs have revolutionised human health care, health experts have been struggling with disease-causing microbes that have become resistant to drugs. Global public health response has been threatened due to rising misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals.
Microbial resistance to antibiotics has made it harder to treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), blood-poisoning (septicaemia) and several food-borne diseases. AMR also imposes a huge health cost on the patient in the form of longer hospitalisation, health complications and delayed recovery. It puts patients undergoing major surgeries and treatments, such as chemotherapy, at a greater risk. Many times, patients recover from advanced medical procedures but succumb to untreatable infections.
In 2019, AMR was associated with an estimated 4.95 million human deaths. A 2018 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned of a phenomenal increase, by 2030, of resistance to back-up antibiotics (second and third-line).
AMR adds to the burden of communicable diseases and strains the health systems of a country. An Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) study in 2022 showed that the resistance level increases from 5% to 10% every year for broad-spectrum antimicrobials. An Indian Network for Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance (INSAR) study indicated a high rate of resistance to commonly used drugs such as ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, co-trimoxazole, erythromycin and clindamycin.
India and the Muscat conference
As the current G-20 president, and as a country vulnerable to this silent pandemic, India’s role is critical in ensuring that AMR remains high on the global public health agenda.
India’s commitment to the cause was evident at the Third Global High-Level Ministerial Conference on Antimicrobial Resistance (November 24-25, 2022) held in Muscat, where over 30 countries adopted the Muscat Ministerial Manifesto on AMR.
The Muscat Manifesto recognised the need to accelerate political commitments in the implementation of One Health action for controlling the spread of AMR. It also recognised the need to address the impact of AMR not only on humans but also on animals, and in areas of environmental health, food security and economic growth and development.
The conference focused on three health targets: reduce the total amount of antimicrobials used in the agri-food system at least by 30-50% by 2030; eliminate use in animals and food production of antimicrobials that are medically important for human health; and ensure that by 2030 at least 60% of overall antibiotic consumption in humans is from the WHO “Access” group of antibiotics.
In her address, India’s Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Bharati Pravin Pawar, said that AMR was a serious global health threat and could not be “overshadowed by other competing public health priorities”.
India has committed to strengthening surveillance and promoting research on newer drugs. It also plans to strengthen private sector engagement and the reporting of data to the WHO Global Antimicrobial Resistance and Use Surveillance System (GLASS) and other standardised systems.
High levels of resistance
WHO has increasingly expressed concern about the dangerously high levels of antibiotic resistance among patients across countries. Take the example of ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic commonly used to treat urinary tract infections. According to WHO, resistance to ciprofloxacin varied from 8.4% to 92.9% for Escherichia coli (E. coli) and from 4.1% to 79.4% for Klebsiella pneumoniae (a bacteria that can cause life-threatening infections such as pneumonia and intensive care unit- related infections). The global epidemic of TB has been severely impacted by multidrug resistance — patients have less than a 60% chance of recovery.
The Muscat Manifesto appears to respond to the AMR crisis by setting these three ground-breaking targets. The manifesto encourages countries to prioritise their national action plans for AMR keeping the One Health approach. The One Health approach requires all stakeholders to work together towards an integrated programme linking challenges of humans, terrestrial and aquatic animal, plant health, food and feed production and the environment. This approach will enable the world to effectively prevent, predict and detect the health crisis induced by AMR. Tackling AMR requires constant monitoring of antibiotic consumption, identifying the types and quantities of antibiotics being used.
There is also an urgent need to reduce the usage of antimicrobials in the agri-food system. Scientific evidence suggests that the less antimicrobials are used, it is less likely that there will be an emergence of drug resistance. Countries such as the Netherlands and Thailand have decreased their usage by almost 50%. In China, the consumption of antibiotics in the agricultural sector has fallen substantially. The use of antibiotics in healthy animals to boost growth has also been reduced in the last decade in many countries.
From policy to the ground level
The National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (2017-21) emphasised the effectiveness of the government’s initiatives for hand hygiene and sanitation programmes such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Kayakalp and Swachh Swasth Sarvatra. The government has also attempted to increase community awareness about healthier and better food production practices, especially in the animal food industry. The National Health Policy 2017 also offered specific guidelines regarding use of antibiotics, limiting the use of antibiotics as over-the-counter medications and banning or restricting the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock. It also called for scrutiny of prescriptions to assess antibiotic usage in hospitals and among doctors. Everything in these policies now needs strong implementation on the ground.
The various G-20 health summits spread through 2023 offer an opportunity for India to ensure that all aspects of AMR are addressed and countries commit to progress. Some key areas for action are: surveillance — both phenotypic and genotypic — of priority pathogens and sharing of data, including through WHO’s GLASS platform; regulatory and policy action to stop use of antibiotics that are important for human health in animals; no use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animals; more government investment in research and innovation for new antibiotics; explore use of vaccines to prevent certain infections due to AMR organisms in humans and animals; special focus on combating TB and drug-resistant TB.
As the current G-20 president, and as a vulnerable country, India has a key role in ensuring that AMR remains high on the global health agenda.