1. The sweltering heat wave across Europe
How has the ‘heat apocalypse’ wrecked devastation throughout Western Europe?
On July 19, the U.K. posted its highest temperature ever recorded — crossing 40°C, resulting in the government issuing its first ever red alert for extreme heat. Dozens of towns and regions across Europe reeled under what has been described as a “heat apocalypse”, which has caused widespread devastation this year.
Scientists are near-unanimous that the heat waves are a result of climate change caused by human activity.
While all affected nations have issued heat alerts and health advisories to its citizens, the economies of both Europe and the U.S. remain firmly bonded to fossil-fuel consumption.
The story so far: Large swathes of Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. are sweltering under extreme heat wave conditions. Devastation due to extreme weather has been particularly acute in western Europe, which has been hit by raging wildfires, drought, and hundreds of heat-related deaths, ringing alarm bells about a looming climate emergency.
Why is the spike in summer temperatures a cause for worry?
While Europe has witnessed some hot summers in recent years, rarely have temperatures risen so high across so many regions at the same time. On July 19, the U.K. posted its highest temperature ever recorded — crossing 40°C, resulting in the government issuing its first ever red alert for extreme heat. Parts of France, Spain and Portugal recorded temperatures between 42 and 46 degrees. Dozens of towns and regions across Europe reeled under what has been described as a “heat apocalypse”, which has caused widespread devastation this year. Wildfires caused by a combination of extreme heat and dry weather have destroyed 19,000 hectares of forest in southwestern France, and thousands of people had to be evacuated to temporary shelters. Portugal reported more than 250 blazes over a period of two days, and 650 deaths due to heat-related illnesses in a span of one week. Neighbouring Spain lost 14,000 hectares of land to fires, with an estimated 360 deaths caused by extreme heat, mostly of elderly people.
Italy, on the other hand, has been reeling under a drought, with the Po river basin, one of Europe’s ‘food bowls’, not having received rains in more than 200 days. Across the Atlantic, with temperatures touching 43°C in some regions, around 69 million Americans were reported to be at risk of exposure to dangerous levels of heat and heat-related illnesses.
What is behind the extreme heat waves?
Scientists are near-unanimous that the heat waves are a result of climate change caused by human activity. Global temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C , and studies in the U.K. had shown that a one degree rise in temperature raises the probability of the country witnessing 40°C by ten times. The rising global temperature, which this year led to deviations above the normal by as much as 15 degrees in Antarctica, and by more than 3 degrees in the north pole, have also induced changes in old wind patterns. These changes turned western Europe into what has been described as a “heat dome” — a low pressure area that began to attract hot air from northern Africa. In the case of the U.S., the record temperatures are being linked to changes in the jet stream — a narrow band of westerly air currents that circulate several kilometers above the earth’s surface. While a conventionally strong jet stream would bring cooler air from the northern Atlantic, in recent years the jet stream has weakened and split into two, leading to intense and more frequent heat waves over parts of the American continent.
How will the extreme heat impact Europe and the U.S. over the long term?
In Europe, the heat wave has renewed calls for determined action on climate mitigation measures. But in the U.S., the political leadership, especially in Republican states — many of which, like Texas, also happen to be extreme weather ‘hot spots’ — are still reluctant to recognise climate change as the cause of the problem, with local politicians asking people to pray rather than acknowledge the role of a fossil-fuels in triggering extreme weather. In terms of adapting to the ongoing heat wave, the U.S. is marginally better placed, with a majority of the households fitted with air-conditioners. But only a tiny minority have ACs fitted in their homes in the U.K. and western Europe. With the frequency and duration of heat waves rising this summer, Europe’s energy requirements have shot up at just the wrong time — in the midst of rising fuel costs caused by a ban on Russian gas that European politicians imposed in response to the Ukraine invasion. In Germany, despite widespread acknowledgement of the urgent need to curb carbon emissions, even Green Party politicians are speaking of replacing Russian gas with domestic coal.
The greater frequency, intensity and duration of the heat waves have also been linked to the growing incidence of drought in different parts of Europe. With the winters ending sooner, vegetation starts to grow sooner — before the snows of winter have replenished the water tables and the rivers. This has led to progressive depletion of water tables and increasingly drier soil and shallower rivers. While the reduction in soil moisture has made forest fires more probable, drying rivers — critical for both agriculture and hydro power — have affected harvests and energy security.
Europe is facing a torrid summer, with heat wave conditions expected to continue into August. While all the affected nations have issued heat alerts and health advisories to its citizens, who are not used to such temperatures, the economies of both Europe and the U.S. remain firmly bonded to fossil-fuel consumption. While Europe has been more vocal about cutting down emissions and has sought to invest heavily in renewables, this shift has been disrupted by the Ukraine war and an impending energy crisis sparked by the self-imposed withdrawal from cheap Russian gas. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a grim warning on July 18, pointing out that world leaders faced a clear choice — it is either “collective action or collective suicide”.
2. Reflecting the spirit of Delhi
The composite culture of the city thrives even though it was destroyed and rebuilt seven times
Delhi, as they say, is a city of contradictions — where all things are true at once. One of the most loved and also much reviled city, it opens up to people in every way the city likes to think of itself.
The capital city of the world’s largest democracy is driven by power, energy and opportunities, dipped in nostalgia, rich in history and heritage and soaked in a myriad of compelling identities, memories and emotions. The composite culture of thousands of years thrives even after the city was destroyed and rebuilt seven times. Each time it has risen like a phoenix from the ashes stamping the city with its own genetic code distinctly seen in its architecture, monuments, museums, food, art, poetry, politics, culture and language.
The built environment of Delhi is a product of its socio-economic, cultural, and political forces. Those who live and work here lend to the unique character of the city, earning Delhi its best moniker as a city of bustling and large-hearted people. But its pollution levels, the game of one-upmanship, chaos and scare can be frustrating and infuriating. Yet, the city is counted among the most desirable ones to live in. There is something alluring and magical about it.
From the fragile crevices of Chandni Chowk to the imposing arcades of Connaught Place, Delhi is diverse and alive and writers have documented its beauty. Their works make you fall in love with the city all over again each time you turn the pages to read about the city’s many secrets and stories, myths and legends.
In the 1990 novel Delhi, you see the irrepressible raconteur Khushwant Singh as a historian, novelist, diarist, nature lover and journalist who traces the past from the Mughals to the 1857 Mutiny to the 1984 massacre of the Sikhs. His prose describes events that shaped the city — from the destruction at the hands of Nadir Shah and Taimur to how the city destroyed poets such as Mir Taqi Mir. In his inimitable style, Singh pairs humour and irreverence to tell us about the rulers from previous centuries who shaped the city.
City Improbable: Writings on Delhi, edited by Singh, puts together insightful versions of invaders, refugees, immigrants, travellers and residents who engaged with the city over different epochs. From Babur and Amir Khusrau to Ibn Battuta and Niccolao Manucci, a host of poets and story tellers bring alive the long eventful history of the city that saw the rise and fall of several empires. The book further details the city’s Sufi legacy, its vignettes of Partition and Emergency and the changing face of modern Delhi what with the making of resettlement colonies and expansion of the city’s suburbs as well as the changing cuisine and fashion.
William Dalrymple’s 1993 travelogue City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi is about the six years he spent exploring the deep history of the city through the characters he met — from British survivors of the Raj, a typical Punjabi family, a government officer to a driver and eunuch dancers. He juxtaposes them with his experience of living in a modern Delhi. His book is set at various times, unlike Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi (1940) that vividly draws on Indian Muslims of Old Delhi between 1911 and 1919. With a longing for Old Delhi, the novel swings between melancholy and desperation through the narrow lanes around Jama Masjid milling with people after evening prayers, the aroma of kebabs and colourful sherbets. There is a symbolic imagery that addresses the changing social, political and cultural climate following colonialism and the rise and fall of the Mughal Empire.
Decay and renewal
There is a plethora of books that encompass life in Delhi pre-and-post independence. Clear Light of Day, a 1980 novel by Anita Desai is about the tensions in a post-partition family in Old Delhi and how the situation escalates into riots. Prioritising the importance of family, forgiveness, power of childhood bonding and the status of women, the book oscillates between the decaying old Delhi that is often overlooked in favour of the happening New Delhi.
Pakistani writer Raza Rumi gives a sensitive account of his discovery of the city in Delhi by Heart as he feels at home in what is considered his hostile territory. He feasts on the sights of the Sufi shrines, Lutyen’s stately mansions to Ghalib’s crumbling abode and the markets of Old Delhi and uncovers the city’s many layers with an unusual perspective.
Elizabeth Chatterjee in Delhi Mostly Harmless makes a journey from Oxford during the summer of 2013 and finds the pulse of the city electrifying as she fathoms the contrasts of the serpentine power structures and the graveyards and tombstones, the urban dissonance and charm.
Sam Miller’s Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity (2010) discovers the real Delhi by visiting the less celebrated and ignored destinations. He encounters people as varied as professors and members of the Police band to crematorium attendants and ragpickers and creates an entertaining portrait of what the megacity means to its residents. The modern Delhi, Miller depicts, in all its humour and humanity is the one whose future is a curiosity for all.
Just the way Delhi leaves you with an utter sense of awe, so do these books as they capture the essence of the city’s history, character and its people in full glory.
3. Cheetahs likely to arrive in Kuno before August 15
India and Namibia sign agreement; officials trying to complete the first transfer to the national park in Madhya Pradesh
India came one step closer to bringing back the world’s fastest animal to the country with an agreement signed in Delhi on Wednesday between the Union government and the visiting Namibian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations, Netumbo Nandi Ndaitwah.
The cheetah was declared extinct in the country in 1952, and the agreement, which has been negotiated for some years, will prepare the ground for the relocation of the first batch from southern Africa to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, with officials trying to complete the transfer before August 15.
“The [agreement] seeks to promote conservation and restoration of cheetah in their former range from which the species went extinct,” Environment and Forests Minister Bhupender Yadav said in a tweet after the signing ceremony for what he called an “historic” MoU (memorandum of understanding), which took place in the presence of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
“Completing 75 glorious years of Independence with restoring the fastest terrestrial flagship species, the cheetah, in India, will rekindle the ecological dynamics of the landscape,” he said.
The MoU focused on biodiversity conservation, and the sharing of expertise between the two countries, technological applications, collaborations on climate change, pollution and waste management, and the exchange of personnel for training and education in wildlife management. However, the government is yet to reveal whether it has already procured the cheetahs, how many will be transferred in the first trial, and when they are likely to be brought to India.
According to officials, plans for the cheetah translocations to Kuno are in compliance with the IUCN’s guidelines, with particular focus on the forest site quality, prey density and the current carrying capacity for a large mammal like the cheetah. “While the current carrying capacity for the Kuno National Park is a maximum of 21 cheetahs, once restored, the larger landscape can hold about 36 cheetahs,” said a note issued by the government on Wednesday, adding that the carrying capacity could be further enhanced by expanding the area to other parts of the Kuno wildlife division. Kuno had earlier been identified for the translocation of Gujarat’s Gir lions, but the State government has refused to allow them to be transferred out, despite a Supreme Court order rejecting its pleas.
The cheetahs will arrive in India for a one-year trial. The project for the cheetah — the only wild cat to go extinct in Independent India — was put back on track in 2020 when the Supreme Court lifted a stay on the original proposal to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the Indian habitat on an experimental basis. In May 2012, the court had stalled the plan to initiate the foreign cheetahs into the Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh fearing they would come into conflict with the plan for bringing lions into the same sanctuary. The court had also expressed concern about whether the African cheetahs would find a favourable climate in the sanctuary.
The government said special programmes were being conducted to educate local villagers in Kuno including outreaches to “sarpanches [village head men], local leaders, teachers, social workers, religious figures and NGOs”, with a local mascot named “Chintu Cheetah” to sensitise populations to the importance of the project and guidelines for the cheetah-human interface.
- When we conserve and protect the whole ecosystem, its biodiversity at all levels is protected. E.g. we save the entire forest to save the tiger. This approach is called in in-situ (on site) conservation.
- However, when there are situations where an animal or plant is endangered or threatened and needs urgent measures to save it from extinction, ex-situ (off-site) conservation is the desirable approach.
Benefits of Biodiversity conservation
- Conservation of biological diversity leads to conservation of essential ecological diversity to preserve the continuity of food chains.
- The genetic diversity of plants and animals is preserved.
- It ensures the sustainable utilisation of life support systems on earth.
- It provides a vast knowledge of potential use to the community.
- A reservoir of wild animals and plants is preserved, thus enabling them to be introduced, if need be, in the surrounding areas.
- Biodiversity conservation assures sustainable utilization of potential resources.
In situ conservation
- In-situ conservation is the on-site conservation of genetic resources in natural populations of plant or animal species.
- In India, ecologically unique and biodiversity-rich regions are legally protected as biosphere reserves, national parks, sanctuaries, reserved forests, protected forests and nature reserves.
- India now has 18 biosphere reserves, 104 national parks and 500 wildlife sanctuaries.
- Plantation, cultivation, grazing, felling trees, hunting and poaching are prohibited in biosphere reserves, national parks and sanctuaries.
Protected Area Network in India
- National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), chaired by the Prime Minister of India provides for policy framework for wildlife conservation in the country.
- The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) was adopted in 2002, emphasizing the people’s participation and their support for wildlife conservation.
Reserved & Protected Forests
- As of present, reserved forests and protected forests differ in one important way:
- Rights to all activities like hunting, grazing, etc. in reserved forests are banned unless specific orders are issued otherwise.
- In protected areas, rights to activities like hunting and grazing are sometimes given to communities living on the fringes of the forest, who sustain their livelihood from forest resources or products.
- The first reserve forest in India was Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
- Typically, reserved forests are often upgraded to the status of wildlife sanctuaries, which in turn may be upgraded to the status of national parks, with each category receiving a higher degree of protection and government funding.
In terms of protection, National Parks > Wildlife Sanctuary > Reserved forests > Protected forests
Wildlife Sanctuaries or wildlife refuges
- Wildlife Sanctuaries or wildlife refuges are home to various endangered species.
- They are safe from hunting, predation or competition.
- They are safeguarded from extinction in their natural habitat.
- Certain rights of people living inside the Sanctuary could be permitted.
- Grazing, firewood collection by tribals is allowed but strictly regulated.
- Settlements not allowed (few exceptions: tribal settlements do exist constant; efforts are made to relocate them).
- A Sanctuary can be promoted to a National Park.
- There are more than 500 wildlife sanctuaries in India.
- National parks are areas reserved for wildlife where they can freely use the habitats and natural resources.
- The difference between a Sanctuary and a National Park mainly lies in the vesting of rights of people living inside.
- Unlike a Sanctuary, where certain rights can be allowed, in a National Park, no rights are allowed.
- No grazing of any livestock shall also be permitted inside a National Park while in a Sanctuary, the Chief Wildlife Warden may regulate, control or prohibit it.
- The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002–2016) of MoEFCC stipulated that state governments should declare land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries as eco-fragile zones or ESZs under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986.
- The purpose of the ESZ was to provide more protection to the parks by acting as a shock absorber or transition zone.
- Eco-Sensitive Zones would minimise forest depletion and man-animal conflict.
- The protected areas are based on the core and buffer model of management.
- The core area has the legal status of being a national park.
- The buffer area, however, does not have legal status of being a national park and could be a reserved forest, wildlife sanctuary or tiger reserve.
- Large areas of protected land for conservation of wildlife, plant and animal resources and traditional life of the tribals living in the area.
- May have one or more national parks or wildlife sanctuaries in it.
- Comprises a strictly protected ecosystem for conserving ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
- In core or natural zone human activity is not allowed.
- Used for scientific research, monitoring, training and education.
- Ecologically sustainable human settlements and economic activities (tourism) are permitted.
- With the cooperation of reserve management and local people, several human activities like settlements, cropping, recreation, and forestry are carried out without disturbing the environment.
- Same as sanctuaries. But they are monitored by NTCA under Project Tiger.
- The various tiger reserves were created in the country based on ‘core-buffer’ strategy.
- The core areas are freed of all human activities.
- It has the legal status of a national park or wildlife sanctuary.
- Collection of minor forest produce, grazing, and other human disturbances are not allowed.
- Twin objectives:
- providing habitat supplement to spill overpopulation of wild animals from core area.
- provide site-specific co-developmental inputs to surrounding villages for relieving their impact on core area.
- Collection of minor forest produce and grazing by tribals is allowed on a sustainable basis.
- The Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian government in 2006 recognises the rights of some forest dwelling communities in forest areas.
- Conservation Reserves can be declared by the State Governments in any area owned by the Government, particularly the areas adjacent to National Parks and Sanctuaries and those areas which link one Protected Area with another.
- Such a declaration should be made after having consultations with the local communities.
- The rights of people living inside a Conservation Reserve are not affected.
- Community Reserves can be declared by the State Government in any private or community land, not comprised within a National Park, Sanctuary or a Conservation Reserve, where an individual or a community has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat.
- As in the case of a Conservation Reserve, the rights of people living inside a Community Reserve are not affected.
- India has a history of religious/cultural traditions that emphasised the protection of nature.
- In many cultures, tracts of forest were set aside, and all the trees and wildlife within were venerated and given total protection.
- Such sacred groves are found in Khasi and Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan, Western Ghat regions of Karnataka and Maharashtra and the Sarguja, Chanda and Bastar areas of Madhya Pradesh.
- In Meghalaya, the sacred groves are the last refuges for a large number of rare and threatened plants.
Ex Situ Conservation
- In this approach, threatened animals and plants are taken out from their natural habitat and placed in special setting where they can be protected and given special care.
- Zoological parks, botanical gardens, wildlife safari parks and seed banks serve this purpose.
- There are many animals that have become extinct in the wild but continue to be maintained in zoological parks.
- In recent years ex-situ conservation has advanced beyond keeping threatened species.
- Now gametes of threatened species can be preserved in viable and fertile condition for long periods using cryopreservation techniques.
- Eggs can be fertilized in vitro, and plants can be propagated using tissue culture methods.
- Seeds of different genetic strains of commercially important plants can be kept for long periods in seed banks.
- The national gene bank at National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), Delhi is primarily responsible for conservation of unique accessions on long-term basis, as base collections for posterity, predominantly in the form of seeds.
- Botanical garden refers to the scientifically planned collection of living trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers and other plants from various parts of the globe.
Purpose of botanical gardens
- To study the taxonomy as well as growth of plants.
- To study the introduction and acclimatization process of exotic plants.
- It augments conserving rare and threatened species.
- Zoo is an establishment, whether stationary or mobile, where captive animals are kept for exhibition to the public and includes a circus and rescue centres but does not include an establishment of a licensed dealer in captive animals.
- The initial purpose of zoos was entertainment, over the decades, zoos have got transformed into centres for wildlife conservation and environmental education.
- Apart from saving individual animals, zoos have a role to play in species conservation too (through captive breeding).
- Zoos provide an opportunity to open up a whole new world, and this could be used in sensitizing visitors regarding the value and need for conservation of wildlife.
4. ‘RBI to initiate CBDC in wholesale, retail sectors’
Implementation in phases, says ED
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is in the process of implementing the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) in a phased manner for wholesale and retail segments, an official said.
The introduction of CBDC was announced in the Union Budget 2022-23, by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and necessary amendments to the relevant section of the RBI Act, 1934 have been made with the passage of the Finance Bill 2022, Ajay Kumar Choudhary, Executive Director (Fintech), RBI, said.
The passage of the bill has enabled the RBI to conduct a pilot and subsequent issuance of CBDC, he said.
“The RBI is also working on phased implementation of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in both wholesale and retail segment,” Mr. Choudhary said while delivering a keynote address at the ‘PICUP Fintech Conference & Awards’ by FICCI.
CBDC is a digital or virtual currency but it is not comparable with private virtual currencies or cryptocurrency that have mushroomed over the last decade. Private virtual currencies do not represent any person’s debt or liabilities as there is no issuer.
5. Editorial-1: Revamp India’s school health services
As schools reopen, there is a need and an opportunity for States to look at a comprehensive package of services
Children across India are back to school for in-person classes after an unnecessarily prolonged and arguably unwarranted closure (especially for the last one year) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time for concrete policy measures and actions that target schoolchildren. On the education front, while there has been some discourse on ‘learning recovery’, there is an urgent need to factor in the health needs of schoolchildren. One of the reasons school health services receive inadequate policy attention is because health-care needs are often equated with medical care needs. Though school age children have a relatively low sickness rate (and thus limited medical care needs), they do have a wide range and age-specific health needs that are linked to unhealthy dietary habits, irregular sleep, lack of physical activity, mental, dental and eye problems, sexual behaviour, and the use of tobacco and other substances, addiction, etc. Then, the health knowledge acquired, and lifestyle adopted in the school-going age are known to stay in adulthood and lay the foundations of healthy behaviour for the rest of their life. For example, scientific evidence shows that tobacco cessation efforts are far more successful if started in school.
The first documented record of school health services in India goes back to 1909 when the then presidency of Baroda began the medical examination of schoolchildren. Later, the Sir Joseph Bhore committee, in its 1946 report, observed that school health services in India were underdeveloped and practically non-existent. In 1953, the secondary education committee of the Government of India recommended comprehensive policy interventions dealing with school health and school feeding programmes. The result was programmatic interventions, led by a few selected States, that mostly focused on nutrition. However, school health has largely remained a token service.
In two and half years of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has barely been any serious initiative about school health. In the first week of March 2022, the government of Delhi began 20 school health clinics with the promise of more. Though small, this initiative has two messages. One, it recognises the importance of school health services in the post-pandemic period. Two, the importance of multi-stakeholder partnership for school health services as these are being set up through corporate social responsibility funding from a donor on the one hand and internal collaboration between health and education departments within government on the other. On a flip side, by the Delhi government’s own assertion, these clinics are curative focused services. They also highlight the main issue: what makes comprehensive school health services has still not been fully understood.
One of the reasons for wrongly designed, and often very rudimentary, school health services — not only in India but also in most low- and middle-income countries — is, arguably, limited understanding and clarity on what constitutes well-functioning and effective school health services. This situation co-exists in spite of much evidence guided by international literature. UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank have published an inter-agency framework called FRESH — an acronym for Focusing Resources on Effective School Health. The FRESH framework and tools propose four core areas and three supporting strategies. The core areas suggest that school health services need to focus on school health policies, i.e., water, sanitation and the environment; skills-based health education and school-based health and nutrition services. The supporting strategies include effective partnerships between the education and health sectors, community partnership and student participation.
Additionally, guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, U.S. advise that school health services should focus on four main areas of acute and emergency care; family engagement; chronic disease management; and care coordination. According to WHO , school health services should be designed based on local need assessment; should have components of health promotion, health education, screening leading to care and/or referral and support as appropriate. The objective of school health services has to be the promotion of positive health, prevention of disease, early diagnosis, treatment and follow up, raising health consciousness in children and enabling the provision of a healthy school environment.
In the last three decades, many countries ( especially in Europe), have successfully implemented these approaches as part of the health-promoting schools (HPS) initiative. Clearly, there is a lot to learn in terms of designing school health services.
Opportunity in reopening
As schools reopen to full capacity, there is a need and an opportunity for a proactive approach for having expanded and strengthened school health services.
First, every Indian State needs to review the status and then draw up a road map to revamp and strengthen school health services, along with a detailed timeline and dedicated budgetary allocation. The Fifteenth Finance Commission grant for the health sector should and could be leveraged.
Second, build upon the existing school health infrastructure; the renewed focus has to have comprehensive, preventive, promotive and curative services with a functioning referral linkage. Health talks and lifestyle sessions ( by schoolteachers and invited medical and health experts) should be a part of teaching just as physical activity sessions are. Some of the teaching must look at adolescent sexual health; also, subjects such as menstrual hygiene, etc. should be integrated into regular classroom teaching.
Third, school health clinics should be supplemented with online consultation for physical and mental health needs. This could be an important starting point to destigmatise mental health services.
Fourth, the role and the participation of parents, especially through parent-teacher meetings should be increased. Parents need to be sensitised about how school health services are delivered in other countries; this may work as an important accountability mechanism to strengthen school health. Innovative approaches that offer limited health services to parents, families and even schoolteachers could increase use, acceptance and demand.
Fifth, the Government’s school health services initiatives do not include private schools most of the time. Private schools do have some health services, which are nearly always restricted to curative care and taking care of emergencies. Clearly, school health services should be designed to take care of schoolchildren be they in private or government-run schools.
Sixth, under the Ayushman Bharat programme, a school health initiative was launched in early 2020, but its implementation is sub-optimal. There is a need to review this initiative, increase dedicated financial allocation to bring sufficient human resources and monitor performance based on concrete outcome indicators. Otherwise, it will end up being a ‘missed opportunity’.
Seventh, children are the future of society, but only if they are healthy and educated. Therefore, elected representatives, professional associations of public health and paediatricians shoulder the responsibility — every citizen should raise the issue and work towards improved school health services being present in every State of India.
A few weeks ago, following a review of the implementation of the National Education Policy, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is said to have advised regular health check-ups and screening schoolchildren. Some letters were said to have been sent to the Health Department and requests made to depute medical interns and students in post-graduate courses to conduct a health check-up in schools. Such an approach on an issue that needs a thorough approach is akin to ‘tokenism’. India’s children need better handling than this.
For a platform
Every challenge has a silver lining The onus is on health policy makers and programme managers in every Indian State to do everything in the best interests of children. The Departments of Education and Health in every Indian State must work together to strengthen school health services. It is an opportunity to bring children, parents, teachers, health and education sector specialists and the Departments of Health and Education on a common platform to ensure better health and quality education for every child in India. A convergence of the National Health Policy, 2017 and National Education Policy, 2020 should result in the provision of comprehensive school health services in every Indian State.
6. Editorial-2: India-Vietnam ties, from strong to stronger
As New Delhi pursues its ‘Act East Policy’, Hanoi has become a valuable partner in the Indo-Pacific region
India and Vietnam are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. Bolstering friendship between the two countries is a natural outcome of a growing convergence of their strategic and economic interests, and also their common vision for peace, prosperity and their people. A strong commitment of political leadership along with the necessary institutional frameworks and cooperation between the two countries is likely to be more robust in the future. More importantly, embedding a flexible framework of engagement can contribute positively to regional stability and prosperity.
India is essentially a maritime nation and the oceans hold the key to India’s future. India’s external trade (over 90% by volume and 70% by value) is by sea. Very dependent on the seas for its trade and commerce, India has intensified its efforts to engage with maritime neighbours, including Vietnam.
India’s relations with Vietnam — some of which is based on a set of historical commonalities — predate any conflict between India and China as well as that between China and Vietnam. The strategic dimensions of Indo-Vietnamese relations, initiated during the 1980s, began unfolding in the form of structured and institutional arrangements during the 1990s. As India pursues its ‘Act East Policy’, Vietnam has become a valuable partner in India’s political and security engagements in the Indo-Pacific region. The two countries are working to address shared strategic concerns (such as energy security and open and secure sea lines of communication), and make policy choices without undue external interference. Given India’s broadening economic and strategic interests in the region and Vietnam’s desire for strategic autonomy, both countries will benefit from a stronger bilateral relationship. India and Vietnam face territorial disputes with and shared apprehensions about their common neighbour, China. Vietnam is of great strategic importance because its position enables it to control ‘the South China Sea — a true Mediterranean of the Pacific’. The maritime domain, therefore, has become an essential element of India and Vietnam cooperation.
The driving forces
There are four key motivations behind India’s growing maritime engagement with Vietnam. First, India’s aspiration to counter an assertive China by strengthening Vietnam’s military power. Second, with India’s increasing trade with East and Southeast Asia, India has begun to recognise the importance of its sea lines of communication beyond its geographical proximity; the South China Sea occupies a significant geostrategic and geo-economic position, resulting in India’s renewed interests in the South China Sea. Third, India desires to intensify its presence to track potential developments in the maritime domain that could affect its national interests. And fourth, the Indian Navy underlines the importance of a forward maritime presence and naval partnership that would be critical to deter potential adversaries. India’s maritime strategic interests in the region are well established, including the fact that almost 55% of India’s trade with the Indo-Pacific region passes through the South China Sea.
More importantly, India sees an open and stable maritime commons being essential to international trade and prosperity; therefore, it has an interest in protecting the sea lanes. With this renewed interest in the maritime domain, freedom of navigation, a peaceful resolution of disputes and a respect for international laws have become salient features of the Indian approach. India is willing to take a principled stand on territorial disputes in the hope that it contributes to the stabilisation of the Indo-Pacific. Such positions align closely with Vietnam’s stance on the management of the South China Sea disputes.
Ever since the formal declaration of a strategic partnership in 2007 and Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2016, the scope and scale of the India-Vietnam strategic and defence cooperation, particularly in the maritime domain, is deepening with a clear vision, institutional mechanisms and the necessary political support from both governments. The signing of ‘Joint Vision for Defence Cooperation’ and a memorandum of understanding on mutual logistics support in June 2022 has further strengthened mutual defence cooperation. While a U.S.$100 million Defence Line of Credit has been implemented, India has also announced early finalisation of another U.S.$500 million Defence Line of Credit to enhance Vietnam’s defence capability. New Delhi has also agreed to expand military training and assist the Vietnam Navy’s strike capabilities. For example, it is providing ‘comprehensive underwater combat operation’ training to Vietnamese sailors at INS Satavahana in Visakhapatnam. India’s Defence Minister handed over 12 high-speed boats to Vietnam recently’ a Khukri-class corvette is also expected to be gifted soon. Vietnam is also ‘exploring the possibility of acquiring Indian-manufactured surveillance equipment such as unmanned aerial vehicles’.
The two countries are also engaging in wide-ranging practical cooperation in the maritime domain through a maritime security dialogue, naval exercises, ship visits, Coast Guard cooperation, and training and capacity building. They have found mutual convergences on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and are synergising their efforts to work in bilateral as well as other sub-regional and multilateral frameworks, such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, ADMM-Plus or the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus. The Special Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in June 2022 has proposed an ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise and informal meeting between India and ASEAN Defence Ministers in November 2022. Both countries are also looking at collaboration around the seven pillars of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).
There are some other potential areas for New Delhi and Hanoi to further deepen collaboration, such as meaningful academic and cultural collaborations, shipbuilding, maritime connectivity, maritime education and research, coastal engineering, the blue economy, marine habitat conservation, and advance collaboration between maritime security agencies. The IPOI framework presents immense opportunities for India-Vietnam relations to aid regional progress and peace. The road map agreed upon by the leaders will be helpful in addressing common challenges and decisively navigating towards making an India-Vietnam partnership that helps in stability in the Indo-Pacific.
7. Editorial-3: Saving mothers
Data on MMR should lead to restructuring health-care systems for women
Few things in science or social science are as incontestable as the importance of maternal health to human development. Maternal mortality indicates a woman’s ability to access health care, contraceptive devices, nutrition, and, in a sense, is a mark of the efficiency of a health-care system in responding to demands made of it. A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal, PLOS Global Public Health, casts a shadow over the progress of health care targeting women in the country, but also, questions the reliability of the country’s own periodic estimates of maternal mortality ratio, or MMR (number of mothers who die from complications in pregnancy for every one lakh live births.) Researchers from the International Institute for Population Sciences triangulated data from routine records of maternal deaths under the Health Management Information System, with Census data and the Sample Registration System (SRS) to provide the MMR for all States and districts of India. The analysis suggests that 70% of districts (448 out of 640 districts) in India have reported MMR above 70 deaths — a target under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Many of the districts in southern India and Maharashtra have an MMR of less than 70. At the same time, the north-eastern and central regions have the least number of districts (12 and six districts, respectively) with an MMR less than 70. Significantly, it also demonstrates the presence of huge within-State inequalities, even among the better performers — Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. Similar heterogeneity was observed in other States as well. According to the SRS (2016-18), only Assam (215) has an MMR of more than 200, while in this district-level assessment, the indications are that about 130 districts have reported above 200 MMR.
It is ironic that as the nation plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Independence grandly, so many districts still show a very high MMR, clearly indicative of the inadequacy of responsiveness of health systems. But that is not the only reason. There is adequate proof that improvements in access to contraceptives, antenatal care, post-delivery health care, body mass index, and the economic status, besides a concerted reduction of higher-order births, births in higher ages, will help reduce MMR. The message during this milestone anniversary year is two pronged: improve overall care for women, and keep real time track of such crucial health data. Immediate action is required to meet the SDG goal regarding MMR. Ultimately, it is more than about just the numbers. There are people — mothers and infants, entire families — behind these numbers who will benefit from such an urgent and intense action on reducing eminently preventable deaths.
8. Editorial-4: The cost of misrepresenting inflation
The inadequacy of monetary policy to address food-price-driven inflation has been recently flagged
Globally, inflation is now the prime concern of governments, even as there is a speculation that a recession may not be far behind. In India, though, government agencies regularly announce that the country is growing at a much faster rate than most economies and presently assert that inflation is much lower. The growth performance is not so surprising given that among the larger economies of the world, India’s economy contracted the most in 2020-21. But despite the sharp recovery, real output in 2021-22 was barely higher than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019-20.
On the claim that inflation in India is not so high in an international comparison, note that before the recently announced rise in the U.S. inflation rate for June, inflation here was close to what it was there. While the data on inflation in India is in the public domain, the public may be excused for not seeing that India’s economic agencies appear to have not fully understood what is driving it, for this requires some specialist knowledge. The Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been reported as saying that there was a “need to recognise global factors in inflation”.
In our view, the diagnosis that the current inflation in India is, even largely, due to global factors is wrong, and harmful for reasons that we set out.
Factors driving inflation
It is a common mistake to observe sharply rising prices of certain goods and conclude therefrom that it is this that is driving inflation. This conclusion can be way off the mark when the concerned goods account for only a small part of the consumption basket that the overall consumer price index is based on. Thus, while the price of edible oils and the world price of crude may have risen following the Ukraine war, the impact of this development on overall inflation in India, measured by the rise in the consumer price index, would depend upon their share in the consumption basket of households, which is relatively low.
Our investigation of price trends among the major commodity groups threw up some findings crucial to understanding the current inflation in India.
Contrary to the belief that the rise in inflation in India is due to higher international prices, we found that for the commodity groups ‘fuel and light’ and ‘fats and oils’, chosen as proxies for the price of imported fuel and edible oils, respectively, inflation has actually been lower in the first five months of 2022 than in the last five months of 2021. On the other hand, for the commodity group ‘food and beverages’, it was exactly the reverse, i.e., inflation has been much higher in the more recent period. Not surprisingly, the estimated direct contribution of this group to the current inflation dwarfs that of all other groups, establishing conclusively that the inflation is driven by domestic factors. This is also readily seen when we find inflation in India trending upwards from October 2021, that is, well before the war in Eastern Europe.
While the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India may have flagged global factors in the current inflation, its monetary policy seems to be based on a somewhat different view. Starting in May, the repo rate has been raised. Raising the interest rate in an attempt to control inflation, implicitly assumes that it reflects economy-wide excess demand. Such a diagnosis of the current inflation is belied by the fact that the price of food is rising faster than that of other goods i.e., its relative price has risen. So, the excess demand is in the market for foodstuff, and it is this that needs to be eliminated. To persist with monetary policy to curb inflation under these circumstances is to miss the point that, being a macroeconomic instrument, it cannot affect any particular price.
‘Necessary food surplus’
The inadequacy of monetary policy to address food-price-driven inflation has been flagged by economists internationally.
Thus, at the World Economic Forum’s annual meet held at Davos, Switzerland in June, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz observed that “raising interest rates is not going to solve the problem of inflation. It is not going to create more food. What you do is that you have supply-side interventions. Killing the economy through raising interest rates is not going to solve the inflation in any time frame. We used to have surpluses in food in the United States — we can get those back. At least, trying to do everything we can globally to increase the supply is going to do more in dealing with the problem.” Another observation comes from the head of the U.S. central bank itself, the Federal Reserve Bank, made to the U.S. House of Representatives in June. Jerome Powell is reported stating that even though the Fed’s resolve to fight inflation is unconditional, “a big part of inflation won’t be affected by our tools”. This is an acknowledgement that there is only so much a central bank can do when battling inflation driven by the rise in energy and food prices. That an independent economist would suggest the impotence of monetary policy to control food inflation is not news, but when the head of a leading central bank does so, it should draw our attention. Interestingly, those responsible for inflation management in India continue to give the impression that the current inflation can be dealt with effectively by monetary policy.
This stance by the economic arm of the government of India, that inflation can be controlled by monetary policy, could have been ignored were it not potentially harmful. To hold on to the view that inflation in India is due to excess aggregate demand curable by raising interest rates ensures that attention is not paid to the necessary supply-side interventions. Note the call by American economists to bring back the food surpluses in the United States, even when their country has hardly ever experienced food shortages. By comparison, food in India has never been plentiful, reflected in the high share of the average household budget devoted to it. And, there is here an undercurrent of a food price inflation, which, by exacerbating poverty, stands in the way of a more rapid expansion of the economy.
As the current inflation represents a domestic imbalance, it will not end with the crashing of food prices taking place on the global market right now.
The failure to see inflation in India as the reflection of a structural feature of its economy ensures that there is very little chance that one of India’s urgent problems will be solved.