Daily Current Affairs 23.04.2021 (Thrissur Pooram festivities begin with ‘vilambaram’, ‘U.S. will cut emissions by 52% by 2030’, Australia ends China deals on national interest grounds, Retail asset quality concerns re-emerge as cases surge: ICRA)

Daily Current Affairs 23.04.2021 (Thrissur Pooram festivities begin with ‘vilambaram’, ‘U.S. will cut emissions by 52% by 2030’, Australia ends China deals on national interest grounds, Retail asset quality concerns re-emerge as cases surge: ICRA)


1. Thrissur Pooram festivities begin with ‘vilambaram’

Unlike the usual thunderous celebrations, Thrissur Pooram — to be held on Friday — will be like a mild drizzle this time. All rituals and events will be held, but the colour and fun will be missing without the pooram lovers.

COVID-19 has dampened the carnival spirit as people will not be allowed to enter the pooram venue. Lakhs will witness the pooram live on TV channels. The famous 36-hour event will be reduced to just a few hours of celebrations. Thissur Pooram was held as a ritual last year too.

The ‘vilambaram’ ritual marked the beginning of pooram celebrations on Thursday.

The ritual involved the arrival of Naithilakavu Bhagavathy at Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple. The elephant carrying the idol of Naithilakavu Bhagavathy emerged from the Thekke Gopura Nada of the Vadakkunnathan temple and marked the opening of the celebrations. Elephant Ernakulam Sivakumar carried the idol. Only 50 people were allowed at the ritual.

Idols of the other participating temples will arrive on Friday. Fireworks will be conducted as usual, but people will not be allowed at the venue.

List of Indian Festivals

The list of the Indian festivals mentioned below are stated in the following order:

  1. State-specific
  2. Season-specific

State- Specific Festivals of India

The state-specific Indian festivals are listed below:

StateList of Indian Festivals
Andhra PradeshDasara, Ugadi, Deccan Festival, Brahmotsavam
Arunachal PradeshReh, Boori Boot, Myoko, Dree, Pongtu, Losar, Murung, Solang, Mopin, Monpa festival
AssamAmbubachi, Bhogali Bihu, Baishagu, Dehing Patkai
BiharChhath Puja, Bihula
ChhattisgarhMaghi Purnima, Bastar Dussehra
GoaSunburn festival, Ladain, Mando
GujaratNavratri, Janmashtami, Kutch Utsav, Uttarayana
Himachal PradeshRakhadumni, Gochi Festival
Jammu and KashmirHar Navami, Chhari, Bahu Mela, Dosmoche,
JharkhandKaram Utsav, Holi, Rohini, Tusu
KarnatakaMysore Dasara, Ugadi
KeralaOnam, Vishu
Madhya PradeshLok-rang Utsav, Tejaji, Khujaraho festival
MeghalayaNongkrem festival, Khasis festival, Wangla, Sajibu Cheiraoba
MaharashtraGanesh Utsav, Gudi Padva
ManipurYaoshang, Porag, Chavang Kut
MizoramChapcharkut Festival
NagalandHornbill festival, Moatsu Festival
OdishaRath Yatra, Raja Parba, Nukahai
PunjabLohri, Baisakhi
RajasthanGangaur, Teej, Bundi
SikkimLosar, Saga Dawa
Tamil NaduPongal, Thaipusam, Natyanjali Festival
TelanganaBonalu, Bathukamma
TripuraKharchi Puja
West BengalDurga Puja
UttaranchalGanga Dussehra
Uttar PradeshRam Navmi, Ganga Mahotsav, Navaratri, Khichdi

List of (Season-specific) Harvest Festivals in India

North India

Makar SankrantiJanuary
Ladakh harvest festivalSeptember
Basant PanchamiJanuary

South India


East & West India

Bhogali BihuJanuary
Ka Pomblang NongkremNovember
Gudi PadwaMarch

Interesting Facts about Festivals in India

  • Tihar is one of the festivals of India that is dedicated to certain animals, things besides gods. They are classified as day of dogs (Kukur Tihar), day of cows (Gai Tihar), etc.
  • Snake Boat Races are held in Kerala and several dozens of men race on a boat in Kerala’s waterways and canals.

2. ‘U.S. will cut emissions by 52% by 2030’

Biden tells world leaders that there is ‘an extraordinary engine’ of job creation in the climate response

U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50%-52% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels, in a clean break with the Trump administration policies on climate action.

Mr. Biden also announced that the U.S. would double, by 2024, its annual financing commitments to developing countries, including a tripling of its adaptation finance by 2024.

The President made the new target announcements at a ‘Leaders Summit on Climate’, which he is hosting on Thursday and Friday and in which 40 heads of state and government are invited — including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Xi Jinping of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

The emissions targets — part of the Paris Agreement on climate — are non-binding and the details of how they will be achieved are not available. However, in announcing the targets, the Biden administration is hoping to encourage other countries to increase their commitments. It is also seeking to bring America back into a leadership role on climate action after Mr. Trump had withdrawn the country from the Paris Agreement.

Mr. Biden’s financing announcements are part of a $100 billion a year commitment from developed countries to developing countries for the period 2020-25, “an investment that is going to pay significant dividends for all of us”, Mr. Biden said.

The withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement means it has not yet met its financing commitments either. The Obama administration had promised $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (to help developing countries), only $1 billion has been paid.

Jobs and growth

In selling climate action to the American public, which until recently was governed by an administration sceptical of the climate crisis, President Biden and his administration have linked climate action and clean technology to jobs and economic growth. On Thursday, Mr. Biden extended this message to other countries.

“And meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet. It’s also about providing a better future for all of us. That’s why, when people talk about climate, I think jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation and economic opportunity ready to be fired up,” he said.

“By maintaining those investments and putting these people to work, the United States sets out on the road to cut greenhouse gases in half — in half — by the end of this decade,” Mr. Biden said.

“The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable,” he said. The first guests to speak at the summit were UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Mr. Xi, Mr. Modi, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the U.K. and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.

Paris Climate Accord

  • Climate Ambition Summit 2020:
    • Objective: To set out new and ambitious commitments under the three pillars of the Paris Agreement that are mitigation, adaptation and finance commitments.
    • Scope: The Summit will provide a meaningful platform for businesses, cities and other non-state actors who are rallying together and collaborating to support governments and accelerate the systemic change required to reduce emissions and build resilience.
    • Hosted By: The United Nations, United Kingdom and France in partnership with Chile and Italy.
  • History of Emissions:
    • As the most abundant Greenhouse Gas (GHG) in our atmosphere, carbon dioxide (CO2) has become a direct proxy for measuring climate change. Its levels have varied widely over the course of the Earth’s 4.54 billion year history.
    • Historically it’s the developed countries that have been major contributors to carbon emissions.
    • Historical Emissions:
      • The United States (US) has the highest historical emissions at 25%, followed by the European Union (EU) at 22% and China at 13%.
      • India has a low carbon emission contribution of only 3%.
Paris Climate Accord Legal status: It is a legally binding international treaty on climate change.Adoption: It was adopted by 196 countries at Conference of the Parties COP 21 in Paris in December 2015.Goal: To limit global warming to well below 2° Celsius, and preferably limit it to 1.5° Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.Objective: To achieve the long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
  • Current Status of Global Emissions:
    • Five years after the Paris agreement, all states have submitted their national contributions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
    • The contributions are radically insufficient to reach the well below 2 degrees Celsius limit and are even further from the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit identified in the Paris Agreement.
    • Besides India, only Bhutan, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Morocco and Gambia were complying with the accord.
    • China has the highest GHG emissions (30%) while the US contributes 13.5% and the EU 8.7%.
  • India’s Current Emissions:
    • United Nations report released earlier this year stated that India’s per capita emissions are actually 60% lower than the global average.
    • The emissions in the country grew 1.4% in 2019, much lower than its average of 3.3% per year over the last decade.
    • Some of the Measures taken by India to Control Emissions:
      • Bharat Stage (BS) VI norms: These are emission control standards put in place by the government to keep a check on air pollution.
      • National Solar Mission: It is a major initiative of the Government of India and State Governments to promote ecologically sustainable growth while addressing India’s energy security challenge.
      • National Wind-Solar Hybrid Policy 2018: The main objective of the policy is to provide a framework for promotion of large grid connected wind-solar photovoltaic (PV) hybrid systems for optimal and efficient utilization of wind and solar resources, transmission infrastructure and land.
      • All these and many other initiatives helped India in cutting CO2 emissions by 164 million kg.
  • Issues in Achieving the Pledged Targets:
    • Most of the Nations have been slow to update their national contributions for reducing emissions for 2025-2030, however several have announced net zero emission targets in the recent past.
      • Net zero emission means that all man-​made greenhouse gas emissions must be removed from the atmosphere through reduction measures, thus reducing the Earth’s net climate balance.
    • The net zero targets are subject to credibility, accountability and fairness checks.
      • Credibility: The plans and policies of nations is not credible enough to meet the long term net zero targets as :
        • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 degrees Celsius Report indicated that to stay within a reasonable chance of achieving 1.5 degrees Celsius, global CO2 emissions have to fall by 45% from the 2010 levels by 2030 but current national contributions are not on track for such a fall.
      • Accountability: There is limited or no accountability for the long-term net zero goals and short-term national contributions as:
        • Many net zero goals have not yet been embedded in national contributions and long-term strategies under the Paris Agreement.
        • In any case, accountability under the Paris Agreement is limited. States are not obliged to achieve their self-selected targets. There is no mechanism to review the adequacy of individual contributions. States are only asked to provide justifications for the fairness and ambition of their targets.
        • The transparency framework does not contain a robust review function, and the compliance committee is facilitative and limited to ensuring compliance with a short list of binding procedural obligations.
      • Fairness: Issues of fairness and justice, both between and within generations, are unavoidable:
        • There is no mechanism to check that whether the net zero targets, and pathways to net zero are fair or how much are states doing in comparison to others and relative to how much they should.

3. Australia ends China deals on national interest grounds

Beijing rebukes Canberra for ‘Cold War mentality’

Australia said on Thursday that it cancelled two accords between Victoria State and China on the Belt and Road Initiative because they were out of line with the federal government’s foreign policy, which sees a “free and open Indo-Pacific” as a key goal.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by urging Australia to abandon its “Cold War mentality and ideological bias” and “immediately correct its mistakes and change course”.

The Chinese Embassy earlier criticised the move by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne to veto two agreements signed by Victoria State as “provocative”, and said it would further damage ties.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the accords were cancelled because his federal government did not want other levels of government to enter into agreements that are in conflict with Australia’s foreign policy.

“We will always act in Australia’s national interest to protect Australia, but to also ensure we can advance our national interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific and a world that seeks a balance in favour of freedom,” he said.

Under a new process, States must consult with the Foreign Minister before signing agreements with other nations.

Ms. Payne earlier told local radio the policy was “not aimed at any one country”. Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, expressed doubt over that claim during a regular news conference in Beijing. He warned Australia against travelling “further down the wrong path to avoid making the already strained China-Australia relations worse”.

New realities

Speaking to reporters in New Zealand after meeting with her counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta, Ms. Payne said Australia sought a clear-eyed and practical engagement with China, particularly as the world emerged from COVID-19.

“We also have to acknowledge that China’s outlook, the nature of China’s external engagement, both in our region and globally, has changed in recent years, and an enduring partnership requires us to adapt to those new realities,” she said.

4. Retail asset quality concerns re-emerge as cases surge: ICRA

‘If COVID case severity increases, microfinance, unsecured SME loans will be hit’

With fresh COVID-19 related restrictions in place, microfinance and unsecured SME loan pools would likely face the most stress if case severity increases, ICRA said in a report. However, housing loans would remain the most resilient as was seen even last year, it added.

“The restrictions on movement would have a bearing on collection efforts for the NBFCs, especially for microfinance loans where cash collections still remain dominant. Commercial vehicle loans could also face stress if the inter-State restrictions are reimposed, though even the current restrictions put in place in Maharashtra and Delhi would lead to lower fleet utilisation for the operators,” ICRA said in the report. Abhishek Dafria, VP and head, Structured Finance Ratings, ICRA, said, “While it is too early to comment on the extent of impact on the asset quality of retail loans due to the rising COVID cases, there is reason to be cautious.”

“Post the nationwide lockdown last year, we had witnessed a severe drop in collections for most asset classes… The restrictions at present are localised and less harsh, but the severity has been gradually increasing as the surge in COVID cases is yet to be brought under control,” he said.

Securitisation volumes had dropped to a quarterly record low of ₹7,500 crore in the first quarter of last fiscal due to the nationwide lockdown. Following the second wave of the pandemic, ICRA said it expected securitisation volumes to again get impacted in the first quarter of this fiscal as NBFCs and HFCs will be more selective in fresh lending.

Credit Rating

A credit rating is an assessment of the creditworthiness of a borrower in general terms or with respect to a particular debt or financial obligation. It can be assigned to any entity that seeks to borrow money — an individual, corporation, state or provincial authority, or sovereign government.

Evaluating the creditworthiness of an instrument comprises of both qualitative and quantitative assessments, making credit rating far from a straightforward mathematical calculation.

Credit Rating Agencies

A credit rating agency (CRA) is a company that rates debtors on the basis of their ability to pay back their interests and loan amount on time and the probability of them defaulting. CRAs were set up to provide independent evidence and research-based opinion on the ability and willingness of the issuer to meet debt service obligations, quintessentially attaching a probability of default to a specific instrument.

Credit rating agencies in India came into existence in the second half of the 1980s. In India, CRAs are regulated by SEBI (Credit Rating Agencies) Regulations, 1999 of the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992.

SEBI’s Detection for CRAs

  1. The Securities and Exchange Board of India tightened disclosure standards for credit rating agencies while assigning ratings to companies and their debt instruments.
  2. The regulator directed that rating agencies must now disclose the liquidity position of a company being rated.
  3. If the rating is assigned on the assumption of cash inflow, the agencies would need to disclose the source of the funding.
  4. Rating agencies must disclose their rating history and how the ratings have transitioned across categories.
  5. Credit rating firms will also have to analyze the deterioration of liquidity and also check for asset liability mismatch.

There are six credit rating agencies registered under SEBI namely, CRISIL, ICRA, CARE, SMERA, Fitch India and Brickwork Ratings.


  1. This full-service rating agency is the major credit rating agency in India, with a market share of more than 60%.
  2. It is offering its services in financial, manufacturing, service, and SME sectors.
  3. The headquarter of CRISIL is in Mumbai
  4. The majority stake of CRISIL was held by the world’s largest rating agency Standard & Poor’s.

Credit Analysis and Research Limited Ratings (CARE) Ratings

  1. Credit Analysis and Research Limited Ratings was established in 1993.
  2. It is supported by Canara Bank, Unit Trust of India (UTI), Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI), and other financial and lending institutions.
  3. This is considered as the second-largest credit rating company in India.
  4. The headquarter of Credit Analysis and Research Limited Ratings is in Mumbai

Small and Medium Enterprises Rating Agency (SMERA)

  1. It is a rating agency entirely created for the rating of Small Medium Enterprises.
  2. It is a joint enterprise by SIDBI, Dun & Bradstreet Information Services India Private Limited (D&B), and some chief banks in India.
  3. The headquarter of SMERA is in Mumbai
  4. It has accomplished 7000 ratings.

ONICRA Credit Rating Agency

  1. It was incorporated by Mr. Sonu Mirchandani in 1993
  2. It investigates data and arranges for possible rating solutions for Small and Medium Enterprises and Individuals.
  3. The headquarter of ONICRA Credit Rating Agency is located in Gurgaon
  4. It has a broad experience in performing a wide range of areas such as Accounting, Finance, Back-end Management, Analytics, and Customer Relations. It has rated more than 2500 SMEs.

Fitch (India Ratings & Research)

  1. Fitch Ratings is a global rating agency dedicated to providing the world’s credit markets with independent and prospective credit opinions, research, and data.
  2. The headquarter of Fitch Ratings is in Mumbai.


  1. It was created in 1991 by prominent financial institutions and commercial banks in India with a devoted crew of experts for the MSME sector
  2. Moodys, which is considered as the International credit rating agency holds the major share.

5. Editorial-1: A descent into disillusionment and chaos

In the second wave, administrative indolence, chaotic public communication and counter-intuitive policy stand out

The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on April 20, though fairly motivational, confounded the expectations of much of the nation’s commonality. Apart from a coherent plea to States to avoid total lockdowns and a romantic COVID-19 situational briefing of sorts, much of it was optimistic yet stultifying rhetoric that could hardly have any influence on mass behaviour towards COVID-19. Nonetheless, while much of the visual aspect of the Prime Minister’s address was similar to the ones held last year, one conspicuous element was missing — that of a symbolic mask. While a number of alibis for the same are possible, it is an insignia that speaks volumes about our approach toward the second wave of COVID-19.

Administrative fatigue

Medicine and social science are two essential pillars of public health. However, medical interventions have historically been the ones to usurp the public health space. Much to the detriment of public health, this has time and again resulted in a subconscious dismissal of social science-based approaches that hold the keys to the public health castle. The situation with the second wave is hardly different. In our besottedness with strategies such as mass vaccination, which although of unrivalled significance have considerable near-term limitations, the simplest yet most crucial behavioural interventions have been given a criminally light touch at a time when they were supposed to be accentuated.

And this goes beyond the abomination of political rallies potentially spreading infection, or public representatives failing at crucial public messaging by not wearing masks themselves. Take the instance of a mofussil town that no longer sees honking vehicles traverse the streets every morning, airing social distancing and masking messages, unlike during the first wave. Or the near-disappearance after the first wave of rings drawn outside of a shopping store to encourage social distancing. Surmount these with counter-intuitive public policies at the grass-roots level, and you have a perfect recipe for a flaring pandemic.

For example, even before an official order was promulgated in Maharashtra, local police forced shops to remain open for only four hours during the day in certain localities, creating panic among customers and shopkeepers. The idea of limiting open-hours derives from the theoretical precept of rationing services to discourage over-consumption, much like waiting times. But the same fosters over-crowding, non-compliance with COVID-19-appropriate behaviour by both shopkeepers and customers, and is practically counterproductive when an infectious pandemic is in question.

Similarly, it is possible to locate beneficiaries lined up outside some vaccination centres from midnight till noon for physical tokens, while the politically well-connected get their way within minutes. All of these indicate that much like pandemic fatigue among the public, administrative and governance fatigue is real, and that the crucial lessons from the early days of the pandemic have been squandered rather than strengthened.

Poor messaging

Another example of administrative fatigue, resulting from a subconscious dismissal of behavioural approaches, is the poor risk communication and public messaging that has accompanied the second wave. Health behaviours, once firmly embedded, are expected to be swiftly elicited on subsequent occasions. The concept is much like immunological memory where the body exerts a stronger response to a disease agent upon the second or third infection. Such embedded health behaviours in some East Asian countries have resulted in prompt and widespread public adoption of measures such as masking on the whiff of an infectious outbreak. The same cannot be expected for India given our lesser exposure to infectious pandemics. Nonetheless, a strong and subtle nudge was imperative during the second wave to quickly bring back COVID-19-appropriate behaviours with renewed vigour. This has failed, and that too during more pressing times than before.

As is often humorously exclaimed, the worst way to calm someone down is by telling them to calm down. Reducing the risk communication strategy to simple messages such as “please wear masks” is unlikely to work particularly in a setting of widespread pandemic fatigue, and where mixed signals are continuously disseminated by political representatives. Altering health behaviour, in addition to altering physical and social contexts, involves skilful and emphatic messaging that incentivises adoption of the right behaviours. Unfortunately, the public health messaging strategy during the second wave has been more generic, muffled, and far more equivocal than the first wave.

A perspective

An over-medicalised public health emergency is a disaster superimposed on another. Multiple fundamental aspects of COVID-19 vaccines and the protection afforded by them still remain fuzzy. Further, there are non-negotiable aspects such as the lag between vaccination and protection, and the gargantuan challenge of vaccinating a large population as ours. Overcoming our preoccupation with medical solutions and looking at behavioural approaches as more than mere rituals will be imperative to combat this second wave.

6. Editorial-2: Judges pro tem

Roping in retired HC judges to clear backlog should not be at cost of regular appointments

The Supreme Court’s decision to invoke a “dormant provision” in the Constitution to clear the way for appointment of retired judges as ad hoc judges to clear the mounting arrears in the various High Courts is an indictment of the extraordinary delay in filling up judicial vacancies. Whether the fault lies with the Collegium system or the Centre’s tardiness, there is little doubt that the unacceptable delay in the appointment process in recent times has caused huge vacancies in the High Courts. Therefore, it is definitely not unwelcome that the Court has chosen to activate Article 224A of the Constitution, which provides for appointment of ad hoc judges in the High Courts based on their consent. A Bench headed by CJI S.A. Bobde has made it clear that “the challenge of mounting arrears and existing vacancies requires recourse to Article 224A”. The numbers both in respect of pendency of cases and vacancies in the High Courts are quite concerning — a backlog of over 57 lakh cases, and a vacancy level of 40%. Five High Courts account for 54% of these cases. Interestingly, official data suggest that there need not be a correlation between the number of vacancies and the large backlog. The Madras High Court has 5.8 lakh cases against a relatively low level of vacancy at 7%. As many as 44% of the posts in the Calcutta High Court are vacant, but the cases in arrears stand at 2.7 lakh.

As the provision has been utilised only sparingly in the past, and for the limited purpose of disposing of particular kinds of cases, the endeavour to appoint ad hoc judges will have to come with some guidelines. The Court has made a beginning by directing that the trigger point for such an appointment will be when the vacancies go beyond 20% of the sanctioned strength, or when more than 10% of the backlog of pending cases are over five years old; when cases in a particular category are pending for over five years, or when the rate of disposal is slower than the rate of institution of fresh cases. The Bench has ruled that the current Memorandum of Procedure be also followed for appointing ad hoc judges, a process initiated by the Chief Justice of a High Court, with a suggested tenure of two to three years. The Court has clarified that this is a “transitory methodology” and does not constrain the regular appointment process. The government, which did not oppose the proposal, but wanted the vacancies to be filled up first, would do well to expedite the regular appointment process from its end, and give up its propensity to hold back some recommendations selectively. As for the judiciary, it should ensure that only retired judges with experience and expertise are offered the temporary positions, and there is no hint of favouritism.

7. Editorial-3: Green and raw

Centre should clarify how far experience can be treated as expertise for tribunal posts

The establishment of tribunals as adjudicatory bodies in specific fields is based on the idea that specialisation and expertise are required to decide complex cases of a technical nature. The ‘tribunalisation’ of justice is driven by the recognition that it would be cost-effective, accessible and give scope for utilising expertise in the respective fields. Central to this scheme is the principle that the ‘experts’ appointed to these tribunals should bring in special knowledge and experience. These criteria came under focus recently when the appointment of former IAS officer, Girija Vaidyanathan, as Expert Member in the Southern Bench of the NGT, was challenged in the Madras High Court. Even though the court initially granted an interim stay on her appointment, it ruled that she was not ineligible, going by the criteria in the NGT Act. She was found to have fulfilled the eligibility requirements by virtue of her administrative experience of nearly five years in “dealing with environmental matters”. The Act spells out two kinds of criteria — one based on qualifications and practical experience, and another on administrative experience in the field — and a candidate has to fulfil only one of them. For the first, a masters’ or a doctorate in science, engineering or technology, with 15 years’ experience in the relevant field, including five in environment and forests in a national level institution, is needed. The fields include pollution control, hazardous substance management and forest conservation.

On the other hand, the administrative experience criterion is shorn of detail, and merely stipulates 15 years’ experience, of which five should have been in “dealing with environmental matters” in either the Centre or the State or any reputed institution. Even though Ms. Vaidyanathan’s stint as Secretary, Environment and Forests, Tamil Nadu, and Chairperson of the State Pollution Control Board together amounted to only 28 months, the court accepted the contention that her tenure as Health Secretary should also be considered. The court also observed wryly that it is an entirely different matter whether administrative experience in the second criterion should be regarded as equivalent to “the real expertise” indicated in the clause on qualifications. The court rightly declined to interfere with the appointment, as the equivalence found in the rules falls under the domain of Parliament. At a time when the need, relevance and composition of tribunals are under judicial scrutiny, and the Centre itself has abolished some of them, it would be salutary if the government spelt out with clarity, as the court has suggested, the extent to which a bureaucrat’s involvement in environmental matters could be regarded as equivalent to expertise. It should also show greater urgency in implementing earlier Supreme Court directions to constitute a National Tribunals Commission to supervise the appointment and functioning of tribunals.

8. Editorial-4: Making education accessible

There are two possible solutions involving AIR and DD, and Internet service providers

Access and affordability continue to plague teachers and students alike one year after the COVID-19 outbreak. Teachers, administrators and policymakers are all working, but the results are not encouraging. People at both ends of the classroom seem to be going through a mere exercise with precious little to show for their efforts. How much of learning is happening is anyone’s guess. Exams have lost their credibility. The cost to health with continuous exposure to screens and the dent on financial resources are significant for both teachers and students. Online learning seems to be a case of working mindlessly, rather than working smart.

With physical classes out of the reckoning, access to education is now almost exclusively online. Internet penetration in India is 50% and that reveals one reason for the less-than-efficient achievement in the online education sector. Every single teacher-educator and student, even in the metros, has experienced poor connectivity. In the rural areas online access remains an aspiration. What happens to that child in the village government school, eager to learn but with no proper access to the Internet? Even if there is a selfless teacher who is willing to use his/her mobile hotspot, how much can he/she spend? The government has a solution right in its backyard.

Two influential agencies

The Government of India owns the airwaves. Prasar Bharati is India’s broadcasting corporation handling both radio and television in India. All India Radio (AIR) is blessed with 470 broadcasting centres which cover 92% of the country’s geographical area and 99.19% of our population. Doordarshan (DD) handles television, online and mobile broadcasting across our country and the world with 34 satellite channels, 17 well-equipped studios in State capitals and 49 studio centres in other cities. With such resources, AIR and DD can be used to broadcast lessons, given that education is one of the three functions of the two agencies under the Prasar Bharati Act. These two agencies can be reinvented to cater to the needs of the education sector.

Educational broadcasts for classes 10, 11 and 12, to begin with, can be done over AIR and DD in the ratio 4:1 (four hours of radio and one hour of TV). Those courses which need demonstration and where seen/observed physical activity is important can be broadcast on TV. This calls for some training and some effort, but it can be done.

There are two benefits from this: one, we will be able to reduce for our teachers and students the strain of having to stare at their screens endlessly; and two, with AIR and DD being free, the heavy drain on financial resources will be drastically reduced.

Policymakers should make it a point to involve teachers in their planning. Training can be provided by a set of master trainers over a month for teachers who will turn into scriptwriters and programmers. These teachers can also be taught to create appropriate tools for evaluation over radio and TV. The Central and State educational boards should be roped in, to support, monitor and provide feedback to improve the system.

If regular radio is not enough, we also have digital radio spawning FM stations leased out to private players for a fee and several FM stations that are run by NGOs, universities and such agencies. My suggestion is this: let the AIR devote four hours (per class) to educational broadcasting and let DD undertake educational broadcasting for an hour (per class). With these two public broadcasting services combined in the ratio of 4:1 (per each class), we will be able to serve the entire student population of our country.

Free hours of Internet

Another suggestion that the government could consider is to ask Internet Service Providers to provide many hours of free Internet usage to teachers and students. This will not be easy but the government should call the shots and take a decision that is in the interest of the people.

9. Editorial-5: Amplifying the written word

The Internet has allowed easier communication between journalists and readers

Some months ago, I received an email from a reader about an article I had written on current research on Friedrich’s ataxia, a disease that causes damage to the nervous system as well as speech impairment and movement problems. Friedrich’s ataxia starts during childhood and manifests later as impaired muscular coordination that worsens with age. It is caused by an inherited aberrant gene.

We all carry two copies of every gene, each inherited from a parent. Friedrich’s ataxia occurs when both copies of the FXN gene have the defect. The defective FXN gene causes a problem in producing a protein called frataxin, which is found in cells throughout the body, with the highest levels in the heart, spinal cord, liver, pancreas, and muscles used for voluntary movement.

The article described how the researchers had identified a way to tag the defective part of the gene and bind it so that frataxin can be produced normally. This was done in cell lines in the lab, and treatment of people with the problem was still some distance away.

I got a few emails after this article was published asking me for the contact details of the researchers. These emails mentioned that relatives were suffering from Friedrich’s ataxia and that perhaps the research would hold the key. This was not surprising or new — research kindles hope for patients and their relatives who often reach out asking for more details.

But what did surprise me was the recent email I got, where the writer was emailing to know more — it came three years after the article was published.

This touched me on several counts. First, it brought home the thirst for scientific knowledge and the eagerness to probe and understand complex phenomena, among the readers. It was moving to think of the reader scouring the web for information that could help a loved one. Successful research, promising results and reactions of hope are what make it worth the while for science journalists who spend their time trying to make sense of the abstruse and simplifying it for the lay reader.

Second, the email underscored the reach of the medium of the Internet and the power of the published word. This reinforces in us journalists the need for rigour and commitment to facts in the reports we write. The role of the Internet in prolonging the life of stories is well known, but the ease with which a person can access an old story and also mail the writer for an update never fails to astonish.

In earlier days, when print was the dominant mode of communication, the combination of the short life span of stories and the time it took to establish communication with the writer worked to prevent such easy links between the reader, writer and the written. Back then, letters were the dominant mode of communication, and people travelled across the globe to confer, whereas now, instant messaging and Zoom conferences have made discussions easy to organise.

The Internet has taken us from daily, weekly and monthly schedules to round-the-clock planning. It has also played a role in amplifying and making immortal the written word. For reporters, it is an added responsibility to use the power of this medium in a manner consistent with journalistic values.

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