Read The Hindu Notes of 30th April 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 30th April 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 30th April 2019
  • No good options in Afghanistan

    In Afghanistan, ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans

  • During the last 50 years, Afghanistan has been through different governance systems — monarchy till 1973; communist type rule, initially home-grown and then imposed by the U.S.S.R. with its 1979 intervention; jihadi warlordism in the early 1990s; shariat-based Taliban rule; and a democratic republic based on a presidential system since 2004. Wracked by a growing Taliban insurgency, peace today remains elusive. Reconciliation with the Taliban is increasingly projected as the way forward. But ‘reconciliation’ means different things to different players and to different groups of Afghans.
  • Negotiating a U.S. exit

  • The U.S. began its operations in Afghanistan, primarily against the al-Qaeda, 18 years ago. As it set about creating new institutional structures in Afghanistan, supported by the international community, U.S. troop presence began to grow. From a few thousand in 2002, the numbers increased and stabilised around 20,000 between 2004 and 2006 when they started climbing. By 2010, it had spiked to 1,00,000, dropping to 10,000 in 2016 and currently numbers around 15,000. The cumulative cost has been over $800 billion on U.S. deployments and $105 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, with nearly 2,400 American soldiers dead.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy announced in August 2017 was aimed at breaking the military stalemate by authorising a small increase in U.S. presence, removing operational constraints, putting Pakistan on notice, improving governance and strengthening the capabilities of Afghan security forces. Within a year, the policy failure was apparent. Afghan government continued to lose territory and today controls less than half the country. Since 2015, Afghan security forces have suffered 45,000 casualties with over 3,000 civilians killed every year.
  • Last year, U.S. senior officials travelled to Doha to open talks with the Taliban, followed by the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation. Five rounds of talks have been held and a sixth is likely soon. Mr. Khalilzad is seeking guarantees that the Taliban will not provide safe haven to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Afghan territory will not be used to launch strikes against the U.S., while the Taliban have demanded a date for U.S. withdrawal along with the release of all Taliban detainees in Guantánamo and Afghanistan. Mr. Khalilzad has also sought a ceasefire in Afghanistan and engagement in an intra-Afghan dialogue in return. The Taliban have responded with their new spring offensive, al-Fath, and refuse to engage with the Afghan government. An intra-Afghan dialogue with political and civil society leaders planned for around the third week of this month in Doha was called off on account of the presence of Afghan officials.
  • It is clear that Mr. Khalilzad is not negotiating peace in Afghanistan; he is negotiating a managed U.S. exit. Given the blood and treasure expended, the optics of the exit is important. As former U.S. Defence Secretary J. Mattis said, “The U.S. doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest”.
  • Increasing polarisation

  • There is growing polarisation in Afghanistan along ethnic and even sectarian divides. With three presidential elections (in 2004, 2009 and 2014) and three parliamentary elections (in 2005, 2010 and 2018), faith in the electoral process and the election machinery has eroded.
  • The 2009 presidential election showed the growing mistrust between then President Hamid Karzai and Washington. The U.S. kept pushing Mr. Karzai to agree to a second round between him and his rival Abdullah Abdullah despite Mr. Karzai’s insistence that he had won more than 50% votes in the first round. After months of wrangling when Mr. Karzai agreed, Dr. Abdullah backed out and Mr. Karzai felt that his second term had been tarnished.
  • The 2014 election yielded a disputed result with neither Ashraf Ghani nor Dr. Abdullah willing to concede. Despite an audit, results were never declared. Instead, the U.S.-backed political compromise produced a National Unity Government (NUG) with Ashraf Ghani as President and Dr. Abdullah as CEO, a position never legitimised by the promised constitutional amendment. The NUG has aggravated polarisation and has often found itself paralysed.
  • The 2019 presidential election, due in April has been postponed twice, to July and now to September 28. This may have been pushed by the U.S. to give time to Mr. Khalilzad for his talks, but any further postponement will not be accepted by the people in view of the eroding legitimacy of the NUG.
  • Parliamentary elections due in 2015 were finally held in October 2018 even though the promised electoral reforms remained unimplemented. Under the circumstances, the results have yet to be declared six months later, further delegitimising the process. Together with the deteriorating security situation, the prospects for a credible and legitimate election in September seem remote.
  • This is why there is growing support among certain Afghan sections for an interim government. Such an arrangement would prepare the ground for fresh elections after constitutional amendments and electoral reforms using the Loya Jirga process over the next two years. Expectedly, this is strongly opposed by the more secular and liberal Afghan groups, including women, which see any such move as a step back from the democratic principles of the 2004 constitution. The real risk is that as Western funding for salaries and equipment dries up and political legitimacy of Kabul erodes, the cohesiveness of the Afghan security forces will be impacted.
  • Elusive peace

  • Just as there is no domestic consensus on the terms of reconciliation with Taliban, there is a breakdown of regional consensus too. Mr. Khalilzad met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow where the three reiterated support for “an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process”. However, there is no common understanding of what it means or which Afghans should own and lead the process. The NUG feels abandoned and has blamed Mr. Khalilzad of betraying the Afghan government; the U.S. has demanded an apology from the Afghan NSA, Hamdullah Mohib, for his outburst against the U.S.
  • Moscow has its own format for talks and is convinced that the U.S.-backed experiment of the NUG needs to end — the sooner the better. Chinese interest is primarily with securing its Xinjiang province and the Belt and Road Initiative projects in the region. Iran maintains its own lines with the Taliban even as elements of the Syria returned, battle-hardened Fatemiyoun brigade have given it additional leverage.
  • The Pakistan factor

  • Pakistan is once again centre-stage as the country with maximum leverage. To demonstrate its support, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a leader and founder of the Taliban, after keeping him in custody for nearly nine years. Ironically, he was picked up because he had opened direct talks with the Karzai government a decade ago and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was furious when it learnt about it. The ISI’s investment in providing safe haven to the Taliban for 18 years is finally paying off as the U.S. negotiates its exit while the Taliban negotiate their return. A sense of triumphalism was visible in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement suggesting the formation of an interim government in Kabul to overcome the hurdles in the Doha talks provoking a furious backlash from Afghanistan from the government and the opposition figures. Even Mr. Khalilzad dubbed the statement as ‘inappropriate’. Pakistan has since backtracked but it shows that old habits die hard.
  • Even without getting into details of why the post-Bonn order in Afghanistan is fraying, there is agreement that peace in Afghanistan cannot be restored by military action. It is also clear that a prolonged U.S. military presence is not an answer. The problem is that a U.S. withdrawal will end the U.S. war in Afghanistan but without a domestic and regional consensus, it will not bring peace to Afghanistan. Sadly, today there are no good options in Afghanistan.
  • Line of confidence

    Streamlining business across the Line of Control will require both infrastructural and policy-level interventions

    Line of confidence
  • In the last decade, the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir has often been re-interpreted as the line of commerce and co-operation. This paradigm shift was the result of initiation of two confidence-building measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan — cross-LoC trade and cross-LoC travel. It was representative of a constructive bilateral engagement process in the midst of political upheavals. Stakeholders were hopeful that while cross-LoC travel would connect divided families, cross-LoC trade would foster economic ties between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) that would eventually help reap the peace dividend. However, on April 18, the government of India announced the suspension from midnight of trade at the two designated points expressing concerns over ‘illegal inflows of weapons, narcotics and currency’ in the country. ‘A stricter regulatory regime’ is expected for re-initiation of trade.
  • Cross-LoC trade is an intra-Jammu and Kashmir trade, in the form of barter of goods on a reciprocal basis. Started on October 21, 2008, the trade has been conducted through a standard operating procedure (SOP) mutually agreed by New Delhi and Islamabad. The SOP enlists the 21 categories of items to be traded on zero tariffs. LoC trade takes place four days a week, wherein traders are allowed to exchange 70 trucks per day. The trade-in (import) and trade-out (export) goods have to be balanced to zero for each trading firm within a period of three months.
  • What data show

  • The total number of traders registered at the Salamabad Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC), Uri, and Chakan-da-Bagh TFC, Poonch, is approximately 600. Since 2008, trade has shown an average year-on-year growth of about 19%, reaching a cumulative value of over ₹6,500 crore to date. Furthermore, it has generated more than 1.6 lakh job days. To date, more than 1 lakh trucks laden with goods have been exchanged, generating approximate freight revenue of ₹66.50 crore for transporters of Jammu and Kashmir. These figures are indicative of the potential that this trade holds for social and economic development within Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Despite its success in generating economic benefits, the operational and policy level deficiencies render the trade vulnerable to misconceptions and malpractices. Lack of clarity in the SOP towards rules of origin, items list, goods and services tax (GST)/local taxation mechanisms are some of the limitations. To further exemplify, a practice of ‘trade number selling’ was prevalent at the TFCs wherein few trading firms sell their registration/token numbers to other trading firms to send the latter’s goods across the LoC out of turn in the roster system. This practice has created a gap between the number of genuine traders and traders involved only in ‘trade number selling’. The issue is compounded by the presence of ‘seasonal traders’, that is, traders who are active only for few months, thereby leaving a negative balance overall in the barter trade.
  • These issues, coupled with a number of infrastructural issues such as a non-functional weighbridge, lack of CCTV cameras and truck scanners, and an absence of regular communication channels warrant reforms in the trade practices.
  • The unexpected suspension of the trade has affected locals. Traders have incurred significant losses as most of the goods were in transit while some goods were sold at a lower price in the local markets of Jammu and Kashmir. Traders who were awaiting the trade-in goods in exchange of the goods sent earlier have also incurred heavy losses and a negative trade balance against their firms.
  • What is the way out?

  • Streamlining LoC trade would require both infrastructural and policy level interventions. First, a revision in the SOP is required to highlight the trader re-registration process; we need clarity on the ‘rules of origin’ of goods; tradeable commodities need to be identified that will benefit the local economy of Jammu and Kashmir, and further eight-digit HS (harmonised system) codes must be assigned to ensure clarity on the items. The SOP must also specify the modality of movement of trucks across the LoC as well as clarity on filing of GST/other local taxes. A token system on a first-come-first-serve basis should be explored. This will check the misuse of trade registration number in the roster system.
  • Second, digitisation of the TFCs must take place to make the process of record keeping easy, transparent and accessible to various regulatory agencies. Third, the digitised TFCs should be enabled with a ‘trader notification system’ for timely reminders to achieve zero barter balance for continuation of trade.
  • Fourth, in case of non-compliance, a strict ‘trader de-listing policy’ needs to be put in place wherein any trader with a negative balance in barter for more than the designated time period can be suspended from conducting trade. Fifth, regular meetings must also be held between the trade facilitation officers of both sides of the LoC to ensure co-ordination of such activities and exchange of the list of suspended/banned traders.
  • Finally, infrastructure upgradation such as installation of truck scanners, functional CCTV cameras for security, and calibration of weighbridges, are essential to check the inflow of banned items, narcotics and weapons.
  • The gains made by India and Pakistan through initiation of cross-LoC trade and travel have manifested themselves in the form of recent talks of opening the Sharda Peeth corridor in PoK as another CBM. An important lesson is to be learnt here, optics and rhetoric aside, is that the sustenance of a CBM requires regular policy and operational-level interventions.
  • Biden’s bid

    Biden might be the strongest Democratic candidate, but he is not necessarily the best

  • Former Vice-President Joseph Biden has finally announced his candidacy for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Though the 20th candidate to join the race for the Democratic ticket, he is among the most prominent — he comes with both administrative and legislative experience and has support among establishment Democrats. He has joined the race as a front-runner, with one poll seeing a six-point lead for him over his nearest rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Biden also brings into focus the legacy of President Barack Obama. Vice-President in the Obama White House for eight years, he has been a strong proponent of the Affordable Care Act and an advocate of free college. But compared to his main rivals in the Democratic primaries, such as Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — one is a self-declared Democratic Socialist and the other is a Social Democrat — Mr. Biden is more of a centrist than a leftist insurgent. His views on health care, besides his support for Obamacare, are not very well-known. He has neither endorsed nor disavowed “Medicare for All”, which has emerged as a major campaign slogan among the Democrats. He has not offered any radical economic proposal either, such as, say, Ms. Warren’s $1.25 trillion education proposal to tackle college costs and student debt traps, or Mr. Sanders’s repeated vow to take Wall Street to task.
  • The ease with which Mr. Biden raised $6.3 million in 24 hours since he announced his entry into the race suggests that he has the support of big money as well. But all this does not ensure that his path to a candidacy would be easy. Mr. Biden’s most important challenge would be his own record as a legislator. He had led the efforts to pass the 1994 crime Bill, which many liberals and progressives attack for contributing to mass imprisonment, especially of African-American people. He co-sponsored the controversial Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which led to mass arrests, and voted in favour of the Iraq invasion in 2003. His harsh questioning in 1991 of Anita Hill, who had accused Clarence Thomas, now a Supreme Court justice, of sexual harassment, has come into focus recently. Besides, several women have spoken against Mr. Biden in recent months, alleging that his physical conduct made them feel uncomfortable. He has tried to distance himself from this past. Earlier this year, he said he wasn’t “always right’ on criminal justice; he regretted his support for the anti-Drug Abuse Act; he has spoken to Ms. Hill in private and vowed to be “more mindful” with women. But the question is whether Mr. Biden, with the burden of this record and his centrist politics, will appeal to the base of the Democratic Party at a time when a wide variety of leaders, from Mr. Sanders to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are pushing it to the left of centre.
  • The heat moves north

    The BJP has more to lose than gain in the fourth phase of the Lok Sabha polls

  • In the fourth phase of the 17th Lok Sabha election, 72 constituencies across nine States and including parts of Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir went to the polls on Monday. The BJP had won 45 of these 71 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha and its allies held another 11, indicating how critical this phase was for the incumbent dispensation. In the remaining phases too this pattern will continue. With the fourth phase, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, two States in which the BJP and the Congress are in straight contests, started voting. In 2014 the BJP had won all 25 seats in Rajasthan, and in Madhya Pradesh, 27 out of 29 seats. Violence in parts of West Bengal cast a shadow on the process and pointed to a volatile situation in the State that could lead to more violence in the coming phases. The BJP’s designs are to pick up a good number of seats in West Bengal to partly compensate for the losses that it is certain to face in the Hindi heartland where it had peaked in 2014. The Election Commission has ordered an FIR against the BJP’s Asansol candidate Babul Supriyo for trespassing into a polling booth and intimidating an officer. The EC must remain alert to ensure that polling remains free of violence and intimidation. In Maharashtra and Odisha, voting has ended. Five constituencies in Bihar and 13 in Uttar Pradesh voted in the fourth phase. The BJP and its allies are being challenged by regional alliances in the two States. Three constituencies in Jharkhand, six in Madhya Pradesh, six in Odisha, eight in West Bengal, 17 in Maharashtra, and 13 in Rajasthan voted on Monday.
  • As the election moves to the last three phases, the BJP and its opponents appear to be fine-tuning their strategies. The minimum income guarantee scheme promised by the Congress in its manifesto has not become a defining topic, much to the party’s disappointment. The Samajwadi Party, which is in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, has replaced its candidate against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, in an effort to challenge him on the issue of national security, his key talking point. The new candidate, Tej Bahadur Yadav, was dismissed from the Border Security Force for circulating videos about poor quality food in the front lines. Mr. Modi claims to provide soldiers the best support, and Mr. Yadav’s candidacy is the alliance’s attempt to question that claim. In its heartland strongholds, the BJP is relying heavily on its core Hindutva agenda. Mr. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have defended their decision to field terror-accused Pragya Singh Thakur in Bhopal, and in fact used her candidacy to push the idea of Hindu victimhood, a key driver of their kind of politics. The EC’s inaction in the face of multiple complaints from the Congress and other parties against Mr. Modi remains a matter of concern, and the matter is now before the Supreme Court.
  • The ideological crisis of liberal democracy

    Living a private life is simply insufficient. We badly need a commitment to public life

  • Liberal democracy was born with a design fault. Though a decent response to the existing social, cultural and economic conditions in which it took shape, it had inbuilt conceptual flaws that sooner or later were bound to run it aground. The very idea is destined to malfunction.
  • Negative liberty

  • For a start, the term ‘liberal’ in liberal democracy drew its nourishment from a particular conception of liberty which the philosopher Isaiah Berlin termed negative. The core idea of negative liberty revolves around the existence of a private sphere where an individual may do whatever she wishes, free from interference of state or oppressive social forces. Negative freedom is secured by limiting the capacity of states or social organisations to impose constraints on individuals. This is an excessively private conception of individual freedom: humans are concerned only with the satisfaction of their desires, indifferent to the shape of public life or the character of the state.
  • I do not belittle this idea. In conditions where powerful churches, caste organisations or the state is hell bent on controlling every aspect of a person’s life — who to marry, what kind of a family life to lead, what opinions to hold and what to eat — negative freedom is a precious good.
  • Yet, to delve further into the history of the idea of liberal democracy, these negative freedom-loving, liberal persons — the traditional middle classes — soon realised that limited governments on their own cannot ensure freedoms. These freedoms depend on certain kinds of state. Even governments restrained by laws but run by manipulative, self-serving, whimsical, power-hungry men can create political conditions that undermine these private freedoms. If so, lovers of negative liberty must, to some extent, take the reins of government in their own hands. Democracy is unavoidable. So, obsessed with private freedoms, still fundamentally disinterested in the art of government, they reluctantly invented a new form of government, representative democracy. How so?
  • Self-government is demanding. Assembling, deliberating and arriving at informed decisions on important public matters takes time and commitment. How can people occupied with producing, buying, selling, consuming and running their own lives in pursuit of private happiness also commit to running a government? They can’t. So, they do the next best thing: find those inclined to make politics their private business to become their representatives. For vast numbers of hapless people who can’t afford to get away from the daily grind of ordinary life and for those whose main purpose in life is the pursuit of personal happiness, there is virtually no time for public life or political decision-making. Their idea of political involvement is just too thin; the only time they can find for politics is during elections when they choose their representatives.
  • So, what is the basic flaw in liberal democracy? It is inadequately concerned with public activity, political liberty and wider community life. People almost wholly devoted to their private lives take virtually no interest in public institutions which can be easily manipulated to serve the private interests of the rich and powerful. Their small political freedoms can be stolen from right under their nose. Since they cannot muster the time or effort needed to learn about the traditions and heritage of their communities, these too can be easily destroyed before their own eyes.
  • To redeem themselves and their society, they need a sense of togetherness that helps build a vibrant political culture, one that is not exhausted by family love, or by narrow community feelings such as those related to caste or religion. They need a commitment to a shared good that presupposes a strong sense of public spiritedness. In short, to better realise even their own personal goals, the negative freedom-oriented middle class needs to find the right balance between private benefit and public good, rather than allow one to be trumped by the other. Conversely, indifference to public life means that nasty political worms would gnaw at it, adversely affecting even their private life. A stronger concern for the public good is a necessary condition of negative liberty. By itself, the idea of liberal democracy is both insufficient and deficient.
  • Forging solidarity

  • Of course, most societies soon realise this. That is why liberal democracies worldwide have periodic bouts of public spiritedness borrowed from the republican tradition. People become active citizens, coming out on the streets; challenge the establishment; protest with purpose; show distrust for liberal democracy, questioning existing modes of political representation. They demand greater transparency and accountability in public life. They even show a strong will to take political decision-making in their own hands. But this deepening democracy can’t just be a one-off event like the Arab Spring or the anti-corruption movement that preceded the 2014 general election in India.
  • Moreover, democratic solidarity is not the only way to overcome problems of liberal democracies. This function can also be performed by nationalism — by its ethically informed, inclusive variant or by dubious nationalisms such as the exclusivist, hate-mongering, national populism that is surging ahead today in different parts of the world.
  • However, forging solidarities, building public institutions, putting sustained pressure on governments to make informed, ethically grounded public decisions, and ploughing through historical material to sculpt traditions needs a lot of time and effort. Hate-mongering nationalism and populism, on the other hand, are manufactured easily and pay quick dividends. Spectacle prone, sensation-driven, playing on the fear, anger and frustration that grows in crisis-ridden liberal democratic polity, such nationalist populism can be generated by the empty rhetoric of a demagogue supported staunchly by an unprincipled, profit-seeking mass media. The contemporary crisis of liberal democracy is life-threatening, indeed!
  • How have things come to such a pass? Whatever else globalisation has done, it has reduced democracy to an electoral event and further deepened the privatisation of individuals. Liberalism in the era of globalisation has made people more self-obsessed, less capable of thinking about the common good or forging political solidarity, further in the grip of envy induced by feelings of relative deprivation. So far, new technologies such as cell phones and social media have only exacerbated this isolation of individuals. Rather than properly communicating with one another and trying to build a common mind on issues of common concern, all of us are busy expressing ourselves on Facebook or on WhatsApp. A cacophony exists of multiple voices talking past each other or venting their personal anger, paranoia or hatred at an imagined enemy. Fierce individualism and nasty nationalism are fueling each other. Caught within this diabolic syndrome, we risk losing even our hard-won negative liberties. Somewhere along the way, we have taken a wrong turn. Course correction and addressing the persistent crisis of liberal democracy will now require enormous collective effort and strong political will. And much hinges on whether the traditionally liberal, privacy-loving middle class will rise to the occasion and begin thinking of the public good.
  • For a malnutrition-free India

    Effective monitoring and implementation of programmes are required for the country to achieve its goal by 2022

  • In this election season, it is important to keep promises made not just to voters, but also those made to improve the lives of children, the future of the nation. Despite programme commitments since 1975, such as creating Integrated Child Development Services and national coverage of the mid-day meal scheme, India continues to grapple with a high rate of undernutrition. Improving nutrition and managing stunting continue to be big challenges, and they can be addressed only with an inter-sectoral strategy.
  • Stunting has lifelong consequences on human capital, poverty and equity. It leads to less potential in education and fewer professional opportunities. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4, India has unacceptably high levels of stunting, despite marginal improvement over the years. In 2015-16, 38.4% of children below five years were stunted and 35.8% were underweight. India ranks 158 out of 195 countries on the human capital index. Lack of investment in health and education leads to slower economic growth. The World Bank says, “A 1% loss in adult height due to childhood stunting is associated with a 1.4% loss in economic productivity”. Stunting also has lasting effects on future generations. Since 53.1% of women were anaemic in 2015-16, this will have lasting effects on their future pregnancies and children. The situation further worsens when infants are fed inadequate diets.
  • Ambitious goals

  • The aim of the National Nutrition Strategy of 2017 is to achieve a malnutrition-free India by 2022. The plan is to reduce stunting prevalence in children (0-3 years) by about three percentage points per year by 2022 from NFHS-4 levels, and achieve a one-third reduction in anaemia in children, adolescents and women of reproductive age.
  • This is an ambitious goal, especially given that the decadal decline in stunting from 48% in 2006 to 38.4% in 2016 is only one percentage point a year. This promise calls for serious alignment among line ministries, convergence of nutrition programmes, and stringent monitoring of the progress made in achieving these goals.
  • The data available on stunting tell us where to concentrate future programmes. Stunting prevalence tends to increase with age and peaks at 18-23 months. Timely nutritional interventions of breastfeeding, age-appropriate complementary feeding, full immunisation, and Vitamin A supplementation have been proven effective in improving outcomes in children. However, data show that only 41.6% children are breastfed within one hour of birth, 54.9% are exclusively breastfed for six months, 42.7% are provided timely complementary foods, and only 9.6% children below two years receive an adequate diet. India must improve in these areas. Vitamin A deficiency can increase infections like measles and diarrhoeal diseases. About 40% of children don’t get full immunisation and Vitamin A supplementation. They must be provided these for disease prevention.
  • Variations across States and districts

  • According to NFHS-4 data, India has more stunted children in rural areas as compared to urban areas, possibly due to the low socio-economic status of households in those areas. Almost double the prevalence of stunting is found in children born to mothers with no schooling as compared to mothers with 12 or more years of schooling. Stunting shows a steady decline with increase in household income. The inter-generational cycle of malnutrition is to be tackled with effective interventions for both mother (pre- and post-pregnancy) and child, to address the high burden of stunting.
  • In terms of geographical regions, Bihar (48%), Uttar Pradesh (46%) and Jharkhand (45%) have very high rates of stunting, while States with the lowest rates include Kerala, and Goa (20%). While nutrition has improved across all States, inter-State variabilities remain extremely high. The most significant decline has been noted in Chhattisgarh (a 15 percentage point drop in the last decade). Thus, the government can take lessons from Chhattisgarh. The least progress has been made in Tamil Nadu.
  • A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that stunting prevalence varies across districts (12.4-65.1%), and almost 40% districts have stunting levels above 40%. U.P. tops the list, with six out of 10 districts having the highest rates of stunting.
  • Looking at this data, it is imperative to push for convergence of health and nutrition programmes right from pregnancy until the child reaches five years of age. This is doable. India must adopt a multi-pronged approach in bringing about socio-behavioural change. What is really needed is effective monitoring and implementation of programmes to address malnutrition.
  • An insidious poll trend

    The cash-for-votes practice is no longer limited to the south. It’s time to think of ways to restore democracy

  • In this general election, the Election Commission has confiscated cash, gold and silver, liquor, drugs and other items worth ₹3,205 crore, according to data published by the constitutional body on April 27, before the fourth phase in the seven phase-election began. At this rate, we can expect more than twice this amount to be confiscated by the time the election comes to an end. This amount is much more than what was confiscated by the EC during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. What is confiscated is likely to be less than 5% of what is being spent by all the candidates and parties in this election. The total expenditure of this election is estimated to be about ₹50,000 crore, which is the highest amount for any election in the world.
  • Yet, no political party or leader so far has expressed concern about this trend and its threat to the fundamentals of our republic. Instead, candidates continue accusing each other of giving more cash for votes. I had pointed out based on field studies in 2009-2014 that the more the media coverage and the higher the number of crorepati candidates in the contest, the more the money that is expected by the voters. This is exactly what is happening today.
  • We should be concerned even more that the trend is no longer limited to being predominant in the southern States (other than Kerala), but has now become significant elsewhere too. According to the EC, if gold, drugs, liquor and cash are taken together, the total seizure is highest in Tamil Nadu by a wide margin, followed by Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. On confiscated cash alone, Tamil Nadu again tops the list, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh too is in the cash-for-votes race.
  • Two large-scale baseline studies of the Centre for Media Studies in 2005 and 2007 in 20-plus States and select studies since then in every round of elections reliably indicate that cash distribution occurred and may be on the rise irrespective of the socio-economic status of the recipients and the area in which they reside (urban or rural). Unless the demand side is addressed too, no policy initiative is likely to make a difference.
  • In this unusual paradigm how can we restore true representative democracy? One option is for the news media to play a positive and proactive role, which would require media houses to extricate themselves from conflicts of interest. The same could be said of corporates, which have become a major source of funding formally, yet there is also likely to be a strong informal nexus. Unless a course correction is made soon, the 2019 Lok Sabha polls will go down as a watershed election for the wrong reasons.