UPSC PRELIMS & MAINS
Gen. Rawat Pushes For Quad:
Indian Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat has said that India has a strategy prepared to fight off the dual-threat posed by neighbors Pakistan and China at its borders.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat has said that India wants the Quad to become a system to ensure freedom of navigation (FoN) and freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the Indian Ocean and around. ∙ The CDS asserted that India is keen to ensure that there is complete FoN on the seas and in the airspace above.
∙ He added that Chinese economic cooperation with Pakistan in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, along with continued military, economic and diplomatic support, mandates high levels of preparation and also poses the threat of coordinated action on the Northern and Western fronts.
∙ He also emphasized that adequate precautions to ensure any misadventure by Pakistan is thwarted and they are not able to succeed in their mission have been taken.
∙ Quad grouping consists of India, Australia, Japan and the U.S.
∙ It is an informal strategic dialogue between India, USA, Japan and Australia with a shared objective to ensure and support a “free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
COVID-19, NEP fuel fundraising by education technology firms
What’s in News?
According to industry players, the recently announced National Education Policy (NEP) has come at the right time and can lead to double-digit growth for the estimated $3.5 billion education technology (ed-tech) sector.
∙ With schools shut and online education gathering pace, ed-tech players are firming up plans to raise funds to transform schools through digitalization and digital training of teachers even as students are confined to homeschooling.
∙ They are of the opinion that the education sector is poised for a telecom and banking-like revolution.
∙ It is opined that post-NEP, the ed-tech revolution in India will finally facilitate universal access to quality education for every child using digital/mobile technology.
Mind The Gaps In India’s Health Care Digital Push:
∙ Public consultations over the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM).
National Digital Health Mission (NDHM):
∙ The NDHM envisages digitizing all data relating to all patients available not just with government and private hospitals but also with diagnostic centers, laboratories, and individual practitioners of all systems of medicine.
o Capturing data relating to patients and their digitizing could help all stakeholders including the patients, the doctors who attend to them, and the healthcare facilities where they seek treatment.
o The NDHM will help revitalize India’s healthcare delivery system by connecting doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers in integrated digital health infrastructure.
o The scheme promises an end-to-end, hands-free digital experience.
National Health stack:
∙ The National Health Stack (NHS) envisages a centralized health record for all citizens of the country in order to streamline the health information and facilitate its effective management. It aims to create a unified health identity of citizens.
∙ The NHS seeks to employ the latest technology including Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning Artificial Intelligence.
A registry of over eight lakh doctors, 10 lakh pharmacists, and over 60,000 hospitals is under preparation. At a later stage, online pharmacies, insurance companies, and other stakeholders will be added to the ‘Stack’.
∙ The scheme intends to replace existing data generation systems with new homogenized software for all machines in the health sector in the country with a central processor that will extract the relevant data from individual records.
National Health Mission:
∙ The National Health Mission through the IT network is connected to most public health centers even in tribal areas. Personal health data are generated by name until the primary health center level but not transmitted to higher levels except aggregated numerical data. ∙ Many States have achieved some breakthroughs in the area of digital health within the framework of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
∙ The article discusses some of the shortcomings in the NDHM.
∙ The implementation of the NDHM would require the healthcare institutions in the government as well as the private sector to upgrade their available resources and data maintenance practices.
∙ There would be considerable costs involved in the transition to a new system. Public health professionals estimate the cost in thousands of crores for all government and private HIPs to upgrade their hardware and connectivity systems, training of present staff, the entry of data afresh, apart from other indirect costs.
∙ This would not be financially viable for independent practitioners in allopathic and the Indian systems of medicine who run small dispensaries especially in rural areas, where there is no practice of even storing patient data on computers. Complying with the digitization protocols would entail cost burdens on them.
∙ Despite the claims that patient data safety and confidentiality would be ensured, the data is vulnerable given that it is getting stored in a decentralized system holding transferable data.
∙ Despite the provisions like local storage of data, only anonymized data will be shared upwards, and patients’ consent will be taken every time for sharing any personally identifiable information, there are serious concerns over patient privacy.
Other problems in the health sector:
∙ The NDHM will entail huge financial resources for its implementation.
∙ Digitization is not the immediate problem facing the health sector. While the digitization of healthcare data could help, what many Indians face are unaddressed issues in the health sector.
∙ Unreliable healthcare facilities in both the government and private sectors, difficulties in getting timely care, availability of beds and hygienically maintained hospital premises, availability of doctors physically or online, and the continuous neglect of preventive and community health initiatives constitute bigger problems in the health sector and require urgent attention and resources.
∙ Many tertiary hospitals and medical colleges rarely consider diagnostic reports from peripheral centers or even the prescriptions of previous doctors and often repeat the procedures. This would render past records redundant for the patients.
∙ With regard to insurance coverage, insurance schemes do not need the entire medical history of the patient and can do with the cards issued under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana and the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana.
∙ Health is under the State List. The national-level digitization plan without consultation with the state governments is a cause of concern.
Questions over accuracy:
∙ While using the generated data there is a presumption that all the data entered in each patient’s file is accurate, which might not be true in all cases.
∙ The article argues that the NDHM may not be the best way to go about addressing data gaps and suggests that instead, the existing practices and systems for the compilation of data as in the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme and the Health Management Information System (IDSP-HMIS) could have been reformed for better efficiency and effectiveness.
A Politics Of Avoidance That Must Be Questioned:
∙ The deletion of the ‘Question Hour’ provision in the forthcoming monsoon session of the Parliament.
o The Unstarred Questions will continue to be received and answered and it is only the Starred Questions and the Supplementary Questions emanating from them that would not be accepted.
∙ Question Hour is the first hour of a sitting session and it is devoted to questions that Members of Parliament can raise.
∙ The Rules of Procedure in both Houses prescribe the operational details for the question hour.
∙ Questions are addressed to a specific minister of the government. The concerned minister is obliged to answer to the Parliament, either orally or in writing, depending on the type of question raised.
∙ The two major types of questions include the starred and non-starred questions.
o Starred questions require oral answers and the member is allowed to ask a supplementary question, with the permission of the Speaker.
o Non-starred questions are those for which a written reply is expected. After the reply has been provided, no supplementary question can be asked.
∙ Copies of answers given are available to Members at the Notice Office before the start of the day’s proceedings as also on the websites.
Significance of question hour:
∙ The question hour serves as an important instrument of holding the executive accountable for its actions and inactions.
o The Indian Constitution prescribes a parliamentary form of government in which the executive is accountable to the electorate through a legislature. Executive accountability is an inalienable aspect of a democracy.
∙ The legislature holds the executive accountable through discussions on matters of public interest and concern by using the available provisions like asking questions in the question hour, adjournment motion, calling attention, half-an-hour discussion, the motion of no confidence, questions of privilege, etc.
∙ Given the specificity of the questions, the subsequent answers tend to lead to wider debates, inquiries, and in some instances, have even brought to light administrative scandals.
∙ The information made available through the answers by the ministers adds to public information essential for informed debates on matters of interest or concern.
∙ The author, Hamid Ansari, the former Vice President of India, expresses concerns over the current development based on the following arguments.
Lowering executive accountability:
∙ Among the available instruments of executive accountability, the ‘Question Hour’ is of special significance given its regularity and its availability on a basis of equality to every Member of the House, Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha. Given that it covers every aspect of government activity, domestic and foreign, it acts as a powerful tool of accountability. The deletion of question hour will lower the ability of the legislature to hold the executive accountable.
Against the spirit of democracy:
∙ The deletion of ‘Question Hour’ amounts to a curtailment of the right to question the government and goes against the philosophy of democracy.
The significance of starred questions:
∙ Unlike the unstarred questions wherein written replies are allowed and a government can afford to camouflage inconvenient details, the starred questions with the provision of the oral supplementary questions provide an opportunity for the legislature to unravel hidden facts.
Lack of consultation:
∙ The decision to do away with the question hour has been taken without due deliberation and discussion with the stakeholders.
Failing to explore alternatives:
∙ The author argues that citing the pandemic as a reason for the dropping of question hour from the parliamentary activity is unsatisfactory.
∙ There seems to have been little effort in trying to explore alternatives and procedural options that would help retain the essence of the question hour.
o One possible solution could have been to admit the Starred Question, reply to it in a set of prepositions and allow the Member concerned to table in writing the permitted number of follow up questions also to be answered in writing the following day.
o Given that the Chairman and the Speaker exercise great powers relating to the proceedings of their respective Houses, they could have used a Motion to develop a consensus on this issue.
∙ Despite the unprecedented challenges brought forth by the pandemic, there is a need to find solutions premised on the spirit of democracy. The politics of avoidance should be avoided and executive accountability needs to be prioritized.
Relief For Borrowers In Moratorium Case :
What’s in News?
The Supreme Court of India has passed an interim order saying that the accounts not declared as non-performing assets (NPA) as on 31 August 2020 shall not be declared as NPAs till further notice.
∙ The order was passed amid apprehensions raised by borrowers whether their loans would be declared NPAs the day after the expiry of the moratorium.
∙ The court is examining the question of whether compound interest (interest on interest) should be charged on loans deferred during the moratorium period.
∙ The Bench is also examining the powers of the Centre and the National Disaster Management Authority to provide relief to borrowers, reeling under the financial effects of the pandemic.
Turkey- Russia Military Drill In The Eastern Mediterranean:
Why in News?
Turkey has announced that Russia will hold live-fire naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean. This will happen during escalating tensions between Turkey and its coastal neighbors Greece and Cyprus over the right to search for energy resources in the region.
Turkey is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, and it is strange to expect NATO-member Turkey to engage such drills on Russia’s behalf.
o It can be noted that the two countries have in recent years significantly strengthened their military, political and economic ties.
o Apart from the announced drill, they are coordinating closely on their military presence in Syria.
o Turkey has purchased Russia’s advanced S-400 missiles and has agreed to go with a Russian-built nuclear power plant on its southern coast.
o Recently, the U.S. lifted a decades-old arms embargo (1987) on Cyprus which created the fresh strains between Turkey and Greece.
o Turkey condemned the move and urged the USA to reverse course to safeguard Turkish-speaking Cypriots.
To prevent an arms race that would hinder UN-facilitated reunification efforts for Cyprus.
∙ It was directed against the southern, Greek Cypriot part of the island, where Cyprus’ internationally recognized government is seated.
Impact of Russia-Turkey Military Drill:
o Turkey’s announcement comes at a time when Turkish survey vessels and drillships continue to prospect for hydrocarbons in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights.
o Russia maintains a sizeable naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and regularly conducts naval maneuvers.
o It’s also at odds with the European Union over its territorial disputes with bloc members Greece and Cyprus.
o France recently increased its military presence in the area to support Greece and Cyprus.
Impact on India:
- Energy: Mediterranean oil accounted for about 4.5% of India’s overall imports in the year 2019-20. The stability of this region is important for India’s energy security.
- Diaspora: Any turmoil in the region will have an impact on India’s diaspora in the region.
- India is not only a party but also founded the Non-Aligned Movement whereas Turkey and Russia lean to different polar ideologies.
- It is a real test of Indian diplomatic skills to create a balance between different ideologies.
- The diplomatic exchanges between Turkey and India have intensified in recent past following India’s decision to end the special status of Kashmir.
- India’s voice over this remains important being a protagonist of democracy, right to self-determination and sovereign responsibility.
Background of Conflict:
- Energy is one of the key factors in the contemporary geopolitics of the Mediterranean region.
- Turkish energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean has stoked tensions that is rooted in:
Conflicting interpretations of maritime boundaries.
- The feud between Turkey and Cyprus over gas reserves around the island, whose northern third is controlled by Turkish forces.
- Turkish forces captured the northern third of Cyprus in 1974, following a coup attempt in which a military junta in Athens sought to unite Cyprus with Greece.
- The Republic of Cyprus officially has sovereignty over the entire island, though it in effect remains divided.
- It builds upon a much longer history of enmity between the Greeks and the Turks going back to before the modern Turkish state was founded.
- Conflicting claims over resources because of unresolved border disputes can potentially create a new tension-hotbed in the Mediterranean region. Multiple challenges like pandemic, slow economy have already posed a significant challenge for global leaders and therefore it is very important to address the concerns of stakeholders involved in the region to ensure collective peace and prosperity for all.
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Study Links Rice Intake To Diabetes:
What’s in News?
According to a paper published after studying individuals from 21 countries over 9.5 years, higher consumption of white rice regularly is associated with an increased risk of diabetes.
The highest risk, according to the paper, was seen in South Asia, which had the highest consumption of white rice at 630 grams a day.
∙ The study acknowledges the role of reduced physical activity as a contributing factor, as also an increase in obesity rates, while it does adjust for various other diabetogenic factors, including family history.
∙ Trying to establish the link, the paper advances a couple of theories.
o It is known that excess rice consumption leads to postprandial glucose spikes that, in turn, lead to compensatory hyperinsulinemia [excess secretion of insulin] to maintain euglycemia [normal blood sugar levels]. Over time, the b-cells become exhausted, leading to b-cell failure and diabetes, the paper states.
Experts Flag Concerns On EIA Notification:
∙ A group of Special Rapporteurs to the United Nations has written to the Centre expressing concern over the proposed Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020.
∙ The group has sought the government’s response on how the provisions of the notification are consonant with India’s obligations under international law.
∙ Special Rapporteurs are independent experts working on behalf of the United Nations.
∙ They work on a country or a thematic mandate specified by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Assam Rifles Asked Shift Base From Aizawl:
Mizoram Chief Minister has asked the Assam Rifles to shift its base from the heart of the state capital Aizawl to Zokhawsang about 15 km away at the earliest besides stepping up vigil along the border with Myanmar to check drug trafficking.
∙ Mizoram shares a 404 km-long international border with Myanmar.
∙ One of the battalions of the Assam Rifles had moved to the state capital in 2019.
∙ The Mizo National Front government had, in 1988, asked the Assam Rifles to shift from Aizawl after the killing of 12 civilians in an encounter.
∙ The stand-off between the Mizoram government and the Assam Rifles began in August 2020.
∙ The Assam Rifles (AR) is a Central Para Military Force (CPMF) along with two other forces — Special Frontier Force and Coast Guard.
∙ However, only the Assam Rifles functions under the administrative control of the Union Home Ministry.
∙ The Assam Rifles was formed under the British in 1835 by the name of Cachar Levy and had a number of names — the Assam Frontier Police (1883), the Assam Military Police (1891) and Eastern Bengal and Assam Military Police (1913), before finally becoming the Assam Rifles in 1917. It is India’s oldest paramilitary force.
∙ It fulfills the dual role of maintaining internal security in the north-eastern region and guarding the Indo-Myanmar border.
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