UPSC Online Editorial Analysis
1) Editorial (The Indian Express)
Title of the editorial: Canary in the coalmine
Written by: Sajjid Z. Chinoy (Chief India Economist at J.P. Morgan)
Topic in the syllabus: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment. (GS-3)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about how the recovery led by profits, at the expense of wages, has implications for demand, inequality and policy.
- GDP prints should be viewed through two prisms. The first is what they tell us about the past. Here, the news has generally been better-than-expected.
- The US and India, for example, saw a much stronger recovery last quarter than previously envisioned, manufacturing bounced back sharply.
- But there’s another, more forward-looking, prism that we must also peer through.
- GDP is typically reported in two ways: The sectoral, production side (agriculture, manufacturing, services) and the functional, expenditure side (consumption, investment, net exports).
- But there’s a third way to slice the pie — the income side. Value addition must ultimately accrue to the different factors of production. On the income side, therefore, GDP is simply the sum of profits, wages and indirect taxes.
- This begs the question: Which factors of production are propelling the recovery, and which are bearing the burden?
- This correlates with labour market pressures around the world.
How different countries facing labour market pressure?
- US hiring slowed sharply in November and the unemployment rate is still forecasted to remain close to 6 per cent —almost twice pre-COVID levels — even at the end of 2021.
- In a sample of five East Asian economies, employment income has contracted — in nominal terms — in 2020.
- Labour market pressures are evident in India too.
- Household demand for MGNREGA remains very elevated, suggesting significant labour market slack.
- The employment rate (a more holistic measure since participation rates have bounced around sharply) in some labour market surveys still reveal about 14 million fewer employed compared to February, and nominal wage growth across a universe of 4,000 listed firms has slowed from about 10 per cent to 3 per cent over the last six quarters.
Why is there need of equitable distribution of income? & why is it necessary to have an income to households at first place?
- Even as economies heal from COVID-19, the distribution of incomes across capital and labour risks becoming very skewed in favour of capital.
- It may be rational for any one firm to boost profits by cutting employee compensation. Weak demand, in turn, disincentivises re-hiring, reinforcing the risks of settling into a sub-optimal equilibrium.
- To be sure, the dramatic acceleration of technological adoption during the pandemic, and differential productivity impacts it is having on capital, skilled and unskilled labour, will likely have more profound and secular impacts on the future capital-labour mix, potentially accentuating existing cleavages and inequities.
- If job-market pressures induce households into perceiving this shock as a quasi-permanent hit on incomes, households will be incentivised to save, not spend in the future.
Issues with government spending & the way forward:
- While developing economies have fewer degrees of policy freedom, they also have fewer safety nets to handle the labour market fall-out.
- So fiscal policy cannot afford to become a drag next year. India’s fiscal response has been restrained thus far, with the Centre’s total spending similar to last year and state capex under pressure. It’s therefore important for the Centre to step up spending in the remaining months.
- But how do you accommodate this spending, if the consolidated fiscal deficit?
- If higher infrastructure spending is financed by higher asset sales, the headline fiscal deficit (which matters for bond markets and interest rates) can be slowly reduced, even as the underlying fiscal impulse (which matters for growth and jobs) remains positive.
- This is the only way to undertake fiscal consolidation without incurring a fiscal drag.
2) Ground Zero (The Hindu)
Title: How dearth of data killed a healthy diet
Topic in the syllabus: Women population and associated issues (GS-1) | Governance related issues (GS-2)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about how the tracking and monitoring of nutrition services to the poorest of the poor in India have been hampered by the lack of online data. (This article have the story of Derwala village in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan but we will discuss important points relevant for the exam and which can be applied at all India level while writing the answers)
What is Integrated Child Development Services-Common Application Software (ICDSCAS)?
- It is an IT-based nutrition monitoring system. Under this system, anganwadi workers log the details
of the beneficiaries and daily activities to enable monitoring at the district, State and Central levels for improvement in the quality of delivery of services.
- The ICDSCAS was the mainstay of Poshan Abhiyaan, approved by the Union Cabinet in December 2017 at a budget outlay of ₹9,000 crores.
- Half of this was to be funded by the Indian government and the other half through a loan from the World Bank.
- Poshan Abhiyaan strives to improve nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers by reducing undernutrition, bringing down anaemia, and increasing birth weight.
- As the aim of Poshan Abhiyaan is to reach 10 crore beneficiaries at 14 lakh anganwadis, the
government set up the ICDSCAS to ensure swift tracking and effective implementation.
- Under the ICDSCAS, anganwadi workers are provided mobile phones, and anganwadi supervisors, tablets.
- Anganwadi workers enter details of daily activities, including photo evidence of the opening of anganwadis; attendance of children; details of food, weight and height; etc.
- These are then monitored at five levels — first by the anganwadi supervisor and then at the block, district, State and Central levels.
- The assessments and feedback from these levels are provided to the workers.
- Service delivery is thus tracked and informed decisions taken based on the assessments.
Although it is a helpful system but there are many issues in remote areas of India:
- There are server issues and Internet problems which plague the system.
- Smartphones which were given to the workers to simplify their tasks have doubled their work.
- Workers are now expected to note down details not only in their phones but also in registers.
- The accountability system is enormously centralised and top down and is focused on surveillance of anganwadi workers.
What is the impact of these issues?
- The collapse of the system also means that the anganwadi workers are the hardest hit.
- “The anganwadi workers’ incentives have been delayed at a time when the pandemic has resulted in their work increasing manifold.
- The system helps automatically calculate an anganwadi worker’s incentives through the activities logged in by her. But since that is not possible now, they haven’t received their incentives.
- Even before the server problem, unavailability of data from an expensive technology system set up primarily to improve service delivery caused anger among implementation partners, researchers, nutrition advocates and public health experts.
- Centralised approach is risky during a crisis like a pandemic or a flood because it means that the local community is not taught to take ownership of nutrition services and trained to monitor service delivery.
- The ICDSCAS harps on accountability of the person at the ground level.
- Anganwadi workers are treated as voluntary workers as they are considered to be part time workers, and they live close to the houses they monitor. They are underpaid, overworked and
deprived of social protection. So why are we so hooked to their accountability when there are inadequate budgets, delays in disbursal of cash benefits, lack of data, etc.? The entire system is intent on policing her.
Reasons behind server issues:
- Experts say on the condition of anonymity that the server crash is a result of the government’s lack of preparedness to deal with a massive amount of data (nearly seven lakhs out of 14 lakh anganwadis where the ICDSCAS have already been implemented) and cloud storage and managing the entire architecture including hardware and software.
- The technology support has alternated between the National Informatics Centre and Tata Consultancy Services in the recent past, while it was earlier handled by the U.S.based Dimagi.
Significance of ICDS and Data:
- ICDS is important because it caters to the entire life cycle of pregnant women and lactating mothers, adolescent girls and children between the age of six months and six years, by making direct interventions.
- It also provides a platform for delivering health services.
- Data are critical to any programme, especially nutrition programmes. During a pandemic we need
more data, not less.
- Data are critical as people are at a higher risk now, they are severely vulnerable.
- States demand not only the Centre’s cooperation but also harp on the need for convergence between the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Women and Child Development’s ICDS
through a common data portal.
- There is a need for convergence. The Pregnancy, Child Tracking and Health Services Management System, for example, can give us data about a woman becoming pregnant.
- We can then use this to transfer their entitlements through the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana, a maternity benefit scheme.
- All public data need to be made public. Data must be open for evaluation so that there are no coverups.
- If you want accountability, you could have a mother’s group that can monitor whether or not an anganwadi is functioning, whether the supplies are there, whether an anganwadi worker is
providing those supplies to children or not.
- Local mothers’ groups and panchayat committees can play not just an inspectorial role, but also a supportive role.
- There is a strong case against centralisation of data systems. The systems must be flexible and in tune with local interventions.
- They must also be available to the frontline workers as well as at the local level for analyses and execution of corrective measures, and not just to programme developers.
- Data systems should also be built with local participation and consensus.
- The Centre can facilitate setting this up locally and providing a supportive role to ensure capacity building for effective use of data.
1) Editorial (The Hindu)
Title of the editorial: Trust deficit
Topic in the syllabus: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System- objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security. (GS-3)
Analysis about: This editorial talks about why the Centre must consider a legal guarantee for MSP.
- The fear that the new regime will dismantle the system of procurement under Minimum Support Price (MSP) and leave farmers at the mercy of corporations is real.
- The Centre has suggested safeguards to prevent land alienation via contract farming; strengthening the State run mandi system and ensuring its equal footing with private buyers through equalising
taxes; allowing grievance redress in civil courts rather than just in the offices of Sub Divisional Magistrates; and ensuring proper verification of private traders.
- It has not, however, offered a legal guarantee of MSP and the question of power subsidies also remains contentious.
- Government has a declared policy of ensuring farm prices that are at least 50% more than the input costs.
- This has remained more an intent than reality, and the discussion has also been muddled by the government’s refusal to include rental value of the land in input costs.
Why is there a need to incentivise farmers?
- Agriculture has to remain environmentally sustainable and remunerative for farmers.
- There is a strong case for reworking the incentive structures and cropping pattern in order to account for changes in water availability and changing dietary requirements.
- Changes in land acquisition laws and the general thrust towards industrialisation together with the pressure on agriculture subsidies have increased the feeling of vulnerability of farmers in recent years.
- Farmers incentives led to the food security & Food security is considered a component of national security by all countries.