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Indian Express Editorial Analysis

28-March-2024

1. Holes in social security

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Government policies – Interventions for development in various sectors

This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains as this analysis sheds light on the political-economic considerations driving the expansion of social protection initiatives.

 

Context:
  • The concept of social security as a human right is enshrined in international agreements like the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and reinforced by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  • Despite global advocacy, India historically spent inadequately on social protection, leaving its vast informal workforce vulnerable.
  • However, recent years have witnessed a slow but noticeable expansion of social protection initiatives across states, driven mainly by political and economic motives.

Political-Economic Drivers of Expansion:

  • The expansion of social protection in India has been primarily impelled by political-economy considerations rather than an inherent commitment to human rights.
  • The analysis reveals a trend where state governments, regardless of political affiliation, have increasingly introduced social welfare measures to gain political favor.
  • This is evident in the rise of social welfare expenditures in various states, showcasing a shift towards prioritizing social protection as a political agenda.

Party Politics and Welfare Schemes:

  • Political parties, notably the Congress and BJP, have utilized social welfare schemes as instruments to garner support.
  • The introduction of schemes like MGNREGA and Nyay reflects this trend, with parties in power implementing modified basic income schemes to appeal to voters.
  • However, the paternalistic nature of these schemes, lacking legal backing, raises concerns about their sustainability and efficacy in providing long-term social security.

Focus on Women in Social Protection:

  • A notable shift has been the increasing focus on women in social protection initiatives.
  • Various state governments have introduced cash transfer schemes targeting women, viewing it as both politically strategic and economically beneficial.
  • Studies indicate that such schemes can enhance household welfare and women’s empowerment, aligning with broader developmental goals.

Challenges and Unbalanced Protection:

  • Despite the proliferation of social protection schemes, the absence of legal guarantees undermines their stability.
  • The reliance on administrative orders leaves schemes vulnerable to policy changes.
  • Moreover, certain demographic groups, such as the very young and old, face neglect in existing schemes, highlighting the unbalanced nature of India’s social protection framework.

Conclusion:

  • As India approaches the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, political parties are likely to intensify their promises of social protection.
  • However, the fragmented and unbalanced nature of the current architecture underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive and legally-backed social protection framework.
  • Without addressing these challenges, India’s journey towards ensuring universal social security remains a work-in-progress, susceptible to political expediency and lacking in genuine commitment to human rights.
What are some Existing Social Security Policies in India?

 

  • The Code on Social Security, 2020: This is a comprehensive law that consolidates and simplifies nine previous laws related to social security. It covers employees in both the organized and unorganized sectors, and provides for retirement pension, provident fund, life and disability insurance, healthcare and unemployment benefits, sick pay and leaves, and paid parental leaves.
  • The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO): This is a statutory body that administers the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, the Employees’ Pension Scheme, and the Employees’ Deposit Linked Insurance Scheme. These schemes provide retirement pension, provident fund, and life and disability insurance to employees in the organized sector.
  • The Employees’ State Insurance (ESI): This is a self-financing social security scheme that provides medical care and cash benefits to employees in case of sickness, maternity, disability, and unemployment. It covers employees in the organized sector who earn less than a certain threshold.
  • The National Pension System (NPS): This is a voluntary, defined contribution pension scheme that allows individuals to save for their retirement. It is open to all citizens of India, including those working in the unorganized sector. It offers multiple investment options and tax benefits.
  • The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP): The NSAP is a social security and welfare programme that provides support to aged persons, widows, disabled persons and bereaved families on death of the primary breadwinner, belonging to below poverty line households.

 

PYQ: Regarding ‘Atal Pension Yojana’, which of the following statements is/are correct? (2016)

1) It is a minimum guaranteed pension scheme mainly targeted at unorganized sector workers.

2) Only one member of a family can join the scheme.

3) Same amount of pension is guaranteed for the spouse for life after subscriber’s death.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (c)

Practice Question:  Explain the significance of social protection initiatives in India. Discuss the factors driving the expansion of social welfare schemes and analyze the challenges in their effective implementation. Suggest measures to ensure the sustainability and inclusivity of social protection frameworks in the country. (250 words/15 m)

2. EXPERIMENTS WITH WATER

Topic: GS1 – Society – Urbanization, their problems and their remedies

GS3 – Environment – Environmental pollution and degradation

This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of understanding the challenges related to water management and sustainability.

 

Context:
  • The city of Bengaluru is currently facing its worst water crisis in decades, exacerbated by factors such as a weak monsoon and unregulated urban growth.
  • Similar challenges have been observed in Chennai and several other Indian cities, indicating a broader issue of water supply management in urban planning.

Quality of Drinking Water: A Cause for Concern:

  • Despite efforts to provide safe drinking water to urban populations, a significant portion of India’s urban residents still lack access to clean water.
  • Recent surveys, such as the Pey Jal Survekshan, reveal that only a small fraction of Indian cities meet drinking water standards.
  • Moreover, the quality of water often deteriorates within the distribution network due to various factors, posing health risks to consumers.

Dependency on Packaged Drinking Water (PDW):

  • In response to water shortages and concerns about water quality, households have increasingly turned to packaged drinking water (PDW)
  • This trend is particularly pronounced in cities like Kolkata and Chennai, where a significant percentage of households rely on water jars despite having access to piped water.

The Evolving PDW Model: Promising Yet Concerning:

  • The PDW industry has evolved over the past few decades, offering decentralized treatment and non-pipe modes of delivery.
  • While this model provides reliable access to water, there are concerns about affordability and the impact of reverse osmosis purification methods on water mineral content, as highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Exploring Alternative Solutions:

  • Recent initiatives, such as water ATMs in Bengaluru, demonstrate efforts to address water scarcity issues.
  • However, affordability and technological considerations remain significant challenges.
  • There is a need for further experimentation with decentralized water treatment and delivery models to ensure access to safe and affordable water for all urban residents.

Conclusion:

  • The water crisis facing cities like Bengaluru underscores the urgent need for innovative water management solutions.
  • While decentralized treatment and non-pipe modes of delivery show promise, addressing affordability and water quality concerns requires ongoing research and experimentation.
  • It is imperative for policymakers to explore alternative models of water supply to overcome existing challenges and ensure sustainable access to clean water for urban populations.
What are the Reasons Behind Bengaluru’s Severe Water Scarcity?

 

Reduced Rainfall and Empty Water Reservoirs:

  • The city has witnessed insufficient rainfall in the past couple of monsoons. This has significantly impacted the Cauvery River, a primary source of water for the city. Lower river levels mean less water for drinking and agriculture.
  • Karnataka received a 38% deficit in north-east Monsoon showers from October to December. The State received a 25% deficit in southwest monsoon rain from June to September.
  • As per information from the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Management Centre (KSNDMC), the water levels in Cauvery Basin reservoirs like Harangi, Hemavathi, and Kabini are at 39% of their total capacity as of 2024.
  • Depletion of Groundwater Sources:
  • Bengaluru’s explosive growth has resulted in the concretisation of natural landscapes that used to absorb rainwater. This reduces groundwater recharge and increases surface runoff, leading to less water percolation.
  • Residents rely on borewells to supplement the water supply. However, with falling rain and excessive extraction, groundwater levels are rapidly declining, causing many borewells to dry up.
  • Inadequate Infrastructure:
  • The city’s infrastructure, including water supply systems and sewage networks, has not kept pace with its rapid growth. This inadequacy exacerbates the challenges of distributing water efficiently to meet the demands of the expanding population.
  • The anticipated completion of Phase-5 of the Cauvery project, designed to provide 110 litres of drinking water daily to 12 lakh people, is expected by May 2024.
  • Climate Change:
  • Changing weather patterns, including erratic rainfall and prolonged droughts, attributed to climate change, have reduced the availability of water in Bengaluru’s reservoirs and natural water bodies.
  • The Indian Meteorological Department attributes the region’s poor rainfall to the El Niño phenomenon.
  • Pollution of Water Bodies:
  • Pollution from industrial discharge, untreated sewage, and solid waste dumping has contaminated water sources, rendering them unfit for consumption and further reducing the available water supply.
  • A study conducted by the Environmental Management & Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) states that about 85% of Bengaluru’s water bodies are polluted by industrial effluents, sewage, and solid waste dumping.
  • Mismanagement and Inequitable Distribution:
  • Inefficient water management practices, including wastage, leakage, and unequal distribution of water resources, contribute to the severity of the water scarcity crisis, with some areas receiving inadequate or irregular water supply.
  • Legal and Political Challenges:
  • Disputes over water sharing between Karnataka and neighbouring states, particularly with regard to rivers like the Cauvery, further complicate efforts to manage and secure water resources for Bengaluru’s residents.
  • There is an ongoing tussle between the central and state governments concerning the distribution and allocation of funds aimed at addressing the drought situation in Karnataka.

 

PYQ: What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India? (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2019)
Practice Question:  Discuss the factors contributing to the water crisis in Indian cities like Bengaluru and Chennai. Evaluate the effectiveness of existing water management strategies and propose innovative solutions to address the urban water crisis in India (250 words/15 m)

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