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The Hindu EDITORIAL

29-March-2024

1. The countdown to a pandemic treaty

Topic: GS2 – International relations – Agreements involving India or affecting India’s interests.

Understanding global health governance and agreements is crucial for UPSC aspirants to tackle international relations and health-related questions.

Context
●   The article discusses the negotiation process and key features of the proposed World Health Organization (WHO) Pandemic Agreement, aiming to address systemic failures revealed by the COVID-19 crisis and promote global health equity.

 Introduction:

  • In March 2021, a call for a pandemic treaty was issued by 25 heads of government and international agencies, marking a pivotal moment in global health governance.

Key Features of the WHO Pandemic Agreement:

  • Aim: To address systemic failures revealed by the COVID-19 crisis, strengthening global defenses and averting future pandemics.
  • Focus on Equity: Aims for equitable access to medical products, addressing the inequity witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Covers various aspects: Pathogen surveillance, healthcare workforce capacity, supply chain, tech transfer for vaccine production, and IP waivers.

Negotiating Text Highlights:

  • Pathogen Surveillance: Aims to strengthen surveillance for pathogens with pandemic potential.
  • Healthcare Systems: Requires countries to commit to better manage antimicrobial resistance and improve health systems.
  • Equity in Access: Emphasizes equitable access to medical products across all provisions.
  • Establishment of COP: Proposes the establishment of a Conference of Parties to oversee the Agreement’s implementation.

Current Negotiations:

  • Developing Countries’ Support: Developing countries largely embrace the revised negotiating text.
  • Opposition from Developed Nations: Developed nations criticize elements in the text, including financing and IP matters.
  • India’s Stance: India emphasizes clarity on obligations and responsibilities between developed and developing countries.

Concerns and Challenges:

  • Pathogen Sharing: Contentious issue between developing and developed countries, with concerns over equitable access to benefits.
  • Enforcement Mechanisms: Lack of adequate enforcement mechanisms threatens the effectiveness of the Agreement.
  • Intellectual Property Waivers: Proposed requirement for firms to waive or reduce IP royalties is a thorny issue.

Way Forward:

  • Negotiations Outcome: Goal to reach a consensus decision by the World Health Assembly in late May.
  • Risk of Watered-Down Agreement: Risk of compromising the Agreement’s effectiveness in securing consensus.
  • Importance of Agreement: Critical step towards rebuilding trust and coordination between nations to confront future pandemics collectively.

Conclusion:

  • The WHO Pandemic Agreement represents a crucial endeavour to strengthen global health governance and address the shortcomings exposed by the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Its success hinges on resolving contentious issues and reaching consensus among nations.
Potential advantages of Pandemic Treaty:

Enhanced Global Coordination: The agreement fosters better cooperation among nations in responding to pandemics, facilitating timely sharing of information and resources.

● Improved Pandemic Preparedness: By addressing systemic failures revealed by the COVID-19 crisis, the agreement helps nations strengthen their preparedness for future pandemics, thereby minimising human and economic costs.

Equitable Access to Medical Products: Emphasising equitable access to medical products ensures that vulnerable populations in all countries have access to life-saving treatments and vaccines.

Promotion of Technological Transfer: Facilitating technology transfer for vaccine production and diagnostic tests enhances the capability of developing nations to combat pandemics independently.

●  Establishment of Accountability Mechanisms: The agreement proposes enforcement mechanisms and accountability frameworks, ensuring that nations adhere to their commitments, leading to more effective pandemic response and coordination.

●  Strengthened Global Health Governance: By laying down guidelines and frameworks for global health cooperation, the agreement strengthens the overall governance of global health, promoting stability and security in the face of health crises.

PYQ: Critically examine the role of WHO in providing global health security during the Covid-19 pandemic. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2020)
Practice Question:  What are the key challenges and proposed solutions in negotiating the WHO Pandemic Agreement, and its significance in global health governance? (250 Words /15 marks)

2. Understanding India’s coal imports

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth, GS3 – Indian Economy – Infrastructure.

Understanding electricity shortages and coal logistics is vital for UPSC aspirants to tackle energy and infrastructure-related questions effectively.

Context
●     The news discusses electricity shortages in India, attributing them to logistical challenges in transporting domestic thermal coal to power plants, emphasizing the need for efficient solutions to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply.

 Introduction:

  • Electricity shortages in India have been attributed to a shortage of domestic thermal coal and logistical challenges, exacerbated by unpredictable weather patterns and a growing economy.

Logistical Challenges and Coal Shortages:

  • Despite significant coal availability in mines, logistical issues hinder the transportation of coal to power plants, leading to electricity shortages.
  • The shortage in August 2023, amounting to 0.55% of demand, highlights the logistical inefficiencies rather than coal availability.

Alternative Sources of Coal:

  • Coal auctions by Coal India Ltd. offer an alternative source, but the higher prices compared to imported coal deter many plants from utilizing this option.
  • While some blending with imported coal may be necessary, the Ministry of Power advisory suggesting up to 6% import is not a mandate but an advisory.

Misconceptions and Cost Implications:

  • Misinterpretation of the advisory as a mandate can lead to significant cost impacts, as the burden of increased costs is passed on to consumers.
  • Mandatory blending of 6% imported coal for all coal-based generation can increase variable costs by 4.5%-7.5%.

Generation and Location Dynamics:

  • Not all power plants face coal shortages; pit-head plants situated close to mines are less likely to face shortages compared to plants farther away.
  • Interpreting the advisory as a mandate for all plants overlooks these location-specific dynamics.

Course Correction and Regulatory Oversight:

  • Addressing coal shortages requires addressing logistical bottlenecks rather than defaulting to coal imports.
  • Regulatory commissions and distribution utilities should ensure that coal-based plants identify the most cost-effective alternative sources to bridge gaps in coal supply.

Conclusion:

  • The discourse on coal shortages in India needs correction, emphasizing the need to address logistical challenges and identify the most efficient solutions to ensure uninterrupted electricity supply without burdening consumers with unnecessary costs.
Importance of coal sector for Indian economy

● Energy source: Coal remains a primary energy source, accounting for about 55% of India’s electricity generation.

Industrial backbone: Vital for industries like steel, cement, and power generation, providing essential raw material and fuel.

● Employment: The coal sector directly employs millions in mining, transportation, and associated industries, supporting livelihoods.

● Revenue generation: Contributes significantly to government revenue through taxes, royalties, and dividends from state-owned coal companies.

● Trade balance: Domestic coal production helps reduce reliance on imports, positively impacting the trade balance.

● Energy security: Ensures energy security by reducing dependence on imported fuels, mitigating risks associated with international markets.

● Rural development: Coal mining regions often witness infrastructure development, social welfare programs, and employment opportunities, aiding rural development.

●  Technology innovation: Investments in coal sector spur technological advancements, enhancing efficiency and environmental sustainability.

PYQ:  In spite of adverse environmental impact, coal mining is still inevitable for development. Discuss. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2017)
Practice Question:  What are the primary causes of electricity shortages in India, and how can logistical challenges in coal transportation be addressed? (150 Words /10 marks)

3. Training for a technologically evolving economy must be accorded primacy

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Issues related to development and employment.

Understanding youth unemployment trends is crucial for UPSC aspirants to tackle questions on economic and social policies effectively.

Context
●  The article discusses the grim outlook for youth employment in India, highlighting the mismatch between job opportunities and the growing educated workforce, urging immediate policy interventions to harness the demographic dividend effectively.

 Introduction:

  • The ‘India Employment Report 2024’ highlights concerning trends in youth employment, indicating a mismatch between job opportunities and the growing educated workforce.

Grim Outlook for Youth Employment:

  • Approximately 7-8 million young people are added to India’s labour force annually, with youth constituting nearly 83% of the unemployed workforce.
  • The proportion of educated unemployed youth has almost doubled since 2000, with graduates experiencing significantly higher unemployment rates compared to illiterate youth.

Challenges in Job Absorption and Education Quality:

  • Lack of jobs capable of absorbing educated youth and shortcomings in education quality contribute to high unemployment rates among educated youth.
  • Wage stagnation or decline further exacerbates the situation, highlighting the need for immediate policy interventions.

Closing Window for Harnessing Demographic Dividend:

  • India’s demographic dividend is under threat as the share of young people is forecasted to decline by 2036.
  • High unemployment rates and poor working conditions hinder the realization of India’s demographic potential.

Gender Imbalance and Informal Employment:

  • Significant gender imbalance in Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), with women’s LFPR much lower than men’s.
  • The majority of workers are engaged in informal jobs, indicating a lack of comprehensive policy vision for better employment opportunities.

Policy Imperatives and Political Responsibilities:

  • The government must prioritise job creation and improve the quality of education and training to address the evolving economic landscape.
  • Politicians, especially during the ongoing election process, need to prioritize jobs and education quality in their campaigns and subsequent policy formulation.

Conclusion:

  • The India Employment Report 2024 underscores the urgent need for targeted policy interventions to address the mismatch between job opportunities and the growing educated youth population, ensuring the realization of India’s demographic potential.
PYQ: Besides the welfare schemes, India needs dem management of inflaSon and unemployment to serve the poor and the underprivileged secSons of the society. Discuss. (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2022)
Practice Question:  What are the key challenges and policy imperatives to address youth unemployment in India? (250 Words /15 marks)

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