The News Editorial Analysis 22nd November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 22nd November 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 22nd November 2021

Indore keeps cleanest city tag for fifth year

Indore was on Saturday ranked the cleanest city for the fifth consecutive year by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in its annual cleanliness ranking.

The Swachh Survekshan Awards, 2021 handed out by President Ram Nath Kovind included the cleanest State honour for Chhattisgarh for the third time, in the category of States with more than 100 urban local bodies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, won the award for the cleanest “Ganga city”.

In his speech, Mr. Kovind said sanitation workers had worked throughout the pandemic. He said the Government was committed to the safety of workers.

Baby in adoption case may return today

DNA test to to be held next week to identify parents

The baby of Anupama S. Chandran, the young mother who alleged that her infant son was given in adoption against her will, is likely to be brought back to Kerala on Sunday.

Emotional scenes played out at the house of the foster care parents in Andhra Pradesh, even as the officials of the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare tried to convince them about the need to bring the baby back to Kerala.

Besides the officials of the council, representatives of the Women and Child Welfare Department of Andhra Pradesh were also involved in the discussions to shift the baby back to Thiruvananthapuram.

The baby is likely to be brought to the office of the council on Monday, the deadline fixed by the agency to bring the baby back.

The foster parents, who belonged to an affluent family, had made all the arrangements for providing a better environment for the child, according to those who were privy to the developments.

The District Child Protection Officer, Thiruvananthapuram, is understood to have identified a person in the district, with whom the baby would be entrusted till the process is completed. The DNA test for confirming the biological parents of the baby is likely to be held next week.

Meanwhile, the Women and Child Development Department has sought 10 more days to complete the proceedings in the adoption case. As the Family Court, Thiruvananthapuram, considered the case on Saturday, Assistant Public Prosecutor P.P. Hakkim submitted that the inquiry report, as directed by the court, was in its final stages. The lawyer submitted that the arrangements for the DNA test had been completed. The court posted the case on November 30.

Earlier, Family Court judge K. Biju Menon had sought a report from the State Government on whether the council had a valid licence to function as a specialised adoption agency. The lawyer representing the council produced a photostat copy license issued to the agency.

RBI report finds 600 illegal loan apps operating in India

They are available on several app stores for Android users, the study says

A Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Working Group (WG) on digital lending, including lending through online platforms and mobile apps, has stumbled upon more than 600 illegal loan apps operating in India.

These apps, mostly used to dupe unsuspecting people, are available on several app stores for Android users in the country, the WG said in a report.

In course of its filed work to prepare a detailed report on digital lending and to suggest recommendations, the WG found out the existence of over 1,100 unique loan apps that could be searched through key words such as loan, instant loan and quick loan.

These apps were available across 81 app stores from January 01, 2021 to February 28,2021, it stated.

The RBI panel pointed out that Sachet, a portal established by the Reserve Bank under State Level Coordination Committee (SLCC) mechanism for registering complaints by public, has been receiving significantly increasing number of complaints against digital lending apps.

Around 2,562 complaints were received from January 2020 to March 2021.

“Majority of the complaints pertain to lending apps promoted by entities not regulated by the Reserve Bank such as companies other than NBFCs (Non-Banking Financial Company), unincorporated bodies and individuals,” the report observed.

Another significant chunk of complaints pertains to lending apps partnering with the NBFCs, especially smaller ones (asset size of less than ₹1,000 crore, it noted.

Most of the complaints were received from Maharashtra, followed by Karnataka, Delhi, Haryana, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

‘Paxlovid may be huge advancement for all coronaviruses’

Treatment of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus to prevent death and hospitalisation got a shot in the arm when Pfizer announced encouraging results of an interim analysis of a phase-2/3 trial of the antiviral drug paxlovid. The drug showed 89% efficacy in preventing hospitalisation and death in certain high-risk groups when treatment was started within five days of symptom onset. The announcement comes about a month after Merck’s antiviral was found to have 50% efficacy in preventing COVID-19 death and hospitalisation.

In an email, Dr. Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology at CMC Vellore explains the significance of paxlovid antiviral for treatment, its mode of action, and the need for a combination therapy to reduce the chances of the virus developing resistance.

Compared with Merck’s molnupiravir, will Pfizer’s antiviral oral drug paxlovid be better at sharply reducing the death toll and strain on the health-care system?

Both molnupiravir and paxlovid are likely to have a role to play in prevention of hospitalisations and deaths. What we have at the moment are very early data in a few hundred people with each drug showing that the drugs reduce the chances of progression to severe disease. Both trials chose people with at least one risk factor for progression to severe disease which means that they were focused on individuals most likely to need higher levels of care. The fact that both drugs worked well is an advantage to the health-care system, of course, but is a complement to vaccines, which also play a critically important role in protecting the health-care system.

Where these drugs will especially matter is for those people in whom (i) an immune response to infection or vaccination is not mounted because of immunocompromise and (ii) for infection in the unvaccinated or breakthrough infection in the vaccinated.

Pfizer is currently testing another drug molecule that can be used by people belonging to low-risk groups. If this candidate drug too shows similar efficacy, can we positively say that COVID-19 is a completely treatable disease for all categories of people?

No drug is 100% safe or 100% efficacious. The more drugs we have, the more tools we can use to treat those who acquire infection.

Since both clinical trials were in individuals with risk factors and the drugs worked well, it is likely that they will also work well in people without risk factors, but this will need to be evaluated.

Besides higher efficacy, is there any major advantage of using paxlovid than molnupiravir? Will molnupiravir with a possibility, even if slim, of causing mutagenesis be a differentiating factor?

The point estimates for paxlovid are higher than for molnupiravir, but the two drugs have not been directly compared in a clinical trial, so stating that one has an advantage over the other based on two headline numbers is inappropriate at this early stage. With more independent trials we will be better able to compare performance. So far, we have no evidence that molnupiravir has significant side-effects, but as with all drugs, safety monitoring will be critical throughout the lifecycle.

What is the precise mechanism by which paxlovid prevents viral replication? How is inhibiting a particular protease better than molnupiravir that causes many point mutations that prevent the virus from replicating?

Pfizer’s oral antiviral is a protease inhibitor, originally called PF-07321332, or just 332 for short, given in combination with ritonavir. A protease is an enzyme that cuts a protein at a specific sequence of amino acids. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has a protease which allows it to cut one polyprotein into smaller segments that it needs for its life cycle. This protease called Mpro or the 3CL protease is targeted by 332, Pfizer’s protease inhibitor, which can stop that cleavage, as was shown in Pfizer’s initial publication in Science. With the viral protease out of action, SARS-CoV-2 cannot make more of itself to infect other cells.

You cannot compare two drugs that have different mechanisms of action as being better or worse except in a direct head-to-head clinical trial with the same outcome.

How does the use of an HIV drug ritonavir, which is also a protease inhibitor, improve the efficacy of paxlovid? Since ritonavir is generally used in combination with other HIV protease inhibitor drugs, was it natural to test it in combination with paxlovid to increase efficacy?

Ritonavir extends the duration for which 332 [paxlovid] can act on the 3CL protease. Essentially, ritonavir slows down the metabolism of 332 [paxlovid]. Ritonavir and lopinavir, which are used in combination for HIV, were evaluated for treatment of SARS-CoV-2 in several large and small early clinical trials and shown to be ineffective.

For any evaluation of enzymatic activity, the general principle is to prolong the duration of action so that the number of doses that need to be given can be reduced. Paxlovid is given twice a day, but without ritonavir’s inclusion, 322 [paxlovid] would have needed to be given much more frequently, which is a key factor in reducing compliance with any treatment.

Since paxlovid is a protease inhibitor, can the virus develop resistance faster than when molnupiravir is used? Would it be prudent to use both drugs together to reduce the chances of drug resistance?

With most antivirals it makes sense to combine them to reduce the chances of resistance developing. However, with molnupiravir’s mode of action being the induction of mutations through the random replacement of cytidine or uridine with NHC-TP, a molecule generated by metabolism of molnupiravir, resulting in lethal mutagenesis or error catastrophe, the chances of development of resistance are believed to be low. With paxlovid, it targets an essential protease, so if the virus mutates the protease in order to escape the antiviral drug it is likely to have a fitness cost to the virus. One of the advantages of an oral antiviral that targets viral replication is that the spike protein mutations that we worry about with vaccine induced immunity or with monoclonal antibody therapy will not matter, because the drug has a different target.

Though Pfizer has been developing and testing protease inhibitors against SARS virus, is the development of a novel drug molecule in a short time to specifically treat COVID-19 be seen as a major advancement?

Pfizer originally started its work on SARS-CoV-2 by synthesising and pre-clinically evaluating protease inhibitors years ago as a potential treatment. The data published by the Pfizer team reported that the Mpro inhibitor showed potent antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 and all the human coronaviruses.

Testing in human cells and mouse models of SARS-CoV-2 suggest that the treatment could limit damage to lung tissue. This is a major advancement for SARS-CoV-2 and potentially for all coronaviruses.

Flaws in the system

What is the procedure for judicial transfers? Why is it riddled by controversies?

The story so far: The transfer of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee from the Madras High Court to the Meghalaya High Court has given rise to a controversy over the question whether judicial transfers are made only for administrative reasons or have any element of ‘punishment’ behind them. In 2019, Justice Vijaya K. Tahilramani, another Chief Justice of the Madras High Court who was transferred to Meghalaya, chose to resign.

What does the Constitution say on the transfer of judges?

Article 222 of the Constitution provides for the transfer of High Court judges, including the Chief Justice. It says the President, after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, may transfer a judge from one High Court to any other High Court. It also provides for a compensatory allowance to the transferred judge. This means that the executive could transfer a judge, but only after consulting the Chief Justice of India. From time to time, there have been proposals that one-third of the composition of every High Court should have judges from other States.

What is the Supreme Court’s view on the issue?

In Union of India vs. Sankalchand Himatlal Sheth (1977), the Supreme Court rejected the idea that High Court judges can be transferred only with their consent. It reasoned that the transfer of power can be exercised only in public interest; secondly, the President is under an obligation to consult the Chief Justice of India, which meant that all relevant facts must be placed before the Chief Justice of India; and thirdly, that the Chief Justice of India had the right and duty to elicit and ascertain further facts from the judge concerned or others.

In S.P. Gupta vs. President of India (1981), also known as the ‘Judges’ Transfer Case’ and, later, the First Judges Case, the Supreme Court once again had an opportunity to consider the issue. Among other issues, it had to consider the validity of the transfer of two Chief Justices as well as a circular from the Law Minister proposing that additional judges in all High Courts may be asked for their consent to be appointed as permanent judges in any other High Court, and to name three preferences. The Minister’s reasoning was that such transfers would promote national integration and help avoid parochial tendencies bred by caste, kinship and other local links and affiliations.

The majority ruled that consultation with the Chief Justice did not mean ‘concurrence’ with respect to appointments. In effect, it emphasised the primacy of the executive in the matter of appointments and transfers. However, this position was overruled in the ‘Second Judges Case’ (1993). The opinion of the Chief Justice of India, formed after taking into the account the views of senior-most judges, was to have primacy. Since then, appointments are being made by the Collegium.

What is the current procedure for transfers?

As one of the points made by the ‘Second Judges Case’ was that the opinion of the Chief Justice of India ought to mean the views of a plurality of judges, the concept of a ‘Collegium of Judges’ came into being. In the collegium era, the proposal for transferring a High Court judge, including a Chief Justice, should be initiated by the Chief Justice of India, “whose opinion in this regard is determinative”. The consent of the judge is not required. “All transfers are to be made in public interest, i.e., for promoting better administration of justice throughout the country.” For transferring a judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of India should take the views of the Chief Justice of the court concerned, as well as the Chief Justice of the court to which the transfer is taking place. The Chief Justice of India should also take into account the views of one or more Supreme Court judges who are in a position to offer their views in the process of deciding whether a proposed transfer should take place.

“In the case of transfer of a Chief Justice, only the views of one or more knowledgeable Supreme Court judges need to be taken into account.” The views should all be expressed in writing, and they should be considered by the Chief Justice of India and four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, which means, the full Collegium of five. The recommendation is sent to the Union Law Minister who should submit the relevant papers to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister then advises the President on approving the transfer.

What makes transfers controversial?

Transfer orders become controversial when the Bar or sections of the public feel that there is a punitive element behind the decision to move a judge from one High Court to another. As a matter of practice, the Supreme Court and the government do not disclose the reason for a transfer. For, if the reason is because of some adverse opinion on a judge’s functioning, disclosure would impinge on the judge’s performance and independence in the court to which he is transferred. On the other hand, the absence of a reason sometimes gives rise to speculation whether it was effected because of complaints against the judge, or if it was a sort of punishment for certain judgments that inconvenienced the executive.

Why is India’s coal usage under scrutiny?

How does this fossil fuel impact the environment? Why is India dependent on it?

The News Editorial Analysis 22nd November 2021

The story so far: On the final day of the UN Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow, India’s Minister for Environment Bhupender Yadav read out a statement promising to “phase down” rather than “phase out” the use of coal. This caused many to raise questions about India’s commitment to tackling climate change. Earlier, during the COP26 (Conference of Parties) summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had committed to turning India carbon neutral by 2070.

Why must dependence on coal be reduced?

Since carbon emissions are considered the main culprit in global warming, countries have been committing themselves to turning carbon neutral by various dates. One key way to achieve carbon neutrality, wherein countries compensate for their carbon emissions by capturing an equal amount of carbon from the atmosphere, is to reduce dependence on coal. Coal is the most polluting among fossil fuels, and hence, its use in particular has come under scrutiny.

Why is it difficult?

Coal is used to meet over 70% of India’s electricity needs. Most of this coal comes from domestic mines. In FY 2020-21, India produced 716 million tonnes of coal, compared with 431 million tonnes a decade ago. Since FY 2018-19, domestic production has stagnated and has been unable to meet the rising domestic demand, leading to a rise in imports. Most of the country’s coal production is limited to Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh with a total production of over 550 million tonnes, contributing to over 75% of the country’s total coal production. The Prime Minister promised to increase non-fossil fuel energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030, meet 50% energy needs from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes in a decade. According to an estimate by the Centre for Science and Environment, the promise to reduce emissions by 1 billion tonnes means that India would need to reduce its carbon output by 22% by 2030. India now meets about 12% of its electricity needs from renewable sources, and increasing it to 50% by 2030 will be difficult. While some renewable energy sources like solar are cheap, they are unreliable because of the intermittency problem. They thus require the use of storage batteries, which adds to the cost. It should be noted that many low-income countries with low savings may not even possess the capital required to invest in renewable energy. Further, the damage that coal causes to commonly owned resources like the environment is not factored into its cost.

Is it fair to ask India to phase out coal?

India has fought attempts by developed countries to impose a cap on its emissions. It has argued that adopting stringent steps to reduce carbon emissions can drag down growth and affect efforts to reduce poverty. It should also be noted that per capita carbon emissions of countries such as India and China are still lower than those of many developed countries. According to World Bank data of 2018, India produces 1.8 metric tonnes of carbon emissions per capita against 15.2 metric tonnes produced by the U.S. Experts believe India’s commitment to phase down coal and become carbon neutral may actually be a rather generous commitment than what developed countries have committed themselves to. Critics have also pointed out that the focus on ending the use of coal deflects attention from other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas that are heavily used by developed countries. They also say developed countries have not made good on their promise made at COP15 in Copenhagen to offer $100 billion every year to developing countries to achieve net zero emissions.

What lies ahead?

It is highly unlikely that developing countries like India and China will reduce their coal consumption or even stop it from rising further. Coal, after all, is the cheapest and most reliable way to meet their rising energy needs. Some leaders have proposed a carbon tax as an alternative to ensure that the price of coal reflects the cost of the damage it causes to the environment. This may turn out to be a more effective approach towards reining in carbon emissions. Coal on average is priced at $2, while experts believe that it should be priced in the range of $30 to $70 to reflect its true cost. But such high carbon taxes can cause a drastic fall in coal output and severely affect living standards unless alternative sources of energy step in to fill the gap. India also faces its own set of structural problems in the power sector that will make the transition towards clean energy harder.

Keeping a close eye on China’s nuclear capabilities

A Pentagon report highlights a transformation in both the quantity and the quality of its arsenal, which India must note

The only real substantive outcome of last week’s virtual summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping has been some unconfirmed reports of the two sides, the United States and China, agreeing to hold strategic nuclear talks sometime in the near future. This development comes against the backdrop of the China Military Power Report (CMPR) recently released by the Pentagon that categorically underscores the growing challenge posed by the increasing capabilities of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its ambitions across various dimensions of military power. The PRC’s nuclear capabilities, in particular, are undergoing a fundamental transformation and a shift seems to be evident in both the quantity and the quality of the PRC’s atomic arsenal. Even before the release of the CMPR, there was significant concern globally about the trajectory of China’s strategic capabilities. Confirmation provided by the CMPR reveals four specific areas where change is underway — quantitative strength, atomic yield, delivery capabilities and posture.

First is the size of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal, which is set to increase. Hitherto, the PRC’s nuclear arsenal has hovered at roughly 200 nuclear warheads, half of which directed at the United States (U.S.). By 2027, the CMPR estimates that this number is likely to increase to 700 weapons consisting of varying yields which is three and half times the current Chinese warhead strength.

Low-yield weapons, concerns

Second, the PRC is likely to privilege expansion in the direction of low-yield weapons. Low-yield weapons have been an area of interest and development for the PRC. They are weapons meant for battlefield use during conventional military operations and against conventional targets such as concentrations of armoured, artillery and infantry forces. Lower yield warheads help the PRC avoid causing collateral damage. Prior to the release of the CMPR, evidence that the PRC was testing low-yield devices has periodically surfaced in years past.

In April 2020, the U.S. State Department’s Findings on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments drew attention to the PRC’s deliberate opacity in the use of explosive containment chambers and excavations at its Lop Nur nuclear facility to test low yield weapons and Beijing’s refusal to grant permission to access data from its International Monitoring System (IMS) stations to the Data Centre under the operational authority of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). Actions of this kind have evoked strategic concern and increasingly confirm that China’s atomic arsenal consists of a large number of low-yield weapons ideal for battlefield use.

Third, these low-yield nuclear warheads are also likely to find their way into a key delivery capability — the PRC’s Dong-Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile. This missile has already undergone deployment at Korla in the Xinjiang region in Western China. It is an Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) which is launched from a Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL). Indeed, the DF-26 has featured in extensive training exercises west of Jilantai in inner Mongolia. In addition to the DF-26, China has also developed the JL-2 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) with a range of 7,200 kilometres capable of striking targets across continental Asia.

A key shift

Finally, China’s move towards a Launch on Warning (LoW) nuclear posture marks an important shift in the PRC’s commitment to ensuring that no adversary doubts its response in the event of a nuclear first strike. A higher alert posture not only risks reducing the threshold for nuclear use in the form of preemption but it could also sow the seeds of miscalculation and unintended nuclear use.

Delhi needs to be cautious

The PRC’s nuclear competition with the United States will have a cascading effect. For India there are some serious implications with China’s increasingly minatory nuclear military capabilities. First, the size of China’s nuclear arsenal complicates the potency of India’s nuclear arsenal and it is especially true in the face of the PRC’s pursuit of missile defences in the form of the HQ-19 interceptors, which are specifically designed and developed to execute mid-course interception of medium-range ballistic missiles. A significantly larger Chinese nuclear arsenal paired to missile defences will limit damage to the PRC and more menacingly threatens the survivability of the Indian nuclear arsenal.

Reinforcing this is Beijing’s pursuit of a Launch on Warning (LoW) posture. Such a posture reduces the decision time for any Indian retaliatory nuclear strike in the heat of a war or crisis and places pressure on India to pursue its own LoW. Despite Beijing’s pursuit of No First Use (NFU), which is reversible, the PRC could also significantly degrade an Indian retaliatory strike if China chooses to resort to First Use (FU) of nuclear weapons, and even worse outrightly decapitate India’s nuclear forces. Indian strategic planners will have to think about the quantitative nuclear balance and India’s nuclear posture vis-à-vis the PRC.

Additions, surveys by China

Finally, India must pay close attention to the sub-surface leg of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese have added two new Type 094 (Jin class) SSBNs/nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines to their existing fleet. The maritime dimension of China’s nuclear capabilities might not be an immediate strategic challenge but will potentially become one in the coming years for New Delhi. The Chinese Navy has carried out bathymetric and ocean mapping surveys in the Indian Ocean crucial to the execution of sub-surface military operations. The Bay of Bengal whose sea depth is very conducive for nuclear submarine missions will leave India exposed to a Chinese atomic pincer from the maritime domain in addition to the continental domain. New Delhi will have to specifically watch the pattern in the People Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) nuclear submarine deployments and address the deficit in its subsurface nuclear delivery capabilities.

Harsh V. Pant is Professor of International Relations at King’s College London and Director of Research at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. Kartik Bommakanti is a Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

Making Ayurveda a real science

The only way to do this is to present evidence before the scientific community that Ayurveda works

Ayurveda has gained popularity in recent years, but a lot is still to be done to ensure that it stands the scrutiny of science. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major challenge for science in general and hence, ‘How did Ayurveda deal with the pandemic?’ becomes a pertinent question to ask. In the following paragraphs I share my views as a teacher of Ayurveda with 20 years of experience.

Rampant misinformation

During the pandemic, we encouraged self-medication among the public by advocating preparations like decoctions. Thus, the message that unscrupulous, excessive and prolonged use of any medicine could be harmful was lost. We did not educate the public on the identification of the correct herbs, though we encouraged their consumption. For example, Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) and Dalchini (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) are two plants where correct identification matters. Sometimes, Tinospora crispa and Cassia cinnamon are mistakenly identified as Giloy and Dalichini, which could be harmful.

Almost every Ayurveda physician came up with his/her own formulations as a purported cure for COVID-19. Many lab reports suggesting clinical improvements with Ayurveda interventions were shared on different social media platforms. However, most of them could not make it to peer-reviewed journals. Thousands of COVID-19 cases treated by Ayurveda physicians could have provided good data that could have been further analysed. Even though the Ministry of Ayush came up with an online case registry, our fraternity could not make any meaningful use of it.

Many clinical trials for testing Ayurveda interventions came up for COVID-19 and a few even got published. To show the efficacy of a new intervention in a condition where spontaneous recovery is more than 95%, one needs a large sample size and a robust study design. In most of these trials, the Ayurveda interventions were either in addition to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) protocols or, when used as independent interventions, they were administered in mild to moderate cases only. Even governmental agencies widely publicised a few patent and proprietary formulations that were tested insufficiently, and drew flak from the scientific community for doing so.

Scientifically speaking, ‘immune boosting’ is a vague and potentially misleading term. During the pandemic, every other Ayurveda pharmacy came up with its own patent and proprietary formulation that supposedly boosted immunity. The common public was made to believe that Ayush interventions were safe, of preventive value, and effective in treating the disease. But most of these claims lacked credible evidence.

In my view, the Ayurveda sector should not have succumbed to the pressure to show that Ayurveda works in the treatment of COVID-19. Instead, the sector could have been visualised as a potential workforce. People could have been roped in for managing various tasks such as telephonic triaging, teleconsultations and counselling, monitoring home-quarantined patients, and coordinating referral services. Though some Ayush hospitals were converted into COVID-19 care centres, most of these facilities managed only mild to moderate cases. This is where a collaboration was required, between Ayush and conventional healthcare professionals. The protocols of ICMR and Ayush were disconnected and this is one of the reasons why there was no coordination. Moreover, this workforce could have been used to address the needs of non-COVID-19 patients who suffered the most because of various restrictions.

Questions to be asked

A group of scientists and physicians has recently started a social media campaign calling all Ayush systems ‘pseudoscience’. These activists conduct chemical analysis of many Ayush formulations and demonstrate that many of these products contain high doses of unwarranted constituents such as antibiotics, corticosteroids and heavy metals. They also share publicly the scanned images of the unscientific and outdated content in the textbooks of Ayush graduate programmes. They also publish and share various clinical case reports where adverse events are reported after exposure to Ayush interventions. These activities are crucial and need the support from at least those who believe in rational Ayurveda. This would make Ayush academicians and policymakers introspect seriously about the current system. Academia, at present, has made Ayurveda a pseudoscience by teaching the young students that whatever is written in ancient texts is the ultimate truth and cannot be challenged. This non-falsifiability renders the system unscientific.

The only way to make Ayurveda a real science is to present evidence before the scientific community showing that it works. Absence of uniform protocols either for diagnosis or for interventions make Ayurveda too subjective and diverse. An objective evaluation of complex Ayurveda practices is very difficult in the standard accepted format of ‘double blind randomised controlled trials’. The practical alternative is to go for longitudinal observational studies. Initially, around 20 different clinical conditions involving different organ systems can be identified, which practitioners are confident of treating. A large sample size with a long-term follow-up in a multi-centric design would go a long way in establishing the usefulness of Ayurveda. Most of the knowledge we now have about ischemic heart disease comes from a single longitudinal study going on since 1948, which demonstrates the value of observational studies.

Need for regulation

Formally, we never teach our graduates patent and proprietary formulations. However, as these graduates set up their clinical practice, they start prescribing these formulations. Most of these products are not backed by reliable trials or even pre-clinical and toxicity data. The number of pharmacies that manufacture classical formulations has reduced to a bare minimum over the years, which shows how commercialisation has taken over the sector. This aspect needs to be regulated to ensure that such products go through robust pre-marketing studies. Even classical formulations that contain toxic substances such as heavy metals need to be regulated.

Further, maintaining only a manageable number of colleges is essential to ensure that all students get good clinical exposure. The indiscriminate growth of new Ayush colleges is another matter of concern.

Kishor Patwardhan works at the Department of Kriya Sharir, Faculty of Ayurveda, Banaras Hindu University, and is Coordinator, Ayurveda Network

Reliable data, good policy

The onus is on the government to ensure that there is a robust system of public data production and use

When evidence-based policymaking becomes the cornerstone of good governance, it is difficult to overstate the importance of reliable and timely public data. Such data have a direct bearing on the state’s capability to design and implement programmes effectively. Among the emerging economies, India is credited to have a relatively robust public data system generated through its decennial Census and yearly sample surveys on specific themes. The coverage and reporting of Census data have vastly improved since independence. Though errors continue to be higher than in high-income countries, Census data are recognised for their reliability. Nevertheless, certain disquieting trends are visible on this front.


One, despite having adopted latest data processing technologies, there has been a growing delay, sometimes by years, in the release of the collected data. This renders such data less useful for policy intervention. The delay also implies less public scrutiny and hence undermines accountability. In an extreme case, the government refrained from releasing the data collected through the Socio-Economic and Caste Census.

The second is the issue of comparability. In recent years, the government introduced changes to the estimation of GDP that made comparisons over time impossible. Adjustments to computation and survey methods are always welcome when they are meant to improve accuracy. In this instance, the arguments for revision and the revisions undertaken do not improve the quality of estimates. Therefore, the revisions, some claim, are driven more by political considerations than by the need to improve accuracy.

Third, there has been a slippage in the conduct of sample surveys. The statistical bureau has been revising the sample surveys almost every year. One crucial sample survey is the quinquennial ‘Monthly Household Consumer Expenditure’ (MHCE). The MHCE provides the data base to compute the weightage assigned for commodities in the calculation of Inflation Index, the poverty line and poverty ratio, nutritional standards of people based on their consumption of various food items, and consumption expenditure in the national accounts system. The government also uses the poverty estimates to decide on the State-wise allocation of foodgrains to be sold at subsidised prices through the Public Distribution System. Hence, the MHCE is an important policy instrument despite the fact that the data provided through the MHCE surveys have been widely debated. Such debates have, however, led to refinement of the methods of data collection and made the data more robust.

The Government of India (GoI) in November 2019 announced that the MHCE data collected in 2017-18 could not be released due to ‘data quality issues’. Though it did not elaborate on what the issues were, it went on to announce that the sample surveys for consumption expenditure will be conducted in 2020-21 and 2021-22. At present, we do not have information on whether the GoI has conducted these sample surveys. The GoI has further postponed the decennial census in 2021 to 2022 on the grounds that COVID-19 has had a serious impact on migration and livelihood options of the people. It is therefore important that the Census be conducted at the earliest and the results be made available to draw samples for the sample surveys in subsequent years.


If digital data collection tools are to be used as announced earlier, several challenges need to be addressed. As mentioned earlier, we have lost a precious data base and more than five years have lapsed since then. This affects the framing of policies relating to food and nutrition security, among others. Given the significance of education and health in sustaining development, and the adverse impacts that the pandemic is likely to have had on these dimensions, such lapses are disconcerting. Moreover, the robust estimation of individual items in the national accounts system also awaits the Census and the subsequent sample survey results. Unless these surveys are completed and the results announced, we will be left with a doctor prescribing medicines without diagnosis.

In the absence of timely and reliable public data, users are increasingly relying on data provided through large-scale surveys conducted by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). However, users have raised questions about the design and data collection framework of the CMIE’s high-frequency household survey. As they take recourse to other metrics for analysis, the onus is on the government to ensure that the data generation possibilities opened up by new technologies are embedded in a robust system of public data production and use.

  1. Srinivasan is Member, State Planning Commission, Government of Tamil Nādu; M. Vijayabaskar is with the Madras Institute of Development Studies and is also Member, State Planning Commission

Pratham gets Indira Gandhi Peace Prize

Pratham, a civil society organisation dedicated to improving the quality of education among underprivileged children in India and across the world, has been selected for the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for 2021.

The international jury of the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, chaired by the former Chief Justice of India, Justice T.S. Thakur, announced the award of the prize to the organisation.

“The 2021 Prize is awarded to Pratham for its pioneering work over more than a quarter century in seeking to ensure that every child has access to quality education, for its innovative use of digital technology to deliver education, for its programmes to provide skills to young adults, for its regular evaluation of the quality of education, and for its timely response in enabling children to learn during the COVID-19 related school closures,” said the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust in a statement.

Mumbai slums

Set up in 1995 in Mumbai by Dr. Madhav Chavan and Ms. Farida Lambay, Pratham started work in Mumbai slums, setting up community based “Balwadis” or pre-schools and offering remedial education for students lagging behind their grade level curriculum.

“Its Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), based on surveying 6,00,000 rural Indian children, is now used as a model to assess education outcomes and learning deficiencies in 14 countries over three continents,” said the Trust.

In basic education, Pratham develops low-cost and replicable innovations, working with the Government and community to improve learning outcomes. Its programmes now cover children and young adults in 21 States.

Five MPs likely to move dissent notes to Data Bill panel report

Controversial clause allows Centre to exempt various agencies from the law

At least five of the 30 members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill are expected to move dissent notes to the panel’s report on the legislation. Sources said that at least three of these were directed at the controversial clause that allowed the Union Government to exempt any agency under its purview from the law.

According to informed sources, Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari and Gaurav Gogoi; Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien; and Biju Janata Dal MP Amar Patnaik will move the dissent notes. Sources said that more members could join this list. The panel is meeting on Monday to adopt the long-pending report. The panel has been studying the Bill since 2019.

Clause 35, in the name of “sovereignty”, “friendly relations with foreign states”’ and “security of the state”, allows any agency under the Union Government exemption from all or any provisions of the law.

Pegasus case

This clause assumes importance against the backdrop of recent revelations in the Pegasus spyware case, where both private and public citizens were allegedly snooped upon by the Government.

The panel reached a middle path on the clause by agreeing that the Government had to record in writing the reasons to give exemption to any agency. Demands that this clause be suitably amended so as to include the provision to seek approval from Parliament for seeking such exemptions were not accepted.

Mr. Ramesh was one of the members who argued that the Government should table the recorded reasons in Parliament for providing exemption to any Government agency to bring in greater transparency and accountability.

‘Privileged class’

In his dissent note against Clause 35, Mr. Ramesh said the design of the Bill assumes that the Constitutional right to privacy arises only where operations and activities of private companies are concerned. “Governments and government agencies are treated as a separate privileged class whose operations and activities are always in the public interest and individual privacy considerations are secondary,” he wrote.

He added that the idea that the August 2017 Puttaswamy (privacy) judgment of the Supreme Court is relevant only for “a very, very, very tiny section of the Indian population” is in his view “deeply flawed and troubling”.

Life expectancy lower for urban poor, says study

It drops by 9.1 years in men and 6.2 years in women; report highlights disproportionate disease burden

Life expectancy among the poorest is lower by 9.1 years among men and 6.2 years among women from the corresponding figures for the richest in urban areas, noted a report released recently by Azim Premji University in collaboration with 17 regional NGOs across India.

The report, “Healthcare equity in urban India”, explores health vulnerabilities and inequalities in cities in India. It also looks at the availability, accessibility and cost of healthcare facilities, and possibilities in future-proofing services in the next decade. It notes that a third of India’s population lives in urban areas, with this segment seeing a rapid growth from about 18% (1960) to 28.53% (2001) and 34% (in 2019). Close to 30% of people living in urban areas are poor.

The study also draws insights from data collected through interactions with civil society organisations in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Surat, Lucknow, Guwahati, Ranchi and Delhi. This also included an analysis of the National Family and Health Surveys, the Census, and inputs from State-level officials on the provision of healthcare.

The report, besides finding disproportionate disease burden on the poor, also points to a chaotic urban health governance, where the multiplicity of healthcare providers both within and outside the Government without coordination are challenges to urban health governance. The other key findings include a heavy financial burden on the poor, and less investment in healthcare by urban local bodies.

Steps to be taken

The report calls for strengthening community participation and governance; building a comprehensive and dynamic database on the health and nutrition status, including comorbidities of the diverse, vulnerable populations; strengthening healthcare provisioning through the National Urban Health Mission, especially for primary healthcare services; and putting in place policy measures to reduce the financial burden of the poor. It also advocates for a better mechanism for coordinated public healthcare services and better governed private healthcare institutions. “As urbanisation is happening rapidly, the number of the urban poor is only expected to increase. A well-functioning, better coordinated and governed healthcare system is crucial at this point,” the report says.

What went wrong with the Paytm IPO

Paytm’s IPO disappointment is testament to the fact that the law of averages finally catches up with you.

Paytm’s IPO disappointment is testament to the fact that the law of averages finally catches up with you. Without a doubt, Paytm has been one of the success stories of the previous decade that was marked by an unprecedented rate of digitisation of people’s lives. Paytm was at the right place at the right time to gain from this, scale up and diversify its business. Venture capitalists and private equity funds saw potential in the group’s future, they came in droves—helped by easy liquidity available globally then—to fund the company and took its valuations to newer heights.

While there were always questions raised on valuations these start-ups command, they rarely come under scrutiny as long as only VC and PE funds money is involved. But once you offer equities to the public, you open yourself up to all kinds of scrutiny—regulatory as well as investor. Every number and every performance metric is analysed threadbare. All possible future scenarios—competition, outlook and cash flow—are looked into. The more noise you make, the more you come under the radar. The same happened to Paytm. Analysts and investors do not see eye to eye with Paytm on the valuation of its IPO. The issue price of Rs 2,150 turned out to be a big spoiler for the fintech company that expected a mega subscription. At a time when ‘rightly’ priced IPO issues were getting subscribed 200-300 times followed by listings at 50-100% premium, Paytm IPO failed on both counts. While it got a tepid 1.8 times subscription, the share got pummelled on its debut on the exchanges as it closed day one with an around 27% fall.

Even though investors have realigned their expectations from new businesses and do not expect immediate profitability, they sure look for business models that promise positive cash flow in future. It looks like investors do not see much of this from Paytm, at least in the medium term. And as its share price has already fallen to Rs 1,560 from the issue price, it will be interesting to see in the next couple of sessions what ‘fair’ value markets decide for Paytm.

EPFO allows faster decisions on investment opportunities

‘Significant decision would yield higher rate of return’

The Central Board of Trustees (CBT) of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) on Saturday approved a proposal to speed up decisions on investment opportunities, according to EPFO officials.

The CBT, at a meeting chaired by Labour and Employment Minister Bhupender Yadav, “decided to empower the Finance Investment and Audit Committee (FIAC) to decide upon the investment options, on case-to-case basis, for investment in all such asset classes which are included in the Pattern of Investment as notified by Government of India”, the Ministry said.

Labour and Employment Secretary Sunil Barthwal told The Hindu that empowering the FIAC with greater powers would mean “faster decision-making so that good investment opportunities are not missed due to want of a CBT meeting”.

A CBT member, K.E. Raghunathan, said the significant decision would “yield a higher rate of return”.

“The FIAC considered various risk factors and mitigation of such risks to recommend this as a good investment opportunity should not be lost if there is adequate risk cover and good yield,” he said.

Role of sub-committees

The CBT approved the Minister’s suggestion to form four sub-committees on establishment-related matters, implementation of the Social Security Code, digital capacity-building and pension-related issues.

What are the ramifications of the Biden-Xi summit?

Which are the key areas of disagreement between the U.S. and China? How will they manage tensions?

The story so far: U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held a virtual summit earlier this week touching upon a range of policy concerns in the bilateral space. The meeting was long overdue given the lack of in-person contact between the two leaders, as Mr. Xi has not travelled outside China since early 2020, the time when Mr. Biden entered the Oval Office, owing to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, tensions have soared between Washington and Beijing across issues of global and regional interest, including trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea, and technology, including 5G. At a meeting of senior officials from the two countries in March 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska, a heated exchange followed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s comment that without the rules-based international order there would be a “much more violent world” and that Chinese activities in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan threaten that order and were, therefore, not internal matters. As a key meeting following that encounter, the latest summit exchange saw the two Presidents articulate their views on each of these subjects; yet there was no breakthrough announcement. This suggests that the task ahead for both nations would be to manage conflicts so that they do not spill over and affect the global economy.

What are the core areas of tension now?

Trade and tariffs are at the top of the agenda of policy matters causing bilateral friction. After the globally damaging trade war with China through 2019 and 2020, a dispute that was exacerbated by former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on a vast swathe of Chinese exports — including solar panels, washing machines, steel and aluminium, and numerous food products — a temporary reprieve came with the Phase One Trade Agreement. Under it, China was mandated to buy $380 billion worth of American goods by the end of 2021, yet has failed to do so, according to analysts, owing to a shortfall in orders from Beijing for Boeing aircraft following the slowdown in commercial aviation during the pandemic. However, unlike the escalating tensions between Beijing and the Trump administration, this time a compromise may yet be hammered out, as U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai recently hinted that the exemptions for certain goods from trade tariffs may be permitted.

A second key area of tension is the question of Taiwan’s independence, a topic that was likely writ large in the discussions between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi this week. The U.S. post-summit readouts suggests that Washington is holding firm to its long-standing policy on this complex subject, that it acknowledges but does not recognise Beijing’s claim to Taiwan under the One China policy. In contrast, the Chinese delegation has indicated that Mr. Xi said, “It is playing with fire, and if you play with fire, you will get burned” — a comment that signals that China will likely respond aggressively to any moves by Western powers seen as strengthening Taiwanese independence, including direct arms sales to Taipei and visits by Western lawmakers to the island territory.

A third major bilateral subject that has proved to be contentious is technology. On the one hand, since the administration of Mr. Trump, the White House used the trade war with China to bluntly accuse Beijing of “unfair trade practices for technology and intellectual property”, and U.S. policymakers relied on a matrix of export restrictions to target China’s semiconductor supply chain in a bid to safeguard critical infrastructure in the telecommunications sector. On the other, the arrest and subsequent release of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Chinese telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics giant Huawei, after China counter-arrested two Canadian nationals, demonstrated the extent of suspicion that Western nations have of 5G technology rolled out by China. Such suspicion, overlaid with the string of indictments served to Chinese nationals in the U.S. on allegations of industrial espionage, hint at the deep chasm between the U.S. and Chinese governments on the broad question of technology and surveillance.

What led the two Presidents to engage in a dialogue?

Although the 2021 U.S.-China virtual summit meeting yielded no breakthrough announcement, Beijing wasted little time in claiming a diplomatic victory, with Chinese state media proclaiming, “Biden reiterates he doesn’t support Taiwan independence.” For Mr. Biden, whose job approval rating has slumped to 36%, according to the Quinnipiac University national poll, a win with China would have gone some way towards uplifting his prospects. But no quick victory has come out of the latest dialogue.


The News Editorial Analysis 20th November 2021

Shikara Acadmy 

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get in touch
close slider