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Vajpayee Ji was a man who had a singular quality of someone who enjoyed existence, the marvel called human nature, the warmth of human relationships, in their fullness without regard to strategic considerations. He achieved lightness of being, of a person not weighed down by malice or resentment, by antipathies or animosity, or a desire to control. He achieved bipartisan acclaim, generated immense personal affection, elicited trust because he exuded an air of true fakiri. He always gave the impression he was in it for the enjoyment, not the success.
· He served as the Prime Minister of India, first for a term of 13 days in 1996, for a period of eleven months from 1998 to 1999, and then for a full term from 1999 to 2004.
· Mr. Vajpayee was elected 10 times to the Lok Sabha from four different States, the first time in 1957 from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh, and was twice member of the Rajya Sabha.
Raising India’s GDP
· He took India to the new heights by introducing economic reforms. Under his tenure from 1998 to 2004, India maintained a GDP rate of eight per cent, the inflation level came down to four per cent and foreign exchange reserves were flourishing.
· Although India faced catastrophic events during his tenure, including earthquake (2001), two cyclones (1999 and 2000), a horrible drought (2002-2003), oil crises (2003), the Kargil conflict (1999), and a Parliament attack, yet he maintained a stable economy.
Foreign and Security Policy
· Nuclear tests in May 1998, a peace-making bus ride to Lahore in February 1999, the Kargil war a couple of months later, a transformative visit to China in June 2003 and a peace deal with Pervez Musharraf in January 2004.
· With Pakistan, Mr. Vajpayee made two roller-coaster efforts at peace – one with Nawaz Sharif and the second with Pervez Musharraf. He also responded to infiltration in Kargil and ordered a massive mobilisation of Indian troops after the 2001 attack on Parliament House before agreeing to a peace deal with General Musharraf in Islamabad.
· The most ambitious road projects in India were launched by him, including the Golden Quadrilateral and the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna.
· The Golden Quadrilateral made transportation easy, connecting metropolitan cities — Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai — through a network of highways.
· Pradhan mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna connected distant villages across the country with a network of all-weather roads.
Some Gems from Vajpayee
· Vajpayee will be remembered for his tolerance, humour, and large-heartedness. He will also be evoked for balancing two ideas of India — the Nehruvian liberal and a Hindu nationalist.
- As the World Trade Organization (WTO) comes under mounting attack from the Trump-led US administration, there is a clamour in India to negotiate regional trade agreements with peer countries
- It is perceived that this will boost exports and insulate India’s trade from the uncertainties of the global trading system
Are multilateral agreements really beneficial for India?
- An analysis of trade agreements suggests that India has often failed to gain from such agreements
- This could explain why Indian policymakers have become cautious about pursuing new trade agreements in recent years
History of trade agreements
- The rise of regional trade agreements (RTAs) globally coincided with the end of the Uruguay round of WTO talks in the mid-1990s
- Their growth has often been explained as a result of slow progress in multilateral negotiations
- RTAs include both preferential trade agreements and free trade agreements (FTAs)
Criticism of RTAs
- RTAs face criticism for being detrimental to the spirit of multilateral free trade
- This is because countries that are not part of a regional agreement find themselves at a disadvantage
- This is especially true in an era of rising protectionism and uncertainty
Solution: Trade blocs
- It is possible to address such issues to some extent by creating mega-trading blocs
- One such bloc being negotiated is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), consisting of China, India, Japan, south-east Asian nations, Australia and New Zealand
Scope for India
- There might be scope for India to increase its trade with the Asia-Pacific region, given that its level of integration with the region is relatively low
- But India has remained ambivalent about the RCEP, with officials expressing concern that it might actually harm India
The reason behind India’s concerns
- India’s existing agreements with South Korea, Japan and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are often deemed to have benefited the partner countries at India’s expense
- India has not been able to sufficiently leverage these agreements to increase its presence in the markets of its partners
- The import-export ratio with these countries deteriorated in the years following the implementation of the trade agreements
- Even as partner countries have benefited, Indian exports to these regions have remained lacklustre
The actual reason for fewer gains from RTAs
- India’s inability to gain market share in these regions may be partly explained by its lack of competitiveness in exports
- India has various structural bottlenecks hurting its exports
- The focus needs to be on where India can promote its exports
- India needs to be careful in weighing each trade deal on its own merit
NHPM and its challenges
- National Health Protection Mission -It is a Centrally Sponsored program called Ayushman Bharat -National Health Protection Mission (AB-NHPM)
- It is anchored in the MoHFW.
- The scheme has the benefit cover of Rs. 5 lakh per family per year. The target beneficiaries of the proposed scheme will be more than 10 crore families belonging to poor and vulnerable population.
- AB-NHPM will subsume the on-going centrally sponsored schemes -RashtriyaSwasthyaBimaYojana (RSBY) and the Senior Citizen Health Insurance Scheme (SCHIS).
- Government has recognized the linkages between health care and economic development.
- But the political parties have not yet made the right to health a campaign issue, and the National Health Policy does not recommend such a right since it cannot be fulfilled.
- But there is increasing awareness that it is unsustainable for a country of 1.3 billion people to rely on household savings to pay for health care.
Features and Challenges
- Treatment cost through a transparent consultative process is vital for a smooth and steady rollout.
- A large-scale Information Technology network for cashless treatment should be set up and validated.
- Since a majority of the families will be rural, and the secondary and tertiary public hospital infrastructure suffers from severe efficiency and accountability problems.
- State governments should upgrade the administrative systems.
- The population size, disease burdens and the development levels of different regions.
- Clearly, the NHPM has a problem with the distribution of hospitals, the capacity of human resources, and the finances available for cost-sharing.
- The immediate challenge is addressing these through the planned increase in public health spending to touch 2.5% of GDP, and 8% of State budgets.
- With steady economic growth, meeting that policy commitment through higher investments will be a test of political will.
- Its opportunity as well as a challenge to tap into a large labor pool for the new jobs that will be created, and to raise skill levels.
- Reducing the cost of universal health coverage is imperative, and it requires parallel investments in the neglected public sector.
- There are limitations to private insurance which can only be a short-term option.
- Less ethical institutions have been found ordering unnecessary treatments to claim insurance compensation.
- A body to deal with complaints from NHPM users should be a priority.
- The Centre should extend the scheme to all children and senior citizens, and cover outpatient consultation
- Essential drugs to sharply reduce out-of-pocket spending.
- While the RSBY may have received a positive stroke from the Centre.
- The tussle between the Centre and the states is yet to begin.
- The government has told the Supreme Court that the creamy layer concept could not be applied to the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes, who have suffered for centuries.
- Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal argued that SC/ST are a homogeneous group and any action to regroup them based on economic or social advancement would not be apt.
- Venugopal said rigorous modalities were prescribed for inclusion of communities in the list of SCs/STs. For inclusion of communities in the list of the SCs, one of the important determinants is the traditional practice of untouchability.
- The government wants a larger Bench of the Supreme Court to set aside its 2006 judgment in the Nagaraj case.
- This verdict mandates that the government cannot introduce quota in promotion for SC/ST persons in public employment unless they prove that the particular Dalit community is backward, is inadequately represented and such a reservation in promotion would not affect the overall efficiency of public administration.
- The opinion of the government should be based on quantifiable data, too.
- The government has argued that the judgment was a roadblock to its authority to introduce quota in promotions in favour of SC/ST communities as per Article 16 (4A) of the Constitution.
- It is not disputed that the members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are specified in the notifications issued under Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution and, therefore, they must be deemed to be scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
- There is an intense investigation before the notification under Articles 341 and 342 is issued. The inquiry identifies the people who have suffered for centuries and hence, by applying the ‘creamy layer’ concept, they should not be deprived of the benefits which accrue to them.
- Nagaraj verdict destroyed the very essence of Article 16 (4A) by imposing on the State the need to bring to the table quantifiable data to justify its decision to promote SC/ST officers in public employment.
- The Environment Ministry has allowed scientists to test the suitability of land in Maharashtra’s Hingoli district to host the India wing of the ambitious Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project.
- This is a key step to establishing the one-of-its-kind astronomical observatory.
- The project involves constructing a network of L-shaped arms, each four kilometres long, which can detect even the faintest ripples from cosmic explosions millions of light years away.
- The discovery of gravitational waves earned three U.S. scientists the Nobel for physics in 2017.
- The scientists were closely involved with LIGO. Hosting such a detector in India will improve the odds of detecting more such phenomena.
- The construction of such a large, sensitive device — there are only three of its kind in the world — requires an extremely flat surface.
- The LIGO-India consortium, made up of physicists from several institutes, had submitted a proposal to prospect 121 hectares of forest land in Dudhala village, Hingoli.
- Typically, mining companies prospect a region by sinking boreholes to get a sense of the geology of the site and ascertain availability of required minerals and metals.
- In the case of the LIGO project, it is to check if the land can be made perfectly level at a reasonable cost.
- The consortium is yet to formally declare the Dudhala site as the host of the interferometers.
- The prospecting permission, according to the minutes of the forest clearance committee meeting of the Union Environment Ministry, was only for sinking boreholes in 0.375 hectares and separate permission would be needed at a later stage for constructing the observatory.
Network of detectors
- The LIGO project operates three gravitational-wave (GW) detectors. Two are at Hanford in the State of Washington, north-western USA, and one is at Livingston in Louisiana, south-eastern USA.
- Currently these observatories are being upgraded to their advanced configurations.
- The proposed LIGO-India project aims to move one Advanced LIGO detector from Hanford to India.
- The LIGO-India project is an international collaboration between the LIGO Laboratory and three lead institutions in the LIGO-India consortium: Institute of Plasma Research, Gandhinagar; IUCAA, Pune; and Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore.
- The LIGO lab would provide the complete design and all the key detector components.
- Indian scientists would provide the infrastructure to install the detector and it would be operated jointly by LIGO-India and the LIGO Lab.
- The project, piloted by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Department of Science and Technology (DST), reportedly costs Rs.1,200 crore and is expected to be ready by 2025.
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