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5.6.21.Editorials

🛑India’s push in the right direction in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to clean energy, urban development and health has helped it improve its overall SDG score from 60 in 2019 to 66 in 2021, according to NITI Aayog’s SDG India Index 2020-21. Besides SDGs on eradication of poverty and hunger, measures related to the availability of affordable, clean energy in particular, showed improvements across several States and Union Territories. The campaign to improve the access of households to electricity and clean cooking fuel has been shown to be an important factor. While this is cause for cheer, the Index reveals that there has been a major decline in the areas of industry, innovation and infrastructure besides decent work and economic growth, again made worse by the lockdowns imposed by the governments seeking to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. But the stark differences between the southern and western States on the one hand and the north-central and eastern States on the other in their performance on the SDGs, point to persisting socio-economic and governance disparities. These, if left unaddressed, will exacerbate federal challenges and outcomes, as seen in the public health challenges during the second wave across some of the worse-off States.

Notwithstanding the improvement in key indicators, the Index has curiously made some methodological changes that render comparisons on some SDGs over previous years moot. The SDG on inequality shows an improvement over 2019, but the indicators used to measure the score have changed. The 2020-21 Index drops several economic indicators and gives greater weightage to social equality indicators such as representation of women and people from marginalised communities in legislatures and local governance institutions, and crimes against SC/ST communities. By dropping the well-recognised Gini coefficient measure and the growth rate for household expenditure per capita among 40% of rural and urban populations (instead, only the percentage of population in the lowest two wealth quintiles is used), the SDG score on inequality seems to have missed out on capturing the impact of the pandemic on wealth inequality. This could be a significant miss as a UN assessment of the impact of COVID-19 had said that the South Asian region may see rising inequality. Methodological issues on measuring other SDGs have been flagged before, but the lack of adequate measurement of economic inequality seems to be a glaring miss. Like in the first wave, the second wave, with more fatalities, has had similar outcomes on livelihoods and jobs. While the better score for India in its endeavour to achieve SDGs will bring some cheer, governments must work on addressing pressing issues such as increased inequality and economic despair.

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1.Eradication (N)-the process of getting rid of something completely. उन्मूलन

2.Decent (Adj)-acceptable, satisfactory, or reasonable. सन्तोषजनक, उचित

3.Disparities (N)-a lack of equality or similarity, especially in a way that is not fair. असमानताओं

4.Exacerbate (V)-aggravate, complicate, worsen, exaggerate. worse-off बढ़ाना

5.Worse-Off (Adj)-poorer or in a more difficult situation.

6.Fatalities (N)-an occurrence of death by accident, in war, or from disease.

7.Endeavour (N)-an attempt to achieve a goal. प्रयास

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🛑The Centre’s ‘liberalised’ policy of allowing vaccine companies to strike deals with States and private hospitals has borne limited fruit. While the age group of 18-44 years accounts for the bulk of vaccines being administered, attempts by States to negotiate deals with international vaccine companies have come to naught. In spite of opening vaccination for all adults, there were fewer doses administered in May — around six crore — as opposed to 7.7 crore doses administered in April. The Health Ministry has said that close to 8 crore doses were available in May (counting wastage and stocks with States) and that 12 crore will be available in June for the Centre, States and private hospitals. Over 22 crore doses have been administered so far. There is large variability within and among States regarding vaccination. It is in this context that State Chief Ministers, cutting across party divisions, are now demanding that the Centre be the sole buyer of vaccines. The Supreme Court too has expressed its dissatisfaction over the existing system that puts States in competition with each other and the Centre, almost like another competitor, for vaccine supplies. The Centre has tried to project that it was the clamour from States that forced it to abstain from being the sole purchaser of vaccines, but it was the Centre’s miscalculation that there would not be frantic public demand this calendar year and that the output from the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech would be sufficient for India.

International arrangements such as COVAX were premised on India being a large supplier to Africa and several countries around the world with no vaccine development facilities. Now that the Government has prevented the Serum Institute of India from honouring its supply commitments, it is unclear if international suppliers would trust India’s demand for large supply. The unpredictability in policy also weakens India’s ambit of negotiations now that it seems desperate to increase short-term vaccine supply. Moreover, given that vaccines are the most sought-after goods, it is unlikely India would be prioritised so late in the day. There is optimism of increased and significant supply from Bharat Biotech and SII by August. At this stage, it appears that the Centre has few options other than waiting for its domestic suppliers to hike production. Increased supply from abroad is unlikely in the near future, even if resources for procurement are not a constraint. It must however heed the States’ core demand that they be given a greater say in deciding how best to distribute the vaccine. The Centre can be a monitor of and an adviser to the process; and if it becomes the sole buyer, it can spell out a transparent distribution policy. But it ought to prioritise speedy administration over optics.

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1.Borne Fruit (Phrase)-to have a successful result.

2.Come To Naught (Idiom)-to be unsuccessful.

3.Clamour (N)-an urgent request for something by a lot of people. जोरदार माँग करना

4.Frantic (Adj)-marked by uncontrolled excitement or emotion.

5.Premised On (Idiom)-based on a particular idea or belief.

6.Desperate (Adj)-(of a person) having a great need or desire for something. आशाहीन, निराशाजनक

7.Sought-After (Adj)-much in demand; generally desired.

8.Procurement (N)-the process of buying supplies or equipment for a government department or company. उपलब्ध कराना

9.Constraint (N)-a limitation or restriction. अवरोध

10.Spell Out (Phrasal Verb)-to explain something in a very clear way with details.

🛑The United States announced and then immediately suspended a whopping 25% tariff rate on over $2 billion of imports from six countries including India, signalling Washington’s intent to act punitively on its long-held grouse with these nations for their digital services taxes primarily impacting Silicon Valley tech giants. The office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai said that the tariff proposed on goods from Austria, India, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K. was approved following a “Section 301” investigation that found these digital taxes to be discriminatory. With the threat of tariffs hanging over these six economies when most of them are limping through a feeble post-COVID-19 recovery, the USTR appeared to project a softening of the blow by adding that the tariffs would be suspended pending ongoing tax negotiations to “provide time for those negotiations to continue to make progress while maintaining the option of imposing tariffs under Section 301 if warranted in the future”. The backstory is that the investigation was initiated by the Trump administration in June 2020, and the deadline for approving tariff action based on the investigation would have lapsed this week. The latest policy action comes a few months after the Biden administration similarly approved, then suspended, tariffs on France retaliating for its tax impacting firms such as Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

One thing is clear: if the Biden administration did not subscribe to the notion that taxes on digital services by the titans of Silicon Valley, a significant portion of whose revenues are generated on foreign soil, were discriminatory, it could have distanced itself from the Trump-era investigation into this allegation without any serious political fallout. The fact that Mr. Biden has chosen to use the stick of tariffs to force the pace of negotiations on digital services tax with seven nations suggests that the current White House subscribes strongly to the idea of expanding the global playing field for American tech firms to dominate without fear of being slapped with tax liabilities. In the case of India, that was a mere 2% digital service tax on trade and services by non-resident e-commerce operators with a turnover of over ₹2 crore. Even more, Washington appears to be unafraid to throw serious political heft behind this venture even to the point of risking another tariff war outbreak, compounding the tensions generated by tax skirmishes between the Trump White House and Beijing on this count. The cost for India could be potentially high, as $118 million worth of its exports will fall under this proposed tariff, and a range of sectors could be impacted. At this point in the fragile, post-COVID-19 recovery, the world can hardly afford another tariff war, and that too one waged to protect a sector that has enjoyed low-tax or tax-free operations across the world for decades.

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1.Whopping (Adj)-very large.

2.Grouse (N)-a persistent complaint. असंतोष, शिकवा

3.Hanging Over (Phrasal Verb)-to make someone feel sad or upset.

4.Feeble (Adj)-lacking strength or vigor. कमजोर

5.Fallout (N)-the adverse results of a situation or action.

6.Tariffs (N)-a tax or duty to be paid on a particular class of imports or exports.

7.Slapped With (Phrasal Verb)-to punish (someone) with (a fine, lawsuit, etc.).

8.Outbreak (N)-a sudden occurrence of something unwelcome, such as war or disease.

9.Skirmishes (N)-an argument or a disagreement, especially a political one.

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