Kurukshetra IAS Academy Blogs

1.In SC, Centre defends appointment of new ECs

Union government refutes allegations that it had rushed to fill vacancies with ‘favoured’ persons Says the appointment was a ‘necessity’ arising from constitutional duty to conduct poll on time Says the plea challenging exclusion of CJI from EC selection committee was ‘fundamentally fallacious’

The appointment of Election Commissioners Sukhbir Singh Sandhu and Gyanesh Kumar, criticised as hasty and opaque, was a necessity arising from a constitutional duty to conduct the elections on time, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The Centre was rebuffing allegations that it had taken advantage of the two vacancies in the Election Commission to fill the posts with appointees favourable to the present regime. The case will come up for hearing on Friday.

A petition by the Association for Democratic Reforms had argued that the new law, the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners Act, 2023, aided the government by giving it a dominant role in the appointment process.

The statute had countermanded a previous SC judgment, by replacing the Chief Justice of India with a Cabinet Minister as a member of the Selection Committee. The Centre said this argument suffered from a “fundamental fallacy” that the presence of a judge would guarantee the independence of the EC.

“The independence of the Election Commission, or any other organisation or authority, does not arise from and is not attributable to the presence of a judicial member in the selection committee. Likewise, the presence of senior government functionaries on the selection committee cannot in and of itself be a ground to automatically assume bias on behalf of the committee,” the government argued.

Stop-gap arrangement

The government said that the inclusion of the Chief Justice as a member of the selection panel was just a stop-gap arrangement, meant to last only till Parliament made a law on EC appointments.

It said that the accusations made against the recent appointments to the EC were plain “malicious”, pointing out that the two vacancies had to be filled in order to announce the schedule for the Lok Sabha election within time. The Commissioners were appointed on March 14, and took charge on March 15; the election schedule was then announced on March 16. The Centre said that it would not have been “humanly possible” for Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar to solely steer the “world’s biggest electoral exercise”, with voting scheduled to begin on April 19.

‘To stir controversy’

Noting that there were no allegations against Mr. Sandhu or Mr. Kumar, the government claimed that attempts were on to stir a political controversy based on pernicious statements about certain vague and unspecified motives behind the appointments.

The sharply-worded affidavit also countered statements made by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the single largest party in the Opposition, and a member of the high-level selection committee. The Congress leader had claimed that he was kept in the dark about the details of candidates under consideration for the two EC positions. The Centre said that the profiles of the eligible persons were shared with him on March 13, and explained that the deliberations of the committee were of a collaborative nature, with discussions taking place during the actual meeting itself.

The government said that the 2023 law had introduced a far more democratic, collaborative and inclusive appointment process than what had existed for the previous 73 years. “From 1950 to 2023, the appointment of Election Commissioners was wholly an Executive action,” it reminded the court.

2.Eliminating diseases, one region at a time

The Carter Center, a leader in the global elimination and eradication of diseases, recently reported that guinea worm disease was close to eradication. From 3.5 million cases a year in 21 countries in 1986, the number had come down to 13 in five countries in 2023, a reduction of 99.99%. This would be the second disease after smallpox to be eradicated and the first one with no known medicines or vaccines. This has created increased attention to disease elimination, the first step in eradication. Ending the epidemics of malaria, tuberculosis and Neglected Tropical Diseases by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

On disease elimination, its focus

Elimination of transmission, which targets achieving zero transmission in a defined region, is different from eradication, which is the permanent cessation of infection by a pathogen with no risk of reintroduction. It is a highly desirable objective to enhance the health of the people, especially the poor who are most vulnerable to infectious diseases. There are many reasons to recommend disease elimination as a public health strategy. As a national goal it energises the public health system.

The requirements for certification by international agencies are rigorous and preparing for it improves primary health care, diagnostics and surveillance. It will lead to increased involvement of field staff and community health workers, enthused by the clearly defined goal, and attract international support. Above all, it generates high political and bureaucratic commitment, and public support. These efforts positively impact the health system.

But, elimination of transmission is challenging and resource intensive. It imposes an onerous load on the system and could lead to the neglect of other important health functions, especially for weak health systems. Therefore, disease elimination should be planned only after careful analysis of the costs and benefits and with informed political support to generate the best outcomes with the least adverse impact.

While elimination is scientifically feasible for all the diseases targeted by India, it will be strategic to focus on those pathogens whose impact on the population is high and whose numbers are low enough to make elimination feasible. If the prevalence of a disease in a population is high, at the first stage, the aim should be to reduce their numbers to the level where elimination is practical, through disease control. This will enable an understanding of the processes and cost of elimination and provide an opportunity to strengthen the existing health systems to handle the rigour of implementing elimination.

Need for surveillance systems

The government must be prepared to invest in developing surveillance systems capable of capturing every incidence of the disease, strengthening laboratories for screening and confirmation, ensuring that medicines and consumables are available, and training the workforce on the rigorous requirements of an elimination strategy. Even after elimination is achieved, surveillance has to be continued to detect reintroduction as the pathogen would not have been eradicated.

From this point of view, elimination of many of the diseases targeted by the country may be difficult to achieve for the entire nation within the declared time frame. But they are achievable for some diseases in some parts of the country. For instance, kala azar is now limited to five States in India, primarily prevalent in a few blocks in two States.

India accounts for 40% of the global case load of lymphatic filariasis, which was targeted for elimination by the World Health Assembly in a resolution in 1997. It is prevalent only in a few States and can be eliminated by a combination of surveillance, vector control, drug administration and morbidity management.

On the other hand, pathogens of some targeted diseases have long incubation periods. They are prevalent in high numbers in many parts of the country, and have developed drug resistance. For them, the strategy of elimination needs to be reworked into a localised and phased one. The diseases that can be eliminated easily in defined geographical regions — States, districts, blocks — can be targeted for elimination within those regions.

After regional certification, such areas can be ring-fenced with better control in the adjoining areas which can then move to elimination, when they are assessed to be ready.

From the regional level

Multisectoral collaboration, encouraging innovation and adopting locally effective solutions which facilitate disease elimination, is done more effectively at the regional level. Smaller units can also redeploy resources to better manage the additional load without affecting other essential tasks. While elimination can proceed region wise, national and State governments should own the process. The phasing of regional elimination to culminate at the national level has to be planned from the perspective of the entire country. Regional implementation needs technical and material support and the progress of regional elimination has to be monitored. Similarly, only the Union government can deal with the spread of diseases across States and at the ports of entry, to control reintroduction. In India, national elimination can be achieved most effectively, by starting with elimination and scaling it up, region by region, across the country.

3.Top 1% Indians’ income share is higher now than under British-rule

Post-liberalisation, the income share of the top 10% skyrocketed, with that of middle 40% and bottom 50% steadily falling

In 2022, 22.6% of the national income went to the top 1% of Indians. Cut to 1951, their share in the income was only 11.5% and even lower in the 1980s — just before India opened-up its economy — at 6%.

The share of the top 10% of Indians too had increased — from 36.7% of national income in 1951 to 57.7% in 2022.

On the other hand, the bottom 50% of Indians earned only 15% of the national income in 2022, compared with 20.6% in 1951. The middle 40% of Indians also recorded a sharp fall in their share of income from 42.8% to 27.3% in the period.

The gap between the rich and the poor has widened rapidly in the last two decades.

In 2022, the share of national income that went to the wealthiest 1% of Indians recorded a historic peak, higher than the levels seen in developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. These are some of the conclusions of the recently released ‘Income and Wealth Inequality in India’ report published by the World Inequality Lab.

Chart 1 shows the income group-wise share in national income, and the adult population in each bracket as of 2022-23. Close to one crore adults were in the top 1%, ten crore in the top 10%, 36 crore in the middle 40% and 46 crore were there in the bottom 50% of the income pyramid.

Notably, about 10,000 richest Indians — the top 0.001% of the income pyramid — earned 2.1% of the national income. The top 0.01% and top 0.1% earned 4.3% and 9.6% of the national income respectively.

While income disparity has always existed in India, like in other economies, it was only in recent years, that the gap widened at a reckless pace (Chart 2).

To start with, in the 1950s and 60s, the income-gap between the top 10% and the middle 40%, was negligible, across most years.

In the 1980s, even the bottom 50%’s share in national income increased marginally, to bridge the gap.

But post-liberalisation, in the 1990s, the income share of the top 10% skyrocketed, with the other two group’s share recording a steady fall. The curves continued on the same path in the 2000s and by the start of the 2010s, they settled and have hardly moved thereafter.

As for the top 1% of the population, their share in the national income in 2022 was higher than that of the richest 1% during colonial rule.

The top 1% earned an average of ₹53 lakh per year, 23 times more than the average Indian who earned ₹2.3 lakh, in 2022-23. The average income of the bottom 50% and the middle 40% stood at ₹71,000 and ₹1.65 lakh, respectively, in the same period.

Chart 3 shows the richest 1% of Indians’ share in the national income. Just before independence, in the 1930s, the top 1%’s share of national income crossed the 20% mark. But after independence, with the princely States getting merged with Independent India, the share of the top 1% steadily declined, reaching close to the 6% mark in the 1980s.

However, post-liberalisation, their income share surged again and is presently hovering around the 22.5% mark, much higher than their share under British-rule.

Data shows that, while India’s income levels are not growing as fast as other comparable economies, their top 1%’s share in national income is higher than even advanced countries. In 2022-23, the income shares of India’s top 1% were above the levels recorded in the U.S., China, France, the U.K. and Brazil (Chart 4). Whereas, China and Vietnam’s average incomes grew at a much faster pace than India’s (Chart 5).

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