1. GAPS IN LEARNING-
GS 2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their implementation
In a year of severe disruption for schools caused by the COVID19 pandemic, students in rural areas have received only marginal assistance in the form of structured learning materials from teachers, and have had to rely more on parents and siblings to study at home.
Future At Stake
(i) This unsettling finding by the Annual Status of Education Report 2020 should prompt the Centre and the State governments to plan remedial measures for the future, when it will be safe again for students to return to the classroom.
(ii) In the interim, they must work with schools to make remote learning possible.
(iii) The ASER 2020 survey covering 26 States and four Union Territories has come up with striking findings, including one of a shift in enrolments from private schools to government institutions, of about five percentage points over 2018, ranging from class one to higher secondary levels.
(iv) Also, with the suspension(delay) of physical classes since the lockdown in March, there is a marked rise in students not being enrolled, either because they dropped out, or because it was not possible to get admitted.
(v) It must also concern governments that the digital divide stands out starkly(sharply) once again: the survey found 43.6% of students in government schools without access to a smartphone, while 67.3% of those who received learning materials in these institutions got them over WhatsApp, underscoring the role played by gadgets and connectivity.
(vi) On the other hand, only half the children got help with studies at home, a third got materials from teachers, and nearly 60% used textbooks.
(i) The ASER survey provides data that could facilitate intervention by the education system in some respects, even if, going forward, schools opt for a hybrid solution of partial reopening and online learning.
(ii) Expanding availability of textbooks to all, including those who dropped out or are waiting to be formally admitted, will help parents and siblings aid learning.
(iii) Bridging the divide on educational aids, now including smartphones, will enable transmission of learning materials, and personal tutorial sessions.
(iv) Beyond these basics, however, the education system could creatively use opportunities during the current year to broaden learning.
(v) Students could use the safety of the open countryside to learn, under guidance from teachers, a host of topics by doing things themselves.
(vi) This is particularly feasible for lower classes, where observational learning creates a strong foundation.
(vii) Educational video, which has helped thousands, can advance learning even beyond the pandemic, using talented teachercommunicators. States such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala have already hosted curriculumbased video lessons on the Internet, after beaming them on television.
(viii) It will take outofthe-box thinking during the pandemic to come up with interventions that are a substitute for traditional methods and prevent 2020 becoming a zero year, as parents everywhere remain wary of sending children to school.
2. THE INDIA¬U.S. DEFENCE PARTNERSHIP IS DEEPENING-
GS 3- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
(i) The India United States defence partnership received a major boost earlier this week with the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper for the third round of the 2+2 Dialogue with their Indian counterparts, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
(ii) The joint statement spells out the highlights but the optics are what define the visit.
(iii) At a time when most ministerial engagements and even summits are taking place virtually, the significance of two senior U.S. officials travelling to Delhi a week before the U.S.goes to the polls conveys an unambiguous(clear) political message — the defence partnership has come of age.
A Long Road
(i) The 1991 Kicklighter proposals (Lt. Gen. Claude Kick-lighter was the Army commander at the U.S. Pacific Command) suggested establishing contacts between the three Services to promote exchanges and explore areas of cooperation.
(ii) An Agreed Minute on Defence Cooperation was concluded in 1995 instituting a dialogue at the Defence Secretary level together with the setting up of a Technology Group.
(iii) The end of the Cold War had helped create this opening but the overhang of the nuclear issue continued to cast a shadow on the talks.
(iv) There was little appreciation of each other’s threat perceptions and the differences came to a head when India undertook a series of nuclear tests in 1998.
(v) The U.S. responded angrily by imposing a whole slew of economic sanctions and leading the international condemnation(strong disapproval) campaign.
(vi) An intensive engagement followed with 18 rounds of talks between the then External Affairs Minister, the late Jaswant Singh, and then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott spanning two years that helped bring about a shift in perceptions.
(vii) Sanctions were gradually lifted and in 2005, a 10year Framework for Defence Relationship established, followed by a Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation in 2013.
(viii) The Frame work agreement was renewed in 2015 for another decade. The Framework laid out an institutional mechanism for areas of cooperation including joint exercises, intelligence exchanges, joint training for multinational operations including disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, technology transfer and a sharing of non-proliferation best practices.
(ix) Initial movement was slow; it gathered momentum(speed) once the nuclear hurdle was overcome in 2008 with the IndiaU.S. civil nuclear deal.
(x) There were other factors at play too. Equally important was the progressive opening up of the Indian economy that was registering an impressive annual growth rate of over 7%. Bilateral trade in goods and services was $20 billion in 2000 and exceeded $140 billion in 2018.
(xi) The four millionstrong Indian diaspora in the U.S. has come of political age and its impact can be seen in the bipartisan composition of the India Caucus (in the House) and the Senate Friends of India group.
(xii) From less than $400 million of defence acquisitions till 2005, the U.S. has since signed defence contracts of $18 billion.
A Bipartisan Consensus
(i) A bipartisan consensus supporting the steady growth in IndiaU.S. ties in both New Delhi and Washington has been a critical supporting factor.
(ii) The first baby steps in the form of the Kicklighter proposals came in 1991 from the Bush administration (Republican) when P.V. Narasimha Rao led a Congress coalition.
(iii) Following the nuclear tests, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Bharatiya Janata Party) welcomed President Bill Clinton (Democrat) to Delhi.
(iv) The visit, taking place after 22 years — the previous one being U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s visit in 1978 — marked a shift from “estranged(alienated) democracies” to “natural allies”.
(v) A Congress coalition led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh carried the process forward with a Republican Bush administration.
(vi) Heavy political lifting was needed to conclude the historic nuclear deal in 2008, removing the biggest legacy obstacle.
(vii) The signing, last week, of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) providing for the sharing of geospatial data is the last of the foundational agreements.
(viii) The first, General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), relating to security of each other’s military information was signed in 2002.
(ix) The Congressled United Progressive Alliance government signed the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) in 2009 but then dragged its feet on the others on the grounds that it would jeopardise India’s strategic autonomy.
(x) However, it was apparent that as military exercises with the U.S. expanded, both in scale and complexity, and U.S. military platforms were inducted, not signing these agreements was perceived as an obstacle to strengthening cooperation.
(xi) Nearly 60 countries have signed BECA.
(xii) In 2016, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) relating to exchange of logistics support had been concluded, followed by Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 permitting encryption standards of communication systems.
(xiii) More than a 100 countries have signed these agreements with the U.S. Equivalent agreements on logistics and mutual security of military communication have also been signed with France but without political fuss.
A Breaking Away From ‘Labels’
(i) The U.S. is used to dealing with allies (invariably junior partners in a U.S.dominated alliance structure) and adversaries(conflicts).
(ii) India falls into neither category. Therefore, engaging as equal partners has been a learning experience for both India and the U.S.
(iii) Recognising this, the U.S. categorised India as “a Major Defence Partner” in 2016, a position unique to India that was formalised in the National Defense Authorisation Act (2017) authorising the Secretaries of State and Defence to take necessary measures.
(iv) It has helped that India also joined the export control regimes (Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Arrangement) and has practices consistent with the Nuclear Suppliers Group where its membership was blocked by China spuriously linking it to Pakistan.
(v) In 2018, India was placed in Category I of the Strategic Trade Authorisation, easing exports of sensitive technologies.
(vi) In every relationship, there is a push factor and a pull factor; an alignment of the two is called the convergence of interests.
(vii) Alongside the ministerial meeting in Tokyo earlier this month, India was invited for the first time to also attend the Five Eyes (a signals intelligence grouping set up in 1941 consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S.) meeting.
(viii) The policy debate in India is often caught up in ‘labels’.
(ix) When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described nonalignment as the guiding principle of Indian foreign policy, it was designed to expand India’s diplomatic space.
(x) Yet, in 1971, when the Cold War directly impinged on India’s national security, a nonaligned India balanced the threat by signing the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation between the Government of India and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
(xi) However, during the 1970s and 1980s, it was often hijacked by the Nonaligned Movement tying up policy in ideological knots.
(xii) Such became the hold of the label that even after the Cold War, India defined strategic autonomy as Nonalignment 2.0!
(xiii) The Indian strategic community needs to appreciate that policies cannot become prisoners of labels.
(xiv) Ultimately, the policy objective has to enhance India’s strategic space and capability.
(xv) That is the real symbolism of the inperson meeting in Delhi.
3. LESS POLLUTION, MORE SOIL FERTILITY-
GS 3- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
(i) Stubble burning refers to the practice of farmers setting fire to plant debris that remain in farms after harvest.
(ii) Before the 1980s, farmers used to till the remaining debris back into the soil after harvesting the crops manually.
(iii) The origin of stubble burning can be traced to the advent of the Green Revolution and mechanized harvesting, which utilised the combined harvesting technique.
(i) Stubble burning is practised predominantly by farmers in north India.
(ii) It releases harmful gases including nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.
(iii) In recent years, this practice has created vast smoke blankets across the Indo Gangetic Plain and numerous neighbouring States, including Delhi.
(iv) This directly exposes millions of people to air pollution.
(v) As per a TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) report, in 2019 the air pollution in New Delhi and other parts of north India was 20 times higher than the safe threshold level as prescribed by the World Health Organization.
(vi) Stubble burning also has a deleterious impact on soil fertility, destroys organic fertilizers and reduces ground water levels.
(vii) Stubble burning during a pandemic could worsen the situation by making lungs weaker and people more susceptible to disease.
(viii) It could also impact those recovering from infection.
(i) A revolution in timely stubble removal is the need of the hour.
(ii) The action plan of Punjab and Haryana appears to focus more on setting up Custom Hiring Centres which will facilitate farmers removing stubble by providing them with machinery such as the happy seeder, rotavator, paddy straw chopper, etc. on rent along with the supply of more balers.
(iii) As per a study by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, the application of happy seeders and super SMS machines can improve agricultural productivity by 10% to 15% while reducing labour costs and allowing the soil to become more fertile.
(iv) This year, the Union government is testing an innovative method, the PUSA Decomposer, developed at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa.
(v) The PUSA Decomposer is a set of four tablets made by extracting fungi strains that help the paddy straw to decompose at a much faster rate than usual, giving farmers the option to shred the straw, spray a solution containing the fungal strains, and mix it with the soil for decomposition.
If methods such as this become successful, it will be a new revolution in farming. This has the potential to both reduce air pollution and increase soil fertility.