Daily Editorial Analysis for 21st March 2020

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Covid-19 nudges India to have Relook at SAARC

Paper: II

For Prelims:  About BIMSTEC:

For Mains: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Context of News:

  • Rising threat of Covid-19 has once again forced India to give another look at SAARC organisation.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled a change in India’s rejection of SAARC as a platform for regional cooperation by inviting all heads of state and government of SAARC countries to a video summit to promote a region-wide response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

SAARC In last Few Years:

  • SAARC has been in a virtual deep freeze since India conveyed it would not attend the 19th SAARC summit, to be hosted by Pakistan in 2017, in the wake of the cross-border terrorist incidents at Pathankot and Uri. Other SAARC leaders also declined to attend.
  • Since, 2017 India has downgraded SAARC as an instrument of its “Neighbourhood First” policy and shifted the focus to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) instead.


  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organization comprising seven Member States: five deriving from South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and two from Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Thailand.
  • This sub-regional organization came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.

Reasons for Shift from BIMSTEC to SAARC:

  • India had long felt that the vast potential of SAARC was being under utilised and opportunities were being lost due to either lack of response or because of obstructionist approach from Pakistan.
  • Trade agreement like SAFTA (SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement) that came into force in 2006 and is currently not fully operational.
  • SAARC Motor vehicle agreement also failed to reach its final conclusion, as Pakistan opted out of it and India had to look for BBIN (Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal) agreement in 2015.
  • Withdrawal of Pakistan from SAARC satellite compelled India to rename it as South Asia Satellite.
  • Asymmetrical power balance: Intraregional trade is just 5%.Mistrust and suspicion among the members not only hinders bilateral growth and development but also made SAARC as dysfunctional grouping.
  • Pakistan continuous involvement in proxy wars , recent to this was URI and Pathankot than Pulwama attack. Despite several warnings from various key players ,Pakistan didn’t change her attitude . This force the India with Neighbourhood to explore new avenues for integration, where BIMSTEC looks comes in to existence.

Why Neighbourhood is Important for India:

  • India is a geographic hub in South Asia, bordering almost all countries in the region. If other South Asian countries adopt “neighborhood first” policy like India, the move would reinforce India’s central position in South Asia.
  • Majority of South Asian countries were British colonies. Some independent countries which have never been colonies were once to some extent dominated by the UK in terms of diplomacy. This makes India a sence of connection with all these neighbouring countries.
  • India shares many similarities with other South Asian countries with regard to culture, language, religion and customs. India believes that it is not only the geographic and political hub, but also a cultural centre in the region. Except for Islam, other religious cultures originated in India.
  • For the foreseeable future, India is not in a position to single-handedly check rising Chinese power and influence. Therefore, it should seek to be part of a coalition of major powers which share its concerns about China. Government must continue to strengthen relations with the neighbours in order to reduce, if not stop threat of China.

Way Forward:

  • Despite the frustration in dealing with Pakistan, India should not give up on its western neighbour. Relations with Islamabad will remain adversarial for the foreseeable future but still need to be managed with two ends in mind.
  1. One, to ensure that tensions do not escalate into open hostilities.
  2. Two, to reduce leverage which third countries may exercise over both countries on the pretext of reducing tensions between them.
  • This does not in any way compromise our firm stand against cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Revival of SAARC could be an added constraint on Pakistan’s recourse to terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
  • Revival of SAARC would also support the Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul in navigating through a difficult and complex peace process involving a Pakistan-sponsored Taliban.
  • In determining its position towards SAARC, India must also take into account the significant inroads that China has been making in its sub-continental neighbourhood. With the exception of Bhutan, every South Asian country has signed on to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). With SAARC becoming inoperative and BIMSTEC not living up to its promise, China is likely to become a key economic partner for South Asia and India’s hitherto pre-eminent role will be further eroded. On this count, too, it is advisable for India to advance regional cooperation both under SAARC as well as BIMSTEC. Both are necessary.

Need of stronger private sector to deal with challenges like covid-19

Paper: II

For Mains: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Context of News:

  • The coronavirus outbreak has become a global concern. Globally, around 88,000 cases have been detected, most of which are in China. The death toll is more than 3000 according to the World Health Organisation. The central government in China has taken efforts towards combating the virus.
  • With this virus becoming epidemic at least in China, concerns have been raised out once again about the amicable public spending on health care by India.

Learn from Past:

  • The collaboration between science and the state during past crises led to dramatic acceleration of technological capabilities. During the Second World War, science and the state got together to move nuclear physics from the lab to the battle field. The Cold War between America and Russia promoted the development of space technology, microelectronics, communications and computing.
  • What marks out the current technological race between the US and China is the role of private and non-governmental entities. That might well be the missing link in India’s effort to beat the coronavirus. The current crisis, however, is also an opportunity for Delhi to build on the existing domestic technological capabilities in the areas of artificial intelligence, big data analytics, life sciences, health technology in the private sector.
  • In India, the state has dominated the development of science and its organisation. That was of great value in the early decades after Independence. Today, what Delhi needs is a stronger private sector in science and greater synergy with it in dealing with challenges like the corona crisis.

Challenges for Healthcare System in India:

  • Expensive Private Medical Education: 
  • Increasingly high cost of medical education in the private sector is forcing many students in India to look for cheaper destinations abroad.
  • Countries such as China, Russia, Ukraine, Philippines and Nepal have become popular destinations for aspiring doctors as the cost can be less than half of what private institutes charge in India.
  • Expensive medical studies are responsible for dearth of doctors in India as after acquiring studies from abroad they do not prefer to practice their profession in India because of the necessity to clear the exam conducted by the Medical Council of India.
  • Overburdened Doctors: 
  • Owing to disproportionate Doctor Patient ratio, limited number of doctors, nurses and medical staff have to cater to a large number of patients.
  • Ailing Public health sector: 
  • Meager healthcare budget, overcrowding, long waiting time and the need for multiple visits for investigations and consultations frustrate patients on a daily basis.
  • Paucity of Resources: 
  • Doctors work in extreme conditions ranging from overcrowded out-patient departments, inadequate staff, medicines and infrastructure.
  • Unaffordable Treatments: More than 17% of Indian population spends at least 10% of household budgets for health services.
  • Catastrophic healthcare related expenditure pushes families into debt, more than 24% households in rural India and 18% of the population in urban areas have met their healthcare expenses through some sort of borrowings.
  • Ineffective Implementation of Laws:
  • Inspite of having the laws that envisage imprisonment besides recovery of compensation from perpetrators for loss or damage to Medical professionals and property, states are lacking in its effective implementation.
  • For example West Bengal has also enacted a law for protection of doctors but due to its poor implementation it has failed to curb the ongoing doctor-patient crisis.

How to Reduce Further Losses of Life Post Coronavirus Outbreak:

  • The coronavirus outbreak has made it clear that when instant reaction is required, public hospitals hold the key; Medical reform is a charged issue in most countries. The policy recommendations in favour of marketisation of healthcare normally emphasise three major points:
  1. First, bend the curve of the health share in GDP.
  2. Second, foster competition to provide more efficient healthcare.
  3. Third, mobilise resources from private entities which will ensure the win-win outcome of reducing government intervention as well as relieving its financial burden.

Way Forward:

  • Testing is crucial:
  • Examples of China and South Korea have shown that countries give themselves a fighting chance when they take steps that assume they’re worse off than they appear to be.
  • Testing is central because that leads to early detection, it minimizes further spread, and it quickly treats those found with the virus. Testing is the key behind our very low fatality rate as well. Uncontrolled circulation could lead to cases doubling every two days.
  • Free healthcare helps:
  • A major factor in success or failure in the fight against an epidemic is the degree to which the public responds to the crisis. People must see an incentive to raise their hands to help the government, including by declaring their own illness.
  • Analysts have note that in South Korea and China, where healthcare is heavily subsidised or paid for by the state, people have come forward to test and be treated. Testing is free in India, too.
  • Inequality hits everyone:
  • Several studies have shown that in an epidemic, the risk of infection and death is greater for everyone in societies that have greater wealth and income inequality. The reason: while the poor are more vulnerable, epidemics do not respect the physical and social barriers between a society’s haves and have-nots, and therefore, everyone faces higher risks of infection. This is one of the several reasons that health experts are watching India closely.
  • The cost of a pandemic can be very large. The response should be large enough to reduce the effects of the pandemic once it emerges. Low-cost actions such as promoting good hygiene practices are a good place to start, but other actions such as quarantine and other interventions as advocated by epidemiologists, although disruptive, are probably cost effective.

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