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Mains Current Affairs UPSC CSE Oct Week 5

 

Current Affairs UPSC CSE

Mains Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Oct Week 5

GS II

The perils of post-370 diplomacy

 

  • In the weeks following the government’s decision to amend Article 370 and divide Jammu and Kashmir into two separate Union Territories, the government sent out a number of diplomatic missions worldwide to try and contain the international fallout of the move.
  • External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar travelled to China, Europe and the United States where he addressed a record “7 think tanks in 7 days” and met a number of officials and lawmakers during an extended stay.
  • National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan went to the West Asian countries: the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders to explain his move. On a visit to Switzerland, even President Ramnath Kovind found that the “situation in Kashmir” had been put on the agenda by his hosts.
  • Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary V. Gokhale marshalled diplomats at all Indian missions worldwide and cancelled a planned Heads of Missions meet in India to ensure that each embassy was able to fully disseminate the talking points sent out by South Block.

 

Varied results

  • The concerted efforts by the government met with mixed results. The UN Security Council held a “closed meeting” on the issue at China’s request — the first time Kashmir was formally on the agenda in 50 years — but to India’s relief, the meeting resulted in no public statement.
  • The European Parliament too met and debated the situation in Kashmir, which it had last referred to more than a decade ago, but did not push for a resolution.
  • After a visit to Srinagar, 23 right-wing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) appeared to endorse India’s actions, but German Chancellor Merkel’s characterisation of the situation of Kashmiris being “unsustainable”, during her Delhi trip on Friday will be more worrying for the government.
  • At the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan was unable to secure the numbers to bring a resolution to the table.
  • At the UN General Assembly in September, only three countries other than Pakistan, referred to the post-370 fallout in J&K: China, Malaysia and Turkey.
  • A scathing statement by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) contact group (Turkey, Azerbaijan, Niger, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) on the government’s actions in Kashmir has been blunted by the Prime Minister’s visit to Riyadh. In the U.S., Mr. Modi scored a big public relations win when he spoke of the 370-move at a Houston stadium with Mr. Trump in the audience.
  • But New Delhi still faces the risk of a U.S. Congress resolution after the subcommittee on Human Rights in South Asia hearing last month, and critical language on Kashmir detentions and the lockdown introduced into the Senate Appropriations bill.
  • Beyond its need to control the international messaging over Kashmir with more tactical diplomacy, however, it is necessary for the government to carefully consider the larger impact on Indian foreign policy that has resulted from its actions leading up to, and subsequent to the amendment of Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5.
  • Three tenets of that policy, in particular, appear to have been violated.
  • To begin with, the issue of Kashmir has been “internationalised” in a manner not seen in decades, at least since the early 1990s when violence in the State was at a peak. In 1994, when India had last come close to a resolution against it at the UN Human Rights Council, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had sent a high powered delegation with then-Opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, J&K leader Farooq Abdullah and Congress leader Salman Khurshid to Geneva.
  • Not only was the delegation successful in ensuring that Pakistan withdrew its resolution against India before the vote but the question of a resolution at the UN did not rear its head again, until this year.

 

Pakistan’s shadow

  • The second tenet is the “hyphenation with Pakistan” that New Delhi has always sought to avoid.
  • Under this policy, India managed to separate its policies in J&K from its relationship with Pakistan and dealing with terror emanating from there.
  • However, especially after the Pulwama attack and the Balakot strikes in February this year, it is clear that in capitals worldwide, events in Kashmir are now increasingly conflated with fears of an India-Pakistan conflict. Much of the hyphenation is self-inflicted as the government raises Pakistan as a salient point on its agenda at every international forum, including at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit last week.
  • The third tenet being challenged now is India’s traditional rejection of “mediation by third parties”.
  • In February, Mr. Trump claimed success in mediating the release of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, and has followed up that effort with repeated mentions of wanting to mediate on Kashmir between India and Pakistan, including in September during his bilateral media interaction with Mr. Modi.
  • Others including everyone from the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to Norway, Russia and China have made similar offers.
  • What makes these diversions from India’s traditional foreign policy more troubling is they are necessitated despite the fact that India has a decided upper hand over Pakistan in the international community, and at a time Pakistan’s establishment has little credibility for its own Kashmir policy and its support to terror groups.

 

Signals even from friends

  • Furthermore as New Delhi targets China, Turkey and Malaysia as part of its “zero sum” game with Pakistan, it must recognise that international criticism of its actions post-370 is largely coming from other countries that enjoy the best relations with India, and by leaders in those countries who have often spoken up for India.
  • Most of that criticism is over the treatment of citizens in J&K, the prolonged detention of mainstream Kashmiri leaders, the communications shutdown, and the lack of access to independent observers.

 

Effect

  • The biggest worry pertains not so much to the change in traditional policy as it does to lasting or permanent damage to “Brand India” as a democratic and pluralistic country, respected for decades as a rational power.
  • In the U.S., for example, concerns over the government’s actions post-370 are now often clubbed with questions about a changing nuclear stance (No First Use, or NFU, amendments), and the repeated threat from Cabinet ministers that India will seek to “take back” Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) by military means if necessary.
  • Those concerns are bleeding into other issues like the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam as well, which both the U.S. Congress and the UN discussed in tandem with Kashmir this past month.
  • As the government fights all aspects of this perception battle worldwide, it is banking on the fact that criticism in world capitals will peter out once it lifts restrictions in J&K, contingent on its ability to control any violent aftermath.
  • In that sense, its predicament is akin to that of a man who has stepped on a landmine, and now hesitates to lift his boot for fear of triggering an explosion, but equally, knows he cannot stand in that position for unlimited time.

Naga Peace Talks

Why have the Naga peace talks stumbled?

The Naga peace process appears to have hit a roadblock after 22 years of negotiations. The Centre’s push for a solution to the vexed issue by October this year and the non-flexibility of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) on the “Naga national flag” and “Naga Yezhabo (constitution)” are said to be the primary reasons. But the issue is more complex than the twin conditions, as it affects Nagaland’s neighbours in northeast India.

 

Reasons for the current situation

  • Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi — also the Naga talks interlocutor — had in August said the Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed the need for the Naga peace process to be concluded early with the Centre having resolved “all substantive issues” in the last five years.
  • On October 18, Mr. Ravi held a consultative meeting with various tribe-based and church organisations of Nagaland that purportedly favoured working on a separate flag and constitution after inking the peace deal.
  • In a statement, he said a mutually-agreed draft comprehensive settlement was ready to be signed but for the “procrastinating attitude” the NSCN-IM has adopted to delay the settlement. He also said the extremist group had “mischievously” dragged in the Framework Agreement to impute “imaginary contents” to it — a reference to the flag and constitution.

 

The Framework Agreement

  • The Bharatiya Janata Party, underlining its “commitment” to reaching out to the northeast after coming to power at the Centre in 2014, sought to fast-track the Naga political issue that had slackened since the NSCN-IM-declared truce in 1997.
  • Ravi and NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah signed the Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015 in the presence of Mr. Modi.
  • This agreement, after nearly 80 rounds of talks, acted as a balm for the Nagas who were beginning to get restless about Delhi’s seriousness in solving the issue; both sides maintained secrecy about its contents.
  • The optimism among a section of the Nagas eroded a bit when the Central government brought other Naga armed groups on board.
  • An agreement on the political parameters of the settlement was worked out with the working committee of these groups, clubbed the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), on November 17, 2017. This agreement ostensibly made the peace process inclusive but it bred suspicion about Delhi exploiting divisions within the Nagas on tribal and geopolitical lines.

 

Beginning of the Naga issue

  • The Naga Hills became part of British India in 1881. The effort to bring scattered Naga tribes together resulted in the formation of the Naga Club in 1918, which told the Simon Commission in 1929 “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.
  • The club metamorphosed into the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946. Under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, the NNC declared Nagaland as an independent State on August 14, 1947, and conducted a “referendum” in May 1951 to claim that 99.9% of the Nagas supported a “sovereign Nagaland”.
  • On March 22, 1952, Phizo formed the underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army. The government of India sent in the Army to crush the insurgency and, in 1958, enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
  • The insurrection petered out by the mid-1970s but returned with more intensity in the form of the NSCN led by Mr. Muivah and S.S. Khaplang.

 

 

The Peace Process

  • The first peace process started before India’s independence, setting the tone of cold-shouldering the main leaders. In June 1947, Assam Governor Sir Akbar Hydari signed the Nine-Point Agreement with the moderates in the NNC but Phizo rejected it outright.
  • A 16-point Agreement followed in July 1960 leading to the creation of Nagaland on December 1, 1963. In this case too, the agreement was with the Naga People’s Convention that moderate Nagas formed in August 1957 during a violent phase and not with the NNC.
  • In April 1964, a Peace Mission was formed for an agreement on suspension of operations with the NNC, but it was abandoned in 1967 after six rounds of talks. The Shillong Accord of November 11, 1975, followed, under which a section of NNC and NFG agreed to give up arms.
  • A group of 140 members led by Mr. Muivah, who was in China then, refused to accept the Shillong Accord and formed the NSCN in 1980. The outfit split in 1988 with one faction led by Mr. Muivah the other by the Myanmar-based Khaplang.

 

Impact of the divisions on the peace process

  • The current impasse has led to speculation that the Central government has been exploiting tensions in Naga society to renege on the principles of “shared sovereignty” for co-existing as two separate identities.
  • This has been attributed to the “nationalism-driven” axe on Article 370 that had allowed a separate flag for Jammu and Kashmir and the credo of “one nation, one constitution”.
  • Ahead of Mr. Ravi’s discussions with the stakeholders, the NNPGs said it was time for Nagaland tribes and inhabitants to “wake up from slumber and pinch themselves… when a Naga from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam or Manipur after 22 years of political talks, declares that Nagaland will cease to exist and it will be replaced by a ‘people’s government of Nagalim’.”
  • It was a reference to the NSCN-IM’s composition — most of its members are Manipur-based Nagas, primarily Tangkhuls. While the NNPGs want a solution for Nagas within Nagaland, the NSCN-IM seeks integration of Naga-inhabited areas beyond the geographical boundary of Nagaland.

 

Why are Nagaland’s neighbours restive?

  • Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur are wary of the NSCN-IM’s concept of Nagalim or Greater Nagaland that could lead to a redrawing of their boundaries.
  • Manipur has begun protesting with Assembly Speaker Y. Khemchand Singh telling Mr. Modi in a petition that any compromise with Manipur’s territorial integrity would not be tolerated.
  • The other two States are “waiting and watching” following reports that the final peace deal could yield a pan-Naga cultural entity and territorial councils beyond Nagaland.
  • Meanwhile, the Nagaland government’s order cancelling leave of administrative and police personnel and advice to stock ration has triggered panic buying of essential and fuel — in Nagaland and Manipur — with the worst expected if the talks fail.

Legal pluralism in personal law

 

  • In Jose Paulo Coutinho v. Maria Luiza Valentina Pereira (2019), the Supreme Court has yet again revived the debate on a uniform civil code (UCC) and referred to Goa as “a shining example of an Indian State which has a uniform civil code applicable to all…”.
  • There are rumours that the government may surprise everyone in the winter session of Parliament by introducing a UCC Bill, just as it did by diluting Article 370 on August 5.
  • But in fact it has been the judiciary, rather than the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, that has been relentlessly pushing for the enactment of a UCC.

 

 

Some earlier cases

  • In some cases that dealt with the issue of a UCC, the apex court’s observations have been unnecessary obiter dicta (such as in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, 1985).
  • In some others (such as in Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, 1995, in which four Hindu men converted to Islam to take second wives), the court’s observations have been reflective of flawed and problematic judicial reasoning.
  • Instead of condemning the men in Sarla Mudgal, the court demonised Muslims by saying, “Those who preferred to remain in India after the partition, fully knew that the Indian leaders did not believe in two-nation theory or three-nation theory and that in the Indian Republic there was to be only one Nation — Indian nation — and no community could claim to remain a separate entity on the basis of religion”.
  • It also stated there “there is an open inducement to a Hindu husband, who wants to enter into second marriage while the first marriage is subsisting, to become a Muslim”. In this judgment, the court completely negated the idea of legal pluralism; overlooked the fact that while all Congress leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi voted for Pakistan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad stood his ground and voted against it; overlooked V.D. Savarkar’s two-nation theory; and also overlooked the history of the Hindu Right’s resistance to the Hindu Code Bill.
  • With reference to the court’s judgment in Jose Paulo Coutinho, it is important to understand that the reality of Goa is a little complex.
  • The Goa Civil Code of 1867, which was given by the Portuguese, begins in the name of God and the King of Portugal. Uniformity is not necessarily a promise for gender justice.
  • On the opposition of Hindus, the Code permitted limited polygamy for Hindus on certain conditions, including “absolute absence of male issue, the previous wife having completed 30 years of age, and being of lower age, ten years having elapsed from the last pregnancy”.
  • The Code gives certain concessions to Catholics as well. Catholics need not register their marriages and Catholic priests can dissolve marriages performed in church. Church tribunals are similar to the so-called Sharia courts and dissolution by them is mechanically approved by the High Court.
  • Why the court did not, as a first step towards a UCC in Goa, recommend the adoption of a reformed Hindu Code Bill in preference to the Portuguese Civil Code is not clear.
  • The provision of matrimonial properties being jointly held and equally divided between spouses on divorce exists under the 1867 Code.
  • However, through pre-nuptial contracts, parties may opt out of this joint ownership of properties. In many marriages, would-be wives are forced to sign on dotted lines. Thus, even where such joint ownership of assets exists, the control over property remains with the husband.
  • Even the Goa Succession, Special Notaries and Inventory Proceeding Act, 2012, enacted by the BJP government in 2016, mentions the surviving spouse only as the fourth preference in Section 52 (order of legal succession), after descendants, ascendants, and brothers of the deceased.
  • As far as Muslims are concerned, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937 has not been extended to Goa. Muslims of Goa are governed by Portuguese law as well as Shastric Hindu law.
  • The majority in Shayara Bano v. Union of India (2017) did hold freedom of religion subject to restrictions under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution as absolute. Even the right to follow personal law had been elevated to the highest status of fundamental right.
  • UCC is only one of the directive principles. The Supreme Court rightly held in Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union Of India (1980) that “to destroy the guarantees given by Part III [fundamental rights] in order purportedly to achieve the goals of Part IV [directive principles] is plainly to subvert the Constitution by destroying its basic structure.”

 

Futility of one nation, one law

  • Since personal laws are in the Concurrent List, they may differ from State to State. The framers of the Constitution did not intend total uniformity or one law for the whole country. States have made more than a hundred amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Penal Code.
  • The law of anticipatory bail differs from one State to another. Even BJP governments in different States, including Gujarat, have reduced fines under the amended Motor Vehicles Act despite the Centre justifying the hefty fines. This proves the futility of one nation, one law.
  • Not all Hindus in the country are governed by one law. Marriages amongst close relatives is prohibited by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, but is considered auspicious in the south. The Hindu Code Bill recognises customs of different Hindu communities.
  • Even the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 made several compromises and could not make daughter a coparcener till 2005. Wives are still not coparceners. Even today, property devolves first to Class I heirs and if there are no Class I heirs, then to Class II heirs. While heirs of sons are Class I heirs, those of daughters are not. Even among Class II heirs, preference is given to the male line. If a couple does not have a child, the property of not only the husband but also of the wife goes to the husband’s parents.
  • Similarly, there is no uniform applicability of personal laws among Muslims and Christians. The Constitution protects the local customs of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
  • In fact, let’s leave aside discriminatory personal laws; even land laws enacted after 1950 in a number of States are gender unjust. These laws have been exempted from judicial scrutiny and have been included in the Ninth Schedule.
  • No blueprint of a UCC has been prepared yet. No expert committees, like the Hindu Law Committee of 1941, has been constituted so far.
  • Several provisions of codified Hindu law such as solemnisation of marriage, satpati, kanyadaan, the sacramental nature of marriage, income tax benefits for the Hindu joint family, and absolute testamentary powers may not find a place in the UCC.
  • Provisions like dower (payment by husband) or nikahnama (prenuptial contract) are to be incorporated in the UCC. Will Hindus accept these changes?
  • Last year, the Law Commission had concluded that a UCC is neither desirable nor feasible. Indeed, it is best to enact a UCC in a piecemeal manner.

 

 

GS III

A policy agenda to meet India’s steep employment challenges

 

  • As India battles an economic slowdown and myriad other associated problems, attention is bound to be deflected from the ever-present priority of job creation for the country’s youth bulge. There was cheerful news from India’s factories sector in the recently released Annual Survey of Industries for 2017-18.
  • Job creation in the sector has been steady, if not spectacular. The number of workers employed grew 4.8% in 2017-18.
  • Total people engaged (including managers) rose 4.7%, the highest in four years. Promising as this is, the sheer magnitude of job creation required for young Indians to enjoy a life of dignity means that millions of them must become job providers rather than swell the ranks of job-seekers.

 

The Findings

  • In the years after independence, India’s traditional industrial policy was built around three pillars—concessional credit, fiscal incentives and input subsidies.
  • However, a growing body of research has upended this conventional wisdom and shown that the predominant source of job creation is firms that start small and formal, and eventually grow into medium-scale enterprises.
  • In doing so, they reveal an alternative path to generating productive jobs in India. This is not to overlook the value of large firms, but only to highlight the disproportionate importance of startups in job creation.
  • Some of the findings are particularly relevant.
    • One, although micro businesses dominate most countries’ economies, India’s economy has an excessive proportion of less productive, informal micro businesses.
    • Two, employment in India is concentrated in these micro businesses, whereas in developed countries, it is concentrated in formal small and medium-sized firms.
    • Three, productive jobs are created by firms that start out as formal.
    • Four, new and young firms create more jobs than older, established firms.
    • Five, growing and efficient firms are founded and run by educated entrepreneurs.
    • Six, with age, Indian firms typically stagnate or decline in employment.
    • Seven, India has a deficit of productive, job-creating entrepreneurs, and an excess of informal entrepreneurs focused on survival.
  • These findings suggest that government policies on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) must become more nuanced. Informal micro enterprises and single-person enterprises run by those lacking formal education should be termed “subsistence enterprises”.
  • The government would then be under an obligation to support them with basic public goods, including education and a robust social safety net. Educating the next generation is critical to breaking the iron grip of poverty and pulling single-person enterprises out of survival mode.
  • However, support to these subsistence enterprises should be provided under anti-poverty measures and not under an economic development programme (much less under productive job-creation measures).
  • In general, the government’s perception of entrepreneurship as a viable solution to the lack of employment options is well-founded.
  • International evidence is supportive of this: Startups and young firms create more jobs regardless of their size, and educated entrepreneurs have a far higher probability of success. Therefore, public policy to support entrepreneurship and MSMEs should target these entrepreneurs.
  • However, any government support should be made contingent on the enterprise’s progress in creating jobs and productive growth, thereby encouraging truly dynamic entrepreneurship.

 

Way Forward

  • To enhance the productivity of businesses and promote growth, the government should subsidise the provision of management support services—as industrial public goods—to young businesses.
  • A nascent initiative in South Tamil Nadu shows that huge productivity gains are waiting to be unlocked in small businesses if entrepreneurs are made to understand the importance of some critical principles and concepts related to finance and human resources.
  • Moreover, as education plays a big role in the growth of startups and their contribution to employment generation, institutions of higher learning should prepare students to be entrepreneurs in the same way that they equip them with functional, marketable skills.
  • The government should also periodically update the definitions of MSMEs to bring them closer to international standards. This will help ensure that businesses are not prematurely labelled as large and are not denied government support while still in need of it.
  • Finally, internalising the most important principle of public policy—if you cannot help, at least do not hurt—is the first thing the government can do to support entrepreneurs. It is a lot easier for governments to impede economic activity than to foster it.
  • The difficulty in arresting and reversing the current narrative of an economic slide is a case in point. Just avoiding doing the wrong thing will obviate the need for the government to support the economy actively later.
  • In other words, not getting in the way may be the most important policy intervention that any government anywhere could undertake.

Randomized Controls Trials

  • Development economics has changed a lot during the last two decades or so, mostly due to the extensive use of ‘randomised control trials’ (RCT). ‘Randomistas’ are proponents of RCTs to assess long-run economic productivity and living standards in poor countries.
  • Three randomistas, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, were awarded the 2019 Nobel prize in Economics for their RCT-based studies on poverty worldwide.

 

An evolution

  • The concept of RCT is quite old; instances of RCTs can be traced back in the 16th century. However, the statistical foundation of RCT was developed by British statistician Sir Ronald Fisher, about 100 years ago, mostly in the context of design of experiments.
  • In my experience I have seen the proportion of events by the same treatment varying between 10% to 35% in different clinical trials. Is it due to unknown distribution of treatment effects, and/or other external effects such as hospital care, hospital location, etc?
  • Thus, for an unbiased evaluation of the treatment, its performance needs to be compared with some ‘control’, which maybe ‘no treatment’ at all or an ‘existing treatment’ other than the treatment under study.
  • The next task is to allocate the patients among two treatments/interventions at hand. Patients might prefer some treatment to the other. Prior knowledge of the treatments to be applied to them might induce a ‘selection bias’ due to unequal proportions of patients opting out from the study.
  • ‘Randomisation’ is a procedure used to prevent this by allocating patients using a random mechanism — neither the patient nor the doctor would know the allocation.
  • ‘Control’ and ‘randomisation’ together constitute an RCT. In 1995, statisticians Marvin Zelen and Lee-Jen Wei illustrated a clinical trial to evaluate the hypothesis that the antiretroviral therapy AZT reduces the risk of maternal-to-infant HIV transmission.
  • A standard randomisation scheme was used resulting in 238 pregnant women receiving AZT and 238 receiving standard therapy (placebo). It is observed that 60 newborns were HIV-positive in the placebo-group and 20 newborns were HIV-positive in the AZT-group.
  • Thus, the failure rate of the placebo was 60/238, whereas that of AZT was only 20/238, indicating that AZT was much more effective than the placebo.
  • Drawing such an inference, despite heterogeneity among the patients, was possible only due to randomisation. Randomisation makes different treatment groups comparable and also helps to estimate the error associated in the inference.
  • The early applications of RCTs were mostly within the agricultural field. Sir Ronald Fisher himself was very reluctant to apply statistics to social sciences, due to their ‘non-experimental’ nature.
  • RCT got its importance in clinical trials since the 1960s, so much so that any clinical trials now-a-days without RCT were being considered almost useless.

 

Marking a change

  • Social scientists slowly found RCT to be interesting, doable, and effective. But, in the process, the nature of social science slowly converted from ‘non-experimental’ to ‘experimental’.
  • Numerous interesting applications of RCTs took place in social policy-making during the 1960-90s, and the ‘randomistas’ took control of development economics since the mid-1990s.
  • About 1,000 RCTs were conducted by Prof. Kremer, Prof. Banerjee and Prof. Duflo and their colleagues in 83 countries such as India, Kenya and Indonesia. These were to study various dimensions of poverty, including microfinance, access to credit, behaviour, health care, immunisation programmes, and gender inequality.
  • While Prof. Banerjee thinks RCTs “are the simplest and best way of assessing the impact of a program”, Prof. Duflo refers to RCTs as the “tool of choice”.
  • There has been tremendous international attention on Finland’s Basic Income experiment (2017-18), where 2,000 unemployed Finns between ages 25-58 were randomly selected across the country, and were paid €560 a month instead of basic unemployment benefits.
  • Results from the first year data didn’t have any significant effect on the subjects’ employment, in comparison with the control group comprising individuals who were not selected for the experimental group. Essentially this was also an RCT.
  • Critics of RCTs in economic experiments think that in order to conduct RCTs, the broader problem is being sliced into smaller ones, and any dilution of the scientific method leaves the conclusions questionable. Economists such as Martin Ravallion, Dani Rodrik, William Easterly, and Angus Deaton are very critical of using RCTs in economic experiments.
  • Randomisation in clinical trials has an additional impetus — it ensures that allocation to any particular treatment remains unknown to both patient and doctor. Such kind of ‘blinding’ is central to the philosophy of clinical trials and it helps to reduce certain kinds of bias in the trial.
  • It is believed that the ‘outcome’ or the ‘treatment-response’ might be influenced if the patient and/or the physician are aware of the treatment given to the patient.
  • However, such kind of ‘blinding’ is almost impossible to implement in economic experiments as participants would definitely know if they get any financial aid or training. Thus, randomisation must have a much less impact there. Often, economists miss such an important point.

 

Way Forward

  • However, unless randomisation is done, most of the standard statistical analyses and inference procedures become meaningless. Earlier social experiments lacked randomisation and that might be one reason that statisticians such as Sir Ronald Fisher were unwilling to employ statistics in social experiments.
  • Thus, “RCT or no RCT” may not be just a policy decision to economics; it is the question of shifting the paradigm. The “tool” comes with lot of implicit baggage.
  • With randomisation dominating development economics, implicitly, economic experiments are becoming more and more statistical. This is one philosophical aspect which economists need to settle.
  • Apparently, for the time being, many would concur with Harvard economist Lant Pritchett who criticises RCTs on a number of counts but still agrees that it “is superior to other evaluation methods”. The debate would continue, while the randomistas continue to gain momentum at the moment.

 

Are Vegetarian Children Healthy

  • A vegetarian diet is associated with worse health indicators for children across a range of indicators, new evidence from an official national health survey shows. However, in the absence of unit-level data, it is not possible to say if these children’s poor health is due to deficiencies from their vegetarian diet, or because of other characteristics unrelated to vegetarianism.
  • The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) 2016-2018 is a nationally representative sample survey conducted by the ministry of health and family welfare, which covered over 100,000 children across India up to the age nine, and adolescents between the age of 10 and 19 years.
  • The survey collected primary data on anthropometric measures, micronutrient deficiencies and the risk of non-communicable diseases.
  • As part of its investigations into children’s diets, CNNS asked mothers whether they, or their child, consumed eggs and/or meat in the week before the survey. The results suggest that more than half of all Indian children are self-reported vegetarians.
  • For the mothers of children aged 0-4, the share is closer to 45%. This is a far higher reported share of vegetarianism than in previous major national surveys, such as the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey. (See chart 1)
  • Within India, as is now well-known, the southern and eastern states, which have better child health outcomes, have more meat-eaters, while the northern states are more vegetarian. (See chart 2)
  • On most key health indicators, children with a non-vegetarian diet have the best outcomes, followed by those who are vegetarian, but eat eggs. Children with non-vegetarian mothers are less likely to be stunted or underweight, but in most cases, the advantage is not large.
  • There are a few stray exceptions. For instance, there are more children aged 0-4 born to non-vegetarians who are wasted (low weight-for-height), and more non-vegetarian 10-19 year-olds with zinc deficiency. (See chart 3a)
  • Non-vegetarian children, though, are at greater risk of being overweight or obese, and of developing non-communicable and ‘lifestyle’ diseases.
  • This is in line with what is known about the health risks of eating excessive meat and animal fats. (See chart 3b)
  • But all this need not mean that it is a vegetarian diet that causes relatively poorer health outcomes. Without unit-level data, it’s difficult to attribute this causality, especially since there are other factors, such as income, that could affect health outcomes.
  • In India, the consumption of meat rises with income until the middle of India’s income distribution, implying that as families get the money to purchase animal protein, they buy more of it. (See chart 4)
  • However, from the middle of the income distribution, this figure begins to fall, which is likely an effect of caste.
  • There is a strong overlap between higher incomes and the likelihood of being upper caste in India.
  • Vegetarianism is far more a feature of upper castes, particularly Brahmins, than of any other caste group or community. (See chart 5)
  • In the CNNS, the rich have better health outcomes than the poor, and OBCs and “others” have better health indicators than children belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • As a result, it is not immediately clear whether incomes or dietary preferences are playing a stronger role in determining health outcomes.
  • The National Institute of Nutrition’s dietary guidelines recommend that Indians, particularly young children and pregnant women, consume animal proteins, which are considered better quality than plant-based proteins and contain certain micronutrients that a vegetarian diet might not provide. However, the guidelines add that the consumption of some cereals and milk can deliver the same result.
  • Globally, nutritionists are increasingly recommending replacing animal protein intake with plant-based foods.
  • But given what is known about Indian’s protein deficiencies as against the global recommended standard, as well as the poorer health outcomes of its vegetarian children, in India’s case, it may not yet be the best solution.

 

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