21ST FEBRUARY CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Meeting of Governing Council of NITI Aayog

News: The sixth meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog was held under the chairmanship of Prime Minister.

The Agenda for the Sixth Council Meeting comprised the following items:

  • Making India a Manufacturing Powerhouse
  • Reimagining Agriculture
  • Improving Physical Infrastructure
  • Accelerating Human Resources Development
  • Improving Service Delivery at Grassroots Level
  • Health and Nutrition

Details:

  • The Council deliberated on several steps for making India a manufacturing powerhouse, such as reducing compliance burden, initiating reforms at the State level, improving logistics, promoting exports through district-level competition and creating jobs.
  • For improving physical infrastructure, the Chief Ministers expressed the need to raise public capital investment and completing projects under the National Infrastructure Pipeline, while enhancing investments in infrastructure through private and Public Private Partnerships, improving last-mile connectivity, reducing energy costs and configuring an enhanced and efficient role of States in project implementation.
  • States/UTs also mentioned efforts made to improve water accessibility, supply of quality and reliable power, internet connectivity and band width availability, quality healthcare services, sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate the risks of climate change, undertake suitable reforms to build an advanced manufacturing and innovation ecosystem, thereby bolstering exports through the One District One Product initiative, apart from building on futuristic tech and inclusive governance models.
  • The Chief Ministers also noted marked improvement in the development of physical infrastructure, including digital connectivity, across the North-Eastern region, along with a greater thrust on the Act East Policy, with the aim of providing impetus to the economies of the NE States.
  • Keeping in mind the aspirations of a young country like India, the Prime Minister stressed on the need to build modern infrastructure. He said the youth plays an important role in catalysing change in the country and cited the success of Digital India campaign to emphasise this point. Innovation must be encouraged, and more technology should be used to provide better opportunities for education and skill development.
  • The Governing Council Meeting seeks to build on the strength of every State so that everyone can learn from each other’s best practices.
  • The Council members deliberated on strengthening institutions for skilling, reskilling, and upskilling of workforce. Focus was also laid on improving service delivery at the grassroots level, by ensuring digital infrastructure for the rural regions.

About the Governing Council of NITI Aayog

  • The Governing Council of NITI Aayog comprises the Prime Minister of India, Chief Ministers of all the States and Union Territories with Legislature, Lt Governors of other UTs, Ex-Officio Members and Special Invitees.
  • It is the premier body tasked with evolving a shared vision of national development priorities, sectors and strategies with the active involvement of States in shaping the development narrative.
  • NITI Aayog has been mandated with fostering Cooperative Federalism through structured support initiatives and mechanisms with the States on a continuous basis, recognizing that strong States make a strong nation on the principles of ‘SabkaSaath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’.
  • It seeks to design and assist the implementation of strategic, long-term policy frameworks and programme initiatives, while monitoring their progress and efficacy.
  • The Governing Council, which embodies these objectives of cooperative federalism, presents a platform to discuss inter-sectoral, inter-departmental and federal issues to accelerate the implementation of the national development agenda.

 

 

2. WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

 

News: Study into the cost of ensuring WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) in healthcare facilities of India.

Background:

  • A 2019 joint global baseline report by WHO and UNICEF had pointed out that globally, one in four healthcare facilities lacked basic water servicing and one in five had no sanitation service and 42% had no hygiene facilities at point of care.

Details about the study:

  • Inadequacies in proving WASH and also lack of infection prevention and control can lead to healthcare associated infections. Pathogens like Acinetobacter baumannii, Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Streptococcus pneumoniae have been implicated as causative agents of healthcare associated infections because of their ability to develop resistance to antibiotics.
  • Around 8,27,000 people in low and middle-income countries die as a result of inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene each year. Approximately, death of 2,97,000 children under five years can be prevented each year if better WASH could be provided.
  • The study estimates that improving WASH across the pubic healthcare facilities in India and maintaining this for a year would cost $354 million in capital costs and $289 million in recurrent expenses.
  • The study finds that the most costly interventions were providing clean water, linen reprocessing and sanitation while the least expensive were hand hygiene, medical device reprocessing and environmental surface cleaning.

Significance of WASH strategy:

  • The status of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) in healthcare facilities is an important issue in development. Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation is one of the 2030 sustainable development goals.
  • WASH is related to infection prevention and control. WASH interventions can help reduce healthcare-associated infections among mother and neonates across the Indian healthcare system. In the fight against the spread of antimicrobial resistance, prevention of infections is an important aspect.
  • A 2012 WHO report had calculated that for every dollar invested in sanitation, there was $5.50 to be gained in lower health costs, more productivity and fewer premature deaths.
  • Addressing gaps in WASH across the Indian healthcare system is affordable when compared to other national health campaigns and provides a cost effective health intervention in the Indian context with limited recourses available for health interventions.

Way forward:

  • There is the need for a concerted effort from local bodies, State and Central governments to sustainably address quality and inequality issues in WASH provision.
  • There is the need to combine the WASH initiative with other national efforts to address health priorities.
  • The intersection between WASH, infection prevention and control and antimicrobial resistance offers policy makers an opportunity to address multiple overlapping problems through interventions on WASH in healthcare facilities.

 

3. Reduction in rainfall at the Wettest Place on Earth

 

Context: Reduction in rainfall at Mawstnram over 119 years.

Background:

  • Cherrapunji was previously the wettest place on earth but now Mawsynram is the wettest place in the world. Mawsynram receives over 10,000 millimetres of rain in a year.

Details:

  • The study which looked at the rainfall pattern in the past 119 years (period of 1901–2019) found a decreasing trend at Cherrapunji and nearby areas.
  • The study noted that the annual mean rainfall for the period 1973–2019 showed decreasing trends of about 0.42 mm per decade.
  • Researchers have noted that the changes in the Indian Ocean temperature have a huge effect on the rainfall in the region.
  • The role of humans is also another significant factor affecting the observed change in rainfall pattern.
  • Satellite data analysis shows a reduction in the vegetation area in northeast India in the past two decades, implying that human influence also plays an important role in the changing rainfall patterns. There has been a marked increase in areas of cropland from the year 2006 onwards.
  • The traditional way of cultivation known as Jhum cultivation or shifting cultivation and developmental activities in the region has contributed to deforestation.

Concerns:

  • Northeast India is highly sensitive to changes in regional and global climate. The first signs of the effect of climate change will be evident for the extreme cases such as the rainfall at Cherrapunji.
  • Northeast India has the highest vegetation cover in India and includes 18 biodiversity hotspots of the world, and thus is important in terms of its greenery and climate-change sensitivity.
  • There is the need to conserve the vegetation or forest areas in the northeast. Solid waste and waste water management strategies are inevitable to combat climate-induced changes of water bodies and ground water. Given the climate sensitivity of the region long-term plans for sustainable development are necessary.