Current Affairs 11th April 2022

Modi, Biden to discuss bilateral ties at summit #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joseph Biden will hold a virtual meeting prior to the “2+2” Foreign and Defence ministerial meeting in Washington on Monday, to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the U.S. White House announced on Sunday.

However, while the White House said President Biden would speak about “the consequences of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine”, the MEA did not refer directly to discussions about the conflict, where the U.S. and India have differences in their positions.

“The two leaders will review ongoing bilateral cooperation and exchange views on recent developments in South Asia, the Indo-Pacific region and global issues of mutual interest,” the MEA statement said. Dramatic developments have been seen in South Asia, both in Pakistan, where Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was ousted over the weekend, and Sri Lanka, where massive protests over the economy are challenging the Rajapaksa government.

The White House listed amongst subjects for discussion cooperation on ending the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, global economy, and “upholding a free, open, rules-based international order to bolster security, democracy, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific”, as well as developing the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” on infrastructure expected to be announced during the “2+2” meeting.

“President Biden will continue our close consultations on the consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine and mitigating its impact on global food supply and commodity markets,” the White House statement added.

Delhi visits aplenty

The Modi-Biden summit via videoconference, which was not announced earlier, follows a number of visits by senior U.S. officials to Delhi to discuss India’s position on the Russian war in Ukraine, and signs of a strain in ties over the issue.

Ukraine crisis to headline India-U.S. ‘2+2’ meet #GS2 #IR

India and the U.S. will hold their fourth annual “2+2” Defence and Foreign Ministry dialogue in Washington on Monday, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine looming over the discussions and occupying a prominent place on the agenda.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who arrived in Washington on Saturday night, and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, scheduled to arrive on Sunday, will meet their counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, in the first such dialogue of the Biden administration.

The last meeting in this format was in October 2020.

The agenda for discussion is broad, reflecting the breadth of the “Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership” between the two countries. The two sides will discuss defence, science and technology (particularly emerging technology), climate and public health (particularly cooperation on managing the COVID-19 pandemic), fortifying and building supply chains, as well as people-to-people ties, as per the readouts of the talks from the U.S. State and Defence Departments.

India and the U.S. will continue their “close consultations on the consequences of President Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine and mitigating the impact by addressing energy and food prices”, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. India has raised the issue of commodity price impacts of the war, including at the United Nations. It has also purchased oil at a discounted price from Moscow — a move that has ruffled feathers in the Biden administration. The U.S. has said it is willing to help provide alternatives to India’s sourcing of oil from Moscow — which accounts for 1–2% of its energy imports. This is likely to feature in the week’s discussions.

Defence deals

In addition to meeting in the “2+2” format, the Defence and Foreign Ministry principals will hold bilateral meeting with their own counterparts on Monday.

Several big-ticket defence deals are in the pipeline, especially for the Navy. The purchase of 30 Predator armed drones for the three Services is in advanced stages but has been delayed pending approval from the Defence Acquisition Council.

Another major deal is a Navy tender for around 26 deck-based fighter aircraft for its existing INSVikramaditya and the indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant , which is scheduled to be commissioned in August.

A deal for six more P-8I maritime patrol aircraft is in the works, while the Navy will start receiving the first batch of three MH-60R multi-role helicopters in June, contracted as part of a deal for 24 helicopters.

While the U.S. Congress is in recess, Mr. Jaishankar is expected to meet officials in the executive branch of the U.S. government, specifically members of the Biden Cabinet. India’s U.S. Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu and his team have been reaching out to U.S. officials and Members of Congress to explain and manage differences in the relative positions the two countries have on the Russia–Ukraine conflict, Mr. Jaishankar is expected to build on these efforts during these talks.

On this list of Cabinet meetings is United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai — who has led the U.S. side as India and the U.S. relaunched their Trade Policy Forum after four years last November to progress the bilateral trade relationship.

Also on the cards is a meeting between Mr. Jaishankar and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

In addition to interactions at think tanks, a visit by Mr. Jaishankar to Howard University in DC is on the schedule, a U.S. government source indicated to The Hindu . The university is a “Historically Black College and University (HBCU)”, an organisation that educated African American students prior to 1964 , during the segregation era. It is also the alma mater of powerful Washington residents, notably Vice-President Kamala Harris and Gregory Meeks. The Hindu has learnt that a meeting between the External Affairs Minister and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is also in the works.

India’s learning poverty has shot up’ #GS3 #Economy

What was the agenda of your visit to India?

We met the Minister of Education [Dharmendra Pradhan] to share with him that as the World Bank, we emphasise a lot on the work that is needed both globally and in different countries and to bridge the learning losses due to the impact of the pandemic. Globally, we were living in a learning crisis even before the pandemic. Now, with this gigantic shock we have had of two years of children out of school, there has been a dramatic effect on their learning and their well-being. Obviously, they share these concerns and we will continue working with them in order to accelerate the learning process. We visited Gujarat, which is doing a lot of progress on how to accelerate the process of learning recovery. Then, we were in U.P. to visit schools and in Delhi we had meetings with NGOs and think tanks.

This is in the context of the very large support of the World Bank to India which includes a portfolio of $2.1 billion to the country.

What is your assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on education in India?

We see the impacts of the pandemic in all countries, but definitely much more in countries in which the closures have been the longest such as in South Asia and Latin America. According to our learning poverty calculation, we have found that if before the pandemic, about 53% of children were not able to read a simple text by the age of 10, which is already a crisis, unfortunately, with the pandemic, this has shot up to 70%. In India, learning poverty has shot up from 54% to 70%. We don’t have real data, these are simulations.

According to Pratham’s ASER survey, in rural Karnataka, the share of Grade 3 students in government schools able to perform simple subtraction fell from 24% in 2018 to 16% in 2020. We have seen that roughly what has been lost was the equivalent of the extent of the school closures.

That is why we need to worry about making sure that we don’t create inter-generational inequality. If we don’t do something now, this generation will have lower productivity, lower earnings, lower well-being in the future and that is what we need to avoid.

How can schools work to bridge learning gaps?

The first action is to open schools. Most countries by now have opened schools but still there are those that have only opened partially. However, that schools are open doesn’t mean automatically kids are coming back. We need to reach every child to ensure that all of them re-enroll. We need very aggressive enrollment campaigns to ensure that they bring kids back to school [as] many kids are now working, or doing household chores . The second key action is to assess learning to know where kids are today. Third, we need to prioritise teaching the fundamentals . Many countries have very rich and dense curriculum with many subjects, but we need to make sure that at least in the beginning, children are focusing on the fundamentals. Fourth, we need to increase catch-up learning which will require very effective instructional time. [To achieve this] teachers will require a lot of support . And finally, we really need to work on emotional support for both children and teachers .

Surveys have shown that many students have been forced to withdraw from private schools and enrol in government schools with a decline in household incomes. But there are vast quality gaps in private and public schools. How can governments respond to this transition?

This is something we see globally. Two things have happened — small private schools have closed, and parents don’t have resources to pay. This has put more pressure on government schools. This could be a mixed blessing. Government and private schools will have to increase the quality of their offering to cover the needs of these children and increase resources or increase efficiency of their resources or a mix of both.

In response to the pandemic, there is a major thrust by the Indian government on digital literacy. But given issues in access resulting in widening of losses for those on the margins, is this a step in the right direction?

The fact that education television and radio came back after being abandoned for many years is a good development. We need resilient systems because we don’t know what the next natural disaster is going to be.

On the digital front, educational technology in general has the potential to be a great equaliser, but it is still a divider around the world. This divide has to be closed by all countries by investing in not the software or the hardware but the entire ecosystem. But investing in educational technology by itself is not a solution.

The pandemic has taught us that the magic of learning happens in the interactions between students and teachers which will never be replaced by technology. But technology can make the work of teachers more impactful and effective.

If we don’t act now, this generation will have lower productivity, lower earnings, lower well-being in the future.

Bengal coast faces most erosion #GS1 #Geography #GS3 #Environment

The Ministry of Earth Sciences, in a response to a question, informed the Lok Sabha earlier this week that of the 6,907.18-km-long coastline of the Indian mainland, about 34% is under varying degrees of erosion, while 26% is of an accreting nature, and the remaining 40% is in a stable state.

“The National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), Chennai, an attached office of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), is monitoring shoreline erosion since 1990 using remote sensing data and GIS mapping techniques. About 6,907.18 km long Indian coastline of mainland has been analysed from 1990 to 2018,” the Ministry said in response to a question from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Bhubaneswar, Aparajita Sarangi, on April 6.

In terms of percentage, West Bengal, located on the eastern coast of the country, with a 534.35-km-long coastline, suffered erosion along about 60.5% of the coast (323.07 km) over the period from 1990 to 2018. This is followed by Kerala on the west coast, which has 592.96 km of coastline and 46.4% of it (275.33 km) faced erosion.

Tamil Nadu, with a long coastline of 991.47 km, recorded erosion along 42.7% of it (422.94 km). Gujarat, with the longest coastline of 1,945.6 km, recorded erosion along 27.06% (537.5 km) of it. In the Union Territory of Puducherry, with a 41.66-km-long coastline, about 56.2% of its coast (23.42 km) recorded erosion.

Another organisation under the Ministry, the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), has prepared and published an atlas of Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI) maps for the entire coastline of India at a 1:100000 scale, the Ministry informed Parliament.

Policy on displacement

The Ministry stated that the 15th Finance Commission had recommended the creation of a National Disaster Risk Management Fund (NDRMF) and State Disaster Risk Management Fund (SDRMF) comprising a mitigation fund at the national and State levels (NDMF/SDMF), and a response fund at the national and state levels for the award period from 2021-22 to 2022-26.

“The Commission has also made specific recommendations for ‘Mitigation Measures to Prevent Erosion’ under NDMF and ‘Resettlement of Displaced People Affected by Erosion’ under NDRF.