Severe disruption for schools caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
Students in rural areas have received only marginal assistance
Make remote learning possible
Rise in students not being enrolled
Digital divide stands out starkly 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.
Only half the children got help with studies at home, a third got materials from teachers, and nearly 60% used textbooks.
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.
Educational video, which has helped thousands, can advance learning even beyond the pandemic, using talented teacher-communicators.
The India-U.S. defence partnership is deepening
India-United States defence partnership — 2+2 Dialogue
The 1991 Kicklighter proposals (Lt. Gen. Claude Kicklighter 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.
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.
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.
Series of nuclear tests in 1998 by India — U.S. responded angrily
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.
Sanctions were gradually lifted and in 2005, a 10-year Framework for Defence Relationship established, followed by a Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation in 2013.
The Framework agreement was renewed in 2015 for another decade.
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.
The four million-strong Indian diaspora in the U.S.
From less than $400 million of defence acquisitions till 2005, the U.S. has since signed defence contracts of $18 billion.
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 the political fuss.
Developing the habit of working together has been a long process of building mutual respect and trust while accepting differences.
Engaging as equal partners has been a learning experience for both India and the U.S.
Recognising this, the U.S. categorised India as “a Major Defence Partner” in 2016.
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.
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.
Less pollution, more soil fertility
Before the 1980s, farmers used to till the remaining debris back into the soil after harvesting the crops manually.
The origin of stubble burning can be traced to the advent of the Green Revolution and mechanised harvesting, which utilised the combined harvesting technique.
The Green Revolution increased greatly rice and wheat production, which simultaneously increased stubble post harvest.
However, the popular combined harvesting technique was not efficacious, as machines left behind one-foot-tall stalks.
This prompted stubble burning as a low-cost and speedy solution available to farmers due to the limited time period of 20-25 days between harvesting one crop and sowing another.
Stubble burning releases harmful gases including nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.
This directly exposes millions of people to air pollution.
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.
Stubble burning is an offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981.
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.
This year, the Union government is testing an innovative method, the PUSA Decomposer, developed at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa.
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.
Trust in data | Ind Exp
On several occasions during the pandemic, epidemiologists, public health experts and academics have raised concerns about India’s COVID-19 data.
In the early months, death count was not matching.
Now, with the pandemic showing early signs of abating, questions over data have been raised again.
The managing director of one of the country’s top diagnostic laboratories has told this paper that authorities in some districts are trying to control testing processes in order to show a “better scorecard”.
The Centre and state governments must investigate the use of such devious tactics and take corrective action.
According to the ministry, the country now has the resources to conduct more than 15 lakh daily tests.
The steady expansion of testing is one of the recent successes in the country’s battle against the coronavirus.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged in his address to the nation last week, “we should improve upon the situation, not allow it to deteriorate”.
Barely a week after PM Modi’s warning, there has been a spurt in infections in Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Karnataka.
The recent surge of the virus in Europe also shows that the virus remains an unpredictable adversary.
However, we know much more about it compared to 10 months ago.
Doctoring data, hiding the true picture, would be doing disservice to the country’s achievements and learnings in this period.
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