Current Affairs 1st Dec , 2021

Crypto genie

  • Whether the crypto hype is a ‘bubble’ is still a matter of speculation
  • The transaction process using cryptocurrencies is so secure that only a money transfer can be seen and nothing can be known about the sender and the recipient.
  • These decentralized assets, with no central bank controlling them, may therefore be used for ‘hawala’, which is a trust-based system of transferring money quickly in a parallel arrangement avoiding the traditional banking system and escaping the due tax.
  • Anonymity and privacy are the underlying characteristics as well as the potential danger of cryptocurrencies.
  • There have been money laundering charges using cryptocurrencies. Shadows of cryptocurrencies loom in the supply of money for terrorist activities.
  • Cryptos have become the preferred payment system for hackers in ransomware attacks
  • At one extreme we have China which has almost banned cryptocurrencies and introduced its own centrally regulated digital currency called Digital Renminbi.
  • At the other extreme we have El Salvador which is the first country to use Bitcoin as legal tender.
  • While many parts of the world are planning to clip the wings of cryptocurrencies, El Salvador is planning to build the world’s first ‘Bitcoin City’, funded initially by Bitcoin backed bonds.
  • The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill of 2021 is listed for introduction this Parliament session.
  • It seeks to “prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India” but allow for “certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology and its uses”.
  • It also aims to “create a facilitative framework” for the creation of the official digital currency to be issued by the RBI.


India’s informal vs formal economy

  • According to a recent State Bank of India (SBI) Research report, the informal economy in India has been shrinking since 2018.
  • Formalization, the report says, has taken place through the gross value-added (GVA) route, consumption through increased digital payments, and the employment route.
  • The report claims that the share of the informal sector is just 15-20% in 2021 compared to 52.4% in 2018.
  • In the 15th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (1993) of the International Labour Organization, household enterprises not constituted as separate legal entities independently of the households or household members that own them, and for which no complete accounts are available, are categorised as informal enterprises.
  • In the 17th Conference (2003), informal workers were defined as those without social security.
  • The SBI study adopts multiple definitions of formality (digitisation, registration in GST, cashless payments), which are not used by anyone.
  • These could be possible instruments of encouraging formality, but cannot separately or even together be equated with formality.
  • Mere registration under this portal does not guarantee access to institutional social security benefits or coverage under Labour laws.
  • Benefits such as Provident Fund, gratuity and maternity benefits will remain outside the reach of unorganized workers as conceptualized in the Social Security Code of 2020. All these instruments were and are available only to establishments with 10 or 20 or more workers.
  • Another reason that the SBI claims that informality declined is the number of workers registered in the new e-Shram portal. Since the portal’s launch, over 9.9 crore unorganized workers have registered themselves.


Afghanistan as narco state

  • According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium production in Afghanistan has crossed 6,000 tonnes for the fifth consecutive year.
  • The reported rise in global opium prices has resulted in the exponential production of opiates increasing by 8%.
  • For the past several decades, Afghan opiates have entered India through circuitous routes, sea as well as air, involving Pakistan, Sri Lanka, African countries such as Mozambique and South Africa, and Qatar.
  • The huge recoveries of heroin in Gujarat alone 3,000 kilograms in September and 120 kilograms in October.
  • In May 2021, a report by the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) estimated that the Taliban derive up to 60% of their annual revenue from illicit narcotics.
  • Limited reach of the central government in Kabul and a punitive policy advocated by the International community which sought the use of force to destroy standing opium crops without adequately compensating the farmers or providing them with alternative livelihoods.
  • Some of the members of the Taliban regime, particularly the Haqqani network, share well-documented connections with the organized crime network.
  • From New Delhi’s perspective, its efforts to curb terror finance at home would achieve only limited results if anti-India groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaishe-Mohammed, now yet again operating in Afghanistan, manage to tap into the money from such narco-trade.
  • The antidote to this phenomenon is a legitimate, responsible, empowered, and inclusive government in Kabul.
  • A failed state in the neighborhood combined with narcoterrorism cannot be ignored and will have serious consequences for India’s security in the days to come.


Primary health care and financial empowerment of local bodies

The release of ₹8,453.92 crore to 19 States, as a health grant to rural and urban local bodies (ULBs), by the Department of Expenditure, the Ministry of Finance.

  • This allocation has been made as part of the health grant of ₹70,051 crore which is to be released over five years, from FY2021-22 to FY2025- 26, as recommended by the Fifteenth Finance Commission.
  • The grant is earmarked to plug identified gaps in the primary healthcare infrastructure in rural and urban settings.
  • Of the total ₹13,192 crore to be allocated in FY 2021-22, rural local bodies (RLBs) and ULBs will receive ₹8,273 crore and ₹4,919 crore, respectively
  • This grant is equal to 18.5% of the budget allocation of the Union Department of Health and Family Welfare for FY 2021-22 and around 55% of the second COVID-19 emergency response package announced in July 2021.
  • In 1992, as part of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, the local bodies (LBs) in the rural (Panchayati raj institutions) and urban (corporations and councils) areas were transferred the responsibility to deliver primary care and public health services.
  • The government funding for urban primary health services was not channelled through the State Health Department and the ULBs (which fall under different departments/systems in various States) did not make a commensurate increase in allocation for health.
  • In 2005, the launch of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) to bolster the primary health-care system in India partly ameliorated the impact of RLBs not spending on health.
  • In 2017-18, 25 years after the Constitutional Amendments, the ULBs and RLBs in India were contributing 1.3% and 1% of the annual total health expenditure in India
  • Urban India, with just half of the rural population, has just a sixth of primary health centres in comparison to rural areas

Steps needed

  • First, the grant should be used as an opportunity to sensitize key stakeholders in local bodies, including the elected representatives (councillors and Panchayati raj institution representatives) and the administrators, on the role and responsibilities in the delivery of primary care and public health services.
  • Second, awareness of citizens about the responsibilities of local bodies in health-care services should be raised. Such an approach can work as an empowering tool to enable accountability in the system.
  • Third, civil society organizations need to play a greater role in raising awareness about the role of LBs in health, and possibly in developing local dashboards (as an mechanism of accountability) to track the progress made in health initiatives.
  • Fourth, the Fifteenth Finance Commission health grants should not be treated as a ‘replacement’ for health spending by the local bodies, which should alongside increase their own health spending regularly to make a meaningful impact.
  • Fifth, mechanisms for better coordination among multiple agencies working in rural and urban areas should be institutionalized. Time bound and coordinated action plans with measurable indicators and road maps need to be developed.
  • Sixth, local bodies remain ‘health greenfield’ areas. The young administrators in charge of such RLBs and ULBs and the motivated councillors and Panchayati raj institution members need to grab this opportunity to develop innovative health models.
  • Seventh, before the novel coronavirus pandemic started, a number of State governments and cities had planned to open various types of community clinics in rural and urban areas.
  • The Fifteenth Finance Commission health grant has the potential to create a health ecosystem which can serve as a much-awaited springboard to mainstream health in the work of rural and urban local bodies. The Indian health-care system.