Editorial 1 : Welfare schemes may help poor children’s brains grow normally



The relationship between brain development and low income is relatively well-established, but the role of anti-poverty policies in this relationship is not. A recent study, based on the brain scans of over 10,000 children aged 9-11, located in 17 U.S. states, filled this gap.

Poverty’s affect on the brain

  • In 2015, three studies reported that human children and young adults growing up in low-income families had lower cortical volume and did relatively poorly in tests for academic performance. The cortex is the outer layer of the brain.
  • Together with the cortex, one of the 2015 studies focused on another area: the hippocampus and found that the volume of this deep-seated convoluted structure, widely regarded by scientists as the “seat for learning and memory”, correlated positively with a family’s socioeconomic status, but not parental income.
  • Now, a study by researchers from Harvard University and Washington University, published in May 2023 in the journal Nature Communication, has demonstrated that children growing up in low-income families indeed risk a smaller hippocampus and showed that generous anti-poverty policies substantially lower this risk.
  • The finding highlights how state-level public policies can potentially address the correlation between brain development and low income and how Children from low-income families might have a smaller hippocampus, which in turn might relate to later inequities in [their] physical and mental health outcomes.

The study

  • The researchers found that the hippocampal volume was indeed larger for participants belonging to families with relatively higher income.
  • Impaired hippocampal development has been associated with higher risk of psychopathologies, such as major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • So the researchers also tested the relationship between family income and the incidence of internalising (e.g. depressive disorders, anxiety, etc.) and externalising psychopathologies (e.g. drug abuse, violent behaviour, etc.) in children.
  • They found that family income was “negatively associated” with the incidence of these psychopathologies: higher the family income, lower the incidence of internalising and externalising psychopathologies in the children.
  • So the study found that poverty could shape biological properties, like brain development, and highlighted the role governments and public policy could have in ameliorating the biological effects of poverty.

Welfare can help!

  • The brain is a complex and adaptable organ, and compensatory mechanisms can sometimes mitigate these effects. According to the new paper, more generous anti-poverty policies could amplify or reduce stressors associated with low income.
  • That is, having access to more financial resources could shield families from experiencing some of the chronic stressors associated with low income that can influence hippocampal development.
  • Finally, generous’ anti-poverty policies don’t just increase family income; they can also allow families to make decisions that lead to a decrease in wages but that also reduce stress, such as working fewer hours.


The study also illustrated how investments in social safety net programs could lower the high cost of addressing mental health, educational, and economic challenges resulting from socioeconomic disparities in neurodevelopment tomorrow.

Editorial 2 : Is it possible to have partial app bans?


Last week, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) sought inputs on whether it would be possible to have “selective” app bans instead of internet shutdowns, in order to reduce the impact that a wholesale communications lockdown can entail.

Internet shutdowns in India

  • Internet shutdowns are imposed in States and districts across India from time to time in order to prevent the rapid spread of provocative content during communally charged periods.
  • The Indian government considers Internet shutdowns a legitimate tool of maintaining law and order.
  • Shutdowns can be prolonged, with access to education, work, banking, and information strained.
  •  As such, the government has sought to stay the course on imposing restrictions but not at the scale of a shutdown.
  •  In Jammu and Kashmir as well as in Manipur, authorities and courts have gradually loosened long-term restrictions by allowing wired internet connections and limited wireless internet access.


  • The approach suggested by TRAI would require telecom operators and messaging app firms like WhatsApp to cooperate with each other and stop access to services during a shutdown.
  •  The telecom regulator has sought inputs on licensing messaging apps in India, which may require firms to be subjected to surveillance and blocking requirements.
  • In 2015 and 2018, the TRAI had held consultations on regulating messaging apps, a process that led to wide-ranging protections for net neutrality — the concept that all internet traffic should be treated equally.
  • Telecom operators had then called for regulation because they argued that messaging apps provide the same service without going through the stringent security and surveillance regulations that telecom operators go through.
  • Telcos were also wary of their revenues being undercut by online calls and messages, which were cheaper than calling and SMS rates then.
  • However, from 2016 onwards, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) and the TRAI have rejected this argument, holding that telcos cannot discriminate between categories of data used by consumers.
  • Since then, regulating messaging apps has become more a matter of security and policing.
  •  Seeking a deterrent against communal misinformation and provocative content spreading online, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology added a requirement of ‘traceability’ to the IT Rules, 2021, wherein one can find the original sender of a forwarded message.
  • However, civil society groups and tech firms said that such requirements were impossible without breaking end-to-end encryption.


  • It is possible to block websites and certain apps by ordering telecom operators to do so.
  • However, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) make these blocks trivial to bypass.
  • VPNs tunnel a user’s internet traffic through another server. While these tools are mostly used for completely innocuous purposes, the government has been showing a growing distrust of VPNs.
  • This is because VPNs are often encrypted, leaving the government with little visibility into what goes on in users’ connections.
  • VPN firms usually route data through servers located in another country, and frequently cycle the IP addresses these servers use to evade detection and blocking.
  • Some VPN firms promise that they do not maintain logs of their customers’ usage.
  • Since the government has not publicly stated what procedural safeguards it exercises when intercepting web traffic of users, these services are used by both privacy-conscious users and, the government argues, terrorists and cybercriminals.


Internet rights activists say that blocking VPNs would be a damaging move for online privacy. VPNs help secure digital rights under the Constitution of India specially for journalists, whistle-blowers and activists. The encrypted nature of information transfer over VPNs allows them to not only secure confidential information but also to safeguard their own identity, thus protecting them from surveillance and censorship.


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