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Coronavirus – Economic Issues

Lock, don’t shut

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Lockdown is not an end in itself, allowing the movements of goods and operations of industrial units should be considered.

Context

Economy is a living machine — cannot be simply turned off and on. Even in lockdown, it needs to be kept alive.

Movement of goods exempted

  • Essential and non-essential distinction removed: It is, welcome that the Centre has now exempted transportation of all goods from the lockdown’s provisions, without distinction of “essential” and “non-essential”.
  • When goods aren’t the culprit — it didn’t make sense, in any case, to allow bureaucrats and local authorities to decide what is essential and hold up trucks carrying material deemed non-essential.
  • One cannot expect officials or state border police to have intimate knowledge of production processes and inputs that go into every good, essential or otherwise.
  • The purpose of a lockdown is to minimise physical human interaction and maintain social distancing even if people have to meet.
  • Blocking movement of goods, far from achieving that objective, only results in overcrowding and snarls at check posts.

How allowing Industrial establishment to operate matters?

  • Allowing industrial establishment to operate: There’s no reason why even industrial establishments cannot be permitted to run during the lockdown.
  • Again, it shouldn’t matter whether these units are producing essential or non-essential goods. What matters is only social distancing.
  • Right step by the Punjab government: The Punjab government has taken the right step of permitting all factories in the state to resume operations, subject to their being able to provide in-house lodging, food and medical facilities to workers and ensure no overcrowding at the plant.
  • Mass exodus could have been avoided: Most factories today, whether in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi or Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, are manned by migrant labourers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other eastern states.
  • Had measures to retain this workforce within or close to the premises of factories been in place — instead of a blanket order to shut down — the current situation of a mass exodus of labourers and the attendant risk of COVID-19 transmission may have been avoided.
  • Difficulty in getting the labour back: It isn’t going to be easy for the closed units to get this labour back even when the lockdown ends.

Conclusion

  • The economy needs to be kept alive: An economy is ultimately a living machine — one that cannot simply be turned off and on. Even in lockdown, it needs to be kept alive and whirring.
  • Difficulty in resumption: The danger from mechanically ordered closure of activities is that resumption becomes difficult. Rebuilding broken supply chains is easier when things are allowed to run even if at low key so that the system can respond when demand returns.
  • Lockdown is not an end in itself: Combating COVID-19 should obviously be the government’s top priority now. Lockdown is a necessary part of that strategy, but cannot be an end in itself. It is necessary primarily for social distancing, which can also be achieved without bringing the wheels of commerce to a complete halt.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Covid-19 Quarantine Alert System (CQAS)

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has shared a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) with all telecom service providers regarding the application called COVID-19 Quarantine Alert System (CQAS).

  • CQAS collects phone data, including the device’s location, on a common secured platform and alerts the local agencies in case of a violation by COVID patients under watch or in isolation.

Quarantine Alert System (CQAS)

  • Developed By: The DoT and the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), in coordination with telecom service providers, have developed and tested the application.
  • Working: The CQAS prepares a list of mobile numbers, segregates them on the basis of telecom service providers, and the location data provided by the telecom companies are run on the application to create geo-fencing.
  • Geo-fencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, known as a geofence.
  • Geo-fencing will only work if the quarantined person has a mobile phone from Airtel, Vodafone-Idea or Reliance Jio, as “BSNL/MTNL” do not support location-based services. BSNL and MTNL are government-owned.
  • The location information is received periodically over a secure network for the authorised cases with “due protection of the data received”.
  • The System triggers e-mails and SMS alerts to an authorised government agency if a person has jumped quarantine or escaped from isolation, based on the person’s mobile phone’s cell tower location. The “geo-fencing” is accurate by up to 300 m.

Use of Powers under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885

  • The Centre is using powers under the Indian Telegraph Act to “fetch information” from telecom companies every 15 minutes to track COVID-19 cases across the country.
  • The States have been asked to seek the approval of their Home Secretaries under the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, for the specified mobile phone numbers to request the DoT to provide information by email or SMS in case of violation of “geo-fencing”.
  • Section 5(2) authorises State or Centre to access information of a user’s phone data in case of “occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety.”

Protection of Data

  • As per the SOP, the phone number should be deleted from the system after the period for which location monitoring required is over and the data would be deleted four weeks from thereon.
  • The data collected shall be used only for the purpose of Health Management in the context of COVID-19 and is strictly not for any other purposes. Any violation in this regard would attract penal provisions under the relevant laws.

Centre for Development of Telematics

  • C-DOT was established in August 1984 as an autonomous Telecom R&D Centre of DoT.
  • It is a registered society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
  • It is a registered ‘public-funded research institution’ with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Ministry of Science & Technology.

Global Positioning System

  • The Global Positioning System is a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), used to determine the ground position of an object.
  • It is a US-owned utility that provides users with Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services.

Radio-Frequency Identification

  • Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is the use of radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object.
  • A tag can be read from up to several feet away and does not need to be within the direct line-of-sight of the reader to be tracked.

Wi-Fi

  • Wi-Fi is the name of a wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections.
  • WiFi network enables a connection between two or more devices wirelessly for data sharing purposes.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

The art of China’s legalpolitic

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IHR- International Health Regulations.

Mains level : Paper 2- India needs to make international law a keystone of its diplomacy.

Context

A resolution has been moved in the US Senate calling on the international community to inquire into the origins of the virus in China’s Wuhan province. Delhi could learn a trick or two from Beijing on how to make international law the keystone of India’s diplomacy, especially in the multilateral domain.

Fixing responsibility for the outbreak on China

  • Compensation demand: Lawyers and activists have begun to sue China in US courts demanding compensation. Politicians are not far behind.
  • The U.S. Senate resolution: A resolution has been moved in the US Senate calling on the international community to inquire into the origins of the virus in China’s Wuhan province, quantify the damage inflicted on the rest of the world, and design a mechanism of reparations from Beijing.
  • Basis of the demand for compensation: The case for China’s culpability is based on the principles of state responsibility and Beijing’s alleged failure to respect the obligation, under the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR), to notify the world on the outbreak of the epidemic.
  • Is the basis valid? Many international jurists dismiss these claims by citing the principles of sovereign state immunity, the lack of precedent in holding states to account for the spread of infectious disease beyond their borders and the absence of provisions for reparations under the IHR.

The interplay between legality, moralpolitik and geopolitics

  • Gulliver and Lilliputs of the world: On the face of it, China is too much of a Gulliver to be tied down by legal Lilliputs.
  • The Legalpolitik: Before we dismiss international law as not real law, “legalpolitik” can put some real pressure on big nations and contribute to the power play among them.
  • Role of public opinion: As public opinion began to intrude into diplomacy over the last two centuries, legality and moralpolitik have become an integral part of geopolitics.

Difficulty in proving the case against China

  • The cost of a pandemic: Most world leaders know, whether they say it aloud or not, the international costs of the pandemic could have been far lesser if China had acknowledged the spread of the virus from Wuhan early on and informed other countries.
  • It is one thing to know but entirely another to prove it under the law.
  • The pursuit of claims is a waste of time: Most governments believe the pursuit of claims against Beijing is a waste of time.
  • Political heft of China: If Beijing can make the World Health Organisation toe its line and prevent the rest of the world, including US President Donald Trump, from describing COVID-19 as the “China Virus”, it is unlikely to be impressed by a few legal impresarios from the West.
  • Precedence of defying the law: After all, China had dismissed the unanimous verdict of the International Court of Justice in 2016 on Beijing’s territorial claims over the South China Sea.
  • Beijing did not even bother to appear in the case filed by the Philippines.
  • China had simply declared that the ICJ has no jurisdiction in the matter.

The relation between power and law in international relations

  • Power prevails: That power tends to prevail over law is certainly truer in international relations than domestic politics.
  • Law in the domestic domain: In the domestic domain, the state as the highest authority compels citizens to abide by the law, with force if necessary.
  • Law in the international arena: In the international arena, no single actor has a monopoly over the instruments of force.
  • We have multiple sovereigns but no “world government” that can compel deviant states to conform to rules.

Role of the UNSC

  • In theory, the members of the UN Security Council can authorise coercion — in the form of economic sanctions or military force.
  • This, in turn, involves building a consensus among major powers, including the five permanent members of the UNSC who wield a veto.
  • In reality, then, the UNSC can’t act against one of the five permanent members.
  • Beijing, which was so eager to get the UNSC to discuss the situation in Jammu and Kashmir since last August, has simply blocked all suggestions for a discussion on the corona crisis in recent days.

Are laws meaningless in the global arena?

  • Legal narratives have the weight of their own: While outcomes in international conflicts tend to be defined by power, the international discourse on any conflict today is framed in legal terms.
  • Whether it is a conversation between a state and its citizen or among governments or in a country’s outreach to the global society, legal narratives have a weight all of their own.
  • Delhi, for example, has struggled in recent days to counter the global interpretation of its domestic actions.
  • Importance of legal argument: Winning the legal argument, China has learnt from the history of great power relations, is very much part of great power jousting.
  • The negative lessons are from the Soviet Union that dismissed the Western legal arguments during the Cold War as based on the logic of capital and empire.
  • That did not convert many beyond the choir.
  • The positive lessons are from Great Britain and the United States.
  • The enduring Anglo-Saxon hegemony is rooted not just in economic and military power. It has always been underwritten by a powerful legal tradition that shapes the global narrative on most issues.
  • China developing own narrative: As it mounts a massive propaganda offensive against the US on the corona crisis, China’s state lawyers have filed a case in the Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court last week accusing various US government agencies of covering up the origin of the coronavirus.
  • China’s own narrative: It is no longer about China defending against a powerful international narrative; it is developing one of its own.

Conclusions

  • 1. Make international law keystone of diplomacy: India has been at the receiving end of China’s legalpolitik — most recently on the quest for the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the constitutional changes in Kashmir.
  • Delhi could learn a trick or two from Beijing on how to make international law the keystone of India’s diplomacy, especially in the multilateral domain.
  • 2. Reinvest in the geo-legal arts: If China could emulate US and Britain on leveraging legalpolitik for strategic ends, India should not find it too hard to reinvest in the geo-legal arts that Delhi inherited from the Anglo-Saxons but seems to have lost along the way.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Regulating the Private Health Sector to Eliminate COVID-19

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Regulation of private sector to deal with the COVID-19.

Context

The current COVID-19 crisis that India is battling has brought into sharp focus the public health system’s inadequacy to cope with it.

Contradictory scenario between public and private healthcare delivery

  • The contrast between public and private: Hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment rivalling five-star hotels in their facilities are mushrooming mostly in cities even as the overburdened public hospitals are valiantly fighting to cope. 
  • Dismal picture in rural areas: As far as the rural areas are concerned, the community health centres and primary health centres and sub-centres present an even more dismal picture in terms of availability of medicine stock, trained para-medical staff, and doctors and nurses.
  • However, it is not as if urban hospitals offer patients excellent care. A common and widely held general misperception is that the private healthcare system is better than the public one.
  • Why private is not always better? Complaints of non-transparent billing, demanding exorbitant sums in advance even in a medical emergency, and cutting corners in services are all too familiar, as are cases of the denial of services.
  • In semi-rural areas and towns, the private sector is not necessarily similar to hospitals in cities.
  • The private hospitals in these areas are small and have basic infrastructure and limited medical and non-medical staff. Unlike the cities, the power and water supply in these areas also constitute a problem to the functioning of these hospitals.

Problems in the public healthcare system

  • Within the public sector health system, there are a number of trends again that add to the dismal picture.
  • A high number of patients: Doctors in the public hospitals deal with an overwhelming number of patients majorly from the poor and marginalised sections.
  • Issue of contractual staff: Health activists have also pointed out that the growing trend of contractual hiring of paramedical and allied staff leads to an insecurity among them, and thus affects overall caregiving to patients.
  • Consequently, the poor patients’ families, frustrated by the lack of infrastructure and services, turn their anger upon the doctors and nurses.
  • What are the implications? The constant vilification of the public hospital staff coupled with starving these hospitals of resources has led to the view that the private hospitals are “much better” despite their exorbitant rates.

State-wise variation in healthcare

  • States subject: Health is a state subject, and it is well known that the health delivery systems are not uniform across states.
  • Kerala a role model: Kerala is often held up as a role model generally, and even now in the manner in which it has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis.
  • The dismal system in North India: As it is, certain states in North India have abysmal healthcare systems, and a couple does not have any testing facilities, the media has reported.

Getting the private sector involved in COVID-19 testing

  • Undoubtedly, at present, the private sector must be involved in screening, tests and treatment for COVID-19.
  • The highly trained professionals in this sector can contribute enormously by helping scale up the testing efforts.
  • Importance of large-scale testing: In South Korea too, it was large-scale testing that was instrumental in reducing mortality rates.
  • The pricing issue: Services across sectors must not be priced differently at a time like this. The media has reported that there is a difference of opinion between the government and private sector on the price of COVID-19 tests flowing from the prices of test kits.
  • Need for the protocol: A clear and non-negotiable protocol for the private sector must be established regarding the present crisis and how the government is going to help financially and otherwise in dealing with it.

Way forward

  • Regulate the testing, screening and treatment facilities: The experience with the government offering subsidies to hospitals, especially in urban areas in terms of land and other concessions, has not borne out desired objectives such as better care for the poor.
  • Taking a cue from this, the testing, screening, and treatment facilities must be regulated in terms of pricing and quality.
  • Focus on strengthening the public health system: The Supreme Court has held healthcare to be a fundamental right under Article 21. The biggest lesson of the current crisis is that political will must focus on strengthening the public health system.

Conclusion

The finance minister has announced a package of `1.7 lakh crore to deal with this catastrophic situation. This is welcome, but long-term resource allocation to invigorate the public health system must be a continual and parallel process.

Finance Commission – Issues related to devolution of resources

Why has Kerala sought a relaxation of FRBM rules?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FRBM Act

Mains level : Read the attached story

Kerala CM has urged the Centre to provide Kerala with flexibility under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act so as to ensure that the State’s finances are not adversely impacted.

FRBM Act

  • The FRBM is an act of the parliament that set targets for the Government of India to establish financial discipline, improve the management of public funds, strengthen fiscal prudence and reduce its fiscal deficits.
  • It was first introduced in the parliament of India in the year 2000 by Vajpayee Government for providing legal backing to the fiscal discipline to be institutionalized in the country.
  • Subsequently, the FRBM Act was passed in the year 2003.

Features of the FRBM Act

  • It was mandated by the act that the following must be placed along with the Budget documents annually in the Parliament:
  1. Macroeconomic Framework Statement
  2. Medium Term Fiscal Policy Statement and
  3. Fiscal Policy Strategy Statement

Fiscal Indicators

It was proposed that the four fiscal indicators be projected in the medium-term fiscal policy statement viz.

  1. Revenue deficit as a percentage of GDP,
  2. Fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP,
  3. Tax revenue as a percentage of GDP and
  4. Total outstanding liabilities as a percentage of GDP

Why is Kerala seeking flexibility under the FRBM?

  • Kerala was one of the earliest States to announce an economic package of ₹20,000 crore to mitigate the impact on livelihoods and overall economic activity.
  • Kerala’s current fiscal position means that it can borrow about ₹25,000 crore during the financial year 2020-21.
  • However the State government is understandably concerned that the stringent borrowing cap under the fiscal responsibility laws should not constrain its borrowing and spending ability over the remaining 11 months.
  • This is a crucial period when the state would have to meet other expenditure for routine affairs related to the running of the State’s socio-economic programmes as well as the post pandemic recovery.

How does a relaxation of the FRBM work?

  • The law does contain what is commonly referred to as an ‘escape clause’.
  • Under Section 4(2) of the Act, the Centre can exceed the annual fiscal deficit target citing grounds that include national security, war, national calamity, collapse of agriculture, structural reforms and decline in real output growth of a quarter by at least three percentage points below the average of the previous four quarters.
  • The ongoing pandemic could be considered as a national calamity.
  • This would allow both the Union government and States including Kerala to undertake the much-needed increases in expenditure to meet the extraordinary circumstances.

When have the FRBM norms been relaxed in the past?

  • There have been several instances of the FRBM goals being reset.
  • But the most significant FRBM deviation happened in 2008-09, in the wake of the global financial crisis, when the Centre resorted to a focused fiscal stimulus: tax relief to boost demand and increased expenditure on public projects.
  • This was aimed to create employment and public assets, to counter the fallout of the global slowdown.
  • This led to the fiscal deficit climbing to 6.2%, from a budgeted goal of 2.7%.
  • Simultaneously, the deficit goals for the States too were relaxed to 3.5% of GSDP for 2008-09 and 4% of GSDP for fiscal 2009-10.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Sodium Hypochlorite as Coronavirus disinfectant

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sodium hypochlorite, Bleaching Powder

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation

In Uttar Pradesh, migrant workers travelling to their home states, or their belongings, were sprayed with a disinfectant, apparently to sanitise them.  The chemical in the spray was a sodium hypochlorite solution.

Sodium hypochlorite

  • Sodium hypochlorite is commonly used as a bleaching agent, and also to sanitise swimming pools.
  • As a common bleaching agent, sodium hypochlorite is used for a variety of cleaning and disinfecting purposes.
  • It releases chlorine, which is a disinfectant. Large quantities of chlorine can be harmful.
  • The concentration of the chemical in the solution varies according to the purpose it is meant for.
  • A normal household bleach usually is a 2-10% sodium hypochlorite solution.
  • At a much lower 0.25-0.5%, this chemical is used to treat skin wounds like cuts or scrapes. An even weaker solution (0.05%) is sometimes used as a handwash.

Note: The common bleaching powder is chemically referred to as Calcium hypochlorite and not Sodium hypochlorite.

Is the chemical safe?

  • Sodium hypochlorite is corrosive and is meant largely to clean hard surfaces.
  • It is not recommended to be used on human beings, certainly not as a spray or shower. Even a 0.05% solution could be very harmful for the eyes.
  • A 1% solution can cause damage to the skin of anyone who comes in contact with it.
  • If it gets inside the body, it can cause serious harm to lungs.

Does the chemical get rid of the novel coronavirus?

  • The WHO recommends homemade bleach solutions of about 2-10% concentration to clean hard surfaces to clear them of any presence of the novel coronavirus.
  • Cleaning hard surfaces with this solution can disinfect them not just from novel coronavirus but also help prevent flu, food born illnesses, and more.

RBI Notifications

Moratorium Option for payment of installments

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Moratorium Option

Mains level : Not Much

The RBI has permitted banks to allow moratorium of three months on payment of instalments in respect of all loans including home, car and personal loan among others.

What exactly this moratorium means?

  • Both the loan principal and interest are covered under the moratorium. This applies to all loans outstanding on March 1.
  • We must note that this is a postponement, not a waiver.
  • RBI’s wordings clearly say that the tenor for term loans across the board may be shifted by three months. This essentially means the loan will end 3 months later than was originally slated.
  • Essentially, it means that payees won’t be treated as a defaulter even if you don’t pay your EMI till May 2020, and your CIBIL score won’t be affected.
  • This moratorium period will not come free, and since the interest will continue to accrue on the outstanding portion of the loan during the moratorium period, it may increase the customers’ burden significantly.

The installments include:

  1. principal and/or interest components;
  2. bullet repayments;
  3. Equated Monthly installments;
  4. credit card dues

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Earth Hour

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Earth Hour

Mains level : Climate activism

The Earth Hour, observed annually on the last Saturday of March, was recently celebrated.

Earth Hour

  • Earth Hour is a worldwide movement organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
  • It is held annually encouraging individuals, communities, and businesses to turn off non-essential electric lights, for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on a specific day towards the end of March as a symbol of commitment to the planet.
  • It was started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia, in 2007.