April 2020
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Food Procurement and Distribution – PDS & NFSA, Shanta Kumar Committee, FCI restructuring, Buffer stock, etc.

Farmers are at their wits’ endop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- What will be the impact of the corona crisis on agriculture and food security?


Context

As global trade falls and supply disruptions persist, a prolonged lockdown will adversely affect food security.

Fears of food crisis and impact of COVID-19 on agriculture

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to global concerns on the state of agriculture and food security.
  • Warning of food crisis: On the one hand, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned of a “food crisis” if countries do not protect vulnerable people from hunger and malnourishment.
  • On the other, farmers face a stalemate as they are unable to work on their land, earn remunerative prices and gain access to markets.

We can try to understand the impact of COVID-19 on agriculture with three questions.

  • One, does the world have enough food to feed its people?
  • Two, is food available at affordable prices?
  • Three, how are farmers coping with the lockdown?

Food stocks and prices in the world

  • Cereal stock in the world: According to the FAO, as on April 2, 2020, the total stock of cereals in the world was about 861 million tonnes. This translates to a stocks-to-use ratio (SUR) — i.e., the proportion of consumption available as stocks — of 30.7%.
  • The FAO considers this “comfortable”. The SURs for wheat, rice and coarse grains were 35.3%, 35.1% and 26.9%, respectively.
  • Variation among nations: World stocks are different from national stocks. About 52% of the global wheat stocks is held by China, and about 20% of the global rice stocks is held by India.
  • Rice importers may suffer: If the major holders of global stocks decide to turn precautionary and stop exporting, and if the lockdown is prolonged, countries dependent on rice imports will suffer.
  • Restriction on wheat export: Kazakhstan, a major wheat exporter, has banned exports. Russia, the largest wheat exporter, is expected to restrict its exports.
  • Restriction on rice export: Vietnam, the third-largest rice exporter, has stopped its exports, which will reduce the global rice exports by 15%.
  • If India and Thailand too ban exports, the world supply of rice will sharply fall.
  • In March 2020, the Philippines and the European Union, major rice importers, had inventories of rice enough to feed their populations for about three months.
  • Others, however, had inventories to hold on for about one month only. If the lockdown continues beyond a month, these countries will face food shortages.

Stocks with India and output projections

  • India’s foodgrain output is projected to be about 292 MMT in 2019-20.
  • Stock with FCI: On March 1, 2020, the total stock of wheat and rice with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) was 77.5 MT.
  • Buffer stock norms: The buffer norms for foodgrain stocks — i.e., operational stock plus strategic reserves — is 21.04 MT.
  • Similarly, for pulses, India had a stock of 2.25 MT in mid-March 2020.
  • In both cases, the rabi harvest is slated to arrive in April 2020, and the situation is expected to ease further.

Price fluctuation of food in the world

  • Fall in demand and supply and price fluctuation: There is always an element of uncertainty on how prices will behave if both demand and supply fall together.
  • Prices in different markets fluctuate considerably given differences in the extent of production, stocks, arrivals and supply disruptions.
  • According to the FAO, the world food price index fell by 4.3% and world cereal price index fell by 1.9% between February and March 2020 due to the weakening demand for food and the sharp fall in maize prices owing to poor demand for biofuels.
  • Price rise in Western economies: Retail prices of rice and wheat have been rising in the Western economies in March 2020.
  • The major reasons identified are panic buying by households, export restrictions by countries and continuing supply chain disruptions.
  • Retail prices of beef and eggs have also been rising.

Demand and price fluctuation in India

  • WPI and CPI for food in India were rising from mid-2019 onwards, reflecting a rise in vegetable prices, especially onion prices.
  • January and February 2020 saw a moderate fall in these indices, but vegetable prices have remained high.
  • If food prices rise due to the lockdown, it will be on top of an already rising price curve.
  • However, unlike in the West, food prices in India have not risen after the lockdown.
  • While supplies have declined, demand has fallen too. This is because there has been a sharp fall in the consumption of foodgrains and vegetables. Similarly, the consumption of milk has fallen by 10-12%.

The crisis in the harvesting and marketing of the crops

Harvesting and marketing of crops are in crisis across India, because of-

  • Disruptions in the procurement of foodgrains by government agencies.
  • Disruptions in the collection of harvests from the farms by traders.
  • Shortage of workers to harvest the rabi crops.
  • Shortage of truck drivers.
  • Blockades in the transport of commodities.
  • Limited operations of APMC mandis; and
  • Shutdowns in the retail markets.

Conclusion

The world and India have adequate food stocks. But as global trade shrinks and supply disruptions persist, a prolonged lockdown will adversely affect food security in many countries. Concurrently, farmers face acute labour shortages, falling farmgate prices and lack of access to input/output markets. It is unclear who is benefiting, but farmers, workers and the poor are at their wits’ end.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Preparing for SAARC 2.0op-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Revival of SAARC is the need of the hour amid corona crisis.


Context

A tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi resulted in the first-ever virtual summit of SAARC leaders on March 15. What has happened to this innovative exercise in health diplomacy since then?

The follow-up after the video-conference of SAARC members

  • Considering that SAARC has been dormant for several years due to regional tensions, it is worth stressing that the fight against COVID-19 has been taken up in right earnest through a series of tangible measures.
  • First, all the eight member-states were represented at the video conference — all at the level of head of state or government, except Pakistan.
  • The Secretary-General of SAARC participated. They readily agreed to work together to contain the virus and shared their experiences and perspectives.
  • SecondIndia’s proposal to launch a COVID-19 Emergency Fund was given positive reception.
  • Within days, all the countries, except Pakistan, contributed to it voluntarily, bringing the total contributions to $18.8 million. Although it is a modest amount, the spirit of readily expressed solidarity behind it matters.
  • Third, the fund has already been operationalised. It is controlled neither by India nor by the Secretariat.
  • It is learnt that each contributing member-state is responsible for approval and disbursement of funds in response to requests received from others.
  • Fourth, in the domain of implementation, India is in the lead, with its initial contribution of $10 million.
  • It has received requests for medical equipment, medicines and other supplies from Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
  • Many requests have already been accepted and action has been taken, whereas others are under implementation.
  • Fifth, a follow-up video-conference of senior health officials was arranged on March 26.
  • The agenda included issues ranging from specific protocols dealing with the screening at entry points and contact tracing to online training capsules for emergency response teams.
  • Technical cooperation: Steps are now underway to nurture technical cooperation through a shared electronic platform as also to arrange an exchange of all useful information among health professionals through more informal means.

Is the fund sufficient to deal with the grave threat?

  • So far, South Asia has not exactly borne the brunt of the pandemic.
  • Of the total confirmed cases in the world that stood at 12,89,380 on April 6 (according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resources Center), SAARC countries reported only 8,292 cases, representing 0.64%.
  • Reasons of lower spread not known: Whether the low share is due to limited testing, a peculiarity of the strain of the virus, people’s unique immunity, South Asia’s climate, decisive measures by governments, or just good fortune is difficult to say.
  • But it is evident that India’s imaginative diplomacy has leveraged the crisis to create a new mechanism for workable cooperation.
  • It will become stronger if the crisis deepens and if member-states see advantages in working together. Seven of the eight members already do.

Is it the sign of revival of SAARC?

  • To conclude that SAARC is now returning to an active phase on a broad front may, however, be
  • In the backdrop of political capital invested by New Delhi in strengthening BIMSTEC and the urgings it received recently from Nepal and Sri Lanka to resuscitate SAARC, India’s foreign minister said that India had no preference for a specific platform.
  • But India was fully committed to the cause of regional cooperation and connectivity.
  • The challenge facing the region is how to relate to a country which claims to favour regional cooperation, while working against it.
  • Clearly, India has little difficulty in cooperating with like-minded neighbours, as it showed by forging unity in the war against COVID-19.
  • This is diplomatic resilience and leadership at its best.

Conclusion

Given the grave threat posed by the pandemic and other benefits that the multilateral platforms such as SAARC offers Both New Delhi and its friendly neighbours need to start preparing themselves for SAARC 2.0.

WTO and India

Between nationalism and globalismop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Is the globalisation past its peak? what will be the impact of corona crisis on the globalisation?


Context

Although all world leaders have acknowledged the global imperative in dealing with the virus, they have put the nation first without much consideration to the collective action.

The middle path between extreme globalisation and hyper-nationalism

  • ‘Nation first’ approach: Although all world leaders have acknowledged the global imperative in dealing with the virus, they have put the nation first. Are all nations now for themselves? Not so fast.
  • Sovereignty is certainly back. Solidarity is under stress, but not dead. The drift is towards a middle path between extreme globalism and hyper-nationalism.
  • The last few decades have seen the growing awareness of “global problems” like climate change and the need for “global solutions”.
  • Lack of collective action: The corona pandemic certainly adds to that consciousness. But as in the case of climate change, collective action is not easy to come by.

Closing of the borders and the idea of a “borderless world”

  • One of the first steps most governments took during the current crisis was to shut down their borders.
  • The idea of a “borderless world” had gained much acceptance in recent years but is now under serious questioning.
  • For example, how the US, Canada and Europe are outbidding each other in buying medical material from China.
  • They are ready to pay a hefty premium if Chinese suppliers break from an earlier commitment.
  • Nations banning medicines: Meanwhile, many nations, including India, have banned the export of much-needed medicines and equipment to combat the virus.
  • Washington, which initially criticised other countries for limiting exports of essential drugs, has had no option but to go down that path as the toll from coronavirus rose rapidly.
  • Donald Trump is angry with 3M, one of the leading American producers of masks, for exporting to other nations at a time of huge domestic shortfall.
  • The US ban on exports of medical supplies came just days after the G-20 affirmed that its member states “will work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders”.

Globalisation and related ideas under stress

  • A testing time for two ideas: The problem is not that governments are being hypocritical. They are simply trapped in a crisis that is testing two important assumptions that guided the world in the last three decades.
  • One is that globalisation, with its long and transborder supply chains, generates prosperity through economic efficiency.
  • The second was that economic globalisation based on the dispersal of production will serve the interests of all nations.

Opposition to globalisation in the West

  • The new objections to economic globalisation are not coming from the traditional champions of sovereignty in the East and the South, but the West.
  • It was North America and Europe that had preached the virtues of unhindered economic
  • They also championed the idea of globalism that will transcend national sovereignty in terms of both institutions and values.
  • New converts to nationalism and sovereignty began to appear in the West well before corona crisis.
  • Brexit to take control own borders: Britain walked out of the European Union claiming the need to “take back control” of its borders.
  • Storming the White House against all predictions in 2016, Trump has sought to push Washington away from the trinity of America’s post-war political commitments-to open borders, free trade, and multilateralism.
  • Globalisation and corona crisis: For Trump and his team, the corona crisis is confirmation of the dangers of excessive globalisation.
  • This argument is finding some resonance in Europe.
  • Addressing workers at a factory that makes masks in France, President Emmanuel Macron echoed the same feelings.

Arguments against globalisation

  • An argument against efficiency: The efficiency argument of the globalists has been countered in the West by many who say societies are not merely economic units; they are also political and social communities.
  • The disadvantage to working people: While expansive globalisation has helped generate super-profits for the capital, it has put the working people at an increasing disadvantage.
  • Uneven distribution of benefits: The uneven distribution of the benefits from the dispersal of production and free movement of labour has undermined political support for economic globalisation in the West.
  • Role of China: Reinforcing this downward trend is the belief that China is misusing global economic interdependence for unilateral political advantage.
  • There were indeed strategic consequences to China’s emergence as the world’s factory.
  • After all, China is not a passive territory; it is an ancient civilisation with ambitions of its own.

Future of globalisation and the role of China

  • The peak of expansive globalisation is over: While economic interdependence among nations can’t be eliminated, we might be past the peak of expansive globalisation and hyper-connectivity.
  • Many countries are likely to move to the diversification of external production, short supply chains and stockpiles of essential materials to limit vulnerability during times of crises.
  • China-West relations may change: The palpable anger against China in the US and beyond, for keeping the world in the dark about the spread of the coronavirus, has been magnified by Beijing’s “mask diplomacy” and political triumphalism after it got in control of the situation in Wuhan.
  • This anger is bound to translate into long-term changes in the relations between China and the West and some rearrangement of multilateral mechanisms.

Conclusion

Out of this restructuring new international coalitions are likely to emerge. Even as world leaders put their own respective nations first, they will also explore new forms of solidarity. Like the instinct for self-preservation, solidarity too is part of human nature.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

‘Bhilwara Model’ for containment of coronavirusPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bhilwara Model

Mains level : Agressive strategies to contain covid-19 spread


Bhilwara in Rajasthan was one of the early hotspots of the COVID-19 outbreak. The government responded with extraordinarily aggressive measures — and the ‘Bhilwara model’. The success of the model is attributed to the fact that Bhilwara, which was the first district in Rajasthan to report most number of covid cases has now reported only one positive case since March 30.

What is the Bhilwara Model?

  • The Bhilwara COVID-19 containment “model” refers to the steps taken by the administration in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district to contain the disease, after it emerged as a hotspot for coronavirus positive cases.
  • Bhilwara district was among the most-affected places in India during the first phase of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The measures taken by the state govt. included imposing a curfew in the district which also barred essential services, extensive screening and house-to-house surveys to check for possible cases.
  • It went for detailed contact tracing of each positive case so as to create a dossier on everybody they met ever since they got infected.

What did the administration do as part of the containment strategy?

  • The “Bhilwara model” of tackling COVID-19 cases involves, simply, “ruthless containment”.
  • Within three days of the first positive case the district health administration in Bhilwara constituted nearly 850 teams and conducted house-to-house surveys at 56k houses and of 280k people.
  • Thousands were identified to be suffering from influenza-like illness (ILI) symptoms and were kept in home quarantine.
  • Intense contact tracing was also carried out of those patients who tested positive, with the Health Department preparing detailed charts of all the people whom they had met since being infected.
  • The state also took the help of technology, using an app to monitor the conditions of those under home quarantine on a daily basis along with keeping a tab on them through GIS.
  • The administration backed up the surveys by imposing a total lockdown on the district, with the local police ensuring strict implementation of the curfew.
  • The patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), Tamiflu and HIV drugs.

What were the challenges the administration faced in imposing these extraordinary measures?

  • The biggest challenge that the administration faced was containing the rising number of cases after the initial outbreak.
  • The doctors of the private hospital who had tested positive had come into contact with numerous people including the staff and patients who visited the private hospital during the period when the doctors were already infected.
  • Some of these patients had come from other states and after the first case of COVID-19 was detected.
  • The government also had an uphill task ahead of them assembling the teams of doctors, auxiliary nurse and midwives and nursing students who went to conduct the house-to-house surveys.
  • Owing to the fact that Bhilwara, a thriving textile city with an estimated population of 30 lakh, it was also a difficult task for the government to strictly impose the curfew uniformly in all areas.
Judicial Reforms

What is Open Court System?Priority 1SC Judgements

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Open Courts, Art. 142

Mains level : Transparency in judicial functioning


The Supreme Court has invoked its extraordinary Constitutional powers under Article 142 to step away from the convention of open court hearings. It deemed all restrictions imposed on people from entering, attending or taking part in court hearings as lawful in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are Open Courts?

  • The Open court principle requires that court proceedings presumptively be open and accessible to the public and to the media.
  • Open courts are normal court where proceedings of the court are conducted where every person is allowed to watch the proceedings of the court.
  • There are instances where it is not practical to accommodate persons other than parties to the proceedings. Therefore, such proceedings are held in camera.
  • This means that the proceedings are held in a closed room where the public will not have access to watch the proceedings.
  • In criminal cases like rape, it is necessary to protect the identity and modesty of the victim.

Why did the Supreme Court deter Open Court’s norm?

  • A Bench led by CJI said these restrictions were in tune with the social distancing norms and best public health practices advocated to contain the contagion.
  • The court made it clear that public health takes precedence over conventions.
  • Every individual and institution is expected to cooperate in the implementation of measures designed to reduce the transmission of the virus.
  • Open court hearings would mean a congregation of large number of people. This would prove detrimental to the fight against the virus.

Conclusion

  • Access to justice is fundamental to preserve the rule of law in the democracy envisaged by the Constitution of India.
  • The challenges occasioned by the outbreak of COVID-19 have to be addressed while preserving the constitutional commitment to ensuring the delivery of and access to justice to those who seek it..

Way forward

  • Indian courts have been proactive in embracing advancement in technology in judicial proceedings.
  • Judiciary can bank on video-conferencing technologies in the wake of this unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic.

Back2Basics

Article 142 of the Indian Constitution

  • Article 142 allows the Supreme Court to pass any order necessary to do “complete justice” in any case.
  • It supplements the powers already conferred upon the Supreme Court under the Constitution to guarantee that justice is done and in doing so the Court is not restrained by lack of jurisdiction or authority of law.
  • The phrase ‘complete justice’ engrafted in Article 142(1) is the word of wide interpretation to meet situations created by legal errors or result of operation of statute law or law.
  • Thus Article 142 is conceived to give the apex court the powers to meet the situations which cannot be effectively tackled by existing provisions of law.

Also read: 

Supreme Court Removes Manipur MLA Under The 10th Schedule

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

MPLADS funds suspended over COVID-19 crisisGovt. SchemesPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MPLADS

Mains level : MPLADS and its implementation


The Union Cabinet gave its nod to the temporary suspension of MPLAD Funds during 2020-21 and 2021-22 in view of the adverse impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 in India.

Why suspend MPLAD?

  • The consolidated amount of MPLAD Funds for 2 years – Rs 7,900 crores – will go to Consolidated Fund of India.
  • The Cabinet has also approved an ordinance to reduce the salaries, allowances and pensions of Members of Parliament (MPs), including the Prime Minister, by 30 per cent for one year.
  • The amount so collected would be utilized in the fight against coronavirus.

What is the MPLAD scheme?

  • The Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) is a programme first launched during the Narasimha Rao Government in 1993.
  • It was aimed towards providing funds for developmental works recommended by individual MPs.

Funds available

  • The MPs then were entitled to recommend works to the tune of Rs 1 crore annually between 1994-95 and 1997-98, after which the annual entitlement was enhanced to Rs 2 crore.
  • The UPA government in 2011-12 raised the annual entitlement to Rs 5 crore per MP.

Implementation

  • To implement their plans in an area, MPs have to recommend them to the District Authority of the respective Nodal District.
  • The District Authorities then identify Implementing Agencies which execute the projects.
  • The respective District Authority is supposed to oversee the implementation and has to submit monthly reports, audit reports, and work completion reports to the Nodal District Authority.
  • The MPLADS funds can be merged with other schemes such as MGNREGA and Khelo India.

Guidelines for MPLADS implementation

  • The document ‘Guidelines on MPLADS’ was published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in June 2016 in this regard.
  • It stated the objective of the scheme to enable MPs to recommend works of developmental nature with emphasis on the creation of durable community assets based on the locally felt needs in their Constituencies.
  • Right from inception of the Scheme, durable assets of national priorities viz. drinking water, primary education, public health, sanitation and roads, etc. should be created.
  • It recommended MPs to works costing at least 15 per cent of their entitlement for the year for areas inhabited by Scheduled Caste population and 7.5 per cent for areas inhabited by ST population.
  • It layy down a number of development works including construction of railway halt stations, providing financial assistance to recognised bodies, cooperative societies, installing CCTV cameras etc.
Capital Markets: Challenges and Developments

Euro Zone ‘Coronabonds’Prelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Coronabonds, Eurozone

Mains level : Not Much


The coronavirus pandemic has revived the acrimonious debate between euro zone countries about jointly issuing debt through instruments called Coronabonds.

Coronabonds

  • Coronabonds are proposed debt instruments amongst EU member states, with the aim of providing financial relief to Eurozone countries battered by the coronavirus.
  • They aim to meet healthcare needs and address the deep economic downturn that is set to follow.
  • The funds would be mutualised and supplied by the European Investment Bank, with the debt taken collectively by all member states of the European Union.
  • The euro zone jointly issues debt through its bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, which borrows on the market against the security of its paid-in and callable capital provided by euro zone governments.

Back2Basics

What is Eurozone?

  • The Eurozone officially called the euro area is a monetary union of 19 of the 27 European Union (EU) member states which have adopted the euro as their common currency and sole legal tender.
  • The monetary authority of the Eurozone is the Eurosystem.
  • It consists of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[pib] Centre for Augmenting WAR with COVID-19 Health Crisis (CAWACH)PIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CAWACH

Mains level : Not Much


Department of Science & Technology has approved setting up of a Centre for Augmenting WAR with COVID-19 Health Crisis (CAWACH).

What is CAWACH?

  • CAWACH will help to address various challenges faced by country due to severe impact of COVID-19.
  • CAWACH will identify up to 50 innovations and startups that are in the area of novel, low cost, safe and effective ventilators, respiratory aids, protective gears, novel solutions for sanitizers, disinfectants, diagnostics, therapeutics, informatics and any effective interventions to control COVID-19.
  • The CAWACH’s mandate will be to extend timely support to potential startups by way of the requisite financial assistance and fund deployment targeting innovations that are deployable in the market within next 6 months.
  • The Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE), a technology business incubator at IIT Bombay supported by DST has been identified as the Implementing Agency of the CAWACH.
  • It will provide access to pan India networks for testing, trial and market deployment of these products and solutions in the identified areas of priority COVID-19 solutions.