March 2020
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Coronavirus – Economic Issues

Lock, don’t shutop-ed of the day

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 legalpoliticop-ed snap

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-19op-ed snap

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?Priority 1

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 disinfectantPrelims Only

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 installmentsPrelims Only

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 HourPrelims Only

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.
G20 : Economic Cooperation ahead

The deep void in global leadershipop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- International cooperation to deal with the coronavirus is a need of the hour.


Context

The coronavirus’s flight across the world at lightning speed has exposed the total void in collective leadership at the global level.

No global plan of action to combat the virus

  • No plan of action: Three months into the catastrophic war declared by an invisible virus, there is as yet no comprehensive, concerted plan of action, orchestrated by global leaders.
  • The G20 meeting: The G20 has just had a virtual meeting, at the prodding of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • $ 5-trillion into the world economy: It is encouraging to learn that the G20 leaders have agreed to inject $5-trillion into the world economy to partially counter the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. This is indeed good news.
  • Need to do more: But taking collective ownership to fight a global war against the virus will require a lot more than writing cheques.

SAARC meeting stands out in the world

  • Pandemic is not treated as a common enemy: World leaders are obviously overwhelmed with their own national challenges and do not appear inclined to view the pandemic as a common enemy against mankind, which it is.
  • Delay in reporting by China: China delayed reporting the virus to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and perhaps, contributed to the exacerbation of the spread of the virus across the globe.
  • Unilateral suspension of flight by the US: It was reported that the Trump administration did not even inform the European Union before it shut off flights from Europe.
  • Why the SAARC meeting stands out? It must be acknowledged that the initiative taken by Mr Modi in the early days to convene a meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries stands out in contrast to the pusillanimous leadership around the world.

Need for leaders of nations to come together for collective global action.

  • Pandemic to persist: There is no evidence that, at the global level, the pandemic has abated yet and would be brought under control soon.
  • Massive lockdown, not a solution: To imagine that nations would be able to tame the virus soon with massive shutdowns might be just wishful thinking.
  • National shutdowns and physical distancing have been a challenge not only in the United States and some European countries, but it would also be more so in populous countries such as India.
  • At any rate, such lockouts come at enormous economic and social costs.
  • The utility of long suspension of international travel: As long as the virus is alive in some corner of the world, it would resume its travel across the world the moment international travel restrictions are relaxed.
  • Is it realistic to imagine that international travel will remain suspended until the last virus alive on this planet is extinguished?
  • This is a war. A good war against a bad enemy, and a common enemy, that respects no borders.
  • It is a global challenge to be fought by collective global leadership: If this global challenge is not a battle to be fought by a collective global leadership, nothing else is.
  • And yet, the typical response by all affected nations has been to impose ‘National distancing’ by closing borders.
  • While this is no doubt, a most appropriate response, there is a much bigger and emergent need for leaders of nations to come together for collective global action.

Two reasons for the lack of collective global action

  • 1. Right-wing nationalism: The swing towards right-wing nationalism, as a guiding political ideology, in large swathes of the world, particularly in the U.S.
  • This ideology posits ‘global good’ being in conflict with and inimical to national interests.
  • 2. Ineffectiveness of the multilateral institutions: The United Nations was the outcome of the shared vision of the world leaders after World War II, that collective action is the only way forward to prevent the occurrence of another war.
  • That institution has notoriously failed to live up to its expectations to maintain peace among nations in the nearly 80 years since its formation.
  • Its affiliate organisations have, in several ways, failed to deliver on their lofty missions.
  • In particular WHO has proven to be too lethargic in reacting to pandemics in the past.
  • Its responses to COVID-19 has come under the scanner, not merely for incompetence, but also for lack of intellectual integrity.

G-20 offers hope

  • A nimble outfit, not burdened with bureaucracy, is required to manage a global crisis of the nature that we are confronted with, today.
  • The G20, with co-option of other affected countries, itself might serve the purpose for the present.
  • What the global leadership must acknowledge: What is important is for the global leaders to acknowledge what every foot soldier knows: winning a war would require the right strategy, rapid mobilisation of relevant resources and, most importantly, timely action.
  • The following actions should come out of such a collective-
  • 1. Dealing with the shortages: The collective should ensure that shortages of drugs, medical equipment and protective gear do not come in the way of any nation’s capacity to contain or fight the pandemic.
  • Assistance from other countries: It is very likely that some nations that have succeeded in bringing the pandemic under control, such as China, Japan or South Korea, might have the capability to step up production at short notice to meet the increasing demand from other countries which are behind the curve.
  •  Development of information exchange: This would typically involve urgent development of information exchange on global production capacity, present and potential, demand and supply.
  • This is not to mean that there should be centralised management, which is not only infeasible but counterproductive, as the attendant bureaucracy will impede quick action.
  • A common information exchange could restrain the richer countries from predatory contracting of global capacities.
  • 2. Protocol among participant countries: Protocols might need to be put in place among participating countries to ensure seamless logistics for the supply chain for essential goods and services to function efficiently.
  • This might be particularly necessary in the context of controls on international traffic and national shutdowns.
  • There would need to be concomitant accord to eliminate all kinds of tariff and non-tariff barriers.
  • 3. Exchange of information: There needs to be an instantaneous exchange of authenticated information on what clinical solutions have succeeded and what has not.
  • A classic example is an issue relating to hydroxychloroquine, which is being used experimentally, bypassing the rigours of randomised clinical trials.
  • While there is no substitute to classic clinical proof, the more field-level information is shared within the medical community, the better will be the success rates of such experimentation.
  • 4.Cross country collaboration on the trials: This is a time to have cross-country collaboration on laboratory trials and clinical validation for vaccines and anti-viral drugs.
  • It must be acknowledged that WHO has already moved on this issue, although, perhaps, belatedly.
  • The best way to ensure speedy research is to pool global resources.
  • This attempt to collaborate might also bring in its wake an acceptable commercial solution that adequately incentivises private research while ensuring benefits being available to the entire world at affordable costs.
  • Such a framework might be necessary for sustained collaborations for future challenges.
  • 5. Easy movement of trained health professionals: There is a need to facilitate easy movement of trained health professionals across the world to train others and augment resources wherever there are shortages.
  • In other words, nations should come together to organise a global army to fight the pandemic, equipped with the best weapons and tools.
  • 6. The anticipation of food shortages: We must anticipate food shortages occurring sooner or later, in some part of the world, consequent to the national shutdowns.
  • Ironically, while we might have saved lives from the assault of the novel coronavirus, we might run the risk of losing lives to starvation and malnutrition, somewhere in the world if we do not take adequate precautions.
  • This requires not only coordinated global action; it would also turn out to be the test of global concern for mankind in general.

Reconstruction of the global economy

  • Devastation no less than after the world war: Eventually, there is no doubt that human talent will triumph over the microscopic virus. But the economic devastation, that would have been caused as a result will be no less than the aftermath of a world war.
  • What should the reconstruction of economy involve? An orderly reconstruction of the global economy, which is equitable and inclusive, will eventually involve renegotiating terms of trade among key trading blocs, concerted action among central bankers to stabilise currencies, and a responsible way to regulate and manage global commodity markets.

Conclusion

Does India have the power to awaken the conscience of the Superpowers and catalyse collective global action? Remember, historically, it is always the weakling or the oppressed, who have caused transformational changes in the world order.

Animal Husbandry, Dairy & Fisheries Sector – Pashudhan Sanjivani, E- Pashudhan Haat, etc

Amid the Lockdown, How can we efficiently manage our Agriculture and Livestock sectorop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Essential Services Maintenance Act.

Mains level : Paper 3- Managing the agriculture and livestock sector.


Context

Amid lockdown, we need an action plan to manage our agriculture, livestock sectors.

Need for an immediate action plan to manage the agriculture and livestock sector

  • The country produces around 52 crore litres of milk daily.
  • There are also 80 crore-odd live poultry, both broilers and layers, at any given time, supplying meat and eggs to consumers.
  • Link with the other producers: These birds and animals, in turn, support the livelihoods of poultry and dairy farmers, as well as those producing maize, soybean, mustard, groundnut, cotton and other coarse grains that are ingredients for livestock feed.
  • It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that farmers are able to keep their animals alive and market the crop that has been, or will be, harvested during the lockdown period.
  • We need an immediate action plan to manage our agriculture and livestock sectors in the interest of both producers and consumers.

Issue of implementation

  • Ensuring free movements: The first thing is to ensure free movement of farm produce, livestock feed and veterinary medicines.
  • Implementing the already taken decision: It is obvious that not all issues can be addressed overnight. But the minimum the government can do is to ensure ground-level implementation of already-taken decisions.
  • The problem of implementation: Many essential services, for instance, were kept out of the purview of the lockdown. Food, feed and agricultural inputs have been specifically notified as essential services.
  • But there are several problems at the level of implementation that are coming to notice.
  • The Centre has issued various directives/notifications, many of them brief and general in nature.
  • Many of these have either not reached the local authorities and police personnel or are not clearly worded. As a result, the smooth movement of essential items has been affected.
  • There are also reports of conflict between the police and citizens, including people involved in the transportation and delivery of food as well as inputs to farms.
  • Why good food supply line matters? The government must do to ensure that people don’t go hungry and the measures it must take to make sure people don’t crowd a few outlets, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.
  • The government has announced that the beneficiaries of the public distribution system can avail three months’ ration at one go.
  • The challenge of delivery: The challenge is to ensure that fair price shops deliver the provisions in an orderly manner and their supply lines remain intact.

Issue of poultry and maize farmers

  • Sharp fall in poultry items: In such times, prices of essential food items are known to shoot up. But in India, prices of food items like chicken meat and eggs have registered a sharp fall.
  • In Delhi’s Gazipur Mandi, for example, the price of broiler chicken has fallen from Rs 55/kg in January 2020 to Rs 24/kg in March.
  • This has also pushed the maize prices down as poultry is largely fed packaged maize.
  • The government may have to think of compensating poultry and maize farmers in due course.

Suggestions for improving the implementation issue

  • Issue a single notification: The Centre must issue a single notification relating to food items in a standard format and uniform language so that all ambiguities are removed.
  • This needs to be finalised after consultations with the stakeholders and the state governments can release it to officials working at the grassroots.
  • The focus should be to address the problems arising from restrictions on the transport — between and within states — of agri-produce and inputs related to them.
  • Invoke the ESMA: Another suggestion is that the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) be invoked for the delivery of all essential services relating to food to prevent disruption of supplies.
  • Home delivery option: Home (street) delivery of these provisions, to avoid crowding, is a good option.
  • Roping in civil society: This is also an occasion to rope in civil society. NGOs, resident welfare associations, religious organisations and paramilitary forces can be engaged for orderly and safe distribution of food — both pre-cooked and fresh.
  • NGOs with experience in food preparation and distribution, such as Akshaya Patra, could guide local authorities.
  • People involved in this endeavour should be provided with safety gears.
  • The challenge of supplying perishables: These perishables-like fruits, vegetables and milk- must be sold in a packaged form in mobile vans. The weekly markets need to be temporarily suspended lest they spread the virus.
  • Vegetable vendors can work with civil society organisations as well as e-commerce players to do this job in a safe manner.
  • Retail distribution lines: Retail distribution lines need to be seamlessly linked to wholesale supply lines.
  • How to manage rabi season procurement? Procurement operations for rabi crops are around the corner.
  • Training and safety measures: The FCI and other procuring agencies need to be trained about safety measures and supplied safety gear.
  • Providing incentives to farmers for staggered selling: Farmers could be given Rs 50/quintal per month as an incentive to stagger bringing their produce to the market — say after May 10.
  • They will also need to be screened, given training and equipped with safety gear.

Suggestions to prevent post-lockdown chaos

  • What will happen after the lockdown ends? Many plants are now shut or working at low capacity utilisation. Consumption by hotels and other institutions, too, is low. Nor is any export or import happening. But once the lockdown ends, there will be a rush to procure raw material, trucks and rail rakes.
  • Smooth recovery: Smooth recovery from the lockdown is as important as managing supplies during the lockdown.
  • Here are a few suggestions to ensure that the common man does not have to suffer hardships during and after the lockdown:
  • First– Place all food items, agri-inputs, packaging material and transport services under ESMA for a six-month period to prevent profiteering.
  • The MRP that was applicable in February should remain till October.
  • In the case of farm produce, it helps that we are looking at a bumper crop, which makes it all the more necessary to ensure its smooth marketing.
  • Second-Suspend APMC (agricultural produce market committee) laws for the next six months.
  • Traders with APMC licence are bound to act as cartels during rush hour, which will hurt both farmers and consumers.
  • Third-ESMA should apply to all utilities and transport services. State governments can make exemptions on a case to case basis: These exemptions should be subject to public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act.
  • The government should announce the above measures well in advance.

Conclusion

The government must start planning now to prevent post-lockdown chaos, especially profiteering in the event of shortages. Smooth recovery from the lockdown is as important as managing supplies during the lockdown.

 

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

A smarter supply lineop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Ensuring the food supply lines are not disrupted in the lockdown and suggestions to ensure it.


Context

The government must ensure that people don’t go hungry and take measures to make sure that people don’t crowd a few outlets, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.

Need for the package to compensate losses

  • Welfare package: The government has announced relief measures. Last week, the Finance Minister announced a welfare package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore.
  • This is too small to cope with the onslaught of the virus.
  • How much a comprehensive package would cost? A package to compensate all losses, including business losses, should amount to at least Rs 5 to 6 lakh crore, if not more.
  • How will the government find funds for this package?
  • Funds accrued as a result of oil price crash: The windfall gains that have accrued to it as a result of the crash in crude oil prices could come in handy.
  • Diver all the subsidies and development funds: The government could divert all subsidies and some development funds to fund this package and ask the country’s corporate leaders to help with funds.
  • Issue clarion call for voluntary donation: The prime minister could even issue a clarion call to those with a fixed income (say above Rs 50,000/month) to voluntarily donate at least 10 per cent of their salaries to fund the battle against the virus.

Focus on supply lines of food and ways to achieve it

  • Why good food supply line matters? The government must do to ensure that people don’t go hungry and the measures it must take to make sure people don’t crowd a few outlets, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.
  • The government has announced that the beneficiaries of the public distribution system can avail three months’ ration at one go.
  • The challenge of delivery: The challenge is to ensure that fair price shops deliver the provisions in an orderly manner and their supply lines remain intact.
  • Home delivery option: Home (street) delivery of these provisions, to avoid crowding, is a good option.
  • Roping in civil society: This is also an occasion to rope in civil society. NGOs, resident welfare associations, religious organisations and paramilitary forces can be engaged for orderly and safe distribution of food — both pre-cooked and fresh.
  • NGOs with experience in food preparation and distribution, such as Akshaya Patra, could guide local authorities.
  • People involved in this endeavour should be provided with safety gears.
  • The challenge of supplying perishables:  These perishables-like fruits, vegetables and milk- must be sold in a packaged form in mobile vans. The weekly markets need to be temporarily suspended lest they spread the virus.
  • Vegetable vendors can work with civil society organisations as well as e-commerce players to do this job in a safe manner.
  • Retail distribution lines: Retail distribution lines need to be seamlessly linked to wholesale supply lines.
  • Buffer stocks: The government godowns are overflowing with wheat and rice — about 77 million metric tonnes (MMT) on March 1, against a buffer stock norm of 21.4 MMT on April 1.
  • How to manage rabi season procurement? Procurement operations for rabi crops are around the corner.
  • Training and safety measures: The FCI and other procuring agencies need to be trained about safety measures and supplied safety gear.
  • Providing incentives to farmers for staggered selling: Farmers could be given Rs 50/quintal per month as an incentive to stagger bringing their produce to the market — say after May 10.
  • They will also need to be screened, given training and equipped with safety gear.

Challenge of mandi operations for fresh produce in large mandis

  • This pertains to mandi operations for fresh produce in large APMC mandis like Azadpur in Delhi and Vashi near Mumbai.
  • These mandis are usually overflowing with fruits and vegetables and the labour force at these centres usually handles the produce without safety gears.
  • The challenge of screening and providing safety kits to these workers is doubly daunting. The country is not fully prepared in this respect.
  • The safety of workers in mandis — and other workers who handle agricultural produce — should be accorded as much priority as the safety of frontline health warriors.
  • Suspend the APMC Act: We should also use this opportunity to suspend the APMC Act and encourage NGOs, civil society and corporate houses to directly procure from farmers.

Issue of poultry and maize farmers

  • Sharp fall in poultry items: In such times, prices of essential food items are known to shoot up. But in India, prices of food items like chicken meat and eggs have registered a sharp fall.
  • In Delhi’s Gazipur Mandi, for example, the price of broiler chicken has fallen from Rs 55/kg in January 2020 to Rs 24/kg in March.
  • This has also pushed the maize prices down as poultry is largely fed packaged maize.
  • The government may have to think of compensating poultry and maize farmers in due course.

Conclusion

When things settle, it will be worth knowing how the virus spread from Wuhan to Iran, Italy, Washington, India and other parts of the world. Which organisation or nation failed to blow the whistle and alert the world in time? Was it China’s failure? Or that of WHO? Or was it the failure of all governments around the world to respond quickly to the outbreak? We need better global governance for pandemics to avert the next crisis.

Coronavirus – Disease, Medical Sciences Involved & Preventive Measures

Convalescent Plasma TherapyPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Convalescent Plasma Therapy

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation


With no specific treatment available for novel coronavirus disease and a vaccine at least a year away, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved use of blood plasma from recovered patients to treat severely critical COVID-19 patients.

Convalescent Plasma Therapy

  • The therapy seeks to make use of the antibodies developed in the recovered patient against the coronavirus.
  • The whole blood or plasma from such people is taken, and the plasma is then injected in critically ill patients so that the antibodies are transferred and boost their fight against the virus.
  • A COVID-19 patient usually develops primary immunity against the virus in 10-14 days.
  • Therefore, if the plasma is injected at an early stage, it can possibly help fight the virus and prevent severe illness.

How often has it been used in the past?

  • This therapy is no new wonder. It has been used several times.
  • The US used plasma of recovered patients to treat patients of Spanish flu (1918-1920).
  • In 2014, the WHO released guidelines to treat Ebola patients with convalescent whole blood and plasma.
  • In 2015, plasma was used for treating MERS patients.

How is it done?

  • The process to infuse plasma in a patient can be completed quickly.
  • It only requires standard blood collection practices, and extraction of plasma.
  • If whole blood is donated (350-450 ml), a blood fractionation process is used to separate the plasma.
  • Otherwise, a special machine called aphaeresis machine can be used to extract the plasma directly from the donor.
  • While blood is indeed extracted from the donor, the aphaeresis machine separates and extracts the plasma using a plasma kit, and the remaining blood components are returned into the donor’s body.

WHO’s guidelines

  • WHO guidelines in 2014 mandate a donor’s permission before extracting plasma.
  • Plasma from only recovered patients must be taken, and donation must be done from people not infected with HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, or any infectious disease.
  • If whole blood is collected, the plasma is separated by sedimentation or centrifugation, then injected in the patient.
  • If plasma needs to be collected again from the same person, it must be done after 12 weeks of the first donation for males and 16 weeks for females, the WHO guidelines state.

How optimistic is the latest move?

  • COVID-19 does not have a specific treatment, only supportive care— including antiviral drugs, oxygen supply in mild cases and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
  • Plasma can be infused into two kinds of COVID-19 patients— those with a severe illness, or individuals at a higher risk of getting the virus.
  • However, that while plasma transfers immunity from one person to another, it is not known if it can save lives in COVID-19 infection.
  • The treatment could be effective for patients in the age group 40-60, but may be less effective for people aged beyond 60 years.

Can it be done in India?

  • India has facilities for removing 500 ml of plasma from a donor using aphaeresis.
  • For this experimental therapy to be tried out, the Drug Controller General of India will first have to grant blood banks approval for removal of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients.
  • The procedure is simple and can be done in India, but it is important to control the risk of infection during transfusion, and the patient’s acceptance is required.
  • It’s like a vaccine. It will engulf the virus and kill it. But it is easier said than done. We may need a series of approvals which India has never done before.
Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

Sections 269 & 270 IPC invoked against those accused of spreading COVID-19Mains Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IPC sections mentioned in the newscard

Mains level : COVID-19 and its mitigation


Sections 269 & 270 IPC invoked are being invoked against persons who malignantly do any act which is likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life.

Sections 269 and 270 of the IPC

  • Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) come under Chapter XIV of the IPC.
  • The chapter is named ‘Of Offences Affecting The Public Health, Safety, Convenience, Decency and Morals’.
  • While Section 269 provides for a jail term of six months and/or fine, Section 270 provides for a jail term of two years and/or fine.
  • In Section 270, the word ‘malignantly’ indicates a deliberate intention on the part of the accused.
  • During the coronavirus outbreak, penal provisions, such as Sections 188, 269 and 270 of the IPC, are being invoked to enforce the lockdown orders in various states.

Earlier instances of invocation

  • Both Sections have been used for over a century to punish those disobeying orders issued for containing epidemics.
  • The Sections were similarly enforced by colonial authorities during outbreaks of diseases such as smallpox and bubonic plague.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

PM-CARES FundPrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM-CARES Fund

Mains level : Not Much


Our PM has called for donations to the newly instituted PM-CARES Fund which has been formed on popular demand to help fight the novel coronavirus.

PM-CARES Fund

  • The fund will be a public charitable trust under the name of ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund’.
  • The PM is Chairman of this trust and members include the Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister.
  • Contributions to the fund will qualify as corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending that companies are mandated to make.
  • The Fund accepts micro-donations as well.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Species in news: Himalayan IbexSpecies in News

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Himalayan Ibex

Mains level : NA


A recent study by scientists of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has proved that Himalayan Ibex, distributed in the trans-Himalayan ranges of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh, is a distinct species from the Siberian Ibex.

Himalayan Ibex

IUCN/WPA Status:    Least Concern / Schedule I

  • Himalayan Ibex (Capra ibex sibirica) is widely found in arid and rocky mountain of Karakoram, Hindukush and Himalayas of Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • The males are characterized by heavy body, large horns, long bears while females have small body small horns.
  • The threats that Himalayan ibex face are the illegal hunting, human disturbance, habitat loss and competition for forage with domestic livestock.
Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

[pib] National Teleconsultation Centre (CoNTeC)PIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Teleconsultation Centre (CoNTeC)

Mains level : Telemedicine and its effectiveness


The Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has launched the National Teleconsultation Centre (CoNTeC).

 About CoNTeC

  • The CoNTeC is a Telemedicine Hub established by AIIMS, New Delhi, wherein expert doctors from various clinical domains will be available 24×7 to answer the multifaceted questions from specialists from all over the country.
  • It is a multi-modal telecommunications hub through which 2 way audio-video and text communications can be undertaken from any part of the country as well as the world at large.
  • The modes of communication will include simple mobile telephony as well as two way video communications, using WhatsApp, Skype and Google Duo.
  • The CoNTeC is also fully integrated with the National Medical College Network (NMCN) to conduct a full fledged Video Conference (VC) between the 50 Medical Colleges.

How to Contact the CoNTeC?

  • A single mobile number (+91 9115444155) can be dialled from anywhere in the coutnry/world by COVID-19 treating doctors to reach the CoNTeC which has six lines that can be used simultaneously at present.
  • This number of lines can be increased in future if needed.
  • The incoming calls will be picked up by the CoNTeC Managers, who will then handover the call to the appropriate expert doctors from the clinical domains as desired by the calling specialists managing the COVID-19 cases anywhere in the country.
  • The Managers will guide the callers in establishing a two way video call using the WhatsApp, Skype or Google Duo as preferred by the caller.
  • The callers from the NMCN network can connect anytime using the Telemedicine infrastructure at their end.
RBI Notifications

Will RBI’s big-bang monetary easing work?op-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Why pumping more money into the economy at such point is unlikely to kickstart it?


Context

On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) convened for an emergency meeting, ahead of schedule, to discuss its response to the economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Bond market reaction to the RBI announcement

  • The MPC deliberated for three full days, but its decision would most probably have been sealed right at the onset.
  • For that day, the Indian bond market saw no trades in the first twenty minutes.
  • Fear and uncertainty in the market: The gap between the asking price and bids was so wide that the first trade for the day took place at 9:33 am. Gripped by uncertainty and fear about the future following the outbreak, the market had frozen.

Measures by the RBI

  • Injecting the liquidity of Rs. 3.74 trillion: Responding to the market signal, the RBI rolled out a slew of measures from its armoury that will release liquidity of up to ₹3.74 trillion, or nearly 2% of gross domestic product, in the financial system.
  • This will facilitate the market’s orderly functioning.
  • Condition on LTRO-created-liquidity: In particular, the condition that the liquidity created through the Long Term Repo Operations (LTRO) tool must only be deployed in corporate debt securities was a direct response to the disruption in the markets seeing heavy sell-offs in the midst of thin trading volumes.
  • Comparison with measures by the Fed.: The US Federal Reserve, which has launched an unconventional asset sales programme for $4 trillion, has announced it will also directly buy corporate bonds to ease the tight market.
  • RBI has refrained from following suit, instead of passing the buck to banks via the conditional LTRO liquidity.
  • Banks are unlikely to step in to ease the tight corporate securities market.
  • Repo rate below the level seen in 2008: To combat the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the MPC has dropped its policy interest rate by 75 basis points, taking it down to 4.4%, a multi-year low.
  • The rate is now lower than it was in April 2009, when the central bank had taken it down to 75%, responding to the global financial crisis.
  • In 2008, just four days ahead of a scheduled policy review, RBI had cut the policy repo rate by 1 percentage point, sending an extraordinarily strong signal.

How the challenge this time is different from the 2008 crisis?

  • The nature of the current economic challenge is a lot different.
  • Economy at standstill: The shock back then had depressed demand, but the economy had not been brought to a standstill as it has now, with resources, including labour and capacities idling.

Why the measures would not kickstart the economy

  • Effect of rate cut: When all economic activity has halted, and uncertainty about the future is soaring, there’s no way a rate cut—no matter how steep—can kickstart the economy.
  • Businesses cannot plan for the future and will not borrow.
  • Banks will hold on too, fearful of the risk of loans going bad.
  • As it is, even before Covid-19 struck, credit disbursement was sluggish.
  • Now, with a host of companies facing the threat of credit rating downgrades, the probability of lenders turning a little less risk-averse is even lower.
  • Who would be the beneficiary of the rate cut? The biggest beneficiary of RBI’s rate cut—which was bigger than market expectations—would be the government.
  • Reduced borrowing cost for the government: In one stroke, the MPC has altered the fiscal deficit calculation by reducing the government’s borrowing cost.
  • There will be savings on its outgo on interest payments for new and rollover borrowings.

Three-month moratorium and issue with it

  • RBI also permitted banks and non-bank financial institutions to grant a three-month moratorium on loan repayments and reclassification of stressed loans as non-performing assets (NPAs).
  • This will provide relief by cushioning cash flow pressures for firms and individuals when incomes and revenues have dropped sharply due to the lockdown.
  • The forbearance on downgrading these loans will prevent a sharp spike in NPA levels for banks and NBFCs.
  • There could be a sharp rise in the bad loans: The risk now is that a few quarters after the end of the moratorium there could be a sharp rise in bad loans.
  • It could give rise to the NPA problem: In that sense, it amounts to kicking the problem of a potential spike in NPAs down the road.
  • The problem of evergreening: On balance, it is the right call given the extraordinary challenge of the lockdown—provided a new cycle of evergreening of loans by banks is not allowed in a repeat of what happened in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Way forward

  • What more could RBI have done? Special credit windows for the worst-hit sectors like aviation, hotels and tourism may soon be required.

Conclusion

While prioritising financial stability is fine, the MPC’s inflation projection is puzzling. While refraining from providing estimates on growth and inflation, given that the spread, intensity and duration of Covid-19 remain uncertain, RBI said it expects food price pressures to soften going ahead on account of a blow to demand during the lockdown. The projection seems unreasonable when there are unprecedented supply-side bottlenecks.

Judicial Reforms

Ayyappa and the Courtop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Mains level : Paper 2- Need for reforms in the administrative functioning of the Supreme Court.


Context

In the several cases with potential significance, there was no effective hearing at the interim stages which created fait accompli. And which results in the status quo cementing itself.

The Sabarimala case and ‘balance of convenience’ principle

  • Review petition pending: Millions of disciples have protested the Court’s 2018 verdict where gender equality was held to trump the tenets of the faith and rejoiced at the November 2019 order of the Chief Justice’s bench granting their cause a fresh lease of life.
  • As things stand, their review petitions are kept pending until the questions of law are determined.
  • Please to enter the temple declined: In December 2019, fervent pleas on behalf of certain women devotees to enter the temple were declined, although the 2018 verdict continued to hold the field.
  • Why declining the plea for entry matters? This was justified by the Court on a “balance of convenience”, thereby laying down a new principle for not directing the implementation of its own judgement.

Pendency of Article 370 challenge case hearing

  • Nine judge bench: This year it was decided to put together the nine-judge bench to hear the cases on an urgent basis.
  • Kashmir case on the backburner: But with two judges from the ongoing Kashmir/Article 370 challenges also a part of the Sabarimala case, it would mean that the Kashmir issues would be put on the back burner in the middle of its hearing.
  • This is despite the advocates representing the right of women’s entry stating that they had no objection to the Kashmir cases being heard first.
  • Then, barely a day into the hearing, a strain of swine flu reached some of the members of the Bench, leading to a postponement of hearings till the middle of March.
  • Now, with a fierce pandemic enveloping the globe, the case is adjourned indefinitely.

Criticism of administrative functioning of the SC

  • Over the last few months, the Supreme Court has been besieged by criticism of its administrative functioning.
  • Delay in the hearing of important cases: Cases that have customarily been heard with alacrity, like those concerning personal liberty, law and order and criminal investigation, have been posted after long intervals with the Government being granted the luxury of time to respond.
  • No effective hearing in cases with immediacy: Where immediacy is pre-eminent so that fait accompli may not be created, as with the validity of the Kashmir notifications, the CAA and the electoral bonds, there have been no effective hearings at the interim stage.
  • Thus, the status quo slowly cements itself.

Reason for problems in administrative functions of the SC

  • Dual role played by the CJI: Since the early years of the judiciary, one person has been given the onerous dual charge of heading both the administrative and judicial functions of the court.
  • As a result, apart from sitting every day, reading briefs, hearing arguments and delivering detailed judgements, the Chief Justice has to also act as the final authority for all service-related matters of the Court’s 2,500 employees, issue office orders to streamline the registry.
  • The CJI also supervise measures for security and infrastructure, chair committees, correspond with and entertain judicial delegations, attend symposia, delegate subject matters among colleagues, constitute benches of varying strengths and interview candidates for the various courts.
  • In the old days, when the burden of cases was modest, these tasks would not have been challenging.
  • But in the present time, not only are they overwhelming, but they also bring in their wake a host of attacks on the person who occupies that high office.

Need for the Chief Executive Officer in the SC

  • Administrative functioning of the SC: In all the administrative tasks, the Chief Justice is assisted by a team of registrars, who are headed by the secretary-general.
  • As they are junior judicial officers, they neither have the training nor the complete independence to take steps towards course correction.
  • The requirement of CEO: This is why the Supreme Court sorely requires a chief executive officer – an independent professional who is equipped with the day-to-day management of the Court and is not beholden to the judges in any way.
  • How it will help? The CEO will be charged with the entire mission of running the Court so that the judges can concentrate on what they are trained and experienced to do – adjudicate.
  • Operational autonomy: The CEO will, of course, have to be given adequate operational autonomy and be answerable to a committee of the Court, comprising judges and bar representatives, thereby providing for a professional process, much like in the corporate sphere.
  • With this, the judges will at least be spared the charges that they have had to withstand over the last few years.

Conclusion

It is only for politicians to concern themselves with public opinion, not for judges. They are weaponised by the Constitution to serve the cause of justice, and in this, as per Article 144, all civil and judicial authorities are enjoined to cooperate. Just a few blows of the gavel to any misadventures would be sufficient to send the message loud and clear: That the Court offers no sanctuary to the executive knaves.

Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

After the lockdownop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- The lockdown hits the poor hardest and how it could have been avoided?


Context

Lockdown announcement has not been matched by national strategy — on containing fallout for poor.

Two arguments advanced against lockdown

  • India’s decision to lock down was necessary. Two arguments are being advanced against it.
  • The first argument: India is a poor economy, with millions at the margins of subsistence, who cannot bear the consequences of a lockdown. The density and living conditions in India make social distancing difficult in many cases.
  • The second argument: It is that the extent of community transmission does not justify such drastic measures.

What are the justifications for the lockdown?

  • The only hope: Precisely because millions in India are vulnerable and will not later have the possibilities of quarantining or medical care, the only hope we have of securing their lives is to slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible.
  • And the only shot you have at it is when community transmission is possibly still at manageable levels.
  • There is, therefore, a bit of bad faith in using the poor as the basis for expressing scepticism at the need for a lockdown. That is the most insidious form of privilege.
  • The risks of any catastrophic spread will be even more incalculable for the poor.

Underscoring the importance of federalism and decentralisation

  • States responding in innovative ways: One of the more encouraging things has been the way in which several state governments like Punjab, Odisha, Kerala, Delhi and others have come into their own, innovating under difficult circumstances.
  • Role of panchayat and local officials: The much-neglected panchayat and local officials are key nodes in keeping track of possible cases and the creation of quarantining infrastructure.
  • Role of frontline workers: It would also be churlish not to acknowledge the ways in which most of the frontline workers of the state are responding, learning and innovating in this situation.
  • Federalism and decentralisation: If anything, this crisis is bringing home the importance of both federalism and decentralisation as central to a resilient governance architecture.

The preparation and follow-up of the lockdown

  • But the national preparation and follow-up to take full advantage of the lockdown do not inspire full confidence.
  • Lack of strategy: The announcement of the lockdown has not been matched by a commensurate national strategy.
  • This is manifest, in the early signals on the following two important aspects:
  • Containing the economic fallout for the poor.
  • Building up the health infrastructure.
  • It is, admittedly, early days; but the signs are not good.

Economic fallout for the poor

  • Focus is not on the poor: In the entire framing of the problem, the poor have been at best an afterthought, at worst expendable damage.
  • Steps taken not adequate: Steps like health insurance cover for frontline workers, increased food rations, are welcome steps. But a crisis of this magnitude required assurance to the most vulnerable that no stops will be pulled to secure their futures.
  • Instead, what you got was incrementalism of the worst kind, masquerading as a big commitment.
  • Low cash transfer: The cash transfers, in particular, through different schemes, are shockingly low.
  • Need for the unprecedented social security support: This crisis is one of the rare instances where economists and even bankers, from across the political spectrum, have rallied around the intellectual argument for unprecedented levels of social security support.
  • So the government’s “support by stealth” strategy is even more mystifying.
  • Impact of lockdown on migrant labour: The magnitude of the crisis unleashed for migrant labour could have been avoided with a little forethought.
  • What could have been done? Early announcement of cash transfers, shelter and food availability, would have obviated the need for migration.

Opacity on the health infrastructure side

  • Issue of testing: Opacity is often a consequence of scarcity. And nowhere is this more manifest than in our discussion of testing.
  • Underutilisation of capacity: Everyone understands that India has the scarce testing capacity, though it seems it is also under-utilising what it has.
  • No clear testing strategy: The government is procuring more testing kits. But what is worrying is that there seems to be no publicly articulated statement of what exactly our testing strategy is, given the scarce resources.
  • But there is still no sense of how we plan to put a testing strategy in place (not just numbers of tests, but where can they be optimally deployed), that will minimise the need for future lockdowns.
  • What objectives is it trying to meet? There is more than a whiff of suspicion that there is a view that more testing might spread more panic.
  • Or it might put more pressure on the health care system than it can handle.
  • India has never understood that health expenditure is not an expenditure; it is an investment.
  • Building up of health infrastructure: The success of the lockdown strategy is premised on an unprecedentedly vigorous building up of health infrastructure to fight the pandemic.
  • There is a commitment by the Centre to infuse an extra Rs 15,000 crore in this sector. Some steps are being taken in building up capabilities, including ramping up production of ventilators and masks.
  • Need for warlike mobilisation: This is an area where India needs almost a warlike mobilisation, to make sure we have enough testing, tracking, frontline workers, logistics and equipment in place to make sure that the duration of a lockdown is minimised or a repeat is not necessary.
  • The creation of this kind of infrastructure will pay huge dividends even in non-pandemic times.

Conclusion

The prime minister is constantly asking the citizens to mobilise, and most of them respond. But it about time the state mobilises: On an economic stimulus that is truly meaningful and health infrastructure push that inspires confidence.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation


Keeping in view the novel coronavirus crisis across the country, various govt. employees, celebrities and political dignitaries are open-heartedly contributing to the PM’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) to help combat the disease.

PM’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF)

  • In pursuance of an appeal by the then PM, Pt. Nehru in January, 1948, the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was established with public contributions.
  • It was aimed to assist displaced persons from Pakistan.
  • The resources of the PMNRF are now utilized primarily to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes, etc. and to the victims of the major accidents and riots.
  • Assistance from PMNRF is also rendered, to partially defray the expenses for medical treatment like heart surgeries, kidney transplantation, cancer treatment and acid attack etc.
  • The fund consists entirely of public contributions and does not get any budgetary support.

Legal status

  • PMNRF has not been constituted by the Parliament.
  • The fund is recognized as a Trust under the Income Tax Act and the same is managed by PM or multiple delegates for national causes.

Donations

  • PMNRF accepts only voluntary donations by individuals and institutions.
  • Contributions flowing out of budgetary sources of Government or from the balance sheets of the public sector undertakings are not accepted.
  • Conditional contributions, where the donor specifically mentions that the amount is meant for a particular purpose, are not accepted in the Fund.

Its operation

  • PMNRF operates from the Prime Minister’s Office and does not pay any license fee.
  • PM is the Chairman of PMNRF and is assisted by Officers/ Staff on an honorary basis. Permanent Account Number of PMNRF is AACTP4637Q.

Tax exemptions

  • PMNRF is exempt under the Income Tax Act, 1961 under Section 10 and 139 for return purposes.
  • Contributions towards PMNRF are notified for 100% deduction from taxable income under section 80(G) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.