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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 invokes Special Powers under Art. 142

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, 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.
Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Restarting the economy after lockdownPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Read the attached story


  (This newscard is the excerpt from an article published in the TOI, authored by former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan. It discusses a series of reformative measures to boost our economy once the lockdown restrictions are eased.)

Context

  • Economically speaking, India is faced today with perhaps its greatest emergency since Independence.
  • The global financial crisis in 2008-09 was a massive demand shock but our financial system was largely sound, and our government finances were healthy.
  • None of this is true today as we fight the coronavirus pandemic.
  • With the right resolve and priorities, and drawing on India’s many sources of strength, it can beat this virus back and even set the stage for a much more hopeful tomorrow.

To begin with: 21 day Lockdown

  • The immediate priority, of course, is to suppress the spread of the pandemic through widespread testing, rigorous quarantines, and social distancing.
  • The 21-day lockdown is a first step, which buys India time to improve its preparedness.
  • The government is drawing on our courageous medical personnel and looking to all possible resources – public, private, defence, retired – for the fight, but it has to ramp up the pace manifold.
  • It will have to test significantly more to reduce the fog of uncertainty on where the hotspots are, and it will have to keep some personnel and resources mobile so that they can be rushed to areas where shortages are acute.

Restarting with caution

  • The 21 day lockdown is about a week ahead to get lifted. It is hard to lockdown the country entirely for much longer periods, so we should also be thinking of how we can restart certain activities.
  • Restarting requires better data on infection levels, as well as measures to protect those returning to work.
  • Healthy youth, lodged with appropriate distancing in hostels at the workplace, maybe ideal workers for restarting.

Pacing up manufacturing

  • Since manufacturers need to activate their entire supply chain to produce, they should be encouraged to plan on how the entire chain will reopen.
  • The administrative structure to approve these plans and facilitate movement for those approved should be effective and quick – it needs to be thought through now.

Most crucial: Ensuring workforce sustenance

  • In the meantime, policymakers need to ensure that the poor and non-salaried lower middle class who are prevented from working for longer periods can survive.
  • Direct transfers to households may reach most but not all, as a number of commentators have pointed out.
  • Furthermore, the quantum of transfers seems inadequate to see a household over a month.
  • The state and Centre have to come together to figure out quickly some combination of public and private participation and DBTs that will allow needy households to see through the next few months.
  • We have already seen one consequence of not doing so – the movement of migrant labour. Another will be people defying the lockdown to get back to work if they cannot survive otherwise.

Gearing up for fiscal shocks

  • Our limited fiscal resources are certainly a worry. However, spending on the needy at this time is a high priority use of resources, the right thing to do as a humane nation.
  • This does not mean that we can ignore our budgetary constraints, especially given that our revenues will also be severely affected this year.
  • Unlike the US or Europe, which can spend 10% more of GDP without fear of a ratings downgrade, we already entered this crisis with a huge fiscal deficit, and will have to spend yet more.
  • A ratings downgrade coupled with a loss of investor confidence could lead to a plummeting exchange rate and a dramatic increase in long term rates in this environment, and substantial losses for our financial institutions.

Channelizing expenditures

  • So we have to prioritise, cutting back or delaying less important expenditures, while refocusing on immediate needs.
  • At the same time, to reassure investors, the government could express its commitment to return to fiscal rectitude.
  • The govt. must back up its intent by accepting the setting up of an independent fiscal council and setting a medium term debt target, as suggested by the NK Singh committee.

Boosting up Industries

1) MSMEs

  • Many MSMEs already weakened over the last few years, may not have the resources to survive.
  • We need to think of innovative ways in which bigger viable ones, especially those that have considerable human and physical capital embedded in them, can be helped.
  • SIDBI can make the terms of its credit guarantee of bank loans to SMEs even more favourable, but banks are unlikely to want to take on much more credit risk at this point.
  • The government could accept responsibility for the first loss in incremental bank loans made to an SME, up to the quantum of income taxes paid by the SME in the past year.

2) Large industries

  • Large firms can also be a way to channel funds to their smaller suppliers. They usually can raise money in bond markets and pass it on.
  • Banks, insurance companies, and bond mutual funds should be encouraged to buy new investment-grade bond issuances, and their way eased by the RBI.
  • The government should also require each of its agencies and PSUs, including at the state level, to pay their bills immediately, so that private firms get valuable liquidity.

Looping in everyone’s participation

  • The government should call on people with proven expertise and capabilities, of whom there are so many in India, to help it manage its response.
  • It may even want to reach across the political aisle to draw in members of the opposition who have had experience in previous times of great stress like the global financial crisis.
  • If, however, the government insists on driving everything from the PMO, with the same overworked people, it will do too little, too late.

Conclusion

  • Globally, it is said that India reforms only in crisis.
  • Hopefully, this otherwise unmitigated tragedy will help us see how weakened we have become as a society, and will focus our politics on the critical economic and healthcare reforms we sorely need.
Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Comparing current crisis with Great Depression, 1929Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Great Economic Depression, Slowdown vs. Depression

Mains level : Impact of the depression on colonial India


 

With the novel coronavirus pandemic severely affecting the global economy, some experts have begun comparing the current crisis with the Great Depression — the devastating economic decline of the 1930s that went on to shape countless world events.

Looming depression ahead

  • Experts have warned that unemployment levels in some countries could reach those from the 1930s era, when the unemployment rate was as high as around 25 per cent in the United States.
  • Currently, unemployment levels in the US are already estimated to be at 13 per cent, highest since the Great Depression.

What was the Great Depression?

  • The Great Depression was a major economic crisis that began in the United States in 1929, and went to have a worldwide impact until 1939.
  • It began on October 24, 1929, a day that is referred to as “Black Thursday”, when a monumental crash occurred at the New York Stock Exchange as stock prices fell by 25 per cent.
  • Though the crash was triggered by minor events, the extent of the decline was due to more deep-rooted factors such as a fall in aggregate demand, misplaced monetary policies, and an unintended rise in inventory levels.
  • In the United States, prices and real output fell dramatically. Industrial production fell by 47 per cent, the wholesale price index by 33 per cent, and real GDP by 30 per cent.

Worldwide impact

  • The havoc caused in the US spread to other countries mainly due to the gold standard, which linked most of the world’s currencies by fixed exchange rates.
  • In almost every country of the world, there were massive job losses, deflation, and a drastic contraction in output.
  • Unemployment in the US increased from 3.2 per cent to 24.9 per cent between 1929 and 1933. In the UK, it rose from 7.2 per cent to 15.4 per cent between 1929 and 1932.

Latent outcomes

  • The Depression caused extreme human suffering, and many political upheavals took place around the world.
  • In Europe, economic stagnation that the Depression caused is believed to be the principal reason behind the rise of fascism, and consequently the Second World War.
  • It had a profound impact on institutions and policymaking globally and led to the gold standard being abandoned.

How did Great Depression impact India?

  • The Depression had an important impact on India’s freedom struggle.
  • Due to the global crisis, there was a drastic fall in agricultural prices, the mainstay of India’s economy, and a severe credit contraction occurred as colonial policymakers refused to devalue the rupee.
  • The effects of the Depression became visible around the harvest season in 1930, soon after Mahatma Gandhi had launched the Civil Disobedience movement in April the same year.

1) Rural India mainstreamed into freedom struggle

  • The fallout made substantial sections of the peasantry rise in protest and this protest was articulated by members of the National Congress.
  • There were “No Rent” campaigns in many parts of the country, and radical Kisan Sabhas were started in Bihar and eastern UP.
  • Agrarian unrest provided a groundswell of support to the Congress, whose reach was yet to extend into rural India.

2) INC gained momentum

  • The endorsement by farming classes is believed to be among the reasons that enabled the party to achieve its landslide victory in the 1936-37 provincial elections held under the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • This is marked as a significant event in the history of INC as it flourished the party’s political might for years to come.

Back2Basics

Slowdown vs recession vs depression

  •  Slowdown simply means that the pace of the GDP growth has decreased.  During slowdown, the GDP growth is still positive but the rate of growth has decreased.
  •  Recession refers to a phase of the downturn in the economic cycle when there is a fall in the country’s GDP for two quarters.   It is a period of decline in total output, income, employment and trade, usually lasting six months to a year.
  • Depression is a prolonged period of economic recession marked by a significant decline in income and employment.   It is a negative GDP growth of 10% of more, for more than 3 years.
Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

COVID-19 and its impact on climate talksPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : COVID-19 and its impact on climate change negotiation


Context

  • Amidst the pandemic, people are breathing cleaner air and are witness to clearer, bluer skies as the human movement has been restricted due to lockdowns imposed by various countries.
  • But while the air may be getting cleaner, the lockdowns are not exactly good news for climate change research.
  • Climate talks are witnessing setbacks in the form of funding cuts, cancelled climate conferences and reduced political will to tackle climate change.

COVID-19 impacting climate change research

  • The hard paced climate change research has been halted and it might become difficult to restart the conversation around it, even after the pandemic is brought under control.
  • The major projects that were scheduled to gather environmental data have all been cancelled or postponed and the crisis has also cast a shadow on routine monitoring of weather and climate change.
  • Further, because commercial flights are running at a lesser frequency, it has also become difficult to collect ambient temperatures and the wind speed, which is taken by in-flight sensors.
  • The other reason that other research has more or less been halted is because of restrictions including lockdowns, insistence on working from home and other social distancing requirements.

Scope for a back seat

  • Due to the looming health crisis, human kind’s immediate survival is the biggest concern at the moment.
  • However, completely ignoring environmental policy may not be in humanity’s best interest.
  • Largely we still view the environment, and life on earth, as separate. This separation is a dangerous delusion.
  • We can and must do better if we want to prevent the next infectious pandemic.

Climate change and infectious diseases are not separate

  • The two are not directly related, which is to say that climate change did not lead to the spread of the coronavirus.
  • However, there is a possibility that climate change could have exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 by making the consequences worse for some humans.
  • For instance, air pollution’s impact on human health could make some consequences of the disease more severe for a few humans.
  • A 2003 study on air pollution and the case fatality rate for SARS showed that people exposed to air pollution were more likely to suffer severe consequences from the disease.
Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

National Security Act, 1980Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Security Act (NSA)

Mains level : NSA and its criticisms


The Indore district administration has invoked the National Security Act (NSA), 1980, against communal miscreants accused of instigating residents of a locality to pelt stones and chase away health workers.

National Security Act (NSA)

  • The NSA of 1980 is an act of the Parliament promulgated on 23 September 1980 whose purpose is “to provide for preventive detention in certain cases and for matters connected therewith”.
  • The act was passed in 1980 during the Indira Gandhi Government. It extends to the whole of India and contains 18 sections.
  • This act empowers the Central Government and State Governments to detain a person to prevent him/her from acting in any manner prejudicial to the:
  1. Security of India,
  2. Relations of India with foreign countries,
  3. Maintenance of public order or the maintenance of supplies and
  4. Services essential to the community it is necessary so to do
  • The act also gives power to the governments to detain a foreigner in a view to regulate his presence or expel from the country.

Course of actions

  • The detention order can also be made by the District Magistrate or a Commissioner of Police under their respective jurisdictions.
  • However the detention should be reported to the State Government along with the grounds on which the order has been made.
  • The maximum period of detention is 12 months.

How it came to existence?

  • The NSA is not the first law of its kind to be enacted in India. The Defense of India Act of 1915 was amended at the time of the First World War to enable the state to detain a citizen preventively.
  • The Rowlatt Committee, approved after the First World War, recommended that the harsh and repressive I provisions of the Defense of India Act be retained permanently on the statute books.
  • The interesting feature of the Rowlatt Bills was that they empowered the State to detain a citizen without giving the detainee any right to move the law courts, and even the assistance of lawyers was denied to a detainee.
  • The Jallianwala Bagh tragedy was a direct result of the protest against these Rowlatt Bills.

Criticisms

  • The NSA along with other laws allowing preventive detention has come under wide criticism for their alleged misuse.
  • The act’s constitutional validity even during peacetime has been described by some sections as an anachronism.

With inputs from Wikipedia

What is Geo-fencing?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Geo-fencing

Mains level : Geo-fencing and its application


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.

What is Geo-fencing?

  • A geofence is a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area.
  • A geo-fence could be dynamically generated—as in a radius around a point location, or a geo-fence can be a predefined set of boundaries (such as school zones or neighbourhood boundaries).
  • The use of a geofence is called geofencing, and one example of usage involves a location-aware device of a location-based service (LBS) user entering or exiting a geo-fence.
  • This activity could trigger an alert to the device’s user as well as messaging to the geo-fence operator.

Tracking COVID-19 patients

  • The government has tested an application that 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.
  • This “geo-fencing” is accurate by up to 300 m.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

GRACE-FO MissionPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GRACE-FO Mission

Mains level : Groundwater recharge and conservation efforts


NASA releases new global maps mapping groundwater, soil wetness using GRACE-FO satellites.

GRACE-FO Mission

  • The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission is a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).
  • GRACE-FO is a successor to the original GRACE mission, which orbited Earth from 2002-2017.
  • It carries on the extremely successful work of its predecessor while testing a new technology designed to dramatically improve the already remarkable precision of its measurement system.

Why need such data on groundwater and soil moisture?

  • Groundwater and soil moisture — which depicts wetness in soil — are crucial for irrigation and crop growth.
  • The need to constantly monitor groundwater and soil moisture is important since both act as useful indicators for predicting drought conditions.
  • One of the goals of the new global maps is to make the same consistent product available in all parts of the world, especially in countries that do not have any groundwater-monitoring infrastructure.
  • The data would help in managing the selection of appropriate agricultural crops and predicting yields.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Telemedicine/Telehealth as a tool to fight COVID-19Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Telemedicine/Telehealth

Mains level : Telemedicine and its effectiveness


 

The Medical Council of India and the NITI Aayog have developed new guidelines released on March 25, 2020 for registered medical practitioners to deliver consultations to patients via telemedicine.

Telemedicine

  • Telemedicine involves the use of telecom and virtual technology to deliver health care outside of traditional health-care facilities.
  • It is the essential delivery of health care services where distance is a critical factor — comes in.
  • At least one doctor is needed for a population of 1,000, according to WHO guidelines.
  • Telemedicine, thus, holds significance for countries like India that have low doctor-to-patient ratios.

About the guidelines

  • The guidelines aim to empower registered doctors to reach out to patients safely using technologies for the exchange of valid information.
  • This information can be used for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation and for continuing the education of healthcare providers.
  • The guidelines have empowered medical practitioners. They have, however, also imposed many restrictions.
  • Registered medical practitioners, for instance, have to take the patient’s consent.
  • If the patient denies her consent, however, the practitioner cannot insist that the patient to go in for telemedicine.

How telemedicine can help against COVID-19?

  • Telemedicine can help bridging the gap between people, physicians and health systems, enabling everyone, especially symptomatic patients, to stay at home and communicate with physicians through virtual channels.
  • It thus helps reducing the spread of the virus to mass populations and the medical staff on the frontlines.
  • It can help provide routine care for patients with chronic diseases who are at high risk if exposed to the virus.

Limitations

  • The out-of-hospital management is has not been yet established in India. Perhaps a ‘crisis-based’ evolution of telemedicine can help find local testing centers and also manage the flow of patients seeking a test.
  • However, for a smaller subset of higher risk patients, the clinical course may not be consistent with conventional telemedicine.
  • These patients often present with a more serious condition require rapid hospitalization.
  • Telemedicine hasn’t traditionally been used in response to public health crises. Many health practitioners are not equipped to deliver care in this way.
  • Another issue is access to broadband – some hospitals struggle with running a quality connection within their facilities and now we are faced with taking this to potential new areas of care, such as an outside tent.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Supreme Court upholds “Right to discuss COVID-19”Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Right to Discuss, Art. 19

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation


The Supreme Court has upheld the right to free discussion about COVID-19, even as it directed the media to refer to and publish the official version of the developments in order to avoid inaccuracies and large-scale panic.

Right to Discuss

  • The Right to Discuss falls under the purview of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • It ensures all citizens the liberty of thought and expression.
  • The exercise of this right is, however, subject to “reasonable restrictions” for certain purposes being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
  • These restrictions are imposed in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Why such a move?

  • The court was responding to a request from the Central government that media outlets, in the “larger interest of justice”, should only publish or telecast anything on COVID-19 after ascertaining the factual position from the government.
  • Any deliberate or inaccurate reporting by the media, particularly web portals, had the serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in a larger section of the society.
  • Any panic reaction in the midst of an unprecedented situation based on such reporting would harm the entire nation.
  • Creating panic is also a criminal offence under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
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.

The FRBM Act

  • The FRBM Act 2003 aims to institutionalize financial discipline, reduce India’s fiscal deficit, improve macroeconomic management and the overall management of the public funds by moving towards a balanced budget and strengthen fiscal prudence.
  • The main purpose was to eliminate revenue deficit of the country (building revenue surplus thereafter) and bring down the fiscal deficit to a manageable 3% of the GDP by March 2008.
  • However, due to the 2007 international financial crisis, the deadlines for the implementation of the targets in the act was initially postponed and subsequently suspended in 2009.
  • To ensure that the States too are financially prudent, the 12th Finance Commission’s recommendations in 2004 linked debt relief to States with their enactment of similar laws.
  • The States have since enacted their own respective Financial Responsibility Legislation, which sets the same 3% of State SDP cap on their annual budget deficits.

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.

Back2Basics

Explained: Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act

Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

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

Ahead: bumper crop, multiple challengesPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Ensuring food supplies amidst COVID-19 crisis


This is perhaps the first time ever that India is facing a national disaster or a war-like situation amidst plentiful supplies of food even as a bumper Rabi crop beckons.

Bumper yield in crisis

  • Farmers are currently about to harvest —if they haven’t already.
  • Given the surplus and extended monsoon rains, which helped recharge ground water and fill up reservoirs, superabundant produce is round the corner.
  • This comes even as there is demand destruction from the shutting down of HORECA (hotels, restaurants and catering) and other institutional segment businesses following the nationwide lockdown.
  • It raises the possibility of a crisis similar to the one three years ago that followed demonetization. But the scale, it is feared, could be bigger.
  • The post-demonetization rabi crop, also a bumper one, was at least harvested and marketed even if it didn’t fetch a good price.

The real challenge

  • The food and civil supplies departments in states will ultimately ensure that the terminal markets in these centres major cities receive their required daily flow of produce anyhow.
  • The problem will be in the remote towns and the rural hinterlands that are serviced through upcountry APMCs.
  • The grocers there are at the greatest risk of running out of stocks if the lockdown continues without inter-state movement restrictions in agricultural commodities being removed.

How to transport produce

  • This time, there are doubts being raised even on that.
  • The simple reason for it is: Will farmers, labourers and machines (combines, threshers and tractor trolleys) be able to move freely to harvest the produce and take it to the mandis?
  • The UP government has issued a direction to all district administrations and law-enforcement authorities to exempt all services, including labour, that are involved in agricultural production, processing and marketing from the current lockdown provisions.
  • Other states, too, may follow. But the question remains of the directives being implemented on the ground.

Will there be workers?

  • At the second stage comes the mandis, where marketing of the crop would happen.
  • Here again, there is a possibility of shortage of labour (the people who do unloading, cleaning, bagging and reloading of the grain that is auctioned or sold) and even gunny bags.
  • Further, it would be necessary to prevent crowding, and maintain social distancing.

Possible alternatives

  • One way out could be to allow entry only to a limited number of farmers, who may be issued SMS alerts informing them about the date and time to bring their crop.
  • Each farmer can also be given a maximum quantity — say, one tractor-trolley load of 30-40 quintals — that may be brought in a single day.
  • The permission for the next trolley load will be only after other farmers have got their turn to sell.
  • All this will obviously delay the process of marketing, raising the prospect of panic sales.
  • This could be avoided if the government were to give a clear-cut assurance — at least in respect of crop where there is MSP-based procurement — that it will continue buying till the last grain is offered.

Safer places than APMC

  • Besides, the marketing of produce needn’t be limited to the APMC (agricultural produce market committee) mandi yard.
  • Any flour or dal mill, and even primary school premises can be designated as an APMC marketing area.
  • The objective should be to ensure that the farmer’s produce gets marketed without resulting in overcrowding.

Way forward

  • The risk of shortages today is really not in the metros or state capitals.
  • Once marketing is done, the crop has to move beyond the mandi.
  • This is probably the right time to dismantle all inter-state and intra-state movement restrictions in farm produce.
  • Free movement is necessary for the context of both a bumper crop and the ongoing lockdown.
Pharma Sector – Drug Pricing, NPPA, FDC, Generics, etc.

Schedule H1 drugsPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Schedule H1 drugs

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation


Hydroxychloroquine is now a schedule H1 drug and can be sold on prescription only.

What are Schedule H1 drugs?

  • The sale of the Hydroxychloroquine drug from now on should be in accordance with the conditions for sale of drugs specified in Schedule H1 to the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.
  • In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 26B of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 (23 of 1940), the Central Government can direct that sale by retail of any drug.

Why such move?

  • The Central Government is satisfied that the drug ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ is essential to meet the requirements of emergency arising due to pandemic COVID-19.
  • And in the public interest, it is necessary to regulate and restrict the sale and distribution of the drug ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ and preparation based thereon for preventing their misuse.

Hydroxychloroquine

  • Hydroxychloroquine is used to prevent or treat malaria infections caused by mosquito bites.
  • It does not work against certain types of malaria (chloroquine-resistant).

Pls take a note-

  • Hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, are currently under study as possible treatments for COVID-19.
  • These drugs have not yet been approved for this use.
  • Do not use these medications to treat COVID-19 unless your doctor recommends that you do so.
RBI Notifications

Regulation of Payment Aggregators (PAs)Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Payment Aggregators

Mains level : Regulation of online payment systems in India


The Reserve Bank of India released guidelines for regulating payment aggregators (PAs) and payment gateways (PGs), nearly six months after it first proposed regulating these entities in a discussion paper.

Payment Aggregators (PAs)

  • PAs are entities that facilitate e-commerce sites and merchants to accept various payment instruments from the customers for the completion of their payment obligations.
  • PGs are entities that provide technology infrastructure to route and facilitate the processing of an online payment transaction without any involvement in the handling of funds.
  • With the new set of guidelines PAs and PGs such as Paytm, Pay Pal, Mobikwik, Razorpay, PayU, CCAvenue etc. will be regulated by RBI to ensure the safety of all our online transactions.

What are the new guidelines?

The new guidelines say that-

  • A payment aggregator (entities that facilitate e-commerce sites and merchants to accept various payment instruments) should be a company incorporated in India under the Companies Act, 1956 / 2013.
  • Non-bank entities offering payment aggregator services will have to apply for authorisation on or before June 30, 2021.
  • E-commerce marketplaces providing payment aggregator services will have to be separated from the marketplace business and they will have to apply for authorisation on or before June 30, 2021.
  • Pas existing today will have to achieve a net worth of ₹15 crore by March 31, 2021 and a net worth of ₹25 crore by the end of third financial year, which means or before March 31, 2023.
  • The net-worth of ₹25 crore shall be maintained at all times thereafter.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

‘Contact tracing’ and its significance to control disease outbreaksPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : ‘Contact tracing’ and its significance to control disease outbreaks


As the number of coronavirus cases in India increases, authorities in different states are relying on contact tracing, a concept in epidemiology that involves tracing the number of people an infected person comes in contact with.

The idea behind contact tracing is to stop the outbreak by breaking the transmission chains.

What is Contact Tracing?

  • Contact tracing is not a novel concept and has been used as a method to track cases of the Ebola virus in Africa.
  • It is one of the methods of detecting an outbreak and the number of infected people.
  • In 2014, when the first Ebola cases began to be reported in Sierra Leone, a contact tracing mechanism was devised.
  • According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the system in the district was able to identify 13 Ebola cases, which would have been overlooked otherwise.

Various steps involved

According to WHO contact tracing can be broken down into three steps:

1) Contact identification:

  • This involves identifying the contacts of the infected person by asking about the person’s activities and those of people around them since the onset of illness.
  • In the case of the first positive COVID-19 patient from Chandigarh for instance, a chain of 119 people was traced directly or indirectly to the patient.

2) Contact listing:

  • This means listing all those people who came in contact with the infected person.
  • Efforts should be made to identify every listed contact and to inform them of their contact status, what it means, the actions that will follow, and the importance of receiving early care if they develop symptoms.
  • In some areas across India, authorities are releasing lists of those who are quarantined and are identifying their houses by putting quarantine posters in front of their houses.

3) Contact follow-up:

  • This step involves regular follow-ups with all the contacts to monitor for symptoms and test for signs of infection.

Limitations of Contact Tracing

  • Since everyone has many contacts, contact tracing is useful when there are only a few cases.
  • At this point, in many countries, we have so many cases that everyone would be contacted. This is essentially the lockdown — everybody isolates.
  • However, while a fifth of the world’s population is currently isolated and under lockdown, it may not be feasible to trace contacts of all the infected patients given the scale of the current outbreak.

Way forward

  • While contact tracing is an important step during a disease outbreak, it is insufficient alone in controlling it, requiring other interventions.
  • Rapid and effective contact tracing can reduce the initial number of cases, which would make the outbreak easier to control overall.
  • Effective contact tracing and isolation could contribute to reducing the overall size of an outbreak or bringing it under control over a longer time period.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Why need a 21-day lockdown period?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : COVID 19

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation


Amid diverse opinions on nationwide lockdown, there is a public health/epidemiological significance to the 21-day lockdown period announced by PM.

What led PM to impose 21-day lockdown?

  • It seems that rich scientific data has fed this decision to announce a 21-day lockdown period.
  • In fact, 21-day quarantines have been discussed elaborately in the context of Ebola and the calculations are based on the estimated incubation period of the virus in a human host.
  • The 21-day quarantine value is derived from interpretations of outbreak data, past and present, public health experts said.

Median incubation period

  • In epidemiological terms, the logic is that we have arrived at an incubation period of 14 days.
  • Give another week for the residual infection to die out, for the tail end, to be entirely safe, and you arrive at 21 days.
  • This being a new coronavirus, they have estimated that the median incubation period (the time between the entry of the virus to the onset of symptoms/ disease) falls within this period.

Significance

  • This is the most effective way of preventing the spread of the infection from those already infected into the community.
  • In fact, for infections that are transmitted in this manner, this is the one thing to prevent the rapid spread of infection within the community.
  • The lockdown or quarantine also creates some breathing space — to convince people of the seriousness of the situation and build positive public opinion, carry out disinfection of all buildings, vehicles and surfaces, and allows hospitals to prepare themselves for the next phase of operations.
Railway Reforms

[pib] Flexi Fare SystemPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Flexi Fare System

Mains level : Not Much


During the eight months period from 1st July 2019 to 29th February 2020, approximately 28.93 Lakh berths remained vacant in Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto type trains having Flexi fare.

What is Flexi Fare System?

  • The flexi-fare scheme was introduced by the IRCTC in 2016 for the 142 “premium trains” such as Shatabdi, Rajdhani, and Duronto (now Vande Bharat Exp. as well).
  • Under this dynamic pricing system, the base fare increases by 10% with every 10% of berths sold, with a limit set at 1.5 times the original price.
  • The scheme was applicable to all classes, except AC first class and executive class. The pricing system is still in force.

Reasons for flexi fares:

  1. Indian Railways run about 12900 passenger trains per day and the railways is losing around more than 40% of what they spend on passenger trains.
  2. The trains like Rajdhani are the ones in which the elite class prefers to travel. So, some revenue can be garnered from them.
  3. The cost of service is almost double of what is being charged from the passengers.
  4. Freight business is already very expensive in India as compared to other countries in the world. Therefore, a further increase in this area is not feasible.

Issues with the system

  • After the introduction of Flexi-fares, the railways lost 700,000 passengers in just 11 months while the additional revenue earned as a result of the scheme was ₹ 552 crore.
  • While drawing upon the fundamentals of dynamic pricing, what Indian Railways failed to introduce was a simple principle that Flexi-fares work ways, hikes, and declines.
  • The railways model just focused on increasing fares with no provision for a decrease in price when demand is low.
  • While half of the decision-makers in the Railway Board support it, half of them oppose it stating that what the railways require is an increase in ticket prices across the board.