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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | 24th March’20 | PDF Download

Lockdown and beyond

  • India has responded by ordering a full national lockdown.
  • Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code
  • Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
  • Indian Penal Code
  •  Main goal: to flatten the transmission curve
  • Also, to help a frayed health system cope with a large number of cases.
  • What must follow is the galvanising of governmental machinery to address essential requirements.
  • It should not be difficult to provide to them a package of staples to last a week using civil supplies departments, civic workers, and nongovernmental organisations.
  • It is essential for governments to ensure that poor and vulnerable people get subsistence wages for as long as restrictions last.
  • Funds transfers during the containment phase of the pandemic, followed by a stimulus to sustain employment are necessary.
  • Bigger challenge: universally accessible testing system in place to prevent transmission when the lockdown is lifted.

The Maoist trap

  • Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district and attack by Maoist extremists
  • Killed 17 security personnel and injured 15, including two critically
  • There was intelligence that Maoists were going to assemble at Elmagunda village, which is dominated by the Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army Battalion 1
  • Accordingly, security forces, comprising District Reserve Guards, Special Task Force, numbering 500, were dispatched into the forests to deal with the emergent situation.
  • The real story is still to emerge, but it is odd that in the battle that began about noon and lasted five-and-a-half daylight hours, reinforcements could not be sent to hapless personnel.
  • It is yet to be convincingly explained how as many as 400 personnel so near did not rush to aid their uniformed brethren. Was it a leadership or assessment issue?
  • Was there a communication breakdown? Was the initial intelligence properly vetted or was it bait?
  • Was this entire operation properly supervised?
  • It is also significant that as many as 13 of the dead security forces were locals from Sukma district, many of them surrendered Maoists.
  • And unfortunate that many of them bled to death waiting for assistance.
  • There is a lot to answer for but it seems that despite dedicated training the security forces get for just these eventualities, the Maoists are able to improvise and come out on top, smarter, nimbler, and many steps ahead.

A pandemic, an economic blow and the big fix

  • The nation is truly at war, as he alluded to, and it can be won only by everyone coming together in this ‘tragedy of the commons’.
  • U.K.’s FinMin unveiled the biggest economic recovery package in its history, as an antidote to the crisis.
  • The United States is finalising a trillion-dollar economic recovery package, while Germany is going ahead with ‘unlimited government financing’ for the disruptions due to the outbreak.
  • France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands have all launched a half-a-trillion dollars combined in recovery measures.
  • In just the last two weeks in America is the highest ever weekly job losses recorded in its history.
  • These large, developed economies are expected to not merely slow down, but to contract and experience negative growth.
  • The economic devastation will be much more painful and longer than the health impact.
  • While the rest of the world has sprung into action, India has merely announced the setting up of a task force under the Finance Minister to explore economic recovery options.
  • Restaurants, automotive sector. Under such painful conditions, India needs a comprehensive recovery package that will first cushion the shock and then help the economy recover.
  • Package should rest on 4 pillars
  1. providing a safety net for the affected
  2. addressing disruptions in the real economy;
  3. unclogging the impending liquidity squeeze in the financial system
  4. incentivising the external sector of trade and commerce
  • Direct cash transfer of ₹3,000 a month, for six months, to the 12 crore, bottom half of all Indian households.
  • This will cost nearly ₹2.2-lakh crore and reach 60 crore beneficiaries, covering agricultural labourers, farmers, daily wage earners, informal sector workers and others.
  • The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM KISAN) programme with a budget of ₹75,000 crore can be subsumed into this programme.
  • MGNREGA must be expanded and retooled into a public works programme, to build much-needed hospitals, clinics, rural roads and other infrastructure.
  • Food Corporation of India is overflowing with excess rice, wheat and unmilled paddy stocks — enough excess stock to provide 10kg rice and wheat to every Indian family, free of cost, through the Public Distribution System. This combination, of a basic income of ₹3,000 a month, a right to work and food grains, will provide a secure safety net.
  • COVID-19 testing, treatment, medical equipment and supplies capacity can be expanded through the private sector and be reimbursed directly for patient care.
  • This will need a budget of ₹1.5- lakh crore for testing and treating at least 20 crore Indians through the private sector.
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a ₹1.5-lakh crore liquidity and credit backstop facility on Monday, which is a very welcome move. The central bank must also immediately reduce interest rates drastically to spur business activity.
  • A two-year tax holiday and an appropriate incentive scheme must be designed for exports and service sectors that have been devastated (airlines, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, logistics, textiles, leather).
  • This could cost the exchequer between ₹1-lakh crore and ₹2-lakh crore.
  • In sum, the total incremental expenditure for the recovery package will be between ₹5-lakh crore to ₹6-lakh crore for FY2021.
  • Reallocation of some of the budgeted capital expenditure, expenditure rationalisation, and the oil bonanza.
  • Dramatic fall in global crude oil prices can help save nearly ₹2-lakh crore.
  • The States combined incur an expenditure of ₹40 lakh crore. There can be some sharing of expenditure of the recovery package of ₹1-2 lakh crore by the States.

The age of the neoliberal virus

  • How it has been confronted by most governments across the world?
  • One of the most crucial is testing.
  • Denmark, like many other European nations, is testing only acute cases.
  • If you have mild symptoms — and at least a hundred other diseases give you the same symptoms — you are simply expected to self-isolate (in doubt).
  • It is also surprising that while it takes two to four days for test results to become available in rich western nations, it takes only four hours in the afflicted regions of China.
  • A major burden of stopping the virus has been passed on to ordinary citizens, who now have to isolate themselves even if they just have the common cold, while the government issues directives but spends as little as possible.
  • For the past two decades, whenever corporations or significant banks have stumbled, national governments have pumped public money into them, while cutting public services (including health and research) to raise the money. This has happened everywhere. It is happening again.
  • Buffering of the national economy is necessary. But there are two major problems.
  • Most of this money is not being strictly earmarked to preserve jobs, and the lowest wage earners are particularly ignored.
  • Almost no country has put in comparable amounts into the health, social and educational aspects of combating the pandemic.
  • The fact that 8,000 children die per day from the virus of hunger, whose vaccine (food) is available, is part of this neoliberal equation.
  • A lot still needs to be done to combat this pandemic. Xenophobia and nationalism will not help. A lot also needs to be done to prepare for similar pandemics that will undoubtedly occur in the future.

COVID-19: Many tasks at hand

  • To truly contain this pandemic, we need to make a distinction between scientific information that can support a balanced epidemiological response and misinformation that will adversely affect our efforts.
  • From an epidemiological perspective, the weakest links during a pandemic are testing, control, and engaged community participation.
  • So, the first step is to shore up the healthcare system and, as the World Health Organization has recommended, create capacity in hospitals (public and private) for everyone who shows symptoms to access testing facilities.
  • Providing full and free testing to all who need it is critical for effectively controlling the spread.
  • COVID-19 tests and treatment should particularly be available and accessible to people in high-risk groups.
  • Link up public and private healtcare system.
  • Fake news diverts attention from grim realities.
  • Lockdowns, curfews and travel bans are already a suppression of civil rights.
  •  Surveillance in the name of disease control does not end up serving other purposes, now or in the future.

 For a new generation of heroes in court

  • Shortly after Justice S. Muralidhar rose on his last day as a judge of the Delhi High Court, there was a snaking queue of lawyers waiting to not just bid farewell to him but to also say thank you.
  • We are now at a time where we need heroes so that our institutions survive.
  • The last 50 years have seen the political playbook take a clear form — appoint a sympathiser, allow them to feel obliged, and then try to redeem the debt at an opportune time.
  • What made some past judges unique was their ability to inspire their peers by simple, righteous conduct.
  • In every decision they made, they were solemnly aware of the hopes of millions, and that any weakness of purpose would weaken the edifice. As of this month, 395 out of 1,079 High Court posts are lying unoccupied.
  • It is true that from the early years of Independence, judges have been nominated or elected to Parliament, appointed to gubernatorial office, and accepted diplomatic postings, none of which reflects the values that the court was to uphold.
  • Lord Denning said, “Once a man becomes a judge, he has nothing to gain from further promotion”.
  • But then, it would be unfair to overlook the hundreds of others who have slogged for the judiciary with no other motive than to do justice, and who have overcome personal and professional challenges in doing so.
  • As Charles Marshall said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when you don’t have to — when no one else is looking or will ever know — when there will be no congratulations or recognition for having done so.”
  • The true stars of India’s justice system are the thousands of judges who toil over dusty briefs.

 

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