Current Affairs 6th May 2022

WHO estimates 4.7 million COVID-linked deaths in India #GS3 #SnT

There were likely 4.7 million deaths, directly or indirectly attributable to COVID-19, in India in 2020 and 2021, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday. These are the highest, by far, for any country and comprise nearly a third of the 15 million such deaths estimated by the agency globally.

India officially estimated only 4.8 lakh cumulative deaths linked to COVID-19 as of December 2021, which implies that the WHO estimate is nearly 10 times the government count. As of May, India’s official COVID-19 death toll is 5.2 lakh. Minutes after the WHO released its estimate, India reiterated its “objection to the methodology” used.

“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems,” he said.

Excess deaths are calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years. Excess mortality includes deaths associated with COVID-19 directly or indirectly (due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems).

Deaths indirectly linked to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic. The estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced also by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries.

Global figures

Most of the excess deaths (84%) are concentrated in South-East Asia, Europe, and the Americas. About two-thirds of the excess deaths are concentrated in just 10 countries globally. The pandemic globally claimed more men than women (57% male, 43% female) and the toll was higher among older adults. There were 5.3 lakh deaths in males 60 and older in India in 2020 and 19 lakh deaths in that age group in 2021. There were 3.5 lakh deaths among women 60 and older in 2020 and 15 lakh deaths in 2021.

WHO officials at a press conference on Thursday didn’t directly respond to India’s criticism but said that they were in dialogue with Indian government experts and that the estimates would be updated based on the availability of new data. “We engage closely with member states to clarify methodology and have had a series of consultations with colleagues in India. “These new estimates use the best available data and have been produced using a robust methodology and a completely transparent approach.”

SC to study if larger Bench should hear sedition pleas #GS2 #Governance

A 60-year-old Constitution Bench judgment validating sedition law led a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Thursday to pause to examine if petitions challenging the colonial provision should be referred to a larger Bench of five or seven judges of the court.

The 1962 judgment in Kedar Nath v State of Bihar delivered by a Bench of five judges of the Supreme Court had upheld Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code while restricting its applicability to “activities involving incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace”.

A judicial law laid down by the Supreme Court cannot be countered by a numerically inferior Bench.

The Chief Justice Bench, including Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, scheduled a hearing on the question of reference at 2 p.m. on May 10. The court warned lawyers against seeking adjournment on that day.

“First we have to determine whether we should sit in a composition of three judges or five or seven before going into the question of legality of Section 124A… Assuming the CJI decides to constitute a larger Bench, then that Bench can straightaway take up the question of Section 124A. Such a larger Bench, if formed, can directly hear on merits whether sedition should continue or be struck down in the light of subsequent developments in law post the Kedar Nath judgment and global opinions on sedition,” Justice Kant addressed the lawyers.

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, who has been asked by the court to assist in the capacity of his constitutional office, however, said there was no need to refer the petitions to a larger Bench. “The Kedar Nath judgment is the last word on the issue of sedition law. It has balanced well the right of security of state and the right of free speech,” he gave his prima facie opinion. He said Section 124A had to be retained in the penal code.

Panel notifies new J&K Assembly constituencies #GS2 #Governance

The Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission on Thursday notified the new boundaries, names and number of Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, paving the way for the first-ever Assembly election in the Union Territory that was carved out of the erstwhile State of J&K in 2019.

While not mentioned in its order, the Delimitation Commission said in a statement that it had recommended to the Centre to nominate at least two “Kashmiri migrants” to the Legislature who would have the same powers as nominated members of the Puducherry Assembly and to “consider” giving “some representation” to persons displaced from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. A source said this was a “proposal” that the Centre would take a call on.

A day before its term was to end, the Commission, chaired by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai and including Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and J&K State Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma as ex-officio members, met to finalise its order and later issued a gazette notification.

The delimitation was carried out based on the 2011 Census and other considerations like geographical features and access.

The new Assembly would have 90 seats, 47 in Kashmir and 43 in Jammu, an increase from the earlier 83, with six of the additional seats being in Jammu and one in Kashmir. In a first, nine seats were reserved for the Scheduled Tribes — six in the Jammu region and three in the Kashmir Valley, the commission said.

“There are five Parliamentary Constituencies in the region. The Delimitation Commission has seen Jammu & Kashmir as a single entity for purposes of the delimitation. Therefore, one of the parliamentary constituencies has been carved out combining Anantnag region in the Valley and Rajouri and Poonch of Jammu region. By this reorganisation, each Parliamentary constituency will have equal number of 18 Assembly Constituencies each,” the commission said in its statement.

The move to the merge the two regions in one Lok Sabha constituency had been criticised by regional parties, including the National Conference, given the two areas remain cut off in winter and have no direct access. The commission said it had accepted many of the suggestions regarding names of constituencies that came up during consultations. It restored restored old names and reworked a few Assembly segments in the Kashmir division.

Modi, Macron agree to work together to expand ties #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron held extensive discussions on a range of bilateral and pressing global issues, including the raging conflict in Ukraine, the situation in the Indo-Pacific and terrorism. The two leaders agreed on a blueprint to work together in making the India-France strategic partnership a force for global good.

Mr. Modi, who arrived here from Denmark on the final leg of his three-nation European tour, held one-on-one and delegation-level talks with Mr. Macron at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday night in their first meeting after the French leader was recently re-elected in the presidential election. Mr. Modi and Mr. Macron held discussions on the entire range of bilateral issues, including cooperation in defence, space, blue economy, civil nuclear and people-to-people ties, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a press release.

“Delighted, as always, to meet my friend President @EmmanuelMacron. We talked at length about bilateral as well as global issues. India and France are proud developmental partners with our partnership spread across different sectors,” Mr. Modi tweeted.

According to a joint press statement issued after the meeting, India and France — in a post-pandemic world, facing global geopolitical challenges — reaffirmed their commitment to prepare for the future together by further deepening their cooperation, expanding it in new domains to meet emerging challenges and broadening their international partnership.

UN agency in talks with India on wheat procurement #GS2 #IR

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has said that it is in discussions with India on procurement of wheat as several countries face food security challenges amid the Ukraine war. “We are in discussions with India on procurement of wheat. So, that is something which is ongoing,” the WFP’s Chief Economist Arif Husain said at a news conference here on Wednesday.

He was responding to a question on India having a huge surplus of wheat and whether the organisation was doing anything to utilise this stockpile with India as the Russia-Ukraine war has exacerbated the global food security situation.

To a question on whether restrictions by the World Trade Organisation over how much India can export should be suspended amid the current emergency, Mr. Husain said one of their recommendations is about exemption of the WFP from export bans.

He noted that a couple of weeks ago, several agencies of the UN had encouraged governments not to impose export bans, which then artificially increased the price of major staple commodities. “This is something which is a big recommendation and hopefully, countries are listening,” he said.

India’s wheat production stood at 109.59 million tonnes in the 2020-21 crop year (July-June).

The World Food Programme launched the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises on Wednesday in which UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the war in Ukraine is “supercharging” a three-dimensional crisis – food, energy and finance — with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies.

NASA’s Cynthia Rosenzweig Receives 2022 World Food Prize #GS2 #IR

Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist and head of the Climate Impacts Group at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, received the 2022 World Food Prize from the World Food Prize Foundation on May 5. According to the World Food Prize Foundation, the World Food Prize is a prestigious international award conceived as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture” with a mission to elevate innovations and inspire action to sustainably increase the quality, quantity and availability of food for all.

PMI flags fastest services growth in five months, input costs soar #GS3 #Economy

New business and output from India’s services sector grew at the fastest pace in five months in April, as per the S&P Global India Services PMI, which increased to 57.9, from 53.6 in March. The survey showed selling prices surged at the sharpest pace since July 2017 amid a near-record upturn in input costs.

Inflation concerns continued to dampen business confidence, even as employment rose for the first time in five months, as per the survey-based index. A reading of 50 on the PMI signals no change in business activity.

“International demand for Indian services worsened in April, a trend that has been recorded in each month since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020,” S&P Global said. “New orders from abroad fell at a marked pace that was the quickest since September 2021,” it added.

Real estate and business services sectors were the only ones to report a contraction in new orders and output during April, while consumer services, finance and insurance were the best performers. Businesses reported higher chemical, food, fuel, labour, material and retail costs in April with the overall inflation in inputs rising at the second-strongest pace since PMI data collection started in 2005.

Some firms also reported higher wage costs, which escalated overall expenses. “Yet, companies resumed their hiring efforts in April, as seen by the first increase in employment since last November. Firms that took on extra staff linked the rise to ongoing growth of new business.

War-induced inflation surge said to have forced RBI’s hand #GS3 #Economy

An unexpectedly rapid surge in ‘war-induced inflation’ in March and April forced the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to hold an emergency off-cycle meeting this week and announce the first repo rate increase in more than three-and-a-half years, people familiar with the central bank’s thinking said.

The inflation print for March, which was announced on April 12 four days after the MPC had concluded its first policy review of the new fiscal year, had ended up 50 basis points higher than the RBI’s forecast at almost 7% and with the reading for April expected to be even higher and a ‘big shocker’, it became imperative for the MPC to meet urgently to take timely action, the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained.

Indonesia’s sudden decision to completely ban exports of palm oil had also added to the concern. Any further delay could have turned counterproductive as the Indian economy has no capacity to withstand a larger rate increase, say of 150-200 bps, they added.

With the RBI detecting signals that there could be a nasty inflation surprise on May 12 (when the April CPI data are expected to be released) it decided to space out its policy response, the people said. Going forward, the RBI aims to reverse its previous pandemic-triggered rate moves in small steps, much the same way it had reduced rates during the pandemic, they observed.