Current Affairs 13th April

As cases surge, panel approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine #GS3 #SnT

Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine — Sputnik V — has been recommended for emergency use authorisation in India following a meeting of the Subject Expert Committee (SEC).

If approved by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), Sputnik-V would be the third vaccine to be made available in India after Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

The recommendation comes amid the recent record surge of fresh COVID cases — the highest since the beginning of the pandemic last year. India has also on Monday reported a total of 948 cases with the U.K., South Africa and Brazil variants of the virus.

Sputnik V, developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, claims to be one of the three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%.

The vaccine’s efficacy is confirmed at 91.6% based on the analysis of data on 19,866 volunteers, who received both the first and second doses of the Sputnik V vaccine or placebo at the final control point of 78 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

RDIF to produce shots

It adds that the vaccine supplies for the global market will be produced by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) international partners in India, Brazil, China, South Korea and other countries.

While Dr. Reddy’s will market the vaccine in India, RDIF has tied up with other Indian companies — Hetero Biopharma, Gland Pharma, Stelis Biopharma and Virchow Biotech — to produce 850 million doses of Sputnik V in the country every year.

“RDIF jointly with partners and manufacturers is ramping up the production of Sputnik V. The cost of one dose of the vaccine for international markets is less than $10 (Sputnik V is a two dose vaccine). The (freeze-dried form) of the vaccine can be stored at a temperature of +2 to +8 degrees Celsius, which allows for easy distribution worldwide, including hard-to-reach regions,

Sensex, rupee slip on fear of pandemic; inflation surges #GS3 #Economy

The BSE Sensex tanked 1,708 points or 3.44% driven by the fear of fresh pandemic effects, taking the rupee past the Rs. 75 mark against the dollar on a manic Monday for the economy, even as inflation surged further in March and industrial output collapsed sharply in February.

India’s retail inflation accelerated to 5.52% in March 2021 from 5.03% in February, with urban areas recording a high 6.52% inflation. The Consumer Food Price Index hardened to 4.94% from 3.87% in February, with urban India seeing a much higher surge of 6.64% in food inflation.

Industrial output, meanwhile, fell for the second successive month in February, contracting by 3.6%, suggesting that the recovery is still shaky.

On a discouraging note, infrastructure and construction goods recorded a contraction of 4.7% in February, after having displayed an uninterrupted expansion since August 2020. Consumer non-durables output has shrunk in three of the last four months, suggesting that sentiment remains weak at the bottom of the pyramid.

Retail inflation through 2020-21 was the highest in the last seven years at 6.2%, said Devendra Pant, chief economist at India Research and Ratings. “Rising retail inflation and falling wage growth is a double whammy for consumption demand, which even otherwise is under pressure.”

Higher fuel prices due to a combination of higher crude prices and elevated excise duties pushed transport and communication inflation to 12.5%, the highest since the current inflation index series began.

Among services, household goods and services inflation hit a 10-month high while recreation and amusement services touched a 9-month high. While some relief is expected in April’s inflation numbers, as base effects from last year’s national lockdown kick in, the uptick in inflation is expected to resume thereafter.

‘Northeast citizens faced racial discrimination amid pandemic’ #GS2 #SocialIssues

A study commissioned by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) on racial discrimination and hate crimes against people from the northeastern States found that the “northeast India seamlessly fits [an] Indian’s imagination of a Chinese person”.

The study found that 78% of the people from the region who were interviewed believed that physical appearance was the most important reason for prejudice against them. The study said amid the COVID-19 outbreak last year, people from the region “faced an increased number of acts of hate and prejudices against them”.

A series of attacks were reported in various parts of the country, where people from the region were “harassed, abused, and traumatised” and were disparagingly called ‘Coronavirus’.

The Hindu accessed the findings of the unpublished report. The Centre for Criminology and Victimology at the National Law University (NLU), Delhi, conducted the study under the aegis of the ICSSR, Delhi, on the prevalence of hate crimes against the people of the region in six metropolitan cities — Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

Around 1,200 people, mostly women from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura were interviewed for the research. The study’s associate is Dr. Garima Paul of the NLU.

‘Deep-rooted prejudice’

Majority of those interviewed faced discrimination when it came to renting accommodation, visiting a restaurant and even while finding transportation. Most of them faced problems while renting a house, even in restaurants they faced issues forcing them to eat mostly in eateries run by people from their communities. “These issues cannot be solved by policing alone.

The study quoted a 2020 report from the Right and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) that found a significant upsurge in acts of racial discrimination against people from the region. It mentioned 22 reported cases of racial discrimination or hate crimes between February and March 25, 2020.

“The highest number of incidents were reported from Mumbai (44.7%). Interestingly, 78% of the northeast people believed that physical appearance was the most important reason for prejudice against them. It appears as if the northeast India seamlessly fits Indian’s imagination of a Chinese person,” the report said.

Offensive and abusive language were reported to be most common across all the six cities. Mumbai recorded the highest offensive and abusive language related crime (74%), followed by Chennai (72%), Pune (67.3%), Delhi (64%), Hyderabad (48.7%) and Bengaluru (43.3%). More than 60% of the persons who were interviewed said their studies and work were seriously hampered by such experiences.

“The most pervasive reasons behind hate crime incidents against the northeastern people as per our data analysis were public attitude and insensitivity (44.5%). The incidence of non-reporting of the incidents was as high as 32.3%. As many as 34% of persons faced a common issue of refusal to file FIR by the police. The fear of hate crime was experienced to be particularly high in Chennai (74%),” the study said.

It said the M.P. Bezbaruah Committee in 2014 recommended amendments to the IPC by creating new offences under Section 153C and 509A to to deal with comments, gestures and acts intended to insult a member of a particular racial group.

“It also suggested to make such offences as ‘gender-neutral’, ‘cognizable’ and ‘non-bailable’ with imprisonment extendable up to three years or five years with fine, respectively.

The Supreme Court in Karma Dorji & Others vs Union of India & Others (2014) made several recommendations for the prevention and monitoring of racial hatred and violence. Though, not much seems to have been done in this regard.

Earlier in December 2020, a report by the Nagaland government said the stranded State residents were subjected to “racism and harassment” in the wake of the March 24, 2020 nationwide lockdown.

Military exercise in Bangladesh ends #GS2 #IR

The multinational military exercise, Shantir Ogrosena, under way in Bangladesh for the past 10 days.

The exercise culminated with a validation phase and closing ceremony organised on the theme of robust peace keeping operations jointly undertaken by contingents of Indian Army, Royal Bhutanese Army, Sri Lankan Army and Bangladesh Army, preceded by an Army Chiefs Conclave.

Gen. Naravane also interacted with the senior officers of the participating nations and military observers from other countries, the statement said. On Sunday, he had delivered the keynote address on “Changing Nature of Global Conflicts: Role of UN Peacekeepers”.

The exercise, which started on April 4 at Bangabandhu Senanibas, saw participation by four countries along with observers from the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Singapore.

The aim of the exercise was to strengthen defence ties and enhance interoperability amongst neighbourhood countries to ensure effective peace keeping operations.

Retail inflation quickens to 5.52% #GS3 #Economy

India’s industrial output fell for the second successive month in February 2021, contracting 3.6% year on year, even as retail inflation quickened to a four-month high of 5.52% in March. Electricity was the only sector to register positive growth of a meagre 0.1%, while manufacturing output shrank 3.7% and mining slipped 5.5%, as per the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).

Revised data

The IIP had contracted 0.87% in January, as per revised data, compared to a 1.6% dip estimated earlier. Final data for November 2020 was also revised upwards, with industrial output in the month shrinking 1.6% compared to a 1.9% dip estimated earlier.

The base effect played a role on both the indices, said economists, as industrial output in February 2020 had hit a 16-month high, at the time, of 5.2%, while food inflation, which played a key role in driving up the overall price rise print in March, was partly bolstered by the lower price trends last year even though food prices have declined month-on-month.

‘29-month high’

“Core inflation jumped to a 29-month high of 5.96% in March 2021 from 3.95% a year ago and 5.88% in February due to demand and increase in commodity prices,” said Devendra Pant, chief economist at India Ratings and Research.

Aditi Nayar, principal economist at ICRA Limited, termed the core inflation near 6% as ‘unnerving’ but added that the decline in prices of vegetables such as onions as well as a reversal of the base effect was expected to dampen the food inflation to around 2-2.5% in April 2021.

The IIP numbers suggest that the recovery in industrial volumes lacks conviction, she said.

‘Lacklustre production’

The trend of recent months reinforces the view that the uptick witnessed in the months of September and October-2020 was more due to a combination of festive and pent-up demand and we are still far from witnessing a sustained recovery.

“Growth pattern of primary and intermediate goods, two leading indicators of industrial production are pointing towards a lacklustre industrial performance in the short- to medium-run, adding that this would necessitate continued demand support from both the government as well as the Reserve Bank.

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