Current Affairs 13th May

Israel-Palestinian clashes trigger fears of a ‘full-scale war’ #GS2 #IR

Relentless rocket fire and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns fuelled growing fears on Wednesday that deadly violence between Israel and Palestinians could spiral into a “full-scale war”. Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza to bring “total, long-term quiet” before considering a ceasefire.

Gaza militants have launched over 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel’s Army, which has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza.

The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 53 people in Gaza, including 14 children, and six in Israel, including an Israeli soldier and one Indian national, since Monday. Three Palestinians were killed in West Bank clashes. At least 230 Palestinians and 100 Israelis were wounded.

As world powers voiced growing alarm and the UN Security Council readied for another emergency meeting on the bloody crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that “we’re escalating towards a full-scale war”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where “wide-scale riots erupted among some of the Arab residents”.

Need 6 to 8 more weeks of lockdown: ICMR chief #GS3 #SnT

Dr. Bhargava’s comments are the first time a senior government official has outlined how long lockdowns, which already encompass large parts of the country, need to continue to rein in the crisis in India.

Several States have introduced varying levels of curbs on economic activity and public movement to stop the spread of the virus, which are mostly being reviewed and extended on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

“The high positivity districts should remain (shut). If they come to 5% from 10% (positivity rate), we can open them, but that has to happen. That won’t happen in six-eight weeks, clearly.

Capital hit hard

Referring to the capital, one of India’s hardest hit cities, where the positivity rate reached around 35% but has now fallen to about 17%, Dr. Bhargava said: “If Delhi is opened tomorrow, it will be a disaster.” India is in deep crisis in the current wave of COVID-19 infections with around 350,000 cases and 4,000 deaths being reported daily. Hospitals and morgues are overflowing, medical staff is exhausted, and oxygen and drugs are running short.

Many experts say the actual case tallies and deaths could be five to 10 times higher. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top political leaders have faced a public backlash for addressing mass election rallies where no major COVID-19 safety protocols were followed.

‘Slight delay’

Dr. Bhargava did not criticise the Modi government but conceded there had been a delay in responding to the crisis. He said an April 15 meeting of the National Task Force on COVID-19 had made the recommendation to the government to lockdown areas with a 10% positivity rate or higher.

Yet, in a televised speech on April 20, Mr. Modi dissuaded States and said a lockdown should be used as the “last resort” and the focus should remain on “micro containment zones”.

On April 26 — more than 10 days after the task force meeting — India’s Home Ministry wrote to States, asking them to implement strict measures for “large containment areas” in hard-hit districts, but only for 14 days.

India’s Home and Health Ministries, as well as Mr. Modi’s office, did not respond to requests for comment. Reuters reported earlier this month that the head of the National Centre for Disease Control had privately told an online gathering that strict lockdown measures were required in early April.

Two senior ICMR officials told Reuters that the organisation was frustrated about political leaders addressing large rallies and allowing religious gatherings, saying the actions publicly flouted required safety measures.

DRDO’s oxygen supply units to be procured for Rs. 322.5 crore #GS3 #SnT

The PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) Fund has sanctioned the procurement of 1.5 lakh units of the Oxycare system, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), at a cost of Rs. 322.5 crore.

Separately, a four lakh litre capacity oxygen production plant supplied by Germany started functioning at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel COVID Hospital set up by the DRDO in the national capital while naval ships continued to bring in emergency supplies from friendly foreign countries.

The Oxycare system was developed by Defence Bio-Engineering and Electro Medical Laboratory (DEBEL), Bengaluru, of the DRDO for soldiers posted at extreme high-altitude areas. “The Oxycare system delivers supplemental oxygen based on the SpO2 levels and prevents the person from sinking into a state of hypoxia, which can be fatal,” a DRDO statement said on Wednesday. Under this sanction, 1,00,000 manual and 50,000 automatic Oxycare systems along with non-rebreather masks (NRBM) are being procured, it stated.

The automatic system also provided audio warning for various failure scenarios. The DRDO had transferred the technology to multiple industries, which would be producing the Oxycare system, it added.

Supplies from West Asia

As part of operation ‘Samudra Setu II’, launched by the Navy, INS Tarkash arrived at Mumbai with two Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) filled (20 MT [metric tonne] each) cryogenic containers and 230 oxygen cylinders.

“The oxygen containers were facilitated by the French Mission as part of the “Oxygen Solidarity Bridge” and oxygen cylinders were gifted by Indian diaspora in Qatar. The consignment was handed over to the Maharashtra civil administration.

On Tuesday, INS Kochi and INS Tabar reached the New Mangalore Port carrying 100 MT LMO in five containers and 1,200 oxygen cylinders from Kuwait.

A second Canadian flight carrying medical supplies is on its way to India and is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi. “Collective action is the only way to defeat COVID-19. The second Canadian Armed Forces flight is on its way to India with 300 ventilators in support of the people of India,” said Nadir Patel, Canadian High Commissioner in India.

As on the early hours of May 12, Indian Air Force aircraft airlifted 403 oxygen containers of 6,856 MT capacity along with other equipment of 163 MT capacity, in 634 sorties from different parts of the country.

Most NGOs don’t have SBI account #GS2 #Governance

Only 16% registered NGOs have active bank accounts with the State Bank of India’s main branch in Delhi, a compulsory requirement to receive foreign funds from April 1, according to submission made by a non-governmental organisation in the Delhi High Court.

An Assam-based NGO has also moved the Gauhati High Court against another amended provision of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) that makes Aadhaar mandatory for opening and operating the account in Delhi.

The Gauhati High Court on May 5 sent a notice to the SBI asking it to explain why Aadhaar was necessary to open a bank account, when in 2018, the Supreme Court in the K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar) case had ruled that mandatorily linking Aadhaar to a bank account “does not satisfy the test of proportionality”.

According to the amended provisions of the FCRA enacted in September 2020, the NGOs registered under the Act were asked to open a designated bank account at the SBI, Delhi and compulsorily register the Aadhaar details of the chief functionaries, trustees and office-bearers.

The amendment stated that all the existing FCRA accounts of the NGOs will be linked to the SBI account in Delhi, and while they may not be able to receive fresh foreign funds from April 1 in the existing accounts, they could utilise the money that already exists in the old account.

Pandemic poses hurdles

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many NGOs could not complete the stringent paper work, making it impossible for foreign donors to send help during the second wave that has now spread to rural areas. Many said that they did not fulfil the eligibility criteria as they did not possess an Aadhaar card as a “matter of principle”.

An Andhra Pradesh NGO that had moved the Delhi High Court last week seeking exemption from the March 31 deadline to open an account in Delhi, informed the court on Wednesday that out of the 22,457 NGOs with active FCRA licences, only 3,616 have active bank accounts with the SBI Main Branch, Delhi (NDMB).

The NGO said that despite applying before March 31, their papers were not processed.

“The court on Wednesday directed the Ministry to expedite the necessary approvals for opening the petitioners’ New Delhi FCRA account and has listed the matter for compliance in a week’s time,” said Abishek Jebaraj, the NGO’s counsel.

Three more Andhra NGOs have approached the court with the same plea. The Ministry of Home Affairs did not comment on whether the government was considering to extend the March 31 deadline.

‘Child marriages may go unnoticed amid lockdown’ #GS2 #SocialIssues

Last year, as the pandemic took grip of the world and India went into a lockdown, child rights activists were alarmed to see a slew of child marriages being reported in Karnataka. Now, with another lockdown in place and weddings being restricted to houses because of tough guidelines, there are fears of child marriages going unnoticed.

Fr. Antony Sebastian, Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR), told The Hindu that a total of 2,180 child marriage cases were reported in Karnataka as per reports of Childline (1098) from April 2020 to January 2021.

In December last year, of the 1,598 complaints, 365 were related to this category. The other complaints ranged from illegal adoptions, child trafficking and child labour to the need for medical help or shelter.

Last year, 579 complaints were received in May by Childline in Karnataka when India was observing the national lockdown imposed by the Central government. The number of complaints eased when lockdown restrictions were relaxed, but were still worrying. As many as 214 complaints were received in August and 111 in September 2020.

The number of such complaints for October 2020 was 190 and for November 321.

Number may go up

This year, in January alone (up to when data are available), 1,947 complaints were received overall in the State, of which 288 were related to child marriages. Fr. Sebastian said with another lockdown in place and marriages being allowed in homes, the number of cases might go up.

Some activists and organisations have raised the issue with the Ministry and the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD).

“Earlier, when child marriages happened at wedding halls, temples, etc., there were people who would alert the relevant authorities or activists who would be able to reach on time to stop them. But now, with marriages happening at homes, we may get fewer alerts and our going there could be treated as trespassing.

P. Lakshapathi, founder and executive director of APSA (Association for Promoting Social Action), which collaborates with Childline in Bengaluru, said during the last lockdown, many child marriages were reported in Bengaluru Urban, too, probably due to the high number of migrants living in the city. This year, between January and April 2021, APSA had received complaints of 14 child marriage cases.

“During the first lockdown, we saw child marriages for a variety of reasons, ranging from insecurity for the girl, wherein the parents assume their responsibility is over with her marriage, to the fact that they could get away with a simple marriage without calling too many people, resulting in less expenditure.

When we get information, we try and create awareness. Many people don’t know what the punishment is for the offence. When they learn about it, they are surprised. He urged the people to alert Childline if they come across child marriages.

“If people get to know about such marriages, please inform Childline. Cases are booked even after the couple has a child if they are under-aged… To prevent more such cases, the key is awareness among people,” Mr. Lakshapathi added.

Anuradha K.N., Director, DWCD, said every district had a committee to tackle child marriages and they had been activated to conduct regular inspections. “In most cases, child marriage whistle-blowers are relatives or neighbours… Smaller marriage functions may not mean more cases going unnoticed.

COVID-19 catastrophe could have been avoided, says report #GS2 #IR

The catastrophic scale of the COVID-19 pandemic could have been prevented, an independent global panel concluded, but a “toxic cocktail” of dithering and poor coordination meant the warning signs went unheeded.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response said institutions “failed to protect people” and science-denying leaders eroded public trust in health interventions. Early responses to the outbreak detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 “lacked urgency”, with February 2020 a costly “lost month” as countries failed to heed the alarm, said the panel in its long-awaited final report.

Requested by the World Health Organization (WHO) member states last May, the report, “COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic”, argued that the global alarm system needed overhauling to prevent a similar catastrophe.

“We have identified failures at every stage and we do believe that it could have been possible to prevent this pandemic. “We cannot simply point to one individual who is ultimately responsible.

The panel said the WHO could have declared the situation a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — its highest level of alarm — on January 22, 2020. Instead, it waited eight more days before doing so. It was only in March after the WHO described it as a pandemic — a term that is not officially part of its alert system — that countries were jolted into action.

As for the initial outbreak, “there were clearly delays in China — but there were delays everywhere”, said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, the report’s other chairwoman.

To tackle the pandemic, the panel called on the richest countries to donate a billion vaccine doses to the poorest. The WHO and the World Trade Organization should also get major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfers for vaccines. It also proposed an over-haul of the WHO to make it less cautious and give it more authority to send expert missions into countries immediately without waiting for their approval.

Inflation eases to 4.29%; base lifts IIP #GS3 #Economy

India’s retail inflation slowed to a three-month low of 4.29% in April, from 5.52% in March, helped by softer food prices as well as a base effect. Separately, industrial output surged by 22.4% in March, lifted by the statistical impact of the year-earlier period’s Index of Industrial Production (IIP) being significantly lower on account of the national lockdown to contain COVID-19 imposed that month.

Retail food inflation eased to 2.02% in April, from 4.87% in the preceding month, with rural India recording a mere 1.45% food inflation compared with almost 4% in March. Overall rural retail inflation was 3.82%, slower than the 4.77% pace averaged in urban areas.

The March IIP data showed manufacturing grew by 25.8% and electricity generation by 22.5% over the year-earlier period, when industrial activity had collapsed 18.7% in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown.

For 2020-21, industrial output shrank by 8.6%, compared with a 0.8% contraction in 2019-20. Manufacturing contracted by 9.8% in the year, while mining production shrank 7.8%. Electricity seemed to have recovered from the initial shock, dipping just 0.5% over the full financial year.

Observing that the inflation and IIP data provided strong positive signals for the economy, EY India chief policy advisor D. K. Srivastava, however, stressed that the turnaround in manufacturing related to the period ‘just prior to the extensive rounds of lockdowns induced by the ongoing second COVID wave’.

While inflation in fuel and light increased in April, indicating that cost-push inflation persists through petroleum prices, Mr. Srivastava reckoned lower demand for food and beverages and other consumption items drove overall inflation lower. “The policy message is that the government needs to support demand without getting excessively concerned about the pressure on prices of petroleum products.

Little room for rate cuts

Most economists expect the RBI to remain accommodative, but don’t see much room for rate cuts.

“As the lockdown base fades away, we expect the CPI inflation to bounce back to an average of 5%” in the remainder of the first half, ruling out the possibility of further rate cuts. DBS Group economist Radhika Rao emphasised that inflation and IIP data over the next three months were likely to be ‘significantly distorted’ by base effects.

“Focus has returned to inflation in light of the recent rally in commodity prices,” Ms. Rao observed.