Current Affairs 18th May

Tauktae fury: six killed in Maharashtra #GS3 #DM

Cyclone Tauktae began the process of landfall on the Gujarat coast around 8.30 p.m. on Monday as the State braced for the impact of surging wind speeds of up to 210 km an hour. Earlier in the day, six persons were reported killed in Maharahstra, as the “extremely severe cyclonic storm” ran parallel to the Maharashtra coast and wound its way to Gujarat.

“Landfall process is continuing, it will take another three hours to complete its landfall process,” the IMD said in a tweet at 9.16 p.m.

At least 1.5 lakh people were moved to safer areas in Gujarat with Tauktae expected to hit the coast between Porbandar and Mahua in Bhavnagar district, east of Diu, as the Army and NDRF personnel were deployed in the State.

“Focus is to save lives, speedy clearance of routes to ensure movement of oxygen and standby arrangements at COVID hospitals,” an Army tweet said.

The storm is expected to whittle down to a “very severe cyclonic storm” — still rustling up wind speeds of up to 170 kmph — and by early Tuesday become a “severe cyclonic storm”. Wind speeds are expected to remain around 100 kmph during Tauktae’s track over land for most of Tuesday.

It is expected to peter out into a “depression” near Jodhpur by Wednesday.

Storms are common in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea in May, ahead of the monsoon onset — predicted to be May 31 this year — though climatologists have said there is an increase in the number of such storms in the Arabian Sea in recent years. Tauktae is the fourth cyclone in as many years over the Arabian Sea in the pre-monsoon months.

Havoc in Maharashtra

Six people died and nine were injured as the cyclone passed parallel to Maharashtra’s coastline, leaving a trail of damaged homes and uprooted trees.

In Mumbai, with the heavy rain coinciding with high tide, strong winds and heavy rain lead to hundreds of trees being uprooted and waterlogging in low-lying areas.

According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the highest windspeed in the city of 114 kmph was recorded at 2 p.m. at the Colaba observatory.

The IMD had upgraded the warning to extremely heavy rainfall in Mumbai during Monday afternoon and evening, predicting winds will continue and escalate up to 120 kmph.

The administration moved over 12,400 citizens to safety from coastal Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri and Raigad districts. Two fishing boats capsized in Devgad, in Sindhudurg, leaving one sailor dead. Another sailor was rescued, while three others are missing.

While three deaths were reported from Raigad, two people died in Thane district. Four of the nine injured were from Mumbai, two each from Ratnagiri and Raigad and one from Thane. In all, 2,542 houses were partially destroyed.

Flights diverted

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA), whic suspended all flight operations from 11 a.m on Monday, resumed operations at 11 p.m. More than 55 flights, both incoming and outbound, were cancelled and seven incoming flights were diverted to other airports.

Naval operation

In a daring operation involving the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Dakshina Kannada district administration, all the nine crew stranded on board the tug Coromondel Supporter IX , were rescued on Monday morning. The vessel had run aground on a rocky formation off the Karnataka coast near Mangaluru.

India records 2,31,781 fresh COVID-19 cases, 3,207 deaths #GS3 #SnT

India’s cumulative COVID-19 case count crossed the 2.5 crore-mark on Monday, the second highest globally. The country’s tally is about 80 lakh less than the United State’s cumulative infections and 90 lakh more than that of Brazil’s.

As many as 2,31,781 new cases and 3,207 deaths were recorded until 9.45 p.m. on Monday. Karnataka reported 38,603 infections, followed by Tamil Nadu (33,075) and Maharashtra (26,616). Maharashtra also recorded 516 casualties, followed by Karnataka (476) and Delhi (340).

The figures do not include cases and deaths from Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Odisha, Punjab, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Ladakh. The data are sourced from the respective States’ health bulletins.

Only 15.74 lakh samples were tested in the country on Sunday (the results for which were made available on Monday), which is around 2.6 lakh less than the tests conducted on Saturday. However, it is nearly one lakh tests more than those conducted on the previous Sunday.

‘Job losses bode ill for the economy’ #GS3 #Economy

Rising unemployment, including among the salaried class, and shrinking real incomes have led to a lack of demand that bodes ill for the economy.

“Unemployment rising is not a good sign at all for the economy,” he said. “Labour participation rate recovered soon after the lockdown was eased last year, but has run out of momentum even before it could recover fully,” Mr. Vyas added.

Unemployment rose to 8% in April, from 6.5% in March, the CMIE said. The labour participation rate (LPR) was 40% in April. “The LPR is about two percentage points below what it was before April 2020. This is a very serious matter for a population of our size,” Mr. Vyas said.

Post-lockdown recovery

Observing that the economy had recovered after the lockdowns were eased in 2020, he said, “All supply side indicators saw a robust turnaround. But where is the demand?”

Asserting that the lack of demand was a bottleneck for further growth, he said, “Income and consumer sentiment have also been hit. Income is lower than it was a year earlier. 90% of families have seen income shrinkage (i.e., real income, adjusted for inflation).”

Domestic demand is key

“We can’t depend on exports. It is domestic consumption that will help the economy,” Mr. Vyas said, adding that it was critical to put money in the hands of the consumer now.

Significantly, the size of the salaried class shrank for the third consecutive month in April, with 3.4 million jobs lost. During 2019-20, there were 85.9 million salaried jobs. As of April 2021, there were just 73.3 million.

A few clotting events after Covishield jab: AEFI panel #GS3 #SnT

Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI) data in India showed that there is a minuscule but definitive risk of thromboembolic events after administration of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine (Covishield in India).

A statement by the Health Ministry noted that the reporting rate of these events in India is around 0.61/million doses, much lower than the four cases/million reported by the United Kingdom’s regulator Medical and Health Regulatory Authority . Germany has reported 10 events per million doses.

There were no potential thromboembolic events reported following administration of Covaxin vaccine.

Bleeding and clotting cases following COVID-19 vaccination in India are minuscule and in line with the expected number of diagnoses of these conditions in the country, a report submitted by the National AEFI to the Health Ministry noted.

Analysis in India

The Ministry said that after alerts were raised in some countries on post-vaccination “embolic and thrombotic events” on March 11, 2021, particularly with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, a decision was taken to conduct an urgent, in-depth analysis of the adverse events (AE) in India in the light of the global concerns.

WhatsApp’s new policy is against IT law #GS3 #SnT #GS2 #Governance

The Centre informed the Delhi High Court that the controversial new privacy policy of instant messaging app WhatsApp was against the Indian Information Technology (IT) law and rules.

The Union government made the submission before an HC Bench during a hearing of several petitions challenging WhatsApp’s latest privacy policy, which, according to the platform, has come into effect from May 15.

WhatsApp said its new privacy policy had come into effect from May 15, but also clarified that it would not start deleting accounts of those users who had not accepted it and would try to encourage them to get on board.

The HC had issued notice to the Centre, Facebook, which owns the app, and WhatsApp on a plea by a lawyer who had claimed that the new policy violated users’ right to privacy under the Indian Constitution. The Centre also informed the High Court that it had written to Facebook CEO on the issue and a reply was awaited.

West Bengal government decides to set up a Legislative Council #GS2 #Governance

The West Bengal Government will set up a Legislative Council, or a Vidhan Parishad. A decision on setting up the council was taken up at a State Cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The Trinamool Congress in its manifesto has promised formation of Legislative Council and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had also said that the Vidhan Parishad will be set up once the Trinamool Congress government returns to power. Ms. Banerjee had indicated that certain members who will not face election can be nominated through the Legislative Council.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Finance Minister Amit Mitra are not members of the State Assembly. They can be easily nominated to the Legislative Council once the body is set up and will not have to face elections.

For setting up the council, a Bill has to be introduced in the State Assembly and then a nod from the State’s Governor is required. West Bengal Legislative Council, the Upper House of the bicameral legislature in West Bengal existed till 1969, till a resolution was passed in the State Assembly for its dissolution. Not all States in the country have Legislative Councils.

Private players

The State government also took the important decision for involving private players as a part of public-private partnership to contain COVID-19 situation in the State. The State on Monday recorded 19,003 new cases and 147 deaths due to the infection.

Armed forces on alert as Tauktae begins landfall #GS3 #DM

The armed forces mobilised men and assets in preparation for Cyclone Tauktae.

Gujarat being a critical supplier of oxygen from ports to other States, efforts were on to ensure the routes were kept open and also opened at the earliest after the cyclone made landfall, an Army officer said after a coordination meeting chaired by the Gujarat Chief Minister through videoconference. Maj. Gen. V.K. Sharma, General Officer Commanding of the Army’s Division at Ahmedabad, also attended.

“The priority is to ensure zero loss of life. The Army is also providing all possible assistance for making standby arrangements including oxygen, power supply and physical safety at all COVID hospitals.

The Army has mobilised columns and Engineer Task Forces to the western coast from various parts of the country. It is continuously monitoring the situation for likely intensity, maximum impact areas and anticipated relief effort in coordination with the civil administration and other agencies.

“Since the maximum impact is likely to be in Saurashtra, including Union Territory of Diu, 10 integrated teams are poised to be employed for aid to civilian authority in Diu. Ten teams have been sent to Junagarh area.

Navy on standby

“The Navy has kept 11 diving teams on standby while 12 flood rescue teams and medical teams have been earmarked for immediate response and deployment,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was informed at a review meeting held through videoconference. Repair and rescue teams have also been formed to undertake urgent infrastructural repairs post cyclone.

Three naval ships — Talwar, Tarkash and Tabar — are on standby with aid and relief material.

The other ships on the Western seaboard are also on standby for assistance to fishing and small boats stranded due to rough weather while the maritime reconnaissance aircraft are continuously broadcasting cyclone warnings to fishermen, the statement said.

The IAF has deployed aircraft to transport personnel and material of the National Disaster Response Force to Ahmedabad.

It deployed two C-130J and one An-32 aircraft for transportation of 167 personnel and 16.5 tonnes of load of the NDRF from Kolkata to Ahmedabad. Another C-130J and two An-32 aircraft carried 121 NDRF personnel and 11.6 tonnes of load from Vijayawada to Ahmedabad while two C-130J aircraft transported 110 personnel and 15 tonnes of cargo for the NDRF from Pune to Ahmedabad.

The Navy also launched multiple search and rescue operations in response to SOS calls from ships.

In response to SOS by an Indian vessel adrift in the Arabian Sea, a naval helicopter was dispatched early on Monday for rescuing the stranded crew of Indian flagged tug ‘Coromondel Supporter IX’, which was adrift north west of Mangalore.

ICMR drops plasma therapy from COVID treatment norms #GS3 #SnT

The use of convalescent plasma has been dropped from the recommended treatment guidelines for COVID-19, according to advisory from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The National Task Force of the ICMR, along with experts from the Health Ministry, periodically updates guidelines on recommended modes of treatment. Registered doctors anywhere, however, are not bound by the task force recommendations.

Though a trial by the ICMR on 400 patients last year — called the PLACID trial — had found no significant benefit from the use of plasma, it continued to find a place in the recommended guidelines.

Some experts have said the use of such plasma may have even played a role in facilitating new worrisome mutations to the virus.

The most recent study published in the British medical journal The Lancet on May 14 reported that in a double blinded trial involving about 5,000 patients who got the treatment in the U.K., again no benefit was found in reducing mortality, or on improving patient outcomes. The ICMR guidelines still recommend Ivermerctin and hydroxychloroquine for mild disease but has underlined “low certainty of evidence”.

Why and how of creating a district #GS2 #Governance

On May 14, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh declared Malerkotla the 23rd district of the State. This led to an angry response from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who took to Twitter to say that the Punjab government’s decision of declaring its only Muslim-majority town a district was “a reflection of the divisive policy of the Congress”.

Section 5 of the Punjab Land Revenue Act, 1887 says the “State government may, by notification, vary the limits and alter the numbers of tehsils, districts and divisions into which the State is divided”.

How are new districts carved?

The power to create new districts or alter or abolish existing districts rests with the State governments. This can either be done through an executive order or by passing a law in the State Assembly.

Many States prefer the executive route by simply issuing a notification in the official gazette.

How does it help?

States argue that smaller districts lead to better administration and governance. For example, in 2016, the Assam government issued a notification to upgrade the Majuli sub-division to Majuli district for “administrative expediency”.

Are there any exceptions?

The State government has been vested with unfettered powers under Section 5 of the Punjab Land Revenue Act, 1887 to create new districts, says K.B.S. Siddhu, former financial commissioner (revenue) of Punjab. “This power is generally held temporarily in abeyance only during active census operations or during the delimitation exercise of Lok Sabha/Vidhan Sabha constituencies,“ Mr. Sidhu says.

Does the Central government have a role to play here?

The Centre has no role to play in the alteration of districts or creation of new ones. States are free to decide. The Home Ministry comes into the picture when a State wants to change the name of a district or a railway station.

The State government’s request is sent to other departments and agencies such as the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Intelligence Bureau, Department of Posts, Geographical Survey of India Sciences and the Railway Ministry seeking clearance. A no-objection certificate may be issued after examining their replies.

What has been the trend?

According to the 2011 Census, there were 593 districts in the country. The Census results showed that between 2001-2011, as many as 46 districts were created by States. Though the 2021 Census is yet to happen, Know India, a website run by the Government of India, says currently there are 718 districts in the country.

The surge in number is also due to bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into A.P. and Telangana in 2014. Telangana at present has 33 districts and A.P. has 13 districts.

DRDO’s drug launched for emergency use #GS3 #SnT

The first batch of the adjunct COVID therapy drug, 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) — developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) along with Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL), Hyderabad — was on Monday released for emergency use. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh formally handed over the drug to Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.

“One box each of the sachets of the drug were handed over to Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Lt. Gen. Sunil Kant of Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS). More will be handed over to different hospitals across the country for emergency use,” a Defence Ministry statement said.

An anti-COVID-19 therapeutic application of the drug 2-DG has been developed by Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), a DRDO lab along with DRL.

DRL will increase the production of the drug which is expected to be made available to all hospitals by the first week of June, said K. Satish Reddy, Chairman DRL.

The drug is a good example of DRDO and private partnership, which will help patients in overcoming oxygen dependency by around 40%, Mr. Singh said, speaking at the event.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan said 2-DG was the first therapeutic drug for COVID which India has developed indigenously. Scientists have been working on the molecule for long and over the last one year clinical trials were conducted extensively in various hospitals across the country.

Is India’s Palestine policy evolving? #GS2 #IR

At the United Nations Security Council on Sunday, India, a non-permanent member, reaffirmed its support for Palestine, but stopped short of making any direct reference to the status of Jerusalem or the future Israel-Palestine borders.

Wrapping up his over-4-minute-long speech at the Security Council, T.S. Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, said: “In conclusion, India reiterates its strong support for the just Palestinian cause and its unwavering commitment to the two-state solution.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday tweeted the national flags of 25 countries, from the United States to Albania, that he said were “resolutely standing with Israel and supporting our right to self defence”.

Indian flag was not among them. Ambassador Tirumurti’s statement made two things clear. One, he said the “violence began in East Jerusalem a week back”, referring to the clashes in the Al-Aqsa compound and East Jerusalem’s neighbourhood. This means, India doesn’t see Hamas’s rocket firing on May 10, which followed Israeli forces storming Al-Aqsa Mosque in the morning, as the trigger of the conflict.

Second, India has expressed “our deep concern over the violence in Jerusalem, especially on Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramzan and about the possible eviction process in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.” Dozens of Arab families in the occupied East Jerusalem face eviction by the Israelis, which was one of the triggers of Arab protests in the last week of Ramzan.

India has also urged both sides to “refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood.” Here, it is Israel which is trying to unilaterally change the status quo by moving to evict the Palestinian families, and deploying troops to the Al-Aqsa compound.

India called for “the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem, including Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected”. So, without mentioning any country, India has, in effect, called for the eviction process to be stopped and status quo ante to be restored at the Al Aqsa compound.

Evolving position

While refusing to toe the Israeli line on the conflict, India’s comments also point to its evolving position on the larger Israel-Palestine issue. “It’s a very carefully drafted statement. For example, it’s called for the status quo relating to East Jerusalem.

But the crucial point that’s missing is that East Jerusalem should be the capital [of a future Palestinian state]. Earlier, this used to be the mantra from India regarding the two-state solution. This portion is now taken out. Therefore, we are simply giving lip service to the two-state solution without mentioning that East Jerusalem is the core part of that two-state solution,” said Talmiz Ahmad, a former diplomat who was India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

Until 2017, India’s position was that it supported “the Palestinian cause and called for a negotiated solution resulting in a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognised borders, side by side at peace with Israel”. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated this position in November 2013. So did then President Pranab Mukherjee, in October 2015.

India dropped the references to East Jerusalem and the borders in 2017 when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said back then, “[W]e hope to see the realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine, coexisting peacefully with Israel. I have reaffirmed our position on this to President Abbas during our conversation today.”

In 2018, when Mr. Modi visited Ramallah, he reaffirmed the same position, with no direct reference to the borders or Jerusalem. Ambassador Tirumurti stated this line while calling for a “just” solution, without giving specifics on what that solution should be.

P.R. Kumaraswamy, professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, said it is “the sensible way of saying what is acceptable to both parties”.

“It [the statement] is vague enough while at the same time firmly putting the two-state solution on the table. That’s what the point is — whether there is a reference to Jerusalem, whether it is [the] 1967 [border], these are all minor issues. The real issue is this: a two-state solution, coexisting side by side. What are the contours of the boundaries will be discussed, settled and recognised by the parties.

Two narratives

Prof. Kumaraswamy, however, added that there are a couple of important nuances in India’s statement. “First, the references to Haram esh-Sharif come twice. And it says, Haram esh-Sharif/Temple Mount. This is a very subtle way of saying that this is not a Palestinian narrative.

The Palestinian narrative is that it is Haram esh-Sherif—that means exclusive Islamic control and ownership. By saying Temple Mount together with Sharam esh-Sherif, it says… the real issue is it is Jewish as well as Islamic. Second, you openly condemn the rockets, but no references to Israeli reaction.”

Ambassador Ahmad also noted the different approaches India took to the rocket firing and Israeli strikes.

“There is a specific condemnation on the rocket fire from Gaza, but a similar condemnation is not specifically directed at the Israeli side. And then, there is this loose talk on casualties, but fails to mention the disproportionate use of force by Israel. I think there is a lot of symbolism here.”

Demand takes big hit on second wave #GS3 #Economy

As the second wave of COVID-19 overwhelmed India and the world, the real economy indicators moderated through April-May 2021, senior officials of the Reserve Bank of India wrote in the RBI’s monthly bulletin.

“The biggest toll of the second wave is in terms of a demand shock — loss of mobility, discretionary spending and employment, besides inventory accumulation” while the aggregate supply was less impacted, they wrote.

“The resurgence of COVID-19 has dented but not debilitated economic activity in the first half of Q1… Although extremely tentative at this stage, the central tendency of available diagnosis is that the loss of momentum is not as severe as at this time a year ago,” they added.

In an article on ‘State of the Economy’, the officials including Deputy Governor Michael Debabrata Patra observed that agriculture remained robust at this critical time and industrial production surged after a two-month contraction on the tailwinds of a large favourable base effect.

The impact of the new infections appeared to be U-shaped, they posited.

‘Weathering the storm’

“Each shoulder of the U represents sectors that are weathering the storm — agriculture at one end and IT on the other. On the slopes of the U are organised and automated manufacturing on one side and on the other, services that can be delivered remotely and do not require producers and consumers to move. These activities continue to function under pandemic protocols.

In the well of the U were the most vulnerable — blue collar groups that had to risk exposure for a living and for the rest of society to survive; doctors and healthcare workers; law and order; municipal personnel; individuals eking out daily livelihoods; small businesses, organised and unorganised — and they warranted priority in policy interventions, the officials observed.

“It is in this direction that the Reserve Bank, re-armed and re-loaded, has stepped out… The road ahead is fraught with danger, but India’s destiny lies not in the second wave, but in life beyond,” they added.

NBFCs hit hard

In another article on the performance of NBFCs during the pandemic, the bank’s officials wrote that as the pandemic disrupted economic activity significantly, Non-Banking Financial Companies were hit hard. During Q2 and Q3 of FY21, the consolidated balance sheet of NBFCs grew at a slower pace.

“However, NBFCs were able to continue credit intermediation, albeit at a lower rate, reflecting the resilience of the sector. Among sectors NBFCs lend to, industrial sector, particularly micro and small and large industries, were the hardest hit by the pandemic as they posted decline in credit growth.

WPI inflation hits high of 10.5% #GS3 #Economy

Inflation as measured by the Wholesale Price Index quickened to a record high of 10.5% in April, from 7.4% in March and 4.8% recorded in February, thanks to a base effect from last April which recorded a negative inflation of 1.57%, and a surge in fuel, food and manufactured goods’ prices.

Wholesale inflation in fuel and power more than doubled to 20.94% in April 2021 from 10.25% in March 2021, while manufactured goods recorded inflation of 9%, prompting industry to urge the government to rationalise fuel prices and try to rein in high commodity prices.

Food prices also hardened to record 7.6% inflation in April from 3.6% in February and 5.3% in March. Retail inflation for April had moderated to a three-month low of 4.29% from over 5.5% in March, helped by cooling food prices, but economists had expected the WPI to harden during the month.

The high inflation in fuel and power is significantly raising input costs of Indian industry. “We urge the government to consider petroleum products in the ambit of GST to rationalise the prices and to contain rising inflation.

ICRA chief economist Aditi Nayar said the headline WPI inflation surge was sharper than expected and could rise further to 13%-13.5% in May before winding down.

However, core WPI inflation may continue to rise over the next three months to a peak of about 10.5% from 8.4% in April. “The likely trajectory of WPI inflation supports our view that there is no space for rate cuts to support the faltering growth momentum, even as we expect the monetary stance to remain accommodative.