Current Affairs 3rd April

India records 88,665 fresh cases, highest in 6 months #GS3 #SnT

India recorded the highest single-day rise in coronavirus cases in six months with 88,665 new infections in a span of 24 hours, taking the COVID-19 tally of cases to 1,23,90,775.

The single-day rise in cases is the highest recorded since September 26, 2020, while the death toll increased to 1,64,062 with 634 new fatalities, the highest since December 3. As many as 88,759 new infections were recorded in a span of 24 hours on September 26, while 541 daily deaths were registered on December 3.

The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 1,15,61,261. The case fatality rate stood at 1.33%, the data stated.

India’s COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 30 lakh on August 23, 40 lakh on September 5 and 50 lakh on September 16. It went past 60 lakh on September 28, 70 lakh on October 11, crossed 80 lakh on October 29, 90 lakh on November 20 and surpassed the one crore-mark on December 19.

India wants total disengagement #GS2 #IR

The remaining points of tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh should be resolved “quickly”, said an official of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday. Addressing the weekly press briefing, official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said “prolongation” of differences in the remaining points of friction was not helpful for restoration of peace and tranquillity along the LAC.

“There is a consensus that the two sides should now quickly resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, highlighting the positive outcome from the 10 rounds of Senior Commanders-level talks which helped in achieving “disengagement” in the Pangong Tso area. The official indicated that despite negotiations, similar disengagement is yet to be achieved at the remaining friction points.

“At both the senior commanders’ meeting and the WMCC (Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination), the two sides had detailed exchange of views on the remaining issues. The two sides continue to remain in touch through military and diplomatic channels.

Following months of tension on the LAC, Indian and Chinese Senior Commanders had managed to disengage on the north and south banks of the Pangong Tso. However, the Chinese forces are yet to disengage from Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok.

We therefore hope that the Chinese side will work with us to ensure that disengagement in the remaining areas is completed at the earliest. This would allow both sides to consider de-escalation of forces in eastern Ladakh as that alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquillity and provide conditions for progress of our bilateral relationship.

No ban imposed on vaccine export: MEA #GS2 #IR #GS3 #SnT

Asserting that India has not imposed any export ban on COVID-19 vaccines, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the country has taken the lead in sending vaccines abroad with over 640 lakh doses supplied to more than 80 countries till now.

MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi also said the Ministry’s ‘Vaccine Maitree’ initiative to supply vaccines abroad has been “very successful and very well liked” by our partners across the world.

As on date, under the ‘Vaccine Maitree’ initiative, we have supplied a total of about 644 lakh doses to the global community and of these, 104 lakh doses have been supplied as a grant, 357 lakh doses on a commercial basis and 182 lakh doses through the COVAX initiative.

Asked about reports that Nepal has approached India to procure 5 million more vaccine doses but has not got any response, he said India has taken the lead on sending vaccines abroad.

“No country has shared with the world the number of vaccines that India has while vaccinating its own population. Till now, we have supplied vaccines to more than 80 countries across in the world and we have already stated that our external supplies would be done keeping in mind our domestic requirements.

“At this time, I hope our partners understand that vaccines are primarily purposed for domestic consumption. I want to emphasise that we have not imposed any export ban on vaccines.

‘India stands for revival of democracy in Myanmar’ #GS2 #IR

India said it stood for revival of democracy in Myanmar, and added that violence would not solve the prevailing situation in the country.

We condemn any use of violence. We believe that the rule of law should prevail. We stand for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. We have urged the release of political prisoners and supported any attempts at resolving the current situation, including through the efforts of ASEAN.

India was among the first countries to express concern after the February 1 military takeover which deposed the democratically elected leadership of Myanmar. However, India’s subsequent behaviour indicated that it preferred to maintain communication links with the military junta.

On March 27, an Indian official attended the Myanmar Armed Forces Day parade at capital Naypyitaw even as the day turned out to be the bloodiest with the military killing around 100 protesters.

Subsequently, on April 1, Myanmar participated in a foreign ministerial meeting of BIMSTEC, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, which was chaired by Sri Lanka and attended by India along with other members like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand.

Concern for displaced

Mr. Bagchi, however, argued that India maintains routine diplomatic activities through its mission in Myanmar. “Our Ambassador, Defence Attache, and other diplomatic officers continue to discharge their regular diplomatic responsibilities. Mr. Bagchi further said India was treating the flow of displaced people from Myanmar as per Indian laws and “humanitarian considerations.”

11 States, Union Territories show surge #GS3 #SnT

The current COVID-19 case growth rate of 6.8% in March 2021 has surpassed the previous record of 5.5% (June 2020), noted a release issued by the Central government following a meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba.

The government has identified 11 States and Union Territories as areas of grave concern — Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Chandigarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Haryana. They have been reporting a surge in daily cases and daily mortality in the past two weeks. The meeting was to review and discuss the COVID-19 management and response strategy.

Another worrisome aspect pointed out at the meeting was that Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities along with peri-urban areas have recorded a surge in COVID-19 cases. The spread of infection to the rural areas with weak health infrastructure would overwhelm the local administration.

The Chief Secretaries, Directors-General of Police and Health Secretaries of all States and Union Territories and other senior officials participated in the meeting. The Central government said that while the country was reporting 97,000 daily new COVID-19 cases at the peak of the pandemic in September 2020, the country had now reached the critical figure of 81,000 daily new cases.

Containment measures

The Cabinet Secretary has reiterated the need for stringent enforcement of containment and surveillance measures, in conjunction with ramping up vaccination and strict enforcement of COVID-appropriate behaviour.

The States and the Union Territories have been asked to increase testing continuously to ensure that positivity comes down to 5% or less than 5%, focus on ensuring RT-PCR tests (comprising 70% of total tests), and reduce waiting time of test results while using the rapid antigen test (RAT) as a screening test in densely populated areas and where fresh clusters were emerging.

The Centre has added that all symptomatic RAT negatives have to be mandatorily subjected to RT-PCR tests while ensuring effective and prompt isolation of those infected in institutional facilities (COVID-19 care centres).

The release noted that the States and the Union Territories had been told to ensure that patients isolated at home are monitored daily and that 25 to 30 close contacts be traced for each infected person.

Tracing of close contacts and their isolation has to be done in 72 hours. Subsequent testing and follow-up of all close contacts have to be carried out. The States have been asked to examine the case fatality rate hospital-wise, devise appropriate strategy, and mitigate concerns regarding late admission in hospitals and non-adherence to National Clinical Management Protocol.

Maternal deaths rose during pandemic: study #GS2 #SocialIssues

The failure of the health system to cope with COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increase in maternal deaths and stillbirths, according to a study published in The Lancet Global Health j ournal.

Overall, there was a 28% increase in the odds of stillbirth, and the risk of mothers dying during pregnancy or childbirth increased by about one-third. There was also a rise in maternal depression. COVID-19 impact on pregnancy outcomes was disproportionately high on poorer countries, according to the study published on March 31.

The report is an analysis of 40 studies across 17 countries including Brazil, Mexico, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, India, China and Nepal. “The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to avoidable deaths of both mothers and babies.

Policy makers and healthcare leaders must urgently investigate robust strategies for preserving safe and respectful maternity care, even during the ongoing global emergency. Immediate action is required to avoid rolling back decades of investment in reducing mother and infant mortality in low-resource settings,” the authors urge.

The study attributes the worsening trend to the failure of the “inefficiency of the healthcare system and their inability to cope with the pandemic” instead of strict lockdown measures. This resulted in reduced access to care.

Indian context

In the Indian context, an analysis of HMIS data by Population Foundation of India shows that during the months of national lockdown last year between April and June, compared to the same period in 2019, there was a 27% drop in pregnant women receiving four or more ante-natal check-ups, a 28% decline in institutional deliveries and 22% decline in prenatal services.

The authors recommend that personnel for maternity services not be redeployed for other critical and medical care during the pandemic and in response to future health system shocks.

Disquiet over policy for rare diseases #GS3 #SnT

Caregivers to patients with ‘rare diseases’ and affiliated organisations are dissatisfied with the National Policy for Rare Diseases, 2021. Though the document specifies increasing the government support for treating patients with a ‘rare disease’— from Rs. 15 lakh to Rs. 20 lakh — caregivers say this doesn’t reflect actual costs of treatment.

“The new policy offers no support to patients awaiting treatment since the earlier National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases 2017 was kept in abeyance. In the absence of any funding support, close to 130 patients are left with no option but to wait for the inevitable. Several patient shave already lost their lives in the interim period. Unlike conditions under Group 1 and Group 2, patients with Group 3 disorders require sustainable treatment support.

“Looking at the number of rare disease patients diagnosed and considered eligible for treatment by the respective State technical committees, the immediate requirement of funds to support the immediate treatment needs of the diagnosed patients shouldn’t have exceeded Rs. 80 crore to Rs. 100 crore annually.

The Centre’s contribution would work out to Rs. 40 to Rs. 50 crore — if it is able to convince the State(s) for a load-sharing model, as a few States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have already indicated.

It is alarming that the Union government has left patients with Group 3 rare diseases to fend for themselves. The new policy has absolutely no consideration for Group 3 patients, who require lifelong treatment support.

Why Mumbai’s crime intelligence unit was set up, what it did #GS3 #Security

Until his arrest in March, controversial Assistant Inspector Sachin Waze was heading the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of the Mumbai Police. A look at the unit and the controversial reputation it has acquired in the three decades it has been in existence.

Intel & logistics

The CIU was set up as an ancillary unit providing intelligence and logistical support to various units of the Mumbai Police. But since its inception in 1990, its public image has been shaped by its focus on encounters, manned as it was by so-called “encounter specialists” associated with the killing of alleged criminals and gangsters in encounters, some of which embroiled the police in serious trouble for being “fake”.

The CIU was the brainchild of the then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) R D Tyagi, who set it up in 1990 after Sub-inspector Lakhmersingh Sardar was gunned down by Khalistani militants. Tyagi’s brief was that it should act as the “eyes and ears” of the Mumbai Police and gather intelligence on terror organisations and the underworld.

“Tyagi Sir rued the loss of our men and said we should get intel (intelligence) regarding all these movements taking place in Mumbai,” said retired police officer Fatesingh Gaikwad, who was the first officer in charge of CIU. But, Gaikwad recalled, Tyagi’s strict instructions were that CIU would not investigate any case and only gather intelligence.

Although Mumbai Police’s “special branch” was also an intelligence unit, it was more focused on gathering information related to law and order situations such as the mill strikes of those years. Tyagi believed the police needed a specialised unit dedicated to intelligence on criminals.

Gaikwad, its first head, had a team of 18 officers whose role was to stay in touch with central agencies such as Intelligence Bureau, R&AW and CBI, gather intelligence from them as well their own sources, and feed this to field unit officers at zonal Crime Branch units.

Former Mumbai Police Commissioner M N Singh said, “CIU was a feeder unit, which would give inputs to other units, and then they would take action. CIU did not have any rights to investigate.”

Another former head of the unit, requesting anonymity, said CIU was a logistical department. “We would keep an updated record on the release of any criminal and pass on the input to the zonal unit asking them to keep a close watch on movement. We would also go to court when a high-profile gangster was being produced as their gang members would come to meet them and, accordingly, we would make a confidential report and submit it to our superiors,” said the retired police officer.

Changing role

In 1993, CIU donned a new role. It was asked to investigate the 1993 bomb blast that took place outside the regional passport office in Mumbai’s Worli.

“Many policemen were involved in the investigation. The department needed the involvement of more officers, so I was made an investigating officer… it was three months after the blast took place,” Gaikwad added.

As commissioners came and went, the role of the CIU also underwent changes.

Encounter era

The first time the unit courted controversy was with the alleged fake encounter of a peanut vendor, Abu Sayama alias Javed Fawda, in 1997. Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble, who was then assistant inspector, was heading CIU.

A petition was filed by a human rights organisation regarding 135 encounters, including Fawda’s encounter, between 1995 and 1997. An inquiry was ordered by principal sessions court judge A S Augiar, who concluded that the encounters were fake; however, the Bombay High Court turned down the lower court’s verdict. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled the matter in favour of the police.

In 2001, the CIU was divided into two units: one at police headquarters in South Mumbai and the other in Andheri called CIU Suburbs. This was also the time that high-profile “encounter specialists” joined the unit. Pradeep Sharma was made in charge of the suburbs unit with Waze under him.

It was during their stint in the CIU suburbs unit that engineer Khwaja Yunus died, allegedly during custodial interrogation. He had been brought in for questioning related to the 2002 Ghatkopar bomb blast case. Waze and three constables were arrested and, subsequently, suspended from the force in 2004.

In another instance, the Sharma-led unit gunned down three Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists including two Pakistani nationals in Goregaon area in 2003, the first encounter in which AK-47 rifles were used. The police said then that they were on the way to kill a well-known politician.


Owing to allegations of fake encounters and extortion against the CIU suburbs unit, Meera Borwankar, then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), issued an order in 2004 to close the CIU suburbs unit.

From September 2004, apart from providing logistical support and collecting intelligence, the remaining branch of the CIU at headquarters was given operational powers, which meant they could investigate cases assigned by superiors, or carry out raids, for instance on dance bars or hookah bars, an officer said.

“Between 2004 and 2020, the CIU gathered inputs, provided logistical support and fed them to field units. On the instruction of our senior officers, we investigated a few cases and also assisted other units in the investigation of sensitive cases, like the 2013 IPL scandal,” said another officer, who was in charge of the unit.

In 2020, when Waze was reinstated and returned to the unit and made in charge of it, contrary to the under-the-radar image it had carefully built since 2004, the CIU began investigating high-profile cases such as the TRP scandal, Instagram fake follower case, the Dilip Chabria matter and Hrithik Roshan’s fake email case.

An officer said, “For the last couple of months, it looked like the purpose for which this unit was formed has ceased to exist.”