Current Affairs 26th March

Why no decision on list sent by Collegium, SC asks government #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court asked the government to clarify on the status of 55 recommendations made by the Collegium for judicial appointments to various High Courts six months to nearly a year-and-a-half ago.

Forty-four of the pending recommendations were made to fill vacancies in the Calcutta, Madhya Pradesh, Guwahati, Rajasthan and Punjab High Courts. These recommendations have been pending with the government for over seven months to a year.

The remaining 10 names have been pending with the government despite their reiteration by the Collegium. They include five for the Calcutta High Court pending for one year and seven months. The recommendations of four names made by the Collegium to the Delhi High Court have been pending for seven months.

‘Of grave concern’

The court asked Mr. Venugopal to enquire with the Union Ministry of Law and Justice and make a statement on April 8 about their status. The Bench handed over to Mr. Venugopal a chart containing the details of the 55 recommendations.

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said on the 10 recommendations, some of which date back to a year-and-a-half, that “neither have they been appointed nor have you (government) given us a response”.

Justice Kaul, who was accompanying the Chief Justice and Justice Surya Kant, said the “thought process” of both the government and the Collegium should be modulated. He said a time frame needed to be fixed for both the Collegium and the Ministry to complete the appointment process.

Bar Association plea

Senior advocate and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Vikas Singh said there was a need to institutionalise a process for considering advocates practising in the top courts to judgeships in the High Courts.

There should be an institutional basis for considering names from the Supreme Court Bar, rather considering them on an ad hoc basis. It should be done as a rule and not as an exception. Chief Justice Bobde said the court was in complete agreement with Mr. Singh’s sentiments. The CJI said the problem may be that “in some States, the Bar Associations call these advocates as outsiders”.

Mr. Singh said this was not the case and Supreme Court advocates, too, should come within the zone of consideration of the Collegium for HC judgeships. The Bench said it would take up this matter on April 8. The total sanctioned strength in the 25 High Courts is 1,080. However, the present working strength is 661 with 419 vacancies as on March 1.

In signal to China, U.S. raised India ties during Alaska talks #GS2 #IR

The Joe Biden administration highlighted the strength of U.S.-India ties in its March 19 meeting with Chinese officials in Alaska, underlining how it has increasingly come to view India as central to its broader objectives in dealing with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The reference to India, it is learnt, was not favourably received by China’s two officials in Alaska — top diplomat and Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi — and is being seen as reflecting how U.S.-India relations, only two months into the new administration, are developing robustly.

The speed with which the new Biden administration has pushed closer ties with India has come in sharp contrast to expectations in some quarters, both in New Delhi and Washington, that relations would not be as smooth as they were with the Trump administration, both because of the rapport between Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Modi and the former U.S. President’s lack of interest in India’s internal affairs and more broadly, human rights issues abroad.

But two months on, any initial wariness that the relationship, which had seen rapid progress particularly on the security side over the past four years, would have to be rebuilt from scratch has dissipated. One reason for that is the successful holding of the virtual Quad summit between India, the U.S., Japan and Australia on March 12, seven days before the U.S.-China Alaska talks.

One reason for that is the successful holding of the virtual Quad summit between India, the U.S., Japan and Australia on March 12, seven days before the U.S.-China Alaska talks.

Although the Biden administration’s message was it did not want to push any country beyond its comfort level and was willing to keep in mind their respective China concerns — hence the absence of any reference to China in the joint statement and the focus on deliverables such as the vaccines initiative — India’s immediate expression of willingness to go ahead with the summit and the “clarity” with which it put forward its agenda eased many concerns in Washington that New Delhi, amid the on-going disengagement process with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), might waver in its commitment to the grouping. If India has made clear it will not be part of any formal alliances, it has also suggested it is more willing to push the bar with China than previously.

The broader reason for the smooth transition in India-U.S. relations is the new administration’s emphasis on a bipartisan approach to India and other key foreign policy issues, despite the divisiveness at home on the domestic agenda.

China’s military hit out at the Quad, describing it as a mechanism “promoted by the United States” and said it “adheres to the Cold War mentality, believes in group confrontation, is keen on geopolitical games, and uses the so-called ‘China challenge’ as an excuse to ‘form cliques’ and openly provoke relations between regional countries”.

Seeking peace, development, and seeking cooperation and win-win is the trend of the times. Anything that goes against the trend of the times and satisfies one’s own selfishness is untimely, unpopular and is doomed to failure. China has always insisted on being a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, and a defender of international order.

We urge the United States to take up its responsibilities and refrain from making mistakes and do more things that are conducive to regional peace and stability. On the LAC disengagement, he repeated China’s earlier statement that both sides had positively viewed the disengagement at Pangong Lake and had “agreed to maintain communication through military and diplomatic channels so as to promote the settlement of other issues” such as in the Gogra-Hot Springs area, which the next round of military talks is expected to take forward.

‘Vaccines effective in preventing severe illness caused by variants’ #GS3 #SnT

What do the COVID-19 variants and double mutants found in India mean for the ongoing pandemic and second wave that the country is witnessing?

The genome sequencing data of the COVID-19 virus from 10 national laboratories in India made available on Wednesday show that nearly 7.7% of the nearly 11,000 specimens tested contained one of the viral variants.

In this context, it is important for us to understand what the variant viruses are, and what this detection means. Viruses develop changes in their genomes very often during their multiplication and spread. The progeny viruses with one or more such changes are referred to as ‘variants’. The appearance of variants of COVID-19 viruses in our population was not really unexpected.

The ‘double mutant’ simply means that this virus has two mutations, each of which has individually been seen in viruses from other parts of the world, except that it has both these mutations simultaneously. Such double-mutants are not rare. Based on the recent announcement, there is no reason to believe that this double mutant has any special characteristics for it to raise any special interest or concern.

Does this mean that nearly 7%-8% of all COVID-19 patients in our country have a variant virus? And should we worry about the variants of the COVID-19 virus?

No. I would not think so. The specimens tested were highly selected and preferentially included arriving foreign travellers and their close contacts. These groups would be more likely to have variants. Hence, the data in this select group would overestimate the frequency of variants.

The real proportion of variant virus in all cases in our population should be lower than this. Of course, the rate would also be different across different geographical areas of our large country.

Genetic variations are very common in all viruses, including the COVID-19 virus. So, we do not need to worry about each and every variant. Detection of a variant virus is a matter of interest or of concern if the variant has some special characteristics.

Why are some variants a reason for concern? And are the variants detected in India ‘variants of concern’?

You would hear two terms: ‘variant of interest’ and ‘variant of concern’. The first — ‘variant of interest’ — refers to variants that appear to be associated with a special characteristic, but evidence is still limited.

A ‘variant of concern’, on the other hand, is one where there is evidence supporting such association. These special characteristics of a variant could be an increased risk of transmission, causing more severe disease, failure of detection by the usual tests, or a higher risk of infection after prior infection or vaccination.

Three variants of concern have been detected in India. These had been first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, respectively, and have been identified in several countries globally.

These are of concern primarily because they have an increased potential for spread from one person to another.

Fortunately, these variants are not associated with more severe disease or a higher risk of death. The good news is that simple measures, such as the proper use of face masks and of physical distancing, are highly effective in preventing the spread of these variant strains. Hence, we can still effectively control their spread by following these steps. Just that we have to be disciplined.

The other reason for concern has been the reports that some COVID-19 vaccines may not be as good in preventing infection with the South African variant. Again, fortunately, though these vaccines may not prevent mild illness caused by this variant as well, they still appear to be effective in preventing severe illnesses that need intensive care and ventilator, caused by these variants.

Hence, it is prudent that those at a high risk of such disease, for example, the elderly and those with co-morbid conditions, and are eligible for receiving COVID-19 vaccines, get themselves vaccinated as soon as possible.

Is the current vaccination drive enough to control the pandemic?

The current COVID-19 vaccination drive is not really for controlling the spread, but to protect those who are likely to develop severe disease.

Elderly people are more likely to develop severe disease, more likely to need ICU admission, more likely to need ventilators, more likely to die. The primary aim of the drive is to reduce the need for ICU beds, the use of ventilators, and deaths.

However, as immunisation continues and covers a large proportion of the population, it eventually will lead to a reduction in cases as well. In some small countries, such as Israel, where immunisation coverage is high, the disease rate has come down remarkably. Besides, case-control studies in the U.K. show that an extremely small number of vaccinated people get COVID-19. Increasing vaccination coverage will surely help.

The surge is a cause for worry. It is happening partly because people are no longer taking precautions as seriously as they were previously. COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease and spreads rapidly and exponentially.

Vaccine export may be curbed #GS2 #IR

Amidst a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases in India, and the rollout of vaccines for those above 45 years from April 1, the government has hinted it may need to “calibrate” its supply schedules to other countries, although it has not proposed a full ban on exports at this time.

According to Global vaccine alliance GAVI, which runs the COVAX programme, Indian vaccine supplies to lower income countries are being delayed “as the Government of India battles a new wave of COVID-19 infections”.

A statement from GAVI said that while it had received 28 million Covishield doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII), it was unclear about additional supplies of 40 million in March and 50 million in April, and was in talks with the government and SII over the issue.

The decision comes as several countries including the U.K., Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Nepal have experienced, or expect to experience, a delay in the supply of Indian-made vaccines. In addition, a UNICEF representative has said export licences from India had been held up.

“Given our current manufacturing capacity and requirements of national vaccination programmes, there may be a need to calibrate the supply schedules from time to time. All stakeholders would have to work together to adjust the schedules as required, stressing that India remains “committed” to its vaccine supplies to the world.

The source said that “unlike many other countries”, the government has not placed a ban on exports, but that COVID-19 vaccine supplies to other countries would be made in a phased manner “keeping in view the domestic requirements”.

Sent as grants

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, India has exported more than 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since January 20 this year.

While about 8 million were grants from the Government of India to other countries, most of the supplies have been procured by the international GAVI alliance that runs the COVAX facility (17.86 million) and commercial orders (34.17 million).

SC suggests posting retired judges to clear backlog in HCs #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Thursday pushed for the appointment of retired judges to battle pendency of cases in High Courts.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde said retired judges could be chosen on the basis of their expertise in a particular field of dispute and allowed to retire once the pendency in that zone of law was over.

Several problems

“There are suits pending in chartered courts, and in North India, some courts have cases pending for 30 years… there are all kinds of problems,” Chief Justice Bobde said at a virtual hearing of a petition filed by NGO, Lok Prahari, on the mounting backlog.

The Bench said retired judges who had handled certain disputes and fields of law for over 15 years could deal with them faster if brought back into harness as ad-hoc judges.

The court said the appointment of ad-hoc judges would not be a threat to the services of other judges. “Ad-hoc judges will be treated as the junior most,” Chief Justice Bobde said.

The Chief Justice said the appointment of ad-hoc judges was provided for in the Constitution under Article 224A. Under the Article, the Chief Justice of a High Court for any State may at any time, with the previous consent of the President, request any person who has held the office of judge of that court or of any other High Court to sit and act as a judge of the High Court for that State.

The court orally outlined prospective guidelines for the appointment and functioning of an ad hoc judge. “If in a particular jurisdiction, the pendency goes beyond a certain limit, say eight or 10 years, the Chief Justice may appoint a certain [retired] judge with expertise in those fields of laws as an ad hoc judge.

Das sees no reason to cut FY22 forecast #GS3 #Economy

Despite the fresh threat from rising COVID-19 cases, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief maintained the central bank’s forecast for GDP growth in FY22 at 10.5%. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das said though the renewed surge in COVID-19 cases in many parts of India was a concern, this time around growth would continue ‘unabated’.

He said the Reserve Bank remained ‘fully committed’ to use all policy tools to secure a robust recovery of the economy from the debilitating effects of the pandemic. We have to keep in mind that this time around, compared to where we were last year, let us say in March or April, we have some additional insurance against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first is that the two vaccines which are being rolled out,” he said, adding that the speed of the roll-out had been ‘very fast’ and about 5 crore people had already been vaccinated.

“The second aspect is that overall, by and large people are now used to the COVID-19 protocols. So one would expect that people who have lowered their guard would step up their guard against the spread of COVID-19 [virus].

And third, at this point… one does not foresee a kind of lockdown that we had experienced last year. Because last year, it came as a huge shock. This time we all know what the pandemic is all about, notwithstanding some new strains which have developed.

‘Preliminary analysis’

Revival of economic activity which has happened should continue unabated going forward and I don’t foresee [a downward revision], although I should not be saying this before the details are presented by our research teams. But my understanding and our preliminary analysis show that the growth rate of 10.5% for next year, which we had given, would not require a downward revision.

The relationship between the central bank and bond markets need not be combative, it has to be cooperative. We have been emphasising time and again that there should be an orderly evolution of the yield curve and not sudden spikes or any knee-jerk reaction to certain incoming numbers.

Stating that the government’s borrowings for the next year would remain in the same range as it had been this year, Mr. Das said that the RBI would manage the borrowings and that there should not be any ‘disorder in the yield curve’.