Current Affairs 27th February

India, China agree to establish new hotline #GS2 #IR

The Foreign Ministers of India and China have agreed to establish a new hotline to ensure “timely communication” in the wake of last year’s border crisis, but differed sharply on the way forward to restore relations in a 75-minute phone call.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, that “bilateral relations have been impacted severely over last year” and that while “the boundary question may take time to resolve”, the “disturbance of peace and tranquillity, including by violence, will inevitably have a damaging impact on the relationship”.

He stressed that restoring normality to the broader relationship would first require complete disengagement and then de-escalation along the border.

It was necessary to disengage at all friction points in order to contemplate de-escalation of forces in this sector. “That alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquillity and provide conditions for progress of our bilateral relationship.”

Decades of experiences have shown repeatedly that heightening differences does not help solve problems, and that it only erodes the basis of mutual trust,”adding that both sides should avoid the “wrong path of mutual misgivings and suspicion, still less the path of retrogression” and “should handle the boundary question properly to prevent the bilateral relationship from sinking into a negative cycle”.

“While that the two countries have boundary disputes is an objective fact, which should be taken seriously, it is not the whole of China-India relations, and it should be put at a proper place in the overall bilateral relations.

India, for its part, made it clear to China that it is not realistic to insulate the relationship from the boundary crisis, and emphasised that in its view, peace on the border is a prerequisite for the rest of the relationship to develop.

China, however, has hit out at India’s economic measures, such as banning Chinese apps and stricter curbs on investment following last year’s tensions, viewing India’s “whole of government” approach as going against a past consensus of containing differences while cooperating elsewhere.

Mr. Jaishankar said with the completion of disengagement in the Pangong Tso (lake) area, both sides “should now quickly resolve the remaining issues along the LAC” and “once disengagement is completed at all friction points, then the two sides could also look at broader de-escalation of troops in the area and work towards restoration of peace and tranquillity”.

Mr. Wang said the situation on the ground “has been noticeably eased” and he called for both sides “to cherish the hard-won relaxation, and work together to consolidate the progress, keep up the consultation momentum, further ease the situation, and improve the border management and control mechanisms”.

The two sides also stressed need to advance the boundary talks to build up mutual trust and realise peace and tranquillity in the border areas. Agreeing to set up a hotline so both Ministers could be in more regular contact, both sides stressed the importance of “timely” communication in the wake of last year’s crisis.

Army chief General Manoj Naravane said in January last year that the proposal for military hotline, which had been mired in bureaucratic delays for years, had been accepted by both sides after all procedural issues were resolved.

Working out the modalities of disengagement, however, proved to be complicated and took several months. Both sides broadly agreed on a plan to disengage at the ninth round of military-level talks in January, which began to be implemented earlier this month.

Benefit of the News– India- China relations

U.S. welcomes India-Pak. ceasefire agreement #GS2 #IR

The United States has welcomed the announcement by India and Pakistan that they would observe the 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC). The White House called for the two countries to build upon this progress and the State Department encouraged a reduction in tensions and violence along the LoC.

“The United States welcomes the joint statement between India and Pakistan: that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the Line of Control starting on February 25. This is a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia, which is in all shared — is in our shared interest. And we encourage both countries to keep building upon this progress.

On U.S. role

In response to a question on the role of the U.S., if any, in brokering the agreement between India and Pakistan, Mr. Price did not identify any specific actions but articulated the general U.S. position — a reduction in tensions and a condemnation of cross-border terror as well as a dialogue on Kashmir and other issues. 

When it comes to the U.S. role, we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern. And as I said just a moment ago, we certainly welcome the arrangement that was announced that will take place — go into effect, I should say, on February 25.

UN, EU welcome deal

“The Secretary-General is encouraged by the joint statement issued by the militaries of India and Pakistan on their agreement to observing the ceasefire at the Line of Control in Kashmir and engaging through established mechanisms.He hopes that this positive step will provide an opportunity for further dialogue.

The European Union (EU) also welcomed the ceasefire agreement. “This is an important step in the interest of regional peace and stability on which to build further bilateral dialogue.

Benefit of the NewsIndia-US relations

Select a vaccination centre, book appointment #GS3 #SnT

The Union Health Ministry announced options for advance self-registration, on-site registration and facilitated cohort registration for potential beneficiaries of the second round of COVID-19 vaccinations starting on March 1. The second round will cover those over 60 years of age and 45-plus with comorbidities.

Giving details of the simplified process of registration through three routes, the Ministry said the beneficiaries will be able to self-register in advance by downloading the Co-Win 2.0 app and through other IT applications such as Arogya Setu.

This will show a list of government and private hospitals serving as COVID vaccination centres (CVCs) with the date and time of the available schedules. The beneficiary will be able to choose the centre of his and her choice and book an appointment for vaccination.

On-site registration will allow those who cannot self register in advance to walk into the identified CVCs and get themselves registered on-site and then vaccinated. The Ministry added that under the facilitated cohort registration, the State government and Union Territory administrations will take a proactive lead.

Specific date(s) for COVID vaccination will be decided where target groups of potential beneficiaries will be vaccinated. The State/UT health authorities will ensure that the target groups are actively mobilised and brought to the vaccination centres.

It added that under all the three routes, all beneficiaries would be captured on Co-WIN 2.0 platform and would be issued a digital QR code-based provisional (on receiving the first dose) and final (on receiving second dose) certificates.

These can be downloaded from the link shown in the SMS [which] the beneficiary shall receive after the vaccination. Print out of these certificates can also be taken from the Vaccination Centres.

Free of cost

The vaccination will be free of charge at the government vaccination centres and the beneficiary will have to show a photo ID document for proof of age (preferably Aadhar card or EPIC card) and certificate of co-morbidity (if required).

Those taking the COVID vaccine at any designated/empanelled private health facility will have to pay a pre-fixed charge.

The Ministry has directed States/UTs to keep a vaccination scale-up plan ready both within the government and private facilities and also the number of vaccine doses administered.

It added that all beneficiaries, regardless of the mode of access, must be advised to carry any one of the photo ID document including — Aadhar Card, Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC), Photo ID card specified at the time of registration in case of online registration (if not Aadhar or EPIC), certificate of co-morbidity for citizens in age group of 45 years to 59 years (signed by a registered medical practitioner) and employment certificate/ Official Identity Card — (either but with photo and date of birth) for health care and frontline workers.

“The fundamental shift in this phase is that citizens in the identified age groups, as also those healthcare workers and frontline who have been missed out or left out of the present phase of vaccination, can select vaccination centres of their choice. Also private sector hospitals will be involved as COVID vaccination centres to harness their potential to expand the vaccination capacities.

Benefit of the NewsAbout Vaccination drive

Second wave of infections unlikely: expert #GS3 #SnT

A recent surge in infections notwithstanding, India is unlikely to see a “second wave” in infections, says Manindra Agrawal, Deputy Director, IIT, Kanpur, and one of India’s leading mathematicians who is involved with the National ‘Super Model’ initiative led by the Department of Science and Technology.

As on Friday, India has confirmed a little over 11 million infections since March 2020 of which 1,52,895 were active ones. Professor Agrawal told The Hindu that based on the model, this would at most rise to 11.3 or 11.5 million infections by April 2021 — or about 3,00,000-5,00,000 new confirmed infections over the next 10 weeks (approximately).

He and other scientists are working on a formal update of the model but were awaiting confirmed data on recoveries for the next two weeks.

The current wave of infections — averaging 13,000-16,000 new confirmed infections a day since February 23 — was primarily being led by Maharashtra and would not last beyond “two-three weeks” in March, he said. The reason, he said, is because around 60% of India’s population had already been exposed to the virus and the country had reached herd immunity, or where the number of susceptible individuals were too few to allow the virus to exponentially grow.

Whether herd immunity levels have been reached is moot, because the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reported that only 21% of Indians were estimated to have been infected, as per its third national serological survey conducted from December 17 to January 8, 2021. The Super Model’s estimate is about thrice that number.

“The ICMR numbers are based on the numbers in whom antibodies have been detected. But we know now that antibody levels can wane but still be enough to confer immunity. Given the relaxations in movement since months, only 20% exposure cannot explain the confirmed symptomatic infections, active cases and recoveries that we now see.

He said the resumption of local train travel in Maharashtra and the increased contact between persons was a reason for the renewed spike last week.

‘PSU banks, insurers important’ #GS3 #Economy

While the government was promoting private enterprises wherever possible, India still needed an effective presence of public sector banks and insurers and the government would continue with banking reforms to strengthen the financial system.

“Our top priority is to ensure that the depositor as well as the investor experiences trust and transparency. The old ways and old systems of banking and non-banking sectors are being changed, pointing to the ‘severe harm’ done to the banking and financial sector ‘10-12 years ago in the name of aggressive lending.’

The government, he said, had taken steps to free the country from a ‘non-transparent credit culture’ where non-performing assets (NPAs) were brushed under the carpet.

We understand the uncertainties of the business and recognise that every business decision is not underlined by bad intentions. In such a scenario, it is the responsibility of the government to stand by business decisions taken with clear conscience, we are doing this and will continue to do so.

The new policy of disinvestment of public sector enterprises covered the financial sector as well, and private enterprises were being promoted wherever possible, he noted.

Still, along with this, an effective participation of the public sector in banking and insurance is still needed by the country. To strengthen the public sector, equity capital infusion is being emphasised. Simultaneously, a new ARC (asset reconstruction company) structure is being created which will keep track of the NPAs of banks and will address loans in a focussed way.

India ‘out of recession’, GDP grows 0.4% #GS3 #Economy

India’s economy resurfaced to growth territory in the third quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2020-21, clocking a 0.4% rise in the gross domestic product (GDP), as per data from the National Statistical Office (NSO).

GDP had shrunk in the first two quarters by 24.4% and 7.3% as per revised data, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, marking a technical recession. The NSO has also revised its advance national income estimates for FY21 to project an 8% decline in GDP, compared with the 4% growth seen in FY20. The NSO had earlier estimated a 7.7% shrinkage for FY21.

The Finance Ministry termed the 0.4% real GDP growth in Q3 as a return to ‘the pre-pandemic times of positive growth rates’ and a reflection of a ‘further strengthening of V-shaped recovery that began in Q2’.

India’s farm sector remained resilient, clocking a 3.9% growth in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy in the October-to-December quarter, after recording a 3.3% and 3% rise in the first two quarters, respectively.

For the full year FY21, the NSO expects only two sectors to record positive growth in GVA — agriculture (3%) and electricity, gas, water & other utilities (1.8%). Overall GVA is expected to contract 6.5% in the year, led by an 18% dip in trade, hotels and other services, a 10.3% decline in construction, and an about 9% fall in mining and manufacturing GVA.

In Q3, manufacturing, construction and financial, real estate and professional services staged a return to growth for the first time in the year after two bad quarters. Manufacturing GVA grew 1.6% after dipping 35.9% and 1.5% in the first two quarters. Construction saw the sharpest recovery – with GVA rising 6% after falling 49.4% and 7.2%.

Services including trade, hotels, transport and communication remained in trouble, with GVA declining 7.7%, though it was better than the -47.6% and the -15.3% reading in Q1 and Q2.

The Finance Ministry said the resurgence in manufacturing and construction augured well for them to drive growth in FY22 and added that services, which account for more than 50% of India’s GVA and the biggest source for pushing consumption, had done remarkably better in Q3. “Real GVA in services has also improved from a contraction of 21.4% in Q1 to a negligible contraction of 1% in Q3.

Current inflation target band apt for next 5 years, says RBI report #GS3 #Economy

With the next review of the flexible-inflation targeting (FIT) framework coming up soon, the Reserve Bank of India, in the Report on Currency and Finance for FY21, said the current inflation target of 4% with a +/-2% tolerance band is appropriate for the next five years.

The RBI said the period of study in this report was from October 2016 to March 2020 commencing with the formal operationalisation of the FIT framework in India but excluding the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, in view of data distortions.

The report said trend inflation had fallen from above 9% before FIT to a range of 3.8-4.3 % during FIT, indicating that 4% is the appropriate level of the inflation target. The report said an inflation rate of 6% is the appropriate upper tolerance limit for the target.

A lower bound above 2% can lead to actual inflation frequently dipping below the tolerance band while a lower bound below 2% will hamper growth, indicating that an inflation rate of 2 % is the appropriate lower tolerance bound.

It said during the FIT period, monetary transmission had been full and reasonably swift across the money market but less than complete in the bond markets. While there has been an improvement in transmission to lending and deposit rates of banks, external benchmarks across all categories of loans and deposits could improve transmission further.