Current Affairs 21st July

Pegasus spyware row rocks Parliament #GS2 #Governance

The Pegasus snooping controversy led to multiple disruptions in the Lok Sabha before the House was adjourned for the day. In what seemed to be a different strategy by the Opposition parties for the two Houses, proceedings in the Lower House got washed out while the Rajya Sabha discussed the COVID-19 situation after a couple of hours of disruptions in the morning.

“The government on its own had moved for a discussion on COVID-19 after it was discussed in the Business Advisory Committee (BAC). We didn’t want to give them a chance to say the Opposition doesn’t even want to discuss the pandemic. But the government will find itself cornered in the Lok Sabha. On July 22, farmers have planned some action outside the House and we will raise their voices inside the House.

Multiple notices

With multiple notices from Lok Sabha members, such as Manish Tewari, Manickam Tagore and Gaurav Gogoi, for the suspension of routine business to discuss the snooping controversy, the Opposition made its intentions clear on the second day of the monsoon session.

Trinamool Congress leaders too had given an adjournment notice after the name of the party’s Lok Sabha member Abhishek Banerjee, who is also the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, figured in the list of potential targets for hacking.

As soon as the Lok Sabha proceedings started at 11 a.m., the Congress and the Trinamool started raising slogans and showed placards targeting the government. While some placards showed former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi being in the list of targets, another was about Mr. Banerjee. One of the placards read that while people were suffering from unemployment, the government was busy with jasoosi (spying).

The proceedings lasted for five minutes before the House was adjourned until 2 p.m. When it reconvened, similar scenes were witnessed, prompting the Chair to adjourn it for an hour. After the House assembled at 3 p.m., the Opposition members again started raising slogans, and the Chair adjourned it for the day.

Two-thirds of Indians have antibodies #GS3 #SnT

Two-thirds of the country’s population aged above six have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, according to data released from a serosurvey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research in June and July. Nearly 40 crore people, or a third of the population, are still vulnerable to the COVID-19 infection.

Presenting the results of the fourth national COVID-19 serosurvey, ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava said while the survey offered a ray of hope, there was no room for complacency.

No rural-urban divide

“The survey noted that more than half of the children (6-17 years) were seropositive while seroprevalence was similar in rural and urban areas. It was also found that 85% of health care workers (HCWs) had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 while one-tenth of the HCWs were unvaccinated

The survey covered 28,975 adults and children aged 6-17 years, and 7,252 HCWs. It was conducted in the 70 districts across 21 States where the three earlier rounds were done.

“This national serosurvey is not a substitute for local (State/district) variations. State heterogeneity indicates the possibility of future waves of infection. We strongly suggest that societal, public, religious and political congregations be avoided, non-essential travel be discouraged and travel should be undertaken only if fully vaccinated

He added that the country had to work towards ensuring full vaccination of all healthcare workers while accelerating vaccination coverage among vulnerable population groups.

Responding to a question about the reopening of schools, Dr. Bhargava said it would be better if primary schools were opened first as children showed better tolerance against the virus. However, he added that it should be done only after ensuring that the entire staff associated with the re-opening was fully vaccinated.

SC annuls parts of co-op amendment #GS2 #Governance

In a major boost for federalism, the Supreme Court struck down parts of a Constitution amendment which shrank the exclusive authority of States over its cooperative societies.

Part IXB, introduced in the Constitution through the 97th Amendment of 2012, dictated the terms for running cooperative societies. The provisions in the amendment, passed by Parliament without getting them ratified by State legislatures as required by the Constitution, went to the extent of determining the number of directors a society should have or their length of tenure and even the necessary expertise.

In a majority judgment authored by Justice Nariman, the court held that cooperative societies come under the “exclusive legislative power” of State legislatures. The judgment may be significant in the background of fears voiced by the States whether the new Central Ministry of Cooperation would dis-empower them. The SC, however, said the Centre had power over multi-State cooperative societies.

Part IX B, which consists of Articles 243ZH to 243ZT, has “significantly and substantially impacted” State legislatures’ “exclusive legislative power” over its cooperative sector under Entry 32 of the State List. In fact, the court pointed out how Article 243ZI makes it clear that a State may only make law on the incorporation, regulation and winding up of a society subject to the provisions of Part IXB of the 97th Constitution Amendment.

“There can be no doubt that our Constitution has been described as quasi-federal in that, so far as legislative powers are concerned, though there is a tilt in favour of the Centre vis-à-vis the States given the federal supremacy principle outlined herein above, yet within their own sphere, the States have exclusive power to legislate on topics reserved exclusively to them.

“The 97th Amendment which inserts the chapter dealing with cooperative societies has not been so ratified by the States, though an amendment of the Constitution is the exercise of constituent power which differs from ordinary legislative power, such constituent power does not convert Parliament into an original constituent assembly. Parliament being the donee of a limited power may only exercise such power in accordance with both the procedural and substantive limitations contained in the Constitution of India.

However, the court did not strike down the portions of Part IXB of the Amendment concerning “Multi State Cooperative Societies” due to the lack of ratification.

“When it comes to Multi State Co-operative Societies (MSCS) with objects not confined to one State, the legislative power would be that of the Union of India which is contained in Entry 44 List I (Union List)… It is declared that Part IXB of the Constitution is operative only insofar as it concerns multi-State cooperative societies both within the various States and in the Union Territories.

In his dissent, Justice K.M. Joseph said the doctrine of severability would not operate to distinguish between single-State cooperatives and MSCS. The judge said the entire Part IXB should be struck down on the ground of absence of ratification.

Centre seeks time to set ex gratia guidelines #GS3 #DM

The Centre has approached the Supreme Court to allow the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) more time to frame uniform guidelines for payment of ex gratia assistance to families of persons who died of COVID-19. The government has asked for a month more. A June 30 judgment of the Supreme Court had given the NDMA six weeks to submit its guidelines.

The government said ‘accelerated’ formulation of guidelines would lead to “undesirable results”. The court said the work on the recommendations was at an advanced stage. The court had pulled up the NDMA, of which the Prime Minister is the ex officio chairperson, for failing in its duty to recommend the assistance.

“The National Authority [NDMA] failed to perform its statutory duty… Ex gratia assistance on account of loss of life is part of minimum standards of relief which has to be provided to persons affected by disaster — in the present case COVID-19 pandemic,” the Supreme Court had observed in a 66-page judgment.

The court however had left it to the ‘wisdom’ of the NDMA to fix the amount while considering the recommendations in the 15th Finance Commission Report and funds required for other reliefs and priorities, including COVID preparedness, mitigation, prevention and recovery.

The court had refused a plea made by PIL petitioners, advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal, to order an ex gratia of Rs. 4 lakh each to the families of the COVID dead.

India is welcome to join China-South Asia grouping #GS2 #IR

India can join the China-led South Asian initiative for COVID-19 vaccines and poverty alleviation too if it so desires, said Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen, denying that a six-nation grouping launched earlier this month was meant to exclude India. The creation of the China-South Asian Countries Emergency Supplies Reserve, and a Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Centre set up in China on July 8, the outcome of a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in April, had raised eyebrows in New Delhi, as it appeared to leave out only India, Bhutan and the Maldives.

In dire need of vaccines

“The Chinese approached us at a time we were in dire need of vaccines,” Mr. Momen told The Hindu in an interaction on the sidelines of the connectivity conference in Tashkent last week, explaining that India’s decision to suspend vaccine exports, including to Bangladesh, who had contracted and made advance payments for 5 million doses of Covishield per month, had become a “big issue” in the country, particularly as many had taken the first dose of the vaccine and had no access to the second.

Mr. Momen said that after Bangladesh requested vaccines from China, Foreign Minister Wang Yi decided to convene the six-nation China-South Asia meeting, where he suggested setting up a poverty alleviation centre to deal with economic issues arising in South Asia due to COVID, an e-commerce economic cooperation forum and an emergency storage facility for vaccines.

“We asked, how about India, and the Chinese [government] said this forum is open to India and India is welcome. In fact, even at the Foreign Minister’s meeting which included Pakistan, they said India would be welcome to join,” Mr. Momen said, stressing that the issues involved in the forum are common to all South Asian countries battling COVID and its impact on GDPs in the region.

Aggression on LAC

The Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to a question on whether India had been invited to the forum or would consider joining the China-South Asia centre, now being established in the Southern Chinese city of Chongqing, in the future.

However, given continuing tensions over Chinese aggression at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, and New Delhi’s firm stand that other bilateral relations cannot move ahead without a resolution of the boundary stand-off, it is understood that India would be unlikely to consider a new grouping involving China, especially one that could be seen to dilute its role in the SAARC region.

The absence of India from the grouping as well as from a series of consultations on COVID relief between the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister and different combinations of all SAARC member countries (other than India and Bhutan) led some experts to suggest this was meant to be a “Minus India” initiative. India is the only country of all eight SAARC nations that has not requested or accepted Chinese COVID vaccines.

ADB trims FY22 growth forecast to 10% #GS3 #Economy

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has pared its forecast for India’s growth this year to 10%, from 11% projected in April, citing the curbs imposed across States during the second wave. The lender also said on Tuesday it expects most of the country’s population to be vaccinated by 2022-23, suggesting global observers are doubtful that India can meet its target of vaccinating all adults by December 2021.

A faster-than-expected spurt in fuel and food prices also nudged the ADB to raise its average inflation projection for 2021-22 to 5.5%, from 5.2% anticipated earlier. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has projected retail inflation at 5.1% for this period.

Retail inflation, which remained elevated at around 6.3% over May and June, is also expected to stay above the RBI’s preferred target level of 4% in 2022-23, at 4.8%.

India’s average inflation in 2020-21 was 6.2%, so the ADB’s projections suggest almost three successive years of inflation hovering closer to the RBI’s upper tolerance limit of 6% than the midpoint of the 2%-6% range it has to aim to maintain over the medium term, as per the Monetary Policy Committee’s mandate.

Inflation had shot past the RBI’s comfort zone in December 2019 to 7.4%, the fastest since July 2014. By March 2020, it had eased to 5.91% before quickening to average 6.2% through the COVID-affected 2020-21.

South Asian impact

India is expected to record a growth of 7.5% in financial year 2022-23, the ADB said, an increase from the 7% it had projected earlier. The renewed outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had hampered economic activity across South Asia due to fresh containment measures, it pointed out.

“South Asia’s growth outlook for fiscal year 2021 [the ADB refers to the year that started in April 2021] is lowered to 8.9% from 9.5%. The forecast for India is downgraded by 1.0 percentage point to 10.0%. The inflation forecast for South Asia in 2021 is raised from 5.5% to 5.8%, mainly reflecting a higher forecast for India.

While India’s GDP growth recovered to 1.6% in the final quarter of 2020-21, the pandemic’s second wave led many State governments to impose strict containment measures as new COVID-19 cases peaked at more than 4,00,000 a day in early May, before moderating to just above 40,000 in early July.

“Early indicators show economic activity resuming quickly after containment measures eased,” the ADB said. “The growth projection for FY2021… reflects large base effects. The projection for FY2022 (2022-23), by which time much of India’s population is expected to be vaccinated, is upgraded from 7.0% to 7.5% as economic activity normalizes.