Current Affairs 13th July

Inflation remains above 6% in June #GS3 #Economy

After touching a six-month high in May, India’s retail inflation was virtually unchanged in June at about 6.3%, remaining out of the central bank’s comfort zone for a second month in a row.

Economists expect the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to revisit its inflation estimate of 5.1% for 2021-22 and stressed that lack of fiscal policy action to cool prices could precipitate a faster unwinding of RBI’s growth-supporting approach to interest rates.

Growth impulses remained fragile with the second COVID-19 wave hurting the recovery momentum, according to quick estimates of industrial output for May, with output levels 8% lower than April.

Manufacturing output tanked 9.5% month-on-month, electricity production fell nearly 7%, although mining moved up marginally by 0.6% in May.

Headline factory output increased 29.3% over an incomparable May 2020, when industrial production had collapsed over 33% in the midst of a national lockdown. However, this was 13.9% below the pre-pandemic levels of May 2019.

“Consumer durables and capital goods stood out as the worst affected sectors in May, trailing the pre-COVID levels by 41.2% and 36.9%, respectively,” noted Aditi Nayar, chief economist at rating agency ICRA.

With petroleum product prices continuing to soar, fuel and light inflation hit 12.7% in June from 11.9% in May. Food inflation, which had flared up from just 2% in April to 5% in May, rose further, led by a 34.8% inflation rate for oils and fats and 19.4% for eggs.

Persistently sticky retail prices for fuel and food translated into little respite for citizens, as inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) declined by just four basis points from May’s 6.30%, as per the National Statistical Office. One basis point equals 0.01%.

DBS Group Research economist Radhika Rao said Monetary Policy Committee members may retain a growth focus but are likely to express discomfort on the recent bout of sticky inflation, in the absence of corrective fiscal steps like excise duty cuts on fuel.

“If the CPI inflation remains entrenched above the 6% upper threshold in the next two prints (July-August 2021), a preponement of rate normalisation can’t be ruled out,” warned Ms. Nayar, who expects the tightrope walk between supporting a ‘nascent, incomplete’ growth revival and preserving the need to anchor inflationary expectations, to continue.

Panel studying trial data of new vaccine #GS3 #SnT

The green signal for the emergency use approval of ZyCoV-D, the COVID-19 vaccine by Zydus Cadila for those aged 12 and above, will take a few more days. They also refuted claims by several State governments, including the Delhi administration, of vaccine shortage.

ZyCoV-D had shown good results in the Phase-1 and Phase-2 trials, and the data of the Phase-3 trials, conducted in more than 28,000 volunteers, was now under examination by the Subject Expert Committee. NITI Aayog member (Health) V.K. Paul said recently, “If all goes well, this vaccine’s supply will begin in August-September”.

Three-dose vaccine

ZyCoV-D is a three-dose vaccine, intradermal vaccine, which is to be administered using the PharmaJet needle-free system. The second and the third doses are to be administered on the 28th and the 56th days. The vaccine can stored at 2-8 degree Celsius. The company sought emergency use approval on July 1.

In a statement, Zydus Cadila said it had conducted a study during the second wave, which reaffirmed ZyCoV-D’s efficacy against new mutant strains, especially the Delta variant.

68 killed in lightning strikes in 3 States; experts issue warning #GS3 #DM

With the monsoon making a slow revival over several parts of India, except the northwest region, there is a rise in lightning-linked deaths.

Nearly 68 were reportedly struck dead by lightning on a single day in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, according to reports from the States on Sunday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an ex gratia of Rs. 2 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed in the lightning strikes in all the three States and Rs. 50,000 for the injured.

Over the years, the Home Ministry’s statistics consistently cited lightning as the biggest natural disaster-linked killer in India.

In 2019, an analysis by private weather company Skymet reported that five States accounted for half the lightning strikes that year, led by Odisha with 9,37,462 strikes or about 16% of the cloud-to-ground strikes. There were 20 million lightning strikes in that period with over 72% of them being instances of “in-cloud” lightning.

The most recent statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, from 2019, said that year, there were 8,145 deaths in the country attributable to forces of nature. Of these, 35.3% deaths were reported due to ‘lightning’, 15.6% deaths due to ‘heat/sun stroke’ and 11.6% deaths due to ‘flood’. Most of those who died due to accidents caused by forces of nature were reported to be belonging to the age-group of 30-45 (25.3%) and 45-60 (24.9%) together.

Under ‘lightning’, Bihar (400), Madhya Pradesh (400), Jharkhand (334) and Uttar Pradesh (321) reported the maximum number of victims.

Experts have warned of a rise in lightning disaster partly due to the cascading effects of global warming. At a seminar last month, S.D. Pawar, scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, stated that annual lightning deaths had risen nearly two and a half times from the late 1960s to 2019 and were directly linked to the climate crisis, that increased moisture over land due to warming.

Open fields

Several weather agencies now issue lightning-related warnings and there are apps that generate customised forecasts. However a large proportion of deaths are in rural areas with open fields and people, in a bid to take shelter from the rain, choose to stay under trees that are frequently struck by lightning.

IT Rules: SC gives petitioner a week’s time #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court gave a week’s time for a petitioner to study the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules of 2021 to verify whether it addresses the issue of communally sensitive content posted on social media platforms.

Mr. Aijazuddin said he had moved the apex court on the suggestion of the Telangana High Court. He sought directions to the government to restrain social media platforms from carrying Islamophobic content on their timelines and to direct a CBI or NIA probe against Twitter and its users involved in putting out “inflammatory posts”. The petition referred to how “massive publicity was given by the media that many of the positive cases of symptoms of coronavirus were found from Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin in Delhi”.

The petition contended “there was a massive trending of tweets on Twitter attaching the Muslim religion to the cause of spread of coronavirus”.

He said he was “aggrieved with trending on Twitter under the name and styled #Islamiccoronavirusjihad, etc”. It amounted to promoting hatred against a particular religion, which is a criminal offence both under the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act of 2000.

The petition, filed in May, asked the court to direct the government to frame specific guidelines under the Information Technology Act of 2000 about “hate messages against any religious community including Islamophobic posts on various social media platforms”.

The Bench, including Justice A.S. Bopanna, addressed Mr. Aijazuddin, “Have you not examined the recent IT Rules… it takes care of this…” The petitioner, however, argued that the Rules did not “consider religion but only defamatory content”. The CJI said, “Have you read the latest Rules? Please do your homework and come… list after a week”.

The new Rules was notified on February 25 under the Information Technology Act of 2000. It regulates social intermediaries, content on digital media and addresses cyber-crime. It comes in place of the Information Technology (Intermediate Guidelines) Rules of 2011.

Already, the different aspects of the new Rules are under judicial scanner. The government has recently moved the apex court to transfer the cases pending against it from various High Courts to it. On July 9, a Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna tagged the government’s transfer plea to a pending special leave petition titled ‘Justice for Rights Foundation versus Union of India’. The Justice Khanwilkar Bench had said the case would be listed before an appropriate Bench on July 16.

The government’s transfer petition is likely to come up before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on July 16. The ‘Justice for Rights Foundation’ case is pending before this Bench and primarily concerns the regulation of content shown on over-the-top (OTT) platforms. This Bench has been examining the issue in the backdrop of the new IT Rules.

Afghan situation to dominate Jaishankar’s central Asian visit #GS2 #IR

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar travels to Central Asia for two back-to-back meetings focusing on Afghanistan, which will see him face-to-face with the Foreign Ministers of both Pakistan and China as well as attending a conference with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Mr. Jaishankar will first attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) ministerial in Dushanbe on July 13 and 14 after which he will travel to Tashkent for a regional connectivity conference on July 15 and 16.

Though Mr. Jaishankar has been at the same venue as the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at least twice in the past few months, the SCO meeting marks the first time he will be in the room with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, since the two met in Moscow last September, when they agreed to de-escalate tensions at the Line of Actual Control.

However, the agreement has yet to be fully implemented on the ground. The External Affairs Ministry declined to comment on whether Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Wang will have a separate meeting at either of the two venues that both will travel to. The focus of both meetings is expected to be the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and regional solutions for the country in the wake of the U.S. and NATO troops pull-out, said organisers.

Dushanbe will host a special SCO-contact group meeting of eight member states (Russia, India, China, Pakistan and Central Asian states) with Afghanistan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar on July 14. Significantly, the contact group, which normally meets at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers, is being upgraded this time, and all Foreign Ministers are expected to give a joint statement on Afghanistan.

The statement will be of particular importance as the Taliban has stepped up violence in the country, and Taliban militants claim they are taking over more towns and cities from the Afghan forces, which led to India pulling all its staff out of the Kandahar Consulate on Saturday. Afghanistan was high on the agenda of Mr. Jaishankar’s meetings in Tehran and Moscow last week as well.

In Tashkent, Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will make a greater push for trade connectivity between South and Central Asia, including discussing the importance of the Chabahar project with India and signing a transit trade agreement (TTA) with PM Khan that will give Uzbekistan access to Pakistani ports, benefiting trade with Afghanistan as well.

“Afghanistan is not just a neighbour, but a part of our region. Presently it is seen by some as a source of problems and threats, but it is also a source of possibilities, and the President feels that the foremost purpose of this conference is to strengthen connectivity, including through Afghanistan. He added that Afghanistan would be included in the Uzbekistan-India-Iran trilateral in the future, and plans for a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with India were also under consideration.

Antibodies treatment found effective: BMC #GS3 #SnT

The treatment of COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms with an antibody cocktail of Casirivimab and Imdevimab has reduced the treatment period from 13 to 14 days to five to six days and only one out of around 200 patients required oxygen supply, said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Monday.

The BMC treated 200 patients with the cocktail at Seven Hills hospital in Andheri, and according to officials, the results were encouraging. The BMC said that only one (0.5%) patient required oxygen supply after this line of treatment and the death rate came down by 70%.

A total of 212 patients were given the cocktail through saline bottle and the results of 199 had been received. Out of these, 101 were from the 18 to 45 age group, 45 from the 45 to 59 age group and 53 from above 60 years.

Out of the 199, 74 had at least one comorbidity. Before the start of the treatment, 179 had fever, while 158 had cough and fever. Also, four patients were to be put on oxygen supply. The average HRCT (high-resolution computed tomography) score was seven to eight, while the highest was 11.

BMC officials said fever subsided within 48 hours upon receiving the treatment and only one patient needed oxygen supply. “More importantly, none of the patients showed side effects of the cocktail,” said an official, adding that this treatment avoided the use of Remdesivir and other steroids, which is a positive sign. “This will also reduce the cost of the treatment and since hospital time is curtailed, it will ease the pressure on the medical system,” the official noted.

Tried in U.S.

The antibody cocktail treatment was being tried in the U.S. since November 2020 and former President Donald Trump too underwent a similar treatment. The antibodies medicines were registered with India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation on May 10, 2021, and the Drug Controller General of India has given permission for its use.

The BMC said this treatment could be carried out on those above 12 years and with a weight of over 40 kg and with mild to moderate symptoms. Those who were presently not on oxygen but faced the possibility of health deterioration could get this treatment. It could also be done on patients with any comorbidity such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart problem, asthma, high blood pressure, sickle cell or brain related problems.

Liquidity buffer at NBFCs cushions fall in Q1 collections #GS3 #Economy

Higher liquidity cover at NBFCs enabled them to service debt in the near term, and cushioned the impact of lower collections during the second wave of COVID-19, Crisil Ratings said in a study of entities rated by the agency.

“That is a change from last year, when asset quality and liquidity fears multiplied after a moratorium on repayments and stringent lockdowns affected collections. This time around, the build-up in liquidity has been a crucial offset,” the ratings agency said, adding that collections had again been affected in the current fiscal by the second wave.

In the wake of the second wave, Crisil conducted the study considering two stress-case scenarios. In the first scenario, in view of the collection challenges in the first quarter of FY22, it assumed collections over the next quarter at 70% of the levels in the past couple of quarters. In the second scenario, collections were assumed to halve.

In scenario 1, 96% of NBFCs were found to have liquidity cover for three months’ worth of debt repayments. In Scenario 2, the number was only marginally lower at 95%. Based on scenario 1, only 4% of NBFCs had low cover (less than one time), compared with 8% in June 2020, and 23% in April 2020.

“We find three factors have supported liquidity: fund-raising through special government schemes, improving collections in the second half of fiscal 2021, and limited disbursements. It pointed out that a number of NBFCs had increased provisioning levels in the past two fiscal years, and had thus enhanced buffers for asset-side risks.