Current Affairs 8th May

We mean business: SC to Centre on Delhi’s quota #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Friday underlined the obligation of the Union government to comply with the order to supply 700 metric tonnes (MT) of oxygen to Delhi “every day”, saying “we mean business”.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah warned the Centre of forcing the court into taking “coercive action” against it by reneging on its promise in court to supply 700 MT of oxygen to Delhi, which is battling a devastating second wave of COVID-19.

The court’s comments came soon after senior advocate Rahul Mehra submitted that Delhi had received 86 MT of oxygen till 9 a.m. and another 16 MT was in transit. The court referred to a tabulated chart detailing the Centre’s “comprehensive plan” for the allocation, supply and distribution of oxygen to the national capital.

“You start by saying 700 MT and then as you go on, you bring caveats about containers coming in etc… We are not container drivers here. We want 700 MT every day and we mean business.

Justice Chandrachud said he and Justice Shah had a discussion before the hearing on the issue and agreed that the court in its previous orders intended that Delhi should get 700 MT every day.

“We did not mean that you supply 700 MT on one day. We meant you do it every day until we further examine the modalities. Please do not drive us to a situation where we have to be firm and take the coercive way. It is 700 MT every day, every single day,” Justice Chandrachud emphasised.

Mr. Mehta said he would convey the court’s observations to the authorities concerned during the day.

May 5 directive

On May 5, the Supreme Court ordered the Centre to burn the midnight oil and prepare a “comprehensive plan” for the supply of 700 MT of life-saving oxygen to Delhi on a daily basis. The plan submitted by the Central government had to identify the sources of supply of oxygen to Delhi; the provisions for transport and logistical arrangements, including distribution points for oxygen.

The court had noted that the lack of oxygen was causing “tremendous anxiety” in the Capital.

Second wave declining, third can be prevented: scientist #GS3 #SnT

India can avoid a third COVID-19 wave, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India K. VijayRaghavan, stressing that, “If we take strong measures, the third COVID wave may not happen in all the places or indeed anywhere.”

Dr. VijayRaghavan’s statement comes just two days after he said, “Third COVID wave is inevitable in India given the high levels of virus that is circulating. But it is not clear at what time scale this phase 3 will occur.”

Speaking at a Health Ministry press conference, Dr. VijayRaghavan said preventing a third wave depends on how effectively the guidelines are implemented and followed. “Infections rise when the virus has the opportunity to infect humans.”

Responding to a question on when the second wave, which has already infected lakhs and killed thousands, will ebb, Dr. VijayRaghavan said it has already started declining in some places. The number of cases and the positivity will decline, and there will be a lag in hospitalisation and mortality

Vaccines bought first using PM CARES funds cost more #GS3 #Economy

The first lot of vaccines was procured by the Centre using PM CARES funds at a rate higher than the subsequent rounds paid for with budgetary allocations, The Hindu has learnt from the response to a Right to Information request by a transparency activist.

The Health Ministry response said that the initial 5.6 crore doses of Covishield were bought at a pre-tax price of Rs. 200 and one crore dose of Covaxin at Rs. 295, but Finance Secretary T.V. Somanathan said both vaccines were, in fact, bought at around Rs. 200 only.

Many factors

This is higher than the Rs. 150 rate at which both vaccines are now sold to the Centre. Dr. Somanathan told The Hindu that bulk orders, advance payments and a lower demand situation had helped in negotiating for the lower rate, “which may not be replicable” for future orders by States or others.

The difference in cost in the vaccines paid for by budgetary allocations and by PM CARES, which the Centre says is a non-governmental fund, came to light in the Health Ministry’s May 2 response to an RTI query filed by Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd). It said that initially the Government of India through PM CARES funds procured 5.6 crore doses of Covishield from the Serum Institute of India at the unit cost of Rs. 200 (plus 5% GST of Rs. 10) and one crore doses of Covaxin from Bharat Biotech at Rs. 295 (plus tax of Rs. 14.75). This round of vaccines was initially aimed at frontline and healthcare workers, but offtake was relatively poor.

“However, at present, Government of India through Union Budget has procured the COVID-19 vaccines (COVISHILED 10 crores doses and COVAXIN 2 crores doses) at the unit cost of Rs. 157.50 including taxes (Rs. 150 + 5% GST),” said the RTI response, adding that an additional 11 crore doses of Covishield and 5.5 crore doses of Covaxin were also being procured at the Rs. 150 rate, in what it described as an “ongoing process”.

Dr. Somanathan said that although the list price of the indigenously developed Covaxin was Rs. 295, the Centre had insisted that Bharat Biotech offer a discount to match the level of the foreign-developed, Indian- manufactured Covishield. Hence, both vaccines were bought at a price of approximately Rs. 200 per unit in the first round paid for by PM CARES funds

Asked for clarification, a Bharat Biotech spokesperson only pointed to Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan’s statement on January 12 that the company sold 38.5 lakh doses to the Centre at Rs. 295 per unit and gave 16.5 lakh doses for free as a special gesture, bringing the per unit price for a 55 lakh dose order to Rs. 206.

Much larger order

The second round of vaccines purchased through the Health Ministry budget came at the lower cost of Rs. 150 because it was a bulk order with a significant advance payment, said the Finance Secretary.

“The second round, which was entirely from the government, had two elements. One, it was a much larger order. It is common in all kinds of manufacturing, including in vaccines and drugs, that larger orders get smaller prices, because there is a commitment to a larger quantity, and we are saying we’ll take this much at one go. And there was always a contemplation of and eventually, giving of an advance,” he said. In contrast, payment was only made after supplies were delivered in the case of the initial PM CARES order.

Four-digit security code in CoWIN portal from today #GS3 #Security

In order to minimise errors and inconvenience caused to citizens registering for COVID-19 vaccination, the CoWIN system will introduce a new feature — a four-digit security code — in its portal from May 8.

“It has been noticed in some instances that citizens who booked their appointment for COVID vaccination through the CoWIN portal did not actually go for vaccination on the scheduled date but received a notification through SMS that a vaccine dose has been administered to them. Upon examination, it has been found to occur largely on account of the vaccinator wrongly marking the citizen as vaccinated, an instance of a data entry error by the vaccinator,” the Ministry stated.

This new feature will be applicable only for citizens who book online for a vaccination slot. The four-digit code will be printed in the appointment acknowledgement and will not be known to the vaccinator.

Before administering the vaccine dose, the verifier/vaccinator will ask for the four-digit code and enter it in the CoWIN system to correctly record the vaccination status.

The code will also be available in the confirmation SMS sent to the beneficiary after successful booking of appointment. The appointment acknowledgement can be saved on the phone for easy retrieval.

“This will ensure that for citizens who have booked an online appointment, the data entries regarding vaccination status of a citizen, are recorded correctly when they avail the services at the centre where they have booked the appointment. It added that this would also reduce possibilities of impersonation.

Advisory for vaccination

The Ministry has also issued an advisory for those coming in for vaccination. It noted that citizens must carry a copy (digital or physical) of their appointment and/or the registered mobile phone with appointment confirmation SMS, so that the security code can be furnished for easy completion of vaccination recording process.

It is also advised that the security code is furnished to the verifier/vaccinator before the vaccine dose is administered. “This is important as the digital certificate would be generated after the vaccine dose administration,” said the Ministry.

Citizens should get a confirmation SMS after the process. “The confirmation SMS indicates that the vaccination process has been completed successfully and the digital certificate has been generated. If one does not get the confirmation SMS, one should get in touch with the vaccinator/ vaccination centre in-charge.

Almost half new cases rural, shots key’ #GS3 #SnT

The pandemic’s second wave has spread far beyond the worst-hit cities, with almost half the new cases being reported from rural districts, and economic activity has taken a ‘severe hit’ SBI’s economics researchers said in a report on Friday.

Red-flagging the slowing pace of vaccinations, which has fallen to an average 17 lakh per day from 28 lakh in April, State Bank of India’s research team observed that vaccinations were the primary tool to reduce the severity of infections and India ‘must vaccinate its people on a mission mode, even if it means suspending economic activity for a while after the second wave subsides’.

With daily cases of more than 3.5 lakh in the past nine days, the share of the top 15 districts in total new cases had dropped sharply from 55% in March to just 26.3% in May, suggesting the spread of infections was now far more widely dispersed, SBI group chief economic advisor Soumya Kanti Ghosh wrote.

Terming the increase in rural infections, flagged earlier by micro-finance lenders to the RBI, as ‘worrying’, Mr. Ghosh said the share of rural districts in new cases had increased to 48.5% in May, from 36.8% in March.

‘Mid-August low’

“With the second wave and associated lockdown/restrictions, economic disruption is now clearly visible,” the researchers wrote. “At least 20 States are now in lockdown… our business activity index which has been declining steeply since April, has dipped to a new low of 71.7”, a level attained in mid-August 2020, they added.

Mr. Ghosh also observed that the case load was not directly related to people’s movement, with cases having increased in Kerala, Bihar, Haryana and Uttarakhand even as mobility had declined in these States.

India’s hopes of a healthy rate of economic growth in 2021-22, after last year’s sharp contraction, also now appear hard to realise, according to the researchers. On April 23, SBI had cut its GDP growth forecast to 10.4%, from 11%. Two weeks later, it is a ‘little apprehensive’ of the economy posting even double-digit growth.

“We had earlier revised our FY22 real GDP estimate… At that time, only a few States (like Maharashtra and Delhi) had imposed lockdowns and most of the States adopted night curfew only,” the researchers noted. But the situation had altered completely, with 48 lakh new cases recorded since April 23, and the virus’s extensive spread forcing almost every State to impose total or partial lockdowns.

‘Pandemic won’t impact India’s rating for 2 years’ #GS3 #Economy

India’s sovereign rating will remain unchanged at the current level of BBB- for the next two years despite the potential adverse impact of the surging pandemic on its economy, said a top official at S&P Global Ratings.

The country would witness a slightly faster pace of growth in the next two years, effectively supporting the rating, he said.

“India’s sovereign rating remains stable,” said Andrew Wood, director, Asia Pacific Sovereign Ratings, S&P Global Ratings.

“We do not expect a change in rating level over the next two years.

“Of course, there are going to be some near-term ramifications for India’s economy stemming from the severe second wave of COVID-19 and that may peep through into our sovereign-credit metrics,” he said.

Maintaining real GDP growth forecast at 11% for this fiscal, Mr. Wood said, “It is a baseline scenario with some downside risk. But, if we do see a number creeping lower, most likely it will not go too far in our current downside scenario.”

He said India in all likelihood will have positive growth this fiscal year but there is potential for a lower rate of growth owing to the current health crisis.

However, “we would more likely see a slightly faster pace of growth in the ensuing two years.” He said the second wave would not have any major impact on the government’s fiscal position in a moderate downside scenario.

There could be upside pressure on fiscal deficit as revenue generation could be weaker but the government’s debt stock would remain roughly stable at just above 90% of the GDP.

“In the severe scenario, there could be more additional fiscal spending from the government and revenue growth would be weaker. This would mean that the debt stock would stabilise in the next fiscal. Earlier, S&P, in a report, stated that India’s nascent economic recovery through March solidified government revenue. But the rapidly developing health crisis may derail this progress.

Record number of cases, limited healthcare system capacity and localised lockdowns would likely take a toll on household consumption and retail activity.

Fiscal challenge

“The severity of the crisis is challenging the country’s fiscal settings, which were already weak before COVID struck,” said S&P.

“Our moderate scenario suggests a hit to GDP of about 1.2 percentage points,” S&P said. “This means full-year growth of 9.8% for fiscal 2022. This compares with our baseline forecast of 11% growth for the period.” In the severe scenario, the hit is 2.8 percentage points, with 8.2% growth, it added.

‘Move fast on TRIPS waiver for COVID-19’ #GS3 #Economy

WTO Chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has urged the proponents of the proposal for temporary waiver of certain provisions of TRIPS agreement for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 to submit the revised document “as soon as possible” so that text-based negotiations can begin.

Welcoming the statement of U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the issue, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said she “warmly” welcomes Ms. Tai’s willingness to engage with proponents of a temporary waiver of the TRIPS pact to help combat the pandemic.

In October 2020, India and South Africa had proposed a waiver for all World Trade Organization (WTO) members on the implementation of certain provisions of the agreement in relation to the prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19. The proposed relaxations are aimed at ensuring quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries.

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