News & Events
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1.Mumbai Police Force: For radical overhaul
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The specific charges made by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh about Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh deserve thorough investigation. Following the National Investigation Agency findings on Sachin Vaze, it is essential that all his cases be reviewed. Sunlight is exactly what the Maharashtra government and the Mumbai Police need.
To this end, it is critical to protect the investigation from influence, particularly by those being investigated. Vaze and Singh have been removed from their posts. So should Anil Deshmukh. As a cabinet member and particularly as home minister, Deshmukh could interfere with the investigation. His removal will minimise this possibility. The Vaze-Singh-Deshmukh imbroglio should pave the way for much-needed police reforms.
The politician-police nexus, with the members of the police force acting as private enforcers of politicians of the ruling dispensation is by no means just limited to Mumbai or Maharashtra. What puts the Mumbai Police in a league of its own is the way members of the force appear to act as enforcers for underworld gangs, and as liaison for politicians with the underworld and vice versa. Vaze, Singh and Deshmukh are but the most recent protagonists of this malaise. They are, unfortunately, not the exception.
Changing this requires reform that improves accountability. The police must report to the executive but there must be oversight, ideally from the human rights commission and a committee of the state assembly. Besides providing checks and balances, it would ensure a modicum of protection to police personnel from political interference and manipulation, empowering the force to serve and protect.
2. Supreme Court chooses right
The Supreme Court’s refusal either to extend RBI’s six month moratorium on loans being classified as non-performing or to grant a complete waiver of interest during the moratorium period is welcome. By upholding RBI’s stand against a blanket extension of the loan moratorium it had offered to businesses hurt by the pandemic-induced lockdown, the SC has averted a conflict with the regulator.
Quite sensibly, it has recognised the executive’s right to formulate policy factoring in the relevant concerns. The regulator’s concern that if banks waive the interest on loans, they would be unable to service deposits and meet their own costs is entirely valid. The ruling will help restore credit discipline and improve banking health.
That a sector is not satisfied with a policy decision cannot be reason for judicial interference, unless there are mala fide and arbitrariness in the said policy decision, the court made it clear. Rightly, the SC’s refusal to embark upon an inquiry whether public policy is wise or better policy can be evolved shows that it has chosen not to act in a manner that appropriates the powers of the executive.
However, the SC said that any interest on interest (compound interest) that has been collected from any of the borrowers for the period of the moratorium shall be adjusted in the next instalment payable. This appears to be stepping into the executive’s domain. However, allowing lenders to resume classifying delinquent debt as bad loans will help investors have a better idea as to the extent of bad loans, and enable banks to assess risk of borrowers turning into zombie firms. Genuine borrowers must be allowed to restructure their loans.
The government should resume insolvency resolution, to give companies a chance to turn around, if they have worked out plans with creditors and voluntarily file for insolvency. Firms that cannot be rehabilitated would have their assets ably redeployed. It should also swiftly amend the law to allow pre-packaged plans to aid restructuring and avoid liquidation.
3.Delay in introducing GM crops will hurt the Indian farmer
Nineteen years have passed since India formally allowed the cultivation of Bt Cotton. To date, it remains the only genetically modified crop that has received regulatory approval. For over a decade, India has seen hectic lobbying in relation to the regulatory approval process of another genetically modified crop, Bt Brinjal.
Bt Brinjal has not yet been approved. In mid-2019, the Centre informed the Lok Sabha that a few instances of suspected open cultivation of Bt Brinjal had been reported in some states. Events that followed led to the hope that the regulatory process would be quickened. But information placed by the government in the Rajya Sabha yesterday showed that the transition to more genetically modified crops under a water tight regulatory regime is likely to be delayed.
Farm bodies, particularly BKS which is affiliated to RSS, have lobbied against field trials of Bt Brinjal. The Centre has decided that field trials of genetically modified crops will not be taken up without the recommendation of a state where it can be carried out. This decision will not help quicken the pace of introduction of GM crops. The final loser in this will be the Indian farmer whose income is already under pressure from the growing incidence of extreme weather events.
4.Speeding it up: Jabs for the 45-plus is a right step forward. Here are some more ways to accelerate
With the country staring at a second Covid wave, revised vaccination guidelines allowing everyone over 45 to get vaccinated is a timely move. Coupled with Monday’s increase in gap between two Covishield doses up to eight weeks, this allows a massive ramp up in vaccination numbers. The revision also recognises ground realities: Chennai Corporation’s PHCs have begun vaccinating individuals above 18 years of age to reduce vaccine wastage and improve capacity utilisation. More occupations are being treated as frontline workers, something Ludhiana also did. The second Covid wave demands such improvisation and flexibility and Centre’s decision to revise the priority group addresses this need.
Against vaccination capacity of 60,000 daily, Chennai’s civic body achieved only 32,000 on Saturday and a paltry 18,000 on Monday, thereby necessitating such moves. Moreover, a vaccine vial once opened has to be exhausted within four hours or is wasted. Where beneficiaries in the 45-plus group aren’t present, local authorities must show flexibility to follow Chennai’s suit. This is also the international pathway. In the US, healthcare facilities are offering unused doses to young people waiting to jump the line, thereby reducing wastage. After all, youngsters engaged in contact jobs are potent superspreaders.
The age group relaxation will also bolster private facilities reporting low offtake of vaccines. Just 13% of the 40,000 vaccination sites on Saturday were private facilities and average turnout after 16 lakh inoculations was just 40 per site. Low turnout and price controls, bottlenecks in supply and vaccine unavailability with preferred private providers, could be factors diminishing the private sector’s enthusiasm. One-size-fits-all cannot address the diversity of consumer and service provider preferences. Reports from Karnataka indicating vaccine shortage highlight further pitfalls of centralisation.
Centralised rationing based on states submitting requirements and requisitioning supplies could also be hindering ambitious vaccination drives. States and private hospitals must be allowed to source vaccines directly and adapt inoculation strategies to tackle localised infection surges and hesitancy/ ignorance among diverse groups. Simultaneously, vaccines that pass Phase 3 trials in advanced jurisdictions abroad should be granted emergency use authorisation, like Covaxin was, to help find local manufacturing partners and expedite their production and supply. Strategies should be chalked out to deliver vaccines to neighbourhoods instead of awaiting beneficiaries at healthcare centres. The liberalisation undertaken by the Centre yesterday is a right step forward. Build on it to expand vaccination and beat Covid.
5.One year of the lockdown
Exactly a year ago, on March 24 at 8 pm, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that to battle Covid-19, India would lock itself up. Flights in and out of the country had already been stopped earlier, and now, all movement — except for essential workers — was halted. Citizens were told to stay home, maintain social distancing, avoid all contact with the external world, follow Covid-19 protocols, and aid the nation in helping break — or slow down — the chain of transmission, even as India was to use the period to build up its health infrastructure to cope with the most devastating pandemic in a century. While there were different phases of slowly unlocking the country, for 68 days, there was a lockdown. A year later, there are lessons and cautionary notes which are still relevant.
Based on the scientific evidence available at the time, global trends, an assessment of India’s health infrastructure deficits, and the possibility of rapid transmission given the population and its density, a lockdown was necessary. India did well in using the period to ramp up testing and medical management facilities. But, at the same time, the lockdown was brutal, especially for the poor. The sight of migrant workers walking home will remain the abiding image of the lockdown, as will the unprecedented economic contraction. Supply chains were disrupted, demand plummeted, incomes dipped, jobs were lost, and the social welfare initiatives of the government were not enough to tackle the distress. The disease, too, continued to spiral — though India was fortunate in having a low fatality rate.