News & Events
In this section, we are presenting our readers/aspirants compilation of selected editorials of national daily viz. The Hindu, The live mint,The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, PIB etc. This section caters the requirement of Civil Services Mains (GS + Essay) , PCS, HAS Mains (GS + Essay) & others essay writing competition.
1. Home delivery should be treated as an essential service
The Maharashtra government wants ecommerce companies to deliver only essential goods; non-essential goods are barred. That prefix ‘non’, followed by a hyphen, spells a universe of arbitrary decisions, the capacity to harass, extort and delay normal business and a blight on both the economy and the exchequer.
We urge the government of Maharashtra, and all other state governments that seek to limit the pandemic spread by partial lockdowns, to classify home delivery, whether by ecommerce companies or by brick-and-mortar stores, as an essential service, without getting inside the package that is delivered, whether it contains condiments, drill bits, alcohol, acrylic paint, foodstuff, widgets or gadgets.
It is difficult, in times of work from home (WFH), to make a decision on what items qualify as ‘essential’. The list is a dynamic one. Earlier, personal computers, smartphones and apparel were deemed non-essential. However, office gadgets are now obviously essential. What about those who run small food delivery businesses that cater to masses of young office-goers who normally would have lunch at the office canteen and have a maid come over and cook their evening meal? Are such app-aggregated cloud kitchens an essential service or dispensable tomfoolery?
If they are integral to WFH, all their inputs would be essential, too. Already, the staff deployed to deliver products ordered online have been trained and are conversant with Covid protocols. Brick-and-mortar stores should train their delivery agents, too. State arms can facilitate training. Consumers are conditioned and sensitised to sanitisation protocols too. Declaring Covid-compliant home delivery as an essential service will ensure that the economy sustains minimal damage.
2. Expanding Covid vaccination program a sound thinking on the move but some policy tweaks needed
It is welcome that the government is moving fast and flexible on the vaccination programme. The latest announcement states that vaccine-makers will be able to sell, at a pre-declared price, half their output to state governments and private entities, hospitals and enterprises seeking to inoculate their own employees, or anyone over 18, even as they sell half their output to GoI, for it to continue with its vaccination programme.
Further, the market would be allowed to operate for import of vaccines or their manufacture in India by Indian or foreign producers, to scale up supplies. All these are welcome. At the same time, the government needs to make some additional policies as well.
If price is not to be used as the criterion for allocating available vaccines amongst alternative claimants — private hospitals, companies and state governments — how are vaccine makers to decide whom to allocate how much? It might make sense to split this 50% of the output into an allocation for the states and for private players.
The states could be allocated vaccines at a fixed price, and inter-se distribution based on a weighted average of population, disease burden and efficiency of vaccine utilisation. Private procurers should be allowed to use price to determine their purchases.
Another question is this: should vaccines whose intellectual property rights (IPRs) are held by giant pharma companies to be denied to the vast majority of Indians, and be limited to the local elite, forgoing, in the process, a chance for further increasing vaccine supplies? Or should the government issue compulsory licences to Indian producers, for these to manufacture these vaccines here?
If the rich nations continue to dither on India and South Africa’s appeal at the WTO to waive IPR on Covid-related drugs and vaccines, India has every right, moral and legal, to take this route. Increasing vaccine supplies has to address increasing the supplies of vaccine ingredients. The government must fund these projects, under informed coordination by, say, NITI Aayog.
3.Break the chain: Curfew in Delhi after phased reopening was a tough call. State and citizens have their task cut out
With lockdowns imposed on Delhi and many cities and FM Sitharaman reaching out to the industry to rule out a nationwide lockdown, a new model where state governments will be taking decisions on locking down based on their local situations has replaced last year’s excessive centralisation. This is a better way to proceed because presently not all states are seeing the same uncontrollable surge of fresh Covid infections. A nationwide lockdown would be excessive for less affected states. In this scenario, it is apt that CMs take a reasoned call on the situation their governments are facing, as Kejriwal did on Monday.
Delhi’s fresh experiment with lockdown is a crunch moment for the country. The NCR is among India’s major economic drivers. So the gains from the curfew must be proportionate to the costs incurred. Breaking the chain of transmission during the next six days will offer some respite to healthcare workers and facilities swamped by an avalanche of cases, which even the sudden ramp up of field hospitals cannot service. For one, staff strengths are stretched thin at existing healthcare facilities. Second, in some states such as Gujarat, virus transmission is outpacing ramp up in health infrastructure. With reports of doctors and nurses getting reinfected and fatalities too, Centre must move quickly to extend the Rs 50 lakh life insurance cover for healthcare workers. Otherwise, it demoralises our soldiers on the Covid frontlines.
Lockdowns are leaky unless disease surveillance improves, masking is enforced, institutional alternatives to home quarantining are made available, and food security needs of migrant workers to avert an exodus like last year are fulfilled. Further, access to testing and healthcare facilities mustn’t be retarded. Otherwise, a lockdown will not serve its intended purpose. The exemptions granted to e-commerce and other essential services like food delivery and inter-state movement of goods reflect a wise course correction. These will keep many livelihoods afloat.
The virus doesn’t stop transmitting just because people stay indoors. Door to door testing and tracing to spot asymptomatic spreaders must be intensified. Despite much ado about a micro containment strategy, the public health system’s disease surveillance capacity is poor. This is why the second wave surprised us. Imposing a lockdown and depopulating public spaces mustn’t lull the government machinery into inaction. Lockdowns cannot become the default containment strategy while waiting for vaccination to ramp up.
4. Imagined fears: US treasury’s report on India’s forex reserves misses the wood for the trees
The US treasury department delivers a semi-annual report to the Congress on the foreign exchange policies of its major trading partners. In a report issued last week, India’s policies drew an adverse observation. The treasury is unimpressed with RBI’s foreign exchange market intervention and believes the central bank should refrain from excessive forex reserve accumulation. The reason such views assume salience is that they contribute to trade friction between the two countries. It makes it harder for both governments to conclude a trade agreement and remove some of the impediments that exist today.
All economies have to contend with the impossible trinity. That is, a country cannot simultaneously have an open capital account, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy. At any point, it has to choose two of the three options. The treasury report acknowledges the difficult operating environment in 2020 and adds that the rupee was buffeted by the substantial swings in global risk appetite. These swings, in turn, influence foreign capital flows. It makes RBI’s job tricky at the best of times. Last year, the central bank took on the responsibility of being the spearhead in the attempt to revive economic growth.
One of the consequences of an independent monetary policy last year was an increase in RBI’s foreign exchange reserves by about 23% since the first lockdown to the current level of $539 billion. A lot of forex market intervention is catalysed by the monetary policies of central banks such as the US Federal Reserve. The waves of capital flows that follow their actions force emerging market central banks to intervene to shield their economies. A fair assessment of the situation will show that India’s policies are in pursuit of reasonable objectives. Currency manipulation is an imagined fear. The US treasury needs to do better if it wants to promote trade.
5. Oxygen shortage is due to incompetence | HT Editorial
The second wave of Covid-19 has led to a sharp surge in demand for hospital beds, medicines, and, crucially, oxygen. Last week, the Centre took several steps to tackle the problem of oxygen shortage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed authorities to ensure the movement of vehicles carrying medical oxygen. The government prohibited the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes to divert the stock for medical use, began a process to import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen, claimed that domestic production would double, and said that Indian Railways would run special trains to supply oxygen to states and Union Territories that are facing a shortage.
While this are welcome, the scarcity of oxygen could have been avoided with better planning and proactive governance. According to news portal, Scroll.in, it took the Centre eight months to invite bids for new oxygen generation plants after India declared the pandemic to be a “disaster” on March 14, 2020. Surprisingly, the delay was not due to a lack of funds. The outlay for 162 oxygen plants is ₹201.58 crore, which had been allocated from the PM-Cares fund. However, only 33 plants are operational, according to the health ministry.
This postponement, which is leading to the loss of lives, was a result of administrative inertia, and a flawed tendering process that awarded contracts to companies that are ill-equipped to do the work required. In some cases, state governments failed to provide the infrastructure to set up plants. Last year, a hard lockdown was imposed to ramp up the health infrastructure. The acute shortage of oxygen shows that a lot of critical infrastructure is yet to be set up, not just due to administrative incompetence but also misreading of the potency of Covid-19’s second wave.