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.
- Resist siren song of cheap loans abroad
The exchange rate is heading towards Rs 76 to the dollar. Exporters will be happy, but those who have borrowed in hard currency face a financial shock. Dollar loans with low interest rates suddenly look very expensive because of rupee depreciation. Let this be a warning against the siren song of foreign lenders, urging Indians to borrow dollars at low rates.
Larry Summers and Paul Krugman expect interest rates to remain low for the foreseeable future. Their thesis of ‘secular stagnation’ says ageing populations who spend less than youngsters, plus the shift from capital-intensive manufacturing to capital-light services, will permanently create a savings glut, keeping interest rates low.
For companies borrowing in rupees, cheap debt makes sense. Many Western corporations are borrowing just to buy back shares. But external borrowing carries exchange rate risks that can be deadly: the Asian financial crisis of 1997 began with Thai banks that borrowed cheap in dollars to lend domestically at higher rates. This was very profitable for a few years but led to financial collapse when devaluation became inevitable.
The rupee was 45 to the dollar a decade ago. It is now over 75, a massive 65% depreciation. Exchange rate risks can be eliminated by hedging, but hedged loans cease to be cheap. The risks are also mitigated for export-oriented industries whose sales and profits rise with depreciation, offsetting the rise in debt service. But for other borrowers, including the government, external loans must be limited to judicious sums. India’s merchandise exports are stagnant since 2013. If India becomes an export powerhouse again, it can be more aggressive about external loans. Till then, caution is the right policy
- Covid vaccines need guidelines; price, allocation cannot be left to the market
India’s vaccination drive will undergo a radical change come May 1. The pool of those eligible will shoot up to some 900 million persons, and procurement of vaccines will be decentralised. Sound planning is required to maximise the impact, as vaccines go into arms as and when they arrive – prioritise most vulnerable areas and segments of the population and de-prioritise those who are sero-positive for Covid.
This will call for coordination by a central body, and the national task force suggests itself. Given that demand will outstrip supply for some time, and to avoid state governments competing with other state governments to nab a bigger share of the supply, it is advisable to have some guidelines for the pricing and allocation of vaccines that are not meant for central procurement.
Central procurement is also to be distributed in the states: there is no central population, after all. There must be clarity on who all would be eligible for jabs from the Centre’s pool and who all need to be covered by the state governments. This would determine how much of the non-central pool should be dedicated to the states and how much left to the private market.
Suppose half of the output other than what is meant for the Centre is dedicated for the states and the other half for supply to private hospitals. How much each state gets to buy from this pool each week should be determined by criteria such as size of the vulnerable population, size of the sero-positive population and track record of vaccine utilisation.
The national task force should determine the appropriate criteria. Pricing has been left to the vaccine makers, except for the proviso that it must be declared in advance. The price meant for sale to private hospitals can be a bit higher than the price for sale to the states. Companies would do well not to invite the attention of drug price control. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have decided not to make profits from their vaccines during the pandemic. Even tiny margins can add up to hefty aggregates, given the scale.
- Chasing oxygen: Capacity expansion, coordination, trust building must proceed concurrently to meet dire need
With India adding nearly three lakh Covid patients a day, many cities have been hit by a crushing medical oxygen scarcity even as the staggeringly active caseload count has translated into more patients needing oxygen support. Rising test positivity rate signals even more patients may queue up for treatment soon. Inadequate oxygen supply has rendered thousands of hospital beds weak against severe Covid. While the loss of lives in Nashik after an oxygen tank leak is tragic, oxygen, rather than remdesivir or other experimental drugs, is the most potent lifesaver in today’s fight.
But not enough hospitals have added oxygen generation plants over the past year. More decentralised availability would have saved time, energy and expenditure incurred in sourcing and transporting liquid oxygen. When postmortems of the pandemic are done, state and central governments must answer for low public health budgets that failed such essential capacity building investments during a pandemic. In a double whammy, hospitals also found their usual suppliers starved of stocks. As death counts rise, state governments have belatedly joined the oxygen sourcing effort. Unable to make headway, CMs have dialled their counterparts in other states or pleaded for central government and court intervention as Delhi government did on Tuesday when oxygen stock at hospitals reached critical levels.
State borders should matter little in a pandemic. And yet they do. MP CM Chouhan worked the phone lines after oxygen supplies from four neighbouring states were stalled by local officers. A Union health ministry official told Delhi high court that diverting oxygen supplies from UP would cause a backlash. Discord has also surfaced down south with TN objecting to diversion of oxygen to meet Andhra and Telangana needs. Meanwhile less affected states may be holding onto stocks because of similar local sentiments, plus concerns about the pandemic’s trajectory and central assistance.
Centre has to smoothly coordinate interstate supplies and build trust. Improvisation by diverting industrial oxygen to meet Covid needs has commenced. India Inc is also stepping up to the occasion with RIL, Tata Sons and other companies significantly augmenting supply of liquid oxygen and cryo containers. All hands must be on deck. India started the pandemic with shortages of masks, PPE kits and testing infrastructure but quickly scaled up. Today’s crisis can be tided over too with a spirit of humaneness, cooperation and accommodation. Let the politics take a back seat.
4.‘I can’t breathe’: The Derek Chauvin trial also holds a mirror to dysfunctions in India’s justice delivery system
President Biden had admitted he was “praying” for the “right verdict” and a Minneapolis court delivered just that this week, in an era-defining day for the US. Police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd, a black security guard who had lost his job during the pandemic. This episode has seen the simmering racial tensions of the country spill over, triggering mass protests under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter.
There is an important takeaway for India here. Floyd was killed in May 2020. Amidst the tumultuous aftermath, the country’s justice delivery system worked fast. Chauvin was found guilty by a 12-member jury in less than a year following a trial which was covered widely by the media. For sure, the justice delivery system was helped by ubiquitous mobile phones that captured the last moments in Floyd’s life in excruciating detail. The essential fact is justice was delivered quickly. It’s a prerequisite to build trust in a system. By way of contrast, the Indian judicial system’s backlog running into millions of cases builds distrust among citizens.
Another aspect of the trial that is relevant is the nature of police response. Floyd was picked up following an allegation that he used a counterfeit note to buy cigarettes. The sequence of events led to Chauvin kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, unmindful of the victim repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Prosecution’s evidence included a police chief who observed that Chauvin violated protocol. India has often seen custodial deaths and other police excesses. Like in the US, it’s hard to get a conviction of police officials who violate norms. We hope the George Floyd trial will catalyse some change here too, to hold rogue police officials to account.
5. Covid-19: In distress, civil society steps in
As India battles the most devastating public health crisis it has ever seen, and systemic failures are apparent all around, there is one silver lining — the role of civil society in aiding citizens. Civil society here is not just the conventionally understood structure of established professional organisations or neighbourhood civic bodies. A more loose, spontaneous, conglomeration of disparate citizens is playing an equally critical role in helping fellow citizens.
During the first wave of Covid-19, many such citizens and groups came together to support the returning migrants. This year, too, they are doing a lot of the heavy lifting — from sharing information about hospital beds and medicines to amplifying the needs of patients and their families on social media. Society, samaaj, is leveraging its power to help neighbours, friends, and extended families. A lot of this is restricted to people with access to social media, but it has still been of great help.
While information on beds, medicines and oxygen is critical, what is equally important for patients and their families is to know that there is a community out there that cares, and the battle against Covid-19 will not be a lonely one. But civil society, in any form, doesn’t have the scale and the reach of the State. It is imperative that the government aids this Herculean effort by providing correct and timely information to society and meeting the scarcity and shortages across the country.