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.
- Lockdown gains: On need to augment health system
State shutdowns are inevitable, but they must be used to augment the health system
Several States have done the inevitable, going into a strict lockdown for a fortnight to arrest India’s calamitous descent into COVID-19 hell since mid-March. The horror of sweeping infections, severe disease and staggering death rates has made a lockdown a popular measure, unlike last year’s imposition on an ill-prepared nation. Public acceptance of restrictions comes with the realisation that the threat to life from a mutating virus has aggravated manifold, although the spread of the scourge, from about 9,000 new daily cases in early February this year to over 4,00,000 in May, was brought about mainly by wrong messaging, massive political rallies and large religious events. After having been failed, what people now look forward to are measures that draw insights not from crude policing, but public health research. Unlike in 2020, the evidence is also stronger: WHO explains that SARS-CoV-2 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets and aerosols produced when people cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe, are within one metre of each other and also in crowded, poorly ventilated settings. Contact with contaminated surfaces poses another risk. Insistence on wearing good masks, distancing and a prohibition on risky gatherings, such as in restaurants, malls, religious sites, auditoria and on public transport are, therefore, essential. It is welcome that lessons have been learnt, and people were given time to prepare this time. Moreover, rather than shut out employment and services completely, home delivery services and some vending have been permitted. Tamil Nadu, which has commendably announced a relief of ₹4,000 for COVID-19, part of it to be disbursed during the lockdown, should avoid big gatherings at ration shops, opting instead for e-payments or doorstep disbursement. States should prevent crowding at shops open for limited hours by allowing door deliveries of all consumer goods and not just food, using online services. Travel for emergencies must be facilitated without harassment.
For an exhausted medical community, staggering under the weight of over 37 lakh active COVID-19 cases and a severe shortage of medical oxygen and drugs, the pause in activity comes as a life saver. The lockdown window can help it manage existing patients while governments augment critical supplies; a slowing infection curve will give everyone breathing space in coming weeks, although the heart-rending death rate may take time to decline due to the lag effect. A drop in the vaccination rate poses a serious challenge, and it is incumbent on the Centre to arrange for vaccine imports or augment domestic production to scale it up. Testing access must also be dramatically increased by May-end to assess the true scale of the pandemic. Without such progress, the lockdowns may yield only small gains, since the opportunity to build the systems to handle another surge would have been frittered away, again.
2.Outreach and overreach: On judicial intervention during COVID-19 crisis
As long as the court does not usurp executive’s role, action to mitigate a crisis is welcome
Judicial intervention in response to the Union government’s flailing response to the health crisis has reached its apotheosis with the Supreme Court order forming a 12-member national task force for the effective and transparent allocation of medical oxygen to the States and Union Territories “on a scientific, rational and equitable basis”. Making recommendations on augmenting the supply based on present and projected demands and facilitating audits by sub-groups within each State and UT is also part of its remit. The Court has also mandated it to review and suggest measures for ensuring the availability of essential drugs and remedial measures to meet future emergencies during the pandemic. In other words, the national task force has become a judicially empowered group that may significantly guide the handling of the health crisis set off by the second pandemic wave. Faced with proceedings in High Courts relating to the allocation and availability of oxygen, the Centre submitted that an expert committee may be constituted, consisting of persons drawn from public and private health-care institutions, to facilitate a fresh assessment of the basis for the allocation.
When the Karnataka High Court ordered last week that the Centre should supply 1,200 tonnes of medical oxygen daily to the State, the Centre rushed with a challenge to the apex court. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that if every High Court started entertaining petitions on equitable allocation of oxygen, pandemic management would become unworkable. The Supreme Court declined to stay the order, describing it as a careful and calibrated one. Several High Courts and the Supreme Court are examining different aspects of the pandemic response, including availability of beds and oxygen. The trend did raise concerns about the judiciary encroaching on the executive domain. There is some merit in the argument that allocation of resources based on a formula related to the present and projected requirements of each State is indeed an executive function. However, as the daily infection numbers and death toll have acquired frightening levels, the constitutional courts felt obliged to take it upon themselves to protect the right to life and good health of the population. It cannot be forgotten that the judiciary drew much flak last year for its initial failure to mitigate the crisis set off by the lack of succour to millions of migrant workers. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who heads the Bench hearing the suo motu proceedings, has clarified that the Court was not usurping the executive’s role, but only wanted to facilitate a dialogue among stakeholders. As long as this position is clear, the present intervention need not be seen as a dangerous overreach.
3.Assam’s new CM: Himanta Biswa Sarma’s elevation shows how indispensable he has become to BJP
After days of speculation, Himanta Biswa Sarma has been named as the next CM of Assam, marking a significant change in the state leadership. The decision was taken after both Sarma and incumbent CM Sarbananda Sonowal were called to Delhi for meetings with BJP top brass. After BJP’s stellar performance in Assam polls, where it won an impressive 60 seats and its NDA coalition ended up with 75 out of 126 seats, a debate had gripped the state as to who deserves credit for the victory and who should be at the helm of the state.
A certain section of BJP believed that the party should continue with Sonowal who is perceived to have a clean image and is seen to be more committed to party ideology and Assamese subnationalism. However, Sarma has long signalled his ambitions about the CM’s post. Plus, ever since crossing over to BJP from Congress in 2014, he has been instrumental in increasing BJP’s footprint not just in Assam but throughout the Northeast. As the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance, Sarma has been BJP’s main troubleshooter and strategist in the region. Even when the party in Assam was hit by anti-CAA protests and Covid crisis last year, it was Sarma who was at the forefront of navigating the troubled waters for BJP.
In fact, Sarma has played a big role in changing the political calculus of Assam by engineering an unspoken electoral alliance between Assamese and Bengali Hindu voters of the state. At the same time, Sarma rightly read the situation in the Bodo areas and got BJP to dump the Bodoland People’s Front and ally with the United People’s Party Liberal back in December, which paid rich dividends in the assembly polls. Finally, Sarma’s assessment that the new regional parties born out of the anti-CAA protests – Assam Jatiya Parishad and Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal – would hurt Congress more than BJP proved to be true.
All of this has seen Sarma achieve a bigger stature than Sonowal in Assam. And with most new MLAs in BJP supporting Sarma, it would have been risky for the party central leadership to overlook him for the CM’s post. However, Sarma takes over at a challenging time for Assam. Covid cases have surged in recent days with as many as 30,190 new cases being reported between May 1 to 7. Sarma, therefore, clearly has his task cut out and must hit the ground running.
4.Search for order: Creating a national task force to improve oxygen allocation is a good step
Distress calls through different channels from both people and hospitals for oxygen is a recurring reminder that the Centre and states haven’t got a grip on the situation. The sources of oxygen supply are unevenly spread but the demand for it comes from across the country. It requires interstate coordination and the Centre using its resources to see it through. The outcome so far has been unsatisfactory and shows up in the form of communication from CMs asking for higher oxygen allocation.
Given this, the Supreme Court’s order last week on the establishment of a national task force to improve the oxygen allocation process is a positive development. Allocation is a task which falls within the purview of the executive. Therefore, the welcome feature of the apex court’s order is that it’s non-adversarial. The Centre responded favourably to the court’s suggestion on a task force to streamline the process of allocation. It also made the initial suggestion on the composition of the task force. The 12-member task force has a majority from the healthcare sector and two members from the government. It will be convened by the cabinet secretary, the head of the civil services, which should enhance its efficacy.
The government will take the final call on the task force’s recommendations. Supreme Court has framed terms of reference for the task force to keep it focussed. We have learnt the pandemic follows a wavelike pattern, with surges and dips. The litmus test for governance is our capacity to deal with surges in a way that limits loss of lives and restricts economic damage. The apex court’s role in the constitution of a task force should be viewed as an attempt to chip in when the Centre and states have been overwhelmed by the second wave.
5.A change of guard in Assam
When Himanta Biswa Sarma joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the 2016 assembly polls, the party knew it had pulled off a coup. The chief lieutenant of the then Congress chief minister (CM) Tarun Gogoi, Mr Sarma brought in his own network of followers from the Congress, and deployed his understanding of the state and personal resources to pull off a victory. But there was clarity in the party that Sarbananda Sonowal, one of the faces of the anti-immigrant movement, would be CM— while Mr Sarma would have to pay his dues. After all, he was not from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-BJP stable, and under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, this has been an important parameter when it comes to selecting CMs.
But Mr Sarma soon became indispensable in enabling the party’s expansion across states in the region through electoral victories in Manipur and Tripura or stitching together coalitions in Nagaland and Meghalaya. This was supplemented by his political-administrative skills in Assam. By the time it was time for the 2021 elections, frustrated at the party leadership’s unwillingness to move him to the Centre, Mr Sarma decided he had paid his dues — and it was time to compete for leadership.
The BJP did not announce any name before the elections — to preserve the internal factional balance and incentivise all leaders to work hard for a victory first. But, on Sunday, the party decided Mr Sarma will be Assam’s new CM. This may be a recognition of his political skills, but he will confront two serious challenges. The first is Covid-19 management. During the campaign, it was wrong and irresponsible of Mr Sarma, who held the portfolio of health, to claim that there was no virus in Assam and undermine the value of mask-wearing. Mr Sarma must invest all energy now in beating back the second wave, and ask Assam to mask up. The second is restoring communal harmony in the state. During the campaign, in a bid to polarise and perhaps to show his ideological commitment, Mr Sarma deployed aggressive rhetoric against minorities. It is time to step back and lend a healing touch. Himanta Biswa Sarma has got his prize. Assam is waiting for its own.