1. Govt. ‘watching’ WHO alert on airborne spread of virus
We are following the situation closely, says Health Ministry
- Continuing to rule out community transmission of COVID-19 in the country, the Union Health Ministry on Thursday said it is “closely watching the dynamic evolution of the virus situation in India, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) now indicating that the virus may be airborne”.
- After earlier denials, the WHO on Tuesday said there is evidence emerging of the airborne spread of the coronavirus, after over 230 scientists across the world urged the global body to update its guidance.
- “We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, had said.
- Ms. Van Kerkhove said the WHO would publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission in the coming days.
- “A comprehensive package of interventions is required to be able to stop transmission,” she said.
- “We are keeping abreast with the information coming from WHO headquarters on this aspect,” said Rajesh Bhushan, OSD, Union Health Ministry, on Thursday at a press briefing, adding that India is currently seeing what can be termed as localised outbreak of the virus in various parts of the country.
- “Presently, there are 2,69,789 active cases under active medical supervision with India’s recovery rate now at 62.09 %. It would perhaps be not fair to compare India to other countries in terms of absolute numbers. India has 195.5 cases per million population which is amongst the lowest in the world,” said Mr. Bhushan. He added that India currently has a fatality rate of 2.75%.
2. India seeing ‘green shoots’ of economic revival, says PM
‘We are laying a red carpet for all global companies’
- As the Indian economy sees a revival, global investors should invest in the world’s “most open economies,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday,
- “Indians have the spirit to achieve what is believed to be impossible. No wonder that in India, we are already seeing green shoots when it comes to economic recovery,” he observed at a ‘India Global Week’ conference, organised by the London-based NRI group Indian Inc.
Modi’s call to investors
- “India remains one of the most open economies in the world. We are laying a red carpet for all global companies to come and establish their presence in India. Very few countries will offer the kind of opportunities India does today,” he stated, listing the gains the country had made in “total financial inclusion, record housing and infra construction, Ease of Doing Business, bold tax reforms, including the GST”.
- Mr. Modi’s reference to “green shoots” or small signs of revival comes a few days after the Ministry of Finance published its macroeconomic report for June 2020, which said activity had “picked up” in certain areas, even though the GDP growth estimates have plummeted further.
3. Owning up to criminalisation in politics
The February 2020 order pushes the envelope further on restricting criminal candidates from contesting elections
- A February 2020 Supreme Court judgment on criminalisation in politics may have far-reaching consequences for Indian democracy. It will first be implemented in the coming Bihar elections in October 2020. The Court has asked the political parties to state “the reasons for such selection, as also as to why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates.” If a political party fails to comply, it would be “… in contempt of this Court’s orders/directions.” In other words, the political party and its leadership would for the first time have to publicly own up to criminalisation of politics. They had been denying it all these years. Earlier orders state that (a) each candidate shall submit a sworn affidavit giving financial details and criminal cases; (b) each candidate shall inform the political party in writing of criminal cases against him or her; and (c) the party shall put up on its website and on social media as well as publish in newspapers the names and details of such candidates.
- Why did the Court pass such an order? The judgment notes that “In 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them.” India is the only democratic country with a free press where we find a problem of this dimension.
An ever-present crisis
- We are in the midst of more immediate crises — the COVID-19 outbreak, the economic recession due to the lockdown, the migrant workers crisis, small businesses shutting down in many sectors, massive unemployment, a highly stressed banking and financial sector, and now the conflict with China. Added to this is an ever-present silent crisis: the steady deterioration in politics over decades, with the decline accelerating in the past 16 years. As politics dominates the bureaucracy, and reins in business, civil society and the media, we need governance that is free of the “criminal” virus. Capability is not sufficient. The intent to do public service is also required. The British were capable, but we still did not want them. Today, it is not about any party, it is about the political system.
- The result has been that we get bad governance, and survey after survey show that people around the country are unhappy with the quality of governance. Given limited choices, they vote as best as they can. But no matter how many parties are changed, governance does not really improve, a few exceptions apart. Using money power to buy MLAs and MPs sometimes makes a mockery of election outcomes. Meanwhile, electoral bonds bring secrecy back into political funding.
- Several laws and court judgments have not helped much, as the data show. One reason is lack of enforcement of laws and judgments. It is also not clear what penalty would be imposed if the recent orders are not followed. Would the law enforcement agencies act vigorously to ensure that the guilty are prosecuted? Would any top political leader responsible for not complying be found guilty? Would an election be set aside? Without such action, will there be change?
- Therefore in the coming Bihar elections we need to be far more vigilant. This includes monitoring the affidavits of candidates, working with the Election Commission to ensure that information is promptly available on their websites, and widely circulating this information to voters using all the social media tools available. It also includes monitoring compliance with the Supreme Court judgment to see if details of tainted candidates are promptly put up on their websites, and on their social media handles, along with proper reasons for giving them ticket. The Court has said that “winnability” cannot be cited as a reason. Voters also need to be vigilant about misuse of money, gifts and other inducements during elections. Till we realise that people who bribe us for votes cannot be trusted, change will be very slow. Fortunately, an ever-growing number of voters and organisations are joining in this work of cleansing politics.
- Meanwhile, the waters will be muddied with fake news, trolling, and fanciful claims. This may drown out the little that citizens can do. Yet there is hope. Ensuring prosecution with public pressure may help. If one political leader is hauled up for giving ticket to large numbers of tainted candidates, something positive may happen. A root cause diagnosis shows that political party leaders are squarely responsible for this state of affairs as they field such candidates. Mahatma Gandhi taught us that to solve a problem, we have to confront the real issue.
- The Court order is to be welcomed. But we are still unable to ban people with serious criminal charges from contesting elections. While there are various arguments for and against such a move, the Court has dismissed several petitions calling for a ban due to legal and technical constraints. Meanwhile, the political system is unwilling to change the law or the system. Politics for now has been captured by those who want power for its own sake.
- In conclusion, we may not see dramatic changes in the quality of candidates. Campaigns may continue to be more and more personal and even abusive. We may not see a big change in money power, or in buying of MLAs post-elections in the case of a hung Assembly. But all these steps are required, however insignificant they may seem. All the dozen and more Supreme Court judgments on electoral reforms since 2002 are in fact responses to citizen initiatives. Not one initiative has come from the political system. The strategy so far has been to methodically try and break down the solid wall of corruption. When the dam will be breached and the pure waters of a new India flow over the land cannot be predicted.
- Trilochan Sastry is Founder-Chairman, Association for Democratic Reforms, and Professor, IIM Bangalore
4. India has lowest cases per million: govt.
Eight States contribute to 90% of active COVID-19 caseload, says Health Minister Harsh Vardhan
- “India has one of the lowest cases per million (538) and deaths per million (15) compared with the global average of 1,453 and 68.7, respectively,” Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday after chairing the 18th meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on COVID-19.
- Within the country, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat contributed to around 90% of the active caseload and 49 districts accounted for 80% of active caseload currently. Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal accounted for 86% of total deaths, and 32 districts accounted for 80% deaths, he said.
- A Health Ministry release said that the GoM was told that at present, there were 3,914 facilities with 3,77,737 isolation beds (without ICU support), 39,820 ICU beds and 1,42,415 oxygen-supported beds along with 20,047 ventilators. In terms of healthcare logistics, cumulatively 213.55 lakh N95 masks, 120.94 lakh personal protective equipment kits and 612.57 lakh hydroxychloroquine tablets had been distributed.
- “As we move forward, our focus shall be on the management of COVID-19 through strict containment measures and surveillance; utilising full testing capacity; focusing on the monitoring of co-morbid and elderly population; predicting emerging hotspots by leveraging digital tools such as Aarogya Setu; ensuring seamless patient admission processes; focussing on infrastructure preparedness [critical care beds, oxygen, ventilators and logistics],” Dr. Vardhan said.
- He said that “along with States/UTs, our aim is to reduce and keep the case fatality rate low by early identification and effective clinical management”.
- Sujeet K. Singh, Director, National Centre for Disease Control, presented a detailed report on surveillance efforts undertaken during the pandemic. He said the focus had been on strict containment strategy and surveillance through SARI/ILI cases, serological survey and increase in lab network to widen countrywide testing.
- “The major concern areas in the country were highlighted and the measures to be taken were listed including timely clinical management along with testing and surveillance in the high-risk population,” he noted.
5. Country of origin tag a must: Paswan
Ministry sends reminder to e-commerce portals on mandatory declaration
- Amid the clamour to ban China-made goods, the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs has sent out a reminder to all e-commerce portals to ensure that the “country of origin” of the products being sold by them should be mentioned as part of mandatory declarations.
Make in India push
- “At a time when we are pushing for ‘Made in India’ products, it is equally necessary for our consumers to know exactly where the products that they are buying are coming from,” Consumer Affairs Minister Ramvilas Paswan said at an online press conference on Thursday.
- The Ministry’s reminder to e-commerce portals is part of a concerted effort by the government to have ‘country of origin’ declarations on these websites. The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) on Wednesday held a second meeting on the matter after the initial consultation two weeks ago, attended by close to 30 e-commerce players.
- The Ministry in its reminder invoked the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011.
- These rules make it mandatory for all manufacturers to declare the package name and address of the manufacturer, common and generic name of commodity, net quantity, month and year of manufacturing, MRP and consumer care details.
- In addition to these, in 2017, new provisions were added for e-commerce websites such as Amazon, Flipkart and so on, making it compulsory for them to display these information along with “declaration of country of origin or manufacture or assembly” and a clear mention of expiry date.
- There are punitive provisions in the law. For the first offence, a penalty up to ₹25000 can be charged, for the second offence, the fine may extend to ₹50,000.
- Any subsequent offences can attract a jail term of one year.
- Though the law has been in place for the last three years, the Ministry has no details on how many times it has been invoked to penalise any of these portals.
- Secretary, Consumer Affairs, Leena Nandan, said that the Ministry was still collating the figures. When questioned about the timing of the reminder, she said that it was only to help the consumers make an informed choice.
6. India to take call on Australia’s inclusion in Malabar exercises
Decision at Defence Ministry meeting early next week
- India will take a decision on whether to include Australia in the Malabar exercises with Japan and the U.S. at a Defence Ministry meeting early next week, according to a defence source. The decision, if taken, could bring all Quad countries together as part of the annual war games.
- “The general consensus is that Australia should join. A discussion is going to happen in the Defence Ministry on this issue next week,” the defence source said on condition of anonymity.
- As reported by The Hindu on June 3, after years of reluctance, India said it was open to Australia’s inclusion in the Malabar as an observer. The move comes in the midst of the ongoing stand-off with China on the border, the biggest crisis along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in over five decades. Australia’s inclusion would be seen as a possible first step towards the militarisation of the Quad coalition, something Beijing has opposed in the past.
- Once the government takes a decision to include Australia, as per procedure, the other partner nations — Japan and the U.S. — have to be informed to secure their consent, after which a formal invitation would be extended to Australia. Japan and the U.S. have been keen on Canberra’s inclusion for and have been pushing India to consider it.
- The Malabar exercise, which has been delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, should take place towards the end of 2020, the source said. The inclusion of Australia in the exercises would mark a major shift for India’s Indo-Pacific plans.
Started in 1992
- Malabar began as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992, and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
- In April 2017, The Hindu was the first to report of Australia’s request for observer status in the trilateral exercise. Since then, Australia has made repeated requests to join the exercises and in January 2018, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had said talks on the Malabar exercises were “progressing well”. However, India did not include Australia in the exercises in 2018 and 2019.