Daily Current Affairs 14.05.2021 (App to view SC proceedings launched, OCIs stung by Home Ministry notification, Israel-Palestine fighting escalates, Relax FCRA norms, ease relief flow, says Nasscom)

Daily Current Affairs 14.05.2021 (App to view SC proceedings launched, OCIs stung by Home Ministry notification, Israel-Palestine fighting escalates, Relax FCRA norms, ease relief flow, says Nasscom)


1. App to view SC proceedings launched

Actively considering plan to telecast proceedings live, says CJI N.V. Ramana

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Thursday said he was “actively considering” the proposal to telecast live the proceedings of the Supreme Court.

The CJI, however, said concrete steps in this regard would be taken only after seeking a general consensus among his colleagues in the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Ramana made the announcement in a virtual address while launching a mobile app which would allow media persons to view the Supreme Court’s virtual proceedings live on their mobile phones.

“Transparency is a time-honoured principle when it comes to the judicial process in our country. Hearing of cases has always taken place in public courtrooms, with access being allowed not only to lawyers and litigants in a particular case, but also to the general public,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

Role of media

The CJI said public access to court hearings was important as the rulings of courts, more particularly the Supreme Court, had an impact on the lives of people across the country.

“The role of the media assumes importance in the process of disseminating information,” Chief Justice Ramana underlined.

The CJI said the initiative to launch the mobile app for journalists came after he heard that the Press was depending on lawyers for video links of virtual hearings.

The CJI said media persons should remain safe while working amid the surge of infection in the second wave of pandemic. The Chief Justice said he had received requests to create an independent mechanism for journalists to access court hearings without endangering their health.

“I was a journalist for a brief time. During that time, we did not have car or bikes. We used to travel on bus as we were directed not to avail conveyance of organisers of the event,” Chief Justice Ramana recalled.

The CJI urged media persons to use the mobile app responsibly. He said there might be some teething issues concerning the app and requested the media persons to be supportive.

The CJI also launched a new feature in the Supreme Court’s official website called ‘Indicative Notes’, aimed at providing concise summaries of landmark judgments in an easy-to-understand format. “This will serve as a useful resource for media persons and the general public who wish to be better informed about the rulings of the court,” Chief Justice Ramana explained.

With regard to granting accreditation to mediapersons, the CJI said he had given directions to further rationalise the policy.

Justice Hemant Gupta said access to media to court proceedings would increase transparency.

2. OCIs stung by Home Ministry notification

Many are concerned as the fresh rules require professionals in certain fields to obtain a ‘special permit’

The Home Ministry’s March 4 order that required professional Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs), such as journalists, engineers and researchers, to notify the Ministry about their activities in India has left them in the lurch.

A portal that was to come up for the purpose is not operational yet. A Ministry official said it was delayed as several officials in the Ministry’s Foreigners Division had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past month. The official said the OCIs could intimate the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) through e-mail till the portal is activated.

Rajanna Sreedhara, president of the Association of Resident OCI and Families (AROCIF), said they believed the notification was discriminatory adding that they planned to challenge it in the High Court but the plan is currently on the back burner due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NRI quota seats

On March 4, the Ministry issued a gazette notification that OCI cardholders could claim “only NRI (Non-Resident Indian) quota seats” in educational institutions. It specified that OCIs could only pursue the following professions — doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists, advocates, architects and chartered accountants, and the rest would require “special permission”.

OCIs are of Indian origin but hold foreign passports. India does not allow dual citizenship but provides certain benefits under Section 7B(I) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to the OCIs. So far, 37.72 lakh OCI Cards are said to have been issued.

The notification said that OCIs shall be required to obtain a “special permission or a special permit” from the competent authority or the FRRO or the Indian mission “to undertake research, missionary or Tabligh or mountaineering or journalistic activities or internship in any foreign diplomatic missions”.

“The notification does not mention IT professionals, a large number of OCIs are engineers; so will they have to apply for employment visa? It says permission required to conduct research … this will place undue burden on scientific, pharmaceutical, medical, biotechnology and other research fields,” Dr Sreehdara said.

“Even if an OCI student has secured a high rank in an exam like NEET [National Eligibility Entrance Test], several institutions of repute do not have NRI seats. The exorbitantly high fees under the NRI quota cannot be afforded by many OCIs as they live and work in India. India-domiciled OCI students are deprived of domicile status both in India [country of residence] as well as the country of their citizenship,” Dr. Sreedhara said.

Anjana Hulse, an OCI and Bengaluru resident, said her son secured All India Rank 2 in the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana examinations held by the government, but added,

“We are not sure of getting admission in the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru,” she said.

Overseas Citizenship of India

  • Definition
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs defines an OCI as a person who:
      • Was a citizen of India on or after 26th January 1950; or
      • Was eligible to become a citizen of India on 26th January 1950; or
      • Is a child or grandchild of such a person, among other eligibility criteria.
    • According to Section 7A of the OCI card rules, an applicant is not eligible for the OCI card if he, his parents or grandparents have ever been a citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh.
    • The category was introduced by the government in 2005. The Government of India via Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2015 merged the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) category with OCI category in 2015.
  • Benefits to OCI Cardholders
    • OCI cardholders can enter India multiple times, get a multipurpose lifelong visa to visit India, and are exempt from registering with Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO).
    • If an individual is registered as an OCI for a period of five years, he/she is eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
    • At all Indian international airports, OCI cardholders are provided with special immigration counters.
    • OCI cardholders can open special bank accounts in India, buy the non-farm property and exercise ownership rights and can also apply for a Permanent Account Number (PAN) card.
  • Limitations
    • OCI cardholders do not get voting rights, cannot hold a government job and purchase agricultural or farmland.
    • They cannot travel to restricted areas without government permission.
Constitutional Provisions The Constitution deals with citizenship from Articles 5 to 11 under Part II. However, it contains neither any permanent nor any elaborate provisions in this regard.It only identifies the persons who became citizens of India on 26th January 1950 (i.e. when the Constitution commenced).It empowers the Parliament to enact a law to provide for matters relating to citizenship. Accordingly, the Parliament has enacted the Citizenship Act, 1955, which has been recently amended in 2015.

Person of Indian Origin

  • A Person of Indian Origin (PIO) means a foreign citizen (except a national of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal)
    • Who at any time held an Indian passport or
    • Who or either of their parents/ grandparents/ great grandparents were born and permanently resident in India as defined in Government of India Act, 1935 and other territories that became part of India thereafter or
    • Who is a spouse of a citizen of India or a PIO.
  • PIO category was merged with OCI category in 2015.

3. Israel-Palestine fighting escalates

Riots flare up between far-right Jews and Arabs; flights diverted after rockets target airport near Tel Aviv

Israel faced an escalating conflict on two fronts on Thursday, scrambling to quell riots between Arabs and Jews on its own streets after days of exchanging deadly fire with Islamist militants in Gaza.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” of security forces to quell mob violence across the country, where police stations have been attacked and people savagely beaten on both sides.

Despite global alarm and diplomatic efforts to halt the spiralling violence, hundreds of rockets again tore through the skies over the Gaza Strip overnight.

Israel’s Air Force launched multiple strikes with fighter jets, targeting what it described as locations linked to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.

In Gaza, 83 people were reported killed since Monday — including 17 children — and more than 480 people wounded as heavy bombardment has rocked the crowded coastal enclave and brought down entire tower blocks.

The Israeli military said it had struck Gaza targets more than 600 times, while Hamas had fired over 1,600 rockets towards Israel.

Israel’s civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport in the south, as air raid warnings once more went off across Israel.

In southern Israel, seven people were killed, including one six-year-old, after a rocket struck a family home, the United Hatzalah volunteer rescue service said.

Recent days have seen the most violent escalation in seven years between Israel and Gaza’s armed groups, triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem.

‘Preventing pogroms’

Coinciding with the aerial bombardments is surging violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that violence was at a nadir not seen for decades and that police were “literally preventing pogroms from taking place”.

Hundreds were protesting in the Arab town of Kafr Kassem in central Israel, burning tires and torching police vehicles, he said.

He added that nearly 1,000 border police were called in to quell the violence, and that more than 400 people had been arrested.

On Wednesday night, Israeli far-right groups took to the streets across the country, clashing with security forces and Arab Israelis.

Police said they had responded to violent incidents in multiple towns, including Lod, Acre and Haifa.

Israeli television on Wednesday aired footage of a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab until he lay unconscious on his back in a street in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv.

“The victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable,” Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said, without identifying him.

A state of emergency has been declared in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod, where an Arab resident was shot dead and a synagogue has been torched.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and blood-thirsty Arab mob” had attacked sacred Jewish spaces.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “what has been happening these last few days in Israeli towns is unacceptable. “Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” he said, adding that Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts”.

Al-Aqsa Mosque & Sheikh Jarrah: Israel-Palestine

  • Al-Aqsa Mosque:
    • It is one of the holiest structures in the Islamic faith. It sits inside a 35-acre site known by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and by Jews as the Temple Mount.
      • The site is part of the Old City of Jerusalem, sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims.
    • It is believed to have been completed early in the eighth century and faces the Dome of the Rock, the golden-domed Islamic shrine that is a widely recognized symbol of Jerusalem.
    • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, has classified the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls as a World Heritage Site.
  • Conflict over Jerusalem:
    • Jerusalem has been at the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the original 1947 United Nations (UN) partition plan, Jerusalem was proposed to be an international city.
    • But in the first Arab Israel war of 1948, the Israelis captured the western half of the city, and Jordan took the eastern part, including the Old City that houses Haram al-Sharif.
    • Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the Six-Day War 1967 and annexed it later.
      • Since its annexation, Israel has expanded settlements in East Jerusalem.
    • Israel sees the whole city as its “unified, eternal capital”, whereas the Palestinian leadership across the political spectrum have maintained that they would not accept any compromise formula for the future Palestinian state unless East Jerusalem is its capital.
  • Sheikh Jarrah Issue:
    • Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes when the State of Israel was created in historical Palestine in 1948.
      • Twenty-eight of those Palestinian families moved to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to settle there.
    • In 1956, when East Jerusalem was ruled by Jordan, the Jordanian Ministry of Construction and Development and the UN Relief and Works Agency facilitated the construction of houses for these families in Sheikh Jarrah. But Israel would capture East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967.
      • By the early 1970s, Jewish agencies started demanding the families leave the land.
    • Earlier this year (2021), the Central Court in East Jerusalem upheld a decision to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in favor of Jewish settlers.
    • The issue remains unresolved and potentially inflammable.
  • India’s Stand on Israel-Palestine Issue:
    • India recognised Israel in 1950 but it is also the first non-Arab country to recognise Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian.
      • India is also one of the first countries to recognise the statehood of Palestine in 1988.
    • In 2014, India favored UNHRC’s resolution to probe Israel’s human rights violations in Gaza. Despite supporting the probe, India abstained from voting against Israel in UNHRC in 2015.
    • As a part of Link West Policy, India has de-hyphenated its relationship with Israel and Palestine in 2018 to treat both the countries mutually independent and exclusive.
    • In June 2019, India voted in favor of a decision introduced by Israel in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that objected to granting consultative status to a Palestinian non-governmental organization.
    • So far India has tried to maintain the image of its historical moral supporter for Palestinian self-determination, and at the same time to engage in the military, economic, and other strategic relations with Israel.
  • Related Developments:
    • In March 2021, International Criminal Court (ICC) launched investigatations into the war crimes in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel (West Bank and the Gaza Strip).
    • In April 2021, the US restored at least USD 235 million in financial assistance to the Palestinians.

4. Relax FCRA norms, ease relief flow, says Nasscom

‘Approve vaccines that have WHO nod’

Infotech industry association Nasscom has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to temporarily relax stringent Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) norms so as to ease the flow of overseas COVID-19 relief into the country and grant emergency use authorisation for all WHO-approved vaccines in view of domestic vaccine shortages.

Terming the devastating economic and social impact of the second wave of COVID-19 that is ‘being felt across the country’ as unprecedented’, Nasscom’s missive to the PM listed three ‘critical asks’ to enable industry to act faster to help the country navigate the second wave and better prepare for future waves of the pandemic. “Times like this call for greater partnership and collaboration across industries and the government,” it pointed out.

“Many countries and global companies are providing aid to India and are helping the healthcare infrastructure deal with the surge. However, the amended provisions of the FCRA Act 2020 are proving to be a deterrent,” it said in the letter.

On May 3, the government permitted imports without GST levies for pandemic relief material donated from abroad for free distribution in the country, delegating States to certify the entities that will receive such imports. However, no exemption has been granted from the FCRA norms that require domestic entities receiving foreign aid to get an approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“Given the humanitarian crisis, we would request the government to grant a temporary waiver to the FCRA Act and the 2020 amendments. This will enable NGOs to transfer funds between FCRA-approved NGOs and non-FCRA approved NGOs,” it said.

Vaccine options

Making a strong pitch for liberalising vaccine imports, Nasscom said the availability of vaccines particularly for the private sector ‘continues to be very challenging’ though firms are attempting to source them.

“We request the government to provide emergency use authorisation for all WHO-approved vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, and others that have gone through stringent approval process globally — to ensure there is no vaccine divide in the country,” it said.

The statement assumes significance as States are struggling to source vaccines, and several of them are in the process of floating global tenders to import vaccines. Nasscom also requested the PM to use data more effectively to manage the pandemic and improve the government’s response.

“COVID tracking and vaccination, insights, and analytics from data could play a key role in decision-making and early warning signals. We must ensure effective access to data for insights and planning, across all states and key departments, on a priority,” it reiterated to the Prime Minister.

Regulations on FCRA Contributions

  • About the New Guidelines:
    • Widening the Scope of Foreign Contribution: Under the issued regulations, donations given in Indian rupees (INR) by any foreigner/foreign source including foreigners of Indian origin like Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) or Person of India Origin (PIO) cardholders should also be treated as foreign contribution.
    • Meeting the Standards of FATF: The guidelines mandate that good practices should be followed by NGOs in accordance with standards of global financial watchdog- Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
      • It asked NGOs to inform the Ministry about “suspicious activities” of any donor or recipient and “take due diligence of its employees at the time of recruitment.”
  • Existing Rules:
    • Mandatory Reporting by Banks:
      • All banks have to report the receipt or utilisation of any foreign contribution by any NGO, association or person to the Central government within 48 hours, whether or not they are registered or granted prior permission under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010.
    • Prescribed Banking Channels:
      • In September 2020, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act (FCRA), 2020 was passed by the Parliament.
      • A new provision that makes it mandatory for all NGOs to receive foreign funds in a designated bank account at the State Bank of India’s New Delhi branch was inserted.
      • All NGOs seeking foreign donations have to open a designated FCRA account at the SBI branch or link their existing account to it.
  • Reasons for FCRA Regulations:
    • The annual inflow of foreign contribution has almost doubled between the years 2010 and 2019, but many recipients of foreign contribution are being not utilised the same for the purpose for which they were registered or granted prior permission under amended provisions of the FCRA 2010.
      • Recently, the Union Home Ministry has suspended licenses of the six (NGOs) who were alleged to have used foreign contributions for religious conversion.
    • To ensure that such contributions do not adversely affect the internal security of the country.
      • Recently the National Investigation Agency (NIA) registered a case against a foreign based group that provides funds for secessionist and pro-Khalistani activities in India.
    • These regulations could enhance transparency and accountability in the receipt and utilisation of foreign contributions.
  • Controversies Related to FCRA:
    • Scope not defined: It prohibits the receipt of foreign contributions “for any activities detrimental to the national interest” or the “economic interest of the state”.
      • However, there is no clear guidance on what constitutes “public interest”.
    • Limits Fundamental Rights: The FCRA restrictions have serious consequences on both the rights to free speech and freedom of association under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(c) of the Constitution.
Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010 Foreign funding of persons in India is regulated under FCRA Act and is implemented by the Ministry of Home Affairs.Individuals are permitted to accept foreign contributions without permission of MHA. However, the monetary limit for acceptance of such foreign contributions shall be less than Rs. 25,000.The Act ensures that the recipients of foreign contributions adhere to the stated purpose for which such contribution has been obtained.Under the Act, organisations are required to register themselves every five years. Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020 Prohibition to accept foreign contribution: The Act bars public servants from receiving foreign contributions. Public servant includes any person who is in service or pay of the government, or remunerated by the government for the performance of any public duty.Transfer of foreign contribution: The Act prohibits the transfer of foreign contribution to any other person not registered to accept foreign contributions.Aadhaar for registration: The Act makes Aadhaar number mandatory for all office bearers, directors or key functionaries of a person receiving foreign contribution, as an identification document.FCRA account: The Act states that foreign contribution must be received only in an account designated by the bank as FCRA account in such branches of the State Bank of India, New Delhi.Reduction in use of foreign contribution for administrative purposes: The Act proposes that not more than 20% of the total foreign funds received could be defrayed for administrative expenses. In FCRA 2010 the limit was 50%.Surrender of certificate: The Act allows the central government to permit a person to surrender their registration certificate.

5. Editorial-1: The crime of enforced disappearances must end

Cases especially in Asia are not decreasing, with domestic criminal law systems insufficient to deal with this atrocity

The democracy movement in Myanmar is at a critical juncture. On February 1, 2021, the military launched a coup d’état to overthrow the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy.

The military is committed to suppressing the people’s movement, and the police are carrying out unimaginable acts of violence and oppression against those demanding freedom of expression and the restoration of democracy.

Since the coup, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has received reports of enforced disappearances from the family members of victims. There is concern that there will be a plethora of cases of enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, and even murder if the situation continues to deteriorate.

Myanmar is not the only country in Asia that enforced disappearances are becoming a major concern. There are other leaders and regimes that have the mistaken notion that they can do anything to maintain their power. Regretfully, this includes using enforced disappearances as a tool to suppress the people.

Concerns around minorities

In China, the Working Group has received numerous reports from family members and concerned civil society organisations that a massive number of enforced disappearances have occurred in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Under the pretext of re-education to prevent terrorism, members of the Uyghur minority ethnic group are forcibly sent to what Chinese authorities call ‘vocational education and training centers’, with no information on their whereabouts and fate given to their families.

The Working Group Chair has met many people from the region who are trying to find out what happened to their family members and they are living in fear. It is especially concerning because the basis for such forced disappearances is often very trivial: for example, having relatives living abroad or maintaining international contacts could lead to an enforced disappearance. ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL)’ under Article 73 of the amended Criminal Procedure Law, is used against individuals accused of endangering state security, and is another issue of serious concern. Because RSDL places individuals under incommunicado detention without disclosing their whereabouts, it may amount to a form of enforced disappearance.

Post-conflict issues

Sri Lanka has experienced more than three decades of domestic conflict, which was accompanied by various forms of enforced disappearances. It seemed that there was some hope developing because of efforts by the government to confront its history. However, recently, the government is weakening initiatives it previously started to search for and investigate enforced disappearances and has now returned to promoting a culture of impunity for these crimes.

It is also disheartening to point out that enforced disappearances are being committed in the name of counter-terrorism measures. Increasing numbers of enforced disappearances are being reported in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and it does not seem that the situation will improve in the near future.

Enforced disappearances became widely known to the world in the 1970s and the early 1980s during the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina where the Argentine military dictatorship committed the forceful disappearances of some 30,000 of its own citizens while denying that they kidnapped, tortured, and murdered them. To fight against these gross and systematic human rights violations, the UN Commission on Human Rights established the Working Group in 1980 as the first special procedure mechanism of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

An enforced disappearance is defined by several constituent elements. First, it is characterised by the deprivation of liberty, where persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty. Second, there are grounds for seeking governmental responsibility for the act, including of officials of different branches or levels of government or by organised groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of, the government. Third, such an act typically occurs in the context of a state’s continuous refusal to take relevant action, including refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.

Remedial measures

Under the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (1992), the Working Group works to assist families of disappeared persons to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared and to assist and monitor states’ compliance. Additionally, with the assistance of the secretariat members based in Geneva, the Working Group monitors states’ compliance, and documented cases of enforced disappearance. The Working Group receives individual petitions from victims’ families and civil society members, and channels them through to the relevant governments to demand searches for the disappeared persons, investigations, and punishment for those responsible. The WGEID also presses states to offer remedies, including compensation and a guarantee of non-recurrence of the violations.

Since its inception, the Working Group has transmitted a total of 58,606 cases to 109 states, and as of 2020, the number of outstanding cases under active consideration stood at 46,271 in a total of 92 states. Unfortunately, the number of cases of enforced disappearances in Asian states is not decreasing and we are seeing a rapid increase in some countries.

The Working Group has serious concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on enforced disappearances. Not only have enforced disappearances continued during the pandemic, but it has generated new contexts for enforced disappearances and has reduced the capacity of all actors to take the necessary action to search for and investigate cases of disappeared persons.

Ratifying the Convention

To protect the right to be free from enforced disappearances, the international community adopted the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006, which became effective in 2010. However, the number of participating states is still very low compared to other treaties. Among 63 member states of the treaty, only eight states from the Asia-Pacific region have ratified or acceded to the treaty. Only four East Asian states — Cambodia,Japan, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka have ratified it.

Asian countries should consider their obligations and responsibilities more seriously and reject a culture of impunity in order to eradicate enforced disappearances. They should also understand that their domestic criminal law systems are not sufficient to deal with the crime of enforced disappearance. An enforced disappearance is a continuous crime that needs a comprehensive approach to fight against it.

While working as an expert for the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group for the past five years, I have come to understand that one of the most tragic dimensions of the crime of enforced disappearance is the suffering that is inflicted on the people who know the victims. Enforced disappearance is a serious crime that goes against the philosophy of humanity. The pain and suffering of the family members do not end until they find out the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones. Bottles of water and facial tissues should always be readily available when interviewing the family members of the disappeared persons because their stories cannot be told without tears.

Mothers looking for sons, wives looking for husbands, and the children looking for parents demonstrate the endless chain of tragedy in our contemporary world. This human atrocity must end immediately. I hope that the international community will strengthen its efforts to eradicate enforced disappearances as soon as possible.

6. Editorial-2: Mucormycosis risk mitigation in the COVID battle

Diabetes control can lower the chances of dangerous side-effects in COVID-19 treatment such as this fungal infection

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to play havoc all over the world and India is no exception to this. While 70%-80% of those affected with COVID-19 recover without many side-effects, about 20%-30% of patients affected with symptomatic COVID-19 might require hospitalisation — here, a minority can get worse and require treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU). Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic was first described from Wuhan in China, it is quite clear that it is people with comorbidities such as being of an older age, obese, having uncontrolled diabetes, heart or respiratory diseases and malignancies, who fare badly.

New worry

The new fear after the treatment of COVID-19, especially in an ICU setting, is contracting a severe disease known as mucormycosis. This is a serious, but rare, fungal infection caused by a group of fungi known as mucormycetes. Mucormycosis usually affects people who have poor immunity, and those with uncontrolled diabetes have the highest risk of developing it. Other risk factors of mucormycosis include steroid treatment, those who have malignancies, HIV/AIDS and those who have been treated with medicines such as deferoxamine for iron overload conditions. When the COVID-19 infection takes a more serious turn, heavy doses of steroids are given to the patient as a life-saving measure. Unfortunately, this can precipitate new onset diabetes in those who do not have diabetes, or substantially raise blood glucose levels in those persons who already have diabetes. This sets the scene for the development of mucormycosis.

Types and diagnosis

Mucormycosis is of several types, of which the commonest is rhino-orbital-cerebral mucormycosis. This starts as a common cold or sinusitis, but soon spreads to the eyes producing redness of the eyes, and later bulging of the eyes known as proptosis. It may eventually lead to paralysis of some of the eye muscles, or even to blindness. It can also spread to the brain, and if this occurs, the prognosis is very grave. Other forms of mucormycosis include the pulmonary form in which the lungs are mainly involved and less common cutaneous mucormycosis or disseminated mucormycosis, where it spreads throughout the body. The last two are also associated with very poor prognosis.

A very high index suspicion of mucormycosis is needed by the clinician treating COVID-19 cases, particularly in the setting of diabetes and steroid use. If the condition is diagnosed early and aggressive treatment given, the prognosis is good. Antifungal drugs such as Amphotericin B are used, but they are quite toxic and also expensive. If the involvement is extensive, radical surgery may be needed as a lifesaving measure in some cases, including removal of the jaw or the eye.

Sugar control, steroid use

It is very important for those with diabetes to keep their sugar levels under very good control. The dose of antidiabetic drugs will have to be adjusted and, in most cases, insulin would be needed to keep the sugars under control throughout the day. If steroids have to be used, their judicious use is recommended. For e.g., steroids should be given only at the appropriate stage of the disease, in optimal doses, and for as short a period of time as possible. Meticulous hygiene and care of the equipment inside the ICU including oxygen tubes and ventilators should be done in order to reduce the risk of fungal and other infections. In the case of mucormycosis, the adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ could not be more true. It is worth emphasising the point that steroids do not have any role in the prophylaxis or the prevention of COVID-19. Indeed, steroids reduce one’s immunity and may actually increase the risk of developing COVID-19. Also, in the initial phase of viremia (medical term for viruses present in the bloodstream), the use of steroids can actually disseminate the virus widely, thereby worsening the COVID-19 infection. It is only when the cytokine storm is suspected, (which usually occurs in the second week of the COVID-19 infection) that steroids should be used, and that too with discretion.

Monitor blood glucose

I find that in many patients who were put on steroids for COVID-19, their blood glucose levels are not adequately monitored, leading to extremely, and often dangerously, high blood glucose levels. This can also precipitate diabetic ketoacidosis — a classic situation where the more dangerous forms of mucormycosis occur. Hence, those treating COVID-19 infection must pay equal importance to the control of diabetes.

To those with diabetes, my advice to them would be to have a healthy diet which has a lot of vegetables and less cereals (rice or chapati) and include more protein in the form of bengal gram, green gram, black gram, or mushroom. They must also have an active and regular exercise programme. It is very important for them to have their medicines regularly and if the sugars are not under control, to switch over to insulin if needed, at least for a short period. All these measures will help to effect good control of diabetes which can reduce the risk of developing COVID-19 and also its dangerous side-effects including mucormycosis.

Finally, frequent monitoring of sugar levels should be done by using a hand-held, blood glucose meter. it is possible to wear a small sensor patch on the upper arm which can continuously monitor a person’s blood glucose levels and thus keep it under good control throughout the day.

It is also very important to get oneself fully vaccinated. Vaccination will ensure that the risk of developing severe COVID-19, requiring hospitalisation and thus the risk of developing dangerous infections such as mucormycosis, can be drastically reduced.

7. Editorial-3: Temporary respite

Price stability must be maintained even as steps to boost demand are taken

The latest retail inflation and industrial output data from the National Statistical Office (NSO) offer some relief from the pall of gloom cast by the relentless second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Provisional headline inflation slowed to a three-month low of 4.29% in April, helped by softer food prices and a statistical base effect. The rate using an imputed index for the year-earlier period was 7.22%. A separate NSO release showed March industrial output jumped by 22.4%, benefiting again from the fact that the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) had posted an 18.7% contraction in March 2020, when the economy was halted by the start of a nationwide lockdown. A closer look at the inflation data reveals a substantial cooling in the prices of cereals, milk and milk products, vegetables, and pulses and products. While both cereals and vegetables saw a deflationary trend widen to -2.96% and -14.2%, respectively, dairy products, which have the second-largest weight in the food and beverages category, also slid into deflation territory at -0.13%. And price gains in pulses, which had been bothering monetary policy makers by having been stubbornly stuck in the double digits over an 18-month stretch, decelerated into single digits to reach a 20-month low of 7.51%. The combined impact slowed inflation across the food and beverages group by more than 250 basis points to 2.66%.

Still, the same Consumer Price Index data also point to persistent price pressures that could potentially fan faster inflation in the coming months, especially at a time when the socio-economic burden of the crippling pandemic and the impact of the lockdown that several States are resorting to is yet to be fully gauged. Price gains in meat and fish quickened to 16.7% and was little changed at 10.6% in the case of eggs, while inflation in oils and fats accelerated almost 100 basis points to 25.9%. Transport and communication also remained in the double-digit range at 11.04%, despite benefiting from the virtual freeze in the pump prices of petroleum products that coincided with last month’s Assembly elections. Now, with global crude oil starting to firm again and local petrol and diesel prices resuming their upward trajectory, the prospect of haulage costs — for transporting goods from factory and farm gates — rising in the near term is very real. Add to the mix rising international commodity prices and the outlook for inflation gets even more cloudy. Industrial production numbers may also provide cheer only for a limited period, aided in no small measure by output having cratered in the first few months of the last fiscal. IHS Markit’s PMI survey for April showed new orders and output having slowed to eight-month lows, and with the pandemic-triggered factory shutdowns threatening supply disruptions, industrial production and inflation face challenges. Policymakers must stay vigilant to ensure price stability even as measures to bolster demand are the need of the hour.

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