1. ‘Children with comorbidities are at higher risk for disease’
Follow-up with doctors is key, says Task Force member
Children with comorbidities or on immunosuppressants are at a higher risk of developing COVID-19 complications, said Dr. Narendra Kumar Arora, paediatric gastroenterologist and a senior member of the National COVID-19 Task Force. He warned that there are cases of Long COVID in children as well, in which a patient can develop a new disease such as diabetes or hypertension even after three to six months of recovery.
Recently, many States have reported an increase in the number of children testing positive for COVID. Do you think more children are being infected in the second wave?
Children are as susceptible to COVID infection as adults and according to our latest national sero-survey, 25% of children surveyed were found to be affected. Even children below 10 years were found to be as infected as other age groups.
National data on the disease tells us that around 3-4% of children were symptomatic during the first wave of COVID-19 and this percentage remains the same during the second wave. However, since the total number of cases has gone up, it has affected more children this time.
Are more children developing severe infection during the second wave?
A vast majority of children either remain asymptomatic or develop a mild disease. In a household, if several adults are diagnosed with COVID infection, there is a high possibility that the children will also be infected.
Fortunately, in most such cases, the children, particularly those below 10 years old, are usually asymptomatic or have mild, common cold-like symptoms, or diarrhoea.
However, children with congenital heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or those suffering from childhood cancers, or on immunosuppressants are at a higher risk of developing severe disease. Parents should watch COVID sick children closely. Many of the serious complications in children occur in or after the second week of acquiring the infection.
Overall, there is no evidence that children are especially susceptible but due to a larger number of persons getting infected, the absolute number of affected children has also increased.
How is the treatment for children different from that for adults?
We don’t recommend any medicine for asymptomatic children. In mild cases, we prescribe simple paracetamol to manage fever and other mild symptoms. Similarly, diarrhoea is managed with oral rehydration fluids and plenty of fluid. In moderate to severe cases, the treatment is the same as that for adults.
Parents must immediately consult a doctor if they observe respiratory distress, increased respiratory rate, severe cough that is interfering with feeding, hypoxia, uncontrolled fever, or any other unusual symptoms like skin rash or excessive sleepiness in children.
Also it is very vital to know that there are cases of Long COVID-19 in children as well, in which a patient develops a new disease such as diabetes, hypertension even after three to six months of recovery. The parents should be in touch with their doctor for follow-up of children who have recovered from acute COVID illness.
What precautions should the parents or caregivers take to protect themselves from catching the infection from children?
Firstly, each member of the family should get tested for COVID-19. The caregiver should wear full protection gear — double masks, face shield, gloves — while caring for the child. Care should be provided under the guidance and supervision of a doctor. The caregiver and the child should isolate themselves from the rest of the family.
We have also seen cases of new mothers contracting the disease. In such cases, how should she protect her child from getting the infection?
In such cases any person who is not COVID positive should care for the child. However, a lactating mother should extract her milk and feed the child. If there is no one else to take care of the child, the mother should wear a double mask and face shield, wash her hands and sanitise her surroundings regularly. Mother’s milk is important for the child’s proper growth and development. The milk of an infected mother has antibodies against coronavirus.
Adults are advised to follow COVID-appropriate Behaviour to keep them protected from catching COVID-19 infection. How can we protect the children?
Well, older kids can follow COVID-appropriate Behaviour to protect themselves.
We do not recommend masks for children below 2 years. In fact, we have observed it is difficult to make children between two to five years wear masks. So, it is advisable to keep them indoors. But don’t forget to engage them in play and physical activities as the first five years are crucial for a child’s mental and physical development. Every family member who is above 18 years of age should get vaccinated. If adults are protected, our children will also remain protected. Vaccines have been found safe for lactating mothers. So, they too should take the vaccine.
2. Scope of Section 304-B in dowry deaths widened by SC
Court goes beyond literal interpretation of penal provision
The Supreme Court indicated in a judgment on Friday that a straitjacket and literal interpretation of a penal provision on dowry death may have blunted the battle against the “long-standing social evil”.
Dowry deaths accounted for 40% to 50% homicides in the country for almost a decade from 1999 to 2018. The judgment pronounced by a Bench, led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, called dowry harassment a “pestiferous” crime where women are subjected to cruelty by “covetous” husbands and in-laws.
In 2019 alone, 7,115 cases of dowry death were registered under Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code.
But the language used in Section 304-B has always flummoxed courts. Courts have often opted for a strict and narrow reading of the provision, which was one of the many legal initiatives introduced against dowry.
Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, who authored the judgment, said courts should instead interpret Section 304-B liberally while keeping in mind the law’s intention to punish dowry and bride-burning.
According to Section 304-B, to make out a case of dowry death, a woman should have died of burns or other bodily injuries or “otherwise than under normal circumstances” within seven years of her marriage. She should have suffered cruelty or harassment from her husband or in-laws “soon before her death” in connection with demand for dowry.
Over the years, courts had interpreted the phrase ‘soon before’ in Section 304-B as ‘immediately before’. This interpretation would make it necessary for a woman to have been harassed moments before she died. Such “absurd” interpretations should be avoided, the apex court noted in the judgment on Friday.
Instead, Chief Justice Ramana said the prosecution needed to show only a “proximate and live link” between the harassment and her death.
“It is safe to deduce that when the legislature used the words ‘soon before’ they did not mean ‘immediately before’. Rather, they left its determination in the hands of the courts. The factum of cruelty or harassment differs from case to case. Even the spectrum of cruelty is quite varied, as it can range from physical, verbal or even emotional… No straitjacket formulae can therefore be laid down by this court to define what exact the phrase ‘soon before’ entails,” Chief Justice Ramana explained.
The court further said the phrase “otherwise than under normal circumstances” in the Section also calls for a liberal interpretation. “Section 304-B, IPC does not take a pigeonhole approach in categorising death as homicidal or suicidal or accidental. The reason for such non-categorisation is due to the fact that death occurring in ‘other than under normal circumstances’ can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental,” Chief Justice Raman noted.
The judgment also raised concern about the casual way in which trial courts examined accused persons in dowry death cases under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The examination of the accused about the incriminatory material against him should be done in a fair manner. The court must put incriminating circumstances before the accused and seek his response. He should be given sufficient opportunity to give his side of the story. The court should question the accused fairly, with care and caution.
3. France and the Rwandan genocide
In Kigali, President Emmanuel Macron asked Rwandans for ‘forgiveness’
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday asked for forgiveness for his country’s role in the 1994 Rwandan massacre in which about 8,00,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed.
Speaking at the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, Mr. Macron said France chose “silence over examination of the truth” for too long, but stopped short of issuing an apology.
France, which enjoyed close ties with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government of President Juvénal Habyarimana, has long been criticised for its role in the killings of the Tutsi minorities in the months of April to June 1994. In May 2019, President Macron, promising a new beginning with Rwanda, set up a 15-member expert committee to investigate his country’s role in the genocide.
The committee, which had access to official files and secret documents, submitted its findings to the government in March, which stated that France, which was then ruled by President François Mitterrand, bore “heavy and overwhelming responsibilities” for being “blind” to the events that led to the killings. The report blamed Mitterrand for a “failure” of policy towards Rwanda in 1994. Rwanda had commissioned a separate inquiry, which concluded in a report submitted to the Cabinet in April that France “enabled” the genocide.
The majority Hutus and minority Tutsis have had a troubled relationship in Rwanda that goes back to the German and Belgian colonial period. Colonialists ruled Rwanda through the Tutsi monarchy. Tutsis were appointed as local administrative chiefs and the ethnic minority enjoyed relatively better educational and employment opportunities, which led to widespread resentment among the majority Hutus. In 1959, Rwanda saw violent riots led by Hutus in which some 20,000 Tutsis were killed and many more were displaced. Amid growing violence, the Belgian authorities handed over power to the Hutu elite. King Kigeli V fled the country. In the 1960 elections, organised by the Belgians, Hutu parties gained control of nearly all local communes.
In 1961, Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared Rwanda an autonomous republic and the next year, the country became independent. Kayibanda became Rwanda’s first elected President, while the Tutsis who fled the country formed armed insurgencies. Since then, Rwanda had been controlled by Hutus, until their genocidal regime was toppled by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994.
What led to the killings?
The crisis escalated in the 1990s when the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, the current President, grew in strength and posed a serious challenge to the regime of President Habyarimana, who was backed by France and had defence ties with Israel. In 1993, Habyarimana, who rose to power in 1973, was forced to sign a peace agreement (Arusha Accords) with the RPF. This led to resentment among Hutu militias, backed by the government, towards local Tutsi population, who were accused of collaborators of the RPF.
On April 6, 1994, a Falcon 50 jet carrying Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down near Kigali International Airport. The Hutu-led government blamed the RPF for the attack on the presidential jet. The military and Hutu militias, mainly Interahamwe, unleashed violence against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Mr. Kagame has denied any involvement in shooting down the plane. The RPF says Hutu extremists ordered the attack to use it as an excuse for the genocide (which they were preparing for long before the plane downing) as well as to capture power.
The killings were a pre-planned extermination campaign. The militias, with support from the government, launched a premeditated violent campaign on April 7, aimed at eliminating the entire Tutsi communities. Interahamwe militants went to cities and villages across the country, hunting down Tutsis, and asking Hutus to join the campaign, killing at a pace of 8,000 people a day. The Hutus who opposed the killings were also targeted. The militias used a radio station to coordinate the killings. Bodies were dumped in the Nyabarongo River. France, which had backed the Hutu government, did nothing to stop the massacre. Thousands were slaughtered in churches where they sought refuge. The Catholic Church had deep ties with the ruling Hutu elites – Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva was a member of the ruling party’s central committee. Many priests were involved in the killings. In a visit to Rwanda in 2017, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the Church’s role in the killings. The violence continued for three months.
How did it end?
The killings came to an end after the RPF, under Mr. Kagame’s command, captured Kigali and toppled the Hutu regime. While the RPF put an end to the Hutu campaign to exterminate Tutsis, the rebels were also accused of carrying out revenge killings during the civil war. When it was evident that the RPF was winning, an estimated 2 million Hutus fled Rwanda, mainly to the neighbouring Zaire (the Democratic Republic of Congo), where Hutu militias are still operating from. The RPF initially went about establishing a multi-ethnic government with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, being the President. Mr. Kagame, a Tutsi, was his deputy. In 2000, Mr. Kagame assumed the Presidency and continues to be in power till today.
Rwanda Genocide & French involvement
- Rwanda is a landlocked country in central Africa
- Its Capital is Kigali
- Population composition: Hutus – majority, Tutsi –Minority.
|Events leading to Genocide|
|Post WW1||Originally Rwanda was German colony.But after defeat of Germany in WW1, it was transferred to Belgium.Belgium favoured Tutsi over Hutus- divide and rule.|
|1959||Hutu revolution, lot of Tutsi forced to flee country. Later form a rebel group called RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front).|
|1962||Rwanda gained independence Hutu dominate government.|
|1992||Tutsi rebels invaded Rwanda from Uganda.Ceasefire agreement between Rwandan govt. and RPF. Transition govt. formed, now Hutu (majority) extremist angry, they want a “pure Hutu state”.|
|Late 1992||Tension increased between Hutus (majority) vs and Tutsi (Minority)|
|1994||The (Hutu) president of Rwanda shot dead. Civil war erupts.April 6 to July 18: Hutu extremist (Interahamwe) try to eliminate entire Tutsi population.|
- ~8 lakh people killed in this genocide.
- Tutsi also retaliated, the war ended when Tutsi rebels defeated Hutu militia, took control over Rwanda and forced Hutus to flee to Congo as refugee.
World leaders turned blind eye
- France, Belgium, USA and UN kept silence on the genocide.
- Many countries refused to acknowledge it as a “genocide”, or putting any sanctions / condemnation against the Rwanda government.
- UN Security Council delayed sending UN peace keeping force in Rwanda (UNAMIR).
- UN approved French intervention in Rwanda for humanisation purpose. But French forces helped some of the genocide plotters to escape.
- 1995: International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) @Tanzania beings trial.
- 2008: 3 Rwandan military officers convicted for plotting genocide
- France maintained close diplomatic ties with Hutu dominated govt. ever since they gained independence in 62.
- During 1994’s civil war, France sent forces only after it felt that Tutsi rebels (minority) will defeat the Hutu militia (Majority)
- France saved many Hutu plotters of Genocide, even gave them shelter/asylum in France .
- Some even blame that France was actively knew and helped Hutus to plot this genocide.
- 1994 = Genocide happened, therefore 2014 = 20th anniversary.
- In April 2014, The remembrance ceremony was held
- but Rwanda’s President (Paul Kagame) barred French Ambassador from participating. Rwandan President accuses that French were involved in planning the genocide, therefore have no moral right to participate in this remembrance event.
- In retaliation, France also cancelled visit of his Justice Minister to Rwanda.
4. Germany apologises for genocide in Namibia
Herero paramount chief slams deal
Germany apologised on Friday for its role in the slaughter of Herero and Nama tribespeople in Namibia more than a century ago and officially described the massacre as genocide for the first time, as it agreed to fund projects in the region.
Namibia’s President Hage Geingob welcomed the “historic” move, but Herero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro dismissed a deal agreed by the two governments as “an insult” because it did not include payment of reparations.
Instead, Germany will fund $1.3 billion of reconstruction and development projects in Namibia, which German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said would directly benefit the genocide-affected communities.
5. COVID toll on economy deepens: poll
Respondents in Reuters survey say jobs crisis may worsen; on average see full-year growth at 9.8%
India’s economic outlook has weakened again, albeit slightly, with worst-case scenario forecasts suggesting the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic could be much deeper, stoking fears the job crisis may worsen over the coming year, a Reuters poll found.
Renewed restrictions to curb the current wave have stalled economic activity, leaving many millions out of work and pushing economists — who have broadly been bullish — to downgrade their views for the second time since early April.
The May 20-27 poll showed the outlook for the current quarter was lowered to 21.6% annually, and to 9.8% on average for this fiscal year, down from 23% and 10.4% respectively a month ago. The economy was then forecast to grow 6.7% next fiscal year, compared to 6.5% predicted previously.
While the consensus pointed to healthy growth figures later this year, all 29 economists, in response to an additional question, warned the outlook was either “weak and prone to further downgrades” or “fragile, with a limited downside”.
“Recovery in India was strong in the months before the second wave,” said Wouter van Eijkelenburg, an economist at Rabobank. “This leads us to believe the recovery can rebound quickly after the number of new infections have come down. But vaccination implementation needs to pick up pace in order to have an effect.
‘Sword of Damocles’
“Therefore new surges of the virus hang above recovery like the sword of Damocles. Until a large share of the population is vaccinated there remains this downside risk of new waves and subsequent lockdowns hampering the recovery,” he added.
Underscoring concerns that a slow vaccine rollout may make a bigger dent in the economy, the consensus showed in a worst-case scenario the economy would average just 6.8% growth this fiscal year after its deepest ever recession last year.
“Let’s hope (the situation) doesn’t go there,” said Gareth Leather, seniorAsia economist at Capital Economics. “If it does and we do have another wave … after this one, maybe the government will learn some lessons — that it is better to lock down the economy sooner, rather than later. The threat of further waves will hang over the economic outlook so long as India’s vaccination progress remains lacklustre,” he added.
“There is going to be a significant demand shock to the economy, some of that could be permanent demand destruction, thereby pushing more out of the jobs market and keeping the unemployment rate elevated over the coming year,” said Prakash Sakpal, senior Asia economist at ING.
6. Editorial-1: Democracy at stake in Nepal
If the political Opposition resolves to fight back, it is likely that the new republic will gain in the long term
Nepal is facing its severest political crisis in decades. The repeated dissolution of Parliament, from last December to May this year, is not just a manifestation of the power struggle between political parties and leaders in Nepal but also a dangerous game plan by national and international forces to dismantle the federal republican democratic Constitution and restore the old Hindu monarchical state. It is really anachronistic that the so-called Marxist-Leninist party headed by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is in collusion with Hindu monarchical forces in Nepal and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in India. A section of the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) led by Mahanta Thakur and Rajendra Mahato have been lured or forced to join hands with Mr. Oli, who is notorious for his anti-Madhesh tirade till the other day.
Even when India’s political and diplomatic culture saw a departure from best past practices, it was expected that its official regime would always support multiparty democracy, progressive political action and changing fundamentals.
Contrary to this, India is being seen backing an autocratic and unconstitutional regime, surviving in ‘caretaker mode’ with the connivance of Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Mr. Oli. In helping an unpopular and illegitimate regime in Kathmandu, the game-plan seems to be to derail the Constitution and plunge the country into endless crisis. It is impossible to understand how this will benefit either India or Nepal, especially when the establishment in New Delhi is perceived here to be hell bent on turning Nepal into a Hindu state and scrapping federalism as well (ultimately disempowering oppressed Madhesis, Tharus, Janajatis, women and others). The statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs, that “political developments in Nepal are the country’s internal matters” did not help too in changing the popular perception.
If the objective is to scrap the present Constitution to undo the Kalapani-Limpiadhura map episode, why throw the baby out with the bathwater? The India-Nepal boundary issue can be resolved through serious political dialogue. There should be a trade-off between the developmental aspirations of Nepal and the strategic concerns of India, in the light of changing geopolitical dynamics in the Himalayan region. India should do course correction and should not throw its weight behind an autocratic regime; it must reassure all who care for the peace and the prosperity of Nepal by reposing faith in Nepal’s democracy and due processes. Also, India must fulfil the promises it made for COVID-19 vaccines to Nepal. The glaring gap between the promises made and delivery has been a big disappointment; people should never be kept in lurch like this.
The twists and turns
It is in the public domain that the Opposition alliance in Nepal filed a petition in the Supreme Court last week demanding that the Nepali Congress’s Sher Bahadur Deuba be declared the new Prime Minister and the House of Representatives be reinstated. As many as 146 members of the dissolved House of Representatives — 61 from the Nepali Congress, 49 from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), 23 from the Madhav Nepal faction of the CPN-UML, 12 from a section of the JSP and one from the Rastriya Janamorcha Nepal — have signed the petition, challenging Mr. Oli and Ms. Bhandari’s House dissolution moved late on the night of May 21 and disqualified Mr. Deuba’s claim that he be appointed Prime Minister. Representing the Opposition alliance, Mr. Deuba had presented the signatures of 149 lawmakers to prove that he commanded the majority to lead a new government in this crisis phase when Nepal is witnessing an unprecedented crisis with the novel coronavirus pandemic and an abjectly poor counter-response by the Oli-occupied regime.
Without any delay in subverting constitutionally due procedures, Mr. Oli too made a ridiculous claim that he be appointed Prime Minister, while technically still being the Prime Minister, falsely claiming to have the backing of 153 lawmakers. Since the plot was scripted, he failed to name those lawmakers. After the President disqualified both claims as the most suitable possibility for Mr. Oli, he, through a dramatic midnight Cabinet meeting, recommended the House’s dissolution. The President duly obliged him and his autocratic manoeuvring that have hammered democratic principles and national interest. Alas!
For the manner in which Ms. Bhandari has acted to keep Mr. Oli in power and undermining her constitutional role as the first citizen of the country, impeachment will be the easiest exit route for her.
A graceful exit is not an idea tempting enough for her and Mr. Oli; so going in for the lawful provision of impeachment is a prerequisite to restore eroded faith in the presidential position and due processes. Ms. Bhandari’s role in public life has been questioned earlier too, as she, as the President of a new democracy, did all possible to weaken the system and make Mr. Oli a walking authority above the Constitution. Never ever was she deterred by fierce public criticism and continued her business as usual with Mr. Oli. In a press conference recently, Mr. Oli said, “Disrespect for the President is disrespect for the republican system. In a monarchy, there is a King, in a republic system, there is a President. The President is the symbol of republicanism and an attack on the dignity of the Office of the President is an attack on the republic system.” This makes things very clear. Ironically, Ms. Bhandari and Mr. Oli are two prominent figures who have consistently disrespected and abused the President’s high office for their shared political gains — and made it subservient to the executive whims and fancies.
Mr. Oli’s sudden bout of nostalgia for the long gone monarchy is not just his bid to revisit the history but is also something in progression and from the hope he has been given by his invisible handlers and friends, in both the north and the south. He is not an original thinker. He is counting on a plan to drive the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis, stay at the helm as an authoritarian caretaker Prime Minister with an unreasonably friendly President, and force the country into elections when even the next moment is uncertain. To end their Machiavellian treachery, the Opposition alliance has to rise to the occasion and make all possible efforts to foil the unholy plan.
Nepal at the crossroads
Nepal’s quest should be to redeem its lost glory, and for the first time, avail its true development potential — and stop being a ‘theatre of the absurd’ and hosting the harmful advances of neighbours involved in geostrategic rivalries. On the domestic front, an increased focus should be on homework, instead of leveraging on vulnerabilities and the making of unruly partners. In a functional democracy, statecraft is not supposed to be altruistic till it relies on progressive policy and governance — with an aim to augment the mission of ‘greater common good’. Long ago, the People’s War was over in Nepal, with a transitory accomplishment of a goal in a new republic. However, the task is still unfinished till the people-centric priorities are not driving the political agenda and action.
Despite all the flaws, Nepal should protect its democracy that is now at stake because of actions by political opportunists. Politicians such as Mr. Oli and Ms Bhandari have endangered the country’s prospects. However, an accomplished democracy like Nepal will rise again.
For sure, the road ahead is not easy and it is going to be one of struggle. If the Opposition alliance makes a resolve and fights back, it is likely that the new republic will gain in the long term.The big powers should take note of this.
7. Editorial-2: Humanity matters, capitalism needs an upgrade
The COVID-19 vaccine crisis is an opportune time when companies must rethink the purpose behind their existence
The COVID-19 vaccine crisis is another tragic instance of a clash between the needs of humanity and the principles of capitalism. Capitalists insist that private producers of vaccines must make profits because that is their compensation for investing in research and production. If the prices they charge are beyond the reach of poor people, they are not morally compelled to serve them at a loss. Then, governments must step in and buy from private producers and subsidise sales to poorer people. For which, governments need revenues of course, and taxes on private companies could be a significant source. However, if private companies also press governments for lower taxes, to make their investments more attractive; and if the government is also pushed by them, on ideological grounds, to stay out of business, viz. not having any “public sector” production enterprises, governments find both their hands tied behind their backs in crises when citizens blame them for breakdowns of public services. The Indian government is facing this crisis now.
Conversion of the commons
How Will Capitalism End? Ask Wolfgang Streeck and his co-authors in their book with that title. It will end, they say, when the forces that support capitalism run out. Capitalism expands by converting “the commons” into private capital. Economists justify this on practical grounds: it is the ‘tragedy of the commons’, Garrett Hardin postulated, that people will not care for something unless they own it. This is an ongoing justification for capitalist businesses owning land and forests and water resources. Businesses convert natural capital into financial capital and use it for generating profits and more capital for themselves. Over-exploitation of the earth’s resources to produce profits has contributed to the crisis of environmental sustainability and climate change. The concept of ownership of assets for creating wealth had gone too far when slaves without human rights were used in capitalist enterprises as their economic assets until moralists objected.
Creation of monopolies
Slavery is banned by law and the earth’s resources are limited. Therefore, capitalism has moved on to convert knowledge into private property. Modern regimes of intellectual property rights (IPR) with armies of patent lawyers help capitalists to create intellectual property monopolies. Thus, people are denied the use of their own knowledge — as they are when natural products, such as neem and turmeric are patented by capitalists. Thereby, communities whose traditions produced the knowledge must pay those who stole it from them, albeit legally. The public contributes to the creation of scientific knowledge in many ways, for example through government research and development grants and subsidies, as Mariana Mazzucato explains in her book, The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy. In fact, large public assistance in various ways has enabled U.S. pharmaceutical companies to develop their new COVID-19 vaccines at ‘warp speed’.
India has been a spoiler in the global Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime which was promoted by the World Trade Organization in 1995 for uniform global IPR rules. TRIPS is founded on the principle of “product patents”. India had a different approach to IPR based on “process patents”. Product patents allow inventors of new drugs to have exclusive rights to produce and sell them for some years. Producers can use their monopoly to fix higher prices and make more profits for recovering their investments in drug development. Thus, the quantum of production is limited by the inventor to keep prices high. On the other hand, the process patents route forced Indian producers to invent better processes for producing larger volumes at lower costs of ‘generic’ versions of the medicine. This benefited citizens of poorer countries including India. However, Indian generic drug producers became threats to the pricing power of ‘innovator’ drug producers from the West.
TRIPS does have a provision to enable governments to enforce ‘compulsory licensing’. They can demand that an innovator company must allow domestic, lower cost, producers to increase the supply of the drug in an emergency, with compensation to the inventor of course. However, western companies do not like this provision, which has been used before by the South African government, for example, to get drugs for AIDS produced by Indian low cost producers when the AIDS pandemic was raging and Africans could not pay the high prices charged by western companies. This is the provision that South Africa and India want to invoke now to enable production of the new U.S. invented COVID-19 vaccines whose prices are too high for poorer countries.
There are three stakeholders involved in a system to produce adequate volumes of affordable medicines: citizens who need the medicines, governments who must ensure they get them, and private companies who produce and sell them. If the stand of private companies is that because their business must be only business, and the public good is not their responsibility, governments must step in. They must have the means to regulate the prices and also to enhance production. However, if private companies (and the economists who support them) take the view that any interventions by governments distort the market, and go even further to say that taxes must be reduced to make their investments more attractive, governments have both hands tied behind their backs when they have to step in to help people in distress.
Public sector versus private
Many economists do not like ‘public sector’ enterprises. Whenever governments set up ‘public sector’ enterprises, such as banks, hospitals, and schools, economists can prove that these enterprises do not produce as much shareholder returns than they would if they were ‘privatised’. If they were privatised, their owners’ objectives would be primarily, if not entirely, to maximise returns to investors. In that case, public benefits are relegated to the background, or even drop right off the table. Therefore ‘private’ will always be better than ‘public’ by the limited metric of shareholder returns.
The purpose of governments is to improve the all-round well-being of all citizens; not merely to provide products to customers who can pay good prices for them, which is the means by which private enterprises meet their objective of producing profits for their investors. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the inadequacy of capitalism to fulfil societal needs. If capitalist enterprises are not willing to fulfil public purposes, governments must create more public spirited enterprises to provide public goods equitably to all citizens. Relentless economic growth is devouring the earth that hosts humanity. With artificial intelligence algorithms in social media, capitalist enterprises are able to manipulate human minds. Their investors have become the richest people on the planet. New mRNA technologies on which some new COVID-19 vaccines are based provide the means to manipulate the composition of human bodies. Thus, capitalists can create even more wealth for themselves off human beings.
Time to reflect
Money-driven capitalist values have drifted too far from human values. Money has become the supreme measure of success in all spheres: the wealth of individuals, the size of companies, and the scales of nations’ economies. The sustainable health of complex systems — which human beings and societies are — is being lost sight of. The COVID-19 crisis will not end capitalism. But capitalism must mutate to survive. Companies must rethink the purpose for their existence. It is imperative now that more human and less money values are adopted.
8. Editorial-3: Timely windfall
The RBI’s transfer is a much-needed buffer, but there are risks in banking on these surpluses
The Reserve Bank of India’s decision to transfer ₹99,122 crore of surplus to the Centre comes as a windfall to the government, at a moment when the ferocious second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has likely upended most projections for the economy including revenue assumptions. The payout is almost double the ₹53,511 crore that the Finance Minister had budgeted for by way of dividend receipts, including from nationalised banks and financial institutions. That the RBI has generated a surplus that is over 73% higher than what it posted for the previous 12-month period ended June 2020, is also noteworthy when one considers that the bank just changed its accounting calendar from July-June to an April-March format by truncating its last financial year to a nine-month period. The RBI’s annual report, released on Thursday, shows that a sharp 63% contraction in expenditure was a major factor in boosting the surplus, especially as income fell by 11%. However, the biggest contributor in real terms was the ₹50,629 crore of exchange gain realised by the central bank from its foreign exchange transactions. The central bank, which admits to intervening in the foreign exchange market to smoothe volatility, clearly had a very busy time mopping up the record foreign direct investment inflows that exceeded $81 billion (at a gross level) in the last financial year, as well as the sizeable portfolio investments from overseas. Still, a 69% increase in exchange gain, over the preceding 12-month period, prompts the question as to whether the RBI’s foreign exchange transactions were all entirely aimed only at stabilising the rupee’s value.
Given the magnitude of economic disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic and the lack of visibility on the costs that the economy is going to have to bear in the coming months, the RBI’s transfer surely provides a much-needed buffer to the government’s finances. However, both the Centre and the central bank need to be cognisant of the risks in making a habit of banking on these surpluses to cushion the government’s coffers. After all, just two years ago, the RBI had transferred a record ₹1.76-lakh crore to the exchequer. While the Reserve Bank has ensured that it maintains contingency reserves at exactly 5.5% of the overall size of its balance sheet, the level of its reserves provides little wiggle room to safeguard against a sudden, unexpected financial crisis and is at the lower end of the 5.5%-6.5% band recommended by the Bimal Jalan committee. With the government facing the likelihood of overshooting its budgeted borrowing, given the higher spending needed to bolster vaccinations, health care and direct fiscal support, the RBI’s balance sheet could swell in size this year too. It would behove policymakers to remember that the central bank is ultimately the lender of last resort to the nation as a whole and can ill-afford to be less than adequately funded to meet every conceivable contingency.