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11th April – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents:

  1. Centre must spend more, forego tax revenues
  2. Limiting transmission in hotspots with wider tracing and testing strategy
  3. Team India and winning the pandemic battle
  4. Explained: Armed forces in coronavirus outbreak battle
  5. Explained: Direct farm-to-kitchen delivery provides relief

CENTRE MUST SPEND MORE, FOREGO TAX REVENUES

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

The Current Scenario

  • As India nears the end of the lockdown period, the serious damage to the economy and livelihoods is beginning to make itself apparent.
  • There is tremendous pressure from industry bodies to opt for a nuanced policy that will help economic activity to restart as they fear a collapse if activity is stopped for another fortnight.
  • One way to sidestep this existential dilemma is by bringing on a second round of an economic relief package that goes well beyond the first both in terms of the financial commitment and the spread.
  • Out-of-the-box ideas for delivering support and also for raising the required funds might be required.
  • Economists are unanimous that there is little option now but to print money and spend. That is exactly what the developed countries are doing.

What can be done?

  • The ₹1.7-lakh crore package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 26 was a good start but barely accounted for 1% of GDP; India should spend at least 5% of GDP for now.
  • he cash transfers to the poor should be hiked to at least ₹3,000 a month for the next three months.
  • This should be in addition to free rations and cooking gas, as was announced earlier.
  • In the harvest season, farmers need logistical support for moving their produce to markets.
  • Lenders, including NBFCs, should be granted freedom to reschedule their loan accounts so that borrowers are not under pressure to repay for fear of turning delinquent.
  • A credit guarantee fund that will support non-delinquent borrowers for the next six months will be a good option.
  • Such a fund can be financed through a domestic bond offering.
  • The bankruptcy code should be suspended for the next six months, at least for MSMEs.

LIMITING TRANSMISSION IN HOTSPOTS WITH WIDER TRACING AND TESTING STRATEGY

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

  • Even after the Health Ministry on March 28 acknowledged on its website that there was “limited community transmission”, India’s national taskforce for COVID-19 continues to deny it.
  • Now, a paper in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, by ICMR and Health Ministry researchers, provides evidence of community transmission in 36 districts in 15 States.

Details

  • With community transmission, or the third stage, now being confirmed in 36 districts, an expansion and change in testing strategy has become imperative in the high focus areas for the lockdown to be more meaningful.
  • Though the taskforce has not openly declared community transmission, it is reassuring to note that the ICMR has already initiated changes in the testing strategy in response to the change in the pattern of community spread.
  • On April 9, the ICMR revised the testing strategy for hotspots/clusters and large migration gatherings/evacuees centres.
  • While the criteria for testing across India remain the same, the testing norms for the high focus areas will now include people with influenza-like illness (ILI) with certain symptoms.
  • Antibody testing should be carried out whenever molecular tests on these patients turn out negative.

TEAM INDIA AND WINNING THE PANDEMIC BATTLE

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Self-reliance is the way

India has to chart its own strategy, whether it is in planning a staged release from the lockdown or in developing domestic capacity for medical equipment.

There will be a need for scientific and economic cooperation with the rest of the world, but self-reliance is the rudder that must steer our ship as we sail through these rough seas.

Globalisation lies shredded as we read of French and German officials protesting at the Americans seizing shipments of masks that they had ordered from China, in what is being called “guerre des masques” (war of the masks).

Moving forward

  • The impact of a three-week lockdown on reducing infectivity cannot be gauged well till the third week because the virus has an incubation period that can extend up to 14 days, though the vast majority of cases clinically emerge by 11 days.
  •  The involvement of designated volunteers and community-based organisations can greatly enhance case detection, isolation, counselling, severity-based care and social support.
  • Potentially favourable factors for India are the younger age profile and a higher rural proportion of our population compared to China, Europe, the United States or other highly affected countries whose populations are older, urban and highly mobile.
  • However, this enjoins us to energetically protect the elderly and rural segments of our population.
  • Restricting urban to rural movement to essential goods and essential needs, for at least six weeks after the lockdown ends, will help.
  • The health, nutrition and financial security of the poor must be ensured.
  • Elderly persons too should observe social distancing and limit visits outside home for this period.
  • Essential economic activity can be resumed in stages.
  • We should quickly gear up our testing capacity to meet this mapping mandate.
  • Hotspots should be identified, based on numbers of self-referred symptomatic cases, persons identified on home visits and population survey results.

Focus on health services

  • We also need to make sure that our health-care system provides timely and competent care to all who need.
  • Primary health-care facilities, district hospitals, public and private tertiary care institutions have to gear up with equipment and augment human resources drawn both from trainees and retirees.
  • Considering the higher risk to older health-care providers, the first line of care should be formed by younger staff members who will have milder effects even if infected.
  • The older staff members can provide supervisory support.
  • This will prevent attrition of the health workforce due to exhaustion or illness.
  • Temporary hospitals for treatment and isolation facilities for persons on quarantine may need to be set up at short notice.
  • Industry must produce essential medical equipment and drugs to meet our needs and, if capacity permits, assist other countries.

EXPLAINED: ARMED FORCES IN CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK BATTLE

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Why in news?

As the Army moves in to take over the COVID-19 quarantine facility at Narela in Delhi, the procedure for calling the armed forces to help the civil administration is in the spotlight.

What is the procedure?

  • The regulations permit civil authorities to requisition the Army for controlling law and order, maintaining essential services, assisting during natural calamities such as earthquakes, and any other type of help that may be needed by the civil authorities.
  • Civil administration requests the Local Military Authority for assistance, for the maintenance of law and order, maintenance of essential services, disaster relief and other types of assistance.
  • Armed forces can be asked to provide troops and equipment for a flag march, rescue and relief, evacuation, and immediate aid.

What are the tasks expected to be performed?

Besides the specialised medical resources, which are centrally controlled, the local units are prepared for maintenance of law and order, crowd control, curfew in sensitive areas, evacuation of civilians from affected areas, provision of essential supply of electricity and water, restoration of essential services, emergency feeding and shelter, prevention of panic, prevention of theft and loot, guarding quarantine locations and detention centres, surveillance through drones aerial platforms, and other miscellaneous tasks.

What about the primary role of the Armed Forces?

  • Providing aid to civil authorities, as and when called upon to do so, is a secondary task for the armed forces.
  • It cannot replace the primary role of ensuring external security and operational preparedness.
  • The Army recently killed five militants on the Line of Control (LoC), foiling an infiltration attempt, while losing five Special Forces soldiers in the engagement.
  • The Navy also continues to be operational on its various mission-based deployments, while taking all the precautions to prevent infection from foreign ports.

Is there a ceiling on such deployment?

  • No, there is no such ceiling either of duration of deployment or on the number of armed forces personnel that can be deployed to aid civil authority.
  • The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), headed by the cabinet secretary, is the final authority.

Are there any templates or instances from the past that are applicable here?

  • The current situation is different from earlier cases such as tsunami or super-cyclone, which were natural disasters.
  • The major difference is that specialists are the key in the current situation, and their tasks cannot be performed by general duty soldiers.

What is the role of the National Disaster Management Authority?

  • NDMA is involved in secondary follow-ups by the Home Ministry, and is not very actively involved in the current case.
  • The roles of the Ministries of Health, Home, Civil Aviation and Defence are predominant in this case.
  • The armed forces are aligned with them at the apex level viz NCMC.
  • The directions are followed by execution-level coordination which is done by respective secretaries in the government.

EXPLAINED: DIRECT FARM-TO-KITCHEN DELIVERY PROVIDES RELIEF

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why in news?

  • The disruption in supply chains as a result of the lockdown has spotlighted the relevance of a nearly two-decade-old initiative to reach fresh produce directly to consumers in Maharashtra, bypassing the mandis.
  • The essential features of this alternative market channel — decentralisation and direct-to-home delivery — will remain valuable even after the lockdown, when efforts to avoid crowding in the wholesale markets are likely to continue.

Alternative model

The idea is to create smaller, less congested markets in urban areas with the participation of farmers’ groups and Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs), so that growers of vegetables and fruit have direct access to consumers.

How the markets work?

The government and MSAMB identify farmer groups and FPCs, and form clusters; local bodies choose the market sites and link the markets for direct delivery to cooperative housing societies.

In the time of coronavirus pandemic

  • Traffic of both buyers and sellers in these decentralised markets can be controlled more effectively than in wholesale mandis — a key advantage when social distancing is critical. Most FPCs have minimised contact, and have taken to selling pre-packed, customised packets of vegetables.
  • The farmers’ groups have filled much of the gap created by the shuttering of wholesale markets.

What’s in it for farmers?

  • The start of the pandemic coincided with the peak vegetable harvesting season. As the markets were locked down, there was a threat to the crop in over 100 lakh hectares in the country. A significant part of the produce is several states has made its way to these markets, softening the blow to farmers.
  • More importantly, larger numbers of vegetable growers in Maharashtra have got into direct selling to consumers. The practices of rudimentary packing, sorting and branding are being inculcated in farmers, as they pack and send pre-ordered packets to housing societies.
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