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21st July – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. Current account surplus may not be all good news
  2. More than a crisis, a chance to rebuild health care
  3. Series of missions to Mars
  4. Community canteens 2.0

CURRENT ACCOUNT SURPLUS MAY NOT BE ALL GOOD NEWS

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy

Why in news?

India registered a current account surplus of $558 million in Q4FY20, the first quarterly surplus since 2007.

How do we define the current account?

  • The Current Account captures the net trade in goods and services, net earnings on investments, and net transfer payments over a period of time, typically a year or a quarter.
  • The current account captures the transactions of a country with the rest of the world.
  • Essentially, net trade in goods and services is a major component of the current account.
  • A higher balance of the current account usually corresponds to higher exports than imports, indicating a healthy inflow of foreign exchange reserves.

India’s Current Account trends

  • India’s current account has largely been in deficit due to the higher value of imports compared to exports.
  • Limited domestic production and issues related to competitiveness of our domestic industry such as land and labour laws, high cost of capital and taxes resulted in stiff competition from cheap imports coming from countries such as China.
  • Consequently, our trade deficit with these countries has increased which has had an adverse impact on our current account balances and has come at the expense of our domestic manufacturers.

Why is our current account suddenly in surplus?

  • Lower crude oil prices, lag in domestic demand, and the effect of supply disruptions due to the lockdown in China are responsible for lower value of imports in the January-March quarter.
  • This lower value of imports is behind the current account surplus, and therefore, it is likely to be short-lived once economic activity normalizes post the pandemic.

Do fewer imports imply lower level of demand?

  • The economy was experiencing a growth slowdown throughout FY19-20 and therefore, domestic demand was weak the whole year.
  • This is likely to have hit imports adversely in the final quarter of the financial year.

A surplus is not a good thing always, then?

  • A current account surplus implies a higher inflow of forex than outflow. It helps with an increase in reserves which is critical for maintaining financial and external sector stability.
  • However, in the current situation, an improvement in our current account is coming from lower levels of imports which coincides with muted domestic demand.
  • This makes it important to view such an uptick as a sign of potential weakness and undertake supportive policy measures.

-Source: Livemint


MORE THAN A CRISIS, A CHANCE TO REBUILD HEALTH CARE

Focus: GS-III Disaster Management

Opportunity to act

  • The overall case numbers have moved steadily past the million mark and India is now third in global case standings, and the distribution of cases also presents itself as the world’s biggest opportunity to intervene and blunt the global toll of the epidemic.
  • The low numbers in a large number of districts present officials the opportunity of stemming the epidemic and preventing morbidity, mortality and economic distress in a significant way.

Key steps at ground level

  • There should be district-level COVID-19 tracking mechanisms and tables and graphs that are updated daily – as State and national summaries are important but are not as critical as ensuring the accuracy and timeliness of district-level tracking.
  • The first output of such disaggregation will be to see, with great relief, the number of districts with extremely small or no incidence numbers.
  • In order that they retain their low incidence status, such districts should be supported with all comprehensive testing kits and contact tracing know-how.
  • The testing capacity in the district can be scaled up dramatically by coopting the science departments of every college and university. Thus, chemistry and zoology-allied departments such as microbiology and biochemistry can lend their laboratory services to carry out basic polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based tests.
  • Not using emerging talents in educational institutions in tier 2 and tier 3 towns in many districts in India would be a wasted opportunity, both in terms of training and nurturing ambitions.

On testing

  • Rapid innovations that have been surfacing within the past 12 weeks globally show it will not be very long before testing could become a self-administered process. One has to look at recent insights into using saliva as the start point for testing rather than using a nasopharyngeal swab for sampling.
  • Increased testing is not only necessary; indeed, it will be the single biggest contributor to stemming the tide of morbidity and mortality in India and the rest of the world.

Chance for biotech

  • India is the pharmacy to the world, and with a coordinated effort, the COVID-19 crisis can provide the Y2K equivalent for India’s biotech and biopharmaceutical enterprises.
  • At the moment, the world is increasingly looking at personalised diagnostics and therapeutics.
  • If with a positive test report, COVID-19 positive individuals were able to monitor their own oxygenation status at home, along with basic fever management medicines, and based on predetermined cutoffs, were able to seek and obtain care at oxygen equipped care facilities, we would both be building on expanding the network of monitoring exponentially, and addressing morbidity earlier in its course.
  • For the roughly 3% to 5% of people who will need more than oxygen support, we need to ensure that our doctors, nurses, laboratory personnel and floor workers in hospitals are protected with everything they deserve.

Conclusion

India’s general health-care spending has been far below optimal. But if innovations to help manage the current crisis are suitably capitalised on, they can enable India to move far ahead in health-care delivery and related outcomes.

COVID-19 is both a crisis and an opportunity for health-care reform as well as understanding the interplay of health outcomes with social and economic support interventions, and limitations of law enforcement in managing epidemics.

-Source: The Hindu


SERIES OF MISSIONS TO MARS

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

  • The UAE launched the Arab world’s first mission to Mars, Amal (Hope), which was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-II A rocket.
  • The UAE launch marks the first of three missions being planned to Mars
  • China plans its first Mars probe, Tianwen-1 (formerly Huoxing 1) and The US, the only country that has sent previous missions to Mars, plans its Perseverance mission.

Why is July 2020 the picked time for several missions?

The end of July 2020 offers a launch window during which Earth and Mars will be aligned at their closest points in two years, which means using less fuel to reach the planet. If a spacecraft is launched too early or too late, it will arrive in the planet’s orbit when the planet is not there.

Perseverance: hunt or life

  • NASA’s rover Perseverance will look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars and microbial life in its ancient past.
  • The rover is equipped with specialised equipment to collect data, analyse weather conditions that can help plan for future human missions, and produce oxygen from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere.

Hope: Atmospheric data

  • Hope was developed by UAE scientists in the US, and it carries three instruments including a high-resolution camera and a spectrometer.
  • The spacecraft is on an orbital mission to collect data on Martian climate dynamics and help scientists understand why Mars’s atmosphere is decaying into space.
  • Hope is the UAE’s fourth space mission and first interplanetary one. The previous three were all Earth-observation satellites.

Tianwen-1: Soil study

  • China’s first Mars probe consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover and aims to study Martian topography and geology and determine the composition of the surface material, climate and environment.
  • The orbiter is expected to reach the planet by early 2021 and will use high-resolution cameras to search for a suitable landing site somewhere in the Utopia Planitia region.

-Source: Indian Express


COMMUNITY CANTEENS 2.0

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

PMGKAY and Reaching out concerns

  • Prime Minister announced an extension to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana and implementation of the ‘One Nation, One Ration’ (ONOR) scheme to improve access to subsidised grains for migrant workers.
  • Lack of access to food drove millions of them to their native villages during the lockdown period.
  • While these measures are welcome, they may fall short of reaching all sections of this vulnerable population. Most migrant workers do not live with families; many do not cook their meals, and instead, a significant number rely on roadside vendors and dhabas. Without access to cooking arrangement or fuel, only subsidised grains are not a sufficient solution to ensure nourishment.

Proposed solution for Nutritional security: Community Canteens

  • More than 10 States have run community canteens, including Amma Canteens in Tamil Nadu and Indira Canteens in Karnataka.
  • However, a drawback is that most of these canteens rely on continuous government support for their sustenance as meals are usually priced unsustainably low at ₹5-10 per plate.

Way Forward for Right Implementation of Community Canteens

  • However, our preliminary analysis suggests that such canteens could be operationally self-sustainable by pricing the nutritious meals at ₹15-20 per plate.
  • This would still be lower than what most dhabas and roadside vendors charge for a meal.
  • While the Central government should extend the initial capital support, the implementation at the State level should be led by urban local bodies or municipal corporations, in collaboration with private entities as service providers.

Jobs and growth with Community Canteens

  • Community canteens could also contribute to jobs, growth and sustainability. The 60,000 canteens, each serving about 500 beneficiaries on average, would generate more than 1.2 million jobs to serve 90 million meals a day.
  • These canteens would also help bridge the nourishment gap among poor urban workers.

Way Forward to capitalize on this opportunity

  • The government should leverage community canteens to shift diets and agriculture production towards more sustainable and sustainably harvested food crops.
  • These canteens must incorporate low-cost yet nutritious and environmentally sustainable food items in the plate — bringing in coarse grains such as millets and sorghum into the dietary patterns.
  • These canteens would create the demand signals for the farmers to diversify their crops and focus on sustainably harvested produce.
  • A renewed approach to community canteens would not only achieve nutritional security for migrant workers but would also create new jobs, save fiscal resources, support economic growth and promote sustainable diets and agriculture.

-Source: The Hindu

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