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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 24 April 2020

Contents

  1. Lockdown ensured growth of cases remained linear
  2. Industries cannot be forced to pay wages during Lockdown
  3. Australia pitches for trilateral cooperation with India, Indonesia
  4. Jaishankar thanks Saudi, Omani Ministers
  5. RBI to restart Operation Twist to manage yields
  6. CSIR lab defends sanitisation tunnel

LOCKDOWN ENSURED GROWTH OF CASES REMAINED LINEAR

Focus: GS-II Governance, Prelims

Why in news?

India has managed to maintain a linear growth of COVID-19 cases over the one-month period during its lockdown, the Union Health Ministry said on 23rd April 2020 even as the country reported over 1,409 new COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of cases to 21,700 with 16,689 active ones.

There are 12 districts that did not have a fresh case in the last 28 days or more.

Is the curve really flattening?

  • Despite a 24-fold increase in testing, the percentage of positive cases is not rising phenomenally when compared to the percentage of positive cases at the beginning of the lockdown.
  • One crucial weapon we employed during the 30-day lockdown period is RT-PCR testing which has been scaled up.
  • The growth of cases has been more or less linear, not exponential; this indicates that the strategies we have adopted have succeeded in containing the infection to a particular level.

During the 30 days of lockdown, India has been able to cut transmission, minimise spread and increase the doubling time of COVID-19.

Way Forward

  • We need to evolve our future strategy based on the current position. The current report shows that our testing strategy has been focused, targeted and continues to expand, this is an evolving strategy based on our learning as we go along.
  • Centre has been working with States to ensure required reagents are supplied to testing labs in timely and calibrated fashion, enabling diversion of reagents to hot spots as needed.
  • Due to the stigma we have attached to COVID-19, patients are not coming forward or they are coming very late when they have severe breathlessness issues, thereby increasing morbidity and mortality. Our goal is to ensure that most people get cured at COVID Health Centre stage itself. There is hope as far as treatment is concerned. In this disease almost 80 % cases recover with supportive therapy, 15 % need oxygen support while only 5 % need ventilator support.
  • Convalescent plasma, HCQ and other repurposed drugs, and newer drugs are being looked at for treatment in COVID-19 cases.

INDUSTRIES CANNOT BE FORCED TO PAY WAGES DURING LOCKDOWN

Focus: GS-II Governance

Why in news?

The Parliamentary Committee on Labour in its report on the Industrial Relations Code, 2019, submitted on 23rd April, has recommended that “in case of natural calamities, payment of wages to the workers until the re-establishment of the industry may be unjustifiable”.

Background

  • The Industrial Relations Code 2019 is an amalgamation of three laws — Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, Trade Unions Act, 1926, and Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
  • It was introduced in the Lok Sabha in November 2019 and referred to the Standing Committee on Labour in December 2019.
  • With the ongoing lockdown, the draft report was circulated to the members on April 15 via e-mail and they were given eight days to respond and the final adopted report was accepted by the Speaker Om Birla on 23rd April 2020.
  • The Industrial Code makes it incumbent upon the employer to pay 50% wages to the workers/employees who are laid off due to shortage of power, coal, raw material etc., for 45 days.
  • The Committee has, however, expressed reservations for payment of the prescribed percentage of wages to the workers in the event of closure of an establishment due to natural calamity.

What the Parliamentary Committee said?

  • In case of natural calamities like earthquake, flood, super cyclone etc. which often result in closure of establishments for a considerably longer period without the employer’s fault, payment of wages to the workers until the re-establishment of the industry may be unjustifiable
  • The Committee has suggested that “clarity” be brought in so that employers “not responsible for closure or lay off, are not disadvantaged in case of such natural calamity of high intent”.
  • The basic idea about our recommendations is that the industry should also not be forced when the situation is beyond their control.
  • The law has to be reasonable. It is for the government to step in and extend a helping hand for the industries.

Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2019

  • The Industrial Relations Code 2019 (IR Code) is the third bill in a series of four being framed to amalgamate and rationalize more than 40 central laws governing labour affairs. It was introduced in the Lok Sabha on November 28, 2019.
  • The Code provides for the recognition of trade unions, notice periods for strikes and lock-outs, standing orders, and resolution of industrial disputes. 
  • It subsumes and replaces three labour laws: The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947; the Trade Unions Act, 1926; and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946. 

Important Aspects of The Bill

  1. The Bill provides a degree of flexibility in government approvals for the retrenchment of employees.
  2. It presents a legal framework for ushering in the concept of ‘fixed-term employment’ through contract workers on a pan-India basis.
  3. While companies currently hire contract workers through contractors, the fixed-term employment concept allows the companies to hire contract workers directly.
  4. It also allows for tweaking of the contract term based on the seasonality of the industry.
  5. During the contract tenure, the workers will be treated on par with regular workers.
  6. It helps the companies to hire and fire workers easily and also provides social security to contract workers.
  7. Contract workers will now be eligible for getting PF, gratuity, medical benefits, etc., similar to regular workers during their contract periods.
  8. By placing the concept in the central bill, the government is expecting that it will have a wider reach and states will follow suit.

Key Issues and Analysis

  • The Code prohibits strikes or lock-outs in any establishment unless a prior notice of 14 days is provided.  Similar provisions existed in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 for public utility services (such as, railways and airlines).  The Code expands these provisions to apply to all industrial establishments.  This may impact the ability of workers to strike and employees to lock-out.
  • The Code permits the government to defer, reject or modify awards passed by Industrial Tribunals and the National Industrial Tribunal.  A similar provision in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 was struck down by the Madras High Court in 2011, as it violated the principle of separation of powers by allowing the government to change the decision of a Tribunal through executive action.
  • The Code requires the employer of establishments with at least 100 workers to obtain permission from the appropriate government prior to the retrenchment of a worker.  The government may increase or decrease this threshold through a notification.  The question is whether the power to determine such a threshold should be specified by Parliament or whether it should be delegated to the government.

AUSTRALIA PITCHES FOR TRILATERAL COOPERATION WITH INDIA, INDONESIA

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

India and Australia will face common challenges in the Indo-Pacific as the COVID-19 pandemic is stretching much of the world’s governmental capacity, said Australian High Commissioner-designate.

He called for greater cooperation especially stressing on trilateral cooperation between India, Australia and Indonesia.

What was said?

  • As a starting point, we should build on last year’s successful trilateral maritime security workshop with Indonesia to identify new ways that our three countries can collaborate to be the best possible custodians of the Indian Ocean.
  • The trilateral cooperation had been growing and would continue to be important as we considered the implications of COVID-19 for Indo-Pacific regional order.
  • The High Commissioner designate also referred to the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region which is emerging as a regional hub for monitoring maritime movements and cooperation.
  • He also noted the increasingly common platforms operated by the two militaries acquired from the U.S., the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft, and India’s soon-to-be-acquired MH-60 Romeo multi-role helicopters.

Interoperability

  • Even allowing for COVID, the Indo-Pacific would continue to be the engine of the global economy in the decades to come.
  • On enhancing Indian and Australian bilateral cooperation: we can make defence facilities available to each other to expand our militaries’ respective operational reach.

India – Australia Relations, Issues in the past

  1. The historical ties between India and Australia initiated following the European settlement in Australia from 1788.
  2. Australia and India for the first time established diplomatic relations in the pre-Independence period, when the Consulate General of India was first opened as a Trade Office in Sydney in 1941.
  3. Following India’s independence, the Australian leaders advocated the British counterparts to retain the strategically important Andaman and the Nicobar Islands within the British Empire.
  4. During the Cold War, Australia had decided to be a close ally of the US, while India initially opted for Non-Alignment.
  5. Then there was the Pakistan factor. Australia’s attempts to act as the mediator between India and Pakistan in the 1940s and 1950s were not taken well by New Delhi.
  6. Over time, during the Cold War era, Australia opted for close ties with Pakistan – a close ally of the US – instead of India.
  7. Following the above – India-Australia relations touched a historic low when the Australian Government condemned India’s 1998 nuclear tests.
  8. Another issue that plagued the bilateral ties was the lack of people-to-people ties due to the “White Australia” policy that banned immigration from Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Improvements began when:

  1. In 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group had granted a waiver to India, leading to Australia lifting its uranium ban against the NPT non-signatories
  2. In 2014 Australia signed a uranium supply deal with India, the first of its kind with a country that is a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in recognition of India’s “impeccable” non-proliferation record it became evident what type of relation Australia wanted with India.
  3. The end of the Cold War and India’s decision to launch major economic reforms in 1991 ensured the development of closer ties between the two nations.
  4. India is among the largest contributors to Australia’s population growth. There is a massive influx of Indian students and tourists to Australia.

JAISHANKAR THANKS SAUDI, OMANI MINISTERS

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

  • India on 23rd April 2020 thanked Saudi Arabia for looking after the expat Indian community as the world continued to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar spoke with his Saudi Arabia and Oman counterparts as the Gulf region began observing the holy month of Ramadan.

Details

  • Appreciated the very warm conversation with His Highness Prince Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. Thanked him for taking care of the Indian community there.
  • Discussed our shared interests in ensuring health and food security. India will remain a reliable partner.
  • It is understood that Delhi had also assured Riyadh that the pandemic will not affect India’s supply of high-quality Basmati rice to the monarchy.
  • The conversation shows official continuity even as people to people-level ties were affected after notable Arab commentators took to social media over the past few days to highlight incidents of Islamophobia in India.
  • Also thanked Foreign Minister Yusuf Alawi of Oman for “taking care” of the Indian community.
  • Saudi Arabia has witnessed a surge in the COVID-19 cases in recent weeks with reports suggesting that a bulk of the affected patients are from the Indian blue-collar workers.
  • The expats have been in contact with the authorities through the COVID-19 cell of the Ministry of External Affairs which has been the coordinating body of the international operations.

RBI TO RESTART OPERATION TWIST TO MANAGE YIELDS

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy, Prelims

Why in news?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced simultaneous purchase and sale of government bonds in a bid to soften long-term yields.

The central bank will buy ₹10,000 crore of bonds maturing between 2026 and 2030 and sell the same number of T-bills.

Details

  • On a review of current and evolving liquidity and market conditions, the Reserve Bank has decided to conduct simultaneous purchase and sale of government securities under open market operations (OMO) for ₹10,000 crore each on April 27, 2020.
  • Such open market operations are known as ‘Operation Twist,’ which was used by the RBI in December 2018 for the first time.
  • Following the announcement, the yields on the 10- year bonds dropped by 20 basis points (bps).
  • The move will also aid monetary transmission by prompting banks to pass on interest rate cut benefits to their customers.
  • The RBI had reduced key policy rate or the repo rate by 75 bps to 4.4% in the monetary policy review, announced in the last week of March 2020.

Open market operations

  • Open market operations is the sale and purchase of government securities and treasury bills by RBI or the central bank of the country.
  • The objective of OMO is to regulate the money supply in the economy.
  • When the RBI wants to increase the money supply in the economy, it purchases the government securities from the market and it sells government securities to suck out liquidity from the system.
  • RBI carries out the OMO through commercial banks and does not directly deal with the public.
  • OMO is one of the tools that RBI uses to smoothen the liquidity conditions through the year and minimise its impact on the interest rate and inflation rate levels.

Operation Twist

  • ‘Operation Twist’ is when the central bank uses the proceeds from sale of short-term securities to buy long-term government debt papers, leading to easing of interest rates on the long term papers.
  • The name “Operation Twist” was given by the mainstream media due to the visual effect that the monetary policy action was expected to have on the shape of the yield curve.
  • If we visualize a linear upward sloping yield curve, this monetary action effectively “twists” the ends of the yield curve, hence, the name Operation Twist.
  • To put another way, the yield curve twists when short-term yields go up and long-term interest rates drop at the same time.
  • This is expected to lead to a flattening of the yield curve. Long-end rates are expected to come off, while short-term rates could rise

CSIR LAB DEFENDS SANITISATION TUNNEL

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

In the wake of several advisories advocating against the use of sanitisation tunnels as part of efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Pune-based CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL) and the Mumbai-based Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) issued a joint statement on 23rd April 2020 asserting that the advisories “did not have any scientific basis”.

Why did the Ministry recommend against it?

  • The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) had in a recent advisory cautioned against the spraying of disinfectant on people as part of measures to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic and had explicitly said that “disinfectants are recommended for the cleaning and disinfection only of frequently touched areas or surfaces by those suspected or confirmed to have been infected” by the virus.
  • The ministry had made clear that the spraying [of disinfectant] on individuals or groups was “not recommended under any circumstances” and that even if a person was potentially exposed to the novel coronavirus, spraying the external part of the body did not guarantee killing the virus that had entered one’s body.
  • The ministry also said there is no scientific evidence to suggest that they are effective even in disinfecting the outer clothing in an effective manner.
  • Spraying of chlorine on individuals can lead to irritation of eyes and skin.
  • Inhalation of sodium hypochlorite can lead to irritation of mucous membranes to the nose, throat, respiratory tract and may also cause bronchospasm

Why did the institutes tell it is not harmful?

  • Efficacy of sodium hypochlorite, also known as hypo or bleach, ranging from 0.02% to 0.05% weight concentration was studied on personnel walking through mist tunnel unit besides antibacterial activity against standard microorganisms before and after exposure in the walk-through.
  • Results indicated that sodium hypochlorite used in this weight concentration range did not show any adverse effects on the skin.
  • Recommended standard was using 0.02% to 0.05 wt. % sodium hypochlorite solution (200 to 500 ppm) for external body surface sanitisation of personnel walking through the mist tunnel by following standard safety precautions.
  • The scientific data of CSIR-NCL and ICT clearly show that there is a beneficial killing effect of bacteria and microbes at 0.02-0.05 wt.% hypo.
  • CSIR-NCL further recommended the use of ‘face shields’ or ‘safety goggles’ during the walk-through which could then be recycled after further disinfection.
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