- Toxic brew: on the increase of liquor tragedies
- Profiteering during a pandemic
- Is the reign of the Dollar over?
Focus: GS-I Social Issues
Why in news?
With respect to the recent scourge of illicit liquor striking Punjab, killing more than 100 and crippling many others – the State government (responsible for both excise and law and order) has sanctioned financial relief for the affected families, and suspended some policemen and officials in charge of excise enforcement.
- During the lockdown, there have been various incidents of large number of people losing lives or becoming crippled due to consumption of denatured alcohol in various states.
- There have been fatal outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people desperate for alcohol consumed hand sanitiser as a substitute.
- Almost every year, India’s moonshine market inflicts tremendous destruction in the form of blindness, tissue damage and death, as commercial alcohol becomes expensive for the less affluent, and corrupt bureaucracies allow that void to be filled by illicit liquor vendors who almost invariably use toxic methanol instead of ethanol.
Issues that need fixing
- Policies that fail to contain illicit alcohol produce long-term health impacts, as people tend to consume brews that have higher concentrations of alcohol, or toxic substances such as methanol.
- Several States give low priority to revamping the excise administration and policing, paving the way for episodic death and misery.
- According to the latest figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 1,522 people died of drinking spurious liquor in 2015 — nearly all of them men.
- Deaths from illicit liquor are common in India, where illegally manufactured alcohol is often consumed for reasons including poverty and geographic isolation.
‘Hooch’ is a term used for spurious alcoholic preparations and consumption of such preparations is harmful / fatal.
Spurious liquors include:
- Illicit liquor (un-authorized preparation, not fit for human consumption and not complying with the BIS standards) and
- Denatured alcohol (prepared for industrial uses and is rendered entirely unfit for human consumption by adding denaturants).
Liquor prepared locally from coco-palm, rice, molasses or jaggery, mahuva, etc., are sometimes fortified with industrial alcohol to increase the alcohol concentration or to meet the demand. Consumption of such liquor also causes poisoning tragedies if it is mixed with methyl alcohol.
- Methyl alcohol (methanol) is a commonly used adulterant because of its appearance and taste similar to ethyl alcohol and its easy availability.
- On consumption, methanol is changed into formic acid inside the body.
- The accumulation of formic acid in the body adversely affects various organ systems.
- Methanol poisoning can result in death within few hours if not treated immediately or may be delayed for a few days.
- From a medical viewpoint, the availability of licit spirits that contain lower alcohol levels, combined with a sustained public health campaign to wean people away from the drinking habit and to warn them about the effects of contaminants are key interventions.
- The capability of the health system in every district needs to be raised, to reduce the damage from methanol through immediate, simple detoxification therapies.
- Health communication about harm from alcohol is particularly relevant during the pandemic, since there is evidence of reduced immunity to viruses among those who are chronic alcohol consumers.
- As the World Health Organization points out, governments should regulate the quality of legal alcoholic drinks, while actively tracing and tracking illicit alcohol.
- This can be achieved only through cooperation from the community, particularly from women’s groups.
-Source: The Hindu
Focus: GS-II Governance
Soon after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, prices of essential items shot up in several places across the country.
Overpricing and Profiteering cases
- Reports emerged that in some private hospitals, patients were asked to pay lakhs even before being allotted beds and patients were also being overcharged even after State governments capped COVID-19 treatment charges.
- The cost of medicines and other essential requirements like Masks and sanitizers too shot up (with resolution coming the form of Essential Commodities act being put into action for controlling prices).
- During the lockdown, poor migrants who wanted to go home had to spend large amounts to hire vehicles.
Handling such situations in the past
- Way back in 1897, the British enacted the Epidemic Diseases Act which empowered the government to implement any measures that would prevent the outbreak or spread of any disease.
- According to the law, anyone disobeying the orders of any public servant can be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.
Steps taken by states
- Some of the states have now set a cap on the tariff that can be charged by private hospitals for COVID-19 care.
- Maharashtra was the first to fix a tariff, followed by Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
- Hospitals have been graded into categories, depending on facilities provided.
- Making it a participatory process, the private sector was also co-opted into discussions on tariff.
- States has also taken up action to fixing the rate of testing.
- A provision can be incorporated in the Disaster Management Act of 2005 to make overcharging the public a punishable offence.
- Denying admission in hospitals, refusing to bury the dead in cemeteries, etc., can be made punishable offences without reasonable explanations.
- Cases of extortion in hospitals by holding ‘hostage’ – i.e., when hospitals hold the patient or the body in their custody until their bills are paid, should be taken up seriously.
- Essential Commodities Act should be brought into action effectively and swiftly to control rise of prices due to increased demand and supply deficiency.
- Governments should take steps to mitigate the effects of lack of supply of essential goods by provisioning special rules to ensure the transport of such goods is not affected.
- The supply deficiency can also be tackled by taking steps to import from outside the boundary / encourage and enable production within the boundaries.
- Citizens should be made aware of the serious implications of hoarding and rules to prevent hoarding can be implemented as an immediate response.
-Source: The Hindu
Focus: GS-III Indian Economy
Why in news?
- The US dollar has registered its worst performance in a decade by dropping nearly 5%.
- This has resulted in fresh speculation regarding the end of the greenback’s hegemony as the default international currency.
What are the reasons for weakness in dollar?
- The recent decline in the US dollar even as the treasury bills’ prices remained close to highs indicate the expectation of low growth in the foreseeable future because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
- There are concerns that a fresh round of monetary stimulus and the economic impact of the pandemic would result in interest levels remaining low for a significant period of time.
- Many investors have their doubts regarding the inflationary impact of such a stimulus and have moved towards other currencies and gold.
Doesn’t it gain during a downturn?
- Generally, during a period of an economic slump, the US dollar gains as investors look for safe assets.
- This was observed during the 2008-09 financial crisis when the dollar gained, even as investors rushed for safe assets.
Why is it that the US dollar is not a safe asset anymore?
- A decline in the US dollar’s value illustrates optimism regarding global economic growth.
- A decline in the value shows the confidence of investors in parking money in riskier assets.
- The inherent weakness of the US economy is driving investors towards other countries, which have contained the pandemic and its economic impact.
- There has been a steady increase in the price of gold as investors rushed to buy the safe asset.
- In contrast, even the Euro has gained with the Dollar declining against the Euro (maybe due to EU’s strong policy response to covid).
Is this the end of the US dollar’s hegemony?
- Recent political developments have undermined the credibility of US institutions to provide for a stable global currency, but the US dollar’s hegemony is far from over.
- Moreover, most central banks hold dollar reserves for intervention in foreign markets.
- The dollar is likely to be an integral part of the global financial system, at least for now.
- However, the inability to respond to covid has eroded the credibility of several institutions, which poses a long-term threat to the US dollar.